Yellow Squash

The summer garden is in full production. Cherry tomatoes have been producing for quite awhile now. We’ve done a few taste tests among the 4 varieties of cherry tomatoes, and Yellow Pear is definitely not the winner this year. The favorite seems to be Orange Paruche, but people really like Sungold as well. Both are very sweet, and their taste is similar. The Sweet 100 is more tart, but very flavorful. Yellow Pear has a strange texture, and not a great flavor this year. The plant is struggling as well. Yellow Pear is the variety that’s usually towering over the others and producing huge quantities throughout the summer.

Here's our first tomato taste test, about a month ago.

Here’s our first tomato taste test, about a month ago.

The tomatoes, squash and beans are all growing huge.  As usual, I’ve planted everything too close together. It becomes a struggle to walk over and around everything, but I always tend to overdo the density of planting.  This year I also have some pumpkins added to the mix.  They sprouted/volunteered where I planted other things that look and grow like them (Armenian cucumbers, cantaloupe, squash).  I usually pull up any volunteer pumpkins in the garden, and I only let them grow back behind the compost pile.  This year they looked too much like the cantaloupe and cucumbers.  I didn’t know they were pumpkins until they started producing.  

The wire fence is getting much more use than it’s ever gotten before.  Everything wants to climb on it this year — scarlet runner beans, poamoho beans, Armenian Cucumbers, cantaloupe.  Anywhere I can get things off the ground, I’m stringing pumpkin and tomato vines on it too.

June 2014 Garden Pics 001 (Medium)

Squash is producing pretty heavily for the past few weeks.  I got some with an oval shape.  I don’t know if it’s a different variety from the same seed packets, or if they’ve been cross-pollinated with something else nearby.

June 2014 Squash and Tomatoes 001 (Medium)

These are the oval ones. Does anyone know if this is a specific variety of squash? The taste and texture is the same as the regular long ones.

Squash is one of the “big plants” in the garden.  They’re not tall, but the leaves are huge.  Always make sure you plant them far enough away from smaller plants.  I often have to cut back some of the squash leaves because they’re shading other plants too much.

This is the palm stump that I cut down a few years ago.  The inside part began to decompose and sink pretty quickly, forming a perfect pot for small plants.  I’ve been using it to grow radishes for a few years.  I’ve added more soil as the inside continues to hollow out and sink, so this year I decided to grow a squash plant.

This squash plant is turning out to be the most productive one by far this year.

This one is turning out to be more productive than any of the squash growing in the ground this year.

HERE’S SOME GOOD ADVICE ABOUT TRIMMING/CUTTING OFF SQUASH LEAVES:  ALWAYS USE HEAVY GLOVES. Squash leaves and vines have tiny thorns all over them, and they’re somewhat irritating to your hands. It’s tempting to try to rip off old leaves with your bare fingers, like you do with other plants.  

Sometimes I wear gardening gloves over the rubber gloves.  Then I can take the heavy gloves off when I need to plant seeds, tie up vines, or do other tasks that require more dexterity.

With squash, it’s always better to put on some gloves first.  I’ve been stuck by the thorns many times. 

SOME GOOD ADVICE ABOUT HARVESTING SQUASH:  ALWAYS USE A KNIFE OR CLIPPERS.  When you try to bend or twist the stems off, it’s easy to tear off the end of the squash or rip the vine.

Yes, I'm using rubber gloves to harvest.  When I'm picking the squash, I'm not grabbing and touching the leaves, so I'm not getting my hands scratched.

Any small kitchen knife or clippers will do.  Heavy gloves aren’t as important when you’re harvesting.  When you’re picking the squash, you’re not grabbing the leaves with your fingers.

More on this year’s tomatoes in a future post.  

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Cilantro

Almost all of the summer crops are planted, and some are already looking good.  This year I’m growing a few different things that I’ve never grown before, along with the usual favorites.  Last December at our holiday party at work, my “Secret Santa” (who continues to remain a mystery) gave me a bunch of seed packets.  Some of them are plants I’ve never heard of, such as Poamoho beans, Armenian cucumbers, and red and yellow carrots.  Others, such as cantaloupe, are ones I’ve tried before, unsuccessfully.  One cantaloupe plant is already looking robust and healthy.  In past years when I’ve tried to grow cantaloupe or watermelon, they produced fruits that were smaller than a tennis ball.  Let’s see if I get any full-size cantaloupe this year!

