Saturday, October 31, 2009

Repurposing Wooden Shipping Pallets

I was able to get some wooden pallets from work this week for the new compost bin. I drove our old suv to work and a coworker helped me load them in the back. We were able to fit six pallets:

Three of the pallets will be used for the new woodpile leaving three for the new compost bin. I will add another two to the compost bin in the next couple weeks for a two-bin system similar to these bins at Digitalseed. I can always add on later.

We received our delivery of wood this week:

Now we have the pleasant task of stacking it. For those who don’t burn wood, I have learned that there is an art to wood stacking. It should be stacked in a way to allow air to continue to dry out the wood.

I also found an interesting article at Mother Earth News, “The Science of Wood Stacking” by Ceylon Monroe. Below is an excerpt:
A woodpile is a public thing — as much of a "statement" as your garden or your mailbox or the vehicle you park out front. In my up-country Maine town, they say that a reliable, hardworking man will stack his wood square and straight, while a slacker stacks sloppily. If a pile weaves, wavers, or leans out of plumb, its builder is suspected of a need for eyeglasses, of tippling, or worse. Know those old wives whose tales are famous? Well, when their daughters reach courting age, they gauge the marital prospects of a man by the way he stacks wood. Weak and insecure men (too timid to get far) build a low stack arranged by log size — heavy logs on the bottom, little stuff on top. The socially or politically ambitious (they're all crooks) stack high and show-offish with big logs on top. The lazy (who never will amount to nothin') leave their wood in a heap or start a pile but never finish. And the sly and mercenary (watch yer virtue and yer pocketbook) stack ground-fall tree limbs and apple tree prunings in with the wood. If you want to keep your psyche to yourself, stack as the sticks come out of the pile.

Can you imagine being judged by your wood pile? As I look around the neighborhood, I see one very lazy neighbor (in a heap with a tarp covering held down by old tires) and most are hardworking (square and straight stacks). I wonder what ours will be?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Our Wood Stove is Working!

Our home came with a cute little Jøtul wood stove in the kitchen. I didn’t know anything about wood stoves and was afraid of burning the house down. So for several years, it sat in its corner of the kitchen serving as a rather elaborate plant stand.

This house was built in the late 1970s which doesn’t seem that old to me considering the house I grew up in is over 150 years old. However, I have learned from a neighbor that this area was much more rural back then. The man who built this house lived in it with no electricity for a time and heated it with two wood stoves, the Jøtul in my kitchen, and another woodstove in the basement.

The original owner of my home also had a vegetable garden that stretched three times longer than mine is now. He grew, harvested, and preserved from it for about 20 years. He is responsible for the amazing soil I have been blessed with as he spent numerous years nourishing and amending our clay soil. My neighbor also told me he also planted many fruits around the yard. Remaining today are seven apple trees, a pear tree, grape vines, raspberry and blackberry bushes. There is an area in the basement for root storage. There is a closet/pantry under the stairs with shelving to store canned goods.

When I moved into this home, it had been through a couple different owners since the original who built the house. The people I purchased it from replaced all the windows, refurbished and updated the kitchen, bathroom and living area. Although the Jøtul wood stove stood in its spot in the kitchen, the main heating source was a small kerosene fired monitor heater in the living room. When that failed two years later, we installed a furnace in the basement and fhw baseboard heating on the first floor. The upstairs bedrooms are still unheated.

With the price of oil soaring we often look regretfully at the Jøtul stove and the cord of wood that the previous owners left us in the shed. If only we knew it was safe to use, we would surely be utilizing it especially on really cold nights. Several years ago, we tried to have someone come in to inspect the stove to see if it was safe to use. It was obvious that he didn’t know anything about the Jøtul stove and all he wanted to do was sell us a new woodstove for a hefty price tag. That is not what we wanted, so the stove continued to sit in the corner of the kitchen…unused.

This year, another neighbor provided us with the name and number of someone who was knowledgeable about masonry and wood stoves. We called him and he came in to take a look at the stove. It is now sporting some new pipework and a new stove paint coating in classic black. But most importantly, it is doing what it was made for once again, burning wood and heating our home.

Wood heat is such a warm and cozy heat. Plus heat rises, our bedroom is the floor above the stove so upstairs is comfortable without having to run an electric space heater.

