Friday, June 29, 2012

The End of June Garden and a Hot Day

We're entering into a run of hot and humid weather here in the northeast, so I'll limit my garden activities to morning and evening now. This is the time of year where the garden looks very lush, since there's still a fair amount of rain and the summertime diseases haven't hit the growth yet. The peas are about done for now, but the swiss chard, kale and cabbages are coming in hot and heavy. My broccoli did fair. I should be getting zucchini any day now, but each day I eagerly look to see if the baby squashes are big enough to pick yet and they aren't quite. I thought zukes were supposed to double in size practically overnight! Never mind; I never have had much luck with them, so what do I know?
Here's a look at the end-of-June garden:

 My spouse mad those pretty little garden gates for me. He is a neat sort of person. I, unfortunately, am a cluttered sort and I think it drives him crazy. But he tolerates it.
 In the foreground you'll notice an open space between the garlic and the onions. That is where I harvested my softneck garlic from and it's since been re-planted with beans. Below is a close-up of the hardneck garlic, which should be ready soon to harvest. Last year I'd already dug them up by now, but this year they seem to be staying green longer. I hope that translates to bigger bulbs!
 A close-up of a bed of storage cabbages and some kale plants  
 My winter squash bed. I'd like to train those tendrils toward the fence and the outside of the garden, but odds are they will defy me and grow to the right, crowding my cucumbers and pole beans.
 A bed of coastal star romaine lettuce and behind that a few varieties of red cabbage and even further behind near the fence are onions.
To the left I have a long bed of pepper and eggplants, to the right you can see the summer squash. Down the center, in the foreground are beets (quite spotty in the front bed, because cutworms really went after the sprouts with a vengeance in spring), behind the second beet bed is a bed of shallots and behind that carrots and sugar snap peas.
I didn't really include pictures of the tomatoes, cukes and pole beans or the early lettuce bed which is now being replanted with late summer squash. And behind the tall sugar snap peas at the back of the garden is a long bed where my shelling peas were. That is being               replanted with some little heat resistant lettuces that I sure hope make it so we can      keep having nice summer salads.                                                                                 
One of the biggenst changes to gardening, for me at least, is succession planting and extending the season. It makes for more work, but it also makes for a much greater harvest. Since my soil is rather marginal (I'm working to improve it every year) and my sunlight is so limited, these techniques are hugely helpful to getting us a decent harvest.                                                                                                                        

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Alpine Strawberries

 Last year I planted alpine strawberries from seed. Those seeds were absolutely teeny-tiny and I was surprised they actually grew and eventually became pretty big plants. I grew a red variety as well as a yellow variety and my husband kindly made two nice raised beds for them which look a whole lot neater and prettier than my poor photograph below of one of the beds. I am going to have to get some lessons in photography one of these days!
 We have regular strawberries as well, which are my husbands domain. Unfortunately this was not a great year for them and many of the few we got were chowed on by slugs. But as you can see, we have the alpines, though slugs like them just as well. They just present a smaller target I guess.
Alpine strawberries are much smaller than cultivated strawberries as they are essentially a wild strawberry. They are less juicy and have a creamier texture. But they are everbearing and will produce all summer and well into the fall. Picking them takes a lot of effort, a bit like picking wild blueberries because you do a lot of work for a relatively small return, but there is something about their wildness that I find attractive and worth the effort.
Last year we noticed how productive they were even in early October and were patting ourselves on the back in anticipation of a nice little fall harvest. The very next morning I went out and found both strawberry beds mowed to the ground, with just stubble remaining. I guess deer like the taste of those nice green plants with a touch of sweetness thrown in when the rest of the greens have gone. It's probably too much to hope they don't remember them this year!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Harvest Monday

