Tag Archives: Gardening

A Big Gardening Week

24 Jul

Wow…  What an awesome week for my garden!

First, the food…

Saturday we had dinner with my parents, sister, and grandmother.  I brought over a ton of produce – artichokes, squash, squash flowers, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and sweet peppers, as well as rosemary we used in cooking chicken – and we had a feast.  We boiled the artichokes with garlic, onion, and herbs, grilled the squash alongside chicken and polenta squares (my sister’s express request for her pre-birthday dinner), had a big salad, and made the year’s first batch of fried squash flowers.  A few years ago, the last time I actually had a garden, we made a batch or two of them, but since we haven’t had readily-available blossoms since ’07, these were a really exciting and fun treat.  Obviously not something you’d make daily (because, um, they’re fried) but totally worth the messy stove.

Thursday night we had ratatouille, with our first creamy eggplant (everything but the onion and garlic were garden-harvested).

Yesterday I made tomato sauce with five big Black Krum tomatoes, and dinner last night was carnitas burritos with veggies, with a filling made from our first tomatillo harvest and some of our peppers.  I also made another set of pickles, since I’ve taken a dozen cucumbers out of the garden in the last week! 

Now on to the garden itself…

The Black Krum and Isis tomatoes have produced their first ripe fruits.  There are ripening fruits on the Kellogg’s Breakfast and Camp Joy plants too, and Sungold has produced about 7 pounds of beautifully ripe cherry-sized tomatoes over the last month and a half!

The bean vines are going nuts – I’ve harvested about three pounds of big beautiful green beans!  Likewise, most of the pepper plants are full of fruit.  And the cucumber plants together have produced something like 15 pounds of cucumbers.  Likewise, the artichoke plant is producing consistently – we’ve gotten a dozen chokes from the two plants that have flowered, and, with tons of little ones sprouting on the sides now, plan to eat these for a while.  Interestingly we seem to have a far smaller problem with pincher bugs this year in our chokes – I wonder whether it has anything to do with the physical barrier (the weed cloth) we put down.

The first butternut squash didn’t actually set – but over the last two weeks we’ve seen more female flowers on that plant than I’ve ever seen before.  Luckily, since it wasn’t producing any male flowers to pollenate them, I was able to use the summer squash plants in the backyard to pollenate.  I wasn’t sure it would work, but it did – and we’ve got nine baby butternuts on the plant right now!  You can see that both pumpkin plants in the bed next to the butternut squash seem to be doing well – there’s actually a baby fruit on the smallest (middle) plant.  The tall plant across from the squash appears to be a bush variety (it’s called Magic Lantern but I don’t recall seeing anything about it being a bush rather than a vine) of pumpkin.

Baby butternut!

You can see my "bush" pumpkin here... This photo is actually a couple of days old, though, because the butternut squash has encroached on the pumpkins' space already!

Last week I got curious about the watermelons in the front yard and brought out my antique kitchen scale.  I tried to be as careful as possible, and gravity was working against me (the watermelon kept trying to roll downhill!) but I weighed the largest melon at about 13 pounds.  I haven’t seen any signs of it being ripe yet – I’m hoping I don’t miss them!

My biggest watermelon! ~13 pounds!

The Jack Be Little pumpkin is already getting really big.  I caged it this week (right after I took this photo) in hopes that when it sends out tendrils it’ll climb up the cage rather than out all over my patio.  Considering that it only ever sprouted over 4th of July weekend, I’m impressed with the size of this little guy.  Can’t wait for my mini pumpkins!

Jack Be Little pumpkins! Took me three tries to get this to grow from seed but now they're happy as clams!

The potted Sugar Baby watermelon (grown from a seed, just like my Jack Be Little) has set its first fruit.  I made a little “sling” out of a piece of panty hose to keep it supported (hush now, it’s not meant to look pretty!).  Hopefully this will help it to stay on the plant long enough to ripen!

My homemade watermelon sling!

My sunflowers are getting tall – currently they’re about waist-high on me.  They’re supposed to be an heirloom variety with several different blooms of various sizes and shades.  Can’t wait to see what colors the blossoms are!  I’m hoping I can figure out how to properly harvest the seeds from these guys without bugs laying their eggs inside.  Last time I grew sunflowers (big giant yellow ones, taller than the house), I let the heads dry on the stem, and when we tried to harvest the seeds they were overrun by larvae.  Ick!

