This is a journal of my vegetable gardens. Skippy was my first dog and he thought the garden was his, even though I did all the work. But Skippy always stood by me and was a great friend. Now Suzie and Charley follow in his footsteps and garden with me. We're located near Boston (USDA zone 6A). I have a community plot, a backyard vegetable garden, fruit trees and berry bushes, chickens and bees. I use sustainable organic methods and do my best to grow all of my family's vegetables myself.

Friday, October 30, 2015

today's garden work

We certainly are lucky with our fall weather this year. Tee shirt temperature and nice rains. Blue skies and calliope leaf show.

Today's tasks:

  - Empty eight bags of compost and topsoil into the new garlic bed (why does the soil height always go down in a raised bed?)
  - Spread and turn under the new amendments. (Got to get s proper garden fork. Don't know where mine went. I leveled with the side of the shovel.)
   - Planted 140 cloves of garlic. They filled the bed full.
   - I labeled each row.
   - Spread salt marsh hay, about 3-5 inches, as a mulch to protect the plants against freeze-thaws and drying out during the winter.
  - I piled the rest of the salt marsh hay bale on other plants I'd like to winter-over without putting them under covers. I covered some broccoli, small red cabbage, kale and beets. I think the hay will give it a few extra degrees of weather protection in the event we don't have snow cover.
   - I broke off a nice length of horse radish root to try out. Smells great. I grate it in vinegar so it lasts.
   - Finally, I dug another section of my sweet potato bed. Lots of tubers. Just pretty scary looking with the surface grub and wire worm damage.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

looks like a good day for planting garlic

We had a torrential rain storm last night. My fall greens must have loved it. Now it's drying up and the sun is out. I brought a dozen bags of compost, manure and topsoil down to my garden yesterday. Also, a bale of salt marsh hay. I'm just waiting now for a new version of Photoshop to download (my old one didn't seem to work with my new Windows 10 OS). Separating the cloves as I wait. Once it's done, me and the dogs are going to go do some digging and plant garlic.

The new garlic patch is where my tomatoes were. I have three varieties from Territorial Seeds.
   8 oz Italian Late has 72 cloves!
   8 oz Music, 22 giant cloves
   8 oz Duganski, 45 pretty purple cloves

OK, I'm off to plant....

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

suzie by the pond

Suzie is in each of these pictures. She runs off when I photograph her too close, but I was happy to get her in the distance. She's been having trouble with her hips and so we're giving her special attention now.

IMG_3634 IMG_3623 IMG_3648

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Monday, October 26, 2015

notes on Skippy's planting calendar app

- Use app for planning your 2016 garden: A gardener emailed me that she is already using Skippy's planting calendar app to set up her vegetables for next year (she says: "early but I want an easy place to remember what I want to order")

- Fixed glitch: The app had a glitch with the season transition. It was opening but displaying nothing. We've fixed this and an updated version is now available for download at Apple App Store updates.

- Android available: We've released an android version of the app. It's available here: Skippy's planting calendar android. Please let me know feedback on this version. Right now, I think it has the season transition glitch, but it will be updated and fixed soon.

- New features for 2016: We have several updates in the works for the app. By 2016 planting season, they'll be available as a download to update your version. As we get closer to completing them, I'll explain the features we're adding. We had so many good ideas from users and are excited to encorporate some .

Please let me know any feedback on this app. I'd love to hear how you are using it and any improvements you would suggest. And, if you have used the app this season, we'd love it if you leave a review at Apple or GooglePlay.

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my new garden fence is being installed

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

pears - a bumper crop this year

I'm reviewing each of my crops this year. Here's the story on my my pears.

I have two espaliered trees, a Bartlett and an Kieffer at my community garden plot, about 5-7 years old now.

April 13, I sprayed with 2% horticultural oil at the swollen bud stage. I meant to spray again between green cluster and white bud, but forgot. (Spraying is done to control psylla, mites and scale.) I didn't see the trees in bloom this year, but was told they were spectacular.

I fertilized early in the year with fruit tree spikes, 3 per tree, since the leaves looked a bit yellow. They greened up nicely.

