Monday, June 29, 2015

Rain Gutter Grow System Update

Back at the beginning of the month, I posted about a new growing method that I am using. You can read it here if you missed it. I thought I would give you an update on how things are growing.

I couldn't be more pleased with this set up. I had two harvests of the biggest, most beautiful collards I have grown in the ten years I have been growing food. Here's a little video of one of my harvests:

I was really impressed that I got this harvest because we have had such extreme heat rather early in the season. The collards have now been replaced with corn and so far they are doing really well. Here are some pictures of how the garden looks now. 

The row where the orange bucket is have tomatoes and carrots. I actually had to cut back the cherry tomato plant because it was really getting crowded. Since air circulation with tomato plants is really important, and my garden space is limited, I had to sacrifice a few branches. The blue buckets used to be the collards. It will be interesting to see how the corn does now. So far it has grown quite a bit and they have only been planted for about a week or so.

Here are my tomatoes and cucumbers. You may remember that they looked like this initially:

Well, now it looks like this:

You may notice that the tomato plants are not in the middle rain gutter anymore. That's part of the beauty of this setup that I really love. The cucumbers and the tomatoes were really getting quite bushy and crowding each other. So I took the peppers and the one carrot plant that were on the right and switched them to the middle gutters and put the tomatoes to the far right. Now everyone has enough space. If the plants were in the ground, I would not have been able to do that. 

Here are some more garden pictures for you. This was my first harvest of cucumbers. I plan on making some relish with this batch and maybe a few dill pickles if I have enough left over after I make the relish. 

I finally see some red on my cherry tomatoes:

I think peppers are my most favorite thing to grow. I love catching pictures of them in their different stages of plant life. This is a Chinese Bullnose variety, which is a sweet pepper. 

These are Mexican Gherkin cucumbers. They look like tiny watermelons. I will probably pickle these as well. They are only about an inch or so long right now. I had to try one before they were ready and I have to say they taste pretty good. They taste like a cucumber with a bit of a lemony flavor added on. 

I have been regularly picking blackberries in small handfuls and they are SO delicious. 

I finally noticed one lone zucchini on my huge zucchini plant. 

My apple tree is FULL of apples despite the little brown spots all over them. I haven't been able to find out what is affecting the apples, but I still plan to eat them...I will just cut them open first to be sure I don't get a mouth full of worm! 

So, that's it for now! Everything is doing really well and I really couldn't be happier with my rain gutter grow system. Now if my tomatoes would just hurry up and grow and ripen, I would really be one happy garden gal!

See you next time....

The Brassica Bridge

I've just passed through that brief period of summer that I call the Brassica Bridge - the time when I'm still harvesting cabbage family plants from the garden and also starting new seedlings for the fall. "Bridge" is pure alliteration, of course - it would be more like a happy stroll up to the edge of a yawning abyss, if I didn't have a freezer full of greens to tide us over through some otherwise kale-less months.

Cutting down my last cabbages, kohlrabis and collards this week, and the Romanesco broccoli that utterly failed to produce heads, I felt like a hypocrite in the context of my recent post about eating parts of brassica plants we don't usually consider edible, such as the leaves of broccoli or the flower buds of kale. Really, I should have made an exception for those late-in-the-season plants that have been thoroughly colonized by cabbage worms because the row covers got loose or had to come off altogether. Most of my "edible" leaves went straight into the compost. But I did put a few more pristine cabbages in the fridge - here's just a small part of my Great Cabbage Bounty of 2015:

We've been eating a lot of coleslaw and other cabbage salads! This is one recipe I really like: Creamy Vegan Coleslaw Dressed with Avocado.

It has much less sugar in it than many other slaw recipes (you can use regular cane sugar here instead of coconut sugar, and never mind the nutritional yeast if you don't keep that around). I also experimented with a cabbage "recipe" recommended by a fellow MG, from this list of simple salad ideas by Mark Bittman. Idea #20 just says "Shred Napa cabbage and radishes. The dressing is roasted peanuts, lime juice, peanut or other oil, cilantro and fresh or dried chili, all whizzed in a blender." You kind of have to improvise from there, but I recommend a cup or so of peanuts and a handful of cilantro leaves, with a couple of tablespoons each of the liquids, and one dried or fresh chili or the equivalent to start, and then see how it tastes and keep adding things as necessary. I ended up using some peanut butter as well, because it didn't taste peanutty enough.

