Saturday, July 25, 2009

Total lack of posting!

Hi all,
Yes, zero, zip from me in two months! Bad! However, given the impending arrival of my little man in October, I've been doing full-time reading about how to raise a child! SO much more involved than a garden. Cloth diapering alone is a full time reading and researching project. I'm keeping the blog and hope to drop in periodically or maybe next summer at the latest, because I'm still gardening and still learning in that's just in second place right now!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What we've been eating and solar oven news

We've been lucky enough to be able to eat from the garden for a while now. The broccoli was ready around March 6th and we've been enjoying it regularly until most of it quit a few days ago (the younger plants are starting now). We've also had spinach by the mound - almost too much spinach! - for weeks now. Also kale, mesclun mix, and last year's onions that sprouted in the fall, too, as well as carrots, Asian greens, a couple of leftover kohlrabi, and garlic scapes. Lots to eat and enjoy!

Luckily, the ridiculous, crazy, out-of-control compost gift butternut squash, or the Lewru Special, as my friend Frau calls it, produced 17 squash on one vine last year! NUTS! So we've been slowly working our way through that. It stores really well! I was surprised, actually. Here it is almost a year and I've got one left that looks to be in great condition.

It has been trickier than you might to think to use up 16 butternut squash when you have a husband who doesn't think vegetables should be sweet. I've had to dress it up with sauces and disguise it in frittatas and mash it into chili and cakes and such. I think my habanero cream sauce was a hit, and the savory pumpkin quiche (which could just as easily have been butternut squash) went over well, too. I definitely got creative with the vegetable!

My inaugural run of the sun oven resulted in a beautifully sunkissed butternut squash. Then last weekend I baked that into two loaves of butternut squash bread which turned out magnificently! All in all, it's been a nice time to eat from the garden...still looking forward to tomatoes and peppers, though!!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Oklahoma is the New Oregon!

...yep, that's right! Without the hipsters and the bike messengers and the crazy cool art and music scene (ours is on a much smaller scale), and, oh yeah, the mountains and ocean...but boy do we have rain! It's been cloudy and rainy since April 23. Today makes 14 straight days. 2 weeks of rain! We topped 7 inches over the past few days, with a community just East of us having 10 inches! Ouch! Flooding has been a problem in some areas, but luckily not at casa 36-95.

In the meantime, that "start your engines" theme I roared a few weeks back...yeah, that was a bit premature. I transplanted and planted that day, but then nothing since then until two days ago. It was just too rainy and chilly and the soil was too mucky to get much done. But on Monday afternoon I finally had a break in the weather that coincided with a break from work. So transplanting peppers was tops on the list.

I usually like to get my peppers out on April 15, same as the tomatoes. Some people think this is too early for heat-loving peppers. I say, let them get tough! If it gets really cold at night or something I'll cover them with frost blankets, but typically that's a late enough start that it doesn't freeze them out.

This year they got transplanted almost three weeks late on May 4. Weather was a problem, but I also wanted to wait until my broccoli was ready to pull out (sayonara broccoli, you were great while you lasted!). The peppers needed to go into their vacated homes, so it was sort of a waiting game.

I'm actually glad I waited, too, because the soil has warmed up some and they avoided getting waterlogged in all that rain. Monday I went out with my trusty Epsom salts and bone meal, a trowel, the flat of peppers, and a chart telling me what's what, as well as a sketchy map of the garden so I could know what's what went where.

Rodale's, which the regular reader will recognize as my gardening Bible, recommended transplanting with the mix of salts and bone meal in order to encourage good root growth. I tried it last year and it seemed to be a winner so I'm trying it again this year. So far I've only used it with tomatoes and peppers, though. (Incidentally, I have the 1992 edition of the Rodale's encyclopedia and but I'd really like to get the new version that just came out in February of this year...)

