onions from seed

One of the things that gives me a garden high is experiments.  And experiments that actually work, that change the way I garden, are the most rewarding. Most of them are flops, many of them are started and forgotten.

This is the first year I’ve tried starting onions from seed under lights. Two varieties: Australian Brown and Yellow of Parma. The little guys were easy to grow and did great until I put them out.

Then a cool snap and drenching rains, and the seedling seemed to stagnate. They looked like they were heading downhill, and I lost faith.

But they steadily improved over the growing season, and yesterday I harvested a wonderful batch of storage onions. These were uniformly bigger and healthier than the Copras I’d grown from bulbs for years. Made my day.

IMG_5239 IMG_5238

underwhelming potatoes and more

It’s not complaining, I swear to you. Just trying to present reality.

Yesterday was potato harvest day. The spuds were meh. Yukon gold stock bought at the local nursery. They were ok, not rotting or anything like that…just small.

IMG_5230

I can tell you that I honestly don’t have a clue why. And I’m not going to over-analyze. Time to move on to next year.

I also tried a new variety of sweet corn purported to be the rage in Japan, and rated the best-tasting sweet corn by some long-forgotten internet comparison. Mini Mirai.

It was indeed really good. Sweet, tender, crunchy, with tightly-spaced, even kernels. Unfortunately the ears were small. Mini. Disappointed again. My standby sweet corn, Avalon, is still (in my book) as good as it gets, with a lot more to show for each ear. But I believe there’s a non-mini variety of Mirai, and I’ll give that a shot in next year’s garden. (…it looks bigger in the photo than in real life)

IMG_5233

So you take the bad with the good, that little nag in the back of your mind telling you that nature could crush you if she wanted, or make you a king if she’s in a good mood. And sometimes things work out.

IMG_5232

fairy godfather

I’ve butchered pigs and chickens. Chainsawed my way through 30 winters. Worked the soil with tractors and 4 wheelers. Even trapped raccoons and skunks.

But my daughter texted yesterday and said she’s making a fairy garden for my granddaughter’s 4th birthday, and she asked if I could make some fairy furniture. I said ‘Uh…yes?’

I freely admit I’ve never made fairy furniture. I jealously guard masculinity. But it’s my granddaughter.

So there came Google, then Pinterest (please don’t mention this to anyone). And that was plenty of inspiration.

It all went surprisingly quickly, and was surprisingly fun.

IMG_5222

A moss bed made from halved firewood rounds, twigs and moss from the woods…

IMG_5223

A rocking chair with bark seat and back…

IMG_5226

A table…

IMG_5227

A lamp made with a small firewood rounds covered with moss, an oak twig and a pine cone (liberally coated with my wife’s glitter)…

IMG_5229

And a swing seat…

IMG_5224

Hopefully the fairies will feel right at home.

compost piles and stuff

Has it really been that long since I’ve posted something?  I guess so.  Time flies when you have nothing to say.

As the garden winds down, done with most of the heavy breathing, the compost piles are getting ready to jump into the act.

I have three modular, movable bins.  They can each be adjusted in height to accommodate what’s going on in the smelly world of waste.  The Spring pile (leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds, and who knows what else) has long since become nice black compost, full of worms, and home to what my granddaughter calls a ‘guard snake’. IMG_5214 The summer pile, composed mostly of pine shavings, chicken manure, grass clippings and kitchen waste that the chickens didn’t get, is also well on its way.  I’ll be using piles 1 and 2 directly on the garden beds this fall after the crops come out.

IMG_5216

The third pile is a work in progress; corn husks, seaweed, dead tadpoles, and who knows.  This will be the base for my winter compost pile of dead leaves, coffee grounds, kitchen scraps and chicken litter.  Come Spring planting time, it should be ready to rumble.

IMG_5215

And I’ve started next year’s seed collection with Amish Paste and Black Oil Sunflowers..

IMG_5213

late summer garden

My Dad always said ‘Self-brag stinks’. It’s ingrained in my brain. But when it comes to kids, grandkids and gardens, sorry Dad.

My tomatoes make me happy. Well actually they make me happy this year, and not a whole lot of others. Weather is half of the equation or more. But I like to think that dweeby attention to caring for them is part of it. Smile for the camera…

IMG_5149 IMG_5151

They went in late this year, and maybe that’s part of it too. Who knows? I’ll take it.

If you’ve ever doubted that compost works, don’t. My single zucchini was planted where last year’s compost piles sat.

That’s this year’s 3′ by 3′ compost bins sitting next to it.

IMG_5150

And finally, before I threw in the towel on my downy mildew-ravaged pickling cucumber vines, they surprised me with enough cukes to make one more batch of pickles.

IMG_5157

it’s all in the head

The last two winters have been harsh, to put it mildly. My wife, being kind, tries to help the wild birds through the winter with bird food. Noticing how expensive that was, last year I tried growing black oil sunflowers, one of those expensive ingredients.

The crop turned out well, and my thought was to harvest and dry entire heads. It seemed to me that giving the birds a little work for their free supper wasn’t cruel at all. It would build character. And it would stretch a buck.

But the project was a bust. I strung the sunflower heads up in the barn, covered by some breathable agribon to keep the chipmunks and mice away. But in a month they were all moldy.

