Monday, August 31, 2009

Edible Progress

Progress in the Vegetable Garden:

Cucumbers- 1) Lemon Cucumber (below) - the vines appear to be suffering from wilt, which is very common here for cucumbers. I sprayed some neem on them to ward off more of the insects which surely infected the plant, and started a few more seeds. (We're fortunate to have a very long growing season here - it won't freeze until November at least.) The cucumbers are absolutely delicious in salads.

2) The small green pickling cucumber vines have produced ZERO cucumbers, and started suffering from the wilt way before the lemon cucumbers. Interesting that the LCs, an heirloom variety, appear to be more resilient.

Eggplants are producing steadily. Ratatouille, anyone? There are holes in the leaves of the plants, apparently from bugs, but the plants and fruits don't seem affected. I have discovered that you should pick eggplants before you think they are ready to ensure they will be tender.

Peppers - Bell peppers are producing steadily. I top-dressed the plants with compost last week since I'm sure the plants have sucked up all the nutrients in the soil by now. The plants seem happy staked and watered every few days. My one hot pepper plant (serrano) is still producing an absurd amount of peppers! I think I have used two all summer!

Tomatoes - 1) Beefsteak - healthy plants, producing slowly but steadily. These tomatoes are all somewhat cracked, but taste great.

2) Yellow pear - the plants are 7-8 feet tall even though I pruned them pretty heavily a month or so ago. I always have plenty to pick for salads. These are pretty good, but not nearly as good as the clementine tomatoes I grew last year, which had a ton of citrus-y flavor. I'll probably try a different cherry tomato next year.

3) Black krim - the best-tasting tomato ever, on healthy plants which produce numerous fruits at once. I am growing this forever more.

I rooted suckers of all of the plants in water and now have the suckers planted. I did this in anticipation of the original plants getting some inevitable disease (usually blight around here), but it hasn't happened yet - so I may end up with 20 tomato plants!

Beans - I planted a second set of beans a week or two ago. They are the purple snap beans that turn green when cooked. I picked them for the novelty, so hopefully they'll taste good! They are about 6 inches tall now.

The fruit garden didn't do so hot this year - pests got pretty much all of the strawberries and blueberries. I'm thinking of moving the strawberries out of the raised beds and into less prime real estate. I just can't sacrifice raised bed space for an unproductive crop.

The herb garden responded surprisingly well to being moved from a plush raised bed to a clay plot. Even the parsley, whose long taproot was curled in a ball and basically placed atop the clay, has overcome its brief period of stress.

Later in September, when it cools off a tiny bit, I'll be planting cilantro, lettuce, winter squash, and sugar snap peas. As hot as it is in the summer here, I'm thankful that our weather allows us to garden pretty much year round!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tagged by the Queen

Janet aka the Queen of Seaford tagged me! The challenge is to tell you seven things about myself that you don't know, and (hopefully) might find remotely interesting. Here it goes:

1. My ancestors came from Norway, and found their way to Westby, Wisconsin. In Westby, you can still buy Norwegian textiles and delicacies. There is also a great place to buy cheese called Westby Creamery.

2. Between college and law school, I took two years off. I spent the first year working towards a masters degree in philosophy (my undergraduate major). I then quit grad school and spent a year volunteering as an AmeriCorps VISTA, mostly teaching kids to read. It was awesome.

3. I have a tattoo of a butterfly. It was inspired by the book/movie Papillon, starring Steve McQueen.

4. I love colorful, modern art, including "folk art." Here are a painting from a street vendor in New Orleans, and a portrait of our dog Otis (by Steve Godbold, who perfectly captured Otis!):

(My apologies to the artists for the camera flash in these pictures.)

5. When I was in high school, I sang in a few bands, and dabbled in guitar. We played mostly original music, varying from folk to alternative.

6. I love to write. When I was in college, I wrote press releases as a PR intern, and some articles for the college newspaper. I don't get to do much substantive writing now (the occasional summary judgment motion or appeal), but it's my favorite part of my job by far.

7. I can cook a mean holiday turkey even though I don't eat them (or any other meat other than the very occasional seafood - for the past 10 years). The trick? Simplicity. Lots of butter, salt and pepper, and a little paprika for color. Celery, carrots and yellow onion stuffed in the cavities.

I am supposed to tag seven other people, but I know not everyone is into this kind of thing, so I'm just tagging one: Dirt Princess, who I recently got to meet! Hope y'all had a great weekend!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Good... and the Disgustingly Bad

Look at this big wheelbarrow full of compost that we harvested last weekend! The contraption on top is the sifter Scott built. It uses chicken wire, which has worked well for us. Obviously some larger pieces get through than if you used hardware cloth, but it's generally things like egg shell pieces, which are fine to add to the garden without decomposing at all.