After digging out a hole slightly bigger than the root mass and soil ball of the plant I wanted to transplant, I mixed about two or three teaspoons of salt with 2 tablespoons or so of bone meal (available at any garden store in the natural section). Last year I included compost, too, but this year I'm trying it without to see if that encourages the roots to spread faster rather than staying in one little ball for too long, feasting on compost. The book didn't mention anything about salt and grubbies, but I know that if you mix salt and slugs, for instance, you get a nasty (and probably painful) outcome. I try to avoid this by removing any slithery looking creature to a few inches away. I don't know if salt hurts worms, but I don't want to take that chance! They're garden heroes!

So once the salt/bone meal mix is in the hole, carefully pull the transplantee out of its former lodgings. I like to gently squeeze the plastic seed cell and invert it, if possible, to let gravity help. Be careful not to pull too hard on the stem or you can damage the roots. Once it's out, carefully plop it into the new hole, cover the root ball and fill in with soil, gently tamping down the whole bit to help the roots connect with soil. If you don't expect rain, water the transplants with a light stream. If it's sunny, you might want to protect them from bright sunshine for a few days until they get going. If they're small enough, I'll sometimes just cover them with leaves or set up a frost blanket propped up with sticks or something. No worries of that here, though. Remember: Oregon!

I still need to plant the corn in my three sisters garden (squash is a check but beans are still on hold, too), as well as ground cherries, basil with the tomatoes (they heart each other), some more poppies because I love them, and some green beans...ah summertime, I will never quit you! :)

I saw a question on a listserv I'm on about starting seeds indoors. While it's too late for early summer plants, seed starting is definitely still an option for a fall garden, so I'll post about that next. I've also been reading up about the tilling vs. not-ever-under-any-circumstances-tilling debate. So maybe I'll rustle up something on that.

As school dies down and the garden ramps up, so does this blog! Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines!

Gardening season is ramping up in a BIG WAY around here, although it's coinciding with my belly this year since I'm pregnant! Not sure I'll be able to do a lot of the heavier maintenance (which is fine with me!) but I can still pull weeds and transplant tomatoes and such.

Which is what I did on Tax Day, 2009! 19 tomatoes went into the ground, including Green and Black Zebras, Paul Robesons, a Great White, some Thessalonkis, some Cuor di Bues I got in Greece, some Cherokee Purples, some determinate Big Months, some Golden Queens, and a Bonus tomato from a random seed that fell on the floor while I was planting my seeds. Of course I've planted them too close together again, but I vow to keep them well pruned this year (Ha! Well, see!) which should ease up on the space issue. They're in a spot where they should receive 8+ hours of sun, so barring a repeat of last year's rainy, mucky bad weather, we should see a good harvest.

The tomatoes are spaced in a diamond pattern at the bottom of the picture. At the top middle is a small clump of Sylvetta arugula and behind that some flowering kohlrabi and broccoli.

Here you see my awful, terrible, no-good attempt at thinning.

The thinning didn't happen. These are the Great White tomato seedlings. I put two of each seed in each cell. Some died off or didn't sprout. If they did, I still couldn't manage to kill them off, even though I always vow to scrupulously thin each year (and fail). Maybe someday. It's partly that I don't want to kill something that wants to live but it's also because I am a frugal bastard. Instead, when I transplanted the tomatoes, I just separated them as much as I could to get them growing different directions. Then I'll see if I can cage or stake them enough a part to be viable. If not, I may still have to do some hacking...

My tomato seedlings stayed in the cell pack a bit long. I planted them Feb 13 and they came up in the next week or so. I should have moved them into larger pots (or transplanted them into Walls of Water or something) a week or two earlier. Instead they ended up a bit leggy. This is perfectly okay, though, since it's common place to pull off the bottom set of leaves of the tomato plant, trench it, and allow the stem to grow more roots, which strengthens the plant. To trench the plant, dig a sideways trench instead of a deep hole. Lay the plant in there with the roots and stem horizontal to the ground. Cover with soil, leaving the top part of the tomato poking out. The top will turn itself toward the sun in a few hours, leaving it growing in the proper direction. The stem puts out roots, strenthening the whole thing. I also add a teaspon or two of regular Epsom salts and about a tablespoon of bone meal to each hole or trench. This helps with root development and also helps strengthen the plant. For the Rodale's Organic Gardening Encyclopedia told me so.

