Monday, July 21, 2014

Harvest Monday: Garlic!

On Friday night I decided I start digging up my garlic. I was extremely excited to find bulbs almost the size of my hand.

This particular variety is Music, and I purchased it from Territorial Seed. I'll have plenty of my own for seed this year. I harvested about 30 heads on Friday, and then decided to let the ground dry out just a bit more and finished on Saturday night. All in all, I got about 70 heads of garlic, and they're all hanging in a shady corner of my garage to cure. We won't have any vampires sneaking into the garage any time soon.

Green beans have been coming in just a bit every day, and I've gotten broccoli about every other day (either a head or a side shoot). They've made excellent side dishes for my burgers topped with peach salsa (made with garden jalapenos and cilantro). 

On Friday, I harvested the first zucchini just in time for lunch. It joined green beans as a side for a sloppy joe (which contains green peppers and onion from the garden).

While all these harvests look delicious, I've been battling Japanese beetles in the garden. First they were on my green beans, and within days they spread to the basil and zinnias. On the advice of a local CSA farmer, I've sprayed the affected plants with neem oil. Hopefully that takes care of them.

To see what other gardeners are harvesting, check out Harvest Monday at Daphne's Dandelions.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Harvest Monday: Peas & Carrots

There were lots of harvests at Gross Farms 2.0 this week, but I was terrible at photography them (it doesn't help that my memory on my iPhone is full, so I have to delete photos before I can take more).

Monday - Thursday I picked the last of the sugar snap peas. They had terrible germination, but the plants that did grow produced well. I'll definitely grow them again next year (Sugar Lace), but I'll give them the support of a small bunny fence—even though the package says no support needed. It lies.

On Thursday I picked the first St. Valery carrots and two gorgeous fennel bulbs. I had my eye on this soup recipe to break in my new pressure canner, but I didn't have enough carrots for it yet. I used some of the fennel fronds to make fennel tea, which was quite delicious.

Sunday was a day of garden transition. We picked the last of the snow peas (an entire gallon bag full) and ripped them out. They'll be planted again next year as well (Mammoth Melting) but with a much taller fence to climb. I ripped out the fava beans that never produced (planted too late), and harvested the rest of my 5' x 3' bed of carrots, which included St. Valery, Cosmic Purple, Lunar White, and a rainbow mix. For some reason, the white carrots never really want to do their thing. I'd estimate I got about 10 pounds of carrots total. Plenty to make the soup, which made a delicious Sunday dinner.

I also got my first handful of green beans, and my second head of broccoli. I'm eagerly awaiting the first zucchini.

The snow peas were replaced with chiogga beets, the carrots were replaced with red bush beans, and the favas were replaced with more carrots.  If I can keep the soil wet so they germinate, this will be my first year with a semi-successful mid-summer plant rotation.

To see what other gardeners are harvesting this week, check out Harvest Monday at Daphne's Dandelions.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Preview Of (Canned) Things To Come

I've been traveling for work, so the blog has been neglected. The garden is busting at the seams though. I hope to have some updates this weekend.

In the meantime, I just ordered this. I'm so excited to can soups, stews, chili, stock, corn, beans, etc.

All American 21.5 Qt Pressure Canner

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Garden Is (Mostly) In!

If it wasn't for a bum ankle, we would have finished all the items on our garden to-do list this weekend. But, I severely sprained my ankle on Friday and couldn't put much weight on it Saturday. On Sunday, I puttered around the garden with a crutch, and today I could walk (slowly) with my foot in a brace.

Every bed that we planted first had to be weeded. Mom did a great job weeding the entire garden in April, but those stinking weeds grow fast! Here's what we accomplished (no pictures because were chased in my rain when it was all finished):

  • Weeded 6 8'x3' beds and 4 3'x3' beds
  • Planted 32 tomatoes, 41 peppers, 10 parsley, 4 dill, 12 cucumbers, 4 kale, lettuce bed, 5 cilantro, 5 fennel, 6 eggplant, miscellaneous zinnias, 1 brussel sprout, herb garden
  • Mulched all those beds
  • Dug 2-foot deep post holes for our gate
  • Anchored the arbor to the ground
  • Put up 21 tomato cages (need to get a few more, and stake the indeterminants with rebar.
Yup, that's a lot, but we still have to:
  • Plant 24 basil, 5 squash, 32 corn
  • Harvest the spinach and transition that bed to rutabaga
  • Build A-frame for the cucumbers
  • More weeding (never ending)
  • Plant flower containers for front of house.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Harvest Monday: First Spinach

This, my friends, is the first outdoor harvest of 2014. You're looking at twelve ounces of delicious spinach, overwintered from a September planting. I steamed it and added some white balsamic vinegar and salt, and it became a side for our garlic crostini topped with asparagus, morels, and parmesan.

