Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Tomatos In Peril

Exactly how far can one go into summer without planting the warm weather crops? Things that I really, really want to be successful, like tomatoes and peppers. I planted some tomato plants outdoors a few weeks ago, and they are not looking so hot. I'm down to just the heirlooms, and they aren't looking so hot.

I'm blaming it on the cool spring we are having. Most days the high is just 75 or below. Last year at this time I had been running our air conditioning for a month. So hooray for my cool weather crops, we all know that weather makes for productive spinach (another pound yesterday). But what about my warm weather stuff? Will it have enough summer time to grow if I keep on waiting for 80 degree weather.

And do I hope for tomatoes at the expense of my broccoli? Google expert that I now am on broccoli, I know it should be harvested before daily temperatures are regularly in the 80s.

So, we have decided to take on a dramatic new tomato warming plan (insert dunt-da-da music). It involves coffee cans, which means I get to drink more coffee (celebratory dance here). We saw someone else doing it, basically they just put coffee cans with the bottoms cut out around their tomato plants. My husband thinks it will keep them warm and wet. I'm hoping their buzz will make them grow and produce massive quantities of tomatoes.

I've been drooling over my packet of heirloom seeds since I bought them. The descriptions of the different plants for which I have seeds were so yummy sounding I wanted to bite into the paper. And I've been dreaming of the incredible sauces, salsas and such I'd be turning them into in order to savor their colorful yumminess well into the winter.

Let's face it, there is nothing worse in the garden world than the thought of resorting to those mealy, grainy, burnt orange blah that grocery stores put out and try to call tomatoes. When they label them "vine ripened", I nearly laugh myself to tears in the produce department.

It was just a few months ago that I swore off these abominations. I did so with the full purpose and intention of growing an obscene amount of tomatoes in my experimental garden. If there is one thing I can grow, it's tomatoes. They are the only successful crop I've had for the past five years. The thought of going without for a whole year...Is there life without tomatoes?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Broccoli Shockoli

Did you know that broccoli and cauliflower are mulitharvest crops? Did you know they weren't just a once and done kind of thing. I did not know this. I have 25 broccoli and cauliflower plants growing in one of my garden beds.

That's right, 25. I had company over a few evenings ago for my son's first birthday. Someone asked me if "all those plants were broccoli and cauliflower?" (insert slow enunciation and questioning look). When I said yes and excused myself into the house, said guest preceded to explain to my husband that both plants continue to fruit (or vegetable as the case may be) as long as they are cut before they flower.

Ok, I should have done a little research before planting. I give you that much. But the whole experiment of the garden was to see how productive I could be without actually putting forth a lot of formal effort. Like research or planning, for example.

So now my problems are twofold.

1. I now have to learn the appropriate way to cut broccoli and cauliflower before they flower, (google, where are you?)

2. I'm going to have a whole lot of both veggies to figure out what to do with, (fingers crossed that they freeze well). Where is my 1956 Preserving Guide?

3. I get that cauliflower can flower, it is right there in the name. But how can you have a broccoli flower? How does it look in a vase?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Cucumber Failure

Houston, we have a problem. Things are dieing. The cucumbers, the cabbage, and the majority of the tomatoes.

I'm learning an important lesson here. Heirloom seeds are heirloom seeds for a reason.

Since I've only lived in this area for two summers, I consulted several friends before undertaking this gardening venture. One of them told me the key was heirloom seeds. That the soil was so poor, regardless of how I amended it, the only thing I would have success with was heirloom seeds.

I didn't know how this was going to turn out, so I didn't spend the money on heirloom seeds. I got only one package of them, some tomatoes. They are the only plants of the warmer weather crops I've transplanted outside that are still living. The rest are dead, or heading for the light.

I'm blaming myself for planting them outside too early, but we had a much warmer spring last year, so how was I to know that we'd see one nice 80 degree weekend and then 50's and 60's into June. Ooops.

The one thing I'm having luck with right now is my Spinach. And to think how scared I was of it. Now I get the clippers out twice a week and buzz to my heart's content. I had another large bowlful today. Although they were not heirloom seeds, we are having perfect weather for them. And there is this: The back of the seed packet advised me to mulch them with a high nitrogen formula when they sprung up. So I made my way to the Home Depot and bought a 98cent bag of high nitrogen fertilizer (steer poop) and mulched to my hearts content. (It was not very content, but more appalled by the fragrance). So if nothing else, I will have spinach to show for this effort.

Tomorrow we are having company over and the party is in the back yard. I'm looking forward to explaining why my spinach looks so funny. Kind of sparse and decrepit after I trim it. Anorexic spinach, if you will. That and why the rest of the garden is dead. Except for the back flower bed. It's covered in something viney, which I'm really praying is peas, and not weeds I have mistaken for peas and let go. That could be embarrassing.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Flower Power

I think we have bugs.

To begin with, I planted a nearly apocalyptic amount of broccoli and cauliflower. What can I say, we eat a lot of it. Also, I was pretty sure at least half of my plants would either die, or be unproductive. I did not anticipate the remaining ones would be eaten by bugs, though.

Apparently broccoli and cauliflower make a great midnight snack. I should try that, I always go for the ice cream.

Since I'm going for organic here, I once again turned back to my friend in organic gardening to make me and expert: Google.

