Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Leaping Lizards

Okay, this one did not actually leap, but the title was catchy!  Found this lizard hanging out on the bean trellis.  He has had some sort of run-in with a predator because his tail is missing.

These guys only just showed up in the yard 2 years ago.  I am guessing our winters were too cold prior to then for them to overwinter.

He is a welcome addition to the garden.  He looks like he will make a mighty bug eater.

Anybody know what kind it may be?  I am guessing a brown anole.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Harvesting Vermicompost

Our big harvest this week wasn't veggies.  Instead, it was our first batch of vermicompost!

Harvested vermicompost

Last fall my husband repurposed an old cupboard that we pulled out of our laundry room.  It was about 2' wide and ran floor to ceiling.  He drilled holes in the bottom and added some dividers so it had 5 compartments.

Fast forward to this spring when I ordered red wigglers, aka composting worms.  I didn't do enough homework and didn't ask the right questions.  As a result I got worms and packing material (1 lb. total) instead of 1 lb. of worms + packing material.  Oh well, live and learn.

After the worms arrived I added torn newspaper and cardboard to one section of the worm cupboard.  I then added the worms and fed them kitchen scraps for the next 3 months.

I was very happy to see that my worm herd had increased substantially.  I had planned to weigh them but the batteries in the scale died.  You can also estimate weight by volume.  A cup equals about a pound of worms, which is about 1,000 worms.  They were a mucous-y mess, though, and I couldn't bring myself to use a measuring cup from the kitchen.  Of course I would wash it but I would always know they had been in there!  I would estimate that there are 1.5-2 cups of worms in the pile above.

Vermicompost in recycle bin

I was shocked at how much vermicompost they had made.  It didn't look like much in the bin but I harvested almost a small garbage can full!

I divided the worms and now I have 2 compartments in the worm cupboard going!  After the next harvest I hope to have all 5 in production.

Pop on over to the Harvest Monday bloghop at Daphne's Dandelions to see what everyone else is harvesting.  Probably more veggies and less worm poop!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Costata Romanesco Zucchini Review

After reading rave reviews about Costata Romanesco zucchini I decided to try it this year.  I am usually ambivalent about zucchini.  I plant it.  I get a few and then it dies about 1 month into production from SVB.  Honestly, that is fine with me.  I do not love zucchini so I don't miss it once it is gone.

Not this year.  I have been very impressed with Costata Romanesco and will definitely plant it again next year.
Costata Romanesco Zucchini
Costata Romanesco Zucchini
Here is why:

1.) Squash Vine Borers (SVB's): It has done very well against SVB (note: I am not saying it is immune or resistant).  SVB's are around.  I have seen the moths and the white scallop that is inter growing with the zucchini has them.  I haven't done SVB prevention or surgery and I still have a thriving zucchini vine well over 10 feet long 4 months after I planted it.  This is unheard of for me. Maybe I just got lucky?  Maybe not?

2.) Taste:  I will admit that I am not a zucchini connoisseur and only note a slight difference.  However, three people who have eaten it commented on the flavor without being asked.  They said it was the best zucchini they had ever eaten.

3.) Production: It is very prolific.  Since it is an heirloom it probably produces less than hybrids.  However, we have gotten over 95 lbs. this summer (and one vine is still going strong).  That is more than enough for us.  We pick an average of 1 good sized zucchini every day or so.

4.) Disease:  It has had powdery mildew since early July and is still producing.   I sprayed with Serenade once and then decided I was sick of zucchini and it would be alright if it died.  Production has dropped (from 1 day to 1 every other day) but it is still going strong!

