Food & Garden

Garden of Doom

Ok, so it’s not exactly ALL doom and gloom. But let’s just say I’m reaping a whole lot of fail in the garden this year—more than I have in the five years since I started. Even though most of the factors are out of my control (and compared to farmers across the country this year, I’m actually faring pretty well) it still feels like I should be salvaging more. I promise there is at least one happy garden story at the end of this post. But as it is my habit to record everything, let’s look at many minor disasters of the summer 2012 vegetable garden.

Garden plot 1, planted April 22: Tomato, basil, pepper.

July 4

Here’s the first plot a few weeks ago. Not too bad, right? You can just see the first red tomatoes peaking out in the middle, and the basil is doing well.

Fast forward to July 26:

Ok, not bad—so the basil is bolting and that one wild plant I let grow on the left has taken over. The real damage is something you have to get closer to see.

Holes—holes everywhere. I found the bugger (a tomato fruitworm, I believe) who was doing it—but not before he tasted tested half of my tomatoes. The first few that ripened rotted from mold that got in the holes. The one spot of good news is that I learned that some of the tomatoes are salvageable, if not always in the ripest state…

I’m finally getting some ripe tomatoes without holes in them though, so perhaps soon I will get to eat a whole tomato (these were big beef but shady ladies are ripening too).

Garden plot 2, planted April 29: corn, beans, squash lemon cucumber

July 4

On Independence day, this plot was doing fantastic! Ok, so the green beans hadn’t flowered and I had only picked one lemon cucumber. But everything seemed to be going well with the three sisters…

July 26

And then the winds came. Like most of the country this year, I am having trouble with my corn—but instead of a drought, I am battling the winds. I thought they’d be a good thing, considering corn is wind pollinated. But I have had to prop the corn up twice—in either direction. I’m not sure how many of the stalks are still fully intact, because I don’t want to battle the vines to find out. On the one hand, I am finally getting green beans. On the other hand, their weight is making the corn situation worse.

Well, at least this plot is productive…that’s more than I can say for the next two.

Garden plot 2.5, planted April 29: sunflowers, corn, onions

July 4

Again, not bad in this photo—everything is growing slow but steady.

July 26

So here we are three weeks later and not much has changed. The sunflowers are taller but none have opened. I had to pull up the onions, but those should keep for a while. And the corn…got overshadowed by the sunflowers and appears to be stunted. Alas.

Garden Plot 3, planted May 6: Cucumber, squash, okra…but mostly a lot of volunteer tomatillo

May 17

This plot has pretty much always struggled with an identity crises of some kind or another. Am I growing lemon cucumbers or squash? (turns out, squash—there was a mix up). Are any of my okra seeds sprouting? (only 3—all red okra). What are these random seedlings popping up all over me? (TOMATILLOS, the glitter of the garden world. You will never be rid of them.) And what is this random plant added to my back corner? (Armenian cucumber—I ran out of space).

July 4

So this quickly became the plot dominated by tomatillo and squash plants. I could do without the tomatillos, but I was looking forward to yellow scallop squash, and cukes. Just check out these guys:

July 26Despite taking over the nearby sidewalk, this plot has done almost nothing since then. I’ve had no more cucumbers, and that one scallop squash was stolen. STOLEN. I know this because I watered the garden one afternoon and saw it, and came back to show it to my friend an hour later…and it was gone. Not gnawed on like I’ve seen happen to my neighbor’s vegetables, which would indicate an animal. No, it was picked clean off. I cannot tell you how sad I was. The only thing that makes up for it is this guy:

This is my first and so far only okra pod, but it looks like a few more are on the way. I hope they get big enough so I can cook them all at once!

Garden Plot 4, planted May 13-?: tomatoes, bell peppers, cilantro and volunteers

May 17

This plot had broccoli that matured really late in the spring, so it got whatever random plants I had left over that hadn’t found a home by then. In this photo there was only the green zebra tomato, the kellog’s breakfast tomato and the cilantro.

By early July it had a crapton more—bell peppers on the left, heirloom tomatoes on the right, cherry tomatoes  (sungold?) in the back, and a couple of volunteers—tomatillo (of course), sunflower, and some unidentified cucurbits. But aside from the bell pepper plants (which all came pollinated—a late purchase I got for the grand total of 70 cents), nothing was fruiting because I planted it so late.

July 26

Now this plot is finally looking nice! Sunflowers and naked ladies (the pink flowers), and some fruits on the tomato and the cucurbit.

I think the green zebra (with stripes) will be ripe soon—true to their name, they only get a yellow blush with green stripes. The Kellogg’s breakfast supposedly will turn orange. So far, so good for this plot. Except for the beetles.