What I learned is this: There are a ton of crazy ideas out there, but the ones that make sense all involve the right kind of flowers. Specifically, bugs hate marigolds.

So I send my husband to the store for several seed packets of the tiny little marigolds that grow to be 8 inches high. He returns with a variety of marigolds which range in height from 8 inches to three feet. Seriously, a three foot marigold? Is that even possible?

I'll let you know in a few weeks.

So, I'm cramming marigold seeds in my veggie beds which are already overflowing with plants that are probably planted too close together. Here's hoping they come up, and that bugs really do hate them. If not for their smell, then for the horrible looking design I attempted to eek out with my 4 varieties of marigolds in varying heights.

The best part of all of this? In four days I'm having 20 people over to hang out in my backyard for my son's birthday party. I was already worried about how to keep the small children out of the beds due to veggies. Now I have to be worried about newly emerging floral borders that if trampled will end their short little five day old existences.

On the plus side, my spinach is thriving. I buzzed it again yesterday and after supplying enough for a dinner salad was able to blanche and freeze a pint of it. I feel like a super gardener already. Enough spinach for three salads and a pint and a half in the freezer. If everything else fails (and it probably will) at least I have something to show for my grand experiment.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Weed Races and Spinach Buzzes

Can you truly ever called a garden "weeded"? Wouldn't that mean that the garden is actually weed free? From my experience, I would argue that it's never completely "weeded", because by the time you are done weeding for the day, new weeds have already risen above the soil level in the area that you started.

I continued my race against weeds this morning. (mental note: "Race Against Weeds" sounds like a great name for a charity event, perhaps I could organize this in my backyard...) I don't even have much planted yet because we are having such a cold spring, but I find that if I don't get out there for at least an hour a day, seven days a week, I have a chipmunks chance of crossing a highway. And, since it's been raining all week, I hadn't weeded since Sunday. It's Friday.

There were weeds growing around my weeds. They must have confused them for cauliflower.

I recruited my three year old for help. She confused the cauliflower for weeds.

The only thing getting me through was the knowledge that after I'd finished weeding, (or just gotten sick of doing it) I would take my chances and cut some spinach.

It was terrifying. I'm one of those gardeners who makes it up as she goes. I should stick to tomatoes, they are easy. Pick when red. But spinach, seriously. Whoever it was that got me on this Go Green and Get out there and "Live La Vida Local" kick should also have given me some kind of instruction manual.

I intended just to give the big spinach plants a little trim, but ended up with a bit closer to a buzz cut. Here's hoping I didn't kill them. Cleaning wasn't so bad, I done that before with the thinnings. But then what to do with them?

I had hoped to freeze some so we'd have spinach through the year, but yesterday in my quest to become a Google Spinach expert I learned it takes a 60 foot row to feed a family of five. So I'm guessing my two five foot rows won't get my family too far. But, I had a lot of baby spinach in the fridge I'd just bought, (I hadn't anticipated clipping some so soon) so I busted out my Grandmother's 1956 "Green Thumb's Guide to Preserving" and went to work.

I had about 1/2 a pound (used the kitchen scale, rest assured, no foot flavored spinach here), so I ended up freezing about 1/2 a pint after blanching. I've never blanched before, it felt kind of like boiling, but in a dirty way...

I recruited my three year old once more, along with her one year old brother to help me have a little spinach parade as I took my 1/2 full freezer container to the deep freeze in the basement. I was excited by the prospect of winter spinach, I think the kids were more into the drums though.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Spinach Fright

I think some of the spinach is ready. And I'm not quite sure what to do about it. Last week I thinned the spinach, and had one awesome salad to show for it. But the thought of tackling an actual harvest, this I'm not so sure about.

My fears began as I noticed that some of the plants have pretty good sized leaves. I don't even know if spinach is a once and done harvest, or some kind of Energizer Bunny crop that just keeps on going and going...

So I decided that I'd become a Google Expert on Spinach harvesting. Since the majority of my knowledge of anything comes from Google, (sorry Mom and Dad, that $$$ college degree is not as useful) I thought I'd feel better after reading a few instructional sites. Here's what I came up with:

1. I can cut some leaves off in hopes that the plant will grow more, some do.
2. I can cut the whole plant off an inch or so above the ground in hopes that it will regrow a whole plant, or
3. I can pull the whole thing out by the roots, as I did while thinning.

So basically I know as much now after half an hour on Google as I did an hour before I started. While I could have watched an instructional spinach harvesting video on, I felt like that might have been a bit crazy. Or would it be, since I am now cowering at the sight of my partially or perhaps fully mature spinach plants. Why were there not more pictures?

This evening, with my fingers crossed, I will enter the spinach bed, shearers or fingernails in hand (both weapons recommended for harvesting), hold my breath and cut. I suppose I'll start with the two biggest plants, snipping a few outside leaves on one, and giving the other a pretty good hair cut. Then we will see what happens.

My other dilemma is this: This garden, in which I have begun the planting of a basically apocalyptic amount of vegetables is supposed to provide my family with summer produce, as well as plenty of leftovers to freeze or can for the winter. But if I don't have a pound of spinach leaves ready at a time, as the book clearly states I need, how am I supposed to freeze it? And how in world am I supposed to get all those leaves to stay on my kitchen scale to even know when it's a pound? My husband suggested the bathroom scale, but I'm not so into spinach that tastes like feet...

Wish me luck.