The only negatives about it are that it is a very big plant and the zukes go from manageable size to baseball bats overnight (especially if you get a good rain).  Honestly, these are not really negatives in my book so that is why Costata Romanesco is getting a place in the garden next year.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Annie's Salsa Recipe

A few weeks ago I posted photos of some of the stuff I canned.  A few people asked for recipes so I thought I would share one in this post.  This recipe is for Annie's salsa.  I stumbled upon the recipe on GardenWeb's Harvest Forum where it is legendary.  It was developed by the now famous Annie who was awesome enough to pay to have it tested.  I tried it a few years ago (but did not can it) and it lived up to the hype.  It sort of tastes like Pace Picante sauce (but better).

Annie's Salsa
Annie's Salsa

Annie's Salsa Recipe

8 cups tomatoes, peeled, chopped and drained
2-1/2 cups onion, chopped
1-1/2 cups green pepper, chopped
3 - 5 jalapenos, chopped
6 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons cumin (For taste only.  Can be reduced or left out)
2 teaspoons ground black pepper (For taste only.  Can be reduced or left out)
1/8 cup canning salt (For taste only.  Can be reduced or left out)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (Can be reduced.  DO NOT INCREASE)
1/3 cup sugar (For taste only.  Can be reduced or left out)
1 cup 5% apple cider vinegar (Can substitute equal amount bottled lemon or lime juice)
2 cups (16 oz.) tomato sauce (For texture only.  Can be reduced or left out)
2 cups (16 oz.) tomato paste (For texture only.  Can be reduced or left out)

Mix all ingredients, bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. Pour into hot pint jars, seal and process in a boiling water canning bath for 15 minutes.
Makes about 6 pints (do not can in quarts)

Notes:  You can alter the type of peppers as long as you do not have more than 1 3/4 cup total of peppers.  If you want hotter use more jalapeño/less green pepper.  You can also sub types of peppers (serrano for jalapeño).  The key is that your total combined amount of peppers does not exceed 1 3/4 cups.

Not only does Annie's salsa taste good but it has been tested and is safe for canning as long as you follow the directions.   Don't alter it outside of the parameters noted above.  Remember you can always tweak it after you open and refrigerate it.  I leave the cilantro out when I can it and add it when I open the jar.  We also add a little fresh lime juice.

For a thorough discussion of the recipe, including answers to many FAQ's, check out this post in the Harvest Forum.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Its Harvest Monday again but I am running short on time.  Also, still not motivated to take more tomato/zucchini/eggplant, etc. photos.  So I thought I would instead show you what my son snuck into his small garden in the front yard.

My son and his pumpkins
Seems he was able to grow pumpkins this year.  He won't admit that he actually planted them.  We don't grow pumpkins and have never had a compost pile in that area so the idea that it is a volunteer is highly unlikely.  He probably knew I would tell him they would get too big so he planted without asking.  Seems he has already figured out it is better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.

I am pretty surprised he was able to do this since we always get SVB's.  Makes me wonder if I should try my hand at some winter squash next year!

I have no idea what kind these are or what to do with them. Looks like we have a lot of pumpkin pie, bread, and soup in our future!  Suggestions about what to do with these are greatly appreciated.

Pop on over to Daphne's Dandelions to check out the Harvest Monday blog hop.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

My Jaime Lee Curtis Garden

Back in 2002 Jaime Lee Curtis did a photo shoot where she wore no make-up, didn't have her hair done, was photographed without strategic lighting or poses, and wore regular clothes.  In short, she was photographed like a real person. Somehow seeing her like this made me feel a little bit better about myself.

Well, I have decided to show you my Jaime Lee Curtis garden.  Most garden photos show gorgeous, flawless gardens.  Perfectly straight rows.  Not a weed in sight.  Healthy green foliage and perfectly shaped produce.  I have now learned to spot some of the photoshopping that goes one (especially in garden magazines).  Also, seems most people have more time to weed their gardens before they take a photo than I do (I do not begrudge them this, I envy them).

This is what my garden looks like now.

The upper left quadrant has solanaceous crops; the upper right has cucurbits (now jut squash and zucchini); lower right are legumes, and lower left is sweet potatoes.

