Thursday, September 25, 2014

Revisiting the Flower Garden of 2014

Now that fall has officially arrived, I wanted to take one last look at this year's blooms.  This was my first year growing a proper flower garden and I must say that I've learned a great deal.  Surely I made quite a few mistakes, but I knew going into this that there would be a steep learning curve involved, especially when it comes to such things as landscaping design.  Sometimes I wish that I had more of an artistic background.  I'm sure having something like this would greatly help guide one's choice of plants, particularly their colors and textures.  That being said, I'm confident that the flower garden will come together much more naturally and easily with each growing season. 

In any case, here are pictures of some of my favorite flowering plants when they were at their best this summer.  Enjoy!

Zinnias growing amongst a white centranthus
I also grew a pinkish-red centranthus, which the hover flies and hummingbird moths loved.
Marc's favorite flower this summer was this nicotiana sylvestris.  It grew to amazing heights and released an amazing scent in the evenings.

One of the first things I learned this summer was that dill makes for an excellent ornamental plant.  It adds lightness and airiness to any flower border.
Zinnias are such work horse plants.  They bloom all summer long and get by with very little care.
Cascading lobelia growing amongst French perfume lavender
The Great Border at its best.
'Mesa Peach' gaillardia - in my opinion, one of the best colored.
My favorite scent in the garden this summer came from these sweet peas.  I made sure to save plenty of seed to grow them on next year.
Agastache rupestris - proof that a fine-textured plant can be among the most beautiful

The bumbles bees could not get enough of the purple coneflowers.
Our 'Sweet Autumn' clematis started to bloom as summer officially came to an end.
'Sweet Autumn' Clematis flowering amongst joe pye weed.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the heady sweet fragrance of these blossoms. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Encouraging Homegrown Figs to Ripen

The fig at the bottom of this picture was induced to start ripening.
When we moved back to Massachusetts last year, one of the first things I did was to go out and buy three young fig trees from a local family-run nursery specializing in old Italian varieties.  The three varieties I chose were Italian Honey, Black Triana and Paradiso.  Two of these varieties I'd grown previously with moderate success.  Unfortunately, they ultimately proved no match for the harsh winters of Vermont.  Now that we live in a marginally more hospitable climate zone, I thought I'd give it another go.

Growing fig trees successfully in Zone 6A New England is never a sure thing.  Most fig tree varieties will not survive our winters unprotected.  When planted outside, there's also a good chance that the fig tree will die back to the ground (if they don't die outright), which is mainly why I've chosen to grow mine in large pots.  By November, I'll move the dormant trees indoors to an unheated crawl space underneath our house, which stays just above freezing all winter long. 

Another challenge to growing fig trees in our part of the world is our short and often cool (i.e. non-Mediterranean) summers. Even when our trees produce fruit, there's no guarantee that they will ripen in time before the fall weather sets in.  And when they don't, it can be incredibly disappointing. So far, I've had no problems with my Italian Honey figs ripening on time (about early to mid-September).  Unfortunately, Black Triana and Paradiso in years past have proven to be late producers (bearing ripe fruit as late as November).  Even if we had a bright space indoors to prolong their growing season, chances are the quality of fruit produced would be mediocre at best.  (I learned this a couple of years ago.) Which leaves us with only one option - we must encourage our trees to ripen their fruit before Autumn sets in.

Not too long ago, I learned about oleification - a practice employed by growers as early as the third century BC to accelerate the ripening of figs.  The process involves applying a small amount of a variety of oils to the eye of an unripe fig.  Within 5 days of application, if all goes well, the fig should begin to ripen. Last Thursday, I decide to test this technique.  Using a cotton swab, I dabbed a small amount of olive oil to the eye of an unripe fruit on my Black Triana fig tree, being careful not to get the oil on any other part of the fruit.  I chose the one furthest away from the growing tip of the tree, as these generally ripen first.  One added note - from what I've read, it's also very important to induce ripening at the appropriate time, specifically when the eye of the unripe fig is pink (at least in varieties with dark or brightly colored interiors).  Apply the oil too early and the unripe fruit will simply fall off the tree. 

I waited a few days and was a bit discouraged when I didn't notice any change.  Then on the fifth day, I came home from work to discover that the treated fig had swelled to twice its previous size seemingly overnight and started to darken in color - sure signs that it was beginning to ripen (bottom fig pictured above).  Today, I went ahead and treated three more figs.  With some luck, we will be able to harvest all of them before the first frost.  I am further encouraged by the fact that we are expecting daytime temperatures to reach 80 degrees F again this weekend. 