The other building blocks of the Brassica Bridge are trays of new seedlings, some grown for the demo garden and some for mine, and some to be sold to visitors at our Grow It Eat It Open House on August 1 (of which more later). Here are some baby brussels sprouts:

Here's a post by Kent on how to calculate when to sow seeds for fall greens. We will have MGs on hand on August 1 to explain how to plant these seedlings in your garden and keep them happy through the rest of the summer and into the fall - and then how to build low tunnels to keep them growing into the winter! Just imagine that crisp fall air - well, today is cool enough to keep imagination going, though we've got more hot weather coming up soon.

I've crossed the Brassica Bridge, but I still have lots (and lots!) of Swiss chard growing in my garden, so perhaps I'll write some about that next time.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Cucurbits (Diva cucumbers, yellow squash and Zucchini Costata Romanesco)

Well, as a vegetable gardener, I know that I should be picking my cucurbits every day. Especially since they have done so well this year after being under row cover until june 7 and with all of the heat and rain. (I have one hill (two plants each) of each of the types of cucurbits listed above.)  But, I had Connor and Tyler at the pool on Friday and it rained all day yesterday, so what should I have expected.  Since I'm picking up Connor at the pool, I think I'll just dump the whole load at the pool.

So, does anybody know if there is a "National Leave the Cucurbits at the Pool Day"

Friday, June 26, 2015

Leaf spots diseases of tomato and pepper

Warm temperatures and leaves that stay wet for hours at a time are environmental factor that contribute to foliar diseases. Here are a few common diseases that can injure plants and reduce harvests. Click links for detailed information:
Early blight (Alternaria solani)-
Irregular brown lesions (often with a yellow halo) that enlarge and show a distinct bull's- eye target pattern.
 Septoria leaf spot (Septoria lycopersici)-

Small dark spots enlarge and develop tan centers with dark borders. It's a fungal disease that often co-occurs with early blight
Manage these diseases by removing badly infected lower leaves (see below), water at the base of each plant and avoid wetting foliage, apply a fixed copper fungicide if the problem is persistent and results in greatly reduced plant growth and yield.

Late blight (Phytophthora infestans)-
One of the most devastating diseases of potato and tomato. The last major outbreak in our region occurred in 2009, although isolated cases are often seen in Western MD where summer temperatures are cooler. This fungal disease is quite different in appearance from early blight and Septoria leaf spot.
Follow confirmed reports of late blight in the U.S. on the usablight website. HGIC and GIEI websites will alert gardeners immediately if we learn of reports in Maryland.
Bacterial leaf spot of peppers has been widely reported and has the potential to reduce plant growth and pepper harvests this summer. Pick off and dispose of badly infected leaves and consider applying a fixed copper liquid fungicide if the symptoms progress.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Destructive Harvest- Snap Beans

To a gardener's ears this doesn't necessarily sound like a good thing. Once-over destructive harvesting is simply pulling up all of the bean plants and stripping off all usable pods. Some commercial growers  practice this with bean cultivars that have a determinate growth habit and produce a concentrated pod set.

Many gardeners leave bush bean plants way past their prime. Typically, after 4-5 pickings flower production drops, lower leaves yellow, and disease and insect pest problems increase. Destructive harvesting can be a good tool for vegetable gardeners who want to make room for the next crop AND control Mexican bean beetle. Here's a little video Dan and I put together this week-

Pull all bean plants up by the lower stem and strip off pods.

Foliage has significant Mexican bean beetle feeding. They were loaded with egg masses, larvae and a few lingering adults.

For more details on this pest:

Check out these cool Rhizobia nodules on the roots where nitrogen from the air is transformed by bacteria into a form of nitrogen the plant can use.

What next? Stuff the plants in a large plastic trash bag and let them "cook" for a few weeks. Plants can then be safely composted.

You've just interrupted the life cycle of this pest!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Second day of Summer Update

The summer solstise was Sunday and most of us are grateful for the deluge we received Saturday night.  I spent Sunday pulling the spent summer crops like sugar snap peas and fava beans. They did relatively well this this year despite the cold spring start.  I picked about 5 gallons of sugar snaps from my 30 foot row and got about two gallons from about 60 feet of beans.  Both of these legumes were pre-sprouted in the house to assist with outdoor germination.  It worked well with the favas but not so well with the peas.  See my early GIEI blog.

The yield from the Favas always disappoints me considering the amount  of space they take up.  Our warm springs and onset of summer heat by June 1 really cuts down on the production.  Around May 20 when I was in London, Mary and I went to Hampton Court Place and stopped in to see the Kitchen Garden use to feed Henry the VIII's court.  While the garden wasn't in full production, the favas were easily 3 feet tall and producing copious amounts of pods.  The other interesting planting was the artichokes which had lots of large buds.