The bread is a garlic sea salt sourdough from Water House Foods, which I love. I could easily eat an entire loaf of this bread in one day ... without butter. It's drizzled with some garlic olive oil, and topped with asparagus and morels from the farmers market and a sprinkling of shredded parmesan. This was absolutely amazing.

That's the extent of the Gross Farms harvest this week. To see what other gardeners are harvesting around the world, check out Harvest Monday at Daphne's Dandelions.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Weekend Work: We Have Apple Trees!

I went to the local garden center to pick up two bags of potting mix on Saturday. That was all I needed. But then, beckoning to me from the row behind the potting soil, was a sign that read "Fruit Trees On Sale." I poked around, saw some stuff I liked, and then went to the cash register. And when I got there, I turned around and went back to the trees. They were a pretty good deal, and they had some interesting varieties. I called my husband (who was out of town), didn't get him, and left a message. I checked out with my two bags of potting soil and left the garden center.

After driving two blocks, he texted me. He said we should definitely buy two apple trees for the front yard. So I turned around, grabbed two trees, and managed to fit them in my car. I was highly motivated (and had to take the back roads home so I wouldn't damage the trees).

This isn't a great picture, but nothing was going to keep me from getting those trees home.

I ended up with a Snow Sweet and Honeycrisp. They're both planted in the front yard, which happens to meet our HOA requirement of having two trees in front. No one said they couldn't produce a crop! I've never grown apples, and haven't really done much research about them ... so if you have any advice, feel free to share in the comments!

Prior to going to the garden center, I accomplished another gardening task—I put together the large greenhouse my father in law gave us. We only had two small 3-shelf greenhouses, and I figured this would give us all the space we need. Well, it's already full! If I don't start seedlings for friends in future years, I think it will meet our needs.

I took some photos of the garden on Friday after work. Even though the majority of the garden isn't planted yet, there's still a lot going on!

The garlic is looking great! All but one clove came up this spring, and one shot up two stalks, so I got exactly what I planted (the extra stalk will be harvested as spring garlic so it can have sufficient space to form a head).

My mammoth peas are finally doing something! The second round that was seeded a few weeks after this one isn't far behind.

What a beautiful strawberry blossom! Unfortunately, I had to pluck it. We're not letting the strawberries form fruit this year, so all their energy will go into developing strong plants that will hopefully last for years (and produce even more berries next year).

Asparagus is "look but don't touch" this year. Thankfully, every crown has produced shoots, and some of them are a few feet tall already. We planted two-year crowns, so next year we can harvest them for a few weeks.

Other tasks: I pulled a few weeds, planted fava beans, transplanted celery for friends, made my first seedling sale to a friend, and Aaron planted two landscaping bushes in the front of the house (unfortunately, they will not produce a harvest). There was a harvest from the garden, but I'll save that for Harvest Monday.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Beans for Mother's Day

On Mother's Day, I planted the first of our beans—pole beans. This year I'm growing Purple Trionfino and Rattlesnake beans. I like these because they're purple, which makes them easy to pick. Every year that I've grown beans I've lost my trellis to severe thunderstorms, so this year I'm trying something different—bamboo teepees. Yup, I'm finally growing my pole beans on poles. The teepees have 6 poles each, and I planted 6 seeds per pole as the packet instructed. That sure seems like a lot of beans. Of course, less than 24 hours after planting a line of sever weather came marching through, and the teepees seem to be taking it well. Once it stops raining and it's a little less soggy outside, I'll plant the next round of beans—favas (first time growing those).

Yesterday I also transplanted four heads of red leaf lettuce, seeded three square feet of chard (4 seeds per foot), and planted nine square feet of beets (9 seeds per foot). I potted up about half of the pepper seedlings, and will do the rest later this week. The biggest task was to move a bunch of woodchips from the back of our lot line (where the landscaper got a little overzealous and encroached on our neighbor's lot) to the front of the garden to give the hedge some growing room. My job was easy—lay down newspaper 20" from the hedge line. Aaron actually hauled all the woodchips from back to front. He did an excellent job.

On Thursday, my father-in-law delivered the new arbor and gate he made for us. Isn't it gorgeous?
The gate (not pictured) will be attached to two 4 x 4's that need to be dug into the ground. They'll attach directly to the front of the gate. This year, I'm planning to grow Morning Glories up and over the arbor (I got some seeds for free with a Seed Savers order). Next year, perhaps beans, malabar spinach, or even some squash or melons. Once those posts are in the ground, nothing will pull this over.

