red glut

The garden looks pretty naked now; just a giant zucchini plant that I really don’t need and some peppers that taunt me with impossibly immature fruits.

But what’s different for me this year is having tomato plants that are still kicking out in mid-September. Something about having a decent tomato crop makes all of the year’s other gardening mistakes recede into irrelevancy.

I really don’t want any more tomatoes. They’re coming out our rears and ears. But it’s so much fun just looking at them in September and hoping that they’re here because of something that I did.

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If I were to wish for a glut of anything it would be, in this order: 1. Tomatoes, 2. Sweet corn, and 3. Raspberries.

Two out of three, high fives all around.

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raspberry puree, the kind you find in a second hand store

I think I just experienced a Prince moment.

During the soul-sucking winter months, with garden related activities next to impossible to find, I took to collecting used Starbucks coffee grounds. A good portion of the grounds went on the compost pile, but I saved some for a liberal application on our raspberry patch.

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It looks like the berries like their caffeine buzz (I know…it’s probably the nitrogen, but stop being critical and play along).

Yesterday I picked another pound of raspberries. You can only eat so many fresh.

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The thought of fruit leather has intrigued me for a few years, but previous attempts at making it ended with a scorched, not particularly inviting product.

Back into the breach. I tried a 170° oven instead of a food dehydrator this year and it worked. Just added some lemon juice and sugar to the food processor-mashed berries, poured the stuff onto parchment paper and baked for about 3 hours. Dee-lightful.

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Then you can just cut the berry leather, parchment and all, into strips and roll them up for storing.

The only thing I’d change is to spring for a fine sieve. The holes in our sieve are big enough to let small seeds through. There are a lot of hiding places in a set of teeth.

back to business

Camping is awesome. Even now that they’re grown with families of their own, our kids still insist on it. No wifi, no TV, no electricity, just smelly toilets and foldable chairs and laughing around a fire.

The return to civilization isn’t quite so awesome. A week’s-worth of clean up and catch up.

Luckily, the garden is pretty much on auto pilot at this time of year. The raspberries were happy…

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And so were the Japanese beetles. I wasn’t around to monitor their flagrant sex-eat-sex orgies every day, so they were a little more satisfied than I’d prefer. But nothing a few minutes of pleasant squishing couldn’t heal.

The cauliflower took off too. When we left for camping a week ago, I hadn’t anticipated their growth, and so only one of the heads had its leaves tied up to keep out the sun. You can see the difference it makes…

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The head in front had its leaves tied up, the other three didn’t.  It’s no big deal, strictly cosmetic, but I like to look at my food too.

pruning raspberries and life in the worm bin

Late winter is the time to prune raspberry bushes. I’m not trying to present a how-to here. There are plenty of those available from better gardeners than me online. This is just how I accomplish what works for me.

In late winter I grab the pruning shears and a pair of leather gloves, then head to my little row of berry bushes. I get down on hands and knees and look closely at every cane. There’s a gray bark on canes that have done their bearing. The cane on the right is one of those…

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The floricanes (that’s what second year canes are called) all get pruned to ground level. Any spindly or dead-looking canes come out. Then I thin what’s left to 5 or 6 canes per foot of row. That makes for more vigorous plants and a better yield of larger berries. I also take out any canes that think they need to live in the suburbs.

That’s it. Over the course of the winter I sprinkle my own coffee grounds around the berry patch, and scratch them into the soil when the ground thaws. (I save the big bags of grounds that I collect from Starbucks for the compost piles and the main garden.)

before pruning

before pruning

after pruning

after pruning

And on a totally unrelated subject, the worms are happy. Last Thanksgiving my wife hollowed out some mini-pumpkins for candle holders. I set some aside, outside, and they froze over the winter. The other day I brought them in and defrosted them into a yucky pile and buried them in the worm bin. Worm heaven. They love anything to do with the melon family.

You’ll notice a ton of small white flecks in the bin. Gross, eh? They’re called springtails. I was pretty alarmed when they first appeared after starting the bin. They usually grow in bins where there’s too much moisture. That’s something I try to keep an eye on, but don’t stress about. I just open the lid for a while and let it dry out.

After living with springtails and reading about them, I decided they’re almost welcome. They exist peaceably with the worms and help digest all the goodies. They won’t overrun the house or eat my pets. They just take a little getting used to.

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