Never say die though, eh? I’m back at it again this year. And this year it’s onward and upward. I brought all of the heads into the house and arranged them on a card table in the front room. My wife gave a doubtful glance, but I didn’t receive counter-orders, so now they’re sitting where I can keep a good eye on them, safe from prying buck teeth.

But now I’m thinking that if it works, the wild birdies might have to share some with their domesticated neighbors. Sharing builds character too.

IMG_5145 IMG_5146

seed saving for the forgetful

I’m pretty new at seed-saving, with just a couple of years’ experience. The tomatoes I grew from last year’s seeds have worked out great. But I can see where a catch might develop.

It’s my memory. I’m pretty sure that the tomato seeds I chose to save from last year were from bigger tomatoes than most that I’ve harvested this year (so far). The crop as a whole wasn’t exceptional last season, but there were some beautiful individual specimens.

Is my memory of those specimens reality or wishful imagination?

There’s a sure way to take guesswork out of the equation; facts.

I didn’t grow Amish Paste tomatoes last year, so I’ll definitely be saving seeds from that variety. My thought is that I want an accurate accounting of my parent stock, so why not take a picture? And one picture might not show the true size and shape, so I’m going with tomato mugshots…

IMG_5140 IMG_5139

I printed them out on regular paper at 5% of actual size, just right for the little homemade seed pack.

Those, along with the tomato’s weight and harvest date on the seed packet should take my memory out of the equation. I usually save my tomato seeds for a few years, and I’m hoping that this will make it easier to judge when to replenish the seed stock.

IMG_5141 IMG_5144

the rewards

I’m pretty happy. Somehow the sad, downy mildew-ed pickling cucumber vines stayed alive long enough to produce another batch of cucumbers.

So yesterday morning I grabbed the cukes, dill, garlic, grapevine leaves and jalapeños form the garden and knocked out a few jars of hot dill spears. I cherish these pickles in the dead of winter. Hot and crunchy and full of vavoom on a cold, snowy night.

IMG_5129

Next, on to a good way to make use of the glut of fresh eggs coming our way from the happy hens. I’ve never eaten, let alone made, pickled eggs. But they sound interesting. The recipe calls for adding canned beets to the boiled eggs, vinegar and spices. I don’t think I like beets, so this is a leap of faith. Who knows? Maybe there’ll be beets in the garden next year.

IMG_5125

I think the very best way to put off processing tomatoes is to core them and put them in a ziplock bag in the freezer. That way there’s no pressure to act before they rot. After they thaw they’re easy to peel, and still plenty fresh. And you don’t have to cook every time a new flush of ripe tomatoes comes in.

IMG_5128

The first buckwheat cover crop that I planted is blossoming, so that means it’s time to turn it into green manure. Thought I’d try it the easy way this time. Out came the chicken tiller.

IMG_5122

They did a fair job, but they need to work on technique. You don’t just eat the good parts, girls. It probably defeats the purpose of green manure to swap it for real manure. Maybe not. I’ll need to think about that one.

IMG_5123

i forget

IMG_5119

buckwheat ready to go under

IMG_5120

a big meal for a little bug

Harvest time is in the smell of the air and in the cool nights. My favorite time of the year (along with spring, summer, fall and all but a month and a half of winter).

I continually struggle to find the right balance of crops to grow for storage and crops to grow for fresh eating. Haven’t found it. Probably won’t.

Our freezer, unfortunately, is finite, and there needs to be room for ice cream. I don’t own a pressure canner, so that limits what can be preserved without refrigeration.

This year I’ve only been overwhelmed by beans. The broccoli, cauliflower and kohlrabi were perfectly proportioned for our needs. The garlic was also spot-on. The corn’s still coming. I’m not sure about the dry storage vegetables yet, the potatoes, onions and carrots, because they went in late and I haven’t pulled them yet. Above ground they all look promising.

The pickling cukes are a bust, as I’ve mentioned. That hurts, because next to tomatoes, pickles are my favorite garden result. Insult to injury, the batch of pickling cukes that I was able to save, I butchered. I started with a half batch recipe and by the time the brine was made, I’d forgotten that I was halving it. Result: pickles made of basically pure salt. Inedible.

Gardening is about both sameness and unpredictability. That’s why I’ve never lost interest, not even for a season. I know what SHOULD happen, and I don’t know what WILL happen.

I’ve forgotten the premise of the post. Maybe there never was one. Aging is hell.

now the good news

After yesterday’s waaahh-fest about pitiful me and the downy mildew slaughter of cucumbers, it seems like a brighter story is in order.

Most gardens turn out to be mixtures of failure, partial successes, and whoopee.

For me the whoopee this year comes from the tomatoes. It’s been work, but so far so good.

IMG_5098

The two shorter plants in the center of the picture aren’t actually that short. They’re my favorites: the Cherokee Purples. Before I had noticed what was happening, the plants had sagged a little more each day in their cages due to the weight of the tomatoes and the fact that I’d trimmed away most of their lower vine support.

IMG_5100

Cherokee Purple dead weight

I could try to pull them back up, but I’ve done that in the past, and only ended up injuring the vines. They’re doing fine as is.

It’s never wise to assert absolutes in gardening, so I’ll just say that this year, in this garden, I believe that religiously trimming off branches with leaves that show discoloration has worked fabulously to keep diseases in check.

Knock wood.

IMG_5099

German Johnsons almost there

And the second planting of sweet corn is in…

IMG_5101

Which means time for the freezer…

IMG_5102

And visions of happy people around the Thanksgiving table.