Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Second Crop Veggies Are Growing!

The butter beans I planted on August 11th are doing fine. I expect to see blooms within a week to ten days.

The snap beans are doing very well. Many are climbing on the fence material already. As you can see, the weeds are popping up quickly, but it has rained twice in the last two days, so it's too wet to till. In another day or two, I'll be tilling between the rows. These are the same rows that practically didn't have ANY weeds when the beans blocked out the sun from hitting the soil. Look at the difference the sunlight makes when it hits the same undisturbed soil. Weeds are popping up like crazy! Especially the nut grass. What a pain. But, there are still no synthetic chemicals in my garden, nor will there be. Even my weeds are organic.

The butternut Squash is coming in strong, even though it has to compete with the nut grass.

Broccoli is just coming up in the west field. It's a cool weather crop, so it will be fine with the weather in the winter months. I had it last year and it made it through the snows we had.

When I was tilling up the garden, I ran over a yellowed cucumber and it got chewed up in the tines of the tiller. I thought it would just decompose into the soil because it was juicy and spoiled, but look at the cucumber plants that sprang up from it! Even though they are in between the rows I have planted, I'm not going to pull them out. I'm going to put a couple fence posts in there, hang some fence material, and let them grow up for another harvest of cucumbers. Why not? They're already established, so I'm not going to disturb their progress. I may as well take advantage of having them growing.

The carrot seed that I planted in the container that had the tomato berry plant in it is germinating nicely. When the plants get large enough, I plan on thinning them by harvesting the small carrots so the others can grow larger. I hope that works.

The Sugar Pumpkins have almost all germinated. I'm planning to put these where some of the tomato plants are. I'll be taking out 36 tomato plants next week, so there will be plenty of room for everything.

The burpless cucumbers have almost all sprouted. When I was planting these I didn't know I would have more cucumbers reseeding themselves in the west field. If they all produce well, I'll take the excess to the Oasis Social Ministry on High Street and they can use them to feed the hungry folks. They do a great job there taking care of the less fortunate. I wish everyone would support them, and places like them. With the economy the way it is, look at all the people who have become "the less fortunate". If we were in their shoes, we would be wishing someone would help each of us. We all know that's true, even if we don't say it out loud. When I have enough extra, I also take some of my produce to a family shelter downtown for women and children. Remember, "There but for the Grace of God, go I."

My Bouquet Dill in the two containers has sprung up again by itself, much to my surprise. I had some stalks left standing, and they were turning from brown back to green. I figured I would strengthen the roots if I cut them back, so that's what I did. However large these grow during the remainder of the warm season, I'll be taking the containers into my shop out of the weather for the winter. Then we'll see what they do early in the spring. I may harden them off by taking them out during the day, and bringing them back inside at night. That way they will get a head start next year.

I have 43 of these little 3 ounce Dixie bathroom cups with broccoli seeds in them, waiting for germination. One has come up so far, but it's still early. When I take out the plants to put them in the garden, I'll save the cups for re-use, and recycle the broken ones.

The beets are coming in pretty slowly, but at least they're growing. I had a terrible beet crop last year. Out of a 20 foot long row, I only got one beet. The tops made up okay, but the bulbs just didn't form.

In the middle of this weed patch is one Virginia Brand peanut plant with the oval leaves and the seam down the center. I was hesitant about pulling the weeds because I might ruin the peanuts that are growing in there with them. When the peanut plant dies, then I'll dig up the peanuts and get rid of the weeds. This plant is from the seeds harvested from plants that I grew last year. I got the seeds for them from the Chippoakes Plantation Park in Virginia during an exhibition of an antique peanut harvester. The Chippoakes machine operator gave me a few of the actual Virginia Brand peanuts that had been grown there, and I planted them last year. This year I'm able to give the plant a full growth period, as last year, I obtained the seeds so late in the season, most of the seeds (peanuts) weren't developed enough to be used as seed material.

During the composition time of this post, conditions became favorable to till in between the snap bean rows. It came out pretty good.

