Thursday, April 28, 2011

Out in the Garden

Young Brassicas- broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower

The cabbages planted last fall have bolted (gone to flower).  We can harvest the flower buds to be used like broccoli.  We'll let some blooms open up.  The bees like the flowers.

Lettuce has germinated

Snap Peas are growing well.  We'll take the plastic off soon.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tomato starts

Our tomato starts are growing fast now.  We planted the two to four seeds per cup on 2/20/11.  They were starting to outgrow their cups so, I divided them and transplanted them into their own cups.  If the weather was warmer, I would have put them into one gallon pots.  I disturbed their roots quite a bit dividing them, so I'll let them grow their roots back and in a couple weeks I'll put them into bigger pots outside into a temporary greenhouse.  We are also fertilizing them with "Grow Big" when we water them.  I'm still using frozen tomatoes from last year's harvest in sauces, but I can't to eat some fresh ones!  

We started:
Oregon Spring
Gold Nugget
Cherry (variety unknown)
Heirloom (mixed varieties)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tacoma Community Garden Summit

We went to the 2nd annual Tacoma Community Garden Summit this past Saturday.  There was a great turnout, beautiful weather, lots of informative workshops, free food and free veggie starts.  We went last year on a whim not knowing anyone.  What a difference a year makes.  We ran into a number of familiar faces and several fellow members of the Orchard & Vine Community Garden.

Kristen McIvor, Community Garden Coordinator for Tacoma/Pierce County, did a fantastic job organizing this event.  Mayor Strickland announced that Tacoma is surpassing Seattle in the number of community gardens per capita.  Yay!  Also, Kathleen Merryman of the Tacoma News Tribune announced that the paper will feature a weekly community garden column this summer.  A different garden will be featured each week.  New gardens are being built this year.  Kristen said that ten are in the works.  Last year there was four, so momentum is growing.

Garden Art Workshop by Kate Pascal of Hilltop Artists and our own neighborhood

Vermiculture- Worm Composting

Lots of Red Wigglers

Accessible Gardening Demonstration by Pierce County Master Gardener Hal Meng

Andy Mordhorst founder of the Dan Mulholland Memorial Garden at the Manitou Community Center did a workshop on Trellising.  He repurposed the old playground swing set as a structure for growing pole peas and beans.

Lots of free starts for the "Plant an Extra Row" project of the Pierce County Gleaning Project.  The starts were donated by Tagro, L'Arche Farm, Tahoma Farms / Terra Organics and Bellarmine Prep 

Everyone got to take home some starts to grow for local food banks.

Terry and Bev, gardeners at Orchard & Vine Community Garden with their veggie starts.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Garden Books and Growing Knowledge

Before I had my own house and yard, I would "garden" by going to the Barnes & Noble magazine section and drool over the beautiful photographs gracing the pages of Sunset, Garden Design, Gardens Illustrated, Fine Gardening, and Country Gardens.  Over the years I also collected a number of books according to my garden interest of the moment, but the key was the book had to have inspiring photos.  I always wanted to see examples of how plants were used in design.  I rarely purchased text only books.  All my garden books would eventually end up on the shelf until I needed to look something specific up or wanted some inspiration for a specific design project.

When we started our kitchen garden, I would pull out books that had beautiful photos of vegetable gardens.  After the beds were built and we started buying starts and seeds, I started using my books to research different varieties and the basics of how to grow specific veggies and then how and when to harvest and store them.  Now, I primarily use books to research pests, diseases and cultural problems.  I am always amazed how the answers to my gardening problems and questions were always there in my books.  I've had many of these books for years, but never knew that the information I would gloss over initially would suddenly have a practical application in my garden.  I guess that is the difference between having book knowledge and practical experience.   I love it when the two meet.  It's kind of like layering a compost pile.  Start with a little knowledge, add a layer of experience, add another layer of knowledge, layer on more experience, etc.  The pile heats up, melds together and you get a beautiful rich blend that becomes a resource itself to be spread around.

