March 28, 2012

Slugs Eating Newly Germinated Tender Vegetable Seedlings

A little slug right before he was squished.
Ugh. So slugs got a few of the eggplant seedlings that were being hardened off outside on the back step. They mostly come out at night. Mostly. And they are not the big juicy slugs found out west. These ones are slender with cute little eye stalks, but they still need to be destroyed. All the Ping Tung eggplant seedlings were eaten as well as the Aswad and Bangladeshi Longs. Here's a link their descriptions from another post. The hardening off process also had a casualty, a single Early Long Purple laid down and gave up the ghost.

I went ahead and replanted the eggplant seeds of the plants that were eaten by the slugs, hopefully the seeds will germinate quickly and the plants get big enough to plant outside in five weeks. But that is cutting it really close. The reason I knew slugs were eating the plants is because I went out at night with a flashlight to check on them and caught the little buggers at it.

Generally slugs are not a problem in this garden. I attribute the lack of slugs to the use of wood ash which is probably hard on their soft bodies. Many people crumble eggshells around their plants along with coffee grounds.

March 27, 2012

Preparing the Vegetable Garden Soil for Tilling

New garden extension covered during the winter in wood dust and ashes from the woodstove
A nice array of weeds, overwintered lettuces, and fava beans
Tiny little Swiss chard or silverbeet
Tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings waiting on the back step
I am a bit embarrassed at all the weeds in the garden, but the only excuse I can offer is a bruised rib and pulled rib muscles. It hurts to breath let alone cough or laugh. So any weeding has only been half hearted at best.

The garden was more than doubled in size in the fall and then the garden extension was allowed to lay fallow covered in wood dust. All winter we have been taking the ashes from the woodstove out into the garden to combine with the wood dust left from having tree stumps ground down. Along with 400 pounds of purchased aged manure and compost all the soil amendments will be tilled under in the next few days. Hopefully the manure will be acidic enough to balance the basic pH of the wood ash.

It is amazing how well the overwintered lettuces and fava broad beans are doing. Even with weedy competition the lettuces seem to be holding their own. And the lettuces are everywhere. There are lettuces in the lettuce bed, the Swiss chard silverbeet bed, and the fava broad bean bed. Too bad the Swiss chard otherwise known as silverbeet are doing so poorly. The chard looks good but they are so little, hardly worth the effort of overwintering but that may be due to not getting them big and established enough before the cold weather set in.

March 26, 2012

Fava Broad Beans are Starting to Grow and Form Little Beans

After all the blossom drop without a bean ever forming, we have our first Windsor Fava broad beans. It just took a few warm days and the pollinators finally made it out to the plants. At first the bees seemed more drawn to the weeds but my husband took care of that with the lawnmower. The flowers are lovely with white petals and black markings, strangely enough when the flowers are pollinated the stem on the flower thickens and straighten up so the beans actually point to the sky. The ants seem really drawn to the plants and flowers so they may be doing the actual pollinating, and it is a sparse pollination the plants are getting for every cluster of five flowers perhaps one is being pollinated.

I have seen one aphid on the fava broad bean plants and am keeping a close watch because aphids are supposed to be such a menace for the plants. Aphids suck on the tender parts of plants distorting the growth. The intermittent heavy rain every few days may be helping on the aphid front.

To make growing fava beans worthwhile half of the garden would probably have to be planted and overwintered with just broad beans.

March 22, 2012

To Till or Not To Till the Garden and Mow Down the Fava Beans

Silver green colors of Windsor fava broad bean.

Overwintered self sowed free range lettuces
The overwintered free range or self seeded lettuces were mowed down by my husband as their bed was covered in weeds preparing to flower so he wanted to catch them before they spread. The lettuces are coming back quickly with the warm weather. The overwintered fava beans have been enjoying the heat as well and are laden with blossoms but not a single bean has yet to form, admittedly there are very few pollinators about especially since the weeds were mowed down. But still the fava beans are over knee high and not a single pod has been born.

