Monday, May 31, 2010

Too late for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

I went down to my vegetable garden today to take photos of other stuff I'm going to blog about soon, and was pleased to see that all my Blue Adirondack potatoes are in bloom.

Blue potatoes have blue flowers! Which makes sense, I guess; white potatoes have white flowers, and red potatoes usually have pink flowers.

Here are the flowers of Dwarf Gray Sugar peas at the demo garden:

Blooming much too late, of course; don't they know it's 90 degrees out? Hmph.

Warning! The following is fantasy, not reality

A Howard County, Maryland, horticulturist has discovered an exciting new variety of thyme growing in his herb garden.

“I’ve grown thyme for years,” explained Bob Gardener. “But this new plant is much more exciting. The traditional Thymus analogus leaves a lot to be desired. It’s just not dependable. This new cultivar seem to be 100% accurate at all times. Other than the difference in the flowers, the new plant is identical to the older ones growing right beside it. The leaves are small like those of the other plants, and they taste the same.”

Gardener has submitted a cutting to the National Herbal Registry for evaluation and assignment of a specific epithet. “This appears to be a truly exciting and new thyme variety,” commented Herb L. Essence, NHR spokesperson. “I must admit that its flowers put a whole new face on the concept of basic herbs, but with global warming anything is possible these days.”

The NHR verification process to verify the new variety actually keeps thyme more accurately will take approximately three growing seasons.

Naming the new variety already has created some controversy. “Mr. Gardener asked that we name it either Thymus clarksvillus or Thymus meadowglennia, after the location of its discovery, but our plant scientists think that since its flowers are always so amazingly accurate, it should be called Thymus digitalis,” commented Basil Pendulum, chief Latinist and director of name selection.

One person already anticipates growing the new herb. “I want four plants—one for the front yard, one for the back, one each for each side of the house,” explained Bob Gardener’s wife. “Then there will be no excuse for Bob to be late for supper. He’ll always be able to see what thyme it is.”

Friday, May 28, 2010

Carroticide: A necessary chore

I hated to do it, but it had to be done—thinning out my Chantenay carrot seedlings. I planted the seeds on April 7, and now the seedlings are about six inches tall. I usually sow the small seeds too thickly so seedlings soon begin to crowd each other. Crowded root veggies are even unhappier than crowded airline passengers.

Solution:thinning the young carrots so they are about two inches apart. No, I don’t use a ruler. I eyeball the seedlings and make choices, looking at their vigor and their locations in the row.

I thinned the seedlings yesterday (May 27) for several reasons: (1) the seedlings are growing rapidly and obviously need thinning and (2) the soil was soft after a shower a few days ago. I did a “test pulling,” and the carrot slipped cleanly from the ground without disturbing its close neighbors.

So I pulled at least half of the seedlings. Most already had begun developing light-orange tap roots that were about an inch and a half long and 1/8-inch in diameter.

Did I taste one? Well, I’ll confess. I wiped the soil remnants from one of the bigger roots and bit and chewed. It tasted sort of like the strong smell of the leaves, not the sweet flavor we expect, so I just tossed the other discards into my cleanup basket.

Since the carrots are growing rapidly now, I’ll have to keep an eye on them. By late June they should be large enough to pull for fresh or cooked treats for lunch or dinner.

And in late July I plan to start a second crop. Aficionados say that carrots maturing late in the season, perhaps even kissed by a light frost, are the sweetest of all.

And after thinning the carrots, I turned to the short rows of Ruby Red Swiss chard and Cylindra beets, which germinated poorly. I sowed to fill out the rows and thinned the chard in a place or two. The chard seedlings, however, didn’t go into my cleanup basket. They became “first picking” additions to our noontime salad.

Everything needing thinning in our veggie garden got thinned yesterday—well, everything except me. And if I add more veggies to my diet, I’ll probably get some needed thinning too.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Welcome to the garden!

As you probably know, I blog about the Montgomery County Demonstration Garden in Derwood. And this is the post I need to remember to make regularly, the one that says "Come visit us!"

