Wednesday, October 17, 2012

(Most Likely) Final Harvest of the Year

Got a last minute late night notification that there might be a frost, so picked peppers in the dark by lanternlight. Actually got quite a haul, lots of jalapenos, Hungarian wax, and serranos.

The tomatoes were pretty much gone by the time of the frost, but one plucky little plant that self-seeded from last year's tomatoes had 20ish fruit still on it. They were all green, but they should ripen. Or I may possibly try a green tomato recipe.

The frost was peculiar. In early September I planted about 50 bush green beens from seed I'd saved, just because. I still have tons of seed, and I thought there was some chance they might survive long enough to get me a harvest if the frost held off long enough. So I checked them first and a few appeared to be dead. But not all. Checked a few days later and a few more looked dead. But again, not all. And there hasn't been a second frost yet. The pumpkins on the front lawn died quite spectacularly. The big lush vibrant leaves from the day before hung like damp rags from the stems the morning of the frost. The pumpkins on the patio died as well. The peppers seemed to survive the frost but they're not really thriving - the leaves are pale and they seem a bit limp. Although I have seen a bunch of new flowers. I brought three of the plants (in their 2 gallon buckets) inside the night of the frost, those don't seem to be doing particularly better than their companions.

So this year went pretty well. Jalapenos and Hungarian wax did great, Serranos produced a lot for just a few plants. Between rabbit attacks early on and neglect later in the season, the rest of the crop fared much worse. Tomatoes were ok, and the community garden tomatoes were great. I learned I love Amish paste tomatoes, they definitely earned themselves a spot in next year's garden. I reaffirmed my love of black cherry tomatoes. I made a promise to myself to do a better job staking tomatoes next year. I did miss peas, cukes and green beans. Ah well, as I say every year, "Next year!"

I've always enjoyed pickles. And I'm trying to lose weight, so dill pickles are a great snack. But I bought a jar of pickles at the store the other day, and it was ridiculously expensive. Next year I'll grow cucumbers and churn out the pickles. I make pretty good bread and butter pickles, but I have a terrible track record with dill pickles. I've had all sorts of problems, mushy pickles, bitterness, too much dill flavor, too sour. So I began an experiment yesterday. I bought a dozen pint jars, a load of cucumbers and a heap of fresh dill. I tried varying the ratio of vinegar to water, the amount of dill, the amount of garlic (also whole cloves vs sliced vs crushed). Also tried properly canned (boiled for 10 minutes) vs unboiled (refrigerator pickles). I'm gonna let them sit for a couple weeks and start sampling. So far the only thing that I've noticed is that the refrigerator pickles are much prettier, they stayed a nicer bright shade of green, while the canned pickles have lost a lot of color.

Future experiments - different kinds of peppers, adding sugar to the brine, celery seed, mustard seed, dill seed. Possibly alum. Onion. Dried dill vs fresh. Kosher salt vs pickling salt.

Will add pictures later....

I apparently lied, I never did post pics. So adding a few now (04-18-2013). Mmmm, pickles.

Cukes... pickles!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Long Winded Update

Tomatoes did very well at the community garden. There's very little shade there, so they get a lot more sunlight. Amish Paste did great. Got lots of large meaty tomatoes out of 4 plants. Tigerella did ok, tomatoes seemed smaller and less plentiful. Cherokee Purple did fairly well, got more tomatoes than I usually get from the shadier backyard garden. Also had a couple Early Girl plants that were started late. They did ok, but not great. I think staking helped a lot. In the end most of the plants succumbed to what I suspect was late blight long before there was any danger of frost. I think for next year I will do two things differently. First, I will cage the plants rather than staking. I did a decent job of keeping the top of the plant staked, but some of the lower branches got a bit out of control. Second, I will prune the lower branches aggressively. The lower branches were the first to be hit with the blight. They don't get much sunlight down there anyway. They drag on the ground (which I suspect invites disease and possibly bugs). And they make it very hard to get at the weeds. And since the weeds get thick down there, I lost a few fruit that were hidden in the grass. Not sure the weeds really impacted the production of the plants too much, but they certainly didn't help.