Here's a full view of the backyard garden.

You can see the wood planks we used to hold down the frost blankets all winter. They'll get put away in the next week or so. In the back left is a huge patch of gorgeous garlic. We planted two pounds worth of Bavarian Purple and Ontario Purple Trillium garlic last October so we're hoping for a big harvest. Garlic takes 9 months - like a baby! - so we've been watching it all winter. Soon...soon.

In front of the garlic are onions and then fava beans (they look lime green in this picture and actually have small favas on them!) followed by more broccoli, then a scrubby looking patch of mesclun (wild lettuce mix) which should spruce up with some sun in the coming weeks. We'll soon be eating salad by the bowlfuls!



To make room for the 14 peppers I have to transplant soon, I'm going to pull some of the broccoli this coming week. The stuff that's flowering will go and I'm thinking about pulling the lush de Cicco specimen on the bottom left because it's doing NOTHING! No broccoli shoots to speak of. I am disappointed! Last year I waited until the end of June to pull them out - they were hole-ridden by stupid cabbage moths at that point! Don't think I'll be that patient this year. I'll probably at least cook up the leaves, though. I'd hate to throw away a perfectly beautiful plant that is edible and tasty.

Then the peppers are going in! The limon peppers bit it during transplant into larger pots this year. Not surprised. Same thing happened last year, but one made a miraculous Lazarus-from-the-dead recovery. That's why I only ended up with one plant last year. I don't think I'll have any limon peppers this year! The rest of the peppers look fine and will be transplanted soon, probably this coming week.

I also re-planted five kinds of winter squash yesterday - jumbo pink banana, Japanese black futsu, Chicago warted hubbard, compost butternut from last year, and buttercup. I don't have high hopes for them since only one of my six plants survived The Horrendous Squash Bug Infestation of Ought-Eight. Here's to hoping this year is better for squash, both summer and winter!

Still plenty to talk about - smothering bermuda with cardboard collars, pimping your soil, growing cucumbers over ugly hedges, and the Sand Springs Herbal Affair '09...more to come!

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Gotta love Oklahoma weather...two weeks ago it was 84 degrees outside and beautiful. Today we're accumulating 3 inches of snow and counting. I spent a fair bit of time last night dragging out the frost blankets and a load of old sheets and towels to cover everything. I have tiny mesclun, spinach, radish, and lovage seedlings coming up, and the onions are setting in pretty well, too. Hope the weather doesn't derail too much. Hope the towels are sturdy enough and that the snow is insulative once the mercury starts to really drop (it's still above freezing, just snowing like mad!).

I don't have any pictures (b/c my husband took the camera with him to SXSW...I was jealous!) but last weekend I bought bird netting to stretch over some seedlings. The birds had done their best to clip and entirely pull up my kale and Swiss chard seedlings, and I'd meant to get bird netting last year but never got around to it was definitely time. It was fairly easy to stretch out, too. I stuck some sticks in the ground and draped the netting over it. I think it will probably be somewhat of a pain to pull back up, though. It's already looking like it's tangled. But if I get some plants out of the deal, I'm better off than I was last year with just a bit of money (my netting was $7.99 at Lowe's) and time invested.

The squirrels are also starting to be a problem (well, not today!). I have containers of spinach and radishes which they've already dug up (do they think they put nuts there?). I have a bunch of surviving seedlings, but they messed up a few. I also suspect the squirrels of snapping off the fava beans at soil level. The irony here is that they probably just take a nibble and throw the stalk down, because they're always laying nearby, barely eaten. That's frustrating. One year I lost an entire corn crop that way, but I think that was raccoons. I'll have to figure out a better squirrel deterrent this year...I'll keep thinking.

In the meantime, hope all of your gardens are growing well and that this snow doesn't screw up too much!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Why overwintered gardens in Oklahoma rock!