Sunflowers are waist-high!

Two weeks ago the heat was so crazy that my lettuce all bolted.  This week I pulled it up and planted some new things – asparagus peas (which I’ve never tried, but the teeny red flowers were so pretty I had to get them), more beets (I harvested my last two earlier this week) and two mystery plants that were on a table of mixed vegetables at the nursery with no tags and no like plants.  I think one is celeriac and the other is kale.  Of course since they just went in the ground it’ll be a little bit before I can truly see.  (sorry, no photos yet of my mystery plants or asparagus peas!)

My harvest for yesterday was so colorful and gorgeous!

Harvest! Several Black Krum tomatoes, plus some Isis tomatoes and more Sungolds, an artichoke, two small creamy eggplants, some cucumbers and peppers, our first tomatillos, and an okra!

I’ve also harvested squash and beans this week, along with another eggplant and several more tomatoes.  We’re really getting into the summer season here and my garden is thriving!

Squash and Cucumbers and Tomatoes, Oh My!

13 Jul

I got back last night from two days away with friends.  Today I was feeling hung over (the sleep kind of hangover, not the drunk kind of hangover – we only slept about 2 1/2 hours the night before last, as we were making custom tee-shirts for our friend’s Disneyland birthday) and it was 80+ degrees at my house (no air conditioning, and yes I’m aware that on the East Coast it’s been far warmer for the last week, but here it’s been in the low 60s…  so it was a huge temperature jump and my body really didn’t like it).  So I didn’t really get off the couch until a half hour or so ago.

I knew my poor plants desperately needed to be watered (although my husband was home, the garden really is my baby… I think if I gave him specific instructions he’d have remembered, but watering was not something he’d have done on his own), but I was completely gobsmacked when I walked out the back door.

First, the not-so-good news.  The Black Seeded Simpson lettuce has pretty much all gone to seed.  I cut two stalks off that had fallen over onto my Swiss Chard and we’re having salad for dinner; I’m thinking I have another three or four days at most before I really have to yank them out. 

Lettuce is all about ready to be pulled out

Sadly, mildew has attacked my tomatoes with a vengeance – I thought I’d been successful in cutting off all the diseased leaves, but I think last week’s bout of cold damp weather really hit them hard.  I sprayed them with a baking soda solution this evening and I’m hoping that they’ll continue to do okay.  And some little critter apparently has made my garden his home, digging a small hole through the weed cover and into the ground.  When I’m done with my watering, hubby plans to put the hose down there and see what comes out – I’m a little scared to do so, though, since it’s definitely a smaller hole than a gopher would make (so I’m thinking it may be reptilian).

I don't want to see what comes out when my hubby puts the hose down this hole...

Now for the good news.

This is tonight’s harvest:

HARVEST!

Yes, that’s all from tonight – and I made sure before I left on Sunday that anything that was ripe was pulled.  So this has all ripened over the last two days.  Two large white scallop squash, two large green cucumbers, five small lemon cucumbers, a bunch of large green beans, at least a pound of very ripe Sungold tomatoes, the third ripe Tequila Sunrise pepper, and two very exciting additions: our first two ripe Cubanelle peppers and our first Black Krum (I realize it’s probably not 100% ripe, but I was too excited to wait to pull it – there’s another one that’s nearly ripe on the plant, and I’ll wait for a couple of days to pick it).

HUGE harvest.  So very exciting!

We also have our very first eggplant growing:

Eggplant!

And our first butternut squash!

Baby butternut squash!

The watermelons are looking good, too – they’re getting gigantic…  I keep looking for signs that one of them has ripened, but so far no dice.

Watermelon vines!

And it looks like we’ll have to call an Artichoke Party at my parents’ house this weekend (every year when there are a ton of artichokes and I don’t know what to do with them we have a sort of impromptu party with my parents and my sister and my grandmother, who all love them as much as we do – we make some sort of protein and maybe grill up some polenta and boil a ton of artichokes and eat them until we can’t eat any more).  Two big ones are on the plants, with a ton of smaller ones.  YUM.

Artichokes!