The pumpkins grew without any intervention on my part.

Zucchini was started late, direct sewn in June (was it June?). Still I got maybe a dozen zucchini over the season. But both squash beetles and vine borers put an end to production by September. Particularly enjoyed zucchini flowers this year. Dipped them in egg and rolled them in flour, then pan fried until golden brown. Really fabulous, will try that again next year. If I could protect maybe three plants from the ravages of bugs, I could have all the zucchini I want until frost hits. Though I'd need to pollinate by hand, since zucchini is dependent on bugs for pollination. Will give this some consideration for next year.

I did a bit of weeding. Maybe I should keep up with it better.

Peppers at the community garden didn't do that well. I planted them at the edge of the plot, right behind my neighbor's sunflowers. They were also too close to my tomatoes and zucchini, both of which grew over them. Good to keep in mind for next year.

Hungarian Wax pepper. Nice color.

At home, tomatoes in buckets did ok, but I failed to stake them and I left them in the (too shady) backyard. Curiously, I think the squirrels ignored the cherry tomatoes in the back yard. It has been kind of wet this year, maybe the squirrels just weren't interested. I left the chicken wire cage up from last year, but let it go to seed. I may take it down and plant something else there next year. Tomatoes just do so much better at the community garden it's almost not worth planting them at home. If I don't plant tomatoes at home, that opens up a lot of space in the backyard garden. Peppers did ok. I neglected them severely, mulched with lawn clippings and grass exploded. I did weed a bit too late in the season. They have perked up considerably since the weeding. I need to reconsider mulching with grass clippings. They do a great job of keeping in the moisture, but grass literally explodes out of the clippings after a while. Perhaps I'll save up several garbage bags full of shredded leaves for next year's mulch.

Peppers in 2 gallon plastic buckets did VERY well. At one point I harvested 40 jalapenos from 6 or 7 buckets of plants. The plants did slightly better with a single plant per bucket, but still got more peppers from the 2 plant buckets, so I think I will go with 2 per bucket next year. Maybe I will try some experiments next year and see how production declines from 1 to 9 plants in a bucket... The jalapenos were situated under the tulip tree on the top of a stone wall. They were happy. I did not fertilize, I suspect that would have helped a bit. Occasionally I neglected to water them and they got wilty, but they perked right back up after a solid drenching.

Proto-hot sauce.

Planted about a 10' x 2' section of the side garden in the back with beans (for drying) of four different varieties. The output was very disappointing. After shelling and discarding the ugly ones, I ended up with a small bowl of dry beans, maybe 2 cups. I need to double check varieties. I think I've heard that fava beans produce more, but I'm not sure I enjoy fava beans. In early September I took a chance and plants 50 or 60 green beans I'd saved from last year's crop (wait, year before??). Anyway, it's unlikely that they'll make it to maturity as our first frost date in zone 6b is mid October. With 50 days to maturity that puts me 4th week in October. But It was only a fraction of my seed stock, and it has been unseasonably warm. I read the other day that 2012 was the warmest year on record. So I might just get some return on my investment.

Basil has been doing great. My goal was to see if I could raise basil in repurposed 2 liter bottles. Mission accomplished! The plants did ok in empty soda bottles. I did learn a bit more about the life cycle of basil, too. The seem to grow upward in a single stalk. Pinching off the top of the plant encourages more bushiness. At some point the leaves turn from nice lush dark green to a lighter green. I'm not certain that the flavor of the leaves changes much at this point, but they do get a bit woodier in texture. At about the same time they start to flower. Conventional wisdom is you need to pinch off the flowers. I left the flowers on some of them and they're kind of pretty - little strands of white petals. I did transplant some basil into a somewhat shadier part of the garden and it truly thrived. Some of the 2 liter bottle plants are clearly root-bound at this point, and I can see the roots.

