Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year: what will you do differently this year?

Happy New Year! It is a special one this time around, a full moon, a blue moon, and it only comes around every 19 years on this day/night. Reflective time, this New Year's Eve. This is the day I review my garden journal. I can't be disciplined enough to maintain a personal journal, to log my success, failure, torments and triumphs, but I can do it for the garden, meticulously. In many ways it reflects how I feel personally as well. You know, sometimes there is just too dang much of something when you are sick of it (zucchinis in August or a particularly irritating co-worker) or not enough of something you feel you really need (Brussel's sprouts or vacation time for example). Personal triumphs are like harvesting your first head of cauliflower, or managing to fend off the tomato blight long enough to get sort of sick of tomatoes. The garden, for those of us who are affected with "gardenitis" (the gardening sickness, that causes lawns everywhere to recoil in fear of getting turned under), the garden is not only our respite and meditation, it also has the capacity to harbor the bane of our existance (imported cabbage worms, yucky!).

So, what will I do differently this year:
I will not be signing up for the same old thing! Change will come and I will like it!
I will NOT overplant the beds so they become these uncontrollable, tangled, mongrel children wrecking    havoc on my harvesting and sense of order!
I will police the pest situation with more vigilance.
I will plant turnips, because I love them.
I will spend more time enjoying the rock chair I built in the garden 2 summers ago and have yet to use for it's intended purpose (drinking an ice cold beer after a great day working in the garden).

Looking over my list, it seems pretty manageable. What is in your personal journal you would like to take out to the garden? What is in your garden journal you would like to bring into yourself? What will you do differently?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Is it winter? The holdouts...

It's November 18th, the mighty big beet is still "living" and I imagine that at some point it will tell me when it's time to come inside for the winter. The smaller, little sister beets, are still in the garden and just when I think the greens are surely dead this time, they pop right up when the sun hits them. Lettuce, believe it or not, it's still hanging in there too. Last but not least is the kale, this leafy green takes a 24 degree temperature and shakes it right off, no babying for this hardy plant.

The Big Beet, or BB is coming inside for a seed saving experiment. I am going to pluck it from it's mulch-y outdoor home, trim off the not yet dead leaves, and pack it in clean dry sand for the winter. I think an ice cream bucket should be just the right size for BB. The plan is that it will stay "alive" enough through the winter to rise again next spring. I will plant it out in the garden and BB should make some seeds. The beet is a member of the Amaranth family and is a biennial, which means that it flowers the second year. So, apparently, if I can keep ol' BB going, I should be able to collect some seeds once the plant flowers. A new experiment for me.

Seed saving is as old as agriculture, where the plants that produce the most desirable characteristics, ie. tastiness, earliness, hardiness or disease resistance, were allowed to flower and set seed for planting the following season. Each plant has a special way it likes to have it's seeds treated to maximize germination, and some like BB take a little more time than others. The easiest seeds to save are the legumes, beans and peas. They are a nice workable size and don't require much fussing, just dry the pods and pack them away (be careful to label them!). Tomato seeds need to ferment in order to germinate which can be a smelly process indeed! Hybrid plants are not suited for seed saving, as the offspring of such combinations will not be true to the parent. The best varieties to save seed from are the wind pollinated varieties many are heirloom varieites that have been passed down for many generations. If you have a variety of vegetable, flower, herb or fruit that you particularly enjoy, I recommend investigating how to save the seeds and share them with friends to maintain our agricultural gene pool.

See you in the backyard!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The "King" and I

After loving the wonderfully unseasonable temperatures the last two weeks it came, the cold. Whew! This morning was chilly. I pulled out the tomato and eggplant plants yesterday, and covered the peppers (which are doing really well this year!). Early in the planting season, I chose a few pepper plants to put in pots, as I had more than I could use in the garden. These plants have been in a race to see which would be the strongest and most prolific. I was forced to pick a winner yesterday, and my heirloom bell pepper, King of the North variety, was the clear winner. It has nice fruits and a few blossoms. It is my experiment pepper, I am going to baby it until next year. Peppers are native to Central and South America, so they like it warm, far warmer than Minnesota to be sure. I am going through with the experiment to see how this particular variety fares in the less than full sun and some what chilly temps that we have here, even in the house.

