Winter time

No, I didn't vanish into thin air. It's been very busy few months for me on the work front and not whole lot happening with the garden. As you might have guessed the harvest season finished early this year. We had first frost in September which did a bit of damage but we still had salads and some green beans for a while. But it's winter time now and with everything frozen over there's not much to do at this point. I cleared out beds before frost, put some fresh manure on top to be slowly absorbed during winter. For some of the outside areas I planted tulips and hyacinths and crocuses just to find out most of them being dug out and eaten by squirrels. I'll try to replant them in spring. Not sure how well it will work but will give it a try anyway.

In the meanwhile we've been enjoying some of the canned stuff that we did in summer - tomato sauces like marinara and salsa for snacking. Definitely had a bit too much of salsa so we've given some away. But winter is going to be long this year so it helps to have things around the house.

Is it worth it??

Some of my friends keep asking if it's really worth the effort to do all this. Wouldn't be easier to go to the store and buy the same produce even if it's organic and more expensive than regular stuff? And I just keep thinking you really need to taste something right off the vine or as soon as you picked it to really understand the difference between home grown and store bought produce. No matter how fast they try to get fresh stuff to the store, it will take time to package it, transport, unpack and put on the shelves. And by that time your produce isn't as fresh as it was in the beginning. And no, it doesn't taste the same. Did you know that they usually pick veggies and fruit semi-ripe so it would get transported easier and limit rotting? They spray most of the produce with ripening agent right before going on shelves to get the ripe smell/color but rarely they'd get the right taste. Even with the same tomatoes - they're normally picked green so they won't get squished in transit. By the time you get to taste it it won't be much to try - it will just taste like grass. No thank you! I'd rather take 2 minutes to harvest what I need for dinner tonight. Pick up my basket, go outside and pick and choose what I feel like having. Here's one from tonight pick. Wouldn't you want to have something like that on your table? So what did we get tonight? Here we have several varieties of tomatoes, eggplants, yellow and red bell peppers and sweet banana peppers.
And look, new variety of tomato came into the rotation - yellow Brandywine!
Just as big and meaty as regular but different color with a slight pink tinge on the top, and slightly more acidic taste. Delish in salad! Definitely worth the effort at the end. Yes, it takes time to grow them but anticipation makes it so much better.

Busy Harvest Weekend

Today has been very busy day - I had to do something with all these tomatoes that we've been getting. We've given many away but there's just way too much to keep up. Thankfully I think we reached the high this week so after this wave it should slow down. We'll have plenty for salads and such but nothing like it's been for past few weeks. Today I chopped, chopped and chopped some more tomatoes, onions, bell peppers . In the picture below you can see large mixing bowl where I dumped them after chopping and at that point it was just over 5 lbs cut up. And whole lot more left to go. I had to stop in mid-day because my hands have been very swollen so it's hard to handle knife or do much by myself. But we mixed home made salsa with onions and bell pepper, cilantro and hot peppers and canned it for winter. I'm not a very big salsa fan but once in a while it's nice to have around. We'll probably make more tomorrow as I have about 7 lbs mor of chopped tomatoes sitting in the fridge and more whole ones waiting to be taken care of at some point. I asked my honey to call his dad and see if he'll take some or maybe his brother and SIL, but his dad said he had plenty of his own and we couldn't get through to his brother so I'm stuck with this load for now. Maybe I'll just toss them into food processor and make more sauce or marinara or something.

Closer to the evening I had to take a break from the kitchen and went playing in the garden instead. Boy is it overgrown! Definitely need a good day to clean it all up. But I did pick out all potato experiments from both enclosed garden and open area. As you can see I have more fingerling's on the right side, Red Bliss in the middle - that was only 2 bushes that came out, and Yukon Gold on the left. There are some small red onions on the bottom of the picture.

