Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Our family is growing -- And so is Kristina's belly!

Our family is growing, and so is Kristina's belly!

We are now 37 weeks pregnant and looking forward to the day that Ruth is born.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Spring flowers

I was a little late planting most of our flowers this year, so flowers that normally bloom in early spring are just now blooming.  Her are pictures of some of them.

Garden Update 5-24-11 ** Cucumbers, pumpkins and melons are fruiting!

My tomatoes are doing great.  They love this hot weather we are having, even if I don't.  It was 95 degrees yesterday!

These tomato pictures are all from 1 vine.  The larger tomatoes in the first picture have started turning yellow.  In a few more days I should have the first ripe tomato of the season.  The variety is moneymaker, and based on it's productivity it might live up to that name.

There are even a few blooms that didn't make it into that last shot!  This vine produces fruits that are 4-6 ounces and red.

Here is a shot of my tomatoes taken from 4'-6" high.

I don't think I have grown tomato vines over 5' before.

My squash are loving this heat too.

My cucumbers are finally producing some fruit too!

 Soon we'll have some melons too.

The rest of the garden is doing fine, though some of the spring vegies are nearly done.

At the back is Wade's Giant Indian Corn, nearly 4' tall.  To the left of it, but not yet visible is my okra, which doubled in size in the last 5 days.  On the right in the foreground is my sweet corn, about 3' tall. Then there are green beans, mexican sun flowers, and wax beans on the left.  Both the green and wax beans are producing nicely now.



The only concern now will be keeping the tomatoes, squash, zucchini, okra, and cucumbers picked when Kristina goes to the hospital to give birth.  We are 37 weeks pregnant now, so anywhere between now and the end of June will bring us a bouncing bundle of joy.  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Garden Location & Design

This year I moved the location of my garden and changed the layout, for a couple of reasons.  The primary reason to move it was lack of sunlight.  I live in a residential area and though I don't have any large trees in my back yard, my neighbors do.  Where my garden was located last year it mostly received direct sun in the afternoon, exposing them to high heat as soon as the morning shade moved.  I located the garden right next to the house to take advantage of longer sunshine hours especially in the morning hours.  In late afternoon the garden gets some shade from nearby trees.  This has had an added benefit, now every time I let the dogs out the back door, I take a look at the garden.  It does not seem like much to walk across my small backyard, but I notice that I take more time to keep an eye on things where they are located now.  I also located the herbs closest to the back door, which makes it quicker to run to the garden for fresh herbs while cooking.  Only after I made this move did I start reading about Permaculture, which emphasizes locating your most intensive crops, annuals, closest to the home and perennial plants and trees that require less care further from the home.  It makes sense, I need to go to the garden daily or every other day to pick squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, and others.  The further I have to go, the less likely I am to go daily.  Then I risk not noticing insect damage and letting fruit become overripe.  If I had a large yard, like in my childhood, and I put the gardens away from the house, even a hundred or two feet, it becomes more of a chore to pick from the garden.  In the future I will always try to place my garden as close to the house as sunlight will allow.

I also changed the layout and method of my garden this year too.  Last year I tilled the soil and hoed weeds.  This year I did not till.  Instead I am using a deep mulch method based on lasagna gardening.  You build up layers of organic matter, a very deep sheet mulch, and plant in it.  This creates a very soft soil that you don't want to compact, so instead of planting in traditional rows I planted 4 foot wide beds separated by 2 foot wide walkways.  I could probably get by with narrower walkways, you live and learn, but it works.  This also divides my garden into 5 beds, which make rotating crops easy.  Four of the beds are close to the house and one that is separated. The bed that is separated is planted with melons, gourds, pumpkins, potatoes, seed amaranth, and sorghum.  None of these crops need daily observation, so they are perfect for a bed that is further from the house.

These changes have made my garden much more vigorous, enjoyable, and less work.  The combination of better sun and lots of organic mater to feed the soil has produced a healthier, more vigorous garden.  I have yet to harvest a tomato, we're getting close, but my tomato vines are taller and look better than what I grew last year.  This week was fairly cool, but my tomato vines still grew 8".  If all the fruit hanging right now ripens I will have a better harvest than all of last year, from fewer plants.  That does not include the fact that last year I had problems with blossom end rot (BER), usually attributed to a calcium deficiency.  I did not add any calcium, other than egg shells in to my compost. Yet there have not been any signs of BER.  As I have said in a previous post I spend my time planting, training vines, and harvesting.  There is a little weeding, but any of the other activities takes way more time even though most of my plants have yet to produce fruit, or ripe fruit.  Making the beds 4' wide has worked well, but a shorter person might making their beds 3'-6" or even 3'.  It is easy for me to pick 3/4 of the way across my beds from either side and I am able to plant more plants due to less square footage wasted to rows that you can walk/till in between.  I think that relocating the garden closer to the house and deep mulch gardening are both great ideas and I would advise other gardeners to consider trying them.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Weeds, Bugs, and Harvesting with Lasagna Gardening

So I have been experimenting with a "lasagna garden" this year.  Last year I had a regular tilled organic garden, while this year I have not tilled.  The results have been amazing.  The first few weeks after I put in my lasagna beds I pulled numerous grain/grass seedlings due to using fresh/green manure.  Since then I have spent more time individually planting, training & tying vines, and harvesting the garden than pulling weeds.