It is not pretty.  It does not look like the headers on blogs or photos in magazines and catalogs.  The plants are overgrown and the paths have disappeared.  The zucchini has grown all the way to the neighbor's fence so we cannot mow around the garden.  There are more than a few weeds.  Also, lots of the plants are showing their age.

But...I love my little garden.  It has produced so well this year.  I feel bad that I have not done better by it but it has been so hot I spend as little time in it as possible.  This is what a real garden looks like (especially if you work and have kids)!  Maybe this photo will make someone else feel a little better about their garden.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Itsy Bitsy Spider- Not!

Spiders in the garden are a good thing.  They don't eat your plants but they do eat bugs (some of which eat your plants).  Every year I have some spiders in the garden.   This year is no exception.  The only problem is that I have 2 of these smack dab in the middle of the vegetable garden!

argiope aurantia, black and yellow spider, garden spider, writing spider
One of my 2 garden spiders with two meals in her web.
This is argiope aurantia.  You may know her as a garden spider, a writing spider, or a corn spider.  You have probably seen these since they are found throughout the continental U.S. and one of their preferred habitats is the garden!  Females (which are the big ones) get as large as 28 mm (that doesn't include the legs).  Males are teensy weeny and you probably don't notice them.

Turns out she is harmless to humans.  When threatened she is much more likely to duck and run than sink her fangs into us.  In fact, you really have to be messing with her to get bitten.  If she does bite, she ranks up there with a bee sting (or at least that is what the literature says, no way I am going to test that out).

Somehow, this knowledge doesn't bring me comfort when I have to go near her web.  I hate big spiders.  They totally creep me out.  It is a small comfort that it does not have fur.  I don't mind snakes, roaches, bats, etc. (which is not to say I like them).  When I have to pick something near one of these the hair on my neck and arms stands up and my stomach starts churning.

We have, however, worked out a compromise.  As long as they do not touch me, I will not touch them (with a big, long stick).  Hopefully, we can all get along!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Harvest Monday-7/30

It's Monday, which means it is time for harvest Monday, hosted by Daphne's Dandelions.  Pop on over and see what everyone is harvesting!

I needed a break from taking photos of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, tomatillos, and squash.  So...I decided to show you what I have been up to.  It has been so darn hot I have been neglecting the garden (and it shows).

I have still kept plenty busy. Canning. Yep, you read that right.  Canning.  I got over my irrational fear of canning and have started to put up our surplus.  Here is what I have put up so far!
Pepper Jelly

I made 6 1/2 pints of pepper jelly.  I think this may be the main reason I am invited to potlucks!  People often ask if I will be bringing this.  I use the recipe in the box of Sure Jell for hot pepper relish (though it is really pepper jelly).

Ellie Topp's chunky basil pasta sauce

I also made 9 pints of Ellie Topp's chunky basil pasta sauce.  I find that while the recipe says it makes 6 pints, I get 3+ pints.  Probably because I am using heirloom tomatoes (instead of paste).  That would mean my 8 cups of heirlooms have more liquid, which cooks down more.

Annie's salsa 

The first thing I canned was Annie's salsa, which seems to be the gold standard for canned salsa. I had made this before but we always ate it right away.  So far I have made 15 pints.  I leave out the cilantro, preferring to add it fresh when I open the jar.  I will probably make one more batch this week.

Ball's sweet pickle relish

I also tried my hand at pickle relish.  I got 4 pints, when the recipe said 8.  I ended up throwing out a lot of the brine. I would have had jars with 1/10th relish and 9/10ths brine.  This batch was still very soupy.  I think I still need a lot of practice making relish!

Linda Lou's kosher dill pickle

I made 5 pints of Linda Lou's kosher dill pickles.  I think the white rind looks kind of cool.

Salsa verde

And finally I made some salsa verde today.  I do not can this since almost every review I have read of canned salsa verde says it is too tart.  We ate this batch with chips!  Tomatillos freeze well so I just throw them in a bag with a few jalapeños and freeze it for when I want salsa verde in the winter.