The garden's nice when it's empty like this, but we like it better with people in it. We have a lot to show you this year: not only a huge display of vegetables, but also a lovely shade garden, a native/wildlife areas, lots of herbs and fragrant plants, a charming children's garden, a home for butterflies, and more. So please make our garden at the Agricultural History Farm Park a destination. You can visit us several ways:

1. Come any time the park is open (which is just about any time except at night) and you will find our garden unlocked and ready to explore. Directions are at the above link and at the Montgomery County MG contact page. (We're at the top of the hill behind the Extension building.) Please leave everything as you found it - keep the gate closed against deer, and don't pick things (okay, you can have a cherry tomato when they're ready. Don't tell anyone I said that).

2. If you are able to, come on Thursday mornings, when the demo garden team is there working. We'll be happy to show you around.

3. We just had our first garden tour of the season and we want to have many more. If you have a group that would like to schedule a tour, with plenty of time for questions and exploration, call the MG office at 301-590-2836. Or comment on this post with your email address.

Here are some photos of what's going on in the garden right now.

Barbara planted her sweet potatoes! We'll add a hardware cloth fence in the oval trench, to keep the voles out.

And we have a new mason bee house, thanks to Margaret.

Here's our Swiss chard bed planted in curves with different colors in each row:

We start harvesting in earnest this week, and some of our produce will go to Manna Food Center. Here's a lovely group of kale, misome and pak choi ready for dinner.

And if you like lettuce, radishes, arugula, beets, carrots and other vegetables that grow well without a full day's sun, check out our shade vegetable bed:

Also, remember the potato bed I showed you last month? This is how it looks now.

The trenches are now between the potato rows, since all that soil has been used to hill them up as they grow like crazy. We're watching carefully for signs of potato beetles and other pests, but all we saw today were lots of ladybugs. Good!

Come down the garden path and see us! We look forward to meeting you.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Now the real fun begins!

Well, there I am! Tilling my garden. I don't normally advocate tilling, but so many weeds had grown in my garden that it would have taken me at least half a day to get my soil ready.

So I tilled....and tilled. The good news is I saw lots of worms and I think only one or two got (gulp) killed (sorry guys!). A moment of silence for the worms please.....

OK. So once the tilling was finished, the real fun began! I got to plant all of my crops! Unfortunately only a few of the beautiful seedlings I grew made it into the garden. All of the delays from weather to illnesses kept my seedlings indoors too long and they just were not happy.

The good news is that I was able to buy some wonderful seedlings from the store to supplement what was lost. So this is what my garden looked like after I finished tilling. Ahhh! All of that wonderful soil! So rich and brown. I took all the grass that I tilled and started a compost pile in that yellow recycle bin you see there (it's coming along nicely).

What survived from my seedlings grown indoors were: okra, several tomato plants, habanero peppers, carrots, sage, lemon balm, various basil cultivars and some radishes. Not bad at all.

I bought more tomato, cucumber, eggplant, bush bean, lima bean, bell pepper, cantaloupe and watermelon plants. I have twenty five tomato plants that are a mix of romas, cherries and sandwich types. I lost count of how many pepper plants I have. There are eight cucumber plants, four cantaloupe plants and four watermelon plants. I also planted shallots, a really sweet type of onion that is SO delicious! This is my shallot bed:

It's small, but I am not really planning to sell these at the market. I just wanted to have them on hand for some recipes that I love to make!

My garden is now full and I am looking forward to seeing my babies grow and produce a great harvest. I have so much packed into my garden that I had to plant some of the tomato plants on the outside of my cage.

I also planted the watermelons in a nice bed that I prepared behind my garage. They really need room to sprawl. I haven't had much success with them in years past. Here's hoping I can grow ones that would make my Grandpa Nathan proud!!! Here are some photos of my crops growing. They don't look like very much now, but when they get growing, boy will they look wonderful!!! There are lima beans and various types of peppers and few mater plants squeezed in. There's also some chocolate mint that came back from last year growing outside of the cage and two strawberry plants growing in containers:

I'll be posting pictures as my garden continues to grow. The rain this weekend was a welcome addition to my garden. I always love it when God provides the water so that I can save on my water bill!

Well my garden gals and guys, this is it for now! I'll keep you posted as my garden grows! I'll be starting the farmers market hopefully sometime in late June. I'll be posting pictures on that as well!

Until next time, happy gardening!!!!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hello, cool, cruel world

I began introducing my young tomato plants to the cool, cruel world late yesterday (May 19) afternoon.

