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Monday, July 30, 2012

Bean There, Done That: A Bean Review

Here's my review of the green bean varieties I planted this year.
Top: Speedy.  Bottom: Royal Burgundy.

I planted three varieties of beans this year; Speedy bush, Royal Burgundy bush, and Fortex pole.  On the whole, all three had excellent germination rates.  All three grew at nearly the same pace, the RB had the first beans ready, followed a day or so later by the Speedy, and several days later by the Fortex.

My observations (remember this is based on my garden for 2012 and may be completed different in your garden or in a different year) of Fortex:  good flavor, smaller harvests over a longer time period, had more pests (japanese bean beetles, leaf beetles).  I planted equal amounts of each bean type, but the Fortex have produced far fewer beans at this point than the other two varieties.  I would recommend them for fresh eating over freezing or canning, because they are long beans that tend to twist and curl and come in small batches over a longer period of time.

Speedy is a bush bean with an upright and very small habit.  From what I could see no pests seemed to care too much for them, the beetles preferred the Fortex, and the slugs preferred the Royal Burgundy.  The beans on these came in all at once and had a very uniform straight 4" pod.  I can't say that the flavors of the beans were noticeably different to me, but I'm not really a bean connoisseur either.  They tasted fine.  I would recommend Speedy specifically for canning.  The pods were consistently straight and just long enough to fit a pint jar, and since they were all harvestable within about a week a large planting would supply all of your canned bean needs in one fell swoop.  

Royal Burgundy  is another bush bean, but with a much more spread out, almost vining, habit.  The slugs loved these, but they were not bothered by the beetles.  More effort is needed in the harvesting of RB because of the tangled vines, it's easy to miss beans hiding in the foliage.  The primary difference from Speedy is that the beans of RB come in over a longer time period, but they are far more productive.  Again, the flavor seems fine to me, I can't say that it lacks compared to the others.  Despite the slug damage I have gotten nearly twice as many beans from RB so far as I have from the other two varieties put together.  The beans are purple and have a tendency to curl and come in all different sizes and shapes.  This habit means i would not suggest them for canning.  But for a frozen bean or for fresh eating they are fine.  

One day's harvest of beans, showing the difference in quantity between varieties.
 So that's my review.  If you have a favorite bean variety I'd love to hear about it, I'm always looking for more to test out.

Harvest Monday: July 30th

Pickings have been slim this week, the beans are going strong, and the peas are in their second wave, but the cukes and peppers and tomatoes are only just starting to catch on that it's time to produce.

For some reason my zucchini are not getting very large, I think they are lacking pollination.  The slugs love that the zucchini fruit run along the ground and have been feasting on them, which means that I am actually having a shortage of zucchini this year.

First picking of beans.

Oh look, more beans!

Big harvest after being away all weekend.
I've actually harvested about 3 lbs. of veggies this week, but didn't get pictures of everything.  I did remember to weigh it all though and my harvest total for the year has finally hit 50 lbs.  Still, this is turning out to be a very unproductive year, part of which I'm sure is due to the weather, but it is also partly due to my double-planting I'm sure.  The hot weather crops were planted so late that they are still struggling to grow before they fruit.

I'm confident that by next Monday I'll have some impressive cucumbers to list among my harvests though.

Harvest Monday is hosted by Daphne's Dandelions and is a way to share your harvests with other gardeners and bloggers around the globe.

Pirates, Peter, Pirates!

i have several posts today so I will be keeping them short.

The pirate camping event was tons of fun and I tried to get a few pictures to share but pirates are notorious for their dislike of cameras.

 A few pictures of the campsite are above and below, people really get into being appropriately period.


One of the "ships".

Mina and my husband, all dressed up and ready for fun.

One of my favorite ships, The Redemption, was built from a gutted motor home.
 After the pirate event I got a few days of rest, and had some guests, then headed south to Eugene to visit friends.  Including super cute babies!
Jaxon was so happy to see me!
 Then there were sushi lunches, visits with more friends, and a birthday party to attend.

Yum, can never get enough sushi.
After all of this adventure I'm finally home and things are getting back to normal.  No more traveling for me for a while.  Now back to the garden I go...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I'm Back!... And I'm Off Again.