After tilling the bean rows, I fertilized them with this organic fertilizer. I also used several Garden Tone organic fertilizers for specific vegetables, and I am happy with all the results and would recommend them. I have been getting mine for several years from Norfolk County Feed & Seed on Airline Boulevard. They have a great selection of plants and materials, and a knowledgeable and friendly staff to help you with your questions.

After rubbing the dried petals off the sunflower heads, this is what they look like. It makes you think of a bee honeycomb, since it is so uniform.

After "air sifting" the sunflower seeds and associated debris, my wife and I ended up with 1 and 3/4 pounds of sunflower seeds. What I call "air sifting" is to pick up handfuls of the seed and debris while in front of a strong fan, and slowly sift the material through your fingers, dropping it back into the holding container. Doing this over and over lets the fan blow away the small debris and empty seed hulls, leaving you with a pretty clean accumulation of sunflower seed.

My grape vines are looking great towards the end of summer. With all these vines looking so healthy, I am hoping that the root system has developed the same way. That will be critical for next year's grape harvest, which should be a good one. These plants are now a full three years old and should start producing normal quantities of grapes.

My horseradish plants are beginning to fade as they prepare to go dormant for the winter. When the leaves are all turned brown and dry, I will dig the roots up for preparing more horseradish. It's delicious with hard boiled eggs, among other things.

The Chayote plant, or vegetable pear, is growing pretty good, but I'm having my doubts that it will produce fruit this year. It has things on it that look like they may be blooms forming. Only time will tell on this one.

I didn't include photos of some of my plants because they are currently so small. In flats and starting pots, I am growing chives, leeks and sweet fennel. They are some of the replacements for the space the tomatoes are occupying now.

Happy Gardening for now!

Veggie PAK

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Trying To Grow More Potatoes in Barrels Before Cold Weather StuntsTheir Growth.

After the failure to harvest more than four ounces of potatoes from the barrels, I decided to give it another try before the weather in the coming months would foil the attempt completely. Today I drilled two additional half-inch diameter holes through the lowest lateral surface of each of the four potato barrels in order to ensure more thorough drainage. I covered the holes with a piece of window screening in order to prevent the soil from escaping through them.

I used the prepared Russet seed potatoes that I had available and planted them into the six inches of soil that I had placed into each barrel. I lightly sprinkled some organic fertilizer onto the soil, and also put a light dusting of blood meal on it for the nitrogen neccessary to get the green foliage growing more quickly. These potatoes will have a scheduled harvest date of late December, so I need to speed them along every chance I get. Undoubtedly, I will have to make a decision prior to that time that "it has been long enough" if the weather turns bad for any length of time. However, I don't expect that decision to have to be made until sometime in November, unless the plants give up sooner.

The following pictures show what the seed potatoes look like in their barrels:

Hopefully, they will start growing vigorously so they can at least produce a harvest of baby potatoes for late fall/winter.

Happy Gardening!

Veggie PAK

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Getting the Fall Crops In The Ground.

Currently I cultivate two main plots of ground in my back yard. Years ago when I had the soil tested through the co-operative extension, I had to refer to the plots by name, so I simply chose East Field and West Field because of their locations. Their names just kind of stuck when referring to each area. Anyway, I spread my cured composted material all over the west field in preparation for planting some of my fall crops. This will be tilled in thoroughly prior to the seeds going into the ground.

Just as a point of sentimental interest to some folks, I used my Grandmother's manure fork to distribute the composted materials. I was fortunate enough for it to be one of the garden tools my Mom saved from when my grandparent's farm (mentioned in my profile) was sold. I like things like this, so I really enjoy using it for my garden's work.

With the compost all tilled in, now I am ready to begin planting the seeds for some of the vegetables I have selected for my fall crops.

To the left of the field fencing material and in the center of that area is a row of broccoli that I put in. I mark my rows with a green fence post at each end of the row until the plants show so I don't step on them while they are germinating. Underneath the fencing I planted butternut squash. My intention is to train them to grow onto the fence in order to keep them off the ground, and to avoid having the long vines choke out other vegetables. The two fence posts in the right of the picture mark my rows of Ruby Queen Beets. I decided to try beets again this year, even though I've had problems with root development in the past years.