Fruit set in abundance on both trees. Last year I remember I counted 75 pears. This year I did not even try to count. I didn't thin or cover the fruit. The leaves developed spots mid-season. Scab? As they ripened, pears became mottled with something on the surface. Some Kieffer's were misshaped with dimples or larger divots that were stony at the base. I don't know the cause either of these.

2015-08-08 pears IMG_2634
2015-08-25 pears IMG_2807 (2) 2015-08-25 pears IMG_2807

August 25, I harvested about 30 lbs of fruit - all the Bartlett and half of the Kieffer's. August 31, I harvested the rest, about 20 lbs. 

2015-08-25 pears IMG_2810 2015-08-31 harvest pears IMG_2885

I put all fruit in the refrigerator. It's a small one with poor temp control. I tried to set it for 32, but ended up freezing about 30-40% of the fruit. The fruit that didn't freeze all ripened up really nicely. I left Bartlett's in fridge about 2 weeks, took about 3-4 days to ripen. Kieffer's were in fridge either 2 or 3 weeks and took about a week to ripen. They were sweeter with longer cold treatment.

2015-10-03 pears IMG_4149

Since I still have last years canned pears left over, I made different other items this year.
- Canned pear sauce (just like apple sauce, but pears - delicious)
- Frozen pears, I tried both dry and syrup methods (haven't tried any yet)
- Dried pears, both plain and syrup methods (we love both of these!)

2015-10-05 pears IMG_4272 2015-10-06 frozen pears IMG_4270

The Bartlett has several areas where branches don't look good and have lost leaves early this fall.

For next year,
- Apply both recommended applications of horticultural oil on the trees in spring
- If the trees set another big harvest, I'll thin to one pear per cluster, 6 inches between fruits about 30-45 days after full bloom when fruits are 1/2 to 1 inch diameter
- Get a new fridge with better temperature control
- Make dried pears again, try using a very light syrup

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

my fall harvest

These are vegetables I picked last Saturday, the day before our first frost.

fal harvest oxheart carrots IMG_3487 fall harvest celeriac IMG_3475 fall harvest black turtle beans IMG_3497 fall harvest beets IMG_3474 fall harvest Roxanne radish IMG_3488 fall harvest prosperosa eggplant IMG_3470 fall harvest sugar baby watermelons IMG_3490 fall harvest peppers and eggplants IMG_3499 fall harvest oxheart carrots IMG_3479 fall harvest bolero carrots IMG_3505

I'll have to post a photo of our watermelon martinis. Carrot or radish martinis are good too. I made a nice chili out of those Black Turtle beans last night. I'll post that photo soon too.

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my cucumber experiment - cucumbers are not a fall crop

On August 7 (65 days before my average first frost), I planted several varieties of pickling cukes: Cucumber, Salt and Pepper (49 days), Cucumber, Miniature White (50 days), Cucumber, North Carolina Pickling (60-65 days). This experiment was a last ditch effort since wilt (carried by beetles) killed my summer cucumbers.

It seemed this experiment would work, going by the days. The rule of thumb for fall planting is to count back from the average first frost date by the days to harvest, and then add 2 weeks for the "fall factor": with less light plants grow slower. So those 49 and 50 day cukes had enough time. But it did not work.

August and September weather was great. Record heat - our first heat wave in September in 35 years. I kept the plants covered to keep beetles off, then removed covers when they bloomed. They bloomed well (bees loved them), but the plants never produced cucumbers.

My lesson: Cucumbers need mid summer light - they are not a fall crop.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

bread and butter pickles

bread and butter pickles IMG_4486 bread and butter pickles IMG_4475 bread and butter pickles IMG_4477

My cucumber harvest failed miserably this year (beetles), so I went by our farmer's market and bought a big bag of beautiful picking cukes. They smelled so good. Since I'm out of my garden onions already, I got onions. And some enormous red and orange peppers. I followed the recipe for Bread-and-Butter pickles in the book "Food in Jars" by Marisa McClellan (a really nice new canning book). They are delicious! Spicy and crunchy with a bit of sweetness.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

my garden

fall garden IMG_4445

Here's a photo of my vegetable garden now. The frost covers are off and draped over trellises or the fence behind. Looking at this picture reminds me of things that will be happening soon - hopefully before snow cover arrives.