After a fantastic pirate weekend the whole family has been exhausted.  We've spent the week recovering, easing the aches and pains and sunburn; unpacking, cleaning and storing the gear; and visiting with some unexpected guests.

I knew I would have Mina's best friend visiting this week, but was caught unawares by my brother following me home from the camping trip, then my sister called and asked to visit the next day.  It was a busy week with a lot going on. 

Not a whole lot has been happening in the garden this week luckily, mostly just picking the few peas, tons of beans and a few zucchini that were ready. 

I'd love to include pictures and take more time to post but it took me all morning just to catch up on Facebook, email, Twitter, and everyone's blog posts.  I'm already running late getting out the door to return the teenager to Eugene, and I'll be staying down there sans children for the weekend. 

It will be refreshing to get out of the house without the kids (the one downside to stay-at-home parenting is no time kid-free).  Hopefully I'll return Sunday rejuvenated and ready to do some blogging for Harvest Monday.  Have a wonderful weekend all!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

1,000 Blog Visitors!

Wow, hard to believe that 1,000 visits have now been made to this blog.  Glad to know it isn't a complete waste of time.

Picked half a quart of green beans this morning and my first cucumber is nearly ready to pick.  It's a tiny little thing but I'm looking forward to my first taste of garden cucumber this summer.  The butterfly bushes are in full bloom now, and happily buzzing with honeybees, a few bumble bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  Those bushes are one of my favorite things about summer in the garden, they smell so sweet, look beautiful, and attract tons of beneficials. 

One of my other favorite things is the song birds that show up at the feeders.  The grosbeaks and goldfinches are showing up regularly and don't even seem to be bothered by my presence these days.  I think they've figured out that the cats are a much greater threat than I am.

I will be out of town and disconnected for the weekend to attend a pirate camping event, hopefully I'll get a few pictures while I'm out there and come home to find a harvest waiting for me.  Thanks to everyone who has stopped in to visit here, i hope the posts have been entertaining, informative, or helpful to you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Comparison: 2011 to 2012

I have been unable to shake the feeling that the weather is going to put my plants way behind, and that I may not get a harvest at all from some of them.

To put into perspective my reasoning here are some pictures of the pumpkin bed.

July 12, 2011

July 13, 2012
This bed has several different plants in it this year, but most notable are the pumpkins climbing the shed to the left of the frame.  The pictures were taken nearly the same day, one year apart.  Both years the pumpkins were planted from starts as soon as the weather warmed enough to put them in the ground.  In 2011, that was roughly the 8th of June, in 2012 they were transplanted under row cover in late May. 

The pictures make it obvious how much impact the weather has had.  Everything is growing, and looks healthy, but the 2011 pumpkins were up over the roof of the shed by this time last year, and the 2012 pumpkins are only halfway up the wall. 

Another big indicator is that last year it hit 100 degrees the weekend of our big summer camping trip, this weekend it might just hit the upper 80s on the same weekend.

On the bright side, my rosemary in front of the shed has gotten huge in just one year! (the 2012 picture doesn't show it.)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sweet Million and Others

Time for a few pictures.

Sweet Million
 Remember the sad, purple Sweet Million cherry tomato I planted? It was nothing more than a skinny stem with a tuft of sad leaves on top.  Well, it is in great health now.  Never underestimate the value of nutrition.  That is the lesson I learned. 
Promise of tomatoes to come
 Despite the never-ending Spring weather we had I am finally seeing more than a few little green tomatoes plumping up.  They are nearly a month later than normal, but they are there.  I may have to cover the plants in plastic though to get the temperature hot enough to ripen them.

It's tiny, but it's there.
 The cucumbers have finally gotten a few pollinated female flowers, I am impatiently waiting for them to grow to eating size now.
Cilantro flowering in front.
 I think I may continue to grow cilantro just for the flowers, the smell is fantastic and the tiny little braconid wasps seem to love it.
Garden portrait shot.