We also have three purple bell peppers on the plant, and they’re getting bigger by the day.  Can’t wait to stuff them!

Bell pepper

And the Jack Be Little pumpkin sent up its first true leaves!

Pumpkin leaves

The sunflowers are getting tall too!

Sunflowers!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make my dinner…  Salad straight from the garden!

I Love My Garden!

2 Jul

It’s time for another round of garden photos…  It’s crazy how much it’s grown just in the last couple of weeks!  Unfortunately these photos aren’t winning any awards, but you get the idea…

The tomato plants grew much, much faster than anticipated, and, despite being caged, were taking over and invading the walkway and each others’ space, so I bought some sturdy 5′ stakes and tied them up.  I’ve read that crowding the stems can contribute to disease, but as you can see there were already some spots on the stalks before I tied them up; this will at least allow me to access them better and the fruit won’t droop.  Also, I’ve had success in the past brewing a garlic “tea” to spray my plants with; it helps slow the growth of disease without the use of chemicals.  If you look really closely you might be able to catch a glimpse of some of the beanstalks behind the last tomato plant; I have to say I didn’t expect the growth the tomatoes experienced in such a short time frame, so the beans aren’t doing quite as well as I’d hoped.  Still, there are a few tiny beanlets on the vines, and several flowers.  I’ll just need to be super careful getting to them!

The tallest tomato branches are now taller than me... And FULL of fruit. CRAZY!

The pepper plants are all starting to mature peppers; you can see the pretty orange Tequila Sunrise in the background, along with the Purple Bell plant in the foreground.  Something I wasn’t aware of when I harvested my first bell pepper earlier in the month is that this particular strain of bell peppers evidently has fruit that turn purple and then mature; the first pepper I picked was green on the inside, and very very bitter.  Since then I’ve seen three small peppers turn a dark aubergine; they’ve all continued to get larger, so here’s hoping the next one I pick will be tasty!  You might also notice the lemon cucumber behind the Tequila Sunrise.  It’s getting HUGE and setting fruit like crazy.  The last time I grew lemon cucumbers (and Isis tomatoes, for that matter), the plant barely grew at all and only set a handful of fruit.  Now it’s bursting!

Peppers and cucumbers and tomatillos, oh my!

The squash bed is full of life, too.  The largest artichoke plant has a TON of small chokes on it, and I just saw my first choke on the second plant today.  The biggest squash plant has leaves more than a FOOT across!  We also just harvested the first patty pan squash – you might be able to just see it in the photo.  The malabar spinach is climbing its trellis and there are a ton of small flowers on it.  Truthfully I haven’t harvested any spinach; I think I’m just too interested in what it’s going to do next!

What you can't see are all the teeny tiny artichokes on the biggest plant!

The front of the house is coming along nicely; the big plant on the left is a butternut squash, grown from seed planted in May.  Unfortunately none of the pumpkin seeds I attempted to grow took root (although I did plant seeds – again – for Jack Be Little pumpkins in a big pot in the back yard last week, so we’ll see if those sprout), so I finally broke down and bought a Magic Lantern and a Casper.  That’s the white one in the middle.  I know that the vines will eventually intertwine and it’s a slightly small space for three winter squash, but I love the look of a big mess of vines (the watermelons look fantastic!).

The front yard; from left to right, butternut squash, Casper white pumpkin, and Magic Lantern pumpkin

And the watermelons?  Best idea we ever had.  Every night we hear people walking by commenting on how big they’re getting – and several of our neighbors have commented to us that they love looking at them!  The yard is green and pretty – the vines are taking up almost the whole side – and there are currently four little melons growing like crazy.  Literally every time we go outside it seems like one of the melons has grown an inch or more.  I am hopeful that the biggest one will be ripe in time for our July 4th dinner with friends, but since I’ve never had luck growing watermelon before I’m not really sure I’ll be able to tell!  The last watermelon I planted ended up with a single softball-sized fruit that rotted and split open instead of ripening, so I’ve already succeeded with these two!

Pretty melons!

Like I said, we’re having friends over this weekend, to eat in our garden.  And eat from the garden; we’ve got pickles from my first-ever batch this week, and we’ll have a salad, complete with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and chive flowers (YUMMY), even if nothing else is ready yet.  So exciting!