Jalapeno. Looks like he's flexing his muscles.

Lessons for next year summarized:

   * Tomatoes
      * Amish Paste is a keeper
      * Cherokee Purple is a keeper
      * Sun Gold is a keeper
      * Black Cherry is a keeper
      * Cherokee Purple is a keeper
      * Was happy with Tigerella last year, but it was disappointing this year
      * Grow tomatoes at the community garden, they do much better
      * Don't overwater!
      * Figure out how and when to fertilize
      * Use a wire cage instead of staking
      * Prune the lowest branches

   * Peppers
      * Two per 2 gallon pail is ok
      * They did well on the patio, though they got way too hot in midsummer
      * They did great on the stone wall under the tulip tree
      * Mulching with grass was a mistake!
      * Rabbits hit them even inside the 8' fence. I should chicken wire around the bottom
      * I need a longer hose to reach the plants in the back so I water them more

   * Basil
      * 2 liter bottles ok
      * Part shady is ok
      * I should check how long each phase of growth takes

   * Beans, dry
      * Disappointing
      * Try other varieties? Possibly pole beans?

Preliminary thoughts for next year

If I get a larger plot at the community garden I might try some new varieties of tomato. If I get a full plot (20' x 25') I might try ten or twenty different kinds. Possibly start things very early with wall-of-water. Give each plant plenty of space, maybe 2'. Quick back of the envelope calculation suggests I can stuff 20 plants per quarter plot, 40 per half plot, and 88 per whole plot (less walkway, longer row). Eighty eight is probably too many.

Zucchini seems to be a lost cause, but I may plant a few at the community garden in hopes of getting some return. Really need to try a cage and hand pollination. Will plant a few of the Zucchino rampicante as well next year.

Winter squash seems to do ok at home, may repurpose the 10' x 10' "Three sisters garden' area for winter squash. Or some of it at least. Probably a few each of a couple varieties. Possibly some pumpkins as well. Hubbard, butternut, acorn. Some of those white/green stripey pumpkins.

More peas next year. Sugar snap. Guard them better, water them attentively.

Tons of cucumbers. Pickle up a storm.

Carrots. Spinach. Lettuce. Cabbage.

Corn, but only if I build a cage for it. Possibly repurpose the tomato cage for corn.

Seven jalapeno buckets is enough. Lots of different types next year. Anaheim in buckets? Seven Hungarian wax buckets is enough. Paprika, cayenne, Anaheim, Hung. wax, Jalapeno are musts for next year. Need to try others as well. Possibly bring back bell. Sweet banana did well. Yellow cayenne was cool.

Potatoes are a must next year. If I get a much bigger plot, then at the community garden. If not, then make a space for them at home. Possibly yams.

Jerusalem artichokes next year. For sure. This is a keeper.

Set up the garlic at home, perhaps a bigger patch, around Halloween.

Ground cherries were good, try to get enough for a pie.

Maybe try beets for grins.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

2012 Recap

Pulled the garlic in early July. Much better bulbs than last year, I think plant around Halloween is a good plan.
Garlic harvest
My glorious pepper harvest. Also have gotten some Long Thin Cayenne and Pepperoncini is close to ready. Habaneros haven't fruited yet.
Peppers clockwise from 12 o'clock - Jalapenos, banana, Hungarian wax, yellow
cayenne, Hungarian wax, Serrano, Anaheim
Picked 40 Jalapenos in one batch, more are growing.
Made Jalapeno poppers. Delicious!
Homemade Jalapeno Poppers
Jalapenos have done very well in 2 gallon plastic pails, as have the Hungarian wax peppers.
Jalapeno hedgerow
Basil did well in 2 liter bottles, did great in the part shady corner of the back side garden. I pulled all the plants at once since it was getting a bit overgrown and shading my beans. 3/4 of a pound of leaves, made 3 quarts of pesto. 