Pumpkins, beans, and zucchini
The pumpkin bed is catching up, pumpkin vines on the left side are working their way up the shed.  The Speedy and Royal Burgundy bush beans are piled high with beans that are a day or two away from harvest.  Despite its name, Speedy doesn't seem to be any speedier than the Royal Burgundy though.  The pole beans in the back (Fortex, I think) are slowly working their way up the fence, but still a long way from having a harvest.  The zucchini has had a few flowers pollinate and I have been watching the fruit daily to determine the best time to pick it.

Pretty soon the Summer harvests will start rolling in, but for the moment I'm getting a break with all the Spring harvests finished and a week or so before the Summer ones really start up.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Watering the Tomatoes

This is a conundrum I'm trying to figure out. 

Granny ran a brief test on the flavor of tomatoes in relation to watering habits.  She found that holding out on watering until your plants began to wilt a bit gave her better tasting tomatoes.  This is legitimate, I've heard the same from other gardeners. 

My system makes this a bit tricky since I have a shallow, very well-draining bed with pumpkins and beans in it on the same water line as the tomatoes.  That drip line runs for 40 minutes a day twice daily, morning and night.  The line is soaker hose through the two big beds and ends in a round sprinkler in the center of the pumpkin bed.  The sprinkler has a shutoff valve so I have it turned down to a steady 2 ft. diameter circle; otherwise it would spray everything 4 feet high and 4 feet around it.  Meanwhile the shutoff at that end allows the rest of the hose enough pressure to seep nice and slowly into the larger beds.

So I am wondering just how much water they are actually getting.  I know the top soil of the tomato beds, up to the depth of my pinky, is bone dry by the afternoon.  If I don't water in the evening on hot days the pumpkin leaves wilt badly. 

My tomatoes were definitely mealy and somewhat bland last year though, so I want to give this a shot and try to find a comfortable balance in watering.

I'm also curious what sort of difference the reduced watering makes over the life of the plants.  During their initial growth, when their chemicals are giving the command "GROW", it seems like more water should be fine.  It is the delivery system for most of the nutrients the plant needs.  So I'm thinking that if you pinch back flowers (and suckers of course) to allow the plant to put more energy into growth; then begin tapering off the water as flowering begins.  Tapering off the water at this point (when plant chemicals are giving the command "REPRODUCE") would cause the plant roots to reach more for water, and conserve its nutrients for seed production (e.g. tomato production).  So plant growth should slow, but fruit growth should improve.

I'm only guessing of course, but based on plant biology it seems like this would work.

Now the downside to this is BER.  BER, or blossom end rot, is a tomato disease that is attributed to calcium deficiency.  This doesn't necessarily mean that your soil doesn't have enough calcium though.  Calcium is often present in adequate amounts but not accessible to the plants because of lack of water (remember, water is a nutrient delivery system; like our stomach acid it dissolves the nutrients into particles that the roots can absorb).  So there has to be a sweet spot between mealy tomatoes, delicious tomatoes, and BER; and finding that sweet spot in watering can be a challenge.

While I'm still sorting out the best method of adjusting the watering in my own garden, here are some tips to help others in determining their tomato sweet spot:

-Every garden is different!  If your aunt waters for 20 mins. once a week, it doesn't necessarily mean you should too.  Differences in localized temperature, sun exposure, drainage, depth of soil, etc. mean that each garden should be treated as an individual space.

-Pots lose moisture faster than raised beds, raised beds lose moisture faster than in ground beds.  If you have a potted tomato plant it will need to be watered more often than one planted into the ground.

-Water deeply.  Many people water their gardens by hand, spraying the base of each plant until it is wet, then moving to the next plant.  This is fairly shallow watering, much of the water evaporates off the top layer of soil, and the rest rarely gets into the soil far enough to encourage deep root growth.  Instead it stays in the top few inches of soil, causing plants to form more roots near the top of the soil.  These roots will be exposed to greater changes in temperature and moisture and will not grow as healthy of a plant.  If you water by hand turn the hose to a trickle and let it sit at the base of each plant for several minutes, giving it time to soak deep into the soil before moving it.  A better system (and far less time consuming) for deep watering is to run a soaker hose, drip line, or even a low sprinkler that won't wet the leaves.

-Watch for wilting at the end of each day, if the plants begin to wilt it is an indicator that they are water stressed and need a drink.