Today’s harvest: 5 lemon cucumbers (the two largest went to our former neighbors and friends, B & D), a beautiful white patty pan summer squash (these taste similar to zucchini but are actually a little milder, to my taste…  I’d never had one before I met my husband but his grandfather used to grow them and they’re a favorite in his family), two artichokes, and a couple of little orange Sungold tomatoes.  I’ve been hoarding these so that we have enough of them for Sunday’s dinner!

Harvest time!

Harvest!

22 Jun

Updated at 10:10 am; hopefully the photos are showing up correctly now and not smushing together…  Sorry if it posts twice on your reader!

I harvested my first big haul from our garden this past weekend; I filled up my jumbo 6 quart vintage tupperware bowl to overflowing with lettuce – twice.  Some of our nine heads of Red Leaf Romaine and Black-Seeded Simpson were two feet across!  I also harvested several tiny yellow tomatoes from our Sungold plant and a couple of handfuls of basil.  I’ve previously pulled a few sprigs of parsley and some thyme and chives off their respective plants, and we had a few strawberries (I don’t know that they like their pot very much, unfortunately).

However, yesterday was our first real “harvest”, with a quantity of different yummy produce straight from the back yard.

First, photos of the yard as it is right now.  You’ll remember that this is how my tomatoes used to look:

The tomato bed a MONTH ago

 Today, it looks like this:

This is the same bed, one month later.

 I know it’s from a different angle and you can see the hedge my landlord butchered (and the house next door – oops!) in the lower photo…  But you can see what my neighbor meant about the elves coming in the middle of the night to make things grow.  It’s like a jungle!  The rest of the old photos of the garden can be found here; but there are a few more new ones:

The pepper bed isn't quite as dramatic as the tomato bed, but you can see that there's a ton of fruit on the plants! Pretty soon there will be sunflowers popping up by the fence in back - they're already almost a foot high!

Look at how big those artichokes have gotten! The middle squash is getting pretty huge too, and the spinach in the back is vining up the trellis!

 As you can see, our combination of weed control fabric and wood chip mulch hasn’t worked to completely keep the yard grass-free.  Unfortunately the grass in this yard is just too darn persistent.  But we have far less grass right now than we would have, if we hadn’t prepared the beds as we did.  And since we snaked soaker hoses underneath the fabric, we’re able to water deeply at all hours of the day.  Obviously the plants like the garden setup!

Now, on to my harvest:

Yum!

Yes, that’s all from yesterday.  A huge yellow beet (planted back in April; later this year I plan to plant more for this winter), our first artichoke of the season, another strawberry, one more yellow tomato, some Thai basil, a squash flower, and our first “ripe” pepper (purple bell) and cucumbers (two small pickling-type and one lemon cucumber… mmmm, my favorite!). 

We had a nice salad at dinner and used as much of the produce as we could.  Everything tasted incredible except for the pepper, which must have turned color too early or something.  It tasted really bitter.  I’ve never had the best luck with bell peppers, which is why out of 9 pepper plants I only planted a single bell (the rest are the longer, thinner chile-type peppers, although most of them are very very very mild).

I’m also eagerly anticipating our first okra (already set on the plant), our first beans (the blossoms of which are about to burst open any day), our first squash (hopefully already set) and our first watermelon (growing in the front yard right now!):

This melon is about 3 inches long, definitely long enough for me to know that it's been fertilized, since the first few shriveled up at one inch, but still tiny!

Garden Update!

17 Jun

I came back from my trip earlier this week; when I walked outside, I almost shrieked.  The tomato bushes that were two feet wide by three feet tall with a few blossoms on them when I left were sprawling four foot-by-four-foot tomato trees laden with fruit.  The previously-anemic basil plants next to my back door were bursting with leaves and flowers.  The chard and the butternut squash grew several inches.  The watermelon is taking over its half of the front yard.  Our oldest artichoke plant has several buds on it.  The lettuce plants, little more than a few scraggly leaves when I got on the plane, each have several dozen leaves on them – and most are bigger than a man’s hand.

