October 17, 2017

Fall Garden Update

It has been a bit strange in the garden lately. The weather has cooled but there are pole beans blossoming. (These are volunteers.)
Volunteer bush beans forming tiny little beans.
With 6 weeks until our first frost, there's even the promise of summer squash to come. They'll certainly be from mixed parentage, possibly even winter squash mixed with summer squash.
I thought it was a little bee hiding in there, but I'm not so sure now.
The rapini needs to be thinned.
Mizuna might be big enough to harvest in a couple weeks.
And even mibuna is gaining some size, there's definitely some fast growing Asian greens out there.
You can see little tatsoi seedlings around the older plants, I just sprinkle extra seed down and tamp down with a rake just in case we want to harvest whole plants instead.
Choy sum grows really fast, right up there with turnip greens and rapini. The whole plant is eaten and they're especially prized for their succulent flowering stalks.
In contrast the sprouting broccoli is a bit slower growing, germination rates are lower, and the seeds more expensive. I'm really hoping they're the same thing I've eaten before at a relatives home.
I don't know if the beets are going to make it. It's really late in the season and they're still pretty small. They're going to get covered with agribon row covers and we'll see what they'll do. Either way, hopefully we'll get some greens out of it.
Red Russian kale are just too adorable with their long spindly stems and serrated leave.
I thought this was supposed to be a frilly leaf lettuce mix, but I can see kale in there and maybe mizuna.
Red Knight mizuna (F1) is a lovely russet color, these were direct seeded almost 3 weeks ago.
Peas had to be reseeded multiple times, but it looks like the older plants might actually produce something.
Turnips are seeded in the same beds as the peas. They'll get thinned once they start bulbing.
10 days ago I seeded more radishes and turnips. I'm really hoping for some delicious gigantic radishes in December.
And I've been, oh so diligently, keeping the carrot bed weeded. But they are incredibly slow growing. I might just have to consider it an experiment that's going in the negative column, and never again plant carrots after August in a north facing garden.

I'm not sure when to start using floating row covers. It's supposed to be in the mid-70's this week (21 degrees Celsius), which seems much too warm for them. I might wait till mid-November.

There's still some planting needing to be done like lettuce and spinach in the greenhouse, and fava/broad beans out in the garden. It's a much calmer pace this time of year, a very peaceful time to be out in the garden.

October 13, 2017

It's That Time of Year Again, Just Like the Seasons, Nanowrimo Has Arrived

NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month, is coming up in November. So let's make it a date; you, me, and the goal of writing a 50,000 word novel in a month. It doesn't have to be pretty it doesn't have to be lyrical, but you may want to write the nuts and bolts so you can have a solid story structure by the end of the month. A scene can always be made beautiful later in the rewrite/editing, but the real work is building the framework of the story.

Myself, I had been preparing by using the Snowflake Method to design and flesh out my novel. But that was going painfully slow because I am terrible just terrible at developing plot. My natural instinct is to write by the seat of my pants, which means I end up with a jumbled mess and a few beautifully intense scenes. So now I'm working through a beat sheet which is going much faster, and hopefully I'll be able to move onto an outline this week.

For an added change of pace I will be writing outside my normal genres of thriller or dark fantasy thriller. Instead I will be going full on science fiction space opera. Ha ha ha, so very exciting. So part of my preparations for this year's writing extravaganza has been a bit of world building, and the creation of actual plot points. Shocking, I know.

I've even gone so far as to do some character development. For me, that means creating a landscape of moods and impressions. A dark untouched psychological well from which an individual's thoughts and emotions bubble up from. I like the atmosphere in the scenes to either reflect or be a contrast to the inner turmoil and demons that exists inside a character. The whole hidden danger versus known danger.

One of the things I have found this year, is the joy and beauty of ambient noise. Normally I write in complete silence. Who knew rainfall and quiet thunderstorms could relax and help bring focus? I actually thought sound machines were for sleeping. On YouTube there are all sorts of interesting ambient noises like Star Trek Bridge Noises and there's also ones for snow falling. I grew up in an area with bitter cold winters, so find the whole blizzard noise thing very peaceful, but oddly yet it makes my heart race. And eventually I start feeling the whole trapped Flowers in the Attic thing.

You may wonder how a person finds the time to do nano while working fulltime and having a little kiddo. I write only at night after our child goes to bed and early in the morning when everyone is still asleep. The lack of sleep can mean getting sick from being run down. To offset the lack of sleep, I eat very healthily. Especially a healthy wholesome breakfast, although I'll be drinking an unnatural amount of coffee. Knuckle bite, I've even purchased a Vietnamese coffee filter to make really strong espresso like drinks mixed with sweetened condensed milk and served on ice.

