Wednesday, September 23, 2009

some of the bounty

Harvest 2009
Originally uploaded by rarichard
acorn squash, garlic, cukes, melon, tomato(es).

Melon or cucumber?

Originally uploaded by rarichard
This cute little melon was the only fruit on this particular vine. I ddin't think any melon plants had made it then one day I noticed it. I picked it last night because I thought we were going to have a freeze, which didn't end up happening.

We cut it in half and tried it out. It tastes like a sweet cucumber. Alicia & John and I figured it must have cross-pollinated. But I just read in a few places on the internet they do not cross pollinate.

From The Cambridge World History of Food:

"It is a common misconception that poor-quality melon fruit results from cross-pollination with cucumber because these species are incompatible. Rather, the poor-quality melon fruit sometimes encountered is due to unfavorable weather or growing conditions that restrict photosynthetic activity and, thereby, sugar content of the fruit. Seeds are cream-colored, oval, and on average 10 mm long."

The fall garden

My summer veggies have not died yet but the end is near. Well, it's always possible we'll get some Indian summer but I'm not getting my hopes up

As I said in an earlier post, I've been clearing out a lot of the plants making way for this winter's crops. I hope that by this weekend I'll be feeling well enough so I can do some garden work: improve the soil a bit, layer compost materials on the parts I'm not going to plant this winter, and of course, put in cold hardy plants.

Crops I'm going to put in the hoophouse, space permitting:
Mache -- this green is supposed to be super hardy. You use it in salads. Very gour-met. I might try growing some outside as well. I'll probably order claytonia and purslane as well although I'm afraid if I plant purslane it will become an annoying garden weed.

I'll put in other greens as well -- mixed lettuces, mesclun greens, arugula, etc. And Swiss Chard, spinach, and kale -- Kale can last outside all winter long. It's some tough stuff.

Carrots: Hopefully I'll have time to get these going. October is usually really sunny here, so it will probably work out, they need to get growing ASAP.

Green onions.

And maybe cauliflower if it sprouted -- I have some mystery plants to set out.

I'm starting some Brussels so probably next spring I'll get some. I bought some broccoli plants at Agua Fria Nursery in Santa Fe. They had the seeds I wanted and they had fall veggies, unlike Santa Fe Greenhouses (which was having one hell of a sale to it's credit). I bought some broc and parsley. I got the traditional Arcadia broc which is good for fall/winter, and then this one called Rudolph. It is a 150 day broccoli -- you are supposed to plant it in July and eat it at Christmas. I guess 150 days isn't that odd. Most of my Brussels sprouts plants end up taking that long anyways. So I guess if it works out weatherwise I'll have broccoli in March.

My intention is to leave about half of the area in the hoophouse lie fallow so I can layer on compost materials to enrich the soil. Some areas are already planted with clover which I'm going to leave alone, it is my "green manure" -- clover fixes nitrogen in the soil, has deep roots, and then the green matter gets dug under in the spring to add more nutrients.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Obligatory end of summer green tomato post.

I had a hunch it's going to be an early frost this year. Sometimes they happen in September, but the average first frost date here is Oct 15th. Last year we made it until October 20th or so before we had one. Same the year before that. Each year I suffer through ragweed season hoping we will have a frost ASAP. This year my allergy shots seem to be working well or else my cold is masking my allergies. But I'm not miserable the way I usually have been in the past.

But it's been cold at night when it's cloudy out -- and my feeling is as soon as it clears up it'll be quite a bit colder. The coldest int he last few days in the hoophouse has been 46 degrees. I checked out the forecast today and it's calling for lows in the 30s this week, maybe even into the 20s. So we may well have a killing frost soon. And some snow, according to the forecast!! Probably just a dusting of course -- I doubt I'll be cross country skiing down my street or anything.

SO I have to start harvesting as much as possible before it's too late. The tomatoes are a big issue. There are a ton of green tomatoes. There is just no way they are going to ripen in time. If I want to ripen them, I see three ways:

1) Dig them up, and hang them upside down in the basement.
2) Wrap individual tomatoes in paper bags and store them in basement.
3) Transplant plants into pots and put inside.

The guy at the farmers market told me I HAD to put the Sun Gold cherry tomato plant in a pot. So I heeded his advice. That will be coming inside today. The others I would have to dig up and transplant. They might not like that. But it might be worth a try.

I think I'm going to experiment. I have a lot of tomato plants. One issue with transplanting is these plants are BIG. So doing the hanging thing or wrapping the tomatoes probably makes more sense for most plants. Anyways, sounds like I'm going to be doing an experiment.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

tomatoes -- a big big FAILURE!!

The tomatoes have been very disappointing. We have had some cherry tomoatoes, a bunch more are about to get ripe, and the other day I found a couple red non-cherry tomatoes. I was very very excited -- I hadn't seen them at all as they were ripening so I was totally surprised. I have a bunch of gorgeous huge green tomatoes but they are refusing to ripen.

The summer the last month or so has been very gray and cloudy, and often rainy. The days often are just in the 70s, and the evenings in the 50s. THat is one part of the problem with my tomatoes. But it's not entirely to blame -- after all, other people in Los Alamos have grown tomatoes this summer.

Despite my hoophouse, my garden is just not in the best spot. I think people with good tomatoes around here have their plants in a warmer "microclimate" -- south slope, south facing, against a wall, that kind of thing. Our house just doesn't offer up a lot of good options. When I put up the hoophouse, I was thinking of last summer, when the tomato plants just needed a little teeny bit more help. But this summer has been more difficult.

I don't have a whole lot to work with in our yard. We don't have much of a south facing area. There are a ton of pine trees. The house towers 20 feet over the backyard.

Anyways, I have a plan for next year now. The hoophouse was great for cucumbers and beans and squash and even pretty good for the chiles. So I'll use it for non-tomato plants.

The front yard is now a lot sunnier. The neighors chopped down the huge Siberian Elm (it's super invasive) and that has resulted in new area opening up that is south facing and gets a good bit of sunshine. We also chopped down our Russian Olives which were not doing well and are also invasive around here. Although they were not invasive in our yard -- they never really took off. So now the front yard is sunnier and hotter. We will put in new trees, but this gives me some options in terms of tomato gardens.

So I'm going to put in a raised bed or two for the tomatoes. I want to make it so I can set a mini-hoophouse covering over the beds to protect the plants and give them some extra heat. You know something about 3 feet tall, nothing huge like in the backyard. It will also help in controlling ants which have historically been a problem with growing stuff in the front of the house. (When the ground is kept dry from rain, you can spread diatomaceous earth out to kill the ants).

It's disappointing about the tomatoes. I keep trying to tell John that Cucumbers are the new tomato, but he doesn't believe me. And it's true, it's not just quite the same in a Caprese sandwich.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Green Beans

Green Beans
Originally uploaded by rarichard
My garden is finally at the summer bounty point. That point where you have to get a bit creative about how to use a ton of vegetables. There really aren't tomatoes or chiles or eggplant yet, but there are a lot of green beans, cucumbers, and squash. There is also a ton of basil, New Zealand spinach and probably some other things that I can't see because it is such a jungle in there. I spent a half hour pruning the tomatoes today. I did the whole "Square Foot Gardening" method of planting the tomatoes very close together and training them upwards, but it's still crazy. I might actually pull out a few of them that don't really have any fruit yet.

Since I've literally been picking beans by the bucketful I've taken to stewing them with tomatoes. This is an especially good way to prepare beans that have gotten quite large because you've been out of town or they have been hiding out deep in the hoophouse jungle.

Stewed Green Beans:

Saute an onion in a liberal amount of olive oil in a large pan (with high sides) or pot. Once the onion is softened, add chopped up fresh tomatoes or chopped up canned tomatoes (I use a big can or 1-2 pounds fresh), a half bucket of green beans or so (1 pound?), chopped up garlic (1 or more cloves, I would do at least 3 large cloves), and assorted herbs: thyme, bay leaf, salt & freshly ground pepper, dill, parsley, etc. The recipe is flexible. If you want to add basil I would add that at the end to keep the flavor alive. I think I tossed in some spanish smoked paprika yesterday as well -- something spicy would be good too like cayenne or red chile.

Then I add some broth (chicken or veggie) or water (1/2 to 1 cup, could do even more) so they have plenty of liquid to stew in. I cover and simmer over medium-low heat for at least a half hour. If I'm in a hurry I steam the beans before I simmer them with the other ingredients. You want them to get soft and start falling apart a bit before you serve them.

Berm with Abelia shrubs and ornamental grasses

We purchased four yards of compost/top soil mix, I had way way way too much dirt. But we were fortunate. We were going to buy eight yards because it was such a great deal compared to four yards. I had a nightmare about eight yards of dirt that night, and the net morning John said, "You know, maybe we should just get four." I agreed. I have NO IDEA what we would have done with eight yards. We would have had to just dump it in the neighbors "lake" for them or get people to come and truck it away.

Anyways, this (most likely homeless/nomadic) dude who reminded me of the motorcyle guy on the Everest reality TV series walked by and said he would put in a berm on the side of the yard if he were me. He said it would hide the neighbors driveway. I thought it was a great idea, and I hope he walks by again and sees that I took his advice.

Not only does it hide the neighbors driveway, but it also meant we only had to move the dirt a few feet away from it's current location.