The tomatoes are all looking great so far.  I’ll go into more detail on this year’s tomatoes in a future post.  The Sweet 100 already has one that’s turned orange.  I can see small tomatoes forming on all of the others except one.  I have one tomato plant that volunteered (sprouted on its own from a seed dropped last year) early in the spring, and it’s already pretty huge.  It has tomatoes forming, but I can’t tell what kind it is yet.  The Sungold and Sweet 100 are both over 5 feet tall, with the others close behind.

Image

Here’s the first Sweet 100.

The subject of today’s post is cilantro.  Cilantro is a cool season crop, so this is not the time of year to plant it.  But I would like to discuss it now so that you can think about planting it in the fall or early winter.  It’s a great thing to have in the garden, for a few reasons.  It’s easy to grow, it’s very prolific, it doesn’t seem to get any insect pests, and it’s an excellent weed control.

Image

The white flowers at the top of the picture are cilantro.

Cilantro grows best throughout the winter, along with lettuce and other leafy, cool season crops.  You can mix it with lettuce to add some flavor to your home grown salads.  Everyone seems to love it.  You can experiment and put it on all kinds of food.

It’s very easy to grow.  I don’t usually “plant” it in a specific place in the garden the same way I plant other crops.  In the springtime I try to save as many seeds as I can, for future use.  At various times between September and November I scatter some seeds in different places around the garden, and let them sprout wherever they want to.  At some point when their conditions are right, they start sprouting all over the place.  I pull out the seedlings that are growing too close to other crops, and leave the ones that are in convenient places.

Image

The right side of this picture is almost all cilantro.  This is from a couple years ago.  It looks like I let the cilantro get out of hand in this section of the garden!  I do remember having a huge oversupply to give away!

Cilantro grows and produces very quickly.  Keep picking the leaves often.  People often think they did something wrong because it produced and then died off so quickly.  You didn’t do anything wrong — that’s just its normal growth cycle.  It produces the flat, parsley-like leaves for a short time.  Then it grows taller and starts producing leaves with a completely different look and texture.

Image

Cilantro and radishes.  This is what the leaves look like when the plant is young.

Image

This shows plants at different stages.  The ones on the right are younger, with the flatter leaves.  The leaves on the left look more like dill.  People often don’t recognize them, but they taste the same and they’re just as edible.

Soon after the leaves change to this dill-like texture, the plant produces white flowers.  At this point the plant won’t produce any more edible leaves, but I like to keep them in the ground.  The flowers are pretty to look at, and they attract bees.  Eventually the flowers die off and the seeds start to form.  I let them go through this full cycle, and then I collect the seeds to plant the following fall/winter.

One thing I really love about growing cilantro is that it grows like weeds wherever you plant it.  It’s almost like an edible ground cover, crowding out and shading out the undesirable weeds wherever it grows.

The leaves and/or flowers can be picked and put in water in a vase or glass for use over the next few days.  But remember, don’t leave them in water for more than a few days!  After a few days, the stems that are submerged in water will develop a slimy texture and a horrific smell.

STORAGE TIP — THIS APPLIES TO BOTH CILANTRO AND LETTUCE:  The leaves will stay fresh for a long time if you wrap them in a moist paper towel and put them in a plastic bag, and leave the bag in the refrigerator.

People still aren’t sending me their garden pictures.  Just send them along and I’ll be happy to post them here!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Harlequin Beetles

Welcome back to my blog!  It’s been almost two years since I last posted.  How did that time fly by?  The postings stopped for awhile, but the gardening didn’t.  We had a winter and a summer and another winter full of the usual crops.

Here’s a strange insect pest that I had never heard of until they invaded two years ago:  Harlequin Beetles

Image

They appeared suddenly on the corn in August of that year, and then spread to the hot peppers.  Very strange.  I’m accustomed to dealing with the same insects every year.  Suddenly here was a new predator invading the garden.  You can see the kind of damage they do to the leaves.  On the pepper plants they were feeding all over the peppers themselves, and leaving the same damage on the skin of the peppers.

I had to look them up to find out what they were, and then find out if there was anything I could do about them.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find much useful information as to why they suddenly invaded here.  Nor did I find an effective remedy.  I sprayed them a few times with a soap and water mix.  I think it helped somewhat, but I remember killing a lot more of them manually by putting gloves on and crushing them with my fingers.  They appeared to be living in the soil at the base of the corn plants.