This week I am going to try my hand at zucchini relish (hopefully it works out better than the cucumber relish) and tomato sauce!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Moment of Thanks

This year has been my most productive summer garden in years.  It is a combination of continual garden expansion, good rains, and well let's face it, luck.  Since I started weighing on June 25 we have gotten over 380 lbs. out of our 35'x35' plot!  While this is the first year I have weighed our produce I know we have not approached this amount in the past.

The "tomato table"

At times this feels very overwhelming.  I will admit, sometimes when I look at the "tomato table", as it has come to be called, I inwardly groan.  That's the tomato table in the photo above.  I know it is not pretty, but I am keeping it real.  I also have a fridge full of cukes, squash, zucchini and eggplants that need a final resting place.  I often choose not to think of those.

I can barely keep up with processing everything.  I am often up until midnight waiting for something to finish cooling so I can store it, pull it out of the canner, etc.  Last night I dreamed I was chopping veggies for canning!

That feeling quickly passes, however, when I think about how many people are struggling this year with their gardens and more importantly, their farms.  Drought and heat are taking their toll throughout the country.  I worry that this may be how things are more and more in the future.  This year I got very lucky and I know and appreciate it!

I also think about all of the people in this country who struggle to get enough food.  I know that, overall, I have been very lucky in my life so far.  For this I am thankful.

After these realizations I look back at the tomato table and give thanks.  Thanks for all that I have in my life.  Thanks for having such a bountiful year.  Then I pull some of my best specimens and set them aside to share with friends, family, and those who are not as fortunate as we currently are.

Thank you Mother Nature for blessing me this year.  Please send some rain to those who need it.  Happy gardening everyone!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

At First Blush

To vine ripen or pick at first blush? Seems there is a lot of contention in the tomato growing world about when exactly to pick your tomatoes.  There are some growers who swear they can taste the difference between a vine ripened tomato and one picked at first blush and left to finish ripening off the vine (note: this is different than picking a green tomato and using ethylene to turn it red, which what they do to most of the tomatoes you get in grocery stores during the off season).  The scientific studies I have seen, however, say there is no difference in taste between the two.  Studies claim that as long as the tomato blushes before you pick it and you let it ripen naturally, it tastes the same as one that ripens on the vine.

Today's tomato harvest

I am one of those folks who pick at first blush.  I have not always been that way.  I used to let mine ripen on the vine.  Recently, however, I have encountered 3 very good reasons to pick at first blush.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Harvest Monday

This week was another great week in the garden, though some things are starting to slow down.  I am still going out and harvesting in the morning and afternoon because I always seem to miss something. Since I feel like I am posting pictures of the same old thing I will show some of what we harvested this week.

This is what I picked this morning.  There are still a couple pattypans and zucchini on the vine that I will ask my son to get.  I was wearing shorts and sandals and the little spines on the squash plants make me itch for hours!

This morning's harvest

Here are some other photos.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Common Grounds Farm Stand

I hate throwing away food.  This comes from the 2 years I spent living Brazil.  For the first time in my life I saw real hunger.  Even though it was almost 20 years ago I can still remember seeing an 8 lb. 6 month old and I get a lump in my throat.

This is one of the reasons I have stressed so much since I came back from vacation and was met by 2 weeks worth of a very good harvest.  I have been struggling to keep up with it before it went bad.  I have done pretty good and the little bit that has gone bad is gobbled up by my worm herd.

At the same time I am quite happy to give away food. I try to grow in an environmentally friendly way.  I figure the "green" veggies that I give my neighbors replace pesticide laden ones shipped from all over the world.  That's a good thing in my book.