I planted the seeds in cups of sterile starting mix on April 25. Seedlings of the different varieties pushed through the soil about a week later. At about two weeks I used scissors to snip off all but one plant per cup.

Now about 3½ weeks after I planted seeds, the healthy young plants vary in height. Yellow Plums are about 3 inches. Brandywines are 3½. Sungolds are 4. Big Beefs are 5. Now it’s time to harden them off.

The seedlings ‘til now have had a pampered life—something like a Pampered human baby. They’ve been in the comfy environment of our utility room—a constant 72°F., no wind or rain to knock them over, the consistent glow of cool white fluorescent bulbs hanging just two inches above them.

Now it’s time to introduce them to reality—direct sunshine, intermittent clouds, May breezes, and temperatures zipping up and down. This introduction is called hardening off—getting them used to life outdoors.

So I’ve moved the plants from under the fluorescents downstairs into plastic storage bins and then to our front porch, which is on the east side of our house where they’ll get some morning sun but more afternoon shade.

The plants will spend the next couple of days near the side of our house, which, I hope, will moderate nighttime temperatures and protect them a bit from strong winds. They’ll get a few hours of direct sun in the morning and then a lot of bright but indirect afternoon light—not enough, I hope, to sunburn them and turn their leaves white. I’m just not ready to buy sunblock for tender leaves.

The May breezes will be to the plants what exercise is to us humans. They’ll help toughen their stems and tender leaves, just as working in our gardens firms up our muscles.

Beginning next Sunday or Monday, I’ll gradually move the plants farther out from the house, about an additional foot each day, so they’ll get an increasing amount of direct sunlight and more exposure to spring breezes. If all goes well, by Memorial Day weekend (May 29-31), weather permitting, I’ll transplant them into our garden.

Why didn’t I do this two or three weeks ago—when the big-box stores were advertising specials on ready-to-plant tomato seedlings?

Well, if you’re a beginning gardener, you need to know some facts of tomato life. They’re native to the western coast of South America and are semi-tropical plants that don’t like cold. Rule of thumb is to plant them when the soil temperature is 55° to 60°. My plan is to transplant them when nighttime temperatures don’t drop much below 55°. Last night it was 50° here at our place. By next week the temperatures at night should be 55° or above.

Then I’ll set my tomatoes in the garden, and they will thrive. They won’t sit there unprotected through 40° degree nights at risk of “cold damage” for several weeks until warmer weather spurs their growth.

But maybe you live in town, near a city, or in another area where nighttime temperatures already are high enough for you to set out tomatoes. If so, happy planting. And if you’ve been thinking you’re too late to plant tomatoes this year, relax. You’ve got plenty of time to buy plants, and the next couple of weeks will be the near-perfect time to introduce them to your garden.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Blooming edibles

Here at Grow It! Eat It! we're going to start participating in Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day on the 15th of each month, but in our own style focusing on edibles. Hm, May is a hard month, chez Erica at least. Bob did bloomin' blackberries already. I think this month I'm stuck with herbs.

Not that there's anything wrong with herbs. Chive flowers are starting to fade, but still attracting lots of bees - and remember to put them in your salads! The chive blossoms, not the bees. And my sage plants are in gorgeous full bloom - the herb bed is a symphony in purple.

I'm going to cheat a little and include colorful foliage, since my male kolomikta kiwi is really coming into its own now.

He and Mrs. Kiwi were in flower a few weeks ago, and pollination occurred, because she has teeny little fruits now, which I hope will mature, in which case I will certainly show them to you. But right now I'm enjoying those splotchy pink leaves, which coordinate perfectly with the bleeding hearts next door.

Enjoy your flowers, leaves, fruits and all the other parts of your plants.

A mouth-watering rose

I love roses—especially the edible ones.

Just look at the photo of the simple, white, elegant blossom set against its background of deep-green leaves. What a perfect picture it makes on May 15, a stunning spring day here in piedmont Maryland.

Yes, the photo shows a member of the rose family. And, yes, it isn’t a Knockout, at least to the thinking of some.

But I think it will be a knockout some late-July or August morning when I take a bowl out to our garden to begin picking our Triple Crown blackberries. It will be a miracle if the first few huge berries make it from vine to hand to bowl. Many will suffer, and I will enjoy, the alternate route: vine to hand to mouth.

So here’s a cheer for edible roses. I have only five of the thornless Triple Crown variety, but they satisfy our berry needs for a month, and we freeze and bag extras to add excitement to wintertime oatmeal, waffles, or fruit salads.

Henry David Thoreau wrote of “high blackberries” a century and a half ago and described a hillside find as “perfectly fresh, black, and shining, ready to drop, with a spirited juice.” Ah, yes, Hank, I know what you mean, exactly. He continued: “Who will pretend that, plucked and eaten there, they are the same with those offered at the tea table.”

Oh the delight of May blossoms and August berries. The finest restaurant in town has no rival to the Triple Crown blackberries that I will pick and eat in our garden.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Is it safe to eat lettuce amid E. coli outbreak?

The above title is the title of the following article.

Answer: It is safe to eat my lettuce because I grew it myself.

I hope your spring garden is doing well whether it be a large backyard garden or deck container garden. My family is eating out of our garden now and it is refreshing, particularly our various varieties of lettuce and spinach, untainted by E. coli. We have accomplished most of our garden goals this year and look forward to several months of fresh produce.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cotyledons and Cattle Panels

I promised to go outside for this next post, and so here we are in the demo garden... um, last summer, since the scarlet runner beans are not blooming yet, or even growing much. But we have something to look forward to, even on a cold drizzly spring day!

Scarlet runner beans are Phaseolus coccineus, and therefore related to but not identical with the common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris, which includes most of the beans we think of as green beans (sometimes yellow or purple or mottled) and those we cook from dried (but that are not Vicia or Vigna or one of the other Old World beans). But runner beans are edible as well, even if gardeners in this country often grow them simply for their beautiful flowers. They can be eaten either in the pod stage or as shelly beans, but should be cooked before eating (sorry, demo gardeners who snacked on them last year - I just learned this!) because they contain a poisonous lectin (as do some common beans, particularly kidney beans).

Here's how you can tell runner beans from common beans in the seedling stage, in case you plant both and forget the labels. You may have to enlarge this picture to see, but runner beans keep their seed leaves or cotyledons in the ground when sprouting:

And common beans (such as these Borlotto seedlings) raise their cotyledons up in the air:

Other differences: runner beans are perennial, though marginally so in this area, and the roots are also edible. And runner beans twine clockwise while most other climbing beans twine counter-clockwise.

Ah, but what will they be twining on, you ask? That's where the cattle panels come in. I found this idea on a garden forum, and it looks like it's going to work really well. Cattle panels are 16 feet long by about 4 feet high, heavy-gauge galvanized wire, and are available at farm supply stores (we went to Southern States). They vary in price but should cost about $20 each. We bent our two panels into loops there, tied the ends together, and transported them in pickup trucks (yes, you will need a large vehicle). The arbors went up easily: four metal T-posts in the ground, and the arched panel released in between and wired on. We've already planted the runner bean seedlings, three on each side.

Runner beans grow fine direct-seeded, by the way, and the seedlings would have appreciated warmer temperatures than we have this week, but they should survive. I just couldn't wait to get started!

The other cattle panel arch will display - you guessed it - mouse melons. More on that later.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Grillin' Veggies

The flavors of grilled vegetables are spectacular. Good enough anyway to turn vegetable haters into vegetable lovers. My favorites on the grill are onion, tomato, pepper, asparagus, summer squash, and eggplant. I cut up whatever I plan to grill, put the slices and pieces in a large bowl or pot, drizzle on enough olive oil to coat lightly, and toss them all together with salt and pepper. Leftovers are delicious out of the 'fridge.

Tomato Plants Need a Bigger Home

My tomato plants often grow out of control under shop lights because I start them too early, I'm not ready to plant, or the weather isn't right. Some years I just deal with these gangly plants growing in too-small containers. Other years I manage to get off the couch and pot them up into larger containers. I'm always rewarded with better tomato crops.

Here are my 15"-18" plants in 3"X3" containers. You can see the dense root system crying out for more space. I mixed some fertilizer into the soilless mix before potting up into large yogurt containers and 5"X5"X5" pots.

The plants have been happily living on my porch except during the coldest nights, and can continue to grow where they are until I can get them in the ground. I'm thinking of using black plastic mulch this year because I'm tired of waiting so long for tomatoes!