A few books that I found little value in several years ago have now become my absolute favorites when it comes to my kitchen garden.  They don't have any photos in them, by the way.

1. The Gardener's Table by Merrill & Ortiz has been my best resource for growing vegetables.  The "Vegetable Compendium" has just the right amount of information.  The vegetables are divided into three main categories:  "Underground Vegetables," "Leaves, Stems, and Stalks," and "Fruiting Vegetables."  These are broken down further into groups and then into individual vegetables.  Each vegetable has information on its background, cultivation, planting, soils and fertilizers, diseases, pests, cultural problems, varieties, and harvest and storage.  Then at the end of each section is a table of recommended varieties and a summary of growing tips.

While I use the Vegetable Compendium a lot, a third of the book is dedicated to teaching you how to plan and design a kitchen garden and growing organically.  The other third of the book teaches you how to set up a kitchen and offers recipes and tips so you can best utilize what you grow.

I bought this book back in 2001 or 2002, left it at my parents house and forgot about it until 2008 when we were really getting into growing veggies.  It is absolutely the best.  The more experienced I get at gardening the more I realize how great it is.

2. The Maritime Northwest Garden Guide produced by Seattle Tilth is my favorite book for locally based information.  Once again, I was first exposed to this book back in 2001.  I didn't think much of it until last year, when my husband received it as a gift.  If we would have got it three years ago, it would have helped A LOT.  It organizes information by month.  So basically all you have to do is look up the month, and it gives a brief description of what's going on in that month, provides pertinent lists of recommended varieties of vegetables, flowers, and herbs under headings like "Sow Outdoors," "Sow Under a Cloche," "Sow Indoors to Transplant."  After the lists there are articles on topics that are relevant to that month.  Also, there is a list of local resources in the back.

I recommend this guide to everyone growing in our region.  Gardening knowledge is essentially tied to local conditions.  That is why I am always perplexed when friends and family in other parts of the country ask for plant advice.  When we visited my in-law's garden in Tennessee last year, I was shocked how many pests they were battling that we never see in Western Washington.

3.  Terrific Tomatoes, Sensational Spuds, and Mouth-Watering Melons by Jerry Baker is a book that my parents bought in 2001 that I thought looked really cheesy.  However, I remembered watching Jerry Baker on TV once where he was demonstrating how to make your own plant tonics with common household products.  So, I borrowed my parent's book to see if it had the recipes and I was astonished with how fun it was to read and how valuable the information was.  It has all the information you wished your grandparents would have passed on to you if they had been masterful gardeners.  Apparently Jerry Baker had one of those grandmothers that was a fabulous gardener.   It has a lot of the same growing information that you might get in other reference books, but it reads like a real down-to-earth experienced gardener with a great sense of humor wrote it.

So, those are my three favorites.  I haven't bought any new books in years, but I know a lot of new ones have come out recently.  Which books have been most helpful in your kitchen garden?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Beware of cat, my little veggies...

So, we transplanted a bunch of starts last weekend.  It's been five days and every veggie bed that we covered with plastic is looking good.  I was worried that the wind and cold would batter the tender sprouts that weren't covered.  Well....  The bed that we planted lettuce seeds in has kitty foot prints through it.  The bed in the parking strip in which we planted a row of brassica starts is in worse shape.  A start is missing and the neighboring starts are smooshed.  By the size of the footprints it looks like a doggie wallowed in the freshly turned soil.  So, either a dog is on the loose or someone walking their dog let it jump in the bed and wallow around.  Not my doggie, by the way.

So, the lesson here is dogs and cats like nice loose soil.  It's comfy to walk and lay in.  It's full of nice smells.  Therefore, it is helpful to put something to deter the animals around your vegetables.  This can include fencing, plastic, cloches or stakes.  Also, always plant a little more than you need.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sunny spring days are a gardener's friend

Wow, two semi-sunny days in a row!  This caused a kitchen remodel furlough.  So we decided to prepare our beds, plant our seeds & transplant our starts.