Since I'm linking this to Daphne's Harvest Monday post, I should talk about what I harvested.
See that fresh basil on top of the chicken parmesan? I harvested the tops of three seedlings so I could garnish the dinner I made for me and my parents. It was a useful harvest, not just because it was DELICIOUS, but because I normally pick the top off the basil early to encourage it to branch out and form additional stems. For the record, the sauce was homemade, but from a local farmer's tomatoes because I didn't have a garden last year.

Monday, May 5, 2014

In Spring, Take All The Harvests You Can Get

Here's my first Harvest Monday of 2014!

No, those aren't chives. They're the "waste" from the last trimming of my onion and leek seedlings before I hardened them off and transplanted them outside. They taste like scallion greens. They sat in the fridge for a few days until I figured out what to do with them. Tonight, after dinner, it came to me.

They brightened up a chickpea quinoa salad with kalamata olives and lemon garlic dressing. This will be served on top of a bed of greens and topped with goat cheese for lunches this week.

Other than a few cuttings of herbs I've been growing indoors, one chili pepper plant that made it through the winter (in a pot, inside), and the "micro basil" I thinned out a few weeks ago, this is the first taste of fresh homegrown food we've had in the new house. It's surely the first to be photographed! Next week there's a chance we'll be eating spinach from the garden.

Check out Harvest Monday at Daphne's Dandelions to see what other gardeners are harvesting this week.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Spring Garden Update & Lessons Learned

Lessons I've learned so far in 2014, the first year starting seeds and gardening in our new house:

  • I need to pay more attention to my seedlings. In the last house, I went down to the basement almost every day for one reason or another, so it was natural to check on them. In this house, the basement is strictly storage so I have to intentionally go down there. I haven't done it enough, and my seedlings have gone dry too often.
    • Aaron has a genius idea to solve this problem that includes creating a reservoir that keeps a constant level of bottom water in the seed trays. We'll see if this comes to fruition in 2015.
  • I need to water our raised beds more often. One of the benefits of raised beds is increased drainage. The beds at this house are twice as high as the beds at our last house, and it seems like they dry out twice as fast (but they give me more soft, loamy dirt to grow root vegetables in). My ultimate plan is to have a drip irrigation system installed, and water multiple times per day on a timer. Since that includes installing over 100 feet of underground, outdoor plumbing, it's not on the list for this year.
  • Adding mulch after direct seeding does more harm than good. While trying to combat the previously mentioned watering problem, I covered newly seeded peas and radishes with straw. It seems to me that they've been very slow to come up. This could be due to a variety of factors, but I think I'll stick with mulching after plants are established from now on.
  • I need to digitize my seed-starting calendar. I diligently mapped out my seed-starting calendar, but left it in the basement (see lesson #1). I also packed every week's seed starting activities on weekends. While I didn't miss any major dates, I could have had a less stressful winter/spring if I had done just a little bit of work each day, and had electronic reminders pop up on my phone so I wouldn't forget. Dear internet, is there an app for that?
  • Next year, I'm going to try sowing onion seeds in cells. I always sow them by broadcasting in a container and just grow a clump of onions. I bet they'd develop a lot more before transplanting if they weren't so crowded.
  • I definitely need to cover my beds (either with mulch or a cover crop) over the winter. The beds that were covered with thick layers of landscaping straw were almost weed free this spring. The other beds looked like small weed forests. If it weren't for the help of my husband and parents, I'd still be weeding those beds. I'm not sure if I"ll just mulch everything next year, or try planting something like rye that should keep the weeds out (and enrich the soil).
  • While I'm excited that I'm going to recoup a majority of my seed starting costs by starting seeds for friends, I need to plan that better as well. I should either close orders earlier so I have more time to get a handle on what will be started, or just have a first-come, first-serve plant sale in the spring. If anyone reading this would have a preference for buying seeds from friends, let me know!
That's all the lessons that come to mind at the moment...plenty for it just being the first weekend in May.

Here's what I accomplished this weekend:
  • Transplanted 200 onions (8-8'foot rows)
  • Transplanted 25 onions to be harvested as scallions
  • Transplanted 75 leeks (3-8's rows)
  • Transplanted 4 broccoli plants
  • Transplanted 2 cauliflower plants
  • Transplanted 5 celery plants
  • Transplanted some "miracle chives" - they survived the winter in a dark garage!
  • Seeded 120 carrots (8-5' rows)
  • Seeded approximately 100 peas (2-8' rows)
  • Seeded 48 radishes
  • Started seeds for cucumbers, squash, zinnias, and corn
  • Up-potted some broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce I'm holding for friends
I still have a lot more seeding on my list, which I'm hoping to accomplish throughout the week.