Fingerling's were in the enclosed area and even though it was only about 2 square feet area it produced allot of results. Too bad I don't like the taste of them. I won't be planting them again next year. I do like Yukon but unfortunately that's the ones that got the most damage from groundhog and deer. I found many "leftovers" but not whole lot was left for me to pick. I will definitely plant more of them next year and this time in the enclosed garden. They are delicious! Well at least that's enough for two of us to eat for next few weeks. I wish my onions were bigger but they got trampled by deer who were trying to reach potatoes so didn't get to grow well. I will be planting more of them next year as well as some white sweet type.

Not a veggie actually..

Sometimes we get to see visitors around the garden that really like our produce. Like squirrels who love strawberries, deer that would eat anything green if it could reach it and groundhog that demolished my unprotected green beans. Today we got another type of visitor. One of them came around last fall and we got nice imprints because it was right after the rain. But today we got full frontal imagery.
He just came out in our back yard this afternoon while we were on the deck so grabbed a camera and took some pictures. Unfortunately he got spooked and run away so couldn't get clear shot. Isn't he pretty? I love when we get wild animals here. It's so sad that most people in cities will never get to see one upclose unless it was locked in a cage. I'd rather see one in my back yard munching on berries :) And right after him we got few more visitors. They're still small and cute with all those spots. I assume we'll be seeing them more often now that they're older and can move around more frequently.

More goodies from the garden

Another day another harvest. We've been picking things up in the garden pretty much every day. Right now it's peppers, cucumbers, beans and tomatoes season. Here you can see we picked cucumbers, sweet banana peppers and watermelon radish - I cut it in half so you can see why it's called 'watermelon'. Because the weather has been so hot it made these radishes very peppery but they're still quite tasty.
And the banana peppers are pretty good too. The ones that are completely ripe taste like regular sweet bell pepper with nice and crunchy flesh. Some not very ripe have a touch of heat to them. Either way I'm happy with them and will definitely plant more next year as they're very prolific in their yield. And then today I went out and got whole lot more tomatoes and cucumbers with some beans and peas for snacking. Don't they look lovely?
And I know what you might think - these don't look that very big. You'd need whole lot more to do something useful other than eating in salads. Well I admit that the picture is a bit deceiving. You see, it's been taken as an overhead so I could fit all items in one shot. I took one of these tomatoes (the one top right under the cucumbers) and placed it on my hand and took a snapshot. This will give you better idea of the real size of what I picked.
As you can see it's much bigger than my hand but in the general picture it didn't look all that big. So now you can look back at others and get approximate idea of what exactly we've been picking. Trust me when I say it's more than enough for our needs. By the way, the one in my hand is Brandywine variety.
Here I took closer snapshot of them and you can see different types - Brandywines with green on edges and couple of them turned upside down so you can see how bright pink they get on the other side. Top left corner next to orange bell pepper (which is really regular size pepper but looks small comparing to Brandywines) is German Striped Cavern - with yellow stripes inside. It's somewhat hallow with a cluster of seeds inside but very tasty. Then you have two Black Prince in the middle of the picture - they're somewhat tapered at the end and have darker skin. Haven't tried them yet and will do that tonight with the salad. And of course then we have regular salad tomatoes (big boy and Martin), few plum tomatoes and cherry tomatoes.
So what do we do with all this goodness? Well I took some of the veggies that we picked before and chopped them up, tossed them on a skillet with onions and made a tomato sauce. So the plums and salad types combined with banana peppers were used up in a sauce. It came up at about 2.5 jars of sauce so we took 2 jars and canned them for winter.
My honey actually did that for me. He's pretty good at this too, did the sterilizing etc. Remaining sauce we used up with pasta for lunch/dinner. Very tasty actually. And what's really important to me is that I know it's all organic with no added preservatives or chemicals. I'm looking forward to the winter time when I cook something Italian and will be able to use my own sauce and not a store-bought. We also gave a whole bunch of tomatoes away to someone else but there are others that getting ready to ripen so I'm sure we'll be making more of these canned goodies. One thing for sure - next year I'm planting just as many tomato plants so I can do this all over again!