Starting from above the left bottom corner of the picture, you can see the Vates Collard plants that I set out. I'm only using 24 plants this year so that I'll have space to expand my fall crop inventory. The three fence posts are markers for rows of Mammoth Island Salsify, or Oyster Plant. I have been wanting to try this vegetable for a couple of years, so with the reduced collard planting, now is the time to try it.

I decided to try growing Chives in a container to see if it would be successful for me. I would like to have a permanent supply of these as I think they are very good. I am also growing some green onions from bulbs that I usually put on the compost pile because I only use the green tops, or scallions, for cooking. My Mom did this in her garden in upstate New York and she got a great supply of scallions for her kitchen.

I grew some leeks last year and really enjoyed them, so this year I decided that I would try to grow some from seed. If these germinate properly, I should be able to transplant them into some of the space currently taken by my tomato plants, which I have on four foot centers, so that will be a lot of space to plant fall crops in. I'm planning on pulling all my tomato plants out during the first week of September. Hoping to get just one more red tomato is a losing proposition for me. It's much more important for me to get the next vegetable crop in the ground while the weather is still warm. Besides, I'm going to use the remainder of the green tomatoes for Green Tomato Relish, which is delicious!

My potatoes in the barrels didn't do well at all. We found potato skins in the barrels where the potatoes apparently rotted because the soil was too wet. That was a shock to me because I had drilled at least seven each, 1/2 inch holes around the base of the barrels 2 to 3 inches up from the bottom for drainage. I'm going to try again this year with Russet potatoes, which are ready to plant, but the growing time will be shortened. They're scheduled to be ready by 21 December. I suspect that won't work very well, but it's worth a try. I should get a few by that time, though, even if it's not a full crop. I'll see how they turn out with additional holes in the very bottom of the barrels to drain the excess water.

If you want fall crops and your weather will support them, it's time to plant now.

Have a great vegetable gardening day!

Veggie PAK

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Harvesting Tomatoes, Fall Planting Progress, and Composting Info.

I picked 54 tomatoes weighing just over 20 pounds, so I decided to can them. I ended up with 11 quarts of canned tomatoes. This supply of cooking tomatoes will really be appreciated when the tomato season is gone.

In my blog post of August 11th, the pictures showed where I had planted butter beans and snap beans. Well just five days later, they are germinating at a rapid pace. Here is a shot of the butter beans.

Here are the snap beans coming in under the fencelines. They are a little slower to germinate than the butter beans, so they're not all up yet.

I've thoroughly tilled the back plot and I'm going to spread cured compost all over it, and then till that into the soil. This is like a big experiment for me. Last fall, I had planted annual rye on my lawn for the sole purpose of "harvesting" it for my compost pile. In the winter months, it is hard to find green nitrogen-rich material for accelerating the composting process, so I decided to grow my own. I chose to sow annual rye on my lawn because it is a one time crop and doesn't go to seed, so I won't have to be concerned with grass seed going into my compost pile. Along with the grass clippings from my lawn, I had many bags of leaves that I had picked up in my neighborhood, and had stored them for use during the composting process. I also had some pine straw, and although some folks say that it raises the alkalinity of the compost, that is now under new scrutiny. The new thought on pine straw is that it really doesn't change the alkalinity that much, if at all. Either way you choose to look at it, I don't use a lot of it in my compost anyway.

Now for the main ingredient: coffee grounds from the Starbucks in downtown Portsmouth! From the 1st of January to the 10th of April, I collected the coffee grounds from Starbucks in downtown Portsmouth. I use my Excel Spreadsheets to track vegetable garden information, so I also kept track of what I put into my composting enclosure. During that time, I had added 2,047 pounds of coffee grounds including paper filters to my compost. Over one ton! The total weight of everything that went into my compost area was 2,852.5 pounds of compostable materials. All the weights of the empty plastic bags were deducted from this total. This picture shows what that pile of compostable materials looks like now.

Thanks to Starbucks for sharing with their neighbors!

It's time for me to apply that compost to the garden, so I'll say goodbye and good gardening for now.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Veggie PAK

Friday, August 13, 2010

Peppers Ready For The Final Picking

When I picked my Giant Marconi peppers last time, I thought that would be it for them due to the heat. We had over two weeks of high 90's and then three days in a row of over 100 degrees. Surprisingly, it wasn't the last picking. They came back with the pretty white flowers and produced ten more peppers for us. This will be the last picking because I'm pulling the plants up to make room for the next crop of vegetables to go in. The three giant Marconi plants gave us 41 peppers.

The banana peppers were also ready for the final picking this year. They have done very well for us. From only three plants, we picked 246 banana peppers at just over 15 pounds total. So, for the sake of planning, I can figure on five pounds of peppers per plant, or around 80 peppers per plant.

All our vegetables and fruits are 100% organically grown. Everyone can do it. You just have to make up your mind that this is the way you will grow the vegetables for your family to eat.

Even if you don't do it organically from the start, think about growing a few cool weather vegetables. There's broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, beets and collards just to name a few. Collards are the simplest to grow. Just put a small plant in dirt and that's it! They'll grow! Soon, nurseries and feed-n-seed stores will be having cool weather plants out for sale. You may not want to start with a bundle of collards that contains at least 50 plants, but they usually have those plastic pots of three plants for about $1.25. Start with one of those if you choose to. Whatever cool weather vegetable you plant, make sure it is in a sunny location, and that you space the plants according to the data on the little plastic info stake that comes with the plants.

Happy gardening!

Veggie PAK

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Getting Ready for the Fall Planting

I went through my snap bean rows and pulled off almost all of the vines in order to prepare room for the new vines to grow onto the field fence material. It wasn't necessary to remove 100% of the vines because after the next crop, all the vegetation on the fence will be stripped clean and the fencing and posts will be taken down for winter storage.

It is worthwhile noting the substantial absence of weeds between the former rows of snap beans after I raked away the pulled vines. I have read several times that if the sun doesn't get to the weed seeds, then they can't grow. It appears that this is true and is an excellent method of weed control. The last time I tilled between the bean rows was June 25th, and from that time to this, I haven't pulled a single weed from those rows.

I have also read that when the soil is disturbed, you can bring dormant weed seeds to the top and then they will begin to grow. I chose to not risk that by not tilling between the rows for the beans. Instead, I used a hoe to level the soil underneath the fencing so I could plant my Fortex Snap Bean seeds, and that way, not disturb any dormant weed seed in the walkway between the rows. Hopefully, the snap beans will grow quickly onto the fencing material and will again shade the area between the rows so the weeds can't grow. After using a rake turned upside down to pull and push the soil over the snap bean seeds, the resulting soil appearance looks really nice.

Since my butter beans were out in the sun, they had plenty of weeds, so I cleaned them out and tilled up the area thoroughly. An interesting point to bring up here is the topographic surface of the soil after tilling. I made about four passes with the tiller, and then one pass through the middle of it, making sure to keep my footprints within the furrow created by the wheels of the tiller. For those folks that prefer raised bed gardening, look at the picture closely. I have effectively created two raised beds by simply tilling the soil in the way that I did. I first noticed that last year and thought it was interesting that it could be such a time saver. I don't use that method of gardening at this time, but it looks like a great way to get the raised beds if that's the style of gardening that best suites your soil conditions.

I had used my push plow to create two furrows for my butter bean seeds. Since I was just putting in two rows, I chose to not use my seeder, but just to do it by hand. Now, my aim isn't so good when it comes to dropping seeds into the correct spot in a furrow. So, I improvised. I took a piece of 1/2 inch PVC electrical conduit that I had and cut it to about 40 inches in length, then holding the top with my left hand I positioned the lower end in the center of the furrow, and with my right hand holding several seeds, I dropped the individual seed down the inside of the conduit. That gave the seed a perfect landing every time. It's interesting to note that when doing this, you can feel the seed rattle down the conduit and then feel the impact of the seed on the soil. That way, you know the seed was distributed correctly, just in case it gets covered by soil when moving the conduit to the next position.