Donation to the Common Grounds Farm Stand
Needless to say I was thrilled yesterday when I received an email from the Common Grounds Farm Stand saying they would accept some of my excess.  All of the proceeds from Common Grounds go to support Urban Ministry Center, which supports homeless individuals through a variety of programs.  What they do not sell goes to residents at Moore Place Neighbors, one of UMC's initiatives.  I am beyond thrilled to have this opportunity to share my bounty with others!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Lovin' My Lazy Wife (Beans)

For some reason I didn't plant beans for the first 9 years that I gardened.  It doesn't make a lot of sense since they are a garden staple.  I finally got my act together and planted some lazy wife beans this year.  I am loving them.

Shelled lazy wife beans

Lazy wife beans are an heirloom bean that used to be very popular.  They are a "greasy" bean, meaning they do not have tiny hairs on the pod, which gives the pod a greasy appearance.  They are also a cut short bean because they grow so large  that they crowd each other in the pod ends square off.

You can eat these a green beans or as shell beans.  We tried some as green beans and did not care for them.  My daughter who loves green beans ended up using them as a ketchup scoop.  We do love them as a shell bean.  They taste good on their own but also go well cooked up with some garlic and spices.

Why the odd name you ask?  Seems it comes from the fact that they are easy to shell.  That is the real reason I love these beans.  My 3 year old always wants to help me out but there is not a lot she can do with the garden that won't either hurt her or hurt the garden.  She has, however, mastered shelling lazy wife beans and loves doing it!  I hope this is the beginning of a life long love affair with gardening for her.

So easy a 3 old can do it!

The only down side to these is they don't seem to be setting beans in the heat.  This is my first experience with beans so I am not sure that is the problem.  The first planting set a ton of beans.  The second planting, which flowered when they temps hit 90-100 degrees, have not set any beans.  Oh well, we have so much of everything else that is alright.  At least they are doing good things for the soil.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Harvest Monday-7/15

This year is a fabulous year for the garden!  I am getting far more than I can keep up with.  I am still trying to come to terms with the 150 lbs. of produce (yes, that should read 150, it is not a typo) that came out of the garden while we were on vacation.  On top of that we are picking twice a day to stay on top of things.

Morning harvest
Here are some of the things we are getting out of the garden now.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Anyone Ever Feel a Little Overwhelmed?

For the first time in over two years my family took a summer vacation.  We visited my family in Florida for two weeks.  One of the promises I made to myself and my family was that I would not worry about or check on the garden while I was gone.  We did have someone house sitting for us whose main task was to pick veggies.  I managed to keep my promise with the exception of one phone call I made asking the sitter to water the tomatoes and peppers growing in pots when the temps topped 100 degrees.

We had a really great time with my parents (note to self: take more vacations).  I anticipated coming back relaxed and refreshed.  I was also really looking forward to getting back to the garden.  I definitely missed it.  I knew the tomatoes would be rolling in, which is something I really look forward to each year.

Yet somehow, since we got back a few days ago I have felt overwhelmed garden-wise.  We returned to a ridiculous amount of produce.  We have 150 lbs. that I have to freeze, can, gift, eat.  I am not complaining about such a bounty.  I am just having a hard time processing it so it does not go to waste.

Our house sitter has a different picking philosophy than I do so we have some very large squash, zucchini and cucumbers.  I also find myself averting my eyes from the 4'x'4 table covered in ripening tomatoes.  I am dispensing with the last of the 10 eggplants that greeted me upon arrival tonight.  Thank goodness the beans, field peas, tomatillos, and peppers were manageable.

I know I have to get a move on before this stuff rots but I am having a hard time bringing myself to just weigh it all!  I am hoping this post (confession?) will get me motivated to make a dent in this stuff and use the canner I got for my birthday!  Has anyone else ever felt this way?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Harvest Saturday!?

Daphne's Dandelions hosts the Harvest Monday blog hop.  Since we left for vacation on Saturday, the photos below are really harvest Saturday for us!  Some of what we picked is the same old same old we have been getting for about a month.  But we also have some new stuff coming in.