Harvest Monday is hosted by Daphne's Dandelions each week. It's a great place to go and see what people are harvesting in their gardens this week! This is the second week I'll be joining in the fun.
This week was a good week for harvesting with a lot of firsts. My first cauliflower, admittedly small and starting to button already. Believe me, my photos make everything look a lot bigger than they are. A lot! On the plate beside the cauli are some broccoli "heads" the size of a single spear and a kohlrabi.
 My first cabbage! Looks good, doesn't it? It is the variety Farao, which I've had a lot of luck with. I have quite a few more coming in. Does anybody have any good cabbage recipe ideas besides coleslaw and sauerkraut?
 My first beets of the year. Can you tell which one is the Cylindra? These will be roasted and eaten in our salads.
 I've started digging the soft neck garlic, the smaller ones that have flopped over and gotten brown. This is the first year I've grown soft neck garlic and I didn't know you really shouldn't bother planting the tiniest cloves, so I have a lot of very small ones but they are still good for cooking with! The larger softnecks and all the hardnecks will likely be harvested next week sometime. I love homegrown garlic and it amazes me how many people around here think you can only grow it in California!
 This week the swiss chard really started coming in! I freeze a lot of it and use it all year, but it tastes so much better fresh and steamed. Of course, all vegetables taste best fresh, no doubt about it.
 Kale too! This batch was soon turned into kale chips. Addicting way to get in some extra greens.
 Finally, some broccoli. They were yummy! My heads are always verrrrrry small, but they are a good treat in any case. I just wish I could grow larger heads!
 More lettuce. Our lettuce is winding down now and we will miss it, but I must say I won't miss the vast quantities I was having to pick and wash. I still have quite a few romaines growing and a new wave of heat resistant varieties waiting in the wings to be planted out.
 The ubiquitous peas of three varieties. Snow peas in the red bowl, just hitting their stride. Sugar snap peas in the basket at their peak. Shelling peas in the white bowl at the end of the line. I'll be pulling the shelling pea plants this week and prepping the bed for something new.
The one big downer of the week was that with all the severe wind on Friday and then a strange, dry wind front that came through to our surprise on Saturday, I found one of my big healthy summer squash plants snapped off at the base. Oh, that made me sad! Still, there are plenty of other ones and it looks (though I don't like to count my chickens before they hatch), it looks... like I may have my first ever good year of zucchini and yellow squash. Won't that be nice!
Hoping all you gardeners out there are enjoying the bounty of your labors!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

And Now For Something a Completely Different

My blog list is growing. I really enjoy reading about everyone's gardening adventures and it seems like every day I add a new blog to my list to follow. I learn so much from other garden bloggers and I have to say I am pleasantly surprised by how encouraging you all are to my blog! Not that I'm surprised you readers are encouraging, I'm just surprised you have checked my blog out at all! So thanks to everyone!
The "completely different" part of this post is a blog I added to my list that has nothing to do with gardening. It is comic blog of delight and the man who posts there doesn't do so very often, so it's easy to follow. It is my younger son's blog (if you want to call it that, lol). He is an illustrator and graphic novelist who has had eight books published so far and is now working on a new one. The last five were written for kids and the next two will be too. We are very proud of him and of his work, not because of his successes, such as they are, but because he works so hard at what he does and he never gives up. His books do not bring him a lot of money, but they are his and he is doing what he loves. He also has a day job, as every starving artist does. His fiancee does the same thing and also lives a "double life", i.e. day job and art job. Between them they are two very hard workers! So here's to all people who dare to dream, do what they love and are willing to work for it!
OK, next time it's back to gardening. I promise.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Apres- Storm

We were hit yesterday with a brief but intense storm. Winds were torrential, almost tropical storm force, trees were down, roads were closed and we lost our electricity from 5pm until about 9am today. One friend said a tree in front of her house literally exploded. Sounds like a lightning strike to me. Our small town and the one next to us were said to be two of the hardest hit in the (admittedly small) state.
I shouldn't get so worked up about power outages, but CT got the worst of Hurricane Irene last fall and we had no power for eight days. There's a lot of outrage in this state over how our electric company operates when we pay some of the highest rates in the country. After Irene, we had a freak early snowstorm in October and again most of the state lost power for over a week. We were lucky here to avoid that, but we get pretty testy lately. A good part of the problem is that we are a heavily wooded state and it's the downed trees and branches that cause the outages. Years ago the electric company was diligent to trim branches and take down trees that were close to the wires, but in today's cut the expenses at any cost to maximize the profits world, this is seen more and more rarely. And we are paying the price.
Anyway...The damage in the garden wasn't too bad. My onions were flattened, but today they're making a valiant effort to rise up again. You'll see I had some pepper and eggplants knocked over. And you'll wonder how this can be, when I have a nice little stake next to each one. Why didn't she tie them up you'll ask? Well, I'm asking that too! But honestly, I didn't think I'd need to tie them this early in the game. Ah, but we live and learn!
Flattended onion plants struggling to stand up again
Unhappy little eggplant
Yeah, there's that useless stake alright!
Another sad little pepper