They were selective in their appetite, as are most insects.  They didn’t touch anything else in the garden.  The basil and other crops were unscathed.

The good news is that they disappeared after about a month or two, and they haven’t returned.  

Image

The damaged corn plants still produced some good corn.

Image

Some of the peppers didn’t get damaged, and continued to produce a good crop.

I’ll do more catching up on the past two years in my next post.  It’s a beautiful weekend!  Go outside and plant something!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Compost Tumbler

Most of the summer crops are thriving and starting to produce.  The older squash plants (planted in starter pots 4/17, transplanted into the garden 5/13) have grown huge.  I left a lot of room around each one, but they’re still encroaching on the pathway and other things nearby.  I picked the first one on 6/18, and the three plants together are producing about one or two per day.  That’s not really great production for the amount of space they use, but it’s worth it to squeeze them in if you like squash.

This is one of the first ones harvested in June.

I transplanted one other squash plant near the others on 6/15.  I’m assuming that it will continue to produce for about a month after the others have stopped, so we’ll get a good long harvest throughout the summer.  That one hasn’t started to produce yet.

The pumpkins are as unpredictable as ever.  I might get better results if I don’t crowd them together behind the compost pile every year.  But they’re extremely invasive, so I keep them outside the garden, almost as an afterthought.  Some years in the past they’ve produced 15 to 25 pumpkins of various sizes, and other years they’ve produced only a few.  This year the plants started out looking pretty good.

In this picture the plants are a couple weeks old.

They’ve grown long vines and big leaves, and I can see two pumpkins forming so far.  But some of the plants seem to be wilting and dying off already.  I never know what to expect with them.

I actually got a small harvest of garlic grown in pots at the desert house.

They were grown in less-than-ideal conditions, crowded into pots with flowers and onions and other plants.

They’re all miniature garlic bulbs, but at least they lived and produced, unlike the complete crop failure of the ones here in the garden.

I pulled the last of the Red Zeppelin onions about a week ago.  We got about 15 to 18, mostly small to average size, a little smaller than a tennis ball.  I experimented with stomping on the stems of some of them and leaving them for awhile before harvesting.

Giving them the Bron-Y-Aur Stomp.

As usual, this year I didn’t notice any difference between the stomped and un-stomped ones.

I’m not a connoisseur of onions, and I’m probably biased by their great name, but I think the flavor is really good.  They’re kind of sweet and not too harsh.  I better get on to the subject of composting.  I don’t want to Ramble On about onions.

We acquired a plastic compost tumbler at the end of May.  I’ve always wondered how well they work compared to a pile on the ground, and now I’ve been experimenting.  It was easy to start it — just fill the container with plant material; add some dirt from the yard (and some compost from the existing pile) to make sure there are some worms and pillbugs and other decomposers in the mix; put in some water;  manually turn the tumbler every few days; and add more water periodically.  It’s fascinating to see how quickly the materials decompose in a container.

This is the tumbler with its first load of fresh compost, after about four weeks.

The container method is much cleaner, neater and more compact for use on a patio or a confined space.  In the picture above, I put newspaper on the ground to capture the compost.

It’s also very enlightening to see how different types of materials decompose much faster than others.  The leaves break down quickly while the stems, vines and roots stay intact.  When you dump the finished compost, you can separate the items that aren’t fully decomposed and put them back into the tumbler to add to the next batch.

Using a container, you get a greater sense of how much the volume of the material shrinks when it decomposes.  When I started the first batch, I filled it about halfway.  In the picture above, you can see the amount of compost I got.

With this second batch, I filled it to the top.

Here’s one big difference between using a pile and a container:  In the instruction manual it says to fill the tumbler with material all at once and let it all decompose together, rather than periodically adding more material to the mix.  Using a smaller, self-contained unit, I can see why that would be important.  If you keep adding fresh material to it, it’s never really “finished.”  With a big pile, I’ve always taken it for granted that I can dig into the middle to find some fully decomposed compost.

Given the volume of plant material that we generate from the garden and the lawn, I still prefer a compost pile vs. a container for our needs.  But after comparing them side-by-side for these past couple months, I would highly recommend a container as well.

