Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Parsley and the pitmaster

Here is a pic of the very first herbs that we started from seed back in early February. As you can see, they include parsley and basil. Today my focus is on parsley and I will explain why.....My husband, better known as Bent for blogging purposes, recently delved into the world of pitmaster barbecuing. You see, we always eat barbecue....like seriously at least 300 days a year. I'm not sure what the inside of my oven even looks like anymore....Well, Bent's love of barbecue prompted him to sign up for a few friendly barbecue competitions which in turn prompted several of his friends and family members to jump on the bandwagon. As a result, their group is signed up for several summer competitions. (I will post about them later)

I know you must be wondering...how does parsley fit into all of this? Well, parsley happens to be one of the only garnishes allowed for presentation purposes in many barbecue competitions. So guess who has to grow enough parsley to make it through the grilling season? If you have grown parsley, you know it takes a long time to mature so I started early in hopes that I will not run out before the season is over.




























The pic above is what our yard typically looks like on any given day...it's smokey but hey it always smells great... And yes...as you can see...Bent wasn't satisfied with just one grill....he needs many and he hopes to win yet another one at an upcoming competition. With so many charcoal grills going at once we of course had to have a stoker in order to control several grill temps at one time...(basically the stoker is a computer controlled device that will turn on blowers to increase the charcoal temps)


I give Bent a bad time about his barbecue obsession but it's all in fun.....I mean what more could I ask for?? I get dinner cooked for me nearly every night : )
But for heaven's sake where do I draw the line? Eggs on the grill??? Even the pups look on in disbelief : )

Monday, March 29, 2010

Cauliflower: before and after

The baby cauliflowers or "cabbage flower" are beginning to poke their heads out of the soil. They were started in the greenhouse about 3 weeks ago and appear to have grown accustomed to the varying temperatures....The greenhouse heater is set to come on if temps get to 50F and the fans come on if the temps approach 70F. Surprisingly, when its been in the 40s outside the greenhouse averages about 70F so thankfully we haven't had to use a lot of heat so far. In fact, we often have to open the door as well. Normally I start most of the seeds in my hot water tank storage area where it is nice and warm but I'm running out of space....go figure....anyway... I just wanted to share an after picture of what the cauliflower will soon look like....the pic below is what we harvested last year...only problem was we didn't grow enough of it....not a problem this year though...I have roughly 250 plants started!


This variety is called Amazing and it was purchased from Park Seed...and well... it had a truly amazing taste so I went with it again this year.

Where's the vegetable trivia/history you say? Okay...if I must...cauliflower originates from Asia Minor and the Mediterranean area. It is a member of the Cruciferae family which includes broccoli, cabbage, horseradish, collards, radish and turnips.....oh and Mark Twain once said that cauliflower is "nothing but a cabbage with a college education." : )


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Peas out

I visited the coldframes yesterday to check the progress of the peas. As you can see in the picture, they are starting to take off now. This variety is the snap pea....I love these in salads and stir fry.

Peas have apparently been around for a long time....during archeaological digs they have been discovered in Egyptian tombs. No one knows for certain where the pea originated, but according to Chinese mythology, peas were discovered by emperor Shu Nung in 3000 BC. Shu Nung would scour the countryside in search of new plants in which to use for food or medicine. Shu Nung was considered the father of agriculture. Upon discovering a new plant, he would feed it to a dog first and then a servant. If they both lived then the emperor would eat it as well. (Sounds like russian roulette garden style.)

Did you know the garden pea has been used in genetic testing? I seem to remember studying about a certain fellow named Gregory Mendel in science class. Mendel is often referred to as the "Father of Genetics" for discovering the outcome of cross breeding different types of pea plants.


As for human genetics...you guessed it...the hippy chick photo is my darling granddaughter (Abby) She loves to peas out in the garden with her grandma :)


Monday, March 22, 2010

Thank you Mr. Jefferson!