Every pepper plant, all but one tomato plant, and several cucumbers have set fruit.  The squash have all flowered (although it doesn’t look like any fruit took on the squash plants or the watermelons, which means they probably flowered when it was just too cold), as have both eggplants.  The okra look a little sad, but the sunflowers a few feet away went from tiny little shoots to proper seedlings.  And the beans, the tallest of which was about a foot when we left, are now climbing up the fence and even the gutter, higher than my head.

As my neighbor who watered for us commented, it’s as if the elves came one night.  Or we’re living at a vortex.  Something awesome happened, though, because suddenly the garden is just full of life.  We’ve harvested the first golden tomatoes from our Sungold plant, juicy tangy sweet things unlike any tomato you can buy, even at a Farmer’s Market.  And tomorrow night we’re planning a pesto from all the basil flowers I picked.

Now I’m off to buy a pumpkin seedling (because sadly our seeds never sprouted).  I’ll try to share photos soon!

Gardening!

19 May

I swear even though it looks like all I do all day is cook, we are soooo much busier than that!  Aside from job-hunting (so frustrating) and a host of other projects I’d wanted to finish, I finally got to plant the garden I’ve been dreaming about.  Okay, maybe not the garden I’ve been dreaming about, since that distinction is currently given to the beautiful garden in It’s Complicated:

This was obviously not my photo; it's all over the internet, and not the best view of the gorgeous garden at that... Oh, if I only had the room for such a garden!

We have a pretty tiny backyard.  It’s got clay soil and either gets a TON of sun or none at all.  So it’s a challenge.  I gardened back there in 2006 and 2007, but was so incredibly busy in 2008 that what little got planted never got watered (sigh).  In 2009 I didn’t even bother.

Unfortunately, weeds took over.  In mid-2009, though, hubby and I covered the whole yard with black tarp and left it there.  In December, we removed it, in anticipation of the use of his uncle’s roto-tiller (we attempted to work the ground by hand, but it was packed solid).  There were a few yellowed strands of crabgrass under the tarp, and unfortunately we got hit pretty hard by an industrious gopher, but overall the whole place looked good.  And weed-free.

Sadly, hubby’s uncle’s roto-tiller had to wait; between rain, the holidays, more rain, and his uncle’s schedule, we simply couldn’t get the tilling done.  Finally in late March we were able to rent a tiller, but not before we had killed four-foot dandelions (courtesy of all the rain we got during those three months) with boiling water and spent days ripping out the roots (I really really really don’t want to use chemicals – I try to garden organically).  I have a photo but I refuse to post it.  It’s bad.  Really really bad.  I feel really sorry for my neighbors who had to walk by it!

We then began a very long process of re-setting the paver patio (something I will never, EVER do again – I’d rather build a wooden deck myself than have to deal with paving sand again, and despite our liberal use of expensive paver  fabric that hubby assured me would guard against weeds, we’re already getting crabgrass poking through), and planting the garden beds (6 in back, 2 in front – hubby got the landlord’s ok to till the front of the house, where the sprinkler’s demise had caused all the grass to die).  We got weed control fabric (luckily cheap at Big Lots), drip hoses, and a TON of cedar wood mulch (which, I know, they say might harbor pests – but it was either that or weed every night, so we’re going to try this…  plus it looks nice and keeps my plants moist).  We have literally poured hundreds of hours into getting this yard useable and pretty again.

I have to play the proud momma and share baby photos of my garden:

Squash bed (finished last night!). Includes four globe artichoke (I purchased a single plant four years ago and never watered it but it's divided three times!), 5 patty pan squash, Malabar spinach (it apparently grows on a VINE, hence the support), and pots containing strawberries and the avocado tree I luckily didn't kill a year ago.

Cucumber and Pepper Bed - Includes two tomatoes (that's Kellogg's Breakfast at the edge, and Camp Joy in the middle), 9 pepper plants (including Purple Belle, Cubanelle, Tequila Sunrise, and a couple of others), three lemon cucumber plants, three "pickling"-size cucumber plants, and a tomatillo. Behind the bed you can barely see the bottom of the pot my garlic plant is in; beyond that are the two smallest beds in the yard. I've planted okra and herbs in one, and the other will be for sunflowers.

Tomato Bed - includes three tomato plants (from the top, Sungold, Black Krum, and Isis), Lavender Eggplant, several basil plants, parsley, and dill (both of which were planted after this photo was taken). Against the fence you might just be able to see some bean seedlings. I love being able to walk out the kitchen door and grab herbs!