We picked our second batch of Lazy Wife Beans.  We have now tried the young ones as green beans and the mature ones as shellies.  I definitely prefer them as shellies!

Lazy Wife Beans
More black beauty and white lightning eggplant!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Twenty Days of Zucchini

For the past week or so we have been dealing with a zucchini onslaught.  It is at the point that every time I peek under a leaf and see one I inwardly groan.  I also think my neighbors are starting to avoid eye contact with me out of fear I will force more squash on them.  Something has to change!

So, I am embarking on 20 days of zucchini.  Each day, for twenty days, I am going to make something different using zucchini.  I have combed the web and found some interesting recipes.  I am already excited about this.  I hope my family gets excited too.

My zucchini Pinterest board.

To help me keep track of my potential recipes I am using Pinterest.  I created a board called What to Do With That Glut of Zucchini where I can pin recipes that look like they have potential.  Click on the link to check out the board and the recipes on it

** Since you need an invite to join (but not view) Pinterest, let me know if you want one.  Just leave a comment with your email.

I have more than 20 recipes on the board.  I figure this gives me choices depending on my mood and what is available.  I will try the ones that have the most comments and repins.  I'll also report back to give you the highlights and lowlights.

I actually started the challenge three days ago. So far, so good.

Day 1-Zuchini Tots!  The zucchini tots were an attempt to fool my daughter into eating a vegetable.  As part of the ruse they are called "super cheesy yum-yums" in her presence.  No mention is made of the Z-word.  The good news is it works.  They taste like tater tots and she gobbled them down.  The downside is they stuck like crazy to a well-greased non-stick pan (all the cheese).  After the 20 day challenge is over these have a place in the rotation.

Day 2-Pink Zucchini Smoothie.  See yesterday's post for a report on these.

Day 3- Zuchini Feta Pancakes.  These were already in our zucchini rotation.  They can be a little time consuming but I love them.  The family is lukewarm about them, except for my daughter.  Someone mentioned the Z word in her presence and she has refused to try them.

Tonight I am thinking about the zucchini and red onion flatbread.  I'll report back in a few days.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Things Are About to Get Weird

Okay, I have to warn you that this post may get a little weird.

Right now we are up to our eyeballs in zucchini.  We are picking two to three a day.  I don't like the texture of frozen zucchini and I have an irrational fear of canning (more on that in later posts).  This means I have to figure out creative ways to use it (or people to foist it off on).

Since I am on a diet one of our major standards, zucchini bread from the Southern kitchen goddess Paula Dean, is not a regular option.  My family is also getting pretty tired of sautéed zucchini.  I do have plans for zucchini pancakes and stuffed zucchini but come on, its zucchini after all.  There is only so much of the stuff that my family will eat in a week.

Alright, now for the weird.  I had a rather unorthodox idea today for how to use some zucchini.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Harvest Monday, June 18

This week the garden is still pumping out produce at a respectable rate.  In addition to the zucchini, squash, cucumbers, anaheim peppers, and white lightning eggplants that we have been getting for a few weeks we also got some new veggies.  We picked our first bell pepper,  two black beauty eggplants, and some lazy wife beans.

Today's harvest
What became of this bounty? I am glad you asked.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Yesterday I was out doing my mid-afternoon tomato patrol and there she was.  Peeking out from beneath a tomato vine, teasing me with her blush.  Beautiful green mottled with pinkish red.  I am sure I squealed when I saw it.  I mean, the first tomato of the season is the highlight of the gardening year, right?

I reached in, picked it, and as my 14 year old would say....


First tomato.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

It's Been Nice Knowing You Opalka

We had such little time together, Opalka.  I feel like I hardly knew you (probably because I did not get a single tomato off of you before I pulled you).  This hurts me more than it hurts you.  You will be missed.

Yep, that's right.  I have euthanized my first tomato of the season.  My Opalka.  I have heard it is a nice paste tomato.  Unfortunately, I cannot vouch for that since I have never eaten one.

