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.