Largely, because of this:

These pictures were taken on March 6th! The purple shoots are from Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli from Baker Creek Seeds. It is specifically an overwintering type that can take cold. I planted the seeds around Sept 15. They grew to about 10 inches or so until winter hit and then kind of went dormant - too dark and cold. But whenever we had a mild sunny day, I know they were collecting the rays and packing them away. Then as soon as it turned mostly mild in late Feb, voila, it was a race to sprout!

This is the broccoli that I experimented with replanting the thinnings. It worked remarkably well event though I wasn't very sensitive with how I pulled out the plants I wanted to thin. Didn't seem to matter, though, except that the thinned plants are still a bit smaller than the ones I left standing.

Early Purple Sprouting is a sprouting type of broccoli, as opposed to a heading type. The broccoli we buy at the store is heading type - you get a large single flower cluster that can span six inches across or so (it's also undoubtedly a hybrid variety, grown in a monoculture green house, with loads of pesticides, but I digress...). Sprouting broccoli, on the other hand, makes many more, smaller flower clusters, sort of like the side shoots you might get after harvesting a head of broccoli. I'm also growing a heading type, Di Cicco broccoli from Seeds of Change, but they are still developing. It seems the "Early" in Early Purple Sprouting is quite accurate!

Last fall, when I started my overwintering garden, I was planning on it being a fall garden - but I planted too late! Rookie mistake... In any case, it's a happy accident this spring and something I'll likely continue. In addition to the broccoli, which will be the star due to the abundance of plants we have, I also have kale, spinach, miner's lettuce, cabbage, leeks, a few carrots, a few turnips, a few rutabagas, and a few kohlrabi, a ton of garlic, some fava beans, and a few random onions that never came up last spring. All of them are looking great and putting on serious growth.

How did we manage this nature-defying trick? Very simply: Frost blankets. Yes, that's it. I have two large frost blankets and then we also used a sheet, a tarp, and some containers so that everything got covered by something. At first I covered whenever it dropped below 32. This might have helped the plants acclimate, but I soon realized I didn't need to do this (when I forgot to cover and nothing died). After that realization I started covering if it was going to drop below 28 degrees. Yes, it meant we had to trudge out to the garden on a regular basis and arrange all of our sheets. Yes, it probably was an eyesore for the neighbors, but they're nice. And yes, we have relatively mild winters in Oklahoma. It did drop down to 9 degrees though, over Christmas. I'd decided just to leave everything covered while we were out of town and when we came back, after five days of being covered, everything looked a little tired but no worse for wear.

In sum, I highly recommend it and will do it again! Here's some of the fruits of the bounty...

They soon looked like this:

And then turned into a delicious winter root pasta e fagioli! Yum!

If you haven't gotten your lettuce and greens in, it's time! Carrots, onions, beets, broccoli, cabbage, get at it! I'm going to plant my butternut squash next weekend to see if I can get a repeat of last year's monster. We'll see...

Happy gardening!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Shovel-ready blog

Well, there's been a flurry of activity over in my backyard, thanks in large part to an open weekend and lovely weather. I finally got to go out to enrich one swath of the back garden that's been neglected for a while - three bags of compost and three bags of manure, graciously spread for me by my awesome husband. Thanks, babe!

Add to that the planting of 150 sweet yellow onion sets, weeding approximately 225 square feet, deep-feeding the overwintered vegetables (which are doing great! more in another post soon), and planting radishes, daikons, shallots, leeks, Brussels sprouts, hamburg rooted parsley, and parnsips, and I'd call it a very productive afternoon in the garden.

BUT...I'm already seeing harlequin bugs, which frustrates me.

Seems a bit early...Also spotted two of the dreaded white "butterflies" that indicate cabbage worms to come. Perhaps our relatively mild winter was too mild!

In any case, I'll have to watch out for them this year. Last year they pretty much devastated my cole crops. The snails were also a problem and I've been saving and crushing my egg shells all winter to make a homegrown version of diatomaceous earth. Don't know if it will work, but it's worth a shot!

I am very pleased with how everything has overwintered so I'm excited to write more about that and include pictures...soon!