We won’t be heating our home exclusively with the wood stove, but mostly using it in the evenings and on weekends. Our local car mechanic referred us to someone he knew who sells wood and he will be delivering a couple of cords by the end of the week. It’ll be interesting to compare our heating costs of oil vs oil plus some wood.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Garden Spot 2009 Review: Individual Produce Evaluation

This is another review posting of the Garden Spot focusing on how some of the produce grew this season.

Previous reviews:
Garden Spot 2009 Review: Intro
Garden Spot 2009 Review: Challenges Faced
Garden Spot 2009 Review: Improvements Made

All the beans were planted in the traditional garden. Bush bean varieties planted were Tendergold, Blue Lake, and Royal Burgundy. They all produced very well. The Kentucky Wonder pole beans produced extremely well and kept me picking until our first killing frost. By the end of the season, I felt pretty beaned out, but we will see how far the preserved harvest lasts to determine if I will decrease the amount of plantings next year.

The Fast Break Melons did really well this year in the traditional garden considering the abnormal rain and colder temperatures we experienced. We harvested 12 fruit from three plants. There would have probably been more if our summer has been more normal. I would like to grow these again. I also have seeds for Charantais Melon that I would also like to try next year.

Only planted a few plants for snacking and salads. Sumter was the only variety we actually ate. The Straight Eight cucumbers produced mutant fruit that was bitter. Both developed powdery mildew mid-season. Not surprising with the weather we had. We need more cukes next year.

Very pleased with the eggplant, need to grow more next year. Two Ichiban eggplants were planted in the SFG and yielded enough fruit for a couple meals.

Although not resulting very large bulbs, the unknown variety seemed to grow well from the transplants replanted in early spring.

All lettuce was grown successfully in the SFG. Varieties grown were Paris Island Cos Romaine, Royal Oak Leaf, Salad Bowl, and Black Seeded Simpson. Spring lettuce lasted well into summer because of the cooler weather we experienced. Fall lettuce is still growing as I type this, but most have bolted and turned bitter. I should have succession planted another batch in September.

Onions were planted from transplants and never grew very large. I will try onion sets and Evergreen bunching onions from seed next year.

The varieties grown were Early Jalapeno, New Ace Sweet Bell, King Arthur Sweet Bell, Sweet Hybrid Bell, Big Chili Hybrid Hot Peppers, and what I think were Sweet Banana. There was a problem with the transplants. The Sweet Banana were supposed to be Early Jalapeno. Luckily I grew one Early Jalapeno plant from seed and was able to have some in the garden.

I planted few plants of each variety in both the SFG and traditional garden for comparison, but both locations seemed to do equally as well and seemed to average the same amount of fruit per plant.

The Sweet Hybrid Bell peppers that I purchased as backup when I thought the others were not going to succeed actually did pretty poorly overall. These were scattered in the traditional garden, SFG and SWC. By the end of the season, none of these grew very tall and there were only a few small peppers on these plants.

Five Early Prolific Straightneck Squash were grown in the traditional garden. It seemed like four too many. We don’t seem to like it very much and probably won’t be in the garden next year.

Varieties chosen were planned for making and preserving tomato sauce and salsa. Transplants were supposed to be Window Box Roma and Super Marzano. It wasn’t until the Window Box Roma tomatoes grew larger than expected then produced round fruit that I realized they were not the correct transplants.

Up until all the tomatoes were lost to Late Blight, they seemed to grow equally as well in the Square Foot Garden (SFG) and the traditional garden.

The 18-gallon self watering containers (SWCs) are perhaps best suited for one tomato plant instead of two, or maybe two determinant tomato plants that don’t tend to grow too large. I found that I had to fill the water reservoir twice a day early in the season and I am not sure if it would have been enough during the heat of our August. The Super Marzano in the SWC also developed Blossom End Rot (BER).

In all we harvested five Crimson Sweet watermelons from three plants. Only two were normal sized, the rest were mini-melons. Two Yellow Doll watermelon plants only yielded three fruit. I don’t think I will be growing these next year. Instead I will try a few Sugar Baby watermelon plants.