Soon we are having a post and rail fence put in around the garden edges. It will be a nicer support for the metal deer fence than the crocked metal pole I have now. I need to take down the tomatoes supports at the left and pull those cornstalks at the right. And, pretty as it is now, I hope to get all that bright yellow bittersweet removed from the woods behind the garden. It looks like I need to mow and rake the lawn one last time this fall. I want to move the bird houses because they are full of house sparrows here (maybe in another location they'll get bluebirds or swallows). And I am getting the middle bed, the one with the hoops, ready for winter with a double layers of cold and vole protection.

preparing the vegetable garden for frost

Here are things that are important to do in a vegetable garden the day before your first frost.

- Pick any warm crop veggies left in the garden: things like peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, zucchini, summer squashes, winter squashes and pumpkins. Since these plants will all be killed by even a light frost, they can be pulled and composted now.

- For a light freeze (28-32 degrees F), its OK to leave most cold weather crops uncovered. To be on the safe side, I cover my lettuce, bok choi, peas and Swiss chard.

- For a hard frost (below 28 degrees F), cover: artichokes, arugula, beets, bok choi, carrots, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, endive, escarole, lettuce, mache, parsnips, peas, radicchio, spinach and Swiss chard. Bring potted rosemary inside.

- Crops that can withstand hard frost and do not need protection include: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, leek, mustard, onions, parsley, radishes and turnips.

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Monday, October 19, 2015

boring garden tasks?

I was asked the other day about what are the garden tasks I enjoy least.

 ...... I'm not really sure of the answer to that.

I suppose many gardeners would say weeding, but that task gets you down close to the plants and let's you see what's going on. If it's a nice day, weeding is just part of being in the garden.

Hauling compost to the garden takes a lot of time and strength. And often needs to be done in the early spring when the weather is still cold. That's not one of my favorite tasks. But I do like that I am making and using my own compost and I don't want to bring in purchased compost.

I might have to say my least favorite task is watering. Yes, this summer I gave up watering my community plot when we had such a long stretch without rain. We have a rule that only hand watering is allowed. It takes so long. At home too I've hand watered this summer, but not as much as I should have. It gets boring, to stand there with the hose and water. My old garden had a nice underground drip system. I'll have to make one for this new garden soon.

What's your least favorite garden task?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

freeze warning tonight!

I worked this afternoon to get my tender greens covered and the last of my frost-sensitive vegetables harvested. A frost, or even a freeze, is predicted in my area tonight. I have to admit I'm not ready for the end of the season. I was hoping it would go on for quite a while yet.

frost ready garden beds IMG_3512 frost ready garden beds IMG_3507 frost ready garden beds IMG_3513

It's seven days later than our average frost date so it has been a nice long growing season.

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today's garden work

With a frost coming tonight, I did a lot of clean up at my home garden:
- Pick the last of the green tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and watermelons
- Remove tomato tepees (10-ft wood stakes)
- Pull tomato plants and compost (nice with no late blight - right into compost bin)
- Pull and compost all frost sensitive plants: pepper, eggplant, basil, cilantro, beans
- Cut off sweet potato vines and compost (bins nice and full by now!)
- Find my heavy row cover in shed, lay it out on lawn and cut pieces to size. It's Agribon+ AG-19 from Johnny's, frost protection to 28F. I used doubled fabric.
- Cover beds with lettuce and winter greens

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garlic sources for planting

Here's the list of garlic seed sources that people have recommended so far from my post a few days ago. They look awesome! I can't wait to try out some new sources. If you have one to add, let me know and I'll include it here.

Pacific Northwest:
Filaree Garlic Farm - So many! This source was seconded and thirded! Washington State
Adaptive Seeds: Good selection, also grey shallots, free shipping over $50. Oregon
Territorial Seeds: Oregon

Colorado: 
The Garlic Store
Potato Garden

New England:
Fedco bulbs division: Maine. Ordering deadline is early September.
High Mowing Organic Seeds: Vermont
Green Mountain Garlic: Vermont

Everywhere:
A garlic festival: Four are in the New England/New York area
Local farmer's market: no shipping charge, varieties that do well in your area
Costco: Bulbs from California

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

green tomatoes

Seems we might get a freeze or frost Sunday night. I picked 32 lbs of green tomatoes today!

green tomatoes IMG_4357

This caps off a pretty good harvest. I didn't weigh everything, but I bet I harvested 100-150 lbs of tomatoes.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

sweet potato harvest

I started digging my sweet potatoes this week. I only dug a small area at the back of the bed. I was pleased to find a lot of tubers, but SO much worm and grub damage. OMG.