This morning I went out and tended the garden.  I spent about 10 minutes tying my tomatoes.  I have to do this every 2-3 days because some of the vines grow 3-4 inches a day.  Then I trained my cucumbers to their trellis, about 10 minutes.  The ones that were too short were tied to the 2"x4" wire mesh with some cotton string.  Then I moved to my pumpkins, melons, gourds, and winter squash I have given them an obstacle to grow over.  It is less of a trellis and more a way to get them to use more vertical space than ground space.  Training those vines took about 10 minutes too.  While doing all of these task I kept an eye out for weeds.  I spent maybe 5 additional minutes pulling weeds.

For the past few weeks I have spent more time harvesting greens than pulling weeds.  I have also been keeping an eye out for squash bugs, cutworms, and vine borers.  Saturday I found 3 cut worms on my tomato plants and one of my pepper plants has been cut half in two (but it should survive).  I pick these three off of my plants, but leave most other bugs alone.  Wasp do most of my insecticidal work.  I don't bother picking bugs off of my greens, I have an abundance and it gives a constant food supply to the wasp.  There are also a couple of sacrificial plants around the garden.  I planted Amaranth (for seed) and japanese giant red mustard which is really hot.  The bugs love both of these and leave most of the other plants alone.    I have also planted Sweet Asylum thru the garden which attracts other predatory insects.

I will keep you posted on what I think of this method of gardening, but for now I am sold.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


A few weeks ago Kristina and I were taking a walk and I found this tree.

It is more like a large shrub, it does not have a true center trunk, but it was loaded with berries.  I looked it up and they were Mulberries!

They look like black berries, but with a stem.  They are mildly sweet without big seeds like blackberries, and none of the tartness of blackberries.

The tree produces prolifically over a long period of time.  There are many overripe berries on the ground but the branches are loaded with black (ripe) berries, red berries, and green (immature) berries. I have since found more mulberry trees, but they were in a forest and were not as prolific as this.  It has full sun and is on a riverbank.

I picked about 1/2 gallon the day after I found this tree and made a cobbler and froze the rest.  To freeze place them on a cookie sheet in a single layer.  Then freeze and place into a zip top bag.  That way they are individually frozen and you can use as many or as few as you like.  Then yesterday I went back and picked 3 quarts worth.  It sure is nice to be able to pick berries for free that you can not even buy at the store.  I also took some cuttings from this tree which I am trying to root.  The first one to root will be mine, the second has been promised too, but if the cuttings take I may have 20 more!  The cuttings have been in a rooting medium for 2 weeks and only 2 have turned brown.

Here is a cobbler recipe that I modified from another web site.

2 cups of mulberries (cut the stems off because the stems are not tasty)
1/4 cup of honey or sugar
6 tablespoons of butter
3/4 cup flour, 
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt 
3/4 cup milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees . 
Melt the butter and pour it into an eight inch square glass dish.  Now mix all of the dry ingredients, and add the milk.  DO NOT ADD the berries. Feel free to add things like granola or lemon zest to the batter if it strikes your fancy.  Mix the batter in a bowl, then pour it into the baking dish with the butter.  Do not mix it with the butter. Sprinkle the mulberries over the top of the batter.
Bake for about twenty minutes. You will know it is done when a knife comes out clean of batter when it is inserted in the middle of the cobbler.  If the batter is too wet or you use more berries it can take 35 minutes to be done.

Garden update 5-14-11 -- Spending more time tying tomatoes than weeding!

My tomatoes are loaded with fruit and I harvested my first squash this week, I picked it small since we got squash from our CSA this week.  It looks like I will be over run  with squash soon.  One plant has over 30 blooms on it and I have 4!  These pictures were taken yesterday afternoon.  Last night we got a strong thunderstorm that littered the garden with oak twigs and small branches.  Nothing was hurt, though a few vines were hit by branches.  The tomatoes are now averaging 36" tall and the tallest is 3' 8"!  In the front row is lettuce and basil the next row has tomatillos and cherry tomatoes, then it is all full sized tomatoes.

I was asked what the buried jugs were for so here is a little explanation. I don't have and can't afford to buy drip irrigation, but we all know it is the best way to water.   Those jugs are my drip irrigation.  If I fill them after a good rain they will stay full for 5-7 days, but if I fill them while it is dry they will be empty in hours.  The jug has a small hole in the bottom and no lid.  This delivers water 6-8 inches deep, so plants have to send their roots deep to get it.  This way if I forget to water then the plants have deep roots to find their own water.    

Golfball sized tomatoes

Below is the spring vegetable bed.

The screen is covering some japanese red lettuce which does not like the heat we have been having. It is off angle because the I planted a tomato plant under one corner before I added the screen.  These tomatoes were planted 6 weeks later than the other ones in the first picture.

My wax beans are putting on their first fruit of the year, only 45 days after planting!
My green beans are not far behind the wax beans.

My field corn which was wind blown by the last storm before yesterdays got a little bamboo support and straw spread below.  It weathered the wind yesterday just fine and now stands 3' tall.
Abundant squash

My rhubarb came up, but since we live in such a hot climate I was told it would not do well.  So I will put it near the north east corner of the house, where it will get morning sun and shade the rest of the day.

My kitchen door rosemary bush, it's about 2' tall, 4' wide and 30" deep.

Behind the rosemary is mint and wild flowers that were seeded this spring.

My wife's birthday bouquet picked from the yard.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Garden is Jumping 5-4-11




Japanese Red Lettuce



Rainbow Chard

Bulls Blood Beets

Sweet Peas

Beans and Corn


Tomatoes growing


Strawberries and Asparagus

My strawberries are sending out runners, so I am getting them to root in pots for easier transplanting to other places in the yard.