Open Pollinated Corn Part 5

The rich histories of some open pollinated corn varieties

The open pollinated dent corn varieties known as gourdseed corn have a colorful history in North America. As can be seen from the two varieties pictured here, the flat creamy white kernels bear some resemblance to gourd or pumpkin seeds. Hence the name “gourdseed”. According to Willie Woys Weaver writing in Mother Earth News (October/November 2008) the Iroquois and other Native Americans called it “tooth corn” for the resemblance to teeth. Whatever it was called, gourdseed corn became popular in the South in the 19th century, with the rural poor people favoring the yellow types and the more urban and wealthier people preferring the white seeded varieties (Weaver 2008). Gourdseed corn was also a staple of provisions supplied to slaves in the South in the early 19th century, according to American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses by William Weld (1839).

According to Weaver (2008) gourdseed corns were used widely in the Ohio River Valley for feeding turkeys in the late 19th century. One particular variety developed in the Ohio River Valley and later taken to Texas by German settlers was known as Texas Gourdseed Corn. This variety has recently been reintroduced by the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange along with another variety, Virginia White Gourdseed corn. Glenn Roberts, founder of Anson Mills in South Carolina has reintroduced a third variety, Carolina Gourdseed White (reportedly found in a bootlegger’s field). Roberts also discovered that freezing the corn prior to milling results in a superior milled product including corn meal for white cornbread.

In addition to corn bread other products which can be made from gourdseed corns include dumplings, puddings and poundcake (finely ground and well sifted). Cornbread made from gourdseed corn has a silky texture which cannot be duplicated using modern hybrid corn (Weaver, 2008). According to the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange 2010 catalog, gourdseed corn is also suitable for roasting ears. “Roasting ears” are similar to conventional methods of cooking sweet corn except that immature ears of field corn are harvested and “roasted” in the coals of fire or over a grill. Later “roasting ears” simply came to mean cooking field corn in the same way as sweet corn. In my home community in south central Pennsylvania, “roasting ears” was synonymous with boiled corn ears, whether sweet corn or immature field corn.

One interesting fact in light of the earlier discussion regarding hybrid seed corn production using male sterile cytoplasm is that the gourdseed corns are a source of resistance to southern corn leaf blight, the disease that caused all of the grief for hybrid varieties in the early 1970s.
Herbivore Reed
Next: The “Trail of Tears”

What? Dill again?

I never know where dill will pop up in one of our gardens. Hundreds of seedlings have sprouted this spring under our two shrub redbuds (Cercis chinensis), which means a dill plant grew and went to seed there last summer.

I first and last planted dill in one of our flower beds so long ago that I cannot remember the year. The dill has grown, flowered, gone to seed, and kept us well supplied every year since.

So when I spotted the dill seedlings this year, I decided to move a half dozen or so to a sunnier location. Today’s gentle rain should be settling them in nicely in a nearby bed.

As a flower, dill doesn’t rate magazine covers. What can I say other than the unremarkable yellowish flowers radiate on short stalks from a common point, sort of like the ribs of an umbrella. But I don’t grow dill for its flowers. I grow it as an herb—to add zip to summer salads, soups, and vegetables.

But I have to confess another reason for welcoming the herb. Caterpillars of the eastern black swallowtail butterfly love to dine on dill (see photo) as much as they love the foliage of carrots, celery, and parsley. Parsley gives both the caterpillar and the adult their nicknames, “parsley worm” and “parsley swallowtail.”

Look for a “parsley worm” on your parsley, carrot, celery, or dill this summer. When you find one, don’t bring out the heavy artillery. As our moms taught us, “Share your toys.” Observe the “worm” as it munches on the foliage. By sharing your dill, you’ll help complete the life cycle of the beautiful black swallowtail.

Flower. Herb. Butterfly host. Shouldn’t you add dill to your veggie garden?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Hunt for Bradyrhizobium japonicum (Bray-dee-rye-ZO-bee-um jah-PON-ick-come) or How to Make Your Soybeans Really Happy!

I know. You're probably saying bradyrhizo...what???? Here's a real vegetable gardener's detective story, a refreshing break from the usual mysteries like, hey, is this a marmorated stink bug?

While reading up on precisely the best way to plant my 4 test packages of soybean seeds, I learned that like peas, beans and limas (legumes), soybeans also benefit from an inoculant. An inoculant is a (good) bacteria that works with a plant's roots and allows the plant to make use of nitrogen in the air to help it grow better. In agspeak that's called nitrogen fixing. Dampen your seeds, shake them in a bag with the inoculant, pop them in the ground and wala, pretty soon, stronger and sturdier legumes.

Inoculant is usually available at your better nursery supply stores. So I bought a bag labeled 'Garden Inoculant', a rather modest-sized bag weighing 42 grams (why they can't tell me that's 1.5 ounces I don't know, perhaps something valuable enough to be weighed in grams justifies a fancier price) which is enough for 5 pounds of seeds. It's only good for about a year so don't go buying it in bulk. I mean, really, are you going to be planting 5 pounds of seeds of anything? And if you said yes, you are probably in the wrong blog.... and want to be in the next one over, like Future Farmers of America maybe.

Warning - more Latin ahead!! But! it's useful to know and no more demanding than reading food labels in the grocery store. So. Peas, beans and limas benefit from inoculant including a mix of Rhizobium leguminosarum biovar viceae, Rhizobium leguminosarum bovar phaseoli and Bradyrhizobium sp. (Phaseolus). I was feeling quite happy and not a little smug for tapping into this helpful addition to my crop until I read the fine print for soybeans and discovered that NONE of these work. Soybeans, the little rascals, hail from Asia and insist on their very own variety of bacteria, specifically, bradyrhizobium japonicum. Back to Valley View where they did not really understand why Garden Inoculant would not work but did offer to order whatever I needed if I could find a supplier.

So I hopped on the internet and started searching and found....nothing, meaning if I wanted 'bj' I would have to order a trainload which is just about enough to treat the entire soybean seed crop of Nebraska and North Dakota combined.

By now I am running out of resources and decide to knuckle under and call the HGIC - Home and Garden Information Center and turns out THEY don't know of a source either and refer me to the Anne Arundel Farmer's Co-op and ask for Cory.

I call. Cory is busy can I help you instead? Uh...sure, I'm looking for some bradyrhizobium japonicum. Short pause. Hold on, let me get Cory for you.

Hi Cory, I'm looking for some bradyrhizobium japonicum. Another, longer pause. I know he's deciding if this is a prank call. It's for soybeans specifically I add, trying to bridge to reality.

Well, I've been farming for 25 years and never heard of such a thing. By now I'm wishing the U of Illinois had not sent me 4 packages of free test seeds to grow edamame. But, says Cory, I'll call a few farmers, ask and get back to you in a few days. Now it was my turn to be skeptical and I wasn't sure if this was a polite brush off or if he really would take the time.

Cory called back in a few days, no good news yet but one more call was expected. And that call said he had two small bags of, yes, bradyrhizobium japonicum and they were set aside with my name on them! And that is only ONE reason the Anne Arundel Farmer's Co-op rates high with me now. (Glen Burnie, MD)

When the weather warms up a bit more I'll treat my seeds and blog the next installment of the bradyrhizobium japonicum story.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Up from the ashes!!!

It's been a while since my last blog. This past weekend was a busy weekend for my garden and, as promised, I am writing to tell you that my garden cage is fixed...well, almost. This is what Snowmageddon 2010 did to my beautiful cage.

The main beams survived but the ceiling supports snapped. My baby is all overgrown with weeds. But that didn't stop us.

The first day (Friday) was spent prepping for the build, taking down the ceiling beams and cutting away the old chicken wire. That took us about two hours. My wonderful husband then straightened up the main structure of the cage. The damage really wasn't that bad (which is what he kept telling me...but I'm his wife and it's my job NOT to believe him).

After the main supports were straightened, started to smile and that was the first time I really knew that I would have my garden cage back!

To rebuild the cage, we decided to use 4x4's to give the structure a little more strength. It took my stepson and I to hold up the beams while my husband screwed them into place with metal brackets. That's the other change, we used three inch galvanized, outdoor screws instead of nails. Using a drill to secure the beams to the frame saved a lot of time and elbow grease.