I am still debating whether or not to till the whole garden. Starting over is alluring and oddly seductive. There is the whole clean slate put your plants where you want them thing, but the fava beans are growing so well and it would be lovely to taste some for the first time. My husband says they are utterly delicious.

It has been very warm for such an early spring with temperatures around 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius). I have been seduced by warm temperatures before and made the mistake of planting tender tomato, eggplant and peppers out early only to lose dozens of home raised seedlings. This was in an early April in the high mountain desert rather than the river country where I live now. Those lost seedlings were very large and well hardened off, it was a mistake I have learned from.

Big beautiful worms are living in the fava bean bed, I was pulling some weeds and managed to pull up a few lovely worms. Here's to a gigantic harvests of gorgeous vegetables.

March 21, 2012

Okra Has Germinated and Hardening Off Seedlings

Very tall three day old Philippine Lady Finger okra
The Philippine Lady Finger okra was the first to sprout but I can see one Stewart's Zeebest okra starting to break through the surface of the soil. The okra seedlings are beautiful and otherworldly with their strangely delicate pale green crumpled first leaves. At only three days old the okra seedlings are larger than most vegetable seedlings with their thick stems and enormous leaves. They have already outgrown their peat pellets with rapacious seeking roots that will need to be repotted in the next day or so.

I am a bit nervous about putting the plants outside to start the hardening process to get them strong enough to be planted out, since the storm that beat up the tomato seedlings. Ah well. It must be done so the shuffling in and out of trays of plants in styrofoam cups will begin. The plan was to set them out in the soft morning light for a few hours each day, slowly lengthening the time until they can bare the harsh afternoon sun. It ended up being a good day to start hardening off the little seedlings with the sky grey and overcast. Although it was quite breezy outside which can be hard on the stems and drying to the plants so I went ahead and watered them in.

March 18, 2012

What to do With Eggplant

So you might be wondering what I am going to do with all the eggplant that are going to grow from the dozen growing seedlings and the other dozen or so waiting to sprout or germinate.

Eggplants have a wonderful flesh that is soft and tender but also has enough body to keep its identity during cooking, many people describe the texture similar to meat and the flavor is very mild so it's great at picking up flavors from other ingredients. Usually I use a mixture of cooked ground pork, eggplant, mushroom, etc. seasoned with pepper and nuoc mam to stuff cucumber and zucchini which are then baked, the flavors are utterly delicious at the same time savory and refreshing. There's also a lovely Greek mousaka dish that uses a ground pork and beef mixture, eggplant, potato, parmesan cheese, a b├ęchamel sauce, and spiced with cinnamon and allspice. For a simple side dish just microwave long thin Asian eggplants till soft then split open the skin and sprinkle over top a green onion and olive oil mixture. I also love eggplant parmesan on a toasted hoagie roll but haven't personally made the dish.

Stuffed vegetable dishes are probably my favorite because they use lots of vegetables which is useful when you have lots of things ripening at once.

Here's a couple of dishes I'm curious to try by the food blog greenkitchenstories:

March 17, 2012

On Onion Sets and Tomato Seedlings Perking Up

A tumble of white, yellow, and red onion sets
Effervescent lemongrass
The stalwart Cosmonaut Volkov tomato
A lurid Break O Day tomato
Determined Granny Cantrell seedling
Sun singed but still going Santa Fe pepper seedling
Anaheim pepper forming its first true leaves
Happily growing serrano pepper
A friend and fellow gardening enthusiast gave me her leftover red, yellow and white onion sets which are just onions started from seed that are allowed to form little bulbs, and then dug up and sold when they're under on inch wide. The little onion bulblets are already forming green stalks so they need to go into the ground soon, but it has been raining and the ground is too soggy to till. Yikes. I have never grown onions before from sets or otherwise, so it should be fun.