First casualty of the season.

I am surprised by this for a couple of reasons.

Friday, June 15, 2012

10 Ways to Score Free Stuff for Your Garden

The obsessive-compulsive part of me loves lists.  They are nice, neat and ordered.  They are predictable and I know what to expect. Probably means you can expect more than a few lists from me.

I am also pretty tight with a nickel.  Having been raised by a frugal mother I think it is in my blood.  My ears prick up at the mention of free stuff.  As such, it seems fitting that my first list is about how to score free stuff for the garden.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

An Introduction to My Flock

I thought I would take a break from the garden to introduce you to my flock.  No, not chickens (at least not yet).  My flock is what I call my yard art.  I have wanted something to jazz up my yard for years. My problem was I wanted something different from the ubiquitous resin angels, mushrooms, frogs, etc.  Not that there is anything wrong with these.  In fact, I got so hungry for yard art that I bought an angel for my hosta garden.  But in my heart I craved something different.

I had to have her!

Monday, June 11, 2012

It's Go Time! - Harvest Monday (6/11)

The summer bounty is finally here.  Today my son and I harvested a huge haul from the garden.  Over 11 lbs. of produce!  It looks like the garden has finally decided that it is go time.  Prior to this we had been picking one or two squashes and cukes a day.  We skipped Sunday and today couldn't believe all of the veggies we found.

My son's vision for arranging the veggies!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Get Your Greens on Seed Swap

If you start transplants from seed, and you are not a commercial grower, chances are you have way more seeds than you will ever use.  This is especially true if you like to try new plants each year.  In the past 2 years I have acquired 5 types of lettuce, 3 types of chard and 3 types of kale.  Considering I never have more than 12 of any of these in the garden at a given time, that is a lot of seed sitting around with nowhere to go. an attempt to find some of my seed (and some of yours) a good home, I am hosting a Get Your Greens On Seed Swap.  Participants in this seed swap will exchange seeds for cool weather greens (e.g. lettuce, Swiss chard, kale, collards, spinach, mizuna, mustard greens, arugla, etc.).   Yes, it is June but it is never too soon to start thinking about your fall (or spring) gardens.

So heres da rulez for da swap:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Blackberries Are Here!

Dark, juicy, sweet (sometimes tart!) blackberries.  Yum!  They are one of my favorite fruits.  Last year at the farmer's market we bought two blackberry bushes on a whim (unusual for a compulsive researcher like myself).  One was a Navajo blackberry and the other a Natchez.  We got two kinds because they ripen at different times, spreading out the harvest.

Taunting me with her blackberries.
We came home, amended the soil on one side of the house, and planted them.  They were then forgotten in the mad tomato/cucumber/squash/pepper/eggplant harvest of summer.  I remembered them in February, threw some compost on them, built a (flimsy) trellis, and crossed my fingers.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tomato Disease Prevention-Ground Defense

While I love living in Charlotte, NC, come July my tomatoes do not.  Our hot and humid summers wreak havoc on them.  By the end of July/beginning of August they look like syphilitic lepers.  I have had to do major surgery to remove severely diseased limbs and the ones they still have don't look so hot.

Now, there are a number of effective chemical controls for the various fungal and bacterial diseases that set in here in the South.  Problem is, not all of them are organic.  Since I try to garden organically these options are off the table for me.

The good news is that there are some organically acceptable battle tactics that may ward off tomato diseases.  Some are hearsay (which does not mean they do not work).  Some have some science behind them.  This year I plan to regularly employ a number of them (yeah right, you know what they say about the best laid plans).  So here is my game plan...

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mumsey's Magic Mix

This year I am making an extra effort to keep my tomatoes healthy.  This is no small feat considering how hot and humid it gets in Charlotte, NC in July and August.  Most years I adopt a strategy of benign neglect, pretty much letting my tomatoes fend for themselves with an occasional spray of Bt, neem, or fish emulsion.  If I do anything I am usually reacting to a disease that has already set in.  To be honest, this works for us.  We get far more tomatoes than we can eat and I feel like processing.  By the time they peter out I am sick of tomatoes (yes, I said it!).  But, the plants do look awful by the end of August.