Here is hubby putting in the last of the screws on the second beam that we installed. The weather could not have been better. It was about 70 degrees and boy was it windy! But we couldn't complain because that wind kept us from getting too hot.

We worked from about 10am until about six that evening. My allergies gave me no rest, so I sneezed as I worked (just call me Sneezy).

At the end of the day, we were sore and tired, but the result was well worth it:

The structure is complete. Now all that is left is to put the door back on and wrap the top half and the ceiling in new chicken wire....oh and get out all of the weeds and then plant, of course!

So, there you have it! I would say "it is finished" but it's not quite yet. But it's finished enough for me to hear the choir angels sing.

Until next time, happy gardening!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Vegetable Philanthropy!

What in the world is 'vegetable philanthropy'? First, it's a term that my husband and I coined for the idea of donating extra produce from your garden to your local soup kitchen or food pantry. Second, it's the act of donating, itself!

A few years ago, before the term 'vegetable philanthropy' was born I came up with the idea of finding a place where my extra cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers could be put to good use. I used to take them to work, but I always felt that the people taking my veggies didn't truly appreciate the gifts, or that what I brought in was lovingly, sometimes painstakingly grown in my own backyard. So I wanted to find more meaning in my extra vegetables.

It took me a while to find a local, convenient place that could accept just a small amount of produce - a bag of cucumbers here, a basket of tomatoes there. It was difficult even finding a listing of local organizations to call. Finally after some persistence, I discovered a soup kitchen about a mile from my home that was small - about 30-40 dinners a night - that would be perfect for my modest donations. I called and was told that, yes, they would take fresh food if you brought it when someone was there to receive it. So about every week or so during the high harvest I dropped off my goods. A new tradition was born!

I've been dropping stuff off at this soup kitchen about 10-12 times a year ever since. The volunteers there were always happy to receive, and genuinely thankful. Lest you think that it takes a lot of work to have extra food, keep in mind that my garden is only 10'x25', with about a 10' row of cucumbers, 5 tomato plants, 5 pepper plants. It doesn't take much at all to have a bounty full of well, bounty.

I have much more to say about 'Vegetable Philanthropy', but I'll save it for my next post. In the meantime, now is a perfect time for you to plant an extra tomato, pepper, or other veggie of your choice in preparation for donations later this summer (see photo above for me and my extra tomato, taken last week).

By the way, 'Vegetable Philanthropy' is, thirdly, the underlying theme of the 'Grow It Give It' campaign under Grow It Eat It. Check it out for great resources on how to get started!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Pop go ... the tomatoes!

I dropped the tomato seeds into a store-bought sterile seed-starting mix in a variety of recycled yoghurt and cardboard cups: 6 Baxter’s Bush Cherry, 6 Big Beef, 6 Brandywine, 9 Celebrity, 9 Juliet, 8 Red Alert, 9 Sungold, 6 Yellow Plum.

I got the seeds from a variety of sources. My two “experiments” for 2010 are Baxter’s Bush Cherry and Red Alert. Both are determinate varieties, which means they’ll have maximum growth of three to four feet and thus won’t turn my garden into a jungle. I found the Baxter’s Bush Cherry on a seed rack in a big-box store, and Totally Tomatoes, a seed company, added Red Alert to my order as a free promotion.

Brandywine (Sudduth’s strain) is an heirloom large pink variety dating to the 1880s. It can be temperamental and non-productive in hot, humid weather, but, hey, in hot weather I’m pretty much like that too. Big Beef, of course, is one of a trillion large red “beefsteak” varieties. Celebrity is a big red, one of my all-time favorite slicers.

Sungold and Juliet are two of my wife’s favorites. She sews quilts while I sow tomatoes. Yellow Plum is a tradition in my family, and in September I’ll probably be sweating over our stove while cooking up a batch or two of yellow-tomato preserves, just as my great-grandmother used to do.

I also planted eight Genovese Basils. Need you ask why? Place a thick, red slice of tomato, say one of those Celebrities, on thin-sliced French bread, top with a slice of mozzarella and a couple of just-picked basil leaves, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil—oh, I’m salivating at the mere thought.

On Day 1, April 25, I planted the seeds and moved the four trays to a seed-starting rack in our utility room, right next to our furnace, where the temperature is about 72° F. Day 2: I didn’t peek. Day 3: I still wasn’t tempted. Day 4: I was starting to wonder. Day 5: I looked and found nada, but I set the timer (14 hours) and tested the cool-white fluorescent shop lights that hang just a few inches above the cups.