I was looking at Daphne's sweets and they are picture perfect. I have a challenge ahead of me. I wonder if I can get my soil cleaned up for a perfect future harvest? A Clemson University Fact sheet says there are all sorts of beetle grubs and wire worms that can eat into sweet potatoes. They recommend hand picking beetles, a Bacillus thuringiensis product, crop rotation, and winter tilling.

I looked into winter tilling at LSU AgCenter. They suggest turning in compost in the fall/winter to increase decomposition, kill or inactivate disease organisms, insects and weed seeds, increase soil drainage in spring, and incorporate lime if needed. Sounds good. I'll try it in a few beds.

BTW, in spite of their appearance, my sweet potatoes taste delicious!

sweet potatoes IMG_4345

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Monday, October 12, 2015

today's garden work

At my community plot:
- Clean up and compost the last of the squash vines.
- Rack beds all smooth (except one with beans, fennel and tomatillos still growing)
- Spread and rack in cover crop seeds (I used Johnny's green manure mix: rye, clover, vetch and field pea)

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Sunday, October 11, 2015

ordering garlic - where do you buy garlic?

I FINALLY remembered to order my garlic. I hope it gets here soon. I'd like to plant it at the end of this month - in 2 or 3 weeks.

My garlic crop had problems this year. More than half of it rotted in the ground. I only harvested 40 heads so I decided to eat them all and buy new (clean) stock. I usually like to save 75-100 cloves (about 15-20 of the biggest heads) for planting.

I checked a couple local sources first (Johnny's and Fedco) but seems they don't sell garlic.I had thought I might buy it at a local Farmer's Market, but didn't get to ANY this summer. (I've been swamped with my own vegetables...)

I ordered my seed garlic today from my old favorite: Territorial Seed Co. Three varieties: Duganski, Music, and Late Italian. (The first two are old favorites. I'm trying out Late Italian, a soft nect that sounds good.)

Where do you buy your seed garlic? I'd love to set up a list of sources.

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chickens are molting

chickens IMG_4067 chicken IMG_4088 - Copy

My chickens have started molting. The coop is covered with feathers. I guess they are shedding their dirty summer feather and will grow in fluffy new down coats for winter. I'm told it takes a lot of protein to molt and they don't lay eggs during this time. I'm down to one egg a day. Only because the youngest (Roxy: my barred Rock) hasn't started her molt yet.

Today, I'll try to remember to get their winter light set up. I put a standard 40 watt bulb in the coop on a timer so they get about 12 hours of light a day, with the extra time in the morning. It gets dark about 6 pm now, so it should come on at 6 am. (6 am to 9 am)

molting chickens IMG_3400 - Copy molting chickens IMG_3409 - Copy molting chickens IMG_3407 - Copy molting chickens IMG_3411 - Copy

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what caused my garlic to rot? rotation, rotation, rotation

I've been thinking about why half of my garlic crop rotted this year.

In early spring, my garlic plants yellowed and curled and then died. This started mostly in one area of the bed and then gradually other plants curled and died more slowly. Some just stopped growing looking like a small plant, but when pulled, the bulb was rotten.

Once I saw the plants rotting, I worried that I planted where onions had been last year and maybe garlic the prior. This is my list for crops the bed the garlic was in.

2009: tomatoes, peppers
2010: beans, dill
2011: squash
2012: garlic
2013: roots, including onions
2014: squash
2015: garlic

So next I looked into garlic rot information online. I looked at a Cornell Plant Clinic factsheet on garlic diseases. There are several different types of garlic rot. I'm not sure which I had, but the ways to address them all are the same, so I'm not going to worry about an ID.

The Cornell sheet says:

... as with any crop, it is important to plant clean healthy seed. For most of the mentioned diseases (Basal Rot, White Rot, Downy Mildew and Nematode infestation), once the pathogen is established in a field, rotation away from Allium spp. for several years is an essential management tool.
It looks to me like I didn't rotate well because onions are also an Allium species. I think they snuck in there are ruined my 3 year rotation. Darn.