As I stated, our Italian Honey figs are ripening naturally and on time this year.  I really love the taste of this fig and would highly recommend it.  We have two left and they will surely be savored by me and my son.  So far, we've been pretty good about sharing.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The End of Summer Harvest

And we're finally blogging again!  Unfortunately I've been sick for the greater part of these past two weeks and haven't been able to do much of anything.  Today was the first time in a while that I've physically felt like myself again.  I was even able to get some mild gardening work done.  Though I'm seriously behind on many of my fall gardening projects, it feels nice to regain some semblance of normalcy. 

Now that summer is officially coming to an end, our weekly harvests will soon shift back to cool season greens.  Surprisingly, our tomato plants are still producing a fair amount of ripe fruit, but I expect that this will change very soon.  Within the next week or two, we'll strip the vines of all fruit, ripe or not and clear out the beds.  What's still green will hopefully ripen indoors. 

 We are still getting a couple of cucumbers and the odd zucchini each week.  The vines look so terrible that I'm surprised we're getting anything at all - yet another reminder of how resilient these plants can be. 

 I've been making and freezing a fair amount of tomato puree from our remaining paste tomatoes.  Instead of canning salsa this year, I'm freezing enough puree and jalapenos to whip up small fresh batches whenever necessary.

Our fall broccoli still has a ways to go before they will be ready for us to pick, but luckily for us, our spring broccoli is still going strong.  And now that the weather is cooling down, the plants are experiencing renewed vigor and producing loads of side shoots.

 This one particular side shoot was enormous.  Talk about a hardworking plant.

Finally, I'm starting to clear out all of the annuals from my flower beds in order to make room for more perennials.  Our zinnias have really been spectacular this year and I was sad to see them go.  However, I was glad to get one last bouquet from them before they made their way to the ever-growing compost heap. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

An Early September Harvest

Today was the perfect late summer day.  Temperatures were cool and we had a nice ocean breeze all day, which kicked around the first of the fall leaves.  Now that the sun is lower in the sky, the light in our backyard has changed dramatically since the beginning of summer.  Our garden now only gets about 5 - 6 hours of full sunlight.  And the rest of our yard seems to glow in dappled shade as the sun passes through the tall uppermost branches of the surrounding oaks.  I'm sure we'll be busy during the next two months getting the garden and yard ready for winter and starting work on some new gardening projects for next year.

Last week, during one of our hot muggy days,  I decided to pick all of our 'Oaxacan Green Dent' corn.  For the most part, each of the plants produced at least one decent ear of corn.  The kernels felt very firm to the touch, though they will require an additional few weeks of drying indoors.

 Looking at the kernels, I could tell that some of the corn had cross-pollinated with the sweet corn in my garden.  Oh well.  Next year, I will have to grow them farther apart.  I'm really looking forward to grinding the kernels into cornmeal and making some corn bread.  I think I'll try to make tortillas as well using a mixture of the cornmeal and wheat flour.  Now I just have to figure out how to grind the corn.  I can't justify buying a Vitamix or some fancy grinder just for this.  Any suggestions?

 The paste tomatoes in our garden have been producing consistently since late July.  Both the 'Speckled Roman' and 'Amish Paste' have been incredibly productive this year.  Now that we are fully stocked with tomato sauce, I'm using the rest of the tomatoes to make plain tomato puree, which will act as a great base for tomato soup or salsa.

Our other tomatoes have slowed way down, though we still pick more than enough to meet our fresh eating needs.

 Our peppers are going strong right now.  In addition to the poblanos, we started picking our 'Lipstick' sweet red peppers.  "Lipstick" is probably one of the sweetest peppers I've ever tasted.  We also have a ton of hot chilies as well, which I've left unpicked. 

 This is a picture of our spring planted broccoli.  This variety is 'Arcadia'.  I've never had broccoli make it though the summer looking this good.  I don't know if it's the variety or if it's because our summer has been so mild this year, but normally our spring broccoli would have faded to nothing by now. Hopefully these will go on producing into late fall.

 This past week, I was able to harvest a decent amount of side-shoots.

 Finally, the first of our figs are starting to ripen.  It seems to happen out of the blue and relatively quickly.  They tend to stay green all summer long, and then just like that, they will change color and triple in size over the span of a week.

This is an 'Italian Honey' fig.  I've picked two so far and they were very sweet and delicious.  Two of my small trees have fruit on them.  Within the next week or two, I may remove most of the leaves from both trees in order to try coaxing both into ripening their fruit before the weather gets too cold.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Artichoke Flowers

I meant to post these pictures some time ago.  The artichoke flowers have been spectacular this year.  They really make for a good show, especially since you don't see many gardens here in New England with them.  And the insects love them as well.  In the late afternoon, the bumble bees bury themselves into the bright lavender centers to rest for the night.  I'm looking forward to harvesting the seeds to grow them again next year. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Transitioning from Summer to Fall

Fall Broccoli
 We were dealt a mini heat wave earlier this week, but now it seems that temperatures have returned back to normal.  In fact, today seems like a perfect day for gardening - not too humid, partly cloudy, with a nice ocean breeze.  I return to work tomorrow and there is so much I want to get done before then.  I need to re-pot my citrus trees and add fresh potting soil.  The dent corn needs to be picked and dried.  We also have one last chance to take vegetative cuttings this year before the weather gets too cold.  Finally, I need to plant more of the perennials I have lying around in pots.  I'd like to get all of this done so that I can start work on installing several more beds for next year's garden this upcoming weekend. 

 The fall garden has had a slow start this year.  I started my broccoli a bit late this summer and don't expect that we will be harvesting it until early October.  However, our kale and 'Win Win' bok choy are coming along nicely. 

 A week ago, I also sowed some radishes and Hakurei turnips.  It's been at least a couple of years since I've grown these turnips, and I'm really looking forward to eating them again. 

 Last week, I also transplanted the leeks that I'd started from seed this past spring.  Leeks are strictly a fall/winter crop for us.  I like to grow them in clumps all summer long and then separate them when they are about pencil thick.  By November, they should be fat and ready to harvest though they'll stay perfectly fine in the ground all winter long.

Finally, I also sowed some salad mix and spinach and transplanted my fall beets.  Fall beets are never a sure thing, but at least we can harvest the leaves if the roots don't bulk up.

I have more Asian greens and lettuce started in cell packs.  Hopefully they will be big enough to transplant out in a week or two. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Late August Harvest

Happy Labor Day!  Boy, is it humid today.  In fact, temperatures are expected to be in the 80's all week long.  I spent some time this morning working in the garden, but then quickly realized that the effort was not worth the sweaty discomfort.  I guess mother nature is trying to tell us that on this holiday, it's better to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

This past week, I harvested all of the delicata squash.  Our vines succumbed early to bacterial wilt, and as a result, didn't produce very well.  While the cucumber beetles weren't too terrible this year, I guess some squash plants are more susceptible to infection than others. 

 Our summer harvest is starting to wind down a bit.  Our tomato plants, zucchini and cucumbers are still trickling in, but not to the extent of earlier this month.  I was a bit late to start my fall plantings so I have a feeling we'll be experiencing a slight hungry gap this upcoming month.  Luckily, we have quite a lot of veggies stored away.

 Last weekend, we also picked the last of the peaches.  Soon I'll do some summer pruning and then hope for another great harvest next year. 

 We've been picking quite a few peppers lately.  We generally roast our poblanos to use in a delicious Roasted Corn and Poblano Soup.  And I've been using Hungarian Wax peppers in my homemade tomato sauce.  They are also excellent for making fresh hot pickled peppers.

 Earlier this summer, I bought a columnar apple tree from Home Deport because it was 50% off.  I got one apple from the tree this year.  As expected, the taste wasn't all too great.  (It tasted just like a Granny Smith.) However, it's definitely an interesting looking tree.

 It took all summer but we're finally getting decent sized carrots from our spring sowing.  The kids have been picking and snacking on them as they go about their business.

 I can't claim credit for this harvest, but my neighbor gave us some outstanding looking pears from her young tree.  Neighborhood fruit trees are the best!  We shared some of our peaches earlier this month and received some of these beautiful pears in return.  If only more of our daily transactions can happen this way.

 I also have to mention that these pears are huge!  I placed them all in a paper bag to ripen up.

 This is my meager melon harvest this summer and I only have myself to blame.  I planted the vines too close together and neglected them all summer.  The variety is 'Collective Farm Woman'.  It's a small honeydew type melon.  I'll have to try harder next year.

Lastly, I took down one of my runner bean teepees and collected quite a few fresh beans.  I think I read somewhere that the beans were also edible.  Now I just need to figure out what to do with them.