Day 6: Pop—the Sungolds emerged. Day 7: Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop—Big Beefs, Celebrities, Juliets, Brandywines (see photo), and Red Alerts started reaching for light. Day 8: Pop—Yellow Plums. Day 9: Pop, pop—Baxter’s Bush Cherries and the basil.

I’ll have to check them every morning and evening now—to water them when needed. In about a week I’ll thin the young plants by using scissors to snip off all but one plant in each cup. Cruel, cruel, Bob.

Will I plant 62 tomato plants? No. I don’t have room this year for more than about 20, but friends won’t be shy about volunteering to take the extras.

In future postings I’ll add more chapters to “Growing Great Tomatoes 2010.” Shouldn’t you consider growing tomatoes from seed next spring?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Peanut Resurrection!

So I was about to toss the odd root-in-the-air peanut seedlings mentioned in my last post because nothing appeared to be happening to them but a gradual greening of the swollen seed, when I thought - let me see what's happening under the soil. I carefully removed one plant from the pot. It had plenty of healthy roots; in fact some were coming through the peat pot walls and base.

And you know how when experienced gardeners try to reassure nervous newbies by telling them there's no "upside-down" or "backwards" to putting a seed in the ground? That the plant knows what part goes up and what part goes down? Well, my peanut seedling was trying, I think, but while the roots had been waving around in the air and finally managing to reach into the soil, buried half an inch down a nice little set of leaves was slowly, greenly growing, attempting to figure out which direction the sky was. So I got a new pot and added soil mix, and set the plant with its roots under the soil and leaves just above.

And only a few hours later I had a little proper peanut plant.

The other one may survive as well; I gave it the same treatment but am still waiting to get results. I am following the progress of both with great interest.

Maybe for the next post we will go outside for a change!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Minimizing aches & pains

In recent years I’ve tried to find ways to prevent aches and pains from my garden work. Here are four things that work for me and that I recommend to you.

Recommendation 1: Invest in a quality weeding hoe. No, I’m not suggesting the standard hoe you see hanging with the shovels and rakes at big-box stores or even neighborhood nurseries, the kind many gardeners buy but seldom use.

I’m talking about a long-handled but light weeding hoe, such as the one I use (see photo). Mine is a winged hoe, but it doesn’t have feathers. Its wings are the two points. A sharp cutting edge, about 4.25 inches wide, runs between the points. The points make it easy to get at weeds that hunker close to garden plants. On the pull stroke, the edge between the points easily skims along or just below the soil surface to decapitate or uproot weeds. On the push stroke, the back of the cutting edge knocks soil from uprooted weeds.

Result: Fewer stoops, squats, and bends, and fewer aches and pains.

Generic names for this general design abound: half-moon, scuffle, shuffle, and diamond hoe. The diamond hoe, with four cutting edges, arguably is top of the line.

Unfortunately, local retailers seldom stock weeding hoes. If you can’t find one locally, search “halfmoon hoe” or “diamond hoe” on the Internet. Prices range from the mid-$30s to about $100. If someone in your family wants a hint for a gift you’d really appreciate, suggest, with a wink, “A diamond.”

Recommendation 2: Set time limits on your hoeing. Garden work is good exercise, but don’t overdo it. Hoe only 15 or 20 minutes, when soil is on the dry side so it falls off the roots of the weeds on your back strokes with the hoe. Bare roots + sun/air = dead weeds. Short, repeat hoeing sessions a day or two apart result in fewer weeds over the long run.

Recommendation 3: Let your hoe do the tough work—not your arms or your back. If your hoe has a 6-foot handle, you can stand upright, as you should. The long handle will give you leverage over bigger weeds. If you confront a leafy monster, attack it modestly from all sides rather than using your brute power to try to uproot it on your first chop. If you have to force the hoe to work, the soil may be too hard, and you may need to delay your project until after the next rain.

Recommendation 4: When you finish weeding, retreat to your lounge chair and enjoy a frosty glass of tea you’ve brewed from spearmint cuttings from your garden. Naps are eminently sustainable. Mine have minimal negative environmental impact—just my snoring.