After distributing the two rows of butter bean seeds, I re-read the "use by" date on the seed package. It was for this year's planting only. The seeds couldn't be guaranteed to germinate if I saved them until next year. I decided to plant them all and whatever I get to harvest in the fall would be more than what I would have gotten had I not used them. So, instead of having two rows of butter beans, I now had one wide band of butter bean seeds planted by broadcasting the rest of the seeds in the package between the two original rows of butter beans.

This is the view of the day's efforts. Four rows of snap beans planted, and one wide band of butter beans planted, with the Ruby Red Swiss Chard and my Brandywine tomatoes in the background. All that's left to do now is water it.

And here is the ticket for that! With plant height being a problem by blocking the water spray from typical sprinklers, Lowe's had the solution and my wife bought me one for my birthday! Yay! For less than $40 you can get one of these telescoping sprinklers with adjustable spray pattern. It can water up to 80 feet in diameter, and the hose connection is straight down from the sprinkler head. You can see the connection point several inches under the sprinkler head. It is designed to curve outwards to accommodate the natural lay of the garden hose. This low center of gravity keeps it from being top heavy, and to make it sit solidly wherever you place it. The adjustable tripod legs conform to virtually any soil surface.

Now to finish off the day's events: Watering, using my handy dandy birthday present sprinkler!

This is the well system that I installed to accommodate watering my organic vegetable garden. It works better than what I had hoped for. Notice the nice looking yellow base that the pump sits on. That is a solid cast iron base for a large York Air Conditioning Compressor that a neighbor had given to me. It was too massive for me to lift onto a workbench by myself, so I had to have help. After dismantling and recycling the compressor, my son Jonathan took a pneumatic wire brush to the base and cleaned it all up, including top, bottom, threaded holes, and adjustable mounting bolt head slots. After blowing it off with compressed air while wearing safety glasses, we painted it John Deere Yellow. I'm not sure of the age of the base, but with the decorative curvature of the edges, you know it has some age on it. They don't make them like that anymore.

Well, that's all for now. I hope everyone has a wonderful gardening day!


Veggie PAK

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Canning Homemade Pasta Sauce

I prepared all the tomatoes I had on hand in order to make homemade pasta sauce for my family. I ended up with 11 quarts of it to go to the storage shelves.

Have a wonderful day!

Veggie PAK

Friday, August 6, 2010

Canning Our Pizza Sauce

My family loves pizza, so I decided to make some pizza sauce for those cold winter months when pizza is the perfect food. Actually, I think pizza is the perfect food anytime! After scalding the tomatoes, I skinned and cored them, but before putting them in the collection pot, I tried something different. For the tomatoes I have prepared for other recipes, I have had to cook them down for a long time to reduce the water content. This time, I skinned them, cored them, and then gently turned each tomato upside down and gently compressed each one with my hand. I say compressed and not squeezed because I think squeezing would render the tomatoes unsuitable for the intended purpose. The amount of excess water that came out was quite impressive. You can see the different appearance in the pot as they are not swimming in juice.

Although somewhat tedious, I even used the little Juliette's that I had available. It ended up going quickly though. Next year I plan to have a type of Roma as my main crop.

So after peeling and coring the tomatoes, I ran them through the blender on liquefy. They came out just fine, with a thicker, less fluid appearance and it produced 9 quarts of sauce. Then I put in three packages of Mrs. Wages pizza sauce mix. Each package makes around 5 pints of pizza sauce, and along with the rest of the package contents, it contains onion, spices, paprika, and garlic. Of course I had to sample the fruits of my labors and found it to be delicious!

I ended up with 16 pints of delicious pizza sauce, with each pint sufficient to make two 12 inch pizzas. Given the number of tomatoes that are continuing to ripen, and the wonderful taste of the finished product, I will definitely be making more pizza sauce and canning it for my family to use.

Have a great gardening day!

Veggie PAK