Only two of my ground cherry plants came up. But I got a number of fruit. Very tasty, be nice to have enough for a pie next year.
Top: Sweet basil, Bottom: Ground cherries
Elderberries are growing well, but not much fruit. Here was the whole harvest.
Got a nice haul of tomatoes, I'm very pleased with how well the tomatoes did at the Quaker community garden. Got a LOT of Amish paste tomatoes, and a much better crop of Cherokee purple than I got at home - I don't think the backyard garden gets anywhere near as much sun as the community garden. Tigerella and Early Girl did pretty well too (got the EG as a gift). Hopefully next year I will get a bigger plot and can grow more. I never had enough at one time to do serious canning, though I made sauce and tomato juice, plus peeled and froze some of them.
Tomatoes, zucchini, and other random junk

Friday, July 27, 2012

Mega Update

Well, I've been terrible about updates this year. So here is the mega super amazing update that's overdue. I've been distracted by other real life events, so the garden took a bit of a hit this year. But there's still a lot going on. Here are the highlights and low lights.
A good portion of the tomatoes and peppers sewn indoors in early March.

Garlic -

Went in to NYC to the Union Square Green Market to get my hands on some hardneck garlic varieties from Keith's Farm (the guy that wrote "It's a Long Road to a Tomato"). Planted around Halloween at Keith's suggestion. Mulched with leaves run through the mower. In the spring they came up nicely. Weeded a few times, but weeds LOVE that side garden. Got a slew of scapes that were really tasty a month or so ago. Harvested one bulb already for some pickles, the cloves were small but nice. The plants have finally yellowed in the heat, I should harvest and see what I have. Last year I harvested a load of garlic but will probably end up throwing a lot of it away - it's pretty iffy at a year old. I think I'll harvest and peel what I got this year and pop them in the freezer.
Garlic! The leaves are all brown now, will harvest this weekend.

Peas -

Peas were a total disappointment this year. I planted a LOT and only a few plants came up. Honestly not sure what the issue was. Possibly critters. Possibly low germination rates. I did get enough for one really nice meal of sugar snap peas. that'll have to last me until next year.
Peas and garlic scapes.

Pumpkins -

I never imagined pumpkins as weeds, but apparently they are. Haven't planted them but they keep coming up. Nothing too exciting from them, but do have a couple the size of a canned ham. Also kind of wondering if I can eat the flowers, they seem to have a lot of flowers. Last years pumpkins mostly rotted away except for a few that went into pies. I should try at least to roast up the seeds.

Community garden -

Tomatoes ready for transport and transplant.
I got myself into the queue for a local community garden this year. As luck would have it one of the plots opened up and I ended up with a quarter plot, 10' x 12.5'. As I had a lot of seedlings by the time I got into the community garden, I was able to hit the ground running - planted 10 tomatoes, started 5 hills of zucchini, and set out about 10 pepper plants. The garden is great, it gets a lot of sun, there's an old-timey water pump conveniently located on site, and there are dozens of other gardens to gawk at and get ideas from.

And in the ground!

Zucchini -

My burning hatred toward the squash vine borers rages on. I figured that squash was a waste of effort at home - the vine borers keep laying waste to me. So I didn't bother planting anything. At the community garden I figured I might not fall prey to them, so decided to try them. My zucchini is doing great so far, and I've actually even gotten several, with maybe a dozen more baby zucchini coming along. But then I saw it. The frass at the stem. They're heeeeeere. The plants themselves aren't unhappy yet, but soon enough I'll probably be wiped out. What a shame. I think next year I'll try growing some under row covers and pollinating them by hand. Total pita, but the price to pay for enjoying zucchini I guess. I've also really enjoyed the zucchini flowers for the first time this year. Lightly dipped in egg and sprinkled with flour, then pan fried in butter. Delicate and tasty, a real treat. Have not started the Zucchino rampicante this year, getting close to too late to bother. If the zucchini is wiped out, I may plant some beans or move in some tomatoes. Or possibly basil.

