Thursday, May 24, 2012


Yesterday I took the carrot and beet above to school for lunch.  All the lunch guys are eating their usuals:  Dan and his fast food, free chicken, or daughter food, Pat had some sort of vegetarian mush plied into patty between a couple of buns, Kurt had some crackers and tuna, John, i don't even have time to begin talking about the stuff that man chokes down in our 20 minute teacher lunch.  With all that freaky food around the table, my root vegetables were the weird stuff.  The only comment that the carrot brought was Kurt saying that he "smelled dirt."  John mentioned his mom's concern over me feeding her a piece of asparagus that I had rubbed on my shorts to clean it before I handed it to her.  Everyone agreed that the dirt was favorable to pant legs.  The beet sparked some interesting poop discussion.  There's not much that isn't suitable for lunch discussion at that table, so we all took beet poop in stride.  Of course John brought it up.  He said after you eat beets your poop turns dark red.  I agreed and said it even bleeds dye into the water so you think you have a serious issue if you don't remember the beets from the day before.  I passed my beets today and didn't even take a picture or video as members of our table suggested.
Yesterday's highlight wasn't the lunch discussion.  It was going to my college roommates book signing.  Lauren knocked off of work early and we headed to the library.  We barely made it into the packed out room, but I am so glad we did.  This was the first time I've seen Wiley in 8? years, and now he's at a podium in front of a room full of people holding up his first published book.  Listening to him and seeing his face took me way back to a carefree but formative part of my life that I don't think much about anymore.  I got to see Johnny Wadd, and lauren called me with a list of names that had made facebook comments that I haven't heard in years.  When we were leaving Wiley at the library he said that he'd read my blog.  I think i write this stuff down for myself and it made me a little nervous thinking about Wiley laughing at my sophmorish rambling.  It was good to feel connected to a true friend that I'm very proud of though.  That's the only line that I want Wiley to read.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


  Today I went through the garden and pulled up most of the onions and garlic.  This stinky endeavor left us with about 100 onion bulbs curing in the shade on the back porch.  In the past I've ordered sets of onions from dixondale farms.  This year I got 2 sets of white onions and 1 set of reds from Ford's.  I usually find a little stick out in the yard that's about 1/2 an inch wide and poke 2-inch holes in the ground for the little baby onions.  I space them 2-3 inches apart and then there's nothing else to do until harvesting time in a few months.  I probably planted them in early February so I guess it took them about 3 months to grow.  The greens had been falling over like the one in the picture above so I figured it was time to get them out of the ground.  If you leave them in the ground too long they get hard to find because their leaves turn brown and blend in with the mulch, and I've had some start rotting when they stay in the ground too long.
 Today I went through and just pulled them up by their necks.  The ground wasn't too dry so they didn't break off in the ground and leave me with a hand full of onion greens.  I had to use a trowel for the garlic, but the onions were easy.  I can't grow enormous onions like I see in the store.  Most of ours are roughly golf-ball sized with a couple of the monster ones just smaller than a baseball.  The organic gardening book told me to set them on a mesh to dry with their greens attached so they're sitting outside right now getting cured up until I can start cooking with them.


  The unrivaled prize of the garden is a heavy, sweet, bright red tomato in July.  I figure each plant needs about 2 square feet, and I squeeze as many into the garden as possible.  I buy our tomato plants from Ford's Seed Store every year.  I get as many 3-packs of different varieties as possible and buy them a flat at a time.  I get supersweet 100's, cherokee purples, mr. Stripey's, and whatever I can find on the shelves of Ford's.  This year I planted the first flat at the end of March because it had been so warm, and the 10 day outlook seemed safe.  There were a couple of scary nights in april when there was a frost warning, but our plants were never phased.  It's May 20th and the 36 early tomatoes out in the main garden are humongous.  They are covered in blossoms and some like in the picture above have some little greenies on them already.  I've put in about 70 plants in all now,  and its looking like another bumper year for 'maters.
  Suckers.  I've always heard the little stems that grow out of the leaf axils of tomato plants disdainfully called suckers.  My dad taught me to pinch the suckers off and I've always done it.  I would go out every week in the past to tie the plants to the stake again and pinch off all of the suckers.  This year I've got a little experiment going.  I'm going to try to be the friend of the suckers and I'll see if they return the favor.  The plants are way fuller this year as they consist of more than just the main stem.  They are harder to tie up and I've had to use multiple strings on some plants to try to keep all of the stems close to the stake.  I'm not sure what the outcome of this trial will be; I might end up with more but smaller tomatoes, or I could just end up with more of a jungle than I usually have by the middle of July.  I'll keep you posted on the sucker progress.

 A row of tomatoes inside the pit after being tied up.
 A string around 3-4 stems and the stake on this plant.
 a couple of supersweet 1000's before the latest round of harnessing.
the same two plants after I tied them up.