Lastly, I've actually started using Blogger Pages to do all my book development work. It's easier than keeping multiple documents open on the computer or searching through folders for files. Sorry, they're not set for others to view.

So have fun, and I hope to see you writing this November.

September 28, 2017

Seeding a Fall Vegetable Garden

Self-sown beans
In the United States most of us are well into fall/autumn and I wanted to do a big fall garden this year which means lots of direct seeding. It's been in the 90's (32 degrees Celsius) for most of September. But cooler weather is predicted for this weekend, so I've been running around like a crazy person this week preparing the rest of the garden beds.

A few things did get started in containers, but they were visited by one disaster after another. If it wasn't squirrels digging and mangling seedlings, than it was birds pecking off every single spinach seedling in 3 containers. Then there was the torrential rain.

For the month of September I have been direct seeding in the garden:
  • peas
  • radish
  • turnip
  • carrot
  • beet
  • sprouting broccoli
  • sprouting turnip
  • spinach
  • lettuce
  • chicory
  • endive
  • mizuna
  • tatsoi
  • mibuna
  • choy sum
  • pak choy
  • gailan
  • komatsuna
  • corn salad
  • mustard
Direct seeding is definitely where it's at. Sprinkle a few seeds on the ground and water everyday till they germinate, then watch them grow. I just love watching plants go through their whole lifecycle. So fun.

When the seedlings are little and just starting to germinate, I water by hand everyday with a watering can that has a fine stream. Once the plants get a bit bigger, I'll start thinning/harvesting.

With it being so hot most everything is germinating in 3-4 days. Although, I had to replant one of the pea beds a couple times, either due to old seed or planting them too early in the day and they ended up cooking in the ground.

Plans for October:
  • Dig and plant the bed for fava beans or broad beans.
  • Dig and plant the greenhouse with spinach, lettuce, and peas.
  • Direct seed even more turnips and radishes
I hand dug the beds, broke up the top crust with a rake, broadcast sowed the tiny seeds, and then tamped down the soil with the top of a rake. For beets, carrots, turnips, and radishes I pulled back the soil, broadcast the seeds, and then covered with soil.

It's definitely a little late for planting carrots and beets but we should have two more months of frost free weather, and there's always a chance for a mild winter.
Mingling with self-sown bush beans are rapini/sprouting broccoli, sprouting turnips, and kohlrabi.
Sprouting broccoli or broccoli raab.
Choy sum is a green that is usually allowed to bolt, the flowering stems are supposed to be deliciously sweet and crunchy. I've had them prepared by quick parboiling and then quickly stir-fried with garlic and salt in a very hot pan. So good.
The pea beds are interplanted with turnips and Giant Luo Buo radishes.
Little snap pea seedlings. This bed came up fine, but the peas in the other bed had to be replanted 3 times.
Sprouting turnips or Sessantina cima di rapa
 The pretty serrated leaves of Early mizuna.
Mibuna is such a stately leafy green.
The every pleasant tatsoi.
Tomato cages are being used as supports for the peas, and then turnips and radishes are planted in-between. You can also see the self-sown squash and okra in these beds.
Radishes and turnips taste better when grown in cooler weather, so I try to do a second planting of them in October. Just in case the September planting sees some hot weather, which can make the turnips and radishes a bit too spicy.

August 21, 2017

Harvest Monday, 8/21/17

Monday is the day of the eclipse and we should have a good view of it here in Western Kentucky. I have to work today, but our supervisor has scoped out a good place to see it and we should be able to take a peak during lunch. People have been buying up all the eclipse glasses, I figure quite a few of them are planning to sell these items for exorbitant prices. Bottled water and bread has been bought out at stores, it's like Y2K all over again. Not sure how the eclipse is supposed to effect water service...

In other news, we have cut down all the tomato plants and cleared out their cages on Saturday. The plan is to till the garden in preparation for fall planting in the next week or two. It took less than an hour to cut down the plants and clear out the cages. There were lots of green tomatoes and ripe tomatoes still left in the garden, but I was ready to move on.

Everything listed below was picked on Saturday.
With my husband's penchant for speed during the big tomato cleanup, I did not get a chance to pick any of their fruit. I managed to get a handful gleaned from the ground afterward.
Some green ground tomatoes.
And lots of hot peppers were picked. This is a mixture of Anaheim, jalapeno, Hungarian Hot Wax, Lemon Drop, and Santa Fe Grande. None of the peppers were especially hot this year, probably because of a mild and extra long spring.
The peppers were under-performers this year. Numex Joe E. Parker an Anaheim type has consistently been unproductive the last 2 years with only a few peppers per plant, although the peppers can get huge. Numex Big Jim is much more productive for me.