I'm very happy with the soil quality in the raised beds—it's full of wriggly worms! I used a garden blend topsoil mix that had a lot of compost in it, and it seems to be full of life. The garlic (the only thing really growing right now) is kicking butt!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Seed Starting Update: Peppers & Brussel Sprouts

Today was pepper starting day! I used to start peppers and tomatoes on the same day, but I'd end up repotting the tomatoes two or three times before they made it to the garden. I doubt I really got that much of a head start that way, so this year I'm planting the tomatoes the minimum of six weeks before they go out in the garden. I'm giving the peppers the full eight weeks though, because they take a while to size up. It's somewhat depressing to realize that it's still a full eight weeks before I'll be planting my warm weather plants out.

I prepared my seed trays, and the first packet of seeds I opened was Chervena Chushka. This is a new pepper for me this year. It's supposed to be prolific and sugar sweet. I thought it would be excellent for salads and relishes, as well as for snacking. I was extremely disappointed to open the packet and find only two seeds. The packet was supposed to have 25, and I needed to plant 12 to fulfill my needs and my friends that had requested this type. I didn't want to mess around with planting two seeds, so I pulled out a 2012 packet of Big Red peppers from Pinetree and planted those instead. I also emailed Seed Savers to let them know my packet was under-filled. I hope they send me a new one; those peppers sounded delicious!

Here's what peppers got planted today:
Big Red (sweet)
Bull Nose Bell (sweet)
Chocolate Beauty (sweet)
Mini Yellow Bell (sweet)
Jalapeno (hot)
Chinese Ornamental (hot)
Joe's Cayenne (hot)

I'm hoping the sweet peppers do well; I've always had hit or miss luck with them. I'm planting 32 pepper plants total, and at least 24 of them will be sweet peppers. I need a lot for roasted tomato sauce, salsa, and relish, and I want to have a lot of chopped peppers in the freezer to use for chili.

I also planted my brussel sprouts today (Long Island Improved).

It's gorgeous outside (compared to our previous weather; today it's in the 40's), so I might try to stake out the hedge garden border. If I can get a shovel in the ground, I'd like to plant my currant bushes tomorrow.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Seed Starting Update: Alliums, Brassicas & Herbs

Today was the third seed-starting day of the 2014 gardening season. I have now filled an entire shelf on my grow rack.

Seed Starting Shelves

I planted the onions and leeks on February 16, and they received their first haircut last weekend. They're looking great.

Onion Seedlings

Last weekend, I started broccoli, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, head lettuce, and chives. The celery, eggplant, and chives haven't germinated yet. I put the eggplant seeds on a heat mat today to help with germination. The broccoli & cauliflower are looking great, but the lettuce was easiest to photograph.

Red Iceberg Lettuce Seedlings

Today I seeded herbs, including basil, cilantro, dill, fennel, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, and thyme. Some of the plants don't really need to be started early (cilantro for sure), but I'm looking forward to having an early crop and then seeding successive crops in the garden.

Speaking of the garden, the snow is gone! I haven't walked out there yet, but the weeds that I didn't get to last fall are definitely waiting for me. One bed is planted with garlic and covered in a loose layer of hay. I hope to see some green shoots poking up there soon.

Backyard Garden After Spring Thaw

Yesterday I got my first delivery of cuttings for the edible hedge—a dozen red currant plants. Given that we have snow in the forecast tomorrow, and we haven't yet staked out the border, they'll be hanging out in the garage for a week. I'm confident we can stake the border next weekend and get the currant plants in on Sunday. The rest should arrive in mid April.

This is going to be quite the transformational year for the back yard. In addition to the hedge planting, we'll be adding an arbor with a gate, finally having a full season of vegetables, and we'll be adding a patio outside the dining room. It should give us some excellent outdoor living space to enjoy a Wisconsin summer.

Next week, it's time to start peppers!!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Planning An Edible Hedge

As I look outside the window towards my garden, I can't even make out where the beds are because we've gotten so much snow this winter. More snow is falling as I write this, but I'm thinking of spring.

I last wrote in January, when I ordered my seeds. They have all arrived, and the leeks and onions were started on February 16. They're up and looking great. I'll start chronicling seed starting more in earnest when I start more plants in March.

