Tag Archives: gardening

Experiments of the year: sweet potatoes and cucamelons

What fun is gardening without some wacky experiments?

  1. Sweet potatoes.

I got six vines from Vesey’s, which arrived in rather pathetic condition (the packaging disclaimed wretched looking vines as “normal” and claimed they would perk up.  To be fair, they did.  Five of them made it).  Since they supposedly like under-watering, I left them mostly alone after initial establishment, although the underwatering got a little extreme in this terribly dry summer.  The vines were small, but had lovely purpley-green leaves.

I dug ’em up in September.  No idea what to expect.

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Vine 1 – Uhoh.  Off to a bad start.

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Vine 2 – Oh, that’s more like it.

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Vine 3 – That’s actually a real sized potato.

Unfortunately, there were no more potatoes still in the ground from these vines.  One vine = one potato.  NOT an impressive yield.  No efficiency points for area:productivity.  That’s the gamble with experiments.

But they made one very tasty meal.

2.  Cucamelons

These took off in the greenhouse.  Three vines swarmed up their strings and headed across the cross-ties, producing loads of these weird little grape-sized melons.

cucamelons-intro2Aptly named!  It tastes like a cucumber, or a melon, or is it a cucumber?  Totally bizarre combination of tastes.  If you’re like me, you probably haven’t had cucumber and melon in the same bite before.  Crunchy skin, like a cuke.

I have no pictures of my own because the guineas in the greenhouse enjoyed many more than I did.  This pic is from James Wong, who waxes more enthusiastic about the cucamelon than I do.

I’ll grow them again next year, though; they grow so easily, and I’ll try to find more to do with them.

Garden beginnings

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We are beavering away at the task of putting in a garden.  Priority one: attention to food.  Even though we have no illusions about productivity this year, it’s important to start.

We got off to a poor start- an unusually late frost took out all the tomato starts we’d put in.

We’ve tried a couple methods:  1) digging small holes to put a plant in, and surrounding it by cardboard and mulch.  Over time and continued mulch-piling, ground around will soften up into a bed.  Saves time, but no good at all for seeds.  Good for squash.  2) plastic mulch. Pure experiment.  Neighboring farmer offered us the waste plastic off of his hay bales – those ubiquitous white haybales that dot fields in the fall – and we spread it around to see if it would knock back the sod cover.  So far, the results are not conclusive, nor impressive.  The plastic,is multiple layers of white plastic like saran wrap, only layered up a quarter inch thick on a finished bale, and cut off so the waste plastic has an open clamshell shape.  It’s heavy and insulating, but may be letting light through because it’s white.  3) digging.  We have our labor-saving, painless technique down pat now, with this wicked sod-breaker from Lee ValleyIMGP6853

H.W. goes through with the sod breaker, standing on it and tipping it back and forth, three widths of the tool wide and as long as the bed.

H.W. has to do this part, because I can’t.  I’ve tried, and I’m not strong or heavy enough to plunge the tines into the dirt.  I  jump up and down and get it a whole three inches deep in the ground and teeter there on it, and H.W. laughs and laughs, and calls me a “little feather”, which I can’t say I’ve been called before.  One of many things it emerges I can’t do without him.  IMGP6861Then the sod chunks fall apart and we shake the soil out of them with our hands and digging fork, and shape the bed. IMGP6867 Makes a picture perfect, sod and root-free bed of soil that you’d never guess was just broken from ground unworked for 15 years.   IMGP6879Then we seed it.  If we maintain our beds compaction free, heavily mulched, top-dressed and cover-cropped, we will never have to till again.

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Rooster approved

It’s not horrible work and doesn’t take very long.  Well, after rain it’s much less easy and fun – the sod is heavy and matted; yet it’s still doable in the rain, and we are aiming for steady continuity, not to do it all at once and burn out.

We are aiming for four garden beds a week in June, and that will break a respectable area for this year, easily on top of all the other work we need to do.  Next year we can do the same and double our garden.  So far, six beds.

Mulch is magic!

Stressing over the garden underwater was all for naught; it’s as though it never flooded, perhaps it even benefited.  I won’t worry about my location again; it’s all good.

Interestingly, I got my garden in on the exact same day that I did last year.  It’s perfect weather, raining every night.  Except that could be too wet for the beans.

For some reason, everything seems so easy this year!  I give mulch the credit.  Mulch is magic, I say.  There are two downsides, that I can tell:  it would suck if you had to acquire and transport straw instead of having it constantly available as a waste by-product of horse ownership, and it doesn’t work for scatter seeding or plants that reseed themselves.  Which is also an upside, since that’s how most weeds operate.