Monday and Tuesday afternoons this week I tied up the tomatoes again.  In the past I would go by every plant, pinch off the suckers, and then tie up the 1 stem that I was letting grow.  This year I'm using multiple strings per plant to try to keep 'em under control.  I go through a row and cut the string first and throw it on the plants.  I'm getting better at gauging the lengths of strings that I'll need.  With just 1 stem you don't need much string.  It's taking me a while to figure out just how long the piece needs to be to go around multiple stems and the stakes.  I go back through the row trying not to bend the stems too much when I'm tying them up, I just want to support them.  Most of my stakes stick out of the ground 5-6 feet.  In the picture of the plants above the stems are already growing above the stakes.  The plants in the garden are a couple of feet taller than these and they're getting fun to try to tie up.  I'm just tying stems together, I'm tying bunches of stems to other poles, I'm letting them sag over to another pole that I'm tying them to.  There are flowers everywhere and little greenies all over the place.  Lauren and I each had a little red cherry tomato tuesday.  June 5th seems pretty early for the first tomatoes, but the german teacher at my school says she just ate her first tomatoes this weekend too.


5/20/2012: A Spring Update:
  Last weekend we ended the peas' run this spring by pulling up the plants to make room for the beans and cukes around the pit.  That left us with a pile of peas and a couple hours of shelling last saturday.  It turned out to be a good time to start the new seeds because Sunday afternoon it started raining and it didn't let up until wednesday.  We got 4 inches of rain in 4 days and a couple of nice storms to boot.  Everything except for the okra seemed to like the conditions.  The okra seedlings that are still alive are looking very frail.  It's supposed to be in the 80's and push into the 90's this week so I'll replant the okra seeds again.
The few beets that we have are huge, the tomatoes that we planted in the main garden at the end of March are gigantic- some over 6 feet tall, and I harvested the onions and garlic today after a pretty good spring growing season.  The tomatoes are growing so fast that I cant go a whole week without tying them up.  I'm keeping the mulch thick and that's probably not helping the okra, but weeds haven't been much of an issue- yet.
  Since my soccer season ended a week-and-a-half ago i got home early a couple of days this week and made dinner.  One night I picked some Swiss Chard, rinsed it off, deveined it, and cut it into inch-wide strips so I could steam it.  It turned out really good.  It tasted a lot like spinach but we don't have any fresh spinach now as it went to seed a couple of weeks ago.  The chard is a tasty green and it is attractive with it's multicolored stems there in the pit.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

spring 2012

I'm pretty sure the winter of 2011-2012 was the warmest on record.  The average temperature was well above normal, the number of days below freezing was well below normal, and we didn't even try to go up to West Virginia for our annual snowboard trip because they didn't have a winter up there either.  I got to till the garden early this year thanks to global warming, and Lauren and I sowed the spring seeds early in January this year:

The results:
*  Our spinach crop was outstanding.  We ate spinach salads for a month and froze about 8 baggies for later.
*  The beets were underachievers.  I mentioned it in the beet entry, but we only have about 20 beets this year.
*  The lettuce was more sparse than usual.
* The peas seem exactly the same as last year.
*  We planted 1/2 the tomato plants early and they are growing like gangbusters.
* etc.  The roses were fantastic this year, we have an 8 foot tall sunflower plant in the pit now-  its the beginning of May, the fleas and mosquitos are already getting on my nerves.

In conclusion:  The spring crops still matured at about the same time, and I can't really say they were any better off because of the early start.  Watering intervals could have had an impact on lettuce and beet success, but why did the spinach do so well?  The tomatoes that we started early are already several feet tall, covered with blossoms, and some have some little green baby tomatoes forming.  I think the insects could end up being the story of the summer though.

sweet potatoes

Stories may be told for generations about the sweet potatoes of 2011:

Big mamma up there in the pyrex dish beside the wine bottle satisfied the sweet potato portion of 3 casseroles at thanksgiving last year.  The rest of them were pretty healthy-sized too.  We started with 9 little plants, slips, that I bought at Ford's and planted in April.  They overgrew the entire pit by fall, and made for a hell of a harvest in November.  I tried to start a nice fall garden just inside the pit's fence with cabbage, brussels sprouts, and broccoli, but that was a wasted venture as the sweet potatoes covered the entire pit and choked out everything in their way.  A November frost set me to harvesting, and I was amazed at the size and quantity of the bounty.  It was a long, wet fall and the sweet potatoes seemed to like it.  My one complaint would be the sweetness of the potatoes.  I planted beauregards like I always do, but they weren't as sweet as I wanted them to be.  I guess it's kind of like when a watermelon gets too much rain and grows big but doesn't have much taste.  We didn't let that stop us though.  We've been eating these sweet potatoes for the last 6 months.  I like to cut them into chips and bake them with a little cinnamon. I've made sweet potato salad like I would a regular potato salad but it just doesn't have much flavor or "kick."  We gave several to the Hancocks, and both of our families have enjoyed the 2011 bounty of not-so-sweet potatoes.


Peas:  I was picking and shelling some peas this afternoon with some considerable help from the wife.  We plant the peas first thing in the spring and now it's may 5th and we've harvested a couple of times.  We get the seeds from fords- sugar snaps and snow peas.  I take some of the snow peas out of the package and mix them in with the sugar snaps.  I prefer the sweet peas, but my mom likes the snow peas and their plants are more vigorous and the purple flowers are nicer than the whites of the sugar snaps.
  We have a little wire fence around the pit mainly to keep the dogs out, but it serves nicely as a trellis for the peas in the spring and then beans later in the summer.  I take the little english hoe and make a little rut around the inside of the fence.  I throw the peas out pretty liberally and then cover the furrow back over with the hoe.  After a couple of weeks I thin the plants a little and then I just let them go.  spring 2012 has been pretty warm so the peas got off to a good start this year.  We've got them shelled and sitting in the fridge waiting for us to figure out what to do with them.