I haven't shared my 2014 garden plan yet. It is mighty ambitious. Take a look:

We live in a subdivision that doesn't allow fenced yards, so I'm choosing to grow an edible hedge instead (I may sink chicken wire on the inside if we still have a problem with critters—only time will tell). I just placed the order today, and it was pretty overwhelming. To create a 35' x 60' hedgerow, we'll need:

  • Caroline Raspberries (9) - fall bearing
  • Red Lantham Raspberries (9) - spring/summer bearing
  • Hinnomaki Red Gooseberries (12) - fall bearing
  • Red Lake Currants (12) - July bearing
  • Hansen's Bush Cherries (12) - summer bearing
These varieties were readily available from Gurney's, which appears to be a reliable source, and I got an excellent price. They have a coupon code in March that gives you $100 off an order of $200 or more. When all was said and done, these bushes were going to cost just over $500. So, I split my order into three, threw in the asparagus, rhubarb, and strawberries I needed....and ended up getting some landscaping bushes for the front of the house for a grand total of $310 + $75 shipping. That sounds like a lot for plants, but when you consider what it would cost to fence in this area (which wouldn't provide a delicious harvest), I think it's worth it. Also, I just got a credit card in the mail that has 0% interest for a year, so I can continue to use my monthly gardening budget to pay it off while I'm already reaping the benefits of the plants.

I can't wait to see what this looks like. All the bushes should grow to be 3'-5' tall, and after a few years of filling in I think they'll look wonderful—particularly in the spring when they're all in bloom. The gap in the hedge at the top of the plan will be an arbor with a gate. I got some free morning glories with one of my Seed Savers Exchange shipments, so maybe I'll grow them over the top of the arbor.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

2014 Seed Order

You didn't hear from me much last year because I was without a garden. However, by September we had all the raised beds constructed and filled in the back yard, so it will be full steam ahead in 2014! Look at all the growing space I have:

That's eight 3'x3' beds, and 16 8'x3' beds (set up in adjacent pairs).

I've been using some garden planning software to lay everything out and plan for succession planting. Even with so much space, I'm still tempted to overdo things. There are currently 75 cloves of garlic (Music) planted, and the following seeds have either been ordered or will soon be ordered. Time to start a seed starting calendar!

  • Arugula 
  • Asparagus: Jersey Knight Hybrid
  • Bush Beans: Royal Burgundy
  • Fava Beans: Windsor 
  • Beets: Cylindra, Golden, Chioggia 
  • Broccoli: Calabrese, De Cicco
  • Brussell Sprouts: Long Island Improved
  • Cabbage:Premium Late Flat Dutch
  • Carrots: Cosmic Purple. St. Valery
  • Cauliflower: Early Snowball
  • Celery: Tall Utah
  • Chard: Rhubarb Red
  • Corn: Blue Jade, Bear Paw Popcorn
  • Cucumbers: Parade, Crystal Apple
  • Eggplant: Black Beauty
  • Genovese Basil
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Bouquet Dill
  • Garlic Chives
  • Florence Fennel
  • Mint
  • Greek Oregano
  • Giant from Italy Parsley
  • Green Culinary Sage
  • Thyme
  • Kale: Halbhoher Gruner Krauser, Red Russian
  • Lettuce: Forrellenschluss, Red Iceberg, Green Oakleaf, Tango
  • Leeks: Blue Solaise
  • Onions: Alisa Craig Exhibition, Yellow Sweet Spanish
  • Peas: Sugar Lace, Mammoth Melting Sugar Snow Pea
  • Sweet Peppers: Chervena Chushka, Bull Nose Bell, Chocolate Beauty, Miniature Yellow Bell
  • Hot Peppers: Chinese Ornamental, Joe’s Long Cayenne, Jalapeno Traveler Strain
  • Potatoes: Purple Viking, Yukon Gold
  • Radishes: Cherry Belle, French Breakfast
  • Rutabaga: Joan
  • Spinach: America, Strawberry Spinach
  • Summer Squash: Black Beauty Zucchini, Golden Zucchini 
  • Winter Squash: Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck, Waltham Butternut, Table Queen
  • Strawberries: Honeoye
  • Determinate Tomatoes: Rutgers, Oregon Spring, Tip-Top, Principe Borghese, Roma, Martin’s Roma, Silvery Fir Tree
  • Indeterminate Tomatoes: Brandywine, Blondkopfchen, Dr. Wyche’s Yellow, Dester, Italian Heirloom, Riesentraube
  • Tomatillo