How many different types of plant material can you count in this picture?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Red Zeppelin Harvest

It’s Celebration Day!  I pulled up the first two Red Zeppelins!  I picked the two largest ones, which were a few feet from the main group of onions.

Throughout the growing season, these grew up surrounded by snow peas, cilantro and sage, then later by tomato plants towering over them.

Maybe they enjoyed the crowded conditions. Or maybe they had better soil in that area.

I didn’t prepare these by stomping on the stems before the harvest, but I will stomp on some of the others.  I’ve never noticed any difference between the stomped ones and the others, but I like to experiment with them each year.

This is the main group of onions. I’ll stomp on some of them and leave the others standing before harvesting.

After I harvested them, I had to put them Out On The Tiles for a good photo opportunity.

Chavo and Red Zeppelins.

I asked Chulo to get closer to the onions, but we had a Communication Breakdown.

How Many More Times will I make references to Led Zeppelin songs when discussing these onions?

Do these onions look better in the shade with the dogs, or out  In The Light?

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Bumper Crop of Snow Peas

The winter crops are almost all gone.  We’ve had a big crop of lettuce through the winter and into the springtime, especially recently.  For the past couple weeks I’ve been pulling up the lettuce plants that are bolting and starting to flower.

Lettuce looks like this when it starts to flower and go to seed. That’s flowering cilantro to the right of the lettuce.

The lettuce planted in January and February is just starting to produce, so we should have a steady harvest for at least another few weeks.

I pulled up the last snow pea plants a few days ago.  Staggering the planting from September to December really extends the growing season.  We got a record crop this year, with a steady harvest throughout the season.  We got 4,382 this year, compared to the previous record of 3,503 two years ago.  (Yes, I do count them every time I harvest some.)

Here’s the harvest from one day in March, with a medium size cauliflower top.

We have lots of cilantro in bloom.  I don’t think it can be used once it starts to flower.  But I like to leave them in the ground and let them go through their flowering cycle and go to seed.  The flowers attract a lot of bees, and they’re pretty to look at.  And I like to scatter the seeds (or let them drop and scatter themselves) to sprout in random places in the garden later.

Cilantro between the tomato plants.

Cilantro on the balcony.

The tomato plants are growing big and looking healthy.  The Yellow Pear is already 3 1/2 feet tall, with Orange Strawberry and a couple others close behind.  So far I’ve kept on top of trimming most of the side shoots.  It becomes a bigger task when they all grow larger.

That’s oregano in the middle foreground.

We’re using the upside down hanging planter for the first time.  I planted a Sweet Million tomato plant in it.  Those are usually very prolific.  We’ll see how well it does this year with this alternate growing method.  It’s not doing very well yet.  It’s starting to get some new growth, so we’ll see its progress later in the season.

This picture was taken a couple weeks ago. It’s grown a little bit since then, but it’s not anywhere near the size of the ones in the ground.

I’ve made a few cuttings from some of the tomato plants and rooted them.  The Mortgage Lifter that’s planted in the ground was from a cutting.  It’s smaller than the others in the ground, but I think that’s just because it was planted a few weeks later.  It looks just as healthy as the others.  I’ve planted all the other cuttings in starter pots, and I’ll give them away.  (Anybody want some?  If you haven’t planted any yet this year, just let me know!)  Just a couple weeks ago I made the most recent cuttings.  The three below are all from the Chocolate Stripes plant.

I left a cutting from the Yellow Pear plant in full sun last week as soon as I planted it in the starter pot, and it’s doing fine.  These three seem to be more fragile.  They began to wilt as soon as I put them out, so I moved them into the shade on this table on the patio for a couple days.  I put them out in full sun today, and they’re looking good so far.

I planted the first summer seeds in starter pots on April 17.  The basil and squash started to sprout within a week.  The carrots and Fresno peppers started sprouting about a week later.  The habanero peppers and sage haven’t sprouted yet.

The larger green pots have radishes, lettuce and carrots.

I planted some more seeds (basil, sage, Fresno and habanero peppers) directly in the ground on April 30.  None of those have sprouted yet.

I planted pumpkin seeds in the area behind the compost pile last week.

In this view, the pumpkins are planted in the middle of the picture, directly in front of the compost pile.  Don’t strain your eyes trying to look for them.  They haven’t sprouted yet.

Below is a long view of the garden as of a few days ago.  I took this shot from the garden entrance, so it doesn’t include the starter pots at the south end.