Broccoli and cauliflower are long gone, although I still have a couple of heads of late Dutch Flat head and red acre cabbage in the garden for use in making cole slaw.  Found an interesting recipe for Sesame Cole Slaw  on the web by would add less sugar and a little bit of jalapeno or other hot pepper if they were ready.

Garlic is doing well and in another week or so will be ready to be pulled.  Got lots of scapes this year which were made into garlic scape pesto and some garlic gazpacho.

Prior to leaving on spring vacation (May 15) I planted all my peppers, eggplant, cucurbits and tomatoes.  Everything but the tomatoes were covered with insect barrier grade row cover and the cucurbits had totally filled the 7 foot row cover placed over my 4 foot beds.  Best part is no cucumber beetles, squash bugs or squash vine bores.  Bad news is that after taking off the row cover, I've squished a couple of squash bugs and seen some Squash Vine Bore Moth.  Good news is that I have started replacement cucumbers and zucchini which will replace any plants which succumb to the bugs

Only spring crop which is not out of the ground are my potatoes.  They are still blooming and look great.  I have about 50 feet of double row and can't wait to dig some new potatoes for potato salad.  I planted 2 fingerling varieties Austrian Crescent and Banana and a regular variety called Carola.

About the only thing I haven't commented on is my trail planting of ginger.  I sprouted the tubers in my basement and put them outside in early spring.  They are growing but not vigorously.  I'll write a future blog about this.

btw:  I will be at the local community gardens during the next several months doing my "Ask A Master Vegetable Gardener" outreach.  If you would like to find out were I will be, Just click on this link.  The most common problem I have found so far this year is lack of nitrogen.  Remember that University of Maryland recommends use of .2 pounds of N per 100 square feet.  To determine the amount of chosen fertilizer to apply, just divide the percentage of N on the bag (remember that the fertilizer analysis is NPK and stated in percentage) into .2.  Using blood meal as an example, the NPK is 12-0-0 so to determine how much to use you simply divide .2 by .12 to get 1.75 pounds per 100 square feet.  Also, don't forget that some vegetables require side dressing during the growing season.  Side dressing requirements can be found at vegetable profiles just click on the desired vegetable.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

June in the Garden

Hello, Everyone! There has been so much going on in my backyard now that the growing season is in full swing. I am not without my battles with garden pests and mysterious spots on some of my fruit but, all in all, I am very happy with how things are turning out!

I'll start with the oregano that I dried. This year is the first year I have dried my herbs. I usually just use them fresh. But since I am on a journey to shop only at farmers markets and not at grocery stores, saving herbs has become a necessity.

There are two ways to dry herbs. One is in the oven and the other way is to let them just hang dry. I have done them both, but this batch I just let hand dry. I'm not sure which method I like better. The oven method is certainly quicker (for those of us that are impatient).  Here are pictures of my oregano:

Oregano is a bit dusty when you are crushing it! And apparently it is like cat nip for cats! My cat Rameses had to check me out, then promptly grabbed a stem of oregano and was chasing it all over the house. Crazy cat. :-)

Now on to what's growin' in that lil' ole backyard farm of mine.  Everything is doing really well!

My new little blueberry bush has been very busy ripening since being transplanted. She seems very happy so far. It's SO tempting to eat those blueberries, but they aren't quite ready just yet. It takes so long for fruit to grow, but disappears so quickly into our tummies!

My apple tree is also doing well, despite some little brown spots on the apples. I'm eating them regardless! :-)

My rain gutter grow system is really going crazy! Look at these:

Those are collards in the blue buckets, my ketchup and tomatoes plant in the orange bucket (which has cherry tomatoes on top and potatoes growing in the bucket), carrots in the white buckets...and some extra tomatoes in the ground. The plants in the buckets, I kid you not, grow exponentially every day. I can see the roots sticking out of the bottom of the buckets into the rain gutters. I couldn't be more pleased!

Here are the tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers:

Here is a closeup of my Mexican Gherkin cucumbers, which are in the first two orange pots in the left side of the picture. They will look like miniature watermelons with the taste of a cuke when they are mature:

I cute, right? Next up is the basil in my raised bed that seems to finally be taking off. I grew all my basil from seed, so I am quite proud of this little beauty.

Here is one of my raised beds with tomatoes, basil, and two rogue garlic plants that finally decided to grow (it only came up a year late!):

Last but not least, here's the latest addition to the Fat Earth Backyard Farm: 

It's a beautiful cedar garden sign that is now hanging in my garden cage.  Well, I think that about covers everything...for now.

Until next time...