The tomato seedlings seem to recovering from the ordeal after surviving a thunderstorm. Now they are back under lights and finally seem to be growing again and forming new leaf growth. But there were a bunch of casualties, I had 53 tomato seedlings before the storm and am now down to 37 seedlings counting the 8 cherry or grape tomatoes. Eight cherry or grape tomatoes is definitely overkill just one or two cherry tomato plants should keep our little two person family in plenty of little bite sized goodness, so the rest will be given to friends. Every seedling of a few standard tomato varieties had been lost, so I went ahead and replanted those three lost varieties:
  • San Marzano Lungo No. 2 - listed as a heavy bearing paste tomato with tasty thick dry flesh and few seeds a famous tomato in Italy.
  • Pantano Romensco - an Italian heirloom that is supposed to grow large dark red almost purple fruit that have a rich sweet acidic taste.
  • Ingegnoli Gigante Liscio - gigantic fruits that can grow to over 2 pounds and said to have a very sweet rich flavor and juicy flesh.
Okra is one of my favorite things to grow. The plants get nice and tall with lots of fruit that need to be picked on a daily basis like green beans and they take the heat and humidity beautifully. They do take some time to get past the seedling stage before they start shooting up which leaves them vulnerable to a careless husband and his lawn mower, which is why I like to start them inside to get them a little bigger before being set outside. Be sure to plant more than a couple plants so you can get enough ripened fruits at one time to cook up, ten plants or more gives me enough okra to play with on a daily basis. Okra and tomato stews, lightly curried okra, and okra fried to a golden brown served with fried oysters are all yummy. The okra were started in peat pellets, three different varieties for a total of 18 seeds were planted which included:
  • Stewart's Zeebest - round smooth long pods that are unribbed with heavy yields on 7 plus feet branching plants.
  • Phillipine Lady Finger - round smooth podded fruit that can be allowed to grow very long on gigantic 10 foot tall plants.
  • Cowhorn - popular ribbed okra variety on tall plants.

March 16, 2012

Tomato Seedlings Took A Beating But Eggplants Look Gorgeous

The Utterly Gorgeous Green Raveena Eggplant
The Ravishing Malaysian Dark Red Eggplant
Another Beautiful Green Raveena Eggplant
A Forlorn Tomato Seedling
A Flock of Sad Tired Tomatoes
Happy Little Reisentraube Cherry Tomato

The tomato seedlings look just awful, all weak and sunburned with crumpled up desiccated leaves. Poor little things were stuck out in the sun for four hours, two days in a row and then a rain storm blew in on the second day and beat up the little suckers and many now are missing leaves or are bent over on thin stems. The tomatoes look just terrible compared to the eggplant and pepper seedlings which are growing quickly and beautifully. They still have six weeks before being planted outside the first week of May to grow big and bushy, hopefully the tomatoes will catch up by then.

Strangely enough the Reisentraube cherry tomato plants seem sturdier with thicker stems and larger leaf growth compared to the standard tomatoes. Reisentraube is an old German heirloom cherry tomato that offers full bodied tomato flavor in miniature size born on large plants that are supposed to have massive yields even in 100 degree weather. The grape tomato I planted because my husband enjoys them so much is a F1 hybrid which have strange dark stems and leaves that look almost purple black with a hint of green but they are growing well despite abuse and seem to have the same sturdy growth as the Reisentraube cherry tomato.

March 15, 2012

An Ananas Noire Tomato Germinated in Just One Day!

And the winner is the Ananas Noire tomato, who germinated today after being planted just yesterday!
Sweet plant growing setup
Ananas Noire is listed as a tricolored tomato with greens, yellow, and purple and is supposed to have a sweet and smoky flavor with a hint of citrus. Sounds yummy. The seeds were gigantically large and blocky and astonishingly quick to germinate with one popping up in just a day.

The anaheim peppers were repotted into styrofoam cups and even with just having their cotyledon embryonic first leaves I noticed the roots had already started curling up in the bottom of their pots, so the styrofoam cups will be roomier and they'll be able to develop more extensive root systems. I went ahead and added soil to some of the tomato styrofoam cups to shore up some of their long stringy stems, roots will develop and grow along their submerged stems.