And please disregard all those weeds you see in the walking paths! I just can't seem to keep up with them this year!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Gooseberry Jam

We have a few gooseberry bushes we planted on the property many years ago and generally neglected. Two years ago I decided to make jam from the berries of one bush near our house and liked the results so much I decided to do it again the following year. Of course, that year there was not a berry to be had! But this year we had plenty! The bush by the house produced and so did a few bushes lost in the weeds surrounding the outside of the garden, enough to make a batch and a half of jam.
Gooseberries are a bit like  rhubarb in that they are very sour and need lots of sugar to make them palatable. They do sweeten up as they ripen, but by the time they are sweet enough I find they are unpleasant to eat. But they make wonderful jam which you find easily in Europe but not so much here in the U.S. Of course, the real chore came after they were picked and I had to pinch off stems and blossoms. Took a few hours!
Here are the results of my labor. It will be so tasty on some warm  homemade bread on a cool autumn day! We are going to be near 100 degrees today, so that image of fall coolness is a nice one to keep in mind!
Notice how the jam is almost a rosy color even though the gooseberries were green. As they ripen, my gooseberries do turn pinkish and surprisingly when I make the jam they turn color too. I've seen green gooseberry jam in the store, but not mine.
No work in the garden today, other than water. It's too darn hot!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Harvest Monday...???

Yipes! Trying to link to harvest Monday at for Harvest Monday. Being so completely green at this I'm sure I'm doing something wrong here, but do go and enjoy the harvests people are sharing about!
It's coming in hot and heavy here and I'm having a little trouble keeping up! I think it's more a matter of mindset than anything else. How do people who are working full time jobs and gardening too do it?
Anyway, here's what I harvested this week:
Still getting lettuce by the bushelful!

First harvest of sugar snap peas

Kohlrabi and mizuna

I also harvested another basketful of shelling peas and my first harvests of swiss chard and kale but forgot to take pictures of them. It's been a good week!
I find that I froze way too much chard and snap peas last year. There are still quite a few packets left. Here's the question: do I chuck those old frozen veggies into the compost and just replace with new? I sure hate to waste, but with all the fresh vegetables coming in we won't be eating frozen until late fall and it would probably be better to have more recently frozen ones. That's the way I'm leaning. Don't tell my husband, he probably wouldn't take it well!
Hoping all you gardeners out there have a fruitful week and good weather! 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Little Bit of History

I love that vegetable gardening is exploding everywhere these me thinking about how I got to this obsession at this point in my life, so I thought I'd go into a little bit of history.
I'd wanted a garden since I was a teen and spent time in my grandfather's amazing garden in Germany. He was a farmer in his youth and after the war, having started life anew as a refugee in a different part of Germany, he eventually gardened to provide food for his family. As I said, his garden was simply amazing and it was huge. Probably a half acre and tended by one man in his seventies. I was impressed
and inspired.
When I married back in the 70s there was a big "back to the land" movement going on, with people, mostly young, desiring to relearn the life skills their grandparents had and to live more simply. My husband and I were part of that. We built our house on 6 wooded acres we got from his parents and proceeded to put in a veg garden, some fruit trees and create our "homestead". got in the way. Kids were born, careers started and living the standard American dream began. I started nursing school and my gardening ended abruptly the day my schooling began. With two small kids and all that work I just couldn't make myself do it. D, my husband, continued the garden on a much smaller scale and somewhat intermittantly. He eventually abandoned the original garden and created a new smaller one closer to the house. And so it went.
Fast forward...and I do mean 2008. Retirement! We were both blessed to be able to retire pretty young if we were willing to live on much less. And we chose to do it. One of the first things I did was troll the internet looking for information about living frugally. I learned so much from so many great blogs! Those frugal blogs led me to the gardening blogs and rekindled the gardening fire in me. I resurrected and expanded the original garden. D still keeps his garden too. I tend to try everything, he tends to put in his basic favorites and between us we do OK.
A few months ago, I came upon a stack of old Organic Gardening magazines I'd saved from the seventies and read through them. The articles sounded so much like what I read online today! It made me a little sad to see how a good strong movement had gotten sidelined as so many of my generation abandoned it like we did. I hope that doesn't happen again. I hope all those young people that are so enthusiastic now for gardening and homesteading stick with it because although it is hard work, it is also so very rewarding!