This year I am going to try to be more proactive and actually prevent, or at least delay, the onset of diseases in my tomatoes. I took my first step when I transplanted my tomatoes and used Mumsey's Magic Mix.
The magic ingredients

Monday, May 28, 2012

What's Wrong with My Zucchini?

One of the most frequent questions on the Vegetable Gardening Forum at GardenWeb goes something like this:
My zucchini started out just fine. They seemed to be growing. Then, out of no where, they started to turn yellow/brown and are rotting on the blossom end. They have enough fertilizer and water. Other than the rotting zucchini, the rest of the plant looks fine. What happened to my zucchini?
Do you recognize this sad little zuke?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

First Summer Harvest

We picked the first item out of the garden today, a zucchini!  This is a small miracle for us.  For the last 3 years (since my daughter was born in 2009) I have been dreadfully late planting things in the garden.  In fact, Memorial Day weekend has been the weekend when I got around to planting everything in the garden.  This year I was able to plant the seeds in March.  This is a little early but the weather was so warm I figured what the heck.  We had two nights close to freezing but everything survived.

Here it is playing hide and seek.

I was poking around to see if there were any bees and noticed it hiding under some stems.  I have not seen a lot of bees around the squash patch so this was a pleasant surprise.  I have about 4 zukes that have aborted because of lack of pollination.

Here it is in all of its glory!
This is my first time growing this type of zucchini.  It is called a Costata Romanesco.  I first heard about them lurking in the vegetable gardening forum at GardenWeb.  Folks raved about the taste it so I decided to try it this year.  Here is the description of Costata Romanesco from Johnny's Seeds:
Distinctive Italian zucchini, prominently ribbed. Medium gray-green, with pale green flecks and ribs. Big, large-leafed bush with only about half the yield of hybrids, but much better tasting; clearly better textured, nutty, and delicious, raw or cooked. Also a good producer of heavy male blossom buds for cooking

While I have not tasted it yet, their description of the leaf and blossoms is spot on.  Hopefully we will get quite a few zucchinis off these plants before they succumb to squash vine borers (more on those in a future post).

Are you getting anything out of the garden yet?

The War Against Weeds

While I love gardening, I hate weeding. Which is probably why I hardly ever get around to it. I know I should. I make plans to. But somehow never get around to it. That is why I love sheet mulching. That is right sheet mulching. I started sheet mulching 2 years ago and it has changed my life.

Sheet mulching involves laying down a sheet of a solid, but biodegradable, material like newspaper, corrugated cardboard, or burlap (I like cardboard). This material must be water permeable and should block light. It needs to be biodegradable so over time it will feed the soil.

Here is the cardboard layer. I am sure the neighbors love this look!

You then cover this with mulch (this year I used free wood chips from the city). During the growing season it will smother weeds and deprive them of light. It will also slowly break down and build up your soil. An extra bonus is that you help keep materials out of land fills.

Here is the finished product!

I have found this works much better than mulch alone. I have weedy grasses in the garden that laugh at regular mulch, pushing it aside to grow tall. With sheet mulching they cannot push through the cardboard, are deprived of light, and die a slow death. Bwaahahahaha!!

That is the good part of sheet mulching. The bad is minimal.  You do have to plan ahead and accumulate enough of the material you use for the bottom layer. I collect big boxes from work and grocery stores for weeks in preparation to sheet mulch.  Not difficult, you just have to plan ahead.  Second, weeds do still pop up in places where boxes meet (and I do not do a good job of overlapping them).  They also thrive around the edge of the garden.  This, however, is a heck of a lot less weeds than I would have if I did not sheet mulch.
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