My husband set up this cool light system in the studio, he just attached lights beneath a tall shelf and put the plants on rolling tables. Easy peasy and now the plants are out of the way, and all of them are under lights 24 hours a day.

March 14, 2012

On Lemongrass and Seed Buying Addictions

Faithful lemongrass

The lemongrass is growing. I am so excited. Lemongrass chicken here we come! As you might be able to tell from the photograph the lemongrass is planted in a styrofoam shipping container that would be normally thrown away. They can usually be picked up for free from grocers, or any big companies that use supplies that need to be kept cool like hospitals.

I have a seed buying problem. There I've admitted it. A new order of vegetable seeds have come in the mail and it looks like in a fit of late night temptation, ten varieties of eggplants were ordered plus two varieties of tomatoes. Which is absolutely insane because I already have 14 eggplant seedlings and 53 tomato plants. There is really no excuse, except that I noticed some of the eggplant seeds at the Bakers Creek website were now out of stock, and a strange hazy logic of "oh no, what if they run out and next year they have a crop failure and can't offer the seeds again" came over me. So, today ten varieties of eggplants were started in peat pellets:
  • Applegreen - heard about this one in a gardening forum where someone mentioned it as a favorite. Plants are listed as being small with wonderful yields of delicious tender round green fruits.
  • Aswad - described as giant purple black squat teardrop shaped eggplants that can weigh 3 pounds or more with sweet tender flesh.
  • Bangladeshi Long - stated as green with purple streaks on cylindrical fruits giving early and huge yields.
  • Cambodian Green Giant - listed as huge ribbed fruits with light and dark green streaking and full bodied eggplant flavor.
  • Ma-Zu Purple Chinese - deliciously sweet and tender Tawain variety with 8-12 inch long by 2 inch diameter fruit.
  • Pandora Striped Rose - said to have teardrop lilac rose colored fruits on heavy yielding thornless plants that should be picked young otherwise they tend to be seedy.
  • Ping Tung - supposed to have long purple thin skinned fruits with sweet creamy white flesh and a heavy producer.
  • Thai Light Round Green - described as vigorous prolific plants that produce little round light green fruit used extensively in Thai coconut soups and curries.
  • Thai Long Green - says the plants needs lots of heat which will yield sweet and mild superb 10-12 inch lime green fruits on 2-3 foot plants.
  • Thai Long Purple - said to have long dark purple fruit that are mild and sweet and perfect to grow in hot humid areas.
And two varieties of tomatoes were also started in peat pellets:
  • Ananas Noire - Ananas Noire is listed as a tricolored tomato with greens, yellow, and purple and is supposed to have a sweet and smoky flavor with a hint of citrus. Sounds yummy.
  • Hillbilly - is listed as a gargantuan flame colored tomato with orange and red striations and a sweet savory bacon flavor.

March 12, 2012

On Barbecue, Jalapeno Peppers and Leeks

Fluffy Clouds After a Rain Storm
The Slow Growing Leeks
The Strident Anaheims and Simpering Tomatoes
The rain clouds threatened all day and last night they finally gave into a downpour. My kind husband checked on my seedlings outside and brought them indoors before I even asked when phoning home from work. I had been leaving the leeks outside in their little styrofoam container and they are growing sooooo slowly. They are still very small very much in the new sprout stage but when they are as thick as a pencil they'll get planted in the dirty ground. Leeks are so easy to grow and yet they are expensive and rarely available at the grocery store so I choose to grow them rather than the onions which are cheap and prevalent. Strangely enough garlic and mushrooms are also expensive in this part of the US it seems like garlic is rarely used here at all whereas mushrooms are only used to make stuffed mushrooms. The food culture is interesting in this area where there's a Waffle House at every freeway exit and a barbecue joint on every corner. They use the same waffle irons you find in the continental breakfasts at cheap hotels so the waffles end up being thin without any kind of body or crunch because the teeth in the waffle iron aren't remotely deep enough. The barbecue served at the restaurants here consist mainly of cold greasy shredded pork that only taste of smoke served with a smidgen of innocuous and worst vacuous bottled barbecue sauce. But I do have a neighbor who is a gifted at grilling and his barbecued chicken and pork roast is utterly sublime, he even makes his own charcoal using only hickory wood. A very gifted man who has elevated a past time to the level of art. I grew up west where we barbecued whole pigs or half pigs in the Hawaiian manner using a pit in the ground, grilled up huge racks of beef ribs and roasts as well as pork roasts with the hot juicy meat soaked in spicy piquant homemade barbecue sauce.