Friday, June 15, 2012

So Excited!

Look what I found in my garden yesterday!
Yes, it's a baby cauliflower! This picture is not the best (I'm not the greatest photographer) and it makes that baby look a lot bigger than it is. But, I've never grown cauliflower before and I've heard they're tough to grow. Thought I'd give it a shot anyway, since one thing I do like to do is to try new things. I actually found four such little caulis out of the seven I planted. Time will tell if they grow into nice sized edibles. I have never had success, though I try every year, with growing a good broccoli head; they stay rather small, so I wonder if the cauliflowers won't do the same or will "button up" as I've read.
We're finally getting some nice sunny weather around here, so I'll be out there weeding and digging pretty soon. The weeds have really taken over. Why is it so very easy to grow a weed? You don't even have to try!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

PEEZ Please!

So yesterday I harvested the first substantial amount of shelling peas! Don't ask me what variety they are, because I don't remember! Usually I mail order all my seeds, but these were off the shelf, because I have never grown anything but sugar snap and snow peas before. I just didn't feel the amount of peas I'd get would justify the space they took up in the garden. But this year was different. I had a long, newly dug bed that needs to have the soil improved, so I thought I'd grow thickly sown shelling peas there kind of like a ground cover. Figured the roots would add nitrogen to the soil and as a bonus, I'd get some peas. Well, man, what a bonus! Yes, I know that the 3 and a half pounds of peas I picked yesterday translated to only a pound of peas to eat, but the taste was so far beyond any peas I've ever eaten that it is worth it! I think I'll be planting peas from now on. And the sugar snaps are still on the menu, they are coming in nicely and I've been munching them while I'm out in the garden doing other chores. Should be harvesting them in quantity any day now. Snow peas got planted a few weeks later, so they are only just beginning to blossom.
I thinned my beets and noticed how the chard and kale got big almost overnight, but today it's all about the peas, baby!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Catching Up

For some reason this year I feel like I have to push to catch up with what needs to be done in the garden. Hm, maybe I say that every year. The biggest problem has been that so much time is devoted to the digging of new raised beds. Sometimes I work on them oh, so slowly and sometimes, like when I'm feverishly trying to get in the squash plants before it's too late, I manage to dig them at quite a good pace. Thankfully, I am working on the very last one, so this should not be a problem next year. The bed is about 20 feet long and I've dug about 5 feet of it. Saturday I spent the morning digging enough of it to plant out the last two of my Burgess Buttercup seedlings. I found that one empty cell in my planter actually had a seed in it with a tiny tail sprout, so I planted it for fun to see if it turns into a plant or not. Then I planted a second round of beets in one of the garden's empty beds and planted out a new round of bok choy seedlings in the newly empty spinach bed.
The greens are still coming in hot and heavy, so have spent a lot of time prepping them. Harvest can be as much work as the actual planting and tending of the garden! But it is certainly gratifying! I'll begin picking peas in earnest this week. So excited to have fresh peas to eat this year!

This week I have a new round of lettuce seedlings to get in somewhere if I can find the space, as the earliest lettuce is starting to get bitter. I have about 300 marigold seedlings that need to be transplanted too. Yep. I definitely need to push myself before the real hot weather hits!

Here's a look at the beds in April!
And the garden now!