Three Burpee Hybrid zucchini plants produced enough fruit to feed an army. Some were eaten fresh, but most were used in baking and shredded up and frozen for adding to soups and baking breads and muffins in the future. We will see how long the preserved zucchini lasts, but I suspect that less will be planted next year. Some powdery mildew developed on the leaves mid-season, but it didn’t kill the plant or have an effect on producing.

Overall I am very pleased with the garden spot’s production this year. Even with the challenges faced, we ended up eating really well and preserving quite a bit from the garden. I am hoping to take what I learned this year and improve on the successes and increase the varieties of food grown. Soon I will preview some of the early plans for for the Garden Spot in 2010.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Harvest Monday, October 19, 2009

I have a tiny harvest to post for Harvest Mondays at Daphne’s Dandelions.

I harvested and dried the last of the parsley and found some little onions when clearing out one of the SFGs to plant my garlic:

Visit Daphne’s Dandelions to see what others have harvested this week.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

More Fall Cleanup

Yesterday was a full day in the yard. It was chilly, about 45˚F but warmer than Friday was. It was really a beautiful fall day. The sun was out and the birds were scurrying around searching for food. By evening I was exhausted and achy but the garden is cleaned out, lawn mowed, leaves gathered and added to the compost area.

The gardens look so bare now:

We removed the field fence that we used to mostly keep Bradie out of the garden and she immediately snatched up one of the unripe melons. Bradie loves fruits and vegetables and she made quick work of breaking into this melon and eating the inside. I wonder how it tasted?

I don’t till in my soil in the fall. Just give it a dusting of lime and a blanket compost and/or shredded leaves before the snow falls. Then in the spring, I will till it all in, plot out my paths in between rows, and layer solar mulch to help warm the soil. The SFGs will get a mulching of either pine straw or leaves. Just a little covering to keep that precious Mel’s Mix in the boxes when the winter winds blow.

We have had frosts almost every night this past week. The fall crops were even affected. The pea pods show some mottling but they are still growing and flowering. Once these die, the trellis structures will be removed and stored in the shed for the winter:

Most of the lettuce has bolted and the remainder has turned bitter:

The fall spinach never grew to anything substantial. I had problems with spring spinach too:

I don’t have a bagger for my mower, so I did some strategic mowing to shred leaves and push them into a pile where they were raked into a tarp and dragged to the compost bin area. It ended up being a nice mix of grass clippings and shredded leaves. The leaves were tossed into the old bin for now until I can build a new bin. The plant debris from the garden is currently in a pile nearby:

Although quite tired by the end of the day, I felt a satisfaction at what was accomplished. There will be more leaves to gather in the next several weeks. Hopefully I will be able to acquire the pallets needed for a new compost bin soon.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Planting Garlic

I really need to finish the garden cleanup and get the garlic planted this weekend. We experienced several frosts this week and some areas have even had snow. There was even a possibility of snow showers this afternoon but they never materialized. Ready or not, winter is coming.

There isn’t much left to do for cleanup. Most of the plant debris has already been removed. What is really giving me a tough time are the pole bean vines that are intertwined in the nylon netting:

K says, I should just clip it down and use new netting next year, but I can’t do that. The netting is in great shape still and should serve me several seasons. So I’ve been unwinding the vines a little at a time. Once the vine dries out, it snaps pretty easily, so I pulled out the roots hoping they will die quicker.

Today I focused on preparing the bed and planting the garlic into this 4x4 Square Foot Garden (SFG):

I was considering potting up the parsley and bringing it inside until I saw this:

There were several cucumber beetles, stink bugs, and various other creepy crawlies that I wasn’t willing to bring into the house. So I clipped off the healthy parts of the parsley and will carefully wash these then microwave dry:

I dug up the parsley roots and the rest of the bed. It was really nice to dig in the dirt again. I was surprised at the amount of roots the parsley put out. I haven’t had much luck growing parsley before, but the plants did really well in the SFG. I found some small onions that I missed earlier. These will be tossed into a beef stew that I am making tomorrow:

After all the roots were pulled, I added some wonderful Kinney Fish and Farm Compost. I found this compost earlier in the season at my local hardware and feed store and used it to mulch the garden back in June and I was very pleased with it then. I had only three bags left in the shed and as I opened one and spread it on the SFG, I was reminded how beautiful this compost was:

Before plotting out the garlic planting, I had to figure out just how many cloves I needed to plan on. So I carefully separated the bulbs of Romanian Red and Purple Glazer garlic to see what I had.