Basil -

Tried planting basil in 2 liter bottles this year. Did pretty well, considering. Dries out pretty fast though requiring daily watering. Should be able to put away lots of proto-pesto in the freezer (just basil, garlic and oil, add walnuts/pine nuts and parm to use). Going to plant some more shortly and keep a photographic record of its progress. 2 liter bottles seem sub-optimal and require more attention than other methods, but I like the idea of reusing them.

Onions -

The onions never got very big last year. Or this year either. Didn't do anything with them, just left them in the ground over the winter. They're small but usable.

Beans -

Pulled out the peas after the one small harvest and put beans in their place. For fear of critters I laid some welded wire fence over the plot I planted them in to prevent critter dig up. Not sure if this was successful, if there weren't any critters at all, or critters like beans less than peas, but most all of the beans sprouted. I tend to harvest a few crops of beans then forget about them, ending up with massive quantities of seed for the next year. So this time I was smart and planted just beans that would dry well. The plants are flowering now, and I expect a decent crop. Varieties - Red kidney, ummmm, several others.

Peppers -

I've gotten a substantial amount of enjoyment out of growing peppers, far out of proportion to the actual number of them I've grown. This year I decided to grow a bit more in bulk as well as increasing the variety. I accumulated a number (seventy some-odd) of 2 gallon plastic buckets (for free!) that I've used as pots. My peppers seemed to do well in similar pots last year. I've had one small harvest so far and a few grabs as well. My favorite use for the banana peppers is pickling, they stay crunchy far better than cucumbers. And they've got a bit of a kick to them. Jalapenos are starting to come in as well, they will be pickled mostly, with possibly some poppers. Also have a lot of Anaheim (New Mexico) chiles that I'm going to roast and freeze. Then a number of miscellaneous types to sample, grind into powder, and making into hot sauce.

More on tomatoes soon.
Amish paste

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hungarian Wax Pickles

Really enjoyed the pickled banana peppers from last year, so I'm growing Hungarian Wax peppers this year for the same purpose. Should be a bit spicier. So here's my first shot at a recipe. Just refrigerator pickles until I find a recipe I like.

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup white vinegar (no culinary reason, just didn't have enough apple cider vinegar)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 Tbs salt
  • 1/2 Tbs sugar
  • Small slices onion
  • few cloves garlic

Lots going on in the garden, will update soon.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Another Year

So I still have some holdovers from last year, notably garlic, leeks, and onions. Then I planted peas at the end of March - sadly only a few have come up. I blame the varmints. I may plant another wave and see if it's more successful. And the short-lived but always spicy/oniony chive blossoms.

Started a number of peppers and tomatoes in the basement under fluorescent lights. The full list -

  • Amish Paste
  • Black Krim
  • Red Cherry, Large Fruited
  • Black Cherry
  • Cherokee Purple
  • Tigerella
  • Sungold

  • Anaheim
  • Jalapeno
  • Hungarian Wax
  • Pepporcini
  • Habanero
  • Cayenne
  • Serrano
The starter setup.
Gooseberries and Elderberries seem to have survived the winter well. One of the elderberry plants looks like last year's growth is dead, but there is new growth springing up that looks very happy.

It's still well before the last frost date (mid May) but the weather has been warm, and I took a chance and transplanted some tomatoes and basil outside. If it gets killed by frost there are plenty of replacement seedlings waiting in line. The tomatoes are in buckets that were freecycled from work (they used to contain hard-boiled eggs). The basil is in old 2 liter soda bottles.

Left to right Sungold (2), Black Cherry (2), Red Cherry, Large-Fruited

Sweet Basil
Lots of cleanup work to do the next few weeks in the garden.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Well, looks like it's time to start some seedlings! Probably crack some envelopes this weekend and get going. Gentlemen, fire up your fluorescents! Still don't have most of my pepper seeds, need to look into that asap.