Saturday, November 13, 2010

November's Bounty

Our Community Garden Plot

Today we checked in on our plot at our neighborhood community garden.  The green cabbages are forming heads.  We might be able to pick one or two next week.

The beets, bok choy, spinach, and kale are ready to harvest.  We'll pick them as we need them.  

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Our Halloween Fun

Cheese Rats
Basic Ingredients:  Cream Cheese, Cheddar, Blue Cheese, Herbs and Worchestershire sauce.  Decorate with dried cranberries for eyes, almonds for ears, chives for tails.

For an Autumn Flower Arrangement, I gathered blooms, seeds heads, interesting foliage, red twigs, and tucked in some colorful fallen leaves.

It was so satisfying to carve pumpkins we grew ourselves.

Even the unripe pumpkin made a cute jack-o-lantern.

We're all set for trick-or-treaters!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fall Squash & Pumpkin Harvest

Giant Pumpkin, Field Pumpkin, Buttercup Squash, Blue Hubbard Squash, Jack-Be-Little Pumpkin, Crookneck Squash, Scallop Squash

Home Grown Decor
(no need for imported plastic junk on our porch)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sweet Corn-u-copia

Sweet corn is one of Terry's favorite crops.  It's big, fast-growing, easily recognizable, and reminds him of the rural farm fields of his childhood.  Oh, and it tastes really good too.  Summer BBQ's aren't the same without corn on the cob, buttery fingers, and kernels stuck in your teeth. 

This year we grew two varieties of sweet corn, Peaches-and-Cream and Trinity.  Both are bicolor which means they have yellow and white kernels.  We have grown Peaches-and-Cream the past few years and loved it.  Trinity was new for us.  

Trinity is a short season variety and therefore has shorter stalks and smaller ears.  Trinity started to ripen about two to three weeks before Peaches-and-Cream, so between the two varieties we were able to pick corn from early August to mid-September.  We had a couple of wind storms that blew several stalks over into the sidewalk.  The ears weren't mature yet, so we cut off the top of the stalks that were trip hazards and left the rest to mature.  The ears still ripened even though the stalks were laid over.  

Another issue we had with corn was bugs.  There were quite a few black aphids on the leaves and tassels.  We weren't sure what the organic treatment would be, so we let it go and found that ladybugs were all over it.  They laid eggs which hatched into voracious aphid-eating larva.  The other pest that liked our corn was earwigs.  They like to hide under the outer leaves of the husks.  I dealt with them by peeling the outer husk and shaking the earwigs out as I picked the ears.  Terry brought the whole ears in the house and squished the earwigs in the sink as he peeled the ears.

You know your ears of corn are getting close to pick when the silk browns out.  You can peel back the husk to check to see if the kernels are plump and the right color.  You can pop a kernel with your thumbnail and the juice should be milky and not clear.  Don't wait too long to pick your corn past maturity because the sugars will turn from sweet to starchy.  The kernels will also become tough.  Once this happens the corn is best used in soups or casseroles.           

We like the eat corn simply on the cob with or without butter.  I boil up a big pot of water, add the cobs, and cook for exactly three minutes.  They always come out perfect.  I ended up liking the flavor the Trinity better than Peaches-and-Cream.  It was sweeter and more tender.  We'll definitely plant more Trinity next year.  

Monday, September 13, 2010

Diggin' Potatoes

There is nothing more fun than harvesting a crop that has been growing underground for six months.  You never know what you're going to get.

  Back in February & March we carefully selected seed potatoes.  Due to limited space, we had to debate the virtues of each variety and decide how many of each type to grow.  Terry loves Russets, I don't.  I wanted to try Russian fingerlings, he was skeptical.  I definitely wanted Yukon Golds, Terry wanted more Russets.  I don't care for Purples, but we had some good looking Purple tubers from last year that were sprouted and ready to go.  We both like Reds.