Scott is amazed at how good finished compost smells. That is a common reaction --- people are shocked that neither the pile nor the finished product stinks (unless something is wrong!).

Now check out this HUGE and disgusting hornworm/cutworm that was scaling our house! I guess I'd rather have it on the house than on the tomatoes, but it totally grossed me out anyway!
I hope y'all have had a great week and have an even better weekend!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fish Pond Progress

This post could alternately be called "I have awesome friends/spouse," because the fish pond would not exist without all their help!
The 2500 lbs of stone turned out to be about twice as much as we needed, which is OK because now I can use the leftovers for other projects (I'm thinking bed borders, garden path...). Here is what 2500 lbs looks like:
Katherine came over earlier in the week and helped me sort the rocks into stacks by size (S-XL). That turned out to be very helpful. This is most of it:
Saturday, Pamela and her sister Melanie Jane came over and we edged the pond. It took a couple of layers under the lip of the liner (it's raised about six inches due to drainage issues in that area of the yard):
Here we are a short while (really!) later:
I don't have a picture of the yard two and half weeks ago before Scott and Katherine's boyfriend Matt dug the hole for the liner, but just imagine this scene without the liner in the ground. It was.... desolate:
Add sod, rocks and a couple of plants, and look at it now!!!
That is a beautyberry planted to the right. Louisiana irises from my mom's lake are potted on the shelf for marginals. I have a feeling getting the pond plants right (i.e. not killing them) is going to take some practice. We plan to add a pump and small bubbler at some point, and probably some goldfish. In the meantime, we have a cute frog swimming around to entertain us, and a "mosquito dunk" in the water so the pond doesn't become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
If any of you have fish ponds, I would love your advice about plants and/or fish. This pond is 100 gallons.
Hope y'all had a good weekend!

Friday, August 21, 2009

You win some, you lose some

Today's harvest: more yellow pear tomatoes, a bell pepper for omelets tomorrow (there are tons more!), and the first black krim tomato:

I am not kidding you - this black krim was the best tomato I have ever tasted by far.
Well, not everything in the garden can go so well. My squash got a massive FAIL for the year and were thrown out after the second set of borers infested the same plants. We picked the one watermelon last weekend, and unfortunately...
Oh no! I followed all of the rules! The nearest tendril was dead, the skin was hardening, the spot turned from white to yellow, and it sounded hollow.
Did I mention the cucumbers suddenly appear to be suffering from the start of wilt? Man!!
Tomorrow's project: turning 2500 lbs of stone into a pond border and probably a bunch of other stuff. I'll show you the results on Sunday! Have a great weekend!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Backyard Chronicles: A History

I've written before about the undeveloped state of the backyard when I bought this house. Unfortunately, I don't have a "before" picture (because it was nothing anyone would want a picture of!), but here is a representation:
The brown area is DIRT! The bright green is grass that migrated from the neighbor's yard. The top left area is sort of a wild area with small trees.
Since then: The magnolia was very sickly, so we had it cut down. The concrete stairs had migrated away from the back door, so we had a deck put in above them. Scott also installed a chain-link fence for the dog, and built raised beds for me. We put compost bins in the wild area, and otherwise left it as-is for small animal habitat. We put in a couple of beds, edged for now in spare brick.
The yard was looking better, and the grass was slowly spreading, but the dirt was still a big problem. The yard has poor drainage, which is not only annoying, but very bad for our poor foundation. We installed a sort of french drain in one really bad area (it was impossible to give it an outlet, so it has a deep hole at the "end" filled with rocks), and decided to try growing grass in another. We put in 50 blocks of sod today, which made a significant dent in the field of dirt. Scott decided that it would be fun to put in a small fish pond as well:
Here is the raised bed area viewed from the top right of the diagrams above:
The raised bed area from in front of the compost area:
Towards compost area from edge of new grassy area:
Toward house from in front of compost area:
Old herb area in one of the raised beds:
...moved to next to the new grassy area this weekend (see beer bottle garden in background):
Partially-sunk 100-gallon pre-formed pond liner in the ground:
Same surrounded by 50 blocks of St. Augustine sod:
Same from a different angle:
The next step is to add rock edging around the pond, and some plants in and out of the pond. We'll get a pump/filter and a few goldfish after that. We may add some more sod to the remaining dirt area eventually, depending on how well this does. Or we may just let this and the grass in the other part of the yard meet in the middle!
Advice is welcome!!!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Getting Our Vitamins

They say you should "eat the rainbow," and our garden is helping us complete the task. Today I harvested 1 smallish beefsteak tomato, yellow pear tomatoes, serrano chilies, and 2 early long purple eggplants:
The eggplant plants were started from seed ages ago (February 22, to be exact - but I didn't give them enough bottom heat to start). Having never grown eggplant before, I relied on the advice of The Internet to know when to harvest them. Apparently eggplant, like bell pepper but unlike tomato, can be harvested somewhat early to ensure tenderness. Per The Internet's advice, I pressed the side of these two eggplants, and there was a little give, which gave back, apparently meaning they are good to go. If there is no give, don't pick them yet. If it doesn't give back, proceed straight to the compost pile. Also, it's too late if they are no longer shiny.
So much of gardening is figuring out what works in your zone and your yard, with your level of care and skill. I generally try things twice before moving on. I pulled up a bunch of shallots today that were all TINY, as you see above. I planted these mid-November (advised time for my climate), and supposedly they would be ready in 3-4 months. They all multiplied (I planted one set [clove] every six inches, and each set turned into a small bunch like this), but didn't get big enough to really use. I think I planted them too deep. I'm going to replant the biggest of these later this fall, after drying them for storage.
The watermelon I showed y'all awhile back (the only one we have on our one vine) hasn't gotten much bigger, but has gotten darker in color as it's supposed to. This is a Sugar Baby - can anyone tell me when I should harvest it? I'm confused because the tendril is brown, but the melon is so small...
I was wise enough to only plant one hot pepper plant, and we still have way more hot peppers than we can use!! I'm going to try preserving some as Martha Stewart advises (chopped, seeds and all, layered with coarse salt, and stored in the fridge).
The bell pepper plants (in a separate bed so they won't be hot - hopefully) are huge and finally producing baby peppers.
I have some normal cucumbers growing on a fence, and then I have this monster lemon cucumber plant taking over a whole raised bed:
It has been very drought-tolerant and free of the powdery mildew problem cucumbers often have here. Here is a LC that is ready for harvest:
If you harvest them when they just start to turn yellow, they'll be sweeter and more tender. Yum!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Breakin' the Law, Breakin' the Law

The prior owners of our house planted azaleas and crape myrtles on the sunny side. Naturally, if one of those is thriving, the other will be suffering. The crape myrtles love the sun, while the azaleas have suffered from it and NEVER bloomed! Every year I think they might bloom so I hesitate to move them. This past weekend, I broke a deep south gardening law and decided that even though it's August and hot as an oven, it was time.
KMG recently linked to this article about keeping your garden healthy, and it points out that azaleas in too much sun will suffer from illness and disease. Well, you know mine have suffered from disease. These leaf spots appear to be indicative of illness, in the form of sun scald - see the burnt-looking tips and discoloration? (sorry the picture is fuzzy). There is a very similar picture in the article.
I moved another ill-planted azalea to the back yard a year or so ago, and it's looking healthier, though it didn't bloom this year either. Hopefully it and the new two transplants will eventually recover and do what they're supposed to do!
In place of the two azaleas, I eschewed planting another evergreen shrub, and instead planted some cheap-o perennials. Yes, I know, it's the wrong time of year to establish perennials, and that's why they're so cheap right now, but I couldn't resist -- these pictured were 1/2 off (and I bought another 12 daylilies at Lowe's last weekend for fifty cents each!):
In the shrub's hole went: unknown butter yellow daylily, pineapple sage, red hot poker, veronica. We bought the veronicas specifically because the ones at the nursery were COVERED with bees! I saw a butterfly hurry over to them as soon as we got them out of the car - awesome!
On a totally unrelated note, after loads of cherry tomatoes, I finally got my first red/normal-sized tomato this weekend, and it was so delicious in caprese salad with basil from the garden, too! Doesn't it just look like summer?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Mexico, Part 2: Excursions

We had a really fun day with Edventure Tours out of Tulum. I highly recommend them!
We started the day at the Tulum ruins:
The main temple:
About half of the ruins are roped off, but you can still get up close with a lot of them. Think this was a bed?!
Apparently this is how they weed/edge in Mexico -- with a machete!!
The city was surrounded by stone walls and the sea. Here is Scott in one of the entrances through the original wall:
Next, we went zip-lining. It was SO fun!
Scott went upside-down!
Here we are canoeing back from where the zip-line ends:
This picture is a little fuzzy, but look close and you can see me jumping off a cliff into this cenote!
My understanding is that cenotes (seh-note-ays) are basically sinkholes in limestone that are filled with fresh water. They are clear and cool.
Scott feeding Chato, a pet monkey:
We took this boat out to sea in Akumel:
To snorkel with these guys! We also snorkeled in cenotes in caves (at "Dos Ojos") - here is the entrance:
It was a little scary and a little cold, but overall amazing.
Our last stop of the day was snorkeling in this lagoon, where fresh and salt water meet. The water gets fuzzy and cool where the two meet.
We loved Mexico and loved Edventure Tours. We'll be back!