Happy gardening!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Edibles blooming in June

The 15th of every month is Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day over at May Dreams Gardens. I usually link there to a post on my personal blog about what's blooming in my garden, but occasionally I feel the need to make a post here at Grow It Eat It, just to remind people that vegetables and other edibles have flowers too, and some of them are quite attractive.

These are some of the flowers I've photographed in the Derwood Demo Garden over the last couple of weeks.

These delicate little flowers actually represent the failure of a radish, since the plant bolted before it could produce a significant root. I always let radishes bloom for a while when they do this, though, because they are good attractors for beneficial insects (and pretty!). The flowers are edible, too, as are the buds (the broccoli-looking thing in the middle).

We've got lots of beans beginning to flower - these are from a bush bean called Red Swan.

And this is a mung bean flower, with pods starting to form.

Lovely and delicious nasturtiums!

Also lovely and reasonably edible borage.

Another plant I always let go to flower (and then to seed) is cilantro. Those little flowers are frequently visited by insects that are very useful in the garden.

This is safflower, a plant whose seeds are used to make oil, which I guess makes it edible. It is not, however, a great plant for Maryland, at least in my experience of trying to grow it twice and failing. It prefers an arid environment, which ours is not, despite low rainfall in May. But at least I got one flower out of this attempt.

Another plant not really in its ideal environment here is quinoa. We may or may not get edible seeds in the midst of all this heat and humidity, but the flowers are attractive and the leaves are reportedly quite nutritious. They look very much like their close relative, lamb's quarters, which some of you foragers may gather for salads.

This last photo is a bloom from a goji berry shrub. (Or vine - I've seen it described both ways, and we have to prune ours to keep it from reaching out and climbing the fence.) This is a nightshade family plant, relative of potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers, all of which are also blooming in our garden right now.

Enjoy your blooming edibles and edible blooms!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Solar Garden Beds

Solar Garden Beds 2014-2015
Linton Springs Elementary School, Carroll County
Guest Post by Anna Letaw, UME Master Gardener

The raised bed is 4’x8’; along the perimeter, 2”-foam insulation goes down into the ground about 18” providing insulation from frost.  The lids have two layers of “glazing”, a specially-designed, fiberglass-reinforced plastic sheeting material, and it has a layer of translucent fiberglass “angel hair” insulation sandwiched in between.  Though the sheeting material admits the full-spectrum of light, the angel hair insulation reduces the amount of light coming through (which, according to Poisson, helps moderate temperature swings).  The plywood ends have a layer of 1” foam insulation.

We have three of these beds and the total cost for the project was about $3,000.  We received two grants, one local and one from Whole Foods, to purchase the materials. 
 Nov. 25, 2014: Just planted: lettuce, beets, kale and spinach
 Feb 22, 2015: Day after snowstorm that dropped 12" snow.

Feb 27, 2015: Plants are quite happily growing away.

Knowing how well these heat up, I left the snow on top of the lids after the Feb 21 snowstorm.  The next day the snow was off and I had to prop open the lids.  Often, if I got down to the beds by late morning, there would be a cloud of steam escaping as I raised the lids!  I tracked soil, external and internal temps from about mid-Jan through mid-Mar.   Soil temps appeared to range from @35-45F but generally hovered around 40F.  Internal temps were interesting: one min reading was -6 outside and 15 inside, and a remarkable max reading was 49F outside, and 109F inside!  Though the condensation is supposed to roll back into the bed, I found I needed to water the beds periodically, especially as the weather started to warm up.

While this is an interesting project, I found that harvesting lettuce for the school in the middle of winter is not for kids, nor for adults.  These were planted in an intensive manner and I only wanted to harvest the outer leaves so the plants could keep growing.  It was a time-consuming task and though I was dressed for the weather, my fingers had little protection and they got very cold, very quickly.   The greens were sweet until about Mid-May and I harvested about 3 times.  Because of timing and activities, a lot of it ultimately went to waste and I need to figure out better scheduling.

This is one of our cafeteria offerings.  The sign reads:

From Our Vegetable Garden:

STAR Garden Salad Mix
Leaf lettuce, beet greens, kale
and spinach!
Guaranteed to fuel your brain and body
& help make you smarter – all day long!


This is Mid-April.  Note the “solar cone”, same concept as a cloche but made from the fiberglass sheeting.  It did a great job for our tomato!  I started a bush tomato inside and on Apr 15 I transplanted it outside.

This project was based on the concept by Leandre Poisson in his book: “Solar Gardening: Growing Vegetables Year-Round the American Intensive Way”.
You can read more about our Solar Gardening Project here: