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.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Joined at the hip

Originally uploaded by rarichard
Check out my awesome squash(es).

hoophouse update

It's getting green and lush in the hoophouse! The beans are starting to show up and I've been training the plants to grow outside on strings as they were getting a little crowded inside. The eggplant & chiles sitll have not yet set fruit but are starting to flower. There are some ants crawling around on the plants which I might have to deal with at some point.

I don't have to artificially inseminate my plants anymore as the bees have arrived. I was doing this for the squash and cukes. I bought a ton of annual and perennial flowers last week to plant inside and outside to attract bees and it seems to have worked.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

compost windrow

I have so much compost now that it has moved beyond a simple heap into a windrow. It's awesome. I made the windrow the other day because it was easier than maintaining two piles plus they were kind of starting to blend into each other. And this morning the entire row was above 130 degrees. Before one pile wouldn't heat up. Part of the pile is even 140. Woot.

Monday, July 13, 2009

It's summertime

Finally it feels like summer. I mean, summer in New Mexico is often all about thunderstorms, but after last weeks now legendary hailstorm we have had some hot weather. I think it hit 90 or so yesterday, and today is going to be a scorcher with temps maybe going into the mid-90s.

What kind of sucks is there is a wildfire burning south of us in Bandelier National Monument (the west side of it, so it is still open). The wind tends to blow from the south or southwest in the afternoon so we have had some really smoky days. And I just read this: "We expect this fire to burn throughout the summer,” said Kemp." Damn! They are managing it, but want it to burn to clean out dead trees and logs. However, the air quality is not good when it's smoky in town and as a "sensitive population" person due to my asthma I have to be careful.

The light turns that kind of neat warm shade that makes everything look rosy and golden. But the haze is bad, the smell is bad. Combined with 85 degree living room it makes it a little unpleasant since we can't BBQ and sit on the cool deck. I'll stop whining about it now. Better than a catastrophically huge fire in a few years because too much forest is filled with fuel.

Back to the hot summer weather. It is great for the garden, of course. The hoophouse is open at both ends now and I will probably keep it open through August unless the weather cools off too much. Right now I need bumblebees to come in and pollinate so I can stop artificially inseminating the squash and shaking the tomatoes, chiles, and eggplant. The cukes are about to flower as well. Everything is taking off.

I wish it would warm up at night -- it's been in the mid to upper 50s still which can keep some plants from setting fruit. Some tomatoes have set so that is good and I'm excited for the first tomatoes (which is probably a month off unless the heat keeps up.)

I harvested my first summer squash yesterday and picked a lot of basil to keep it from flowering. The New Zealand spinach is also thriving and I've been liberally harvesting it. Technically it is not a true spinach, but it tastes like it and thrives in the heat. The beans have yet to appear but the plants are climbing all over the place. The flowers on the scarlet runner beans and the nasturtiums have been attracting hummingbirds, one of which fed on every single red flower in and out of the hoophouse. And that is the state of the garden...I'll post some pics over the next few days.

Friday, July 10, 2009

I'm reading this article about composting corn cups, and it's mostly about this one coffee shop that uses them. They have special bins for the cups to go into instead of straight in the trash, like the way they do at Whoel Foods.

Then they bag them up, and take them to the LANDFILL. I'm sorry, but don't trick your customers into thinking they are going to be munched on by worms if they aren't! It's true they will break down much faster than plastic, but still. It's misleading.

Corn cup compost

You might notice a plastic container every now and then that says COMPOStABLE on the bottom instead of HDPE. These containers are generally made from corn. Which should not be a surprise I guess.

I have quite a few corn plastic cups to compost, as well as the occasional plastic container from TJs.

When somethings says COMPOSTABLE, you would think you can just toss it into your compost pile the way you might add eggshells, corn cobs, or coffee grounds.

When I googled "composting corn cups" on the Internet to find out any special tricks, I kept finding sites where people were bitching about how you are supposed to compost them *commercially*. "Commercially" refers to someting like a city composting program that they only have in left-coast cities. These facilities heat their compost to HIGH temps, much higher than your average home compost pile. I saw numbers like 150 degrees (F) being thrown around.

Now, I have been working very very hard and have gotten one of my piles to heat up to 130. Woo! I think this will be plenty warm to break down corn plastic but we will find out. I can imagine that your run of the mill "cool" compost pile could take years to break it down. But 130 is pretty smokin'.

I'm experiementing a little with composting these cups. First off, I'm assuming that corn cups are "brown", i.e. are a high source of carbon. Corn cobs are a high source so that's what I have to go on. I have absolutely no idea what part of corn the cups are made from. Probably the kernels.

Anyways, I loosely filled the cups with coffee grounds and buried them as deep in my pile as possible. I'm adding them to the other pile. the one that is not yet 130 degrees. I added other stuff as well and made sure the pile was nice and large so it can start generating some serious heat. I can't wait to turn these clear plastic cups turn into rich brown compost.

Monday, July 6, 2009


Originally uploaded by rarichard
This stuff is REALLY REALLY BAD for vegetable plants. OK, shallots and leeks, and chives don't mind too much and the parsley will be OK.

But squash, tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, arugula, swiss chard, pretty much EVERYTHING dies when ambushed with big ass hail. In fact, I could now write a extension agency circular on what plants will do OK with 1/2" hail, and what will do OK with 1" and up hail.

Pretty much the only things besides the onion family that can handle big hail are native plants. My yarrow, poppy mallow, sage, catmint, etc., all looks great. Maybe a few crushed stems here and there but it's hard to see the damage. It's amazing. Oh, and the carpet-like plants, woolly thyme and ice plant, both non-natives, pulled through marvelously.

Now you may ask, how did the hoophouse fare? One inch hail must do some damage I would think -- this is the same hail that broke side mirrors and windshields on many cars today, after all.

Well, all I have to say is the hoophouse plastic is a bad ass bulletproof vest. It is now pockmarked with hail dents but it did not tear. inside was a little oasis of green lush happy plants. Way to take one for the team.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


We had an amazing thunderstorm today -- actually we're having another one right now that is threatening to take out our electricity. The rain was coming down incredibly hard for a long time. Apparently there might have only been a 1/2" of rain or so but I swear it was more. A container out front had an inch of rain in it.

After it rained and rained and rained, it started hailing. First pea-sized. Then it got quiet. and I heard this random pinging sound. It was 1/2" diameter hail hitting the metal roof and bouncing around.

A few minutes ago I went outside to take a look at everything between storms while it was bright and sunny but the dark blue-gray clouds were rolling in again. The summer squash, winter squash and melon plants are incredibly ripped up, and I'm not sure they will recover. The bean plants and beets were also damaged but probably not fatally.

Some plants were covered -- the broccoli and Brussels sprouts all survived as they've been covered with burlap to shade and protect them from the cabbage butterfly -- and apparently has a third benefit now. I covered up a couple of small acorn squash plants that might pull through.

I'm so, so, so happy(/thankful/relieved) I built my hoophouse. I have some zucchini that are about ready to pick -- had it been outside the plant would be destroyed. Most of my garden would be gone if it was out in the open. Half inch hail is pretty nasty. Obviously not golf-ball sized -- that would probably be putting holes in the hoophouse plastic. I've never seen hail that big fortunately.

The temperature outside plummeted into the low 50s, but inside the hoophouse it didn't go under 65. The temperature this morning as I worked in the yard was in the mid 70s. I'm glad I got out there and listened to Weekend Edition and hoed and weeded and transplanted wooly thyme while I could. I scrambled indoors at the first loud crack of lightning that seemingly came out of nowhere. The temp plummeted 20 degrees (outdoors) over a period of about 10 to 15 minutes.

Some tomatoes out front survived thanks to my ant-prevention technique. I set up a mini hoophouse (1 foot x 2feet) using metal hoops and floating row cover in a kind of pup tent configuration. This was to keep diatamaceous earth from washing away -- I put this around the plants to kill any ants coming in for the kill. The row cover protected the young plants against most of the rain and all the hail.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Originally uploaded by rarichard
This is about a third or so of my garlic -- the rest isn't ready to be harvested yet. The bulbs are pretty small, but I did plant these ones in heavy clay so it's not too surprising. The ones in the nicer soil aren't ready yet, maybe they will be bigger. But it sure smells good!

Rainwater catchment part 2

My rainwater catchment system is very primitive. I have a number of 32 gallon trash cans and two "real" rain barrels: 60 gallon barrels that used to house Kalamata olives. These cost $60 from the county who sells them at wholesale prices.

The front of the house is a story or so higher than the back. There is a long sloping driveway that goes all the way down alongside one side of the house. Near the top are two barrels (one real, one trash can), that catch water from the roof gutter. There is no downspout so sometimes the water misses them.

In the backyard, the cans & barrel are lined up under the roof as there is no gutter. This is less than ideal, as it is kind of ugly and is inefficient. It is not helped by the fact that I spread out the trash can lids before a storm to catch more water, but it does help collect as much as possible.

Because the trash cans do not have mesh tops I use this thing called a "mosquito dunk". It keeps mosquitoes from breeding in the water.

When I need water, I generally just fill up the watering can or a bucket and haul it to whatever plants need it. Some of the barrels have spigots installed, so I have connected up hoses and drip irrigation to them, but I don't do this too regularly. I did test it out on the hoophouse one day. The barrel at the top of the driveway is about 6 feet higher than the hoophouse. The water flowed through at a very low pressure, and worked OK except for the end of the line where the flow was very weak. If all the drippers are adjustable to work at a very low gallon per minute (GPM) rate it would probably work better. The other thing I could do would be to put in a T split to make two lines going to the hoophouse so the lines are shorter. Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the ends would still not get as much water.

I've thought about putting barrels up on our deck -- the top deck is probably 16 to 20 feet higher than the hoophouse, and the lower deck is 8 to 10 feet or so. The decks are very close to the hoophouse, so the flow would be all vertical really.

The issue with this is twofold: first of all, you don't want to keep super heavy barrels of water on the deck -- you need to figure out the weight and what the deck will safely support; and two, the downspout would have to go direct into the barrel, and then overflow has to be handled, as you do not want a waterfall off the deck.

When I do get a gutter on the roof in the backyard I will need to handle overflow at that time regardelss of where the barrels are. Otherwise it would just pool up in one area and that would be bad for the house or deck foundation. Ideally I'd stick in one of those dry creek bed type things -- you know, a rock stream bed type thing that meanders through the yard. I'd plant lilies or something in it. There's a house up the road that has this and I think it looks awesome.

the squash are coming

The first squash are growing on the zucchini plants. I can't wait! I've gotten better over time of not getting too sick of a vegetable during the summer. I imagine in the "olden days" people ate a lot of the same thing during summer -- squash, tomatoes, etc. Then winter was all root veggies. If you want to eat local you need to get used to this -- well, I suppose it depends on where you live to a certain extent. In southern California you can probably grow some stuff year round.

At the end of last summer I was getting a bit sick of zucchini -- anyone who's ever grown it knows what I am talking about. It's kind of like the end of ski season, you start getting a bit tired of skiing. But then I think about how it will be months and months and months until I can ski or eat zucchini again and it keeps me going a bit longer. :-)

Calabacitas is a great way to use summer squash. I've never gotten sick of this dish.

1 onion, chopped
Roasted green chile, chopped (for all you outside of the SW you can either roast Anaheim or poblano chiles on the BBQ (and then rub/peel the skin off), or buy a can of Hatch green chile)
Zucchini/Summer Squash, chopped (pick them when they are small for the best flavor)
Corn (fresh or frozen)

Sorry I do not have amounts for squash, corn and chile. You want everything to be kind of equal, I'm sure you will figure it out, the recipe is flexible.

Saute onion over medium heat in olive oil. Once it is softened toss in chile, summer squash, and corn kernels. After 5 minutes or so, you can toss in 1/4 cup or so of broth and cover and simmer over low heat until squash is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper.

You can embellish this dish if you like -- add in chopped tomatoes. Herbs at the end like cilantro. I can't remember if I usually add cilantro -- I probably do. I think basil would be good too -- a bit untraditional perhaps but most certainly delicious.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rainwater catchment

Colorado just finally overturned their ban on rainwater catchment. Apparently it was illegal because most of the land in CO has water rights. In the West, a lot of people own rights to water on land -- they might not own the land, but they own the water. It can be very contentious. I had no idea water rights was why rain water catchment was illegal in CO but it makes sense. People can get very worked up about their water, especially when it is in short supply.

Some people figured out that 97% of the runoff roof water that could be collected was evaporating or going to feed plants instead of going into the water table for the water rights people to suck up.

Utah and Washington still have this rule against water harvesting. It's kind of like being one of the last ski areas to ban snowboarding. Get with it people!

But in my lovely adopted state, not only is rainwater harvesting legal, but it is mandatory for new construction in the City Different -- to you all not from New Mexico, that would be the city of Santa Fe. The new southside library there has pretty awesome rainwater containers -- they look like big galvanized metal silos and I WANT ONE. I love rainwater harvesting. You'd be amazed at how much you can collect off a roof during a short storm. Our storms tend to result in about .05 inch of precipitation, but we often can fill up the barrels with that meager amount

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hoophouse porn

Originally uploaded by rarichard
I snapped some pix yesterday of the hoophouse. This photo shows the chiles off in the left (in the corner of the hoophouse), as well as a pathway that is (partly) covered in baby clover. On the far right are the edges of some tomatoes and an eggplant.

The clover (NZ dwarf white to be exact) is to add nutrients to the soil and break up the clay soil The clover has deep taproots -- I'm not sure it will break apart the tuff a foot down but who knows. (Tuff -- rock that is made out of petrified volcanic ash -- think pumice -- we have a solid layer of this stuff 12 -18" under the dirt.).

Here's a link to all pix tagged "garden" on my Flickr page.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

temperature triggered irrigation (i wish)

I wish I had a drip irrigation timer that was temperature activated. Why? Because when it hits 90 in the hoophouse, I could let loose with the foggers, little gizmos that lets out a fine mist that felt really good, kind of like running through the sprinklers. Of course the point would be to cool off the plants a bit and pump up the humidity. But really I should avoid it I suppose as it's totally against the water restriction. If I wanted to do this I could set up a separate irrigation timer for the fogging system -- but it would be time triggered, not temp triggered. So it would go off hot days or cool days. However conveniently enough, I am pretty much always at home during the afternoon.

Monday, June 22, 2009

crop rotation

I'm reading "The New Organic Grower" by Eliot Coleman. When I first skimmed through it I didn't think it would offer much new information above and beyond the other book I have by him, "Four Season Harvest." I wasn't ready to go ahead and buy it off Amazon so I checked it out from the library. Now I definitely am going to buy it. This is one of those books I will refer to over and over again, like The Garden Primer (by Barbara Damrosch, she and Coleman by coincidence are married to each other). I read it from beginning to end -- not because it was such a page turner necessarily, but I had started off skipping around and reading a few pages here and there, and then decided it would be more informative and less scattered if I read it in order. And it's really a great book and now that I'm done reading it I'm still going back and re-reading certain chapters to try and come up with a list of stuff to do.

There are definitely some chapters that are irrelevant for the home gardener, but the majority of it is applicable to my home garden as well as for a farmer.

So the book offered great information on how to get some great fertile loamy soil that plants will thrive in. Of course we all know you need great soil. But he's saying you will avoid the issue of "How do I get rid of aphids/ants/disease" in my plants in an all natural way. He's saying if you provide a low-stress environment for the plants you won't really have these problems. I hope all that road-work noise isn't stressful for the plants. We were joking about putting speakers in the hoophouse and blasting classical music for the tomatoes but that's another post. :-)

He isn't into using organic fertilizers or pesticides. He does use some soil amendments for sure -- greensand, phosphate. But he's not into fertilizing plants while they are growing except perhaps with some compost or something. He emphasizes using crop rotation which is not growing similar crops in the same plot. Crop rotation also is beneficial as some plants do better when they are planting where a different family was the year before -- for example, broccoli after onions.

He also uses green manure to improve the soil. Green manure are plants like clover and alfalfa that offer soil improving benefits. Sometimes they have deep roots that improve the subsoil tilth, or bring up nutrients higher up in the soil, or add nitrogen or other nutrients. You also can use the green biomass to compost or till into the soil to add more nutrients. He also uses short plants like clover to underplant with plants like tomatoes so they add nutrients while the other plant is growing, and basically grow more in less time as you don't have to wait until harvest to plant the green manure.

These things are probably common knowledge among experienced organic gardeners and farmers. He covers a wide range of issues in both a general and specific way. For example, at what stage you should till in a green manure for maximum soil benefit, or which plants will grow well using the multiplanting technique which is ideal for the lazy gardener/intensive garden.

There are chapters on tools (he's always figuring out how to make better tools to make farming less work), winter gardening, greenhouses and cold tunnels (hoophouses), tips on vegetables that I hadn't heard of before, and his way of starting seedlings that was also new to me. I'll post on a few of these things in the future as I try them out.

As you can see, there are a lot of ideas in this book I'm going to take a go at. The hardest one to get started on for me is planting up part of the garden with green manure. Like actual garden plots. I keep wanting to plant empty areas with lettuce or beets or tomatoes. But improving the soil now will payoff over time. And planting alfalfa is a lot cheaper than buying soil amendments and less work than pitchforking tons of compost every year.

the harvest this week

Well since I was gone for a week everything had a chance to grow without being nibbled on. I made two big salads out of all my lettuces this weekend -- mixed loose leaf lettuces, more super strong arugula, baby beet greens, and some French Breakfast radishes. Vinaigrette had tarragon, basil, chives, and parsley from garden.

I harvest some baby turnips and a whole handful of sugar snap peas. Got a little cilantro for eggs one morning.

Last night I made some delicious arugula pesto with bolted arugula, toasted walnuts/pepitas, garlic, olive oil, salt, and mashed avocado. Yum...

We harvested all the broccoli that was starting to flower as well as the stuff that was threatening to flower. I have a ton of radish, turnip greens and spinach to stir-fry, when they will turn into a tiny mass that only provides a few bites per person, but is of course is like a concentrated nutrient dose.

The lettuce has been loving the rainy weather. I am eating it a lot right now because I figure any day it will get hot and the lettuce will start bolting.

Monday, June 15, 2009


I'm away for a week, which means the hoophouse needs to leave the nest. There are two things that need to be done that I was doing myself mostly.

1) Watering; and 2), climate control. If the weather would have been guaranteed to be cloudy thunderstormy afternoons every day I could have left the hoophouse shuttered up. But of course weather prediction is not even close to 100% accuracy.

If it's a sunny afternoon, the greenhouse will quickly get into the 90s or hotter and the plants will bake. So I opened up the ends of the hoophouse at the top to let the hot air escape and allow the breeze to circulate. Although I did ask Marguerite to check in on it if it gets really hot outside as the lower part might need to be opened as well. So it is almost self-sufficient in that regard. I'm planning on putting in one of those heat-activated windows soon so that would completely take care of this issue. The downside to keeping the ends open is it's cooler at night, but that's just the way it goes.

The hoophouse also needs regular water. I have a number of seeds that need to stay moist so they'll germinate. I planted New Zealand white clover on some of the garden walkways, and there's some okra, edamame, and scarlet runner beans that will probably sprout up while I'm gone. The established plants could have gotten by with one really deep watering before I left town.

To keep everything watered I have a drip irrigation system. It's hooked up to a timer that is set to water every other day for 12 minutes or so. I was bad and have it water during mid-day. I figure there is less evaporation in the hoophouse, and drip irrigation systems water right next to the soil so it's not as wasteful as other watering methods. I wanted it to water mid-day so it would cool the hoophouse down a bit during the hottest time of day.

The outdoor garden is also set up to the same system as I have seeds out there that also need to have moist soil. The outdoor system would be better if I had a rain gauge hooked up to the timer so it could skip it on the rainy day. Someday I will do that.

One thing that is nice about going away from the garden for a while is I get to see a more dramatic change in the garden when I get back. The plants get noticeably bigger. When you see them every day you see the change very gradually.

Two years ago we went away for almost a month during end of June and early July. I set up drip for the tomatoes and they went from tiny little plants to huge tomato bushes with fruit on them. It feels like a gamble to do that but really with regular sun and water the plants will most likely do great.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

coffee is better than shit

I liked this article on composting with coffee. It's about people ("compost specialists") at OSU composting with coffee grounds. Coffee grounds, if you've never heard of ththem before, are an abundant natural resource in western Oregon. The compost people said that when they substituted coffee grounds for manure in their compost the pile heated up much faster. Is it any surprise? I'm sure the fresh aroma of coffee wakes up those aerobic bacteria nice and early every day and keeps them going all day long.

The harvest this week

Mainly greens: turnip greens, arugula, radish greens, lettuce, spinach, beet greens.
Two peas. Some French Breakfast radishes (they don't really eat them for breakfast do they?) A baby beet.

* Stir fry with tons of greens, two peas, complimented by whatever I had in the fridge.

* Salad with mixed lettuces, some feisty arugula.

* Broccoli raab (flowered before I could blink!) & mini broccoli (i.e., one floret threatening to bolt)

* Tarragon and basil -- the basil is mostly from a plant I overwintered. The tarragon is happy to put out.

* This was two weeks ago, but I pulled up some baby garlic when I was out. That stuff is GOOOD. It's like you get one green onion bulbs worth of garlic, but when gently sauteed in olive oil and put over pasta it is very nice.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Compost is supposed to be the miracle drug for the garden. It isn't an instant gratification kind of thing but not much of gardening is. The resulting compost is great for your garden, and I like how we have so much less trash because so much stuff can get recycled in this manner. Composting is also flexible to one's lifestyle -- you can make a pile and let it sit there for a year untended, or you can turn it all the time and get it a little bit faster.

My first time making compost I had total beginner's luck. We had mowed an area to make a garden, so I had a ton of grass clippings. From what I recall I just dumped them into a huge pile, covered it with black plastic, and about a month later I had great compost. Since then my compost piles have taken a bit longer to break down.

The key apparently is getting the pile to do some aerobics. The pile can get really hot -- the center should get over 120 degrees. Lots of aerobic bacteria do their thing, and in a month or two the compost could be ready if all goes to plan. The other type of composting is passive. The pile stays fairly cool and the pile takes a long time to break down. I think my piles are usually more like this.

I have two compost piles going right now. One is made up of alternating layers of straw/cardboard/dry wall, dirt, and coffee grounds. The other pile is a combo of kitchen waste, cardboard, and compost (mixed, but with a lot of carbon rich shredded wood). Both piles are about 3' or a little more in diameter, and 3' high.

I'm composting compost -- John and I pitchforked a big truckload of compost this weekend, and I had more than I needed. So basically I just needed to put the extra compost somewhere, and I had a ton of kitchen vegetable scraps to compost as well. I buried the scraps deep under the compost. This way rodents won't find the vegetable scraps.

I took the meat thermometer out today and plunged it in the piles. The compost/scrap pile is 90 degrees (started yesterday), and the other pile I made a week ago (coffee ground pile) was about 85 or so. I moistened both piles both pretty well yesterday and I hope that will help them heat up. The goal is to have it be as moist as a wrung out sponge, apparently the bacteria like that, and I want to get in on that hot compost action.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Row covers on plants

Row covers on plants
Originally uploaded by rarichard
I bought these floating row covers for the garden for whenever the plants need some extra heat. I was using my little 3x4 cold frame some nights to protect some plants, but this you just toss on over everything.

It's a woven fabric that is kind of papery but pretty tough. There are so lightweight that they just "float" on the plants and the plants just keep on growing up. They let through 90% or so of light.

The main purpose of these is to retain heat -- they protect down to 28 degrees Fahrenheit, in theory. I'm covering up the plants at night right now since we keep have these lows in the 40s. Once it starts getting warmer at night I'll leave them alone. Today I actually left them on all day. Under the row covers was usually 8 degrees or so warmer than outside the greenhouse. Right now at 9:30 pm it's only 4 degrees warmer that outside -- I kind of would have liked if it kept it warmer than that since I have both a greenhouse AND row covers. But I'll take what I can get.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Coffee is good for everything.

I frequent a coffeeshop in Los Alamos and I've been collecting tons of coffee grounds for them to put in the garden.

You can mulch your garden with coffee grounds, add them to the soil directly, and you can compost them. You can even water plants with your cold coffee, though I have only really done this with the lawn, I haven't really dared on my vegetables yet for no good reason.

You might think coffee grounds are super acidic since liquid coffee is acidic. Sunset Magazine sent some coffee grounds to a soil lab for analysis, and it turns out they are a bit acidic (~6.4, 7 is neutral pH.)

Slightly acidic anything is good for the highly alkaline soil covering New Mexico and most of the West. I imagine someone with super acidic soil might want to compost them, as finished compost is supposed to end up pretty close to neutral for some reason or another.

So anyways here is how I use coffee grounds: I mainly compost them along with their filters (I'll do another post on how I make my compost pile at some point). I've also mixed them directly into my garden soil and I've mulched with them. The downside to the mulch is it tends to wash away after a good rain. I'd like to experiment at some point to see if a coffee mulch repels ants.

So a final thought -- you can buy compost made from mushrooms, steer manure, cotton burrs and a ton of other agricultural by products. I'm surprised there isn't coffee ground compost that you can buy at garden stores. I imagine I could make a killing off of composted coffee. "Fair Trade Organic Coffee Compost." It think a catchy name is needed though -- that way you can sell it in small bags for a fortune. Have to do it before *$ beats me to it.

Thunderstorm building up

Thunderstorm building up
Originally uploaded by rarichard

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Oh...I was going to have a post about how rainy it's been and how strange it is and how we normally get no rain in June, etc, etc. Then I found a page that says May gets about 1.21 inches of rain on average. We got 1.22 inches last month, so apparently we are very normal or boring or average or something. And June gets a bit more rain than May as well. So I guess all the rain we've been getting is not a freak event. But the daily thunderstorm pattern seems a little odd, it is like the monsoon season started two months early or something.

I remember past Mays (not that I've lived here all that long, going on 7 years now I think) we'd have these 3 day storms where if it was April we'd have gotten snow, but because it's May it's rain instead. I guess every now and again there are freak May snow storms.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Heat can really build up in the greenhouse on a sunny day. It's gone over a 100 degrees a few times, while outside it was probably only 70 some-odd degrees. Right now what I do is remember to open the ends to vent the greenhouse. Sometimes I forget and my plants get kinda droopy and wilted.

There are these cool gizmos called automatic greenhouse vent openers. When it gets hot enough the vent opens. They are heat activated, so they open when it gets hot enough, and then closes when it cools off. Pretty cool. If I got them I'd probably have to buy two, and I'd have to install a window in order to have something to vent. I'm not sure I will bother to do this anytime soon. Right now I either remember to open it up or just leave it open, or on these days that it rains I don't have to worry about it at all because as soon as those big thunderheads build up and darken the sky the temperature starts dropping.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Originally uploaded by rarichard
I put the chiles in the greenhouse today: serranos, poblanos, and habaƱeros. I kind of wanted to try the horizontal method of transplanting but they are sensitive little creatures and don't like being transplanted so I thought I should give them a break. I

Planting tomatoes in graves

Originally uploaded by rarichard
This year I'm trying a new technique when I transplant my tomatoes. I remove all but the top set of leaves from the plant. This leaves the plant looking straggly and pathetic. Then I lay it down horizontally in a little grave-like hole. I bury the plant except for the topmost leaves, which I try to push up a bit vertically. The bare stem is supposed to root all over the place and make an awesome healthy plant. So far the ones I have done this to look great once they start putting on new growth.

The strategy I've tried in the past is to bury the plant up to the top set of leaves. So this involves digging a deep hole. I like this horizontal method better. Plus the roots start off in the top soil where there are more nutrients.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Rearranging Plants

This weekend I rearranged a bunch of my perennial plants. Some of them were not thriving in their current location and looked as if they were going to turn into plant mulch if I didn't do something soon.

They either didn't get enough sun because of the location of these raised beds, or from shade from other plants -- or the heavy clay soil had poor drainage. Some areas seem to have better drainage than others. Other plants were just too close to their neighbors and it didn't look right or they just don't "go." So I pulled out my trowel and dug things up and moved them somewhere new and improved.

I added in some new plants as well. One thing I've learned is that it's better to have more of one plant to tie together the look of the garden. Before I kind of went for the strategy of one of each plant I like.

I also divided, rooted, and covered stems with soil in an attempt to make more of these perennials for free. Dividing plants is especially satisfying because it's easy and you instantly get a new plant that looks like one you might have bought new at the nursery. It's also convenient because these are the plants that like my garden soil, and it aids in the strategy of planting more of the same.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

yay hoophouse

The weather here in May is usually sunny and windy and hot. This year it's been rainy rainy rainy. We've gotten a number of thunderstorms. Well, let me correct myself -- it's been rainy since I erected the hoophouse a few weeks ago. Yesterday we had heavy rainfall and pea size hail. It got down to 37 degrees outside last night. The hoophouse was only a few degrees warmer, but I had a cold frame over some plants, clear tupperware over others.

Without the hoophouse my plants would most certainly be dead by now. Or I would be out obsessively covering them up with makeshift shelters every time it started dumping rain and every evening and then uncovering on the sunny days.

The heavy rains over the last week (multiple inches which is unusual), the cool temperatures during the day, the sustained hail and the cold winds would have taken pretty much everything out. So, so far so good!

About my garden obsession

About my garden obsession. I've liked gardening for some time -- especially vegetable gardening. When I lived in Espanola, NM, at an elevation of about 5500 feet I had an awesome garden. Hot summers and warm(er) nights (warmer than lofty Santa Fe and Los Alamos), and a decent growing season. I lived in a fertile river valley with amazing loamy soil that I didn't have to spend money and time improving. I grew some corn (somewhat successfully, at least it looked cool) and I actually got ripe tomatoes. It wasn't all great. I had my beautiful winter squash decimated by squash bugs. Those bugs actually started making me nauseous, I hated them that much and had to kill hundreds as well, or what seemed like hundreds.

Now I live in Los Alamos, at an elevation of 7300 feet. The last frost date is May 8 and the first frost is around October 15th. The problem is it stays in the 40s at night a lot, and killing frosts are known to occur in June and September. We have daily thunderstorms in July and August, which drops the temperature way down in the afternoons. Sometimes it rains too much and the plants get unhappy about the waterlogged clayey soils. Sometimes it hails and damages the plants. I don't have a great southern exposure. So there are some challenges involved in growing stuff in this quirky mountain town. Highest temp on record in the summer is 98 degrees, generally it's in the 80s during the day on non rainy days.

There are some benefits to the location as well. My cool weather plants can often last all summer if I keep them in a location with sunny mornings and shady afternoons. The lettuce does go to seed eventually. Chiles do pretty well here.

This year I built a hoophouse, also known as a high tunnel or cold greenhouse. The goal is to grow some awesome veggies that need that little extra warmth and heat year-round. Last year I had a tiny cold frame (3x4) that grew swiss chard, turnip greens, lettuce, and spinach all winter long. I want to have farmers market-like veggies every day -- or at least once a week. That's the goal -- we'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New theme for this blog

I keep thinking of garden Notes I want to write on Facebook, but I also don't want to lose friends who get totally bored of seeing constant garden obsessed blog posts. So how about a blog dedicated to gardening? Why not? Plus Facebook Notes are not quite as good anyways as a "real" blog.

I'm optimistic I will manage to make more than a few posts like I did last year, as I have a bunch of mostly written posts and I'll stick up some of my old ones on building the hoophouse as well. I'm also planning on gardening year round so in theory I should be able to post all year long. Last year I did garden year round so I know that is not just a fantasy...

The four old posts in the blog from a year ago are off-topic, so read those if you want or ignore 'em. They are a bit outdated now as I was complaining about political election stuff.