Thursday, March 31, 2011

Who is eating my Peas?

Last year, we had to replant our peas a few times due to mice and pill bugs.  This year we tried a different strategy and started our peas in cups full of fresh potting soil set high in our metal trough planter instead of directly in the garden bed.  We, initially had covered the trough in clear plastic for warmth, but we neglected to ventilate and some of the peas started to mold.  So, we snipped off the moldy bits and secured the plastic in such a way that the ends were open.

The peas were missing some leaves, but I assumed that was from the mold.  Then, we just happened to check them after dark one evening.  We turned on the patio lights and there they were... cutworms!  The buggers were happily munching away.

Cutworm on sugar snap pea

Cutworms feed at night.  During the day they curl up under the soil.  They are an inch or so long and brownish.  They emerge late winter and feast on tender foliage before they turn into brown moths.  Those pesky moths that get into your house during the summer when you leave the windows open in the evening start off as these cutworms.  The moth must have laid eggs in the soil in our metal trough planter.

To get rid of these pests, my heroic husband, plucked them off, threw them on the concrete, and stomped them while I kept my distance and gagged.  The squished remains were full of half-digested pea greens.  For several evenings after our initial discovery of the cutworms, we went out to check for more.  We found and killed a few and the peas seem to be recovering.  

Cutworm damage

More Cutworm damage

This is what all the peas should look like... a few inches tall with full leaves

So the lesson for this year is that if you notice that your seedlings are being devoured, look for cutworms after dark and kill them.  Last year, the lesson was if your peas don't come up at all, look to see if they're still under the soil, if not put out mouse traps.  If it's not mice, put up some kind of barrier to keep the birds at bay.

A general tip for dealing with pests is that every pest has a season where it's a problem.  A lot of insects are going to come out when the weather starts to warm up ready to hatch, feed and mate.  Many pests are also particular to what types of plants they go after.  This is the time to really observe your plantings and figure out how to deal the pests in a sustainable way.  

When we started vegetable gardening, we did not have many pests the first year because they hadn't discovered our garden yet.  By the third year, we found that pretty much every vegetable has some kind of pest associated with it.  The key is to use the power of observation and then do some research in books, on the internet, or ask other gardeners to identify the pest.  Once you know what you are dealing with you can try different methods for handling the situation.  Now that we've dealt with different pests, I have found that before I plant something, I like to read up in my gardening books about what kind of pests and diseases to look for, so that I am prepared with a little information before I encounter a problem in the garden.  

What pests have you encountered and how did you deal with them?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Planting Potatoes 2011

We started planting potatoes last weekend.  Last year, we planted potatoes almost one month earlier, but the weather has been a lot cooler this year.  While we have been waiting to plant, the potatoes from last year's harvest were sprouting wildly in their bags in the basement.

 We had some leftover russets, russian fingerlings, purples and a few reds.  Since the old potatoes were ready to go, we decided to focus on getting them planted.

We also wanted to grow more reds and golds, so we went to Gardensphere to see what they got in.  We bought German Butterball, Yukon Gem, Russet Burbank, Red Sunset and Chieftain.  We put them in the basement to let them sprout a little before we plant them.  We'll plant them in a few weeks or so.

We're planting the potatoes in a different bed this year than last in order to "rotate" our crops.  Terry dug trenches. 

I snuggled the potatoes into the bottom of the trench.  

I tossed in a little all purpose fertilizer and covered them a few inches.  As they grow up, we will hill soil around the tops.  

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Kitchen- the other side of growing food

When one decides to grow a kitchen garden, it is usually done with the goal of eventually eating the food you grow in mind.  In between the garden and the plate, the harvest usually has to go through a"special" place called the kitchen.  Our existing kitchen is "special" alright... especially awful.  Bad floor plan, bad lighting, no dishwasher, a very leaky faucet, squeaky cabinet doors and drawers that are hard to open and leave wood dust all over the contents.  These classic features may be considered charming and have stood the test of time.  We think some features are original 1920, others are from the 1950s or 1960s.  However, an unenjoyable kitchen makes for unenthusiastic cooking.

We love growing vegetables, but someone has to make use of the harvest and then someone has to wash the dishes.  A typical summer day for us consists of spending almost every second of daylight in the garden, coming inside around 9:00 pm and then staring at each other hoping someone will make supper.  We also tend to grow way more than we can use fresh and while we intend on "putting up" our excess crop, I tend to shove it away deep into the refrigerator until it turns to compost.  So, after 6 1/2 years, we are finally going to start our kitchen remodel.  

We plan to start demo tomorrow, so my to do list for today includes:
  • finish making freezer meals that will be easy to heat up in a toaster oven
  • finish setting up our temporary kitchen
  • empty the cabinets- throw away old pantry items and pack the dishes
We're not sure how long this remodel will take, but it's March 18 and we're hoping to have it done by June.  Wish us luck!

If you have any advice or encouragement please leave us a comment.
Here are some BEFORE shots of a typical messy day in our kitchen...  

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Our Seedlings are Growing

We planted a bunch of seeds on February 20.  This is what they look like now, almost a month later.  A bit leggy from reaching for the elusive sun.  As they get bigger, we'll start thinning them out down to one or two per cup.  Also when they are less fragile, we may divide and transplant some in order to bury them a bit deeper.  You can transplant them into soil up to their first set of real leaves, so that their stems will become strong.

We also have started adding fertilizer to their water.  Most potting mixes don't contain the nutrients the sprouts will need to keep growing well.  (We learned the hard way a couple years ago when everything stunted and looked sickly yellow.)

It's not too late to get your seeds started.  If you want to grow tomatoes from seeds, you really need to start now.  It's predicted to be a below average temperature year, so invest in short-season varieties that do well in the PNW and cooler climates.

Happy Planting!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Today's Harvest- Turnips & Leeks

It's mid-March, cool and rainy... a perfect day for making chicken soup.  Lately we've been resorting to buying most of our produce from the grocery store, but the garden still has a few gems that wintered over that are perfect for soup.  I picked some lovely turnips and leeks today that were just waiting to be cooked up and appreciated.

Last year was the first time we planted leeks.  We planted them almost exactly a year ago.  They grow really slow which worked out perfectly.  We were able to use our green onions and bulb onions throughout the summer and fall.  Now, we are able to use the leeks which are perfect for winter harvesting and cooking.  They are extremely hardy.   They are not phased by freezing temperatures or snow.  We will definitely grow more leeks this year.  In order to get more of the tender white part on the leek, we should have planted them in a trench and hilled more soil around the leek as it grew.  

I also spotted a slug snuggling up in the turnip greens.  The pesky thing can't wait for us to plant out our tender spring crops.  We'll have to break out the beer traps and Sluggo soon.

The leeks and turnips are all cleaned up and ready to chop.  When preparing leeks, cut off the really tough dark green leaves.  Slice the leek lengthwise in half to clean out any soil that got trapped between the layers of leaves.  To prepare the turnips, I peeled them.  Their flesh was pretty clean because they were grown in the fall.  When they are spring grown they tend to have more damage because root maggots are active in the spring.  If there is damage, I just cut those areas out.

I spent the afternoon boiling up a whole chicken with some veggies and herbs to make soup stock.  Then I cleaned the meat off the bones and strained the stock.  I added an assortment of veggies along with the chopped turnips and leeks to the stock and cooked them up until tender.  I added the cooked chicken meat towards the end.  Meanwhile I cooked up a pot of rice.

Now, it's time for a hot bowl of chicken soup with rice.