The fall is a great, sad time for me. I am in a rush of canning, fermenting and drying foods, trying to keep in mind all the mental notes about how the garden went and planning for next year. My first timer clients are busy with their homework as well, they are reviewing their own gardens and thinking about changes for next year. This is one great reason for a garden journal, even just a notepad to jot down a random thought, something like "The beets were very happy next to the fence this year", or "I will never again try to plant 8 pepper plants in 3 square feet of garden bed" you get the idea. The garden wrap up and planning sessions are the only lessons left for the year. The sad part is the lack of the garden and the looming cold. So, this is why I have choosen the "King" to hang around for the winter, perhaps he and the "Herbs" can arrange a gathering in the skillet.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

September Heat

This morning I picked another basket of tomatoes. Despite the blight, it seems the little guys just keep coming. It's time for another batch of canning. The September heat has been helpful in the garden this fall to say the least. Peppers, corn, squash, beans, beets, lettuce and cabbages are all doing well. Cabbages, ah yes well, the ever icky cabbage worms are in force this year. Daily picking works, but they just won't quit! Yucky little squirmy things, they smell like cabbage when you squish them. There are 2 types that I have trouble with, imported cabbage worms (pictured above)and cabbage loopers (pictured below). The worms are about an inch long, and kind of fat and eat big holes in the leaves, the loopers are shorter and slimmer and eat smaller holes. They both like the bottom side of the leaves, but the worms also can be spotted on the tops. I just pick 'em off and step on them. I have a smaller than desired cabbage harvest this year, but it looks like the fall crop may hold it's own as long as I keep picking. Today I mention the cabbage interlopers because I found two of the big worms on the kitchen counter after setting the basket of tomatoes there this morning. The little guys are so prevelant in the garden that they found their way into the house, either on the basket or the fruits themselves. So, I wish you continued happiness in the garden, bug picking and all.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

tomato blight

Although the tomatoes have done their share of producing in the backyard grocery test plots, I'm disappointed by the blight. Blight is a fungus that affects plants in the tomato family (which also includes eggplant, peppers and potatoes) The best ways to avoid getting the blight is to mulch well, to prevent "splash back" from the rain, give each plant enough room, don't water in the evening or from overhead and if the tell tale spots do show up, remove any affected leaves or branches promptly. When the season is over, be sure to remove any sick leaves and plants and do not add them to the compost pile and be sure when planning for next year to move tomato family plants to a different area of the garden.

My first time gardeners have enjoyed an abundance of tomatoes this season, all heirloom varieties that consistently deliver in the taste department. One of the most popular was the Cherokee Purple variety a deep colored tomato that ripens to purple and has a rich tomato flavor.

Heirloom varieties produce vegetables that are not your typical grocery store varieties. These are old timey plants that have been phased out of our vegetable lexicon due to their incompatibility with our industrialized mono crop farms, mechanical harvest, inconsistent sizing and an inability to ship long distances, they also have not been genetically modified. How a seed variety qualifies for the heirloom title is under debate. Many gardeners agree that a variety introduced before 1945 qualifies for heirloom status as this indicates the end of World War II, an increase in industrialized agriculture and more widespread use of hybridized seeds.

Pictured: Bulgarian Carrot Pepper, hot heirloom pepper that dries well and adds briliant color to any dish.

Monday, September 21, 2009

welcome to the backyard grocery:
we are a service company in the Minneapolis/St.Paul, MN area designed to help urban and suburban dwellers become more connected to their food, by helping them plan, plant, maintain and harvest a vegetable garden of their own.