Despite their name, these striped cucumber beetles are having a field day with the tomatillos. There were some in the other plot, but these were absolutely infested. I guess I should be happy that they’re mainly attacking a plant I don’t much care about, right?

The garden’s silver lining—succulents hanging baskets

As promised, this is a happy story. Way back in May, I got to go on the Cambra Garden Tour. I saw some amazing and inspiring things there, but what most stuck with me were the succulent arrangements the creative hanging of plants.

My mom did a much more direct replica on the succulent boxes we saw (like the first photo), but I managed to incorporate these ideas in a much more limited way:

I added this little guy to my porch—and it has kept surprisingly well through the heat of summer. The lobelia died back, but the snapdragons and the many succulents are doing quite well. I really like mixing in succulents with regular plants instead of separating them. I’ve found several new succulents in pots that people have tossed into greenwaste piles—I salvaged those and saved the pots from neighbors who moved away, so hopefully there will be more interesting succulent combinations in my future.

Food & Garden

Summer vegetable gardening: Before and after photos!

I have been so busy with planting my summer vegetable garden, one plot at a time, that I have not had time to share the results with anyone.  But as I’ve been planting since April, I have some great progress photos! This season I’ve been focus on companion planting and making the most of tiny spaces and uneven amounts of sun. So allow me to introduce you to my 2012 garden.

Garden plot, 1 planted April 22: Tomato, basil, pepper.

Day 1 (April 22):

Day 27 (May 18):

As you can see, the marigolds died off, but the rest of the plants have thrived.  On the right are two shady lady tomatoes, and the tomato in the center is a big beef (I think…). The three basil plants are sweet basil all divided from one plant I bought at Trader Joe’s.  The three pepper plants around the edges are all thai hot peppers.

I read up on companion planting this spring (see here and here) to determine that these were the best three vegetable starts to put together. This plot is on the side that gets more sun in the morning than the afternoon, but since most of the sunlight casts a shadow toward the north (the side with the marigold 6 pack on the cement), I tried to put the shortest plants on the southern side. Unfortunately I didn’t read up enough on the center variety of tomato/I forgot what it was….its probably going to overshadow the hot pepper on the far right. But so far everything is doing just fine.I even have my first green tomato on the big beef!

Garden plot 2, planted April 29: corn, beans, squash.

Day 1 (April 29):

Day 22 (May 18):

This plot has really taken off! But it has also deviated the most from what I thought it would look like. It’s my first really attempt at the oft-mentioned three sisters garden, so called for the corn, beans and squash used together to mimick a number of Native American methods of companion planting (historian note: If you’re interested in the history part, Hurt’s  Indian Agriculture in America: Prehistory to the Present would be a good place to start. For a philosophical/more accessible reflection, look at Nabhan’s Enduring Seeds: Native American Agriculture and Wild Plant Preservation).

I used corn starts and (mostly) squash and bean seeds for this plot, looking at this website for its diagram and directions for planting. The corn is supposed to be 4 inches tall before the beans and squash seeds go in, so that was well timed. But I also added in some corn seeds later, taken from a random dried ear of corn I saved from a neighbor last year, since I’m worried about having enough corn for pollination. I had to really plant my corn seeds deep, because this is a plot that is west facing and gets a full dose of afternoon sun, and the corn really needs moisute to germinate.

I said “mostly” for the squash seeds because I also planted two of what I was told were two scallop squash seedlings from my neighbor…but I am 95% sure she got them confused with the lemon cucumber seedlings she gave me, since that is what they look like. Oh well. Those are in the front and left groupings.

Likely lemon cukes  on the left, suspected scallop squash (in a different plot) on the right:

All of the beans are pole green beans, but I planted a variety of squash from seeds. They are

back and right squash seeds: zucchini

left seeds: acorn squash

front seeds zucchini? I’m not sure here…

So I’m still not 100% diligent in recording what I plant. I figure that’s part of the fun of amateur gardening—surprise vegetables!

Or sometimes, like below, an entire plot full of surprises…

Garden plot 2.5, planted April 29: sunflowers, corn, onions

Day 1 (April 29)

Day 22 (May 18)

This tiniest plot wasn’t even supposed to be planted at all. It was where I was doing my in ground composting (option 2) this winter and early spring. But when I dug up plots 2 and 3 to plant summer vegetables, I couldn’t bear to pull up all of the onions for good. The decent sized ones are drying in my storage unit, but I transplanted all of the small ones to this little scrap of dirt on a whim. I know onions can keep on living in less than ideal situations, which describes this plot—it’s minuscule, its only source of fresh nutrients in years were my food scraps, and it barely gets enough sunlight. Seriously—all of my “after” photos in this post I took around 1 p.m., and most plots are in the sun by that hour, but not this one—it only gets sun from about 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. these days. Six to 8 hours is the ideal. And yet, I held out hope that my onions would survive there and slowly get bigger. Just for good measure, I threw some sunflower seeds and corn seeds in with them, both saved from last summer.