I planted shrubs and ornamental grasses on the berm. The shrubs are abelias. They have pink flowers and a reddish green foliage, and are supposed to look pretty good till January or so. The helpful woman at Reem's Creek Nursery helped me pick out the shrubs. I had wanted to plant oakleaf hydrangeas on the berm, but she told me they need to have partial shade and this location ges full sun.

I liked the idea of ornamental grasses but didn't want to ust put them in as it seemed like it might be out of place between the boxwoods that "punctuate" the berm. I bought a bunch of these tall grasses with a red hint to them ( I forget the name right now), and fountain grasses.

Gardening up high in Asheville

I'm back, it has been a long time since my last post. I was in North Carolina for two weeks where we kind of accidnetally now own a house. IT's a long story and I'm not going to go into it! I did get to do a little gardening in North Carolina which was fun. In some ways it is like New Mexico but mostly it is entirely different. The only similarity I found was the solid clay soil that both places have. Asheville has soil you can make bricks out of. Red, with little shiny specks, and you can basically just dig it up and stick it in a mold and fire them to make bricks far as I can tell. In Los Alamos, you can similarly make adobe blocks.

That is about all the similarities though. Asheville's soil is acidic, whereas New Mexico is alkaline. There is no layer of hardpan or tuff 1 foot down, just clay for miles as far as I can tell. Instead of making a shallow depression to catch water, you do the opposite with a mound so that the plants don't drown in the 48 inches of rain Asheville gets every year.

I did some landscaping around the house. We will sell the house in a few years and rent it in the meantime. I wanted to put in some trees and plants so that they are more mature when we sell it which should raise the property value.

I downloaded a PDF about Western North Carolina rain gardens. They have a list of plants that can handle wet conditions, as well as plants that are so tough they can handle wet and dry conditions once they are established. I figure those will be some plants that are easy to keep alive.

I planted a buffer strip along the front of the lawn. I put in perennials like Phlox, the always dependable Nepeta (catmint), Red Hot Poker, Lilyturf, and many more. I tried very hard to use a lot of the same plants to keep the garden from looking haphazard. I also put in a number of butterfly bushes in the front and backyard. I put in a hydrangea at the end of the sidewalk strip as well.

One amazing thing was as soon as I brought a bunch of these plants to the house, they immediately started attracting butterflies and bees. In fact, so many bees that I managed to step on one and get stung while killing the poor little thing. I tried to wear my Chacos more after that.

I also put in plants along the front of the house. Again, perennials like Phlox, Echinacea, Poker, and Monarda (Bee Balm). Many of these plants grow in New Mexico as well. They are all tolerant of wide range of moisture conditions for the most part.

And we bought a crepe myrtle as well, which John remembered his mom had growing at their house in Virginia when we was a kid. They are beautiful shrubs/small trees with gorgeous pink, white, or red flowers in August. I enjoyed getting to plant a number of plants that you just can't grow in New Mexico because they need acidic soil.

In the back yard I put in a River Birch and a few plants around it in a little type of "island." River birch grows fast (1 foot a year), gets up to 60 feet tall (the backyard is huge), and is tolerant of wet and dry conditions. I planted it in the low point of the yard so I figure it gets more water there then most places.

This was a LOT of work. I got kind of sick of gardening, which doesn't usually happen. Part of it probably was the many trips to the nurseries and Lowe's. As well as trying to get rid of the huge pile of compost before it killed all the grass.

Overall the front yard looks great. The only part that is worse than before is where the grass died -- the truck that brought the compost had to drive on the wet lawn, which left track marks, and we had a tree removed that had at one point been cut back to just the trunk about six feet tall so it only had these water shoots coming out and looked like shit. So there is also no grass where the tree was. The grass under the compost is a bit worse for wear but hopefully it will bounce back.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Summer squashes

Summer squashes
Originally uploaded by rarichard
Came home after being away for three days and there were a ton of squash ready to pick. The largest flying saucer squash (aka patty-pan) is about 5 inches in diameter. This is going to make a lot of calabacitas tonight.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

drip irrigation and rain barrels

So my drip irrigation in the hoophouse works great when there is good strong water pressure, i.e. from the tap. But when I use the rain barrel the water pressure is very low and I'm just not sure that the 60 gallon barrel is enough. The barrel is not usually totally full, and the barrel spigot is probably 15 gallons above the bottom. After that barrel is done with, I have to use a barrel at almost the same level as the hoophouse, so that pressure is SUPER low. What I end up doing is just hooking up a hose and watering by hand from the barrel once I reach that point. Or hauling buckets of water over and dumping them on the ground.

I'm not sure how much I can change things this year as the plants are getting big so it's hard to reach in and remove fixtures and add in new ones.

I don't mind watering by hand too much. It's nice to have it automated but I think it's even nicer to use rainwater when I have it. And I don't have much to do in the garden lately so it gives me an excuse to hang out in there. But watering can be tedious and I think I'd like a better solution for next summer.