After the potatoes plants flower, you can start digging for young potatoes, carefully rooting around with your hand in the soil.  I learned that I loved Russian Fingerlings.  Terry did too.  I don't think Terry met a potato he didn't like.  Russian Fingerlings have a waxy flesh and they are narrow and knobby like fingers.  Great for nuking and then grilling to finish them off.  
To get a crop to store in the cellar, wait until the plants die back completely, which means that the skins have matured.  Even though we've been eating potatoes for a couple months, we still had 88 lbs to squirrel away for Fall.    

Note: wear gloves if you're going to use you hands to harvest your potatoes.  There is nothing more painful than having the skin pull away from under most of your fingernails and then having dirt shoved way up in there.

Thank You!

We've had a wonderful response from the community to the Newspaper article.  Just want to thank everyone for their support and encouragement.

So, what is growing in your garden?  Would you like your garden to be featured on the The Tacoma Kitchen Garden Journal.  Email photos & comments to me at

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Late Summer Harvest

This Summer was much cooler than last year, so many of our warm weather crops were not very happy.  It was mid-August before we got some ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, and corn.

Cal Wonder Bell Peppers, Hungarian Wax Peppers, Asian Eggplant

Zucchini & Crookneck Squash with Hydrangea Limelight
We planted just the right amount of Summer squash this year- 1 Zucchini, 1 Crookneck, 2 Scallop.  We have enough to eat and give to neighbors without feeling overwhelmed.

Our Tri-star Strawberries took forever to start producing.  There was a lot of malformed and undeveloped fruit that I had to pick off before the plants would put out new flowers.  Then it took a stretch of warm weather before the new fruit would form. 

Another great Frost Peach year except that many of the pits were split due to cool weather during the blooming period.  There were also earwigs in some of the fruit and moldy spots.  I did eat my fill of peaches and still had some for the freezer.

We grew tons of onions this year (at least 100).  They did fabulous.  The only problem is that we mixed Walla Wallas with yellows and now we can't tell the difference between the two.  Yellows store well and Walla Wallas don't.  Now we just have to find homes for all the extras.

We got flowers, but no beans yet.  However our neighbor shared hers with us.  Yay!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

August- Planting Fall Crops

Late Summer in the garden is a time to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor.  It's also time to plant cool-season crops, so you can harvest fresh vegetables well into the Fall and Winter.   As we harvested mature crops that we planted in the Spring, like garlic and onions, we created open space for new plantings.  One  the best parts of planting in August is that the soil is warm.  Therefore, the seeds germinate quickly and the beds will look full again fairly quick.

Our August 1- plant list:
bok choy
lettuce- mesclun mix

Our Late August- plant list:
fava beans

Soil preparation- we added soil-building compost to several beds that were lacking organic material.

Kale seeds saved from plants that were planted last Fall.  The seeds ripened in July.

Planting tip- the weather is often warm with little rain in August.  Water the soil well before planting if the soil is very dry.  Water after planting to settle in the seeds.  Lightly water daily to make sure your soil doesn't dry out.  You want your soil to be like a damp sponge (not a soppy-wet one).  When your seedlings are an inch tall or so, the roots should be down far enough that you can water every two or three days depending on the weather and how well-drained your soil is.

Once we get further along into September, the rains return and the temperatures cool, so watering is no longer a chore.

Young Dwarf Blue Scotch Kale

Pest Tips- White Cabbage Moths are still out and about laying eggs on the leaves of Brassica plants (cabbage, kale, turnips, rutabaga, etc.)  Place clean white eggs shell halves (not crushed) around your young plants to discourage the moths from landing.  They are territorial and think the shells are other moths.  

Also, if you notice holes in your brassica leaves, look for the tiny green caterpillar and squish it.  Keep an eye out for slugs too.  They love bok choy and lettuce.  

Soil Preparation for Beets- we added wood ash from our fireplace.    

Young Beets- Cylindrical, Red Ace & Winterkeeper

Peas- we lost some fresh peas in the back of the fridge, they sprouted, so we decided to take them back outside and plant them.