And to my great surprise, the onions and the seeds are doing well! It’s a bit hard to see in this photo, but the corn and the sunflowers all lean about 10 degrees to the west, because that’s the only direction sunlight come from. I may have to stake them when they’re a bit taller so they don’t fall over from their own weight. But there they are, defying the odds.


Food & Garden

Spring Part 2. Garden blooms and worm compost

I’ve been so busy with knitting and gardening that I haven’t had time to blog about either of them! I decided to break it down into small chunks, so even though I have already finished my cowl from the bean-dyed blue yarn, made significant changes to and progress on my custom fit raglan sweater and even planted the first plot of my summer veggies (!), I am going to save those for later posts.

Front yard flowers

This was how my front yard looked last week—and it has only bloomed more since then. The lavender and geraniums in the background are the only plants that were here when I moved in, and they were pretty scraggly. Since then I’ve been adding more flowers each year, like the purple and yellow columbines in the foreground…

these mini pink old fashioned roses…

these magenta colored sweet peas…

and this pink and yellow blooming echeveria, a succulent (unrelated to the trailing green succulent in background, which should be in bloom with small pink flower soon).

What do these plants have in common? They were all free! Free is an important priority in my garden. These plants came from giveaways, neighbor’s yards (with permission), or wild seeds.

If you want plants that are free and easy to care for, I highly recommend succulents, those fleshy, water retaining plants (cacti are only one type of succulent, and perhaps my least favorite). Many of them will start from pieces broken off from their original plant. They seem to thrive on neglect—my front yard is only partly sunny and I’m bad about watering it regularly, but the succulents just keep on living and even reproducing. Mine have come from my neighbors and my mom mostly, but I scavenged some beautiful ones from a green waste pile. I can probably break you off some of the more abundant ones if you like!  I’m partial to floral shaped ones, but I actually have quite a variety:

Since the rains came late this year, I’m getting spring flowers while I’m still harvesting my winter vegetables. I didn’t harvest too much this year, but what I did get was delicious:

Spinach did fantastic in this spot—my favorite use for this has been salads with strawberries, blueberries and vinaigrette.

Broccoli finally came in. Just in time too, if it had waited another week it would have probably flowered in the 90 degree heat.

And onions—I planted these all over the place in the fall, some like these are ready and some are not even close, so I will probably continue to harvest them throughout the spring if I can.

Worm compost

The new addition to my gardens this year is actually one you won’t notice: compost from my worm bin! The purpose, of course, is for the worms to create some soil building compost from my fruit and veggie scraps so I can use it in my garden. I went to a workshop put on by Project Compost at the beginning of March (they do one once a quarter on campus), where I got my very own free worm bin and worms. It fits nicely under my sink.

I thought I understood the basics of composting, but it works a little different for vermicompost.  For worms, the bin has to have holes drilled in it for air, shredded damp newspaper inside for them to move around in, some sand they can use to digest their food (without teeth), and the right amount of food scraps. Right now, my worms eat about 1/2 -3/4 cup of food scraps a week. At this rate, I hope to harvest a decent amount compost from them by the end of May.The worms are red wigglers, which are different from earthworms in that they can survive in this kind of non-soil environment and they can eat a ton and reproduce quickly. I noticed a bunch of tiny baby worms in here recently, so they seem happy to me!


I also went to a composting workshop put on by the City of Davis, which had excellent info on worm bin composting including how to construct a bin and where to get your worms. For instance, I learned from the city workshop that the holes drilled in my bin from project compost were too big and would let fruit flies in. I have since taped strips of window screen material over the holes, so that air can still get in but flies cannot.

Another cool thing I learned from the city workshop: seeds left in the compost bin often germinate. The damp environment and the rich compost are apparently an ideal combination. So I decided to see for myself: I left some bell pepper seeds attached to the scraps. Two weeks later, I had lots of crazy looking seedlings that I pulled out of the bin!

As you can see, the leaves were a sickly yellow color from the lack of sun, and the stems were all twisted. Also, apparently I had a random squash or cucumber seed you’ll notice in the bottom righthand corner. Of course, once I pulled these out of the bin, I had to try planting them. I put them into some starting medium and stuck them under my grow light. I didn’t expect all of them to live, but the results were actually pretty good!

Most of those are the bell pepper seedlings, along with the one unknown squash like seedling in the top left corner and a few tomato seedlings on the right. The tomatoes look similar except they are light green and have straight stems (I had tomato plants that were much further along, but I set them outside too early and they died).

I can’t believe how productive this compost bin has been already–and I haven’t even harvested the compost from it yet!