The eggplant has been known throughout history to have some very strange effects on people: some thought that eating it could cause insanity, epilepsy and fever. Yet others claimed it to be an aphrodisiac. (That's quite a range of symptoms I'd say) The notion that it would cause insanity is due to the fact that eggplant is from the nightshade family which contains many poisonous plants such as angel's trumpet and belladonna. I know I wouldn't want to be the guinea pig...I can hear it now.....oh come on give it a try...what's the worst that can happen but a few epileptic seizures and a deadly fever....umm no thanks....but if you think about it someone had to be the first....
I'm guessing the first guinea pigs were from India since that is where eggplant originated. Shortly after, it made its appearance in Asia, China and the Middle East around 500B.C. eventually making its way to Italy around the 14th century. Europeans considered the plant mala insana~ the mad apple or bad egg until about the 1600's when Louis XIV introduced it to the country and still it was not well received. It wasn't until the 1800's that our third president, Mr. Thomas Jefferson introduced the eggplant to the United States. Apparently, Jefferson was an avid gardener and was always trying to bring new vegetables and flowers to his huge gardens. Even with Jefferson's approval, the eggplant was slow to gain popularity in the states for years to come.
All I have to say is thank you Mr. Jefferson from all your fellow gardeners for giving eggplant a try. If it weren't for him we Americans may have never given it a try for fear of going insane or epileptic.... (Although I wonder who he convinced to eat it first) ..... Today there are many eggplant varieties available....below is the Rosa Bianca which I currently have growing under lights. (not my picture) The other variety we are growing is Black Beauty (my picture above). I am keeping them inside as long as possibleCheck Spelling as they are fussy plants and need lots of warm weather. Being a gardener and all I'm a little embarrassed to say this... but it wasn't too long ago that I first tried eggplant myself....not for fear of insanity but just because I never thought it would taste good...I was sure wrong.....it is most excellent on the grill. I would like to expand my horizons and learn what others have to say about about their eggplant experiences by posing the following question:

What is your favorite eggplant variety to grow and to eat and how do you like to cook it?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Daisy Girl presents the new garden addition.

Not much occurred today at the family garden but as I mentioned earlier this week the new garden addition has been plowed (by my sweet but stubborn dad) and now needs raking and the grass clumps removed. Today would have been a great day to do that but the soil is still a bit too wet to work in. Instead, daughter Daisy Girl and I planted some more seeds in the greenhouse. We put in some daisy seeds (obviously) and about 50 more tomatoes as well as some more broccoli seeds. Tomorrow's goal: I hope to have every shelf in the greenhouse filled!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fill' er up!

Today I took inventory of the greenhouse seedlings. I still have about 2 out of 6 shelves to fill....but I'm certain I can fill it up....So far, in the greenhouse we have 195 tomato plants with 15 varieties, 55 cukes with 4 varieties, 150 peppers with 11 varieties, 72 butter cream cauliflower, 20 red okra, 20 purple tomatillo, 25 tango celery, and 120 different herbs. I still have quite a lot of plants under lights in my closet at home (yes my closet :) that I will move to the greenhouse soon. The hoop houses are filled with broccoli, cabbage and peas and all are doing great....Tomorrow I will start more seedlings for my home garden and yet a few more...(i mean a lot more) for the family garden.

My dad rototilled the grass area for the new garden addition this week and put the electric fence around it...(lots of deer would love to munch on our hard work) he was supposed to call me and I was going to come over and help but noooo....he did it all himself...only took him 4 hours he said......grrrrr...I love my dad but he should listen to me and let me help........ :) The new area is around 24' x 90. Now we just need to rake it out and remove the grass clumps and it will be ready to plant! With that said...I know I have my day cut out for me... .. I'm off to chill out :)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Eat your broccoli!!!

I planted a few broccoli plants over a month ago just to see how they would do...I didn't want to start them all too early because I wasn't sure they would survive. Apparently if the temperature fluctuates too much broccoli will button which means you get smaller heads. Last year we had great success with the Pac Man variety so we are using it again this year. We are also growing Belstar and some Romanesco which we planted in our raised beds about 9 days ago. Today I noticed they are starting to sprout and it's no doubt because the covered beds are very warm and toasty inside.

The biggest challenge I have encountered in growing broccoli is keeping the aphids off. The first year we grew it the heads were covered with them. Who wants to eat that??....yuck...Last year we tried something new: we grew broccoli exclusively in the raised beds with marigolds surrounding them and had very little problems with bugs. I don't know if it was the marigolds or the raised beds that did the trick but I guess I'll go with the old saying "if it ain't broke don't fix it".

I'll leave you with a bit of broccoli facts: the name broccoli comes from the Latin word brachium which means arm or branch and broccoli was first commercially grown in New York. Did you know that on March 18, 1990 broccoli was banned from Air Force One by U.S. President George H.W. Bush....wow he set a great example for our kids....no wonder he didn't get reelected :)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cuke Harvest!

This little lunchbox cuke might not seem like much of a harvest but it was to me...after all I have nurtured my two windowsill cukes for several months now. Everyone has been after me to pluck it from the vine but I have been waiting for just the right moment. Since we had a family gathering for some of Bent's spectacular barbecue ribs on Sunday, I figured there was no better time to give it a try. Everyone was amazed at the flavor....I have to admit I was worried they wouldn't taste like garden fresh cukes but boy was I was wrong. There are many more cukes on the vines but they aren't quite ready yet. I have been feeding them twice a week with an organic fertilizer so they should be pumped up real soon. Heck, now that I know you can grow cukes in the winter in North Idaho, I may have to expand my windowsill operation!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Cukes, Crocus and Karma

Just a quick update on how some of the plants are doing. A couple of our windowsill Cucino cukes are ready to eat....I can't wait to try them....I have been giving them some organic fertilizer and pinching off the new blossoms so I think most of them will mature soon. My family doubted me on whether they would produce any fruit and I proved them wrong :)


On another note...during my afternoon puppy walk, I came across some blooming Crocus....they are everywhere at Black Bay but just starting to bloom. Soon it will look like a carpet of purple...I can't wait!