-Watch for signs of BER, the blossom end of developing tomatoes will look shriveled, brown, and somewhat wet.  If you start to see signs of BER remove the damaged tomatoes to encourage new fruit production and increase your watering a bit.  If it continues, have your soil tested for calcium deficiency before adding calcium to it.

-BER is particularly damaging in the southern and southeastern states where temperatures reach triple digits regularly and shallowly watered tomato plants can be starved for moisture in an afternoon.  Watch for the signs, water deeply, and water more often if your soil is sandy or drains very quickly. 

-Another good way to get deep root growth and healthier tomatoes is to plant them deeply.  Pinching off the lower leaves and planting them into the soil up to the higher leaves lets the plants grow new roots all along the stem that is buried.  This method only works with tomatoes though, so don't try it with other garden vegetables.  If your soil isn't deep enough for this you can plant them horizontally into a trough, and bury the stem up to the upper leaves.  Roots will grow along the buried stem, and the sunlight will eventually cause the plant top to grow upwards.

I hope these tips are helpful... Now I have to go adjust my watering system and cross my fingers. ;)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

On Calculations:

I have seen a lot of garden blogs, most of which track their harvests or costs in some way.  Some take the time to weigh each type of veggie individually, some show total weight, some show initial costs, some show price per pound.

Paying attention to these calculations can help a new gardener to determine what pays off and what doesn't; there are a lot of variables to consider though, and several different methods of calculating.

To be as accurate as possible you should weigh your produce individually (I am too lazy for this), and find several prices for them at the places you would normally buy them.  At the first of the strawberry season a pound of berries could run about $3 at my local grocery, in mid-season I can pick them myself for $1.40/lb, purchased organically the price goes higher, out of season the price is higher, and so on.  For strawberries I would calculate based on the grocery store price, because my own strawberries are fresh, organic, and i get them throughout the season and have some for freezing.  Therefore, I get berries out of season, organic, and picked at their peak.  So $3/lb. is not unreasonable at all.  Considering the only costs for the strawberry bed have been the $5 starts, and a $8 bag of slug bait every year, I think they have paid off well.   Even if I just went by this year, my costs even out to $1.30/lb. and this was not the best year for strawberries.  Last year my harvests were much better and i averaged around $0.70/lb.

Some things pay off quickly, others don't.  This is why I prefer not to be so accurate, my broccoli never really pays off, but the herbs pay off more every year.  The system i use is to keep track of my expenses (easy enough if you use a money tracking system that includes a Home & Garden category), then keep track of my total harvest weight.  If you divide expenses by weight you will get cost per pound, with every pound of produce harvested your cost per pound will go down.  A good range to aim for would be between $5 and $0.50 per pound. 

My calculations are going to be off a bit this year since I put quite a bit of money into the grow room, and bark for the entire yard.  On the other hand, this means next year's expenses should be very low, I have tons of seed left and the landscape part of the garden is done, and the grow room is already there. 

The main calculation systems i have seen are:

Income:  Total Costs - (Price per Pound*Pounds Harvested) = Balance  -$500 -($4*65) = $-240 With this system you can determine at what point you reach a zero balance, and when you start to earn more food than what your expenses equal.  Potentially you can show your spouse a spreadsheet with a $200 or $300 balance at the end of the year and explain that you saved that much money in groceries.

Price Per Pound: Total Costs/Pounds Harvested  $500/65 = $7.69/lb.  PPP shows how much you paid per pound of food.  It doesn't require that you know the average cost per pound of the food you grow, which the Income method does require.  It also averages out all the plants, and all the expenses, so cataloging the individual food weights isn't necessary.

Detailed:  Cost for Vegetable Plant - (Price per Pound*Pounds Harvested) = Balance for Vegetable
Broccoli (-$0.99) - ($2*5) = $9.01 (Repeat for each vegetable or fruit).  This is a great way to really see which plants are paying off.  The downside is that it is much more work to weigh each vegetable separately, then divide up your seed packet cost by the number of seeds, or your fertilizer cost by how much each plant type used, etc.  Still it can be helpful in determining if it's really worth the time to keep planting shelling peas when frozen organic shelled peas are so inexpensive.  It can really help a gardener working with a small space get the most value from their garden by planting high value plants like perennial herbs, berries, sugar snap and snow peas, or squash. 