Friday, we planted out our plot at the Orchard & Vine Community Garden.

We planted:
Sugar Lace Snap Peas (seed)
Cippolini & Red Onions (seed)
Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage (transplant)
Lettuce- Bon Vivant Blend (seed)
Kohl Rabi- Purple Vienna (seed)

Today, we made a lot of progress at our home garden.

We pulled out most of the remnant veggies from our fall crop. 
This is supposed to be a rutabaga.  It was the largest one of the crop.  We should have thinned out the seedlings.

Note: beautiful green leaves with no bulbous rutabaga... so sad.  We could cook up the greens.

"Mine, all mine..."

We also pulled out the bulb onions that never quite formed bulbs last summer, but had nice greens.  They would have flowered this spring, but we wanted the space for other things.  So, we pulled them, cleaned them up and will use them for soups or stir fry.  We also gleaned a few sad turnips, turnip greens, carrots, rutabagas, and a bok choy.

After we cleared the beds, we added some compost and turned it in.

Time to leave the nest, my little brassicas

In this bed, we planted brussels sprouts 'Roodnerf', cauliflower 'Early Snowball', Broccoli green and purple, and a red cabbage.

Since we didn't harden off our starts like we should have, we searched the basement for materials to make a plastic row tunnel.  We had some random bits of PVC pipe and lots of plastic sheeting.  This should do for a couple weeks until the transplants have acclimated to the outdoors.  

In this bed, we transplanted chinese cabbage 'Winter Elf', red cabbage, and 'Early Jersey Wakefield' cabbage.  Again we put up some plastic to help prevent transplant shock.  Maybe Smithers will crawl in there and keep them warm.  

We seeded this bed with lettuce and carrots.  Our favorite carrot varieties have been 'Parisian Market' and 'Nantes Coreless'.  We're trying "Little Finger" this year.  

We transplanted the Sugar Snap Peas into the trellis bed.  

We draped the plastic over the bed.  To secure it we used sections of lath from our kitchen remodel to tack down the edges.  

Grow Peas Grow!

I transplanted some chives that had grown into a big mess in the pea bed.  We grew them from seeds a couple years ago.  I moved them into an empty bed to give them more space.  This is way more chives than any one household needs.  Chives, anyone?

We planted Green Arrow Shelling Pea seeds in this bed.  No plastic needed.

We got a lot done, but there's still much to do.  Now, if only we could get a few more sunny days.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Smithers' & Oso's Old House: The time has finally come to remodel the Kitchen! ...

Smithers' & Oso's Old House: The time has finally come to remodel the Kitchen! ...: "The time has finally come to remodel the Kitchen! I dug through the photo archives to find evidence of what we've lived with over the past ..."

We'll be blogging about our Kitchen Remodel at our old house blog rather than our garden blog.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Who needs Sugar Cane when you can grow Sugar Beets

Have you ever thought about where your sugar comes from?  I hadn't, I assume because we were inundated by TV commercials as children.  Remember the jingle..."C&H, pure cane sugar, from Hawaii, sweetened by the sun"...?  Well Hawaii isn't very local, neither is any tropical region where sugar cane grows.

Last year, a friend of Terry's, told us about sugar beets and how his family grows them to make sweetener like our families did in the old country.  All three of us have some roots in Northern/Eastern Europe, so this was an "ah-ha moment".  He was able to give us a few sugar beets last fall to taste and they were super sweet, way more sweet than regular beets.  I could taste why they are cooked down for sweetener.  

Yesterday, he gave Terry a packet of Big Buck Blend Sugar Beet seeds from Millington Seed Co. in Michigan.  We are excited to give them a try.  If we can grow enough, maybe we can wean ourselves off of tropical sugar cane.  Wish us luck.

Click the link for more historical background information on Sugar Beets.