In the last pic are my Karma (love the name) peppers. They are just starting to peak out from under the soil....and the other 200 or so should be shortly behind them. By staggering the planting dates I hope they come on in a nice succession....time will tell though...Now it's off to the greenhouse for me... :)



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Heavyweights

Last year we grew some Giant Max pumpkins just to see how big we could get them. We came close to the 80 pound mark but this year we want at least a 500 pounder!! In the pic is a Dill's Atlantic Giant pumpkin I started a couple of weeks ago. These guys are the heavyweights of all pumpkins and they are often used in the large pumpkin growing competitions....In fact, you may remember recently reading about Christy Harp of Ohio...she has the world record pumpkin weight so far....1725 lbs!!! That's all good Christy...but watch out ....you've got competition now :)

According to many pumpkin growing experts there are 5 key issues that determine the success of growing these giants: They are variety, space, water, food, selection, and even shade. There are several large pumpkin varieties on the market but Dill's Atlantic Giant consistently wins many competitions. Pumpkins need lots of space to spread out....most experts suggest 25 feet in all directions. Pumpkins need lots of water....at least 1 inch of water per week. When you water is just as critical. It's never a good idea to water in the evening and this is true for all vegetables....you invite the possibility of mildew and bugs. Instead, early morning watering is the best time. Regular doses of fertilizer are also needed to get these guys pumped up...the experts often use a compost tea made of cow manure. They should be fed weekly as pumpkins are very heavy feeders. This part is hard for me: you must choose to keep only 1 or 2 pumpkins on the vine and the rest must go...decisions, decisions.....You will also have to keep plucking new blossoms as they will take away energy from the main pumpkin. One thing I did not realize is that the actual pumpkin should be shaded from direct sunlight to prevent premature hardening of the outer skin. We can't have a blemished pumpkin after all....I guess the bigger dilemma will be how to actually move the pumpkin once it gets to be 500 lbs....

Monday, March 8, 2010

2 shelves down and 4 to go!

We had another productive day at the family garden yesterday. My sis-in-law and I made more newspaper pots and sowed seeds. My dad, Bent and my brother rototilled and raked the older garden beds. We had hoped to rent a large rototiller to start on the new beds but the rental store was closed. The pots on the shelf to the right are what was sown yesterday. All in all, we sowed approximately 140 tomato seeds, 15 okra, 15 purple tomatillos, 5 Lemon cukes, 5 Cucino cukes, a dozen or so Rudbeckia and about 20 Guardian Marigolds. The marigolds are to aid in keeping the aphids out of our broccoli and cauliflower. We nearly filled a 2nd greenhouse shelf and now have 4 to go....which won't be difficult....trust me :)


The second pic is some of what was transfered to the greenhouse from my home last week. I was a bit worried that the temps in the greenhouse would shock my plants as they have been used to a constant 70F for quite some time. So far, they have been doing very well and the temps are staying between 56F and 68F for the most part. The next step will be to complete my pepper and herb planting and then move on to the cukes and squash. Oh...I forgot to mention....dad approved another growing bed for berries and a couple fruit trees! Soon we will have taken over the entire property...Lol...just kidding dad.

On the home front, I have also been preparing my home garden for more compost. I spent about 3 days hand digging it and getting all the weeds out. I have some garden debris to burn and then it's compost time! I feel like I am actually ahead of the game this year and it feels good...hopefully that trend holds. :)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A pot party with the Spokesman Review newspaper!

No...I'm not talking about anything illegal here.....we have been making our own homemade planting pots ever since my daughter Daisy Girl "Stumbled Upon" (a very cool site you should check out if you haven't ) them online a couple years back. They are very easy to make and save us some money in the process...plus we are recycling which is always a good thing....all you need is a tall glass, some masking tape and some newspaper....In our case we used the Spokesman Review newspaper as it has the best quality paper and really holds up better than other local newspaper competition....plus you can read any news you may have missed during the week.... (cheap plug for our local newspaper that also hosts several regional blogs in their online format.) :)
To make the pots, you take a sheet of the newspaper....actually I'm not going to try and explain this ...Instead, here is a link to an instructional video we made last year: Click Here

In the first pic is lovely sis-in-law Melanie and daughter Daisy Girl (notice which newspaper they are holding up.) The second pic shows all the fruits of our labor today....nearly 200 pots were made...all of which will be planted with seed tomorrow. We will start approximately 100 tomato plants of different varieties and purple tomatillos.