I just don’t get non-mulchers.  What, do you like weeding? It’s so easy.  Pile on the straw, leave it there, never weed, never till, and when you want to plant something, rip apart the blanket of mulch to expose the soil where you want to seed.   The upper surface reflects the baking heat of the sun, the interface with the soil retains moisture and warmth so you can water less often and more effectively. It  composts and produces warmth, prevents erosion, blocks out the sun so nothing grows where you don’t want it to, and contributes carbon to the soil; the worms literally carry it down into the dirt which aerates it.  I can see it happening; under the top dry surface of my straw mulch, the straw is brittle and crumbling, and under that it is wet and black and hard to tell sometimes what is straw and whats earth. There are endless worms, thriving on the very surface of the dirt, and the soil is much darker than it was last year after my laborious amending.  Not black yet, but dark brown; I’m really pleased.  Continue reading Mulch is magic!

Dirty hands

Time to close up the garden for the year.  Weeding, banking up the carrots and beets and potatoes that will stay in the ground for now; waiting for a few last vegetables to expire before I rip them out.

My happy discovery of the day was the state of the haypile that’s been sitting there all year, melting slowly into the ground.  I’ve been using the “new” waste hay all summer for mulch, but now I can get rid of the eyesore midfield haypile and there’s enough of it to thickly cover the whole garden.  I expected it to be slimy and rotten and more or less returning to dirt, but it’s completely not.   Parts of it are dry, and then near the bottom the straw is falling into black soil, but none of it is sour or slimy at all.  Totally mulchirific.

Also today I fell the dead danger tree with a distinct lean towards the barn, big check on the backcut side, and a twist at the base.  It needed to come down before a Bella Coola style storm rolls in to us, because then it would come down of it’s own accord on the barn.

It really intimidated me at first, since it’s been years since I fell any trees, indeed, spent all day, day after day, falling trees, back when I knew everything and was missing the wiring for fear and respect. I can still frame a wall my dad would find no flaw with, but can I still fall a tree exactly where I want it to go? Continue reading Dirty hands

Garden, R.I.P.

I can’t say I didn’t expect it.

What I didn’t expect was that it would go down to deer.  Not weeds, or lack of water.  Deer utterly destroyed the garden, and more so by trampling it than eating it.  It looked like a herd thundered through it.  Mucky must’ve had an off day to allow this.

Even with the destruction and inconvenient conclusion that a deer fence is vital, guard horse notwithstanding, I’m happy with my gardening success this year, and even post-deer, there are quite a few meals on the ground.

The scarlet runners were as fail-safe as always, and many escaped the depredations.  I’m sorry I missed the amazingly quick spiral climb they do up their trellises.  The other beans and peas, despite being completely defoliated (by the looks of the stalks, they were quite healthy before attack), forced out a fair number of pods.  Celery- healthy, ignored, but not long like you’d buy in the store at all.  All leaf.

The corn are the most successful and unmolested vegetables, if you don’t count the zucchini that won’t fit in the fridge.  I’m already wise enough to only plant one zucchini.  A megalomaniac  among squash, they are.  Tomatoes, trampled, although my upside down tomatoes are passably successful.  Possibly too much water.  They aren’t reddening, although I hear everyone’s tomatoes are doing that.

I got the cutest, perfect cucumber- amazing considering total neglect and trampling.  I’m surprised it had enough heat, likewise for the jalapeno peppers, which also came through.  My favorite of the flight-of-fancy plants, though, is the watermelon.  At the end of a gnarled, shriveled, pale thread of a stalk, a perfect, green sphere of a watermelon, exactly the size of a softball.  ♥! Continue reading Garden, R.I.P.

Mulch rules!

All that garden, and I can “weed” it in minutes, the first time I’ve weeded at all since planting almost a month ago.  By weeding I mean pluck out the few visible wisps of grass seeded by the hay, and only where the mulch is too thin.  So I spent more time piling on more hay.  It’s melting fast into the ground.

I planted garlic far too late.  About six months too late.  I had these luscious heads from West Coast Seeds that were delivered last September.  But I was moving last September, so I took them with me, and we didn’t move in here until spring, and then built the garden late, so I end up guiltily contemplating these heads of garlic in June.  It seems a shabby way to treat  six beautiful heads of Russian heritage garlic.  I rationalized that they spent the winter in temperature uncontrolled storage, so they definitely froze, and they’ve been in the dark, and they certainly won’t be any good next year.  Some of them were trying to grow, in that way that onions forgotten in the crisper do.  So I planted them, deep.  All over through the tomatoes.  It looks like a gopher was punching holes in the mattress of mulch.  I figure, we’ll never know if they’ll work or not without trying.  Sure enough, the more advanced cloves are already punching through.