Veggie Overload

I know it's been few weeks since I've posted anything but it's also been crazy time for me so please be patient. As you know once the garden starts producing it keeps going until frost time. In May-June it was lots of greens and now in July it's more of a typical veggies that you can find in your local farmer markets. If you looked at some of my other posts you'd know that I've been expecting few things to ripen up, so here they are. In the first week of July I had my sister down here so she got to pick few things. Like these fingerling potatoes and green beans.
This was actually an experiment and I didn't know if they'll grow at all. Why? Because these were just your regular store-bought fingerlings that I got from local store, put them in a brown bag on the bottom of my fridge last fall and forgot about them. In spring I was doing "spring cleaning" and found them and since they started sprouting I just tossed them in the garden in two small rows. Well they grew and actually produced like crazy. Potatoes that are pictures came from 3 bushes - 1 row in my raised bed. I'm yet to pick the remaining potatoes. And then we had explosion of cucumbers. They are the ones that were planted outside of the protected area and the only 5 bushes that actually survived the hard frost we had at the end of May.
Of course at the same time we picked bunch of snap peas for snacking and strawberries. They're still going on strong by the way. And a week later right before my sister had to leave we picked out some of the new potatoes - regular this time. I packed them up for her to take to LA and we had cucumbers for eating in salads.
Afterwards came ichiban eggplants and carrots. Actually I've been snacking on carrots for a while now but eggplants were first ones in the bunch. I had to leave so didn't get to eat them myself - my honey took them to work for his secretary who said that they were delicious and with less seeds that your regular eggplants. It also helped that they were very young and not overripe. And then I had to leave for work-related trip so didn't really get to do anything in the garden. However my honey did and he surprised me with few things. He's been picking up cucumbers every couple of days while I was gone and then decided to can them so they won't go bad. So by the time I got home he had 5 jars of pickles ready and waiting.
His only complaint was that garden is "high on steroids" when it comes to producing rate. Well with the amount of rain we've had and hot weather it's not surprising that everything is ripening. He's been picking some salads and tomatoes for eating right away and he had some fried ichiban eggplant that he made himself from another one that ripened while I was gone - there are many little ones hanging on the plant. And then when I got home first thing I had to do of course was pick up ripe veggies.
As you can see we're overloaded with tomatoes and cucumbers and first banana pepper and asian eggplant was picked as well. This is the first wave of tomatoes and lots more coming up later on. For now we've picked italian plums, cherry tomatoes, german striped cavern and regular salad type. Few other types are still ripening like Black Prince and Martin and of course I'm waiting to try Brandywine. They are not as productive as others but the tomatoes are HUGE! They're still growing in size but some look like a small plate. Can't wait to try them!

Ready for 4th of July?

It's a long weekend ahead of us and of course that means BBQ and maybe trip to the lake but it also means whole new set of veggies ready to be picked. I'm looking forward to trying our first cucumbers. They're coming along just fine! Something new to try this 4th of July weekend - buttercrunch lettuce to put on top of the burgers and in salads. We've had plenty of Romaine before but this one is new to me. At least I'll know if I should plant them next year. Also we got first Ichiban eggplant finally fruited and will be ready to pick by the weekend. Plant also has bunch of blooms on it so I'm hoping that this is just first of many to come in the next two months.
There are actually two of plants and both have baby eggplants hanging on them, which is great because my sister will be here for a week so she can eat them. I know she's looking forward to picking some of the greens like peas and blueberries, carrots and tomatoes. Today I picked some sweet peas. garlic scapes and first yellow wax beans but I won't be picking anything else for next few days so she can do that herself over the weekend.
And of course there's second wave of strawberries coming along and more various lettuces that I planted. Here you can see red lettuce growing next to the strawberry bush. My DF will have his berries and I have my salads so everyone wins :o)

Pretty Flowers

Well summer is officially here and it means flowers, flowers and more flowers! As if my garden wasn't in bloom before, summer flowers started to open up. In my enclosed garden I planted bunch of gladiolus along the main wall - mixed between all those peas. Well they've been growing and many have flower shoots and this morning I found out that one has opened up.
Isn't it pretty? Now I can't wait to see them all open. I counted at least 7 shoots all along the wall and they'll be all different types. There's mix of purple, white and reds so it should be very pretty. Maybe next year I'll look for larger types but for now this works just as well.

