Sunday, August 31, 2014

new winter harvest calendar

To improve on my timing for winter harvest crops, I've added a Winter Planting Calendar to my online planting calendar. I added a link on the sidebar and here too: Winter Planting Calendar.

I was reading on the Johnny's Seeds website:
Winter harvest crops are planted in late summer or early fall for harvest throughout the winter. ... for harvest before and during the "Persephone Period," when day length is less than 10 hours and plant growth essentially reaches a standstill.
You can look up when daylight falls below 10 hours in your town using this site: USNO Duration of Daylight Calculator. For me, its November 10.

I've tried for many years to get a cold frame full of greens to eat all winter. One winter I was successful with a good crop of spinach. Usually I plant too late; the crop holds over the winter and begins to grow again in spring for a nice spring harvest. This is good too. Some winters, its just too cold and the crops are killed.

Using my new calendar I now know that its definitely too late to plant lettuce for winter harvesting. I have some seedlings I planted several weeks ago that should be good. But maybe I could get away with sowing some spinach and arugula seeds this weekend. I'm working on putting together a cold frame or some covered hoops in my garden.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

making pickles!

canning_9499 I don't have much experience making pickles, but I'm putting up as much as I can this year. I got the Ball Home Preserving Book (edited by Judi Kingry & Lauren Devine). In the past couple weeks I've made:
Dilled Beans
End of the Garden Pickles
Grandma's Dill Pickles

Not from this book, I've also made:
Blue Ribbon Dill Pickles
Annie's Salsa
Half Sour Pickles Deli Style, these were too salty for us and went to the compost

My favorite pickle recipe so far:
NY Times Sour Pickles, a fantastic, simple deli half sour dill pickle. Yumm!

I plan to make a few more recipes from the Ball book:
Cucumber Relish
Victorian Barbeque Sauce

Also, I have a bunch of pear recipes marked as I've got a big crop ripening on my trees. The recipes sound really good.

canning_9496 canning_9494 canning_9501

hen pecked pullets

My two new pullets still aren't getting on so well with the big hens. I've had the pullets two weeks now. They've been staying in a dog crate next to my coop. I let all four hens out to forage for several hours on most days. The big hens will tolerate the small ones at about 5 feet away. They also tend to keep them away from food bowls and the coop area once they're out. The pullets like to forage in the woods and they can escape the big hens there and scratch in peace.

After one week, I tried putting the pullets in with the big hens overnight. It turned out to be a one night experiment. The big girls chased the pullets and kept them confined to a corner. They were pretty shaken by morning. I am going to wait a bit more before trying another overnight.

chickens 9410 chickens 9409 chickens 9406

Friday, August 29, 2014

soil test results say the compost was the problem

I think the results from my soil testing are pretty clear. It's not looking good for the compost...
leaves compost_9367 leaves tom bed _9381 leaves greens bed _9374 leaves sub soil_9376

I did the testing because my tomato plants had terribly curled and leathery leaves, tall spindly growth, and very few fruits this year. I had brought in purchased loam and compost this spring, since we have a new property and I don't have my own compost yet and needed to new fill raised beds. For the test, I planted the same tomato seeds in samples of 4 different soils: 1) purchased compost, 2) the mixed soil from the tomato bed (a mix of purchased compost and purchased loam), 3) soil from my lettuce bed (no purchased compost or loam in this), and 4) soil from our yard below the garden beds. Representative primary leaves of seedlings grown in these 4 samples are shown in the same order above.

I think the secondary leaves of the compost-grown test plants look leathery and curled just like my garden plants. The mixed tomato bed soil is sort-of leathery, but the green's bed plants look great. The sub-soil plants are yellow reflecting the lack of nutrients in this soil.

I find it disappointing that purchased compost is toxic to tomato plants. I live in a fairly urbanized area and the compost I bought was made from local yard waste.

