Monday, May 30, 2011

May 30, 2011

Norms are averages of the extremes, as the weather saying goes, and so it is that while Northern farmers are receiving too much rain, we have seen too little.  But thank the good Lord we have also been spared so much extreme weather that came with it.  Thursday evening, upon stepping outside, Bryan remarked to the family, “Hey, It is raining.”  And that was remarkable since we ended a dry month with showers that dropped 1.3 inches on our eagerly-waiting vegetable patch.

Peas were priority on the weekend, and we picked this 5-pound shopping bag full.  With the help of our children, we all became pea pod poppers and shelled out 3 quarts.  What we did not eat fresh we blanched and froze for later.  Pea plants look like they haven’t been touched, however, with the volume of pods still filling out, making this harvest look small compared to what’s yet to come.  And we are still getting spinach; after picking peas, Bryan brought in a sizeable bag full.

One of our tomato secrets comes from the Amish – they sprinkle Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) around which act both as fertilizer and natural deterrent to slugs and snails.  About 1 Tbls per plant (4 sq. ft. area) is sufficient.  Many plants respond well to extra trace minerals as they come into flower. 

Sweet corn is shooting up in this warm, humid environment, but is still small enough to cultivate with a Mantis tiller without disturbing its shallow root system.  Once leaves touch, we will use a hoe to hill up each plant, which gives it mores stability and resistance to wind, and which encourages the development of auxiliary roots.  Now is the time to pamper corn, because cells that will become the ear form when the plant is a few inches high.

Tomatoes and peppers are blooming, red raspberries are in season, and the first blueberries are coloring up.  Wishing everyone a happy Memorial Day, also the traditional beginning of meteorological summer – happy growing, y'all!

Monday, May 23, 2011

May 23, 2011

Somebody turned the furnace on over the weekend - temperatures soared into the 90's F for our first foreshadowing of summer, but it was a dry heat.  Our property has seen only 0.05 inches of measurable rain in May.  Corn and pumpkins have now sprouted.

Garlic cloves planted last October are usually ready to harvest by end of May, but since many crops are two weeks ahead of schedule this year, we thought we'd check them now.  We're glad we did.  If left too long, garlic heads can start splitting.  They are ready to harvest when cloves are filled out and covered with several layers of skin.  We dug all the crop, three dozen heads, and set it in the sun to cure.  Dry air and warm temperatures finished the process in three days.  Stems were braided together to make a garlic rope, which we hung in an airy spot outdoors until its pungent fragrance dissipates.  Before braiding, we reserved the three largest heads to use as "seed" garlic next October since the size of the clove you plant affects the size you'll harvest.  Garlic is widely known for heart health and many other benefits:  home grown is reportedly the healthiest because it contains more sulfur compounds.
We're harvesting some nice heads of lettuce now, and the spinach came back - a welcome addition to salads, still not bitter.  Carrot thinnings are six inches long and so sweet our seven-year-old had a hard time deciding between them and dessert, no joke!  Soaker hoses laid down last month are a life saver for watering.

Monday, May 16, 2011

May 16, 2011

Planting is finished--let the celebration begin!  Four varieties of pumpkins, another crop of sweet corn, and sunflowers all went in the ground on Saturday filling every square foot of available space.  Ever feel that twinge of temptation while walking through an outdoor lawn and garden center where flats of plump leafy herbs, tomatoes, annuals, and perennials are reaching out asking to be adopted into a home to grow for the summer?  "Just one more tomato--I'm not very big," it reasons.  Worst is that slightly neglected plant in the back with sad, droopy leaves, so mournfully saying it needs the loving attention of a caring gardener.  The crisis moment of decision builds, and is past.  No, not this year I reply, we don't have room for another plant.  And with that the shopping cart turns to a more useful purpose. 

Visions of a relaxing summer on the deck with a glass of lemonade while waiting for the harvest tempt us, too.  Rude reality isn't far off, however, since a fresh crop of May weeds are springing up with the vegetable seed.  Planting is finished, but there will be watering, cultivating, weeding, staking, harvesting, preserving, weeding, harvesting, preserving ad infinitum through November!  Spring peas are next to harvest and only a week away.  No one will know if a few of these tender green pods slip from the vine to be eaten fresh before their fruit swell: vines have been loaded with flowers for weeks and are sending out pea pods in clusters.  Aside from the lack of rain (May can be one of the driest months of the year in South Carolina), it's been a great Spring for peas.

Tomatoes and peppers have been slow growing, but heirloom varieties generally are not as lush as their hybrid counterparts.  This week we add carrots and parsley to the list of vegetables ready to harvest and add to our spring salads.  We will be checking on the garlic this week to know if it is ready to pull and cure: it needs to have several layers of papery skin and cloves that are filled out well.  The melon patch is established with seedlings, and the first set of sweet corn is two inches high.  Joy was about to add an old sack of shriveled potatoes to our compost bin when we both had the same thought: they were already sprouting, why not see if we could grow them?  Space is limited, but we thought perhaps on the outside row of sweet corn they would receive enough light.  So we put them in the ground and will add potatoes to our list of experimental vegetables this year!

Monday, May 9, 2011

May 9, 2011

This back yard was a vast expanse of lawn punctuated with a few mature trees when we moved in one year ago; the addition of more than 70 fruiting trees and bushes, and a 2,000 sq. ft. vegetable garden have enabled us to live independent of grocery store produce shipped across thousands of miles from domestic and international sources.  Now all it needs is a few chickens to make it a true hobby farm, but we'll save that for a future year.

Spinach season has come to a happy end - on Saturday we cut the plants off at ground level, more than enough to fill a tall kitchen trash bag.  It was washed, and what we did not save for fresh use was blanched and packed into freezer bags to enjoy later.

Each section of the garden is planned seasonally, and we practice succession planting and crop rotation so that no part of the garden goes to waste - something is growing or in production nearly year-round.  Now that spinach is gone, the ground is clear to plant pumpkins.  Bryan dug wells in the middle of the plot and filled them with aged, composted manure.  Even in this little space we grow four varieties:  Prizewinner (giant), New England Pie (sweet), Connecticut Field, and Jack Be Little (mini).  The former are always a hit at the annual Pumpkin Festival in Pumpkintown each October.

"If you grow pumpkins, you will be happy when you pick them.  Savor what you feel, in addition to what you taste.  Enjoy the blossoms - if pumpkins were rare, gardeners would pamper them in greenhouses just for their extraordinary flowers."  --J. L. Hudson as quoted in The Perfect Pumpkin, by Gail Damerow.  Seed will go in the ground this Saturday the 14th.

As an experiment this year we planted nine Aunt Molly's ground cherry bushes from seed - sent as a free gift from a mail order company.  The idea of annual fruit sounds appealing.  Compare the garden now to what it looked like in February, here.

Monday, May 2, 2011

May 2, 2011

May is a month of promise in the vegetable garden.  Seed of cantaloupe, honeydew melon, cucumbers, zucchini and squash have been sown, and this week corn and beans will be planted as the crescent moon waxes.  Does planting by the moon really work?  For millennia, people who depended on farming for survival have been following the practice based on careful observation.  Rather than point to mysticism, we point to principles governed by the Creator; just as the moon affects tides, it seems to affect seed germination for good.

Last month's green manure crop of red clover has all composted and left the soil more workable (and, we hope, healthy).  But while cultivating rows to plant corn, we pulled enough rocks out to fill three 5-gallon buckets.  Someone must have used one corner of our corn patch as a rock dump when grading the subdivision.  This garden represents every sower and seed parable told, and as the lesson goes, there will be no harvest if we leave it like that.  Our fix?  Throw some composted manure in to make up the difference!  We're planting half the corn now, and the other half two weeks later to get an extended harvest.

This is a single head of leaf lettuce 'Salad Bowl' that we planted last September.  The funny thing is, after a fall harvest, we thought winter cold killed it, and attempted to till it under to make way for the peas you see behind Bryan in the picture; but it didn't die, it came back - with a vengeance!  Despite the challenges of gardening in a new location, it's good to know that some things are a success.  Raspberries are in bloom, strawberries are in season, and we are looking forward to a great blueberry crop in a month!

Last week the summer vegetable garden received 3-D structure with the addition of tomato and pepper cages and stakes.  Aluminum electrical conduit pipe makes a great garden stake (or temporary fence pole, tree support, etc).  Pipe comes in 10 foot sections in any hardware store and at $2 each is not an expensive investment.  Cut each pipe in half with a hack saw to make two garden stakes that will last for years.

25-ft. row of spring peas starting to climb.

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 (