Next harvest wave...

There is always something that is getting ripe and ready to pick in the garden. In spring it's lettuces, arugula, spinach, sorrel and radishes. Then come strawberries. Now it's time for scallions..
Next week we'll have cucumbers - they're in bloom and have baby cucs forming already. Tomatoes will be ready in about a week as well. I just have to figure out what to do with this overload. These will go into salad.
Bell pepper has been ripening slowly but surely and will be picked soon. It's been a bit too rainy so they didn't want to form but now that it's hot and humid they're forming like crazy. I think we'll have several of them closer to august.
First baby yellow squash formed so it also should be ready for picking within a week. Once they form and bloom it only takes few days to get to pick-and-eat stage. And then there is my daily snack - sugar peas. They are continuously in bloom and I pick few of them each day. And it's going to be like this for most of the summer. Did I mention that this is only a beginning for tomatoes??
Ack! Anyone has any suggestions how to make great tomato sauce? On the other hand they make my garden look so nice and lush!

Don't blink...

People often wonder how long does it take to grow your own produce. Well that depends on what you're trying to grow. There are some items that take longer - like potatoes and onions. They will be ready closer to the end of summer. And then there are "quickies" - things that grow like weeds and ready for picking in no time. Remember when I spilled lettuce seeds?
And this is how it is today - ready to pick fully grown romaine lettuce. And daily picking for me for our dinner salad. Oddly enough these are doing far better than the ones I planted in a row. Maybe next time I should do the same :o)
Radishes are even faster! You can go from seeding to harvesting within 4 weeks if you start early in spring. But don't bother planting seeds in summer because radishes don't like heat. Instead of developing nice radish-root they'll just go into bloom and you won't have any harvest.

Groundhog damage

There you go day after day taking care of your little garden. One morning you admire how green and lush it's getting and go do your other business during the day. Just to come home and in horror realize that your garden has been ransacked. Well not my enclosed garden because the fence protects it for most part. But my container garden has been under attack from a groundhog. This used to be my parsley. It was so nice and I was thinking that this weekend I'd clip it and get it dried for later. Nope. Not going to happen. Groundhog had it himself for lunch. He also ate some of my peppers, all green beans leaves and all peas that were under my bushes.
And this were my golden beets. I planted them late but still hoped to get them going. What he didn't eat he trampled them down to get to parsley. Can't say how upset this makes me.
Ok, so I still have new parsley growing in the garden but that won't be ready for picking for quite a while. I hope the container one will bounce back and that beans will recover their lost leaves and will produce something later on. Now I have to figure out how to keep him off my patio.

Share the bounty

Sometimes you learn what to plant and how much of it you'll need as you go along. For example I know next year not to plant whole row of arugula because we just can't keep up with it when it's in prime. The same goes for my sorrel and snap peas. Next year I will plant only few bushes of snap peas for stir frying and the rest will be sugar peas for eating.
Because you really don't need that many for stir-fry and they're not very tasty to eat raw. But lesson learned and while it's still growing I use what I can and remaining is given away. The same is with today's quick pick.
This is sorrel and dill that will be going to my DF's secretary along with some peas. The dill has been so prolific that I've been cutting it down and drying for later use and just storing in old spice containers. Once dry it's good to keep for long time and is good flavoring when cooking meals. I also picked first carrot to try it out - very sweet though a bit small so will have to wait couple more weeks to pick the rest.

No Sunflowers for me

This week has been disappointing to say the least. I lost all my sunflowers that I planted in the outside bed together with cucumbers. They were growing so nicely and were over 2 feet high. And now that's all that was left of them.
That's right, deer ate them all. Just left the stems half way through so now they're useless. And I was really hoping to try them this year. Ironically they're listed as 'safe' to be planted in deer-heavy area because they have fuzzy leaves and deers don't like them. Well they obviously haven't met our deers who also like to eat our potato greens - something that's also listed as safe.Here is one caught red-handed on the spot helping herself to my potato greens. I guess it's a lesson for me for next year - cover everything with netting regardless of what's planted.

I think we'll have tomatoes...