Janice, who lives south of me in CT, emailed me and wrote that she contacted an organic farmer last year about a source for good composted manure and he warned about toxic manures these days due to lingering herbicides in animal feed and recommended sticking with home composting and cover crops. It seems this animal feed toxicity is often a problem now in garden composts. Herbicides used on lawns aren't as toxic or persistent as for example, Roundup, which is what is sprayed on the Roundup Ready (GMO) corn used for animal feed. So my compost should have been OK if it was just suburban grass clippings and leaves with suburban lawn chemicals. But it seems its not OK as my tomatoes didn't grow well at all in it. I'm really disappointed that there are so many chemicals in use that we can't buy a safe compost product. I look forward to producing my own compost and not being in a position where I need to purchase compost or loam for my gardens.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

my backyard garden


imagining a new pantry for storing vegetables

I have this vision of a pantry full of stored homegrown vegetables. Shelves full of canned pickles and tomatoes. Baskets full of winter squashes and potatoes. A fridge with carrots, beets and cabbage. And a freezer with pesto and red sauce. Onions, shallots, garlic and dried chili peppers and herbs hanging from the ceiling. And jars of dried homegrown herbs on the shelves.

In our old house, I used a section of the basement for my winter pantry. Some years I filled it up pretty well with potatoes and squashes. Occasionally canned tomatoes too. Always pesto in the freezer.

Our new house currently has no storage space. I have onions stashed in the utility room and the shed. Pickles are lined up on the kitchen counter. But we have plans to build a garage that will have a room specifically designed to store my larder. We will design the size, shape, shelf configuration, etc. We are in the planning stages now and hopefully will break ground on the project mid September. Until then, I am enjoying imagining.

garlic and onions hanging

Monday, August 25, 2014

late blight hit my tomatoes

My curled leaved tomatoes have been hit a final blow, late blight. I picked all the red and green fruits and cut down the plants. I'll bag the infected plants soon and let them heat-kill in the sun for a few days before disposing in the trash.

I was able to harvest a good bucket of tomatoes to use for a few weeks. Here's hoping for a better tomato season next year!!

tomatoes_9431 tomatoes_9432

Sunday, August 24, 2014


edamame 9404 Edamame (or green soy beans) are one of my favorite things to grow. I planted two varieties this spring, Envy and Butterbeans. I planted Envy first and they ripened this past week. Soybeans ripen all at once, so I pull the whole plant, pile them on the kitchen counter, and pick the pods off as I watch TV in the evening. We freeze whatever we can't eat fresh. They are especially good this year.

today's harvest

Harvest 9393

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Skippy in T-shirt on Emily's quilt

skippy with T-shirt 9364 Skippy is looking very handsome in his T-shirt. He's wearing it to protect his surgery site. He got 6 stitches in his back where a suspicious lump was removed. It was an ugly lump - I'm glad its gone. The surgery doesn't seem to have bothered Skippy much, but I am keeping him quiet for a week - no running or jumping or playing.

Skippy is sitting on a quilt that a reader of my blog, Emily Lewis, hand quilted for me. She did a really beautiful job! Her website is: Emily Lewis Quilts. There's a picture of my quilt on her site. She finished my quilt in March of 2013, I remember. I remember I got a notice to pick it up at the post office, but couldn't get there for two days because of the house arrest in the Watertown area after the Marathon bombing. What a time!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

new chickens

introducing new pullets 9353 I just picked up my two new chickens at the post office. They (McMurray Hatcheries)shipped them much nicer this time, in a box twice a big as last time (for 3 chickens last time) and this box had a divider between the birds. I got two pullets (hens 15-22 weeks old). A Barred Rock (black and white) and another Black Australorp.

I was warned by Linda not to put them with the full grown birds right away, but to use a dog crate at first. SO I am using one of Skippy's crates for them. I expect to keep them in there a few days, then put them in the coop with the big birds.

So far, they are getting along great. They are cooing to each other and the big birds are staying near the crated young hens. My big hens have been pretty skittish and stay in the woods under cover when they go out of their coop now. I am not letting them out as much as before as I'm skittish too.

introducing new pullets 9351 introducing new pullets 9348 introducing new pullets 9356

Monday, August 18, 2014

today's harvest

harvest 8-18-2014

red sauce

red sauce My tomato bowl filled up again today, so time to make red sauce.

When I make red sauce I peel, seed and chop tomatoes, then simmer about an hour. More detail: I boil a big pan of water and then put a few tomatoes at a time in it for about 1 minute till their skin starts to split. Remove and cool. Then peel skin. I squeeze out as many seeds as I can, then chop the pulp. I put all tomato pulp in a big pan and simmer, stirring occasionally till it is as thick as you want it. Usually about 1 hour of simmering.