We’ve already got quarter-sized green tomatoes on my Sungold plant, and Isis, Black Krum, and Kellogg’s Breakfast are flowering.  We have peppers on three of our nine plants (two on Tequlia Sunrise plants and one Cubanelle), and flowers on the rest, and the cucumber and tomatillios are flowering too.  No flowers yet on the patty pan squash, okra, or watermelon – but give it time.

Teeny-tiny tomato; this little guy was set this week on my Sungold plant.

This was one of the very first tomatoes my Sungold plant set.

Baby Tequila Sunrise pepper

The second set of seeds were planted yesterday (the first set having been decimated by birds – although I did get two squash plants and a single corn – from 20 seeds! – out of the ordeal), including pumpkins, okra, and salsify (which I’ve never tried, but if I’m successful I’ll blog about). 

Seeds! Clockwise from the yellow straw on the top: Jack-O-Lantern pumpkin, Sweet Pea, Parsnip, Butternut Squash, Round Carrots, Jack-be-Little Mini Pumpkin, Multicolored Sunflowers, Okra, Salsify, and two pots of bush beans. In the middle are corn, and in the side container are more pole beans, since about half of my others were eaten by the birds.

We’ve even got some flowers – planted in the shady part of the yard, with the lettuce and beets, and some of the herbs. And I saw this beautiful pinwheel at Big Lots a few weeks ago and had to pick it up.

I've had a thing for pinwheels since I was a kid. This one's about three feet tall, and if I'd have seen it 28 or 29 years ago I think I'd have flipped out! The stains on the wall are from the people who lived there before us; they had climbing roses.

And even though I’ve been gardening for years, and have read a TON of gardening books (my favorite is the Reader’s Digest one my sister got me in 2006!), I’m still learning new things.  For example, it’s my first time planting eggplant (since I only really learned to like it last year).  Did you know that there are fierce spikes on the leaves?

I knew artichokes and okra defended themselves... But it was a total surprise when I was working with the eggplant and got stuck by these spikes!

My garden has always been my sanctuary – last time I had a nice garden, I would come home after work and sit for an hour or more just weeding away.  I’d have breakfast on the patio.  Of course it wasn’t always all veggies – at one time I spent over $100 on sod, and would come home at lunchtime just to water it.  The landlord’s gardeners mowed it – twice, the second time after our express request for them not to – in the middle of July, when it was only a few months old.  Of course it was dead soon afterwards.  Oh well, more room for veggies!

My very first garden, complete with the doomed grass and the first incarnation of the patio, in April 2006. The veggies were only in the bed behind the patio - the rest was flowers. The tree you see on the left edge of the photo was chopped down a few months later by the landlord because it was getting in the plumbing. Sad - I liked that tree.

Four years ago a little baby mockingbird came out of a nest as Hubby (who was not yet Hubby) and I were eating lunch out there, and got wedged between some chairs.  I moved them so he could get out, and we went inside to watch as his mother found him and fed him.

He was stuck between these chair legs in the corner of the yard! Doesn't he look like a cranky little old man?

Taken through the bedroom window screen, you can see the mommy bird on the tomato cage in my first garden; she's got food for baby (the shadow under the leaves on the right!)

Gardening makes me feel like I am doing something right – like not only am I helping to put good food on my table, but I’m helping the environment.  Yes, it takes water (although when we move, eventually we’ll get a rain barrel and perhaps even a gray water system).  And it’s not cheap, or particularly easy.  But I’m not only getting awesome yummy vegetables, I’m also enjoying myself.  I feel centered when I’m out there, and happy.

There’s still a lot to do – we have to finish three more garden beds and clean out the area next to the house where hubby left a “pretty” weed that has now grown literally up to the roof (oops), for starters, and finish putting things in their proper places (like the barbeque in the photo above) – but I’m so incredibly excited to finally have a garden of my own again!

All of this work is making me think about what we’ll do when we have a house of our own – which will eventually happen, even if it’s happening later than I’d hoped.  I’m thinking raised beds, an automatic sprinkler system, a deck or poured concrete patio, a pretty flower bed with a bench shaded by grape vines, and fruit trees!  Money permitting, of course. 🙂

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