Young Mesclun Mix- we're eating fresh salad once again.  It only took one month from planting to reach our plate.

Every year we like to try to grow something new.  For this Fall it's Fava Beans.  I read that they love cool weather and will overwinter.  I'm so excited to see how they turn out. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Where has the Summer gone?

Over the past few years that we've grown a kitchen garden, we've found that one of our favorite parts of gardening is talking to neighbors about our garden and sharing the harvest.  This past March I created this blog to show the wider community how to grow food at home.  Around the same time, an opportunity to get involved in creating a new neighborhood community garden presented itself.  We got very excited and volunteered to help make this project a success.  After years of growing food for our ourselves, we wanted to help grow other gardeners.

This site before- a gravel vacant lot

Over the first few months, the volunteers got together for planning meetings and potlucks.  We helped create a design and develop a construction schedule.  

In July, we started building.

By mid-August, the group had built all the raised vegetable beds and completed the fence.  

Members are starting to plant their Fall seeds and starts.  In September we will have work parties to construct the common spaces of the garden.

The new garden is called Orchard & Vine Community Garden and is located at N. 45th & N. Orchard St.

This is why I haven't blogged all Summer like I had hoped to.  It was enough just trying to keep up our own garden while helping create another.  We did meet our goal of growing new gardeners.  At least twenty families have signed up for plots for Fall.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The May Garden

Our garden has been growing leaps and bounds this month.  May has had its share of warm sunny days and cool rainy days, but overall the temperatures are getting warmer.  Traditionally, Memorial Day weekend signals that it is safe to plant warm-season crops.  If the sun comes back out, we'll be ready.

The Good...
Growing fast out in the garden now are peas, cabbage, potatoes, garlic, bulb onions, spinach and turnips.  Our recently planted corn is coming up.  We also recently transplanted our Winter squash starts.  We had started them in the house and they were getting too big for their cups, so we moved them into the greenhouse to harden off for several days.  We waited for a warm sunny day and planted them into the garden.    

Growing in our house are basil, cucumber, summer squash, okra and watermelon starts.

Growing in our greenhouse are tomatoes, eggplant, okra, peppers, and some flowers.  

The Bad...
The beets have bolted.  This means that they have gone to flower and won't make much of a beet.  This can happen from planting too early and from the weather swinging too much between warm and cool.

Beet leaf miners are out in force.  I found lots of white egg clusters on the backs of my beet leaves.  I did some research and bought some blue sticky traps to capture the adult flies.  I've caught about twenty so far.  But now that the beets have bolted, I'm going to rip them out and try planting new seeds.  

Cabbage moths are also out on sunny days.  We've been using white egg shells to deter them from laying eggs on our brassicas.  It's working really well.  We don't have nearly the amount the eggs and caterpillars as we did last year.  Apparently the moths are territorial.  We have observed them chasing each other.  If they see a lot of white shells around they think they are other moths and will fly away.  I was skeptical at first, but now have seen many a moth swoop down towards our cabbages and then flutter away without landing and laying eggs.  Where we haven't scattered shells around our brassicas, we have found eggs.  

... and The Harvest
We've been harvesting cool-season crops like lettuce, broccoli, garlic scapes, green onions, kale, bok choy and radishes.  Our menu is consisting of a lot of salads and stir fry.  Yum!   

Friday, May 28, 2010

Raised Vegetable Beds

I love love love growing vegetables in raised beds.  No tilling, hardly any weeding, no run off, no muddy shoes and a border to sit on.  In North Tacoma, we have lead and arsenic in our soil from the old smelter.  By growing in a raised bed we can control the type of soil we put in it.  Now it does take some effort to build one, but once it's made, it makes gardening so much easier.

There are many ways to build a raised bed and many resources and designs available.  Here are my tips.

Start by identifying the sunniest areas of your yard.  Vegetables need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight, but will do better with more.  Once you select your site, measure your space.