Each of these systems has a purpose, and each has pros and cons.  But calculations like these are an important part of taking garden notes so you can continue to improve your garden's production year after year.

One last calculation that may be particularly important to small space gardeners like myself is determining your pounds per square foot.  VegPounds Harvested/Square Feet Used = Pounds Per Sq. Ft.  In this case if I planted 4 sq. ft. of broccoli and got 3 pounds of harvest from it my answer would be 0.75 lb./sq. ft.  Meanwhile two square feet of zucchini gave me 10 lbs of zukes.  The answer there would be 5 lb./sq. ft.  So if I really like zucchini it is obviously much more useful to plant a zuke than broccoli (Since I don't like zucchini though, I'll stick to planting broccoli instead).

Anyway, I hope this will be helpful in keeping track of harvests, please feel free to share if you have a system I didn't show here.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Harvest Monday: July 9th

 Harvest Monday is brought to you by Daphne's Dandelions and by the letter Pea.  Harvest Monday is a chance to share your harvests and what you do with them with other gardeners and bloggers around the world.

The letter Pea!  Sugar snaps are almost done, the sudden heat is stopping flowering a mere two weeks after it began.

 This week's harvests were outstanding, as I said in my previous post the past week has yielded about 10 lbs of produce.

Small cabbage, onions and carrots.
 The week started out slim with the same old onions and carrots I've been picking for weeks.  After peeling away the layers of nibbled on leaves from the cabbage I ended up with a softball sized head.  Hooray! My husband is going to explode if he eats much more coleslaw.

Graffiti cauliflower and snow peas.
 Next up were the purple cauliflower, I let them go a bit too long trying to get larger heads.  They are a little loose but still delicious.  The snow peas were outstanding last year and they look like they might be just as great this year.  While i eat the sugar snaps for snacks and in salads, i like to blanch and save the snow peas for winter eating in cooked dishes. 

Last big harvest, straight out of the garden...
Last big harvest after rinsing and trimming.
 My largest harvest this week was a mad dash to pull the remaining cauliflower before the heat ruined them, as well as any remaining carrots that were large enough to eat, a few lettuces beginning to bolt, and the final meager harvest of strawberries.  Also pictured are another small cabbage, some fresh sage, a quart of snow peas, and a decent handful of sugar snap peas.  I still have the larger Derby Day cabbages remaining in the garden, and tons of onions, and of course more peas.  For the most part though all of the Spring crops are finished now.

Mina's garden.

 On a final note, I broke down and spent more money on the garden.  I bought two large felt pots from Bountiful Backyard, after seeing how cute they were on Granny's blog.  One says Mina's Garden and the other Alex's garden.  I am such a garden hog and micro-manager that I take up all the plantable soil with my veggies, so I figured it would be nice to give the kids their own small garden spaces to plant whatever they want in.

Mina decided on some medicinal plants: vervain, lemon balm, lobelia, yarrow, chamomile, echinacea and calendula.  Alex will be planting his later today with a giant Sweet 100 tomato and likely, more carrots, and maybe some nasturtiums or other flowers.

Hope everyone finds great ways to have fun in the heat this week!

Alex and Dad enjoying a 4th of July hike




Saturday, July 7, 2012

Holy Crap! It's Summer!!

The Oregon summer finally hit on the 4th of July.  We've had a steady few days of 75 degree and up weather and not a cloud in sight. 

Nearly all of the hot weather plants are in the ground now, just holding out on a few last cabbages before the final four plants go in the ground.  This week has been a frenzy of harvests of peas, strawberries (still!), last lettuces, cauliflowers, cabbages, carrots and onions.  Today will be spent blanching and freezing the veggies picked throughout the week.  Normally I would do this immediately after harvesting, but it was such a busy week i barely had time to pick them, rinse them and throw them in the fridge. 

Garden this week.  The tomatoes and peppers are still small so the beds look kind of bare.
My harvest total for this first week of July has hit 10 lbs.  That's nearly half my June monthly total in one week!  No tomatoes yet though; and the tomatoes and squashes will be my largest harvests by weight.  July is looking like it might just pay for the whole garden.

According to my current calculations my garden veggies are costing me around $20/lb.  Of course, the grow room was a big part of the costs this year and it will last me for many years to come.  Just one 30 lb pumpkin will bring me down to $10/lb so I'm not too worried about my costs balancing out anymore.  As long as I get something from my hot weather plants I think the garden will pay for itself.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Slacker Blogger = Harvest Tuesday

This post was meant to be for Harvest Monday... but I got distracted by Legos and never wrote it.

Raspberry Jam!
 I started out my week's harvest by heading back to the farm to pick raspberries.  Then I made up 14 jars of raspberry jam and 2 jars of raspberry sauce (for mixing into yogurt and stuff).  I'm hoping that the raspberry and strawberry jams together will keep us in jam until next year; I am really tired of picking berries now.

Peas and strawberries.
 The sugar snap peas are finally piled with fat pods, and the snow peas are just starting to have harvestable pods ready too.  Yesterday I picked 1 1/2 quarts of them for my mom.  Friday I picked another quart of sugar snaps for my trip south to visit friends, and Wednesday I picked half a quart.  Peas are one of my favorite things to grow in the garden, especially since the snow and sugar snaps are so expensive to buy at the store.  Shelling peas just don't seem worth it though, they are cheap and it would take up a lot of space to grow enough of them.  Somehow I ended up with one shelling pea plant in my sugar snaps though, so now amid my 63 sugar snap plants there is one shelling pea plant hiding.  I'd just pull it out but they are a tangled mass now, so instead I have to watch out for the pods and separate them from the others.  It's no fun eating sugar snaps and then accidentally biting into the tough, tasteless pod of a shelling pea.
 The strawberries above are from the yard, picked yesterday.  They went into a gallon bag and into the freezer, I'll continue to add to this bag until it's full then start a new one if they are still producing.  Not sure I'll get two bags though, the strawberries are definitely starting to wind down.

More peas, and a cabbage
 The Parel cabbages are just finishing up, I've picked 3 already.  They are about a pound each and very space-saving.  I find them to be excellent since we rarely manage to use up a whole large cabbage before it goes bad.  These are a one dish cabbage.  The combination of slugs, earwigs, and cabbage loopers meant i lost more than a few leaves to insect damage, but the centers of the heads were untouched and perfectly lovely.  I'm not sure how much longer the Derby Day cabbages will go, the heads are about the size of baseballs and very firm but they are supposed to get much larger than the Parel.

Pearl onions, Alex's carrots, cabbage, and lettuces.
 The bonus to Oregon being among the three states in the Union that are not swelteringly hot right now, is that I still have lettuce!  In fact, I haven't lost a single lettuce plant to bolting this year.  The only thing that has bolted in my garden is the cilantro, but that's to be expected.  Of course, the downside to that is that the eggplants and peppers (my biggest heat-loving plants) are incredibly sad, and I'm beginning to lose hope that they will recover from this.  If I had known what the weather was going to be like this summer I would've grown spinach, and much more leaf and stem crops and less heading and fruiting crops.  Oh well, you know what they say about hindsight.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Weather it Rains or Not

It's 55 degrees, and 100% humidity out there... doesn't 100% humidity mean that we're underwater?  You'd think it would.

Instead we've had a cool, refreshing shower all day.  Great weather for slugs.  Also great for the cauliflowers and cabbages.  Turns out that I planted Spring cauliflower in the right year.  Still not hot enough to ruin them even though it's July.

The peas are in mad production mode and weighed down with pods.  I'll be picking them tomorrow to keep them producing, but am waiting out today in hopes that a bunch of pods will be ready all at once.  It makes the blanching and freezing much easier.

The beans have just started to bloom, and the zucchini are popping out several female flowers at a time.  Despite the weather my cucumbers are just beginning to produce female flowers as well, though I don't expect the first few to do much since the pollinators are staying warm and dry at home instead of doing their jobs.  I am definitely starting to despair about the hot weather plants this year.  I may end up having to cover the beds with plastic once the brassicas are out and the tomatoes have started to fruit, just to get them hot enough to ripen.  We're down to about 70 days of good hot weather (potentially) this year. 

Crossing my fingers for a heat wave here!