Monday, November 14, 2011

Fall Harvest 2011

We were really late in planting our crops for fall harvest, but despite our bad timing, there are a few vegetables that have done really well and along with the young greens we have plenty of fresh veggies to keep us well fed.  

Fall harvesting lately has consisted of turnips, potatoes, brussels sprouts, beets, and young chinese cabbage.  Our turnips turned out perfect this year.  Hardly any root maggots.  We've been looking up all sorts of turnip recipes online and so far we have made glazed turnips, added them to chicken soup, and have been eating them thinly sliced in salads.  Eaten raw, turnips taste kind of like radishes.  We've also been using their greens as a substitute for kale.  

In the same bed as the turnips, we planted rutabagas and radishes.  The rutabagas did horrible.  Some germinated, but were quickly eaten by slugs.  None got even close to maturing.  Radishes did well but were over-mature and woody before we got around to picking them.  So, fall 2011 will be known as the season of the turnips.  

This was the first year we grew brussels sprouts.  We planted them in the spring and while they are forming sprouts, they are really small and full of aphids.  The aphids are a pain to clean off because they hide in the layers.  Once cleaned and steamed the sprouts taste really good.  

Other crops we have been picking lately are beets and various greens.  Our beets are really small, but tasty.  The chinese cabbage we planted hasn't quite formed heads yet, but we are eating them as salad greens and using them in stir fry.  Kale and bok choy are also staples this time of year.  With our fall harvests and our stored veggies (potatoes in the ground) (winter squash and garlic in the basement)(corn, peas, beans in the freezer) we're eating pretty darn well.  

This week the weather has definitely gotten colder and we'll see how long everything holds up in the garden.    

Friday, October 28, 2011

Saving Seeds

Every spring we love shopping for packets of new seeds at the local nurseries.  It's so fun browsing the racks of colorful seed packets and imagining the future delicious meals and beautiful flowers contained in each little seed.  We try to grow a few different varieties of vegetables and flowers each year to expand our repertoire.  Sometimes, though, we like a variety so much that we want to grow it again the following year.  This has led us to the craft of saving seeds.  

There are many advantages to collecting your own seeds.  Besides saving a little money, you also have an excuse for letting your garden get seedy (which tends to happen when you get overwhelmed and can't keep up with all the harvesting and deadheading).  To get started collecting seeds, it helps to plant way more than you can eat (that way you don't feel bad letting some veggies go to seed).  Then toward the end of the harvest season, just let some plants go to seed.  Let the pod, fruit or seed head mature and then collect the seed.  Do some research on the specific vegetable or flower you're trying to collect from because you might find that it's better to just buy the seed especially if it's a hybrid variety.

Here are just a few types of seed we collected this summer.

Sweet Pea Flowers
(Note: the pods are toxic if ingested)

I let the pods dry on the plant.  They split open easily to expose the seeds.  Be sure the seeds are completely dry before you store them or they will get moldy and rot.

Fava Beans
I also let the pods dry on the plant.  A few pods that I didn't collect eventually fell to the grown and are now sprouting into new fava bean plants.  If the winter isn't too cold, they baby plants should overwinter and produce beans again next year.

Chive flowers are a pretty lavender color.  Then they dry out and produce tiny black seeds.  One seed head produces way more seeds than we need.  

I just shake the flower over a piece of paper and then use the paper to funnel the seeds into a bottle.

Label and store the seeds in a dry dark spot like a cabinet.
Don't forget to plant them next year.

If you collect lots of extra seeds you can create your own seed packets which would make cute gifts for your gardening friends.    

Monday, October 24, 2011

Growing a Garden: Progress at Orchard & Vine

Over the past month we took on the task of building the last big and highly anticipated feature at the Orchard & Vine Community Garden.  The original design I drafted in the May 2010 called for a covered "Garden Pavilion" to serve as a gathering space for potlucks, workshops and meetings and a refuge from the rain and hot sun.  We discovered just how important this feature was this past year.  Our spring potluck ended abruptly with a passing shower and soggy food and our summer bake sale fundraiser occurred on a hot sunny day with the volunteer hosts hovering in a tiny sliver of shade with platters of melting frosted cupcakes.

With the busy summer growing season over, we set to work on building the Garden Pavilion before the heavy autumn rains.  Over the course of several weekends we got the final specs completed, materials approved and purchased, volunteers organized, and got it done.  We drafted a simple shed roof design to maximize our limited funds and minimize construction complexity.  We couldn't be more pleased with the results.

Breaking tough ground

Anders digging in

Moving the heavy posts

Setting in the posts

Bolting in the beams

Attaching the rafters

Installing the roofing material

Almost done

All done

Ready for a potluck!

Our next goal is to install a gutter and rainwater collection system to allow gardeners to water their plots while the city water is shut off from November to May and to be a model for sustainability.  Plus, natural rainwater is better for plants.  We're out of construction funds, so we spent this weekend working on our first grant proposal.  

Monday, September 26, 2011

Squash & Pumpkin Harvest

This weekend we cleared our squash and pumpkin patch.  The leaves had mostly died back, exposing our crop to the mischievous.  A neighbor informed us that he had seen a pumpkin of ours smashed to bits a few days prior up the road and suggested we don't delay our harvest.  We took a close look and sure enough a good-sized pumpkin as well as two beautiful turban squashes were gone.  We weren't sad about the pumpkin, but the turban squash... we were looking forward to eating those.  One reason we grow pumpkins is to lure kids into taking those instead of the squash.  But, I guess the Turbans are just too irresistible for kids, or maybe even an adult gleaned them to enjoy.  We always knew that planting in the parking strip could be a challenge.  However, this is year three and the first time we've noticed anything taken without our consent, so I guess we can consider ourselves lucky.  

One more note about mischievous kids, our neighbor caught a young boy from across the street and his friend up in her yard rustling through her corn patch.  Upon asking them what they were doing, they promptly asked to have some corn.  They were denied.  Coincidentally, I spotted this same 11-year old boy a couple weeks ago riding his bike very slowly along our squash patch.  

Our big Humpkin
(Hubbard x Giant Pumpkin- we believe)

Final Count for 2011
2- Humpkins
5- Pumpkins (+1 stolen)
8- Buttercup
2- Butternut (+1 we ate)
1- Turban (+1 we ate) (+2 stolen)

While this is the smallest harvest we've had over the past three years, it should be more than plenty to eat over the fall.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Bayou Gardener

Terry's favorite Youtube gardener is, Donald, aka webcajun, who has uploaded 112 videos on gardening in Louisiana.  These videos transport Terry back home, where the okra and watermelon are bountiful and gardening involves a tractor, sweet tea, a couple dogs, a spacious shop to keep all your equipment, and maybe a gun or two.

Webcajun, like Bunty (see previous post), fills his videos with lots of practical gardening tips, but he also has a number of videos showing how to process your harvest and cook some good ol' Southern food.  While some of his advice may not be applicable in our PNW climate, it is fun to see how other gardeners grow according to their conditions.

Check it out....  The Bayou Gardener
(Also, ignore all the weird recent gun posts...  his garden posts are much more fun.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Inspiring Gardening Videos

If you dreamed of growing an organic year-round edible garden... we found the best series of gardening videos on Youtube this weekend.  A british "organic fruit and veg gardening guru", Bunty, created informative videos that cover what she does in her garden for an entire gardening cycle- 18 months.  She videotaped in the garden every two weeks or so, so there are thirty-two videos to watch.

We watched a couple of her videos already and can't wait to watch all of them.  Unlike most people on youtube, Bunty, is an incredibly well-spoken and experienced gardener.  Watching her concisely deliver nuggets of valuable gardening advice while calmly demonstrating proven techniques is so motivating.  We've already gleaned some ideas to try out next year.  We can learn so much from British gardeners because their climate is similar to ours in the Puget Sound.

Here's a link to the her first video...  Bunty's Blog Early January 2010.  To see the rest of her videos in order.  Click on "Buntysblog" just under the video title and you will be linked to her youtube channel.  The list of videos will be on the right side of the screen.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Pumpkin found hanging in pear tree in Iowa | AP Weird News - The News Tribune

Ha! I love this! Gives me an idea for next year....

Refrigerator Pickles

This is the first year we grew enough pickling cucumbers to make pickles.  Since this was my first attempt ever, I made refrigerator pickles.  I made two different types, bread and butter pickles and dill pickles.  There are a ton of pickling recipes on the web.  I searched for easiest ones I could find.  One recipe came from The Tacoma News Tribune and the other from a blog called Real Life Living.

Bread and Butter Pickles (recipe link)

The pickles need to sit in the refrigerator for a few days before they are ready to eat.  I'm really excited to try them.  I love pickles, but haven't bought any at the store for a couple years because I realized that Nalley pickles (which were founded in Tacoma) are now packed in India.  Total Outrage!

Once I get more comfortable with pickling, I can start experimenting with different flavors and methods.  This opens up a whole new world of possibilities.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Post Defiance

We are featured in the latest edition of Post Defiance, Tacoma's new online arts & culture magazine.  Thank you, Kate!

If you are visiting our blog for the first time, leave us a comment, we'd love to hear what you think.

If you are interested in growing your own food and would like to stay up to date with what's happening in our garden, become a follower.


Tomato Time

This year we grew eight varieties of tomatoes.  Four were from the Ed Hume Rainbow Heirloom Blend Seed Packet, two were old reliables, one was a new yellow cherry for us, and one was a standard red cherry.  It has been a warm August and September and we are being rewarded with a bounty of beautiful tomatoes.

Top Left to Right- Oregon Spring, Black Prince, Evergreen, and unidentified extra large heirloom.
Bottom Left to Right- Pink Oxheart?, Stupice, a generic Red Cherry, and Gold Nugget.

The earliest ones to start ripening were the Gold Nugget and Stupice.  They were quickly followed by the Red Cherry and Pink Oxheart.  Next were the Black Prince and Oregon Spring, followed by Evergreen and finally the really large heirloom.

My favorite tasting ones from this year's selection are Gold Nugget, Pink Oxheart and Black Prince.  I also like the Evergreen tomato for the unique color and because it mild and juicy.

I've been freezing the extras by blanching, skinning, deseeding, and packing the tomato meat in ziplock freezer bags.  Last year I froze a bunch by just washing and tossing in a freezer bag.  It was quick and easy, but when they defrost there is a lot of water to boil off if you make sauces and a lot of seeds in the sauce.  I hope the extra time I put in processing this year, will help save time when I go to used them later.

Another tip, process tomatoes soon after picking.  I left a few huge bowls of tomatoes (as well as a lot of other veggies) on the counter for way too long and some were splitting and attracting fruit flies.  Once I got everything cleaned up, I still had a bunch of flies hanging out (think 40 or so).  Super annoying.  After failing at trying to catch and squish them, I finally used my head and brought out the trusty hoover and sucked them up using the handheld extension hose.  Luckily my cabinets are white, so I could spot the flies easily.  It was like the housewife version of playing Nintendo.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Horto Beans

A new vegetable we tried growing this year is Horto Semi-Bush Beans because the picture on the
Ed Hume seed packet was really pretty. 

Dried Horto Beans

The flowers are a pretty light pink color.

The pods have pink striping that get brighter as the pod matures.  They add beautiful color to the garden.

The pod on the left is at the peak of brightness, just before it dries out and fades like the pod on the right.

A short three foot row of plants produced a bowl of dried beans.  The best part of these beans is that you plant them, keep them watered and wait for them to dry out before picking and shelling.  Super easy!  We'll store them in a jar until we're ready to cook them.  I can't wait to make a pot of Sausage, Bean and Kale Soup.

Next year we'll grow a lot more (if we like their flavor.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tacoma Community Garden Tour 2011

This past weekend was the Tacoma Community Garden Harvest Tour.  Terry and I took the opportunity to visit a few gardens we had never seen before and were impressed by the diversity of garden styles and gardening techniques used.  We even gleaned a few great ideas that we want to try out.  

The most impressive garden we toured was the newly built Gallucci Learning Garden at S. 14th and G St. in the Hilltop Neighborhood.  It was organized by the Guadalupe Land Trust as an engaging demonstration garden to teach and inspire the community and children to grow edibles.  The garden showcases many different growing techniques in a very beautiful, well-designed space that makes great use the steeply sloped once vacant property.

Architectural Model of the Garden
(note all the terracing)

Large paver entry and patio for gatherings.
Salamander sculpture welcomes visitors.

Great use of block retaining walls to terrace the slope.

Bamboo arches and trellises built by local SE Asian gardeners are featured throughout the garden.

Burlap sacks are filled with soil to grow veggies and flowers.  They also serve as a small retaining wall for the terrace behind it.  (I love this idea!!!)  Very inexpensive way to create the sides of a raised bed.  Children in 4-H are learning to garden here.

This wagon contains straw bales that are used for planting.

This raised bed is bordered by blocks on one side and a double layer of cardboard covered with burlap on the other side.  Wooden stakes hold the cardboard in place.  (Love it!)  Another inexpensive (perhaps FREE!) way to border a raised bed.  I imagine you could just add more layers of cardboard as they decay.  Also, cardboard can be shaped to make curves easily for more creative raised bed shapes. 

The wonderful host at this garden noted that the community has embraced this space, but it is challenging to get younger adults and teens from the neighborhood to volunteer and get excited about growing food.  The majority of the active gardeners in the immediate area are elderly.  

With forty-five community gardens in Tacoma/Pierce County, we only had time to visit four on Saturday.  But we came home excited and inspired by the ideas we saw and the enthusiastic gardeners we met.  With more community gardens popping up around the city/county, we know that the seeds are planted and with time and persistence they will grow.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Gold Rush

Gold Nugget Tomatoes

This yellow cherry tomato was new for us this year.  A coworker of Terry's gave him some leftover seeds ("packed for 1999") a couple years ago.  We finally decided to try it out this year and I feel like we've struck it rich.  The foliage is pretty and the plant is producing like crazy as evidenced by the photo above.  These tomatoes have a sweet and mild flavor.  We will definitely grow it again next year.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Late Summer Bounty

All the work we put into the garden this year is paying off.  There is a lot to pick everyday. 

Trinity Sweet Corn- very juicy and super awesome.

Gold Nugget Cherry Tomatoes- very sweet and prolific.

I can't wait until these large heirloom tomatoes ripen.

Sunrise Apples- crispy, sweet, and slightly tart.

Asian Eggplants ready for the grill.

Radishes we planted in early August are almost ready.

White Onions (thank you, Cori!)

Turban Squash- almost ready for winter storage.

Humpkin?  (Hubbard x Giant Pumpkin)

Looks pretty on my new countertops!