The purple lettuce in the foreground has been pulled up, and the tomatoes in the background are a little bit bigger now.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Composting

We went to the main TomatoMania event in Encino last Friday and got tomato plants for ourselves and about ten other people.  It looked like they didn’t have quite as many varieties to choose from this year, but the plants all looked very healthy and robust.  I’m disappointed that they didn’t have the Orange Paruche.  They were one of the favorites last year.  I was hoping to plant those and Yellow Pear, and then do a taste test comparison this summer.  This year we’ll be growing about six of the favorites from past years and about three new ones.  I transplanted seven of them into the garden Friday afternoon, and they’re all looking good so far.

We got a pretty heavy rain storm over the weekend.  Some of the tomato plants got knocked down by the wind and rain, but they stood back up as soon as it stopped.  It was great to get some rain to saturate the garden area, though this one storm didn’t do much for our drought situation.

I pulled up all of the earliest snow peas a few weeks ago (the ones planted in September and October) to make room for the tomato plants.  The snow peas planted in December are still producing quite a few.  About a week ago we surpassed our record from two years ago.  We’ve harvested over 3,700 so far this season.

As expected, the garlic crop was a complete failure again this year.  I have a feeling it’s something in the soil, but I can’t be sure.  It’s exactly like last year.  I pulled up the whole crop, and all of them had a bulb of garlic that was about the size of a marble.  Most of them were soft and brown, so I dumped them in the compost pile.  I kept the few that were white and resembled a tiny garlic.  I’ll let them dry, and we’ll see if they can be used.

They started out green, and then gradually began to turn brown and shrivel up.

A couple months ago I thought the onions were having a similar problem, but they’re still doing fine.

Here's another view of the same garlic crop. It was painful to look at them every time I went out to pick lettuce and snow peas, so I had to pull them up.

Next year I’ll try growing them in pots with potting soil.

We’ve had great success with the lettuce, radishes, broccoli and cauliflower this year.  The broccoli and cauliflower are almost all harvested now.

I took a few broccoli pictures, but I don't think I took any of the cauliflower.

I made a note of the cauliflower dates for future reference:  The ones planted in starter pots at the beginning of October and transplanted into the garden at the beginning of December did really well.  I got quite a few that were about six inches across.

The subject of today’s post is Composting, so let’s get to that:

Composting is the greatest way to add fertilizer to your soil.  The main idea with compost is that you’re using organic matter (plant matter) and mixing it with dirt.  The best organic matter is the waste from your previous season’s crops — the roots, the leaves, and the old soil that’s still attached to the roots. The microscopic organisms in the dirt (and the not-so-microscopic things, like worms and pill bugs) decompose the organic matter, and eventually all of it turns into rich soil.

You should rake the pile or turn it with a shovel to keep everything well-mixed and to keep lots of air space in it.  Ideally, you should turn and mix the pile every few weeks.  I don’t do it that often, but it does help to decompose everything faster if you mix it often and give it a lot of air space inside.

It’s important to keep your compost generally moist.  It doesn’t have to be soaking wet and swampy, but it helps to water it often.

This picture shows a great mix of different types of organic matter piled together. Notice the drip irrigation hose coiled on top. This provides plenty of moisture every time I water the garden.

If you have a lawn, you can dump grass clippings on your compost pile to provide a steady supply of raw nutrients.  You can also use leaves from nearby trees.  WARNING:  DON’T USE GRASS CLIPPINGS OR LEAVES IF YOUR LAWN OR TREES GET SPRAYED WITH INSECTICIDES OR CHEMICAL FERTILIZERS!

You can also use some of your household waste, such as coffee grounds, banana peels, orange and lemon peels, and even torn up paper.

The things you DON’T want to use are meats, foods with any oil or fats or sugar in them, or dog or cat feces.  Those things will attract the major pests that you DON’T want in your garden — rats, mice, flies, roaches.

You can set up your compost in various different forms.  There are bins you can buy if you’re composting on a balcony or patio with limited space.  There are specially-made metal barrels that can be rotated with a handle.  There are complex composting systems with multiple adjoining bins so that you can mix the less-decomposed material from one bin with more-decomposed material in another bin.  I’m lucky to have a large area behind the garden where I can just keep a pile on the ground.

The dark soil to the right is fresh compost that I pulled from the middle of the pile.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment