Monday, July 27, 2009

Time to Enjoy the Fruits of our Labor

A fair number of our meals in the past few days have been straight from the garden. Yesterday, for example, we picked blueberries (but they are winding down now) and they were part of the dessert for lunch today and also picked kale, Swiss chard, and pole beans (all of which made up supper yesterday). Two days ago I pried out much of the garlic and now have 25 or 30 pounds hanging in my shed to dry. The bulbs were larger than I have ever had before so this may be an especially good year for garlic. I even picked my first tomato but haven't eaten it yet. It wasn't fully ripe but I didn't want to take the chance that something would come along and take a bite out of it. We have also been harvesting a few of the potatoes.

We also "harvested" our third ground hog and our third raccoon and had them removed. (I don't have a problem with raccoons and wish they would stop going into the traps.) Squirrels, as they have for years, are knocking off or carrying away the large number of pears on our one pear tree. We hardly ever eat more than a few of them because the squirrels usually clean out everything before any are ripe enough for me. I did bring a few in to sit on the porch and ripen - if I didn't pick them too soon for that. The main purpose of the pear tree is to keep squirrels from eating other things.

The deer has returned. For the past three days we have seen deer tracks in the garden. They come up the side road from the front of the house - either choosing the mulched path through the flowers or just using the road. I could see tracks in the mulch leading to the gate to the back yard but didn't see any tracks immediately on the back yard side, but there were clearly new tracks near the potatoes and in the lettuce bed. We do have a fence around our yard (but five feet is no barrier for the deer) and a thick row of shrubs next to the fence on the road side. I haven't yet figured out where the deer jumps the fence nor have we actually seen a deer anywhere on our property this year. I don't see much damage if any at all - maybe a few pole beans nibbled higher than the ground hog would have reached - but my concern is what a deer could do. [I know what ground hogs like but what vegetables deer prefer.] The hoof print is no more than 2 inches so I assume this is not a large deer.

Snails remain abundant on our property but they are not such a problem in the vegetable garden as they were earlier. I still remove them when I see them.

We have picked about 12 1/2 pounds of blueberries so far this year - just from six bushes. Weight-wise that has been our biggest producer but squash (for sure) and tomatoes (I hope) will soon provide greater poundage (and they are a lot faster to pick).

I hope your garden is growing well.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Between Planting and Harvest

This is the time of the year that is devoted to weeds (and, this year, snails). Most of the garden is planted, although I have collards, kale, pak choi and arugula seedlings in the cold frame. The big vegetables are not yet ready for harvest - tomatoes have green fruit but probably three weeks before any picking, peppers just have blossoms, pole beans are now beginning to flower (after having been repeatedly pruned by the groundhogs), the potatoes are in flower, and the garlic leaves are just beginning to dry.

We have been picking blueberries for about a week and the bushes are heavy with berries. For the first time we notice that some of the birds are interested in pecking at the berries. We continue to harvest Swiss chard and other greens. With a daily surveillance of the snails there is less loss to them.

I have planted broccoli from my seedlings and surrounded them with cut worm collars (I cut the cardboard backs of note pads into about one inch wide pieces and staple each one to form a circle). With no groundhogs these may grow. I hope so, this is the 4th planting.

One thing I have become much better about is the amount of seed I use when starting plants indoors. I became aware of this when I was growing milkweed seedlings and wanted to compare the germination rates of seeds that were cold stratified with those that weren't. To do that I planted three seeds in each cell in the six-packs. I was amazed at the germination rates (92% for those that were cold stratefied) and the result was that most cells had three seedlings in them. With the last broccoli I only had a few seeds left in the package and so I planted one to a cell. I had 17 seeds to plant and just set out 16 little seedlings from them.

In past years there have been times (admittedly rare) when I was current with weeding. Then we go away for a week - or life intervenes and I don't get to the garden for a week - and the weeds have taken over and I never catch up again. Do my vegetables grow that quickly? Of course not. I think I can weed an area one day and three days later it needs to be done again. I have been pleased with the clover that I planted among some crops. It discourages (but does not totally eliminate) weeds. The clover can best be used with larger plants - about the size of broccoli and kale - that will be taller than the clover.

This year I have grown a couple of new vegetables and I should have researched them more. I planted arugula (mostly because I wanted to see what it looked like). It grew very well but I didn't know when or how to harvest it. By the time I really noticed it, it had begun to flower. One website says once it flowers pull it out because it will be too bitter. I will be able to answer that soon because I did pull it out yesterday but saved some of the leaves in the process. Some of them will go into a salad today and then I will know if they are still worth eating. I have started more arugula but since it is a spring (cold weather) green it may not do well - unless summer continues to elude us.
Another new vegetable is red malabar spinach. Having read that it is like New Zealand spinach I treated it as such. But apparently the similarity is that it is a warm weather plant that is sort of like spinach. The New Zealand spinach plants I grew last year spread out in a bush form but I just learned that the red malabar spinach is a vine that will grow 6 to 8 feet tall. I need to create a trellis for it.

If anyone has grown arugula or red malabar spinach I would appreciate any suggestions on when to pick the leaves. I assume that I could start now with the spinach.

Although it has not been very hot yet I see that my pepper plants are beginning to grow well. So all is well right now.