On to other news. Not a single jalapeno pepper seed has sprouted, not even one and I used both newly bought seed as well as some old seed. It has been four weeks and eight serrano and eleven anaheim peppers have managed to sprout. Maybe the jalapenos need hotter soil temperatures to germinate. Buuuuut the seeds may have been accidently allowed to dry out once, maybe twice. Ugh, I'm so disappointed in myself especially since the salsa recipe I use for canning requires three different kinds of peppers anaheim, serrano, and jalapeno. Jalapeno peppers can have smooth skin or skin with scarring striations running down its length, many people prefer the striated jalapeno peppers because supposedly they are closer to being ripe and are that much hotter. I made salsa one year with serrano and jalapeno peppers that were allowed to ripen to red and boy was that salsa so deliciously hot it could set your mouth on fire.

March 11, 2012

Spring has Sprung in the Vegetable Garden

Grey Spring Sky
A styrofoam container planted with lemongrass seed.
Intermittent spring storms have been passing through bringing rain and warming winds. I am so excited about spring finally being here, I just can't stand it. All I can think about is giant pepper bushes loaded down with large succulent bright red fruits dangling from their brittle stems, indeterminate tomato vines heavy with their fruited orbs, and dragging in buckets and buckets of vegetables to be canned and eaten fresh and cooked up.

In celebration I went ahead and planted some lemongrass seed in a used styrofoam shipping container filled with a couple of inches of seed starting mix. The seed packet stated that the lemongrass needs light to sprout so the seeds were just sprinkled onto the surface of the soil instead of buried. Hopefully they were started early enough because lemongrass needs a very long growing season to get some worthwhile stalks that can be frozen and used as a seasoning or herb. Lemongrass chicken and lemongrass pork is absolutely delicious, and the herb adds a whole new dimension to curries that takes it to a whole different stratosphere. Too bad lemongrass is completely unavailable in this area otherwise I would just stick some store bought stalks in the ground.

With spring finally here all I can think about is tilling the soil, but the ground is still way too moist to be rototilled which is making my eye twitch. I did go out there and pull a few weeds around the Swiss chard bed but I have half a mind to go ahead and rototill under the overwintered plants, and get started with situating the beds for warm weather crops. There is still about a month and a half before warm weather crops can be planted out maybe the end of April. Although a friend of mine who has farmed this area for years says he wouldn't plant any tomatoes out until May 1st.

March 10, 2012

Surviving the Winter Blooming Windsor Broad Fava Bean, Lettuce, and Swiss Chard

Some of the pictures are clickable if you want to get a closer look at the plants that have survived the dark cold winter after sprouting in October.

Lettuce of the Self Sowed Variety and Swiss Chard and Wild Onions
Flowering Windsor Broad Fava Bean
The Windsor fava broad beans are full of blossoms even though nary a bean has yet to form. The plants are not very tall yet maybe ten inches (25.4 cm) but they should grow up to three to four feet tall (0.9 - 1.2 meters). Just a few had blackened tips from the winter frosts and some of the plants had stems that had bent and died in the wind storms but every single plant has lived through the long dark winter days, after being directly seeded into the garden mid-October.

The lettuces have formed beautiful rosettes, although the weeds are also huge and definitely competing with the lettuces. But the Swiss chard are tiny tiny tiny and the wild onions don't look as if they'll be getting very big this year. All the large lettuces were harvested December 2nd before the first hard frost, and the lettuce that are now in the garden were tiny self-sowed starts at the beginning of winter.