Before I planted my garden I used to keep my greens only in container environment. You don't get as much of a harvest as you would in garden, so this year I planted many types of veggies and of course tomatoes completely forgetting that I might get bigger harvest than just 2-3 tomatoes per plant. Everyone eats tomatoes, right? If not plain on a sandwich or raw in salad then maybe a tomato sauce for some italian dish. I mean you can't have too many of them, right? Well maybe you can have just a tad more than you need. When I planted mine I wanted different varieties so in addition to my own seedlings that I grew I also picked up few from a friend's farm. I shared some with my DF's dad (he has his own garden as well) but planted half mixed with mine. Today out of curiosity I counted my tomato plants - 18 in garden beds and a dozen in containers. OY! And they're blooming. Every single plant is in bloom. I think I went overboard on them. Oh well at least they're pretty. I've never seen blooms to be this big! can't wait to see actual fruit when it's ripe. And I found few first "baby" tomatoes hanging on the vines already. This is Roma Tomato - I think we'll have plenty for a sauce. I counted 7 just on one plant. Either sauce or I might try canning them for winter. And we'll have some for a salad as well! This one is small patio variety but it's definitely good enough for salads. Can't wait to see how my other heirlooms are going to produce. July should be really good month for harvest!

Companion Planting

In one of the previous posts I mentioned using all available space that you can find, but what I forgot to mention that some plants benefit from being planted next to each other. Like for example tomatoes and parsley. Tomatoes grow tall and parsley can grow underneath and both will benefit from mutual coexistence. In my garden I planted several things together. Here are some carrots that are growing next to my strawberries. You already seen my broccoli (which btw I already removed yesterday after taking second round of crops). And I planted some fresh salads between rows of Dill - by the time salad grows enough to take space Dill will be picked.

I also spilled some salad seeds where my basket was when I was planting and it happened to be in the asparagus area. Asparagus will take at least two year to spread before giving any results so even though I wasn't planing on putting anything there it turned out to be for the good. This way I will harvest salad and asparagus will keep growing. It's a good combination.

And of course there are beans and peas which are good companions for most plants because they are natural fertilizers. They produce their own nitrogen - something that all plants need to grow properly. But do be careful with how much nitrogen you get in soil or some of your plants will be big and tall and leafy but not with much of fruits. For tomatoes it's better to be on a moderate side or you won't see whole lot of tomatoes later on.

And there are some combinations that really bad for each other - peas for example won't tolerate any of the onion family. There are many websites that have comprehensive lists of what's compatible with what plant so you can always google them. I know you can plant beans and corn and pumpkin - trinity of the farming world and they will grow wonderfully together. So keep experimenting. You never know what you might get :o)

Letting your garden bloom

Look at all those pretty flowers in the garden... but wait, shouldn't I be clipping them off to prolong the harvest time?? Not necessary. To the left white flower is coming out from my parsley. So why would I let my parsley go into bloom? Because I want it to bloom and give me seeds later on. That way I can plant more through the summer and next year as well and I won't have to buy them in the store.

One plant will give me enough seeds for all my needs. I have other plants that I use for cooking so it's not a big loss. The same goes for my arugula and salad plants. For now I can still pick them but probably come weekend I will take them all out and plant seeds for fresh set of crops. But for now they'll be blooming and I'll leave at least few of them to go ripe so I can gather seeds. It's not a good idea to use the same crops in one place so where I used to have salads I'll probably put something else. I already spread some salad seeds where I had spinach and radishes. That way I can rotate them better.
And I'm going to do the same with peas, beans, onions and squashes if they'll grow too many at one time.
That's one of the reason I wanted to use organic and heirloom varieties so I can gather up seeds and dry them for later use.
It's really easy to do too.
All you need is to let veggie mature, let's say tomato, and when it's really overripe, take out the seeds, place them on a piece of paper and let them dry out. You can wash them before to clean out the gunk but it's not necessary. Place them in a dry cool location in a paper bag or wrap in wax paper and let them be there until you're ready to use again. As long as they're really dry they won't sprout and they can be saved like that for several years.