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Kohlrabi is one of those vegetables that's not very well known or liked here in the US. Quite different in Germany, where my mother comes from. The first time I ever saw or tasted kohlrabi was in Germany when I was nine and on a visit to my grandmother's. She made a creamy stew out of kohlrabi that I absolutely loved. I wish I'd been old enough to pay attention to how she made it. I do know this: she made use of the entire plant, leaves and all, unlike many of the kohlrabi recipes I see over here. She chopped up the bulb and the leaves. The leaves are quite edible, tasty and good for you. Last year I attempted to duplicate my grandmother's kohlrabi and after checking out a number of recipes online, I developed a tasty soup recipe that I think brings back the flavors of Oma's dish. Harvested our first kohlrabis today and I think I'll soon be making some soup! 
               Kohlrabi Soup
6-8 small kohlrabi, peeled and cubed, save leaves and chop up
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 large potato, peeled and cubed
4 sliced mushrooms
2 Tablespoons flour
1 and 1/2 Tablespoons butter, divided
1 chicken bouillon cube (or vegetable bouillon)
3 cups water
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream (or light or fat free)
pepper, salt, nutmeg, a pinch each, to taste

Saute the cubed kohlrabi, chopped kohlrabi leaves, mushrooms, onions in 1 Tbsp. or the butter plus 1 teaspoon olive oil until mushrooms and onion are soft. Add water, bouillon, seasonings and simmer. Add potato.  In a separate saucepan make a roux of the flour, remaining butter. Add milk and wisk over heat until thick. Add to the kohlrabi mixture. Wisk in sour cream, simmer a few more minutes, then serve.

This is a somewhat lighter dish than what my grandmother made, but it is tasty and really highlights the kohlrabi well!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Working with the bumps in the road...

So, I'm trying to start a blog. I know, late to the party, but still it seems like a way to get out my thoughts about gardening, simplifying and making retirement fulfilling and affordable. I almost quit from the get-go when I found on my first attempt day before yesterday I was unable to add photos and text that I wanted to the templates of the blog. I STILL don't know what to do. But I don't want to crawl away with my tail between my legs so at least I will post something today and hope to work out the problems eventually.
We have had a run of very gloomy, wet and cold days here in CT. Not conducive to spending time in the garden, but I was praying for a good soaking rain last week and am grateful we did get that. The slugs are out in force. So far I have harvested lettuce and asian greens (tatsoi, bok choy, komatsuna, mibuna and mizuna.) I love asian greens because they are so versatile and easy to grow! Also have gotten a small harvest of swiss chard and kale and some french breakfast radishes.
I am growing shelling peas for the first time ever. Picked a handful yesterday which yielded a few mouthfuls of steamed peas that tasted heavenly! I've never eaten fresh peas before (not counting sugar snaps and snow peas which we've eaten lots of.)
My garden consists of lots of raised beds in various shapes and sizes surrounded by a fence. I'll put up a picture of it some day when I figure out how to. In previous years I found I didn't have enough space for everything I wanted to grow, so I kept expanding it. This year the expansion is almost complete. I have one more 20 by 3 foot bed to make. I dig them by hand with a spade and boy will I be glad that job is done! Feeling I finally have the room I need. Now if I could just get rid of some of the trees that shade it so much. Well, one step at a time. Ooh, can it be?? I got a picture up, just in the wrong place! It's a start! That is a photo of last year's garden. I'll get to work with pix of this year's now that I know I can get them up here. Hooray, progress!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Jumping in Without a Clue...

Yikes. My first blog. Ever. The question is will I keep it up or not? Just fiddling around with this template on Blogger is daunting enough and no doubt it'll be weeks before I get things done the way I want them. Add pictures? You've got to be kidding! Hmm, I tried a few on the header and only time will tell how THOSE came out!
Anyhow, I'm hoping to write about veggie gardening. I retired 3 years ago after 25 years working as a registered nurse in a local hospital. Immediately ressurected my old vegetable garden, abandoned lo those many years ago when I had two small boys and had just started nursing school. We come full circle I think. That year I started gardening again was 2009 when here in CT it rained some 23 out of 25 days that June. Nothing grew! And the tomatoes were hit by late blight. Not mine though. My tomato plants never grew taller than 6 inches high! We had armies of slugs marching accross the property eating everything in sight. Yet by the end of that summer I was hooked, despite all.
Now I am on my fourth summer garden and each year there is improvement. My garden location is less than ideal, it is surrounded by huge trees and doesn't get near enough sunshine, but I do my best. Have harvested a glut of lettuce so far this spring; over 20 pounds, and I'm giving it away by the bagful. Every summer is a new adventure and always more to learn. Guess that's all for now. I need to sort my thoughts out about this blog thing!