My mom has extra tomatoes too this year (what a great year!) and wants to make sauce, but my skinning and seeding steps seem to much work. (They go fast for me since I have a routine.) My brother said to whirl the tomatoes in a blender and then boil them down. She thinks this sounds easier than peeling them all. My brother said the blender is good enough so you don't have pieces of skin. What do you think? My mom will try this sometime this week and see how it goes. I am looking forward to her report.

I have tried before to just core the tomatoes and cook them down. Can't get any easier. I cut them in half, thinking I'd pull out as much skin as I could. Here's a post I did on this: short-cut red sauce. It was a really really delicious sauce with lots of tomato varieties also squash and carrots added, but I ended up taking a lot of time trying to remove the skin and wasn't successful at taking out much of it so I ended up pureeing it.

After reading my old recipe, I think I will add some summer squash and carrots to my red sauce tonight.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

today's harvest

harvest 8-13-2014

garden in the rain

I went out in the rain today to check my garden. I got totally soaked because I couldn't just check the garden fast as I had planned. Once there I had to weed and take pictures. I only had my cell phone, so they aren't the best photos. Skippy and Suzie came too and played while I wandered in the garden. We all got soaked.

garden 1 garden 2 garden 6 garden 5 garden 3 garden 10 skip and suzie

The photos remind me of things I need to do in the garden.
- The old pea vines need to come out. I'm waiting to do this until the fall seedling are ready to go in. I want to remember to get row cover ready to use for any Brassica's I plant as the cabbage worms are terrible here.
- The soy beans are ripening fast. I am keeping my eye on them as last year I waited too long to harvest. Getting the salt ready for fresh edamame!
- Lots of pretty eggplants coming along. I need to plan some eggplant recipes.
- I am thinking about whether to spray the popcorn tassels for corn ear worms. Its my first popcorn harvest here and I don't know if these are a problem. I guess my tendency is to not treat until I know I need to.

popcorn silks

popcorn tassels It is amazing how fast corn grows. Just a few days ago the tassels started showing and now full size tassel and silks.

popcorn popcorn tassels 2

ordering pullets

I'm ordering a couple pullets tonight. Another Australorp and a Cuckoo Maran. From McMurray Hatchery. For arrival next week.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

lost chicken

Penny feather My black chicken disappeared today.

The three chickens were out in the side yard, foraging, and I was in the front yard setting up some agility equipment for my dogs. I heard chickens Ginger and Bertha squawking so loud that I came over to see. It was just the two of them so I went to look for Penny, the black Australorp, my favorite. Usually if there's squawking, it's one chicken who got separated from the other two. I've watched before as one chicken squawks, the other two will mosey on over to her.

But that wasn't what happened this time. Down the hill I found a pile of feathers. Further along, another pile. One last feather by the woods near my vegetable garden. I looked in the woods but never found her. I worked in my garden a couple hours after that, hoping Penny would show up but she didn't.

I think it must have been a large animal to carry off a full grown, 5-7 lb chicken. I've seen a small coyote in our yard and a fox. My husband saw a big coyote. I'm told the big coyote has been seen by neighbors walking down the road. I suppose it was him who got my chicken. It was midday, broad daylight, about 2 pm.

Friday, August 08, 2014

corn is tasseling

My popcorn is tasseling! Also the pointy tips of ears are showing! I knew they would pop out any day now.

fall planting

Half of my lettuce did not sprout, so I have replanted it. Instead of just replanting the lettuce, I planted another whole tray of seedlings. How could one have too many?

tomato soil test day 7

test-2014-08-06 Looks to me like the "sub soil", the soil underneath my beds may be the problem. I did a soil test on this prior to plating and knew it was lacking in nutrients: pH 5.9, P very low(1.6), K low (63), Ca very low (500), Mg low (46), Sulfur good (14.2).

Maybe its not a toxic chemical in the soil or a virus, but could be the lack of nutrients? I fertilized once this season with granulated GardenTone, but think I will try a few treatments with a liquid compost tea or fish emulsion to get down into the lower soil where the roots are.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

soil test results

tomato test of soils9280 This is the test result at day 5. Seedlings are sprouting in three of the four soils: tomato bed, compost and greens bed. I'll give it more time before I make any conclusions.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

today's harvest

harvest 2014-0802 Beans, beans, beans! Plus a few beets and broccoli side shoots.

I need to find a good recipe for dilly beans....