Monday, April 25, 2011

April 25, 2011

What a long way we've come since February!  In two months' time, we've fleshed out the bare bones of the vegetable garden.  Green onions are now ready for harvest (the rest will be left to fatten into bulbs); spinach and lettuce are producing well, and these herbs are ready to toss into our culinary makings:  rosemary, chives, sage, Greek oregano, tarragon, thyme, mint.  Garlic scapes, the rage of high-end gourmets, are here; if you don't know what all the fuss is about, try an internet search for details and recipes.  We love adding them to eggs, saut├ęs, and garnishes because of their fresh, light garlic flavor, unlike anything we've tried from a grocery store.

Transplanting is almost finished; Bryan moved all varieties of tomatoes, peppers, and herbs dill and basil into their permanent growing locations in the garden.  We quickly ran out of milk jug covers for all these plants, but the broccoli have adjusted and are growing so well they were ready to relinquish theirs to be reused on others.  That master garden plan drawn up and dreamed over in January is finally coming to life.  This Saturday, Bryan made a trip to Whispering Pines Stables in an experiment to see just how smelly he can make our SUV!  Not really, but he did find plenty of fully composted and garden-ready horse manure which he brought back in buckets.

High temperature more consistently in the 80's F is warming the soil so that cucumbers, cantaloupe and honeydew melons, zucchini, squash, green beans, and corn will now readily sprout.  We plant way too much of this stuff to finish in one weekend, so sections of the garden are divvied up and each planted on a schedule.  Coming up this week are the vine crops, cucumbers, and melons.  We leave our cardboard and leaf mulch in place to discourage weeds and to keep developing fruit off the soil.  This way we do not have to till and disrupt soil structure underneath (keeping those earth worms happy!)  We simply pull a circle of leaves away from the planting mound, dig in lots of composted manure, and plant our seeds on top.

 Don't miss it!  Coming next month:  our attempt at growing the Great Pumpkin.  In summer 2009 Bryan grew this 83-pound Bix Max, and that was only the start of the fun.  This year we have Prizewinner seeds, and it will take all the right conditions - water, nutrients, and weather, to make a heavyweight that beats our previous record!

Monday, April 18, 2011

April 18, 2011

An especially turbulent cold front that caused damage across the nation arrived Friday night into Saturday, making any meaningful gardening impossible on the weekend.  We received 1.6 inches of rain overnight, and strong winds brought the last cold snap of the season.  Sunday mornings low in the 30's F was too chilly for heat-loving plants.  Fortunately we heeded the warnings and moved everything back inside under fluorescent lights for the weekend.  At worst, our house got a good pressure washing from the storm.
Fair weather to start this week will be ideal for transplanting.  Rather than improve the entire garden at once, I amend each individual transplanting hole with plenty of organic matter and nitrogen-rich composted manure.  A milk jug with the bottom removed caps each transplant until the space inside is filled with vigorous new growth.
Carrots and Onions
Our spring garden is healthy and green.  Five rows of spinach is producing regularly while peas are starting to climb their fence.  These carrots and onions are growing well. 
Spinach
What to do with all this spinach?!  By end of April we will be blanching and freezing it to pull out later, but while it is fresh this is our family's all-time favorite recipe:
Spinach and Cream Over Linguini
1/2 cup cream
1 Tbl butter
Linguini (4 servings)
20 ounces fresh spinach
Dash nutmeg
Salt to taste
Freshly shredded parmesan cheese
Bring cream and Tbl butter to soft boil on stove top on medium-high heat, stirring frequently.  As it is simmering, it will reduce considerably - turn heat down to monitor boiling rate.  Meanwhile, bring large pot of water to boil and prepare linguini according to package directions.  Measure 1/4 inch water in a second large pot with lid, bring to a boil, add spinach and cover.  Cook until it is wilted nicely, stirring occasionally so that it cooks evenly.  Drain spinach well, press some of the liquid out.  Add spinach to cream and stir with a dash nutmeg and salt to taste.  Drain linguini and toss, arrange on plates.  Serve spinach and cream over linguini with fresh shredded parmesan.  Serves 4.

Monday, April 11, 2011

April 11, 2011

Spring has arrived in earnest:  once again trees are shading us with their emerald green canopies, while a robin has chosen the grapevine wreath on our front door in which to build a nest.
Seedlings grown under fluorescent lights indoors are stocky and green, but they would wilt and scald if moved suddenly to full sun.  Hardening off is the process of conditioning a plant grown indoors so it is tough enough to withstand direct sun, wind, and rain.  Moving plants in and out every day is a lot of work, so a simpler method of hardening off is to set plants in shade and gradually move them to full sun.  There is a perfect spot under the dappled shade of a river birch in our yard that receives ideally sheltered conditions for these seedlings to acclimate to the great outdoors.  Plants purchased from garden centers usually require no process at all.
These four-week old broccoli seedlings are already acclimated and ready to transplant to permanent growing locations in the garden.  I use a shovel to dig holes large enough for each mature root system, back fill some top soil, and mix well with composted manure and a sprinkling of 10-10-10.  I top each transplant with a milk jug with the bottom cut out, to protect it from insects and the elements while it is still vulnerable.  Greenhouse conditions inside help ensure each plant is off to a good start.
The garden is changing to green as we are harvesting leaf lettuce and spinach.  To keep these crops in production longer, we snip just a few outer leaves from each plant and spare the crown to keep producing.  This weekend saw the completion of a cucumber fence and some needful weeding; I also re-tilled the future corn patch to better incorporate organic matter from last week's decaying cover crop.  Though the summer vegetable patch is still taking shape, the spring garden is ready to harvest!

Monday, April 4, 2011

April 4, 2011

One of our goals as organic gardeners is to make soil loose and open enough over time so we can retire our tillers for good; frequent tillage at the same depth can cause the development of hardpan, a compacted layer of soil below the surface that impedes root growth and water absorption.  The easiest and least expensive way to improve soil is by adding organic matter.  I read after the fact that cover crops should be worked into the soil when they're less than 6 inches tall, and that if the crop is taller, working it in will take more effort.  It was too late to follow the 6-inch rule; ours was 24!  Except for stopping to pull great bundles of clover out, the tiller really did a fine job mixing it in. 
Before tilling I noticed dozens of lady bird beetles (commonly known as ladybugs) perched atop the crop's tall leaves and stems.  These beetles are one of the gardener's best friends because both the adult and its larvae feed on aphids, scale insects, and other small soft-bodied pests.  I hope they stick around!  Red clover attracts and nurtures beneficial insects.  This section of the garden contained its own diverse ecosystem - there was evidence a rabbit had taken up residence too.  Maybe now it will find another home... fat chance, with a gourmet salad bar on hand!  I've already lost some peas to critters, but there's enough.  Organic gardening doesn't necessarily result in insect-free plants and picture-perfect produce; sometimes the only way to keep everyone happy is to plant some for you and some for them.
Mom liked to edge her vegetables with flowers, and certain plants such as marigolds bring the added benefit of naturally repelling pests.  We're going more for beauty with these exhibition gladiolus bulbs in one section; we traditionally line the corn patch with sunflowers, which attract several beneficial pollinators.
South Carolina is God's country this week as Spring is in full bloom; take some time to enjoy it.

About Me

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Dedicated to the responsible production and preservation of healthy home-grown food to the glory of God. Isaiah 55:10 The rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater. Organic, or not? We try to raise vegetables organically, using compost and manure. The addition of chickens to our hobby farm means plenty of organic nitrogen to compost! This site gives credible reference to planting information contained in the Farmer's Almanac (www.farmersalmanac.com).