The hot peppers will probably get made into pickles, and maybe I'll try freezing a bunch in the form of poppers.
Queensland Blue has massive leaves for a winter squash. We had lots of squash vine borers this year plus the ever present squash bugs. Actually there were lots of new and unusual stink bugs with the majority of whom I've never seen before. Queensland showed signs of vine borer troubles early on.
 And here's that telltale sign of a vine borer, a bit of "sawdust" at the bottom of the stem.
Yokohama was the most productive having produced 6 pumpkins. They're all in various stages of ripeness with even a tiny green one on the upper left.
Thai Rai Kaw Tok also only produced three pumpkins. I think all of the varieties grown this year were susceptible to vine borer damage.
Black Futsu only produced one pumpkin from 3 plants. Next year I'll mainly grow cushaws and butternuts which are supposed to be more resistant to borers. 
And the two tiniest Delicata squashes ever. They were definitely overrun by the other winter squashes, but I've grown them before and only ever get a couple of fruit.

I ended up canning about 500 pounds of tomatoes and giving away close to 500 pounds this year. This last week I've been playing the avoidance game with the garden. I just couldn't deal anymore. I canned enough quarts of salsa to last us years, then there's tomato juice, quartered tomatoes in their own juice, and green tomato pickles.

We ended up with 38 quarts of green tomato pickles. It was actually fun experimenting with different flavorings for the pickles and making vinegary syrups. I was going to wait a month or two before opening them up and giving our opinions on them.

Some thoughts on this year's varieties. All the tomatoes were early this year by a month and with lots of consistent rain and cooler weather the flavors weren't the most intense, but they were still wonderfully delicious. We were picking large varieties like Pink Brandywine and Black Brandywine by the last week of June. Smaller varieties like Taxi and Black Prince ripened the same week as Sun Gold.

The two latest varieties to ripen were Yellow Brandywine and Aunt Ruby's German Green. Yellow Brandywine is delicious and very productive, Aunt Ruby's is less productive but the flavor is outstanding a mixture of citrus, melon and good tomato flavor. But keep in mind, they set fruit late and ripen late.

Cherokee Purple and Pilcer Vesy are the least productive tomato varieties for us. I probably won't grow either varieties again after trying these last few years. A couple years we didn't even get a single Cherokee Purple tomato from their plants.

There were lots of scary giant spiders in the garden during the dry part of August. A couple female Black Widows with their round distended bellies and I even saw a smaller male black widow in one of the female's web. The male and female were actually found on the bottom of a winter squash, which is why I always check what's going on underneath those ground dwelling squashes.

But the most interesting spider is pictured down below. So be warned, it is a close-up of a gigantic spider. I was crawling between the tomato beds when I looked up and saw a massive web and this hanging from the middle of it.

Giant spider picture below...



Wait for it....



And here's the spider.
You can even see the tiny hairs on its bottom leg segments.

Please join us at Dave's Our Happy Acres to join in on Harvest Monday. A fun and exciting place where gardeners share their experiences in vegetable gardening.

July 19, 2017

An Epic Year in the Vegetable Garden

Apologies for not posting, but we have been having the best year in the garden ever. I have been gardening for over twenty years, and I have never seen anything like this. Yesterday I gave away 90 pounds of tomatoes between family, neighbors, and coworkers. And yet, there are still tomatoes on the counter. So far we have canned 44 quarts of salsa and 14 quarts of tomato juice.

I have even started picking green tomatoes for people to fry up, which I never do. The plan is to pressure can the rest of the tomatoes in juice and make some green tomato pickles. A friend of mine says she has canned so far, 130 quarts of snap beans and last year they had only canned 50 quarts. And it's not even the end of the season yet. People in our area are abandoning their gardens and telling neighbors to come pick what they want because they're done canning for the year.

Months ago I scheduled to be off the last week of July for canning because that's usually when tomatoes start coming in strong. Instead I'll be pulling out the bush beans since rust is moving quickly through the patch and rabbits are nesting there. And I'll be clearing out most of the zucchini and summer squashes, and the greenhouse.

So here's a few pictures of what we've been harvesting.
I ordered a Victorio food strainer to help with making juices and sauces, and found it much more efficient than a food mill.
The winter squash beds are inaccessible but a few are growing along the fence. I'm hoping there's lots of them hiding in their patch.
This year we're growing Queensland Blue winter squash, Black Futsu pumpkin, Thai Rai Kaw Tok pumpkin, and Yokohama winter squash,
We won't be having any melons this year, since they're all overshadowed by the massive tomato plants. And the leeks were squished by the rampaging zucchini plants, but maybe they'll recover once the zucchini gets pulled.