Well, next year I'll have clean fresh garlic seed and I'll see what I can do to avoid this bed for a long time.

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Friday, October 09, 2015

today's harvest

harvest IMG_4288 Lettuce, bok choi and herb fennel. What do I do with all that fennel herb?! I bought is not realizing that bulb fennel and herb fennel are different.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2015

frost?

We're creeping toward our average first frost date... It would normally be October 10 and was right on schedule last year. This year, it looks like we have at least a week to go. That's good. I want to get my winter bed covers in place before we get too cold. I'm planning to dig out around the bed and run hardware cloth 6 inches down to keep the voles out. Also planning to order a bottle of castor oil to soak the soil at the edges of the bed. Double protection - after the disaster last year.

Monday, October 05, 2015

today's garden work

I was at my community garden plot. Today's work:

- Pick the last of the winter squashes and one last summer squash: a nice Costata Romanescu zucchini.
- Harvest the green tomatoes. Take down and compost the dry tomato vines. (I didn't have time to water these for the past, very dry, two month.)
- Harvest green beans. I got a nice late crop of Jumbo, a wide Italian bean.
- Cut back dry perennial flowers, like tansy, and the tall dried up sunflowers.
- Weed the beds so they are ready for seeding a cover crop next week. The garlic can be planted in a couple weeks too. (I have to order that! I forgot.)

All that's left for vegetables in my community is some very late tomatillos, covered with flowers. Some small fennel. The beans may squeak in another crop. And I have a good row of leeks that are small without my watering, but still respectable (in my opinion).

There are flowers there too: some giant pink zinnias, nasturtiums and anise hyssop (covered with bees).

Friday, October 02, 2015

potatoes - a tiny harvest

Some things grew great this year and others, well, :-( didn't. On my "didn't" list, potatoes.

I thought they were doing well until last week when I dug them. An underground crop is a mystery until you go to harvest!

potatoes in a basket IMG_4129

This spring I planted only one type of potato because in the past I've had so many seed tubers left over that I can't find space for. Usually I crowd the seed, spacing them maybe 6 inches apart when 12 would be better. So I only planted my favorite, russets. And I tried a new variety, Canela, from Territorial, that is a high yield potato. I planted 5 lbs.

Potatoes will yield up to 20 times more than you plant. I usually expect about 10 times. So, I was hoping for 50 lbs, or at least 30. I ended up with about 15-20 lbs. It was a lot of work to dig the bed searching for spuds that were few and far between. (Even with Skippy's help...) Each plant had about 5 potatoes and their were hardly any plants.

potatoes IMG_3058 skippy digging potatoes d IMG_2946 skippy digging potatoes IMG_2950 potatoes IMG_3049

The potatoes I got were a mix of sizes, big and small. The usual scab I get with Burbank russets. They're delicious baked, fried or mashed - can't complain about that.

So, to try to figure this out my low yield, I looked back over my photos from the season. I think part of it is that they didn't sprout well. I remember I was short of time and the seed potatoes sat in their box a while. I didn't get them sprouting in a warm spot before planting. And I didn't add much compost to the bed. Hmm, come to think of it, I didn't give them any fertilizer either. On top of that, the mid summer weather was certainly not great for potatoes - very hot and dry. The plants had good foliage, so I assumed they were happily growing tubers. I'm not sure which of these was the biggest problem, maybe the combination. This gives me a list of things to make sure I do next year: sprout, compost, fertilize and water! Oh, and go back to planting more varieties and crowing them in.

2015-05-12 potato bed turned IMG_1352 2015-05-31 potatoes sprouting IMG_1525 May 12, the freshly turned bed. May 31, sprouts in the furrows.

2015-06-22 potatoes growing IMG_2052 2015-07-18 potato patch IMG_2394 June 22, growing plants. July 18, fully grown potato plants.

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Thursday, October 01, 2015

nine ears of Calico popcorn

popcorn IMG_4102b

popcorn IMG_3144  popcorn IMG_3141b

I was thinking my popcorn was a complete failure, but no, 9 pretty ears. Yippee! I planted it late and then didn't water and lost most of the seedlings. I only had one row that grew well. With one row, I was surprised to get any pollination. I harvested today, even though the ears weren't fully dried on the stalks as it looked like a chipmunk started nibbling on an ear.

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