Although some SFG guidelines suggest 4-inches apart or 9 per square foot, I opted to go with the recommendation of We Grow Garlic and plotted out 6-inches apart:

I will add a couple inches of shredded leaf mulch to the garlic bed from my mowing tomorrow:

I had a few small cloves left over and planted them in 1 square foot in another bed:

It was chilly today, but once I was moving and working I didn’t notice the cold as much. I also weeded out and added compost and mulch to my herb plot. There is more work to do tomorrow.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Frosty Monday

No Harvest Monday for me this week. Other than a few pea pods and lettuce, the garden spot is pretty much finished for the season. Be sure to visit Daphne’s Dandelions to see what she and other gardeners are harvesting this week.

We woke to a frosty Monday morning here. Many leaves fell overnight and are blanketing the lawn. The rest of the week will be chilly too:

Yes, that is the "S" word in there although I don't want to believe it will happen this soon. There is still more cleanup to do in the garden spot and I am hoping to plant garlic this week.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Our Favorite Salsa

Today is looking like a beautiful day for yard cleanup. We have had some crazy weather this week, cold nights and some thunderstorms with high winds that have stripped most of the leaves off the trees already. I am going to do some strategic mowing to both shred the leaves a little and to condense them as much as possible into a large pile so they can be easily raked onto a tarp and gathered up for the compost pile. I am hoping to complete the rest of the garden cleanup this weekend too.

First I am making some salsa. It is simmering as I write this and it smells so good.

A while back I made “Annie’s Salsa” and although it was good, we thought it was a little on the tomato pastey side…more like a sauce rather than a salsa. Although a lot of people love it and rave about it, it just didn’t work for us. Over the years I have found that there is a wide variety of individual preferences to salsa, some people like more or less spice, chunkiness, sweetness, etc. Some prefer cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, regular vinegar, or even lemon juice….each gives the salsa a different flavor.

Finding a salsa recipe that we like has taken a lot of effort and many failed batches. I tried a lot of recipes before I found one that we liked then tweaked it so that we really liked it. So why did I abandon this recipe and try another salsa? Well, the one I use has not been proven safe for canning. If you plan on caning your salsa, you should stick to the Ball Blue Book recipes as these are tested and approved for safety.

This recipe can be kept in the fridge for a few days for fresh eating and the rest frozen for later. Instead of simply opening a jar, I have to remember pull it out of the freezer a couple days ahead to thaw it out before using. Just a small inconvenience. Here is the recipe:

GrafixMuse’s Favorite Salsa

5 cups tomatoes (about 3 lbs.), peeled and diced
3 green peppers, diced
2 red peppers, diced
3 jalapeno peppers, diced
1 roasted chili pepper, diced
2 large onions, diced
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup Cilantro, chopped
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1/4 cup vinegar
1 T crushed red pepper
1 T canning salt
1 T sugar

Combine all ingredients in a large, nonreactive pot, bring to a boil, and simmer until thick, at least two hours, stirring often.

Allow to cool and divide into pint sized freezer containers and freeze. Makes 6-8 pints.

This batch of salsa was much easier this time because I chopped and froze all my peppers in salsa batches eliminating half the work. My food processor made quick work of chopping the onions and garlic. The most time consuming part was blanching, peeling, and chopping the tomatoes.

Here is what it looks like all mixed up and simmering in the pot:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Garden Spot 2009 Review: Improvements Made

Over the next few days I am posting a series of evaluations of the Garden Spot’s 2009 growing season. There were several improvements made to the Garden Spot in effort to increase variety and yields in the 2009 growing season. They all worked really well:

Adding Three 4x4 Square Foot Gardens: This was my first year trying the SFG method and I am very impressed with the success. Mel’s Mix was so easy to plant in even when we were experiencing excess rain and moisture. Most everything grown in the SFGs did well. I am so pleased with the Square Foot Gardening method that I will be adding three more for next year!