I love the way there are so many types of green.  Celery green, bean green, pea green, garlic scape green, squash leaf green, corn green, and tomatoes hold multitudinous greens just among themselves.

Since it’s all a giant experiment, I’m interested in observing what does well in the clay and manure soil I concocted.  So far, potatoes are flourishing, and beans are the happiest of all.  Peas are coming well, and the squashes are ok.  The seed lettuce is struggling, which I didn’t expect, while the lettuce from starts is generally just fine, red romaine much happier than the leaf lettuces.  The carrots are really showing poorly, spinach even worse, and the tomatoes are expressing their displeasure, although still growing.  All else is average.

I spoke too soon about the internet.  It lasted four days, and then- kaput!  Lost to the unsolvable snow leopard glitch.

Everything’s up.

This is the grape vine on the barn, earlier this year

Today or yesterday, everything popped the surface in the garden.  Peas, beans, radishes, clover-esque kale sprouts, tiny blades of beet leaves and green hairs of carrots.  The onions are charging away.  So satisfying.  They made it!  Wasn’t too rainy for the beans, or too exposed for the carrots.

I haven’t been too ambitious.  I had a lot of unassigned garden space that I bought random starts for at the garden supply, chosen by what interested me.  A cucumber, and celery, which I consider exotic, and two watermelon plants that are a flight of fancy.  I have high hopes, though, and they are looking transparently plump with water and thickly endowed with white prickle hairs.  They look like happy watermelon plants.

The hay mulch is introducing grass by seed, but the tiny grass seedlings are the most vulnerable sprouts of all, easily swept away, totally unlike the rhizome-rooted counterparts that look innocuous when young and tiny, but are really just the surfacing tip of a diabolical rampaging root system.

Upside down tomatoes

I thought I’d give this a try, because I love the idea, although unproven.  Last year my tomato planted upside down in a juice jug was a total fail, probably not least because of the transparent jug, and inadequate gasket around the stem of the plant.  This time I roughly copied the technique of a guy I met hitchhiking (cute, and he gardens!), and the summer will tell if it’s a success.  Both of us saw this in the Lee Valley catalog, and although the special pots they sell are certain to be sophisticated technology, there has to be a way to make them work low-tech.

First things first!  Drive the nails or hooks where you’re going to hang them.  Because the moment you have one full, you’re gonna need to put it somewhere to get it out of your way.

The supplies: 2 gallon pots with 1 1/2” holes bored in the centre with a spade bit. I made two hanging loops off the top with baling wire by drilling small holes in the side of the pot lip. 5ml poly cut to more than cover the inside bottom of the pot, with an X slit in the center, and palm sized squares with one slit in them.
Seedling out of the pot, using the small plastic squares around the stem, with the slits opposing. Does that make sense? These two pieces collar the stem with their slits facing opposite ways. Then I plunged the root ball in the water to soften it.

Continue reading Upside down tomatoes

Et voila

She’s planted.  I had to turn the whole thing by hand once more, to decompress any areas smushed by my walking around on it during tilling, then raked it all out.  It’s so pretty!  I’m very proud.  I took the picture before mulching it, because I think it’s not as presentable after mulching.  I really like the “earthy palette” of brown smoothed dirt with the tender green of seedlings.  Mulch just makes the whole thing look like an unusually well groomed haystack.

Lettuce starts were totally psychological.  “Oh look, its as though something’s already growing.”  Tomato starts were necessary.  Mine are too late and spindly to finish this summer and will end up in the greenhouse.  Putting something in    that’s already above ground makes it feel like a real garden.

It feels so late in the year, but when I got my potatoes in the ground the day before the market gardener on the next road who’s lived here for 40 years, well, I can’t be that far wrong.

Mulching.  So satisfying in one way, tucking in the vulnerable dirt to conserve its moisture and making little nests around the tiny sunflower seedlings that will become wrist-sized  stalks.  On the other hand, it’s an awful lot of hay to move, and it’s not esthetically pleasing.

Popular wisdom says not to use only straw and never hay for mulching, because it’s full of seeds.  Mogi says that if feed hay has gone to seed, then it has no nutritional value, so it’s always mowed and baled before it goes to seed.  I’m looking at:  buy straw, or use the giant, growing pile of dry, yellowing reject hay that Mucky has eaten what he wanted of and left to dry on the ground.  It’s practically in unlimited supply, all this quality mulch.  There are some seeds in it.  I can see them.  What I’m more worried about is introducing moulds or mildews, but there’s one way to find out.  Time will tell.

In other news I had a rather dazzlingly productive day, from 6am to 7pm.  I would’ve kept going- I’ve proved it only gets too dark to see in the garden at 10pm – but for the UFC fight.  I was on way too much of a tear to bother with any before pictures, but I’m systematically working my way through the  todo list in the order of how much they drive me crazy, rather than how important they are.  Thus I’m transporting rubble, dismantling poorly designed fences and reframing gates that have bad feng shui before getting the squashes into their patch.

I just couldn’t do it any other way.  Every glance at that absurd garden gate tilting over at a completely charmless 20 degree angle the way it’s probably stood for ten years fills me with a bilious, primal drive to change it, and tearing the whole thing down gives me an inner smile of peace that is far more satisfying than the squash plot.  The pumpkins have to wait,  that’s all there is to it.

I’m better.

The continuing pond-to-garden saga.  Trenched the walkway all around, and while so doing realized that it would be very nice to entice more bats to our home.

Mosquito season is on.

The rain continues but my sluggish, indolent, depleted lethargy left me last night quite abruptly, and all the things left undone and ignored lately came rushing back in along with my energy!  So good to be back!

Sick and rainy

My sunflowers in pellets are reaching dome-ward and my pumpkin starts are bursting larger hourly, but I’ve not yet put the seeds in the garden.  Luckily, I’ve had my late-garden guilt assuaged by the fact I’m told by all the old locals, that this area starts late and no one should seed before June.

I’m very glad that this seems true, and if I had planted two weeks ago when I should I should have, it would all be lost.  We’ve had an unseasonable stint of rain that is hammering early lettuce into the ground and rotting hapless seeds.  It has rained every day at least part of every day for over a week, and it seems like two.

This steady overcast drizzle to downpour has coincided with a bout of illness for me.  At first I thought food poisoning, but then as a few days turned into a week I sought Western medicine.  The verdict: a mild case of giardia, stay hydrated and your body will beat it.
Continue reading Sick and rainy

Go Mantis go

After first till
After second

I rototilled the garden today, with a tiny Mantis tiller that was barely up to the job.  Over and over, I let it churn well into the dirt, then yarded it and some dirt back towards me, then let it go dig a little deeper, repeat.  Working back and forth along the leading edge, and constantly picking the rocks it drug up.  This was the only way for its modest tine reach to really turn over at least a foot of earth.  It meant doing lateral row motions thousands of times, with the consequence that I now feel exactly like I’ve done thousands of lateral rows, but I’m happy with the dirt.  If the thing weren’t rented by the day, I’d definitely have taken two days to do it.  Six hours straight running of the machine, and my back feels every minute, but the results are nice.

All the manure that wouldn’t dissolve out of its pellet shape in the first till was softened by the rain we’ve had since, and as I churned the sedimentary clay with some of the sand that lay beneath, and the manure mixed in thoroughly, the soil looked much darker and more promising.  I’m quite happy now with the results.  The soil is a year and many yards of compost and manure and mulch from beauteous black soil, but at least it looks like it will support life now.  I continue to be joyously appreciative of the total absence of weeds in the former pond, and smug about my choice to turn pond to garden (we’ll see how long that lasts).  It was rocky to till, but absolutely rootless.  Hopefully the last till ever and the rest is up to straw and the worms.  I know many worms died today.

It was a perfect day for it, a sunny window in an everlasting week of deluge.  I got a nice sunburn, in fact, which reflects that I worked my way consistently across the garden facing west the whole time.

Pond-tackling day!

Organic matter? Who, me?

It didn’t take terribly long to tear out the old pond liner.  Although it’s brittle and full of slits, I consider it very valuable still for suppressing weeds and grass in other places.  It’s heavy stuff, still, en masse, and  moving the sediment and displacing the small pocket of remaining water and swamp was dirty and tiring.Could it be that easy?  Of course not.  Naturally, there’s an older liner beneath the black, 5ml poly, only peeking out in places, and mostly entirely buried under no less than 6” of thick clay.

I'm getting better at taking before pictures

That’s the bad news.  There’s much more clay than I thought.  Also sand, and not too well mixed together.  It seems once water flowed through this pond, and left considerable sediment over the poly layer, which had original sandy soil beneath it.  Now there are distinct layers, and I’ve been hours slowly tugging and working out the plastic from between the two, so that it can be tilled. Continue reading Pond-tackling day!

The five pallet compost

First things first.  We need a compost.

Before
After

The flu released me this morning.  After three days of staggering anytime I needed to move, and fearing fainting at any moment, I’m surprised to feel practically full strength immediately.  I cleaned up a number of little nests of junk that were making my eyes hurt today.  That was quite esthetically satisfying.

One of the major nests was lamentably in the ideal location for a compost bin (thanks for finding it, Mogi).  By the horse manure pile, where stink and flies already make their home, out of sight of our dwellings, and in Mucky’s turf, where the bear fears to tread.

It all went shockingly smooth and faster than I expected.  When does that happen?  Lumber (and random fencing, barbed wire, garbage, tarps, etc) out, pallets in, and … we’re done.  Practically built itself.  There’s only about a half-dozen nails in this.

Pallets rule.  I have weird affection for pallets, because I appreciate the (very, very, I know) simple elegance of their design and their underrated versatility and workhorse endurance.   Continue reading The five pallet compost

Just as I’m about to leave for my ridiculous mission, the sun warms the grass and the air seems full of life and I’m touched with enthusiasm for rending and tearing and building.  I’ve been so buried in work I haven’t wanted to force anything else into my overcrowded brain.  But I had a look at the barn I need to work on and found it patiently and hopefully waiting to be shucked from its shell of disrepair and turned into something cute.  So much potential!

I need to create an envelope of insulated living space to move my stuff into it.  I’m thinking rockwool insulation, canvas instead of drywall, a couple patio doors replacing the barn doors for some passive solar.  Definitely bedroom in the loft.  Composting toilet.   I’m planning to partition the giant space and make a smaller habitat at first, that can be expanded later.  I’m still mulling over the plumbing.  How much is enough?

Then there’s the garden.  There are a number of retired gardens, all owned by grass again.  I’ve got my eye on the old pond.  The ruined liner is tattered, but the earth beneath is black and rhizome free because of the water and poly.  It would make a lovely terraced garden, and in the middle of the horse paddock, it’s already fenced for deer. The obvious downfall is that the depression will be a cold sink, with all the coldest air around pooling there, frosting earlier as well.

Then I can move on to camper renovations.

Happy Tricking!

One of our pumpkins, pre-move

Today I got laser surgery on my second eye.  In the intervening 12 years (since the fix was in on the first eye), the price has come down about $400 and the technology has advanced one tiny bit- they burn off a few less microns of eye material.

I am wearing an eye patch I made on the subject eye and no one looks twice since it’s Halloween, even though I’m not otherwise dressed in any way “Yarrr”.

It’s zucchini season!

Every year, there’s that time in August when everyone you know asks if you can use any more zucchini, and then lays one on you the size of two footballs.  We did not plant any zukes this year, leaving command of the garden to various squash, which preserve better.

CIMG9903I forgot to take a picture until after using 2/3 of the largest one (seen cut), and a preceding zucchini equalling that size, which has already been turned into muffins.  Muffins are my preferred method of making zucchini edible.  You can’t hide something that size in a salad.  Production is well into the hundreds of muffins made so far, many of which enjoy freezer cryostasis atm.  While plundering local egg resources, I’ve also been using up lots of old rye flour and cocoa in the same swoop – how I accumulated so much cocoa powder is a mystery.

This is the best zucchini muffin recipe I’ve found.  Note- high zucchini to egg ratio, and you can get more zucchini in there than it calls for, too.  Easy combining – I prefer “throw it all in a bowl” instructions to mincing around with delicate arcane techniques like “sifting” and “folding”.  Folding is for bath towels!  And very flexible.  Have added sunflower seeds, pine nuts, cocoa, coconut, oil vs butter, fake eggs, dates, milk, apples, and almonds as they came to hand, and the muffins still work.

A succulence of tomatoes

CIMG9905This is my favorite way to eat tomatoes, en masse!  Wedged, drenched (or is that, “dredged”?) in fresh ground black pepper and swept with sea salt.  Meow!  Definitely can’t stop at just one.  Like spoonfuls of creamed honey direct from the bucket when I was little, I can go through tomatoes like this until I feel ill.

Today my big mission, considering my current limitations, was staking the late tomatoes- the second round of starts that are just showing their first fruits.  I gave the early tomates some love too- doses of organic fertilizer all around.
Most of my tomatoes are in pots but the one with free roots in the garden is eNORMous, with over a dozen thick stems loaded with giant fruit.

I wasn’t fast enough with the camera, but I watched a happy jay pull a peanut out of a tomato pot I hadn’t reached yet. I hope he was surprised as I was.  There were no peanuts in there when I planted!  Mayhap the jay was plundering a squirrel stash.