Other garden accomplishments...Bent and my bro finished putting up the plastic on the 3rd raised bed. Sis-in law and myself decided to plant broccoli and cabbage in the hoops....temps are supposed to go down to the 40's next week but I think they will be fine with the covers.....(calling on my gardening angels of course)

Lastly, is sis-in-law and myself making our pots on the makeshift table my dad made just so we could be in the beautiful sun....and yes that's Daisy Girl to the left lounging in the chair....she made a few pots but eventually bailed on us. Okay she made more than a few...we wore her out obviously :)

All in all....what a wonderful, productive day....we came, we potted, we conquered and we will be back at it tomorrow!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Greenhouse or bust!

Today's gonna be a good, good day....I got a feeling....that is because today is the official opening day for the greenhouse!!! It's greenhouse or bust baby! I'm loading up the blazer with all my babies and off we go....

When I got to my dad's house he had just completed adding the 4 extra shelves in the greenhouse and wow.....I have lots of plant space now! I told dad I brought over a "few" seedlings to get started but I actually filled almost an entire shelf and I have a closet full of starts at my house that will soon be transported to the greenhouse as well.

Here are the plants that found a happy home today: 30 basils of varying types, 15 parsley, 5 marjoram, 12 oregano, 6 English Thyme, 6 tarragon, 6 cumin, 6 fennel, 12 habaneros, 25 varying types of eggplant, 10 cayenne peppers, 6 serranos, 5 jalapenos, 25 Tango celery, 15 Tolli's Sweet Italian peppers, 15 Karma peppers, and 20 Bulgarian Carrot peppers. Tomorrow I plan on starting the rest of my peppers: those are Orange Bells, King of the North, Purple Beauty, and Ancho Pablano. After the peppers, I will start more herbs to sell at the farmer's market.
After that, many more plants will be started...nearly 1,800 I calculated....I can't wait! Happy gardening all!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Welcome to our jungle!


As you can see from the pictures, we (I actually take full responsibility) crammed a lot of veggies into our garden space last year. This year (actually every year) I vow to be better about it. I have promised my family each growing season that they will be able to walk down the corn and tomato rows with ease...but every year I overdo it and we have to squeeze between the rows on our hands and knees and harvest the best we can....it is very jungle-like.....


Each January I draw a preliminary sketch of the garden layout and then when I am done purchasing all my seed (if ever....ha ha ha) I finalize the layout according to companion planting and crop rotation. I haven't been exactly precise with it...but I try my best. This gets a little tricky when you have a relatively small garden and lots of crops. And this is especially difficult if you want to grow several types of the same veggie as some will cross pollinate. I have not had problems with this in the past but I typically only save a small percentage of seed for the next season anyway.

To understand crop rotation you first need to understand vegetable plant families....from all my gardening books, classes, magazines and Internet research over the years, I have learned that there are basically 9 main vegetable family groups. They are: Nightshade, Mustard, Legume, Squash, Onion, Parsley, Spinach, Lettuce, Mint, and then there's a misc group. Some veggies from the Nightshade family are tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, and eggplant. Some from the Mustard family are broccoli, boc choy, cabbage, cauliflower, radish, and turnip. The legume family includes beans and peas as well as clover and alfalfa. Cucumber, melons, and gourds come from the squash family. Garlic, leeks and chives come from the onion family and carrot, celery, dill and cilantro from the parsley family. The spinach family includes swiss chard and beets and the lettuce family includes...um...lettuce and believe it or not...sunflowers. Lastly, the mint family includes thyme, oregano, basil, sage, rosemary, lavender and marjoram. The misc category is pretty much everything else.
The idea behind crop rotation is to relocate plant families from one season to the next and thus minimize pests and disease common to each family. Also, rotation helps minimize micronutrient deficiencies in the soil as some plants are heavy feeders and deplete the soil of nutrients. Of course, if you amend the soil with compost every season you probably don't need to worry about it as much. I add compost to the garden every year so it's not a problem for me. My main concern in crop rotation is pest management which really goes hand in hand with companion planting. Companion planting is based on the idea that certain plants benefit from being planted next to one another. The benefits can include pest control, nutrient intake or pollination. For instance, in my garden I grow marigolds between my tomatoes as they deter the bad nematodes. (In other words... yes they smell bad!)....Mint deters flies, cabbage moth, ants and rodents. Be careful with mint however as it will spread like crazy. (I usually plant my mint in containers to keep it from spreading.) There are many resources available on both crop rotation and companion planting..... these are just a few of which we have had success with so far.