Fencing: a simple three-foot fence was erected out of reused field fencing material both to keep Bradie, our dog and the deer out of the garden spot. It worked for the most part. However later in the season, the deer either reached over the fence or maybe even easily jumped into the garden and munched on the bush beans and a few tops of my peppers. I didn’t mind sharing, but additional fencing methods may need to be explored in the future if the deer are more persistent.

Plastic Solar Mulch in the Traditional Garden: Huge improvement! In the past it has been a battle with weeds and grass taking over the traditional garden that added competition for nutrients and water. The plastic solar mulch used this year eliminated this problem entirely. I will definitely use plastic mulch again as it also helped to warm the beds in the early spring/summer for the heat loving plants such as melons, peppers and tomatoes.

Other Mulching: The plastic solar mulch in the traditional garden served as a great mulch in between the rows and plants to prevent grass and weeds. In addition, individual plants were mulched with good quality compost which both suppressed weeds and added nutrients. The rows in between the beans that were not protected by plastic solar mulch were mulched with pine straw that was sourced from another part of the yard. All were great options and quite useful in the garden spot.

Soaker Hoses: When planning the 2009 garden, I thought that hand watering would be enough. It wasn’t and I added soaker hoses after the garden was planted. I really didn’t have much of a watering need with the record breaking rain that we had early in the season. But there were a few dry spalls when additional watering was needed. It was so easy to hook up the hose to one of the three soaker hoses and water 1/3 of the garden at one time then swap to the next section. Next year they will be laid out first under the solar mulch and buried the soil in the SFGs so they are more efficient.

Vertical Structures: We added two trellises with nylon netting in the traditional garden to grow the pole beans. I planted a row on each side of the trellis and the yield was twice as much as last year when we used a smaller trellis. We also had two trellis structures on two of the SFGs that the tomatoes grew on. Before the Late Blight, the tomatoes spanned the entire trellis space and climbed 3/4 of the way up. There also was an archway trellis in between the two traditional garden that cucumbers grew on this year. One side had pickling cukes, the other straight eight that turned into mutant cukes. They had a slow start due to the weather, but produced quite well when the weather finally was somewhat normal.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Garden Spot 2009 Review: Challenges Faced

Over the next few days I am posting a series of evaluations of the Garden Spot’s 2009 growing season.

There are always challenges involved when it comes to gardening. You can try, but it is impossible to plan for every situation. These are some of the challenges that the Garden Spot experienced in 2009:

Cold Spring: The garden was planted Memorial Day, the typical “safe” time for my area. However, we experienced two frosts after that date. I need to remember this for next year and not put out my more tender plants (tomatoes, peppers, melons) until later. Even though we covered the garden for the frosts, the nights were cold and this can stunt the plants and affect their growth for the season. They didn’t grow during this time anyway because it was too cold.

Rain: Overall we have had 22.31 inches of rainfall this summer (June, July and August). The average is 9.65. During this time, we didn’t have many sunny days either.

Wrong Transplants: Some of the transplants I ordered turned out to be NOT what I ordered. When I planned my garden, I wanted to have lots of peppers and paste tomatoes for salsa and tomato sauce. As the plants grew, I discovered that the Window Box Roma tomatoes were some other type of non-paste tomato. This was also a problem because I spaced the plants for a 20-inch bush tomato plant and didn’t provide supports. My jalapeno peppers ended up being some sort of yellow banana pepper. All in all a nice pepper, but not what was planned.

Late Blight spread through my tomato plants early in the season before a single tomato showed its first blush. 20 tomato plants were pulled and bagged the weekend of August 8, 2009.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Monday Harvest, October 5, 2009

I so pleased to be able to participate one more week for Harvest Mondays at Daphne’s Dandelions. I was able to squeak out a bit more from the garden last week.

These are the last of the Fast Break melons along with some lettuce that was picked for sandwiches:

I picked a few mini-peppers before pulling the plants:

The carrots that were planted in a pot didn’t grow much, but there is enough to slice up for stir fry:

The first pea pods were picked too and these will also be used in stir fry:

Not a fruit or vegetable, but I wanted to share my one and only sunflower that decided to bloom almost a week after our first frost:

Visit Daphne’s Dandelions to see what others have harvested this week.