Bed Design
A well designed bed is one that you won't have to step into to garden.  You want to be able to reach in from the sides.  This will allow you to use the space more efficiently because you won't need walking rows between your crops.  You also won't be compacting your soil with your footsteps.   Four feet wide is the max I'd go.  For shorter people, like me, I recommend three feet wide.  I have both three and four foot wide beds and much prefer the three foot wide ones.  My husband prefers the four foot wide beds.  Length can be determined by your space or you can go with standard board lengths to minimized cuts.  If you go with 12 foot boards, I'd brace them in the middle, so that they don't warp and pull apart.  For depth, you can go as low as 8 inches if you have good soil underneath them.  If you're putting your bed over concrete or bad soil, I'd go with at least 12 inch deep.  You make them as tall as you'd like.  If you have trouble bending down you can go 20 inches deep or more.  Just remember that the taller you go, the more soil you need and also if you go too high it might make harvesting more difficult if you grow tall plants.    

Its important to space your beds adequately to allow for easy access.  Three feet between beds gives you space to maneuver a wheelbarrow and your hose.  Three feet also allows room for people to get by each other. Remember that when plants get big, they will spill over the sides of the bed making your paths feel more narrow.  

Typical materials include wood, concrete blocks, and rock.  Wood is easy to work with and quick to put together.  I'd go with untreated lumber.  Cedar will last the longest, but is very expensive.  Fir is fairly economical and will last five to ten years.  Concrete and rock last forever, but is heavy to work with.  You can also use salvaged materials and mix and match.

We put our wooden beds together with screws, but have found that bolts with washers stay in better.  We didn't use the method where you put posts or brackets in each corner to hold them together.  I'd recommend doing so, so you could just use screws or nails.

In the Tacoma area, we've tried several different soil products.  We've bought Tagro Potting soil, 3-way topsoil with mushroom compost, and 5-way mix topsoil.  We've eventually ended up mixing them up together to get a good blend.  The Tagro Potting soil load we got had too much chunky organic matter like wood bark and didn't provide enough structure, although it grew some fabulous squash and corn.  The 3-way with mushroom was overly silty, and the 5-way mix had some gravel and also was a little dense.  Mixing different types of soil together made for a nice combo of structure and organics.  We also supplement our beds with regular Tagro, worm casting, and compost when more organics are needed.

Whether you start with just one small bed or lots of beds, you'll find raised vegetable bed gardening so much easier than planting directly in the ground.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fruit Trees

Fruit trees are a great addition to a kitchen garden.  There's nothing like smelling a peach ripen and picking it at the point of perfection.  In Tacoma, we can grow many types of fruit trees.  A good way to tell what will grow in your area is to visit a reputable local nursery in the late Winter.  In February and March, the nurseries are fully stocked with bare root trees.  My favorite local place to get fruit trees is Portland Avenue Nursery.  They pot up the bare root trees in peat pots, so all you have to do is prepare your soil, cut slits in the pot, plant and stake it.

Things to Consider

Fruit trees come in different sizes.  Semi-Dwarf typically grows to around 15 feet tall.  Dwarf is about 8 feet tall.  This is controlled by the type of rootstock the tree is grafted onto.  The top is the graft determines variety of fruit you're growing (e.g. 'Granny Smith' apple).  The rootstock controls how large the tree will be.  You will want to chose size according to the space you have.  There are also trees available that are pruned for use in small spaces (e.g. espalier) and/or have multiple varieties grafted onto one tree (e.g. 3-way or 4-way combos).  There are fruit trees that will grow fine in large pots (e.g. figs trees and Columnar apple trees).  

Varieties of each type of fruit have been selected by growers for their special characteristics.  These can include flavor, disease resistance and hardiness.  When you choose a variety of apple tree think about what you'll be using the apples for (e.g. baking, sauce or fresh eating).  Most fruit tree labels will describe the virtues of the particular variety you're looking at.  

 Certain types of fruit trees need two different varieties planted near each other for cross pollination to set fruit (i.e. "self-sterile").  Other types are "self-pollinating".  Apple and pears are usually self-sterile while peaches are self-pollinating.  This is good to know when planning out your space.  If you have limited space you can buy a 3-way combo tree that has three varieties on one tree.

Fruit trees have specialized pruning needs.  I will address this at a later date.

The most important thing to remember is that N (Nitrogen) is for leaf growth and P (Phosphorus) is for blooms.  You want to use a balanced fertilizer or one specifically marketed for fruit trees.  We give our trees a good dose of Phosphorus in the fall, so the trees will set buds for the Spring.  If you give your trees way too much Nitrogen (like in lawn fertilizer) you'll have all leaves and no fruit.

Disease & Pests
Each type of fruit tree has its particular diseases and pests that it is susceptible to.  Plant resistant varieties and know in advance what signs to look for.  Sprays, traps, and barriers need to be deployed at the correct time to be effective.

Our garden
We have one peach tree, three apple trees and one nectarine tree.  All of them are semi-dwarfs because we are using them for privacy screening for our window views as well.  We have had mixed success with our efforts.  Last year we had a bountiful crop of peaches and nectarines, but we have to be on constant look out for peach leaf curl (a fungal disease) and earwigs (they burrow into the peach pits as the peach ripens).  This year the peach is doing great as usual, but the nectarine has lots of diseased branches that have died and a lot of leaf curl fungus.

Our apple trees have been frustrating.  The first year we had a decent crop.  The second year we had quite a few apple maggots in our apples.  Last year we deployed several traps to catch apple maggots and coddling moths.  We caught quite a few, but our apples were so heavily infested with maggots we threw the whole crop away.  This year there was hardly any blooms on two of our trees.  

If I had to do it all over again... I would have planted espalier fruit trees which are trained to grow flat for easy picking and taking up less space.  I would be able to fit more types of trees in this way.  I have seen espalier pear combo, cherry combo, apple combo, and asian pear combo trees.  I love our Frost peach tree, so I'd keep that, but our nectarine is really diseased and I read that nectarines need a lot of spraying to keep them healthy.    

Overall, it's really fun tending to our fruit trees.  There's nothing like watching the buds open up in the Spring, seeing the bees pollinate the flowers, watching the fruit develop and ripen to perfection, finally picking it and tasting the fruits of our labor.  

For more information about varieties check out the Raintree Nursery catalog.  Also Pierce County WSU Extension Master Gardeners can help with pest and disease identification.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Planting Potatoes

To grow potatoes, you plant potatoes.  By March, your local garden center should have seed potatoes available.  Seed potatoes are just potatoes that are certified to be disease free.  We've also grown potatoes from the grocery store produce section.  I don't recommend getting them from the grocery store because they are treated to delay the eyes from sprouting.  

Once you've grown your own potatoes, you'll have your own seed potatoes from the previous year's harvest sprouting in the pantry. 

As far as the timing goes, you can plant anytime in the Spring.  If you want to plant really early like in February, don't cut the potatoes.  If you wait until the soil warms, you can cut the potatoes, just be sure to let the cut dry overnight.

Dogs like potatoes

The eyes have sprouted
The plant (stems and leaves) grow from the eye.  

There are a couple ways to plant.  You can plant in a large pot or in the ground.  The potato plant will grow upwards from the potato.  If planting in a pot, put a couple inches of soil in the bottom.  Place the potato in with the eyes pointing up.  Put a couple inches of soil on top.  Allow the plant to grow about 6 inches tall.  Add 3 inches of soil.  As the plant grows keep adding soil until you're within an inch of the rim of the pot.  Potatoes will grow all along the underground stems.  

If you're growing in a bed, create a trench.  Place the potatoes in the bottom with the eyes upwards.  Pull a couple inches of soil over the potatoes.  As they grow, pull more soil around the stems until the trench is full.

The potato tuber stores water, so you shouldn't have to water until we get warm and dry Summer weather.  

Next Topic: Fruit Trees