Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Late June Harvest

 I look forward to this time each year.  By late June, the garden starts to produce an abundance vegetables of varying textures, flavors and succulence.  Gone now are the leafy greens of spring.  Instead, we get to enjoy crispy snow peas, crunchy broccoli and tender zucchini.

 Hi harvested my first two Imperial Star artichokes this past week.  They have produced reliably for me each year I've grown them.  I'm always amazed by how early they are.  My Green Globe Artichokes on the other hand take a little longer to produce. 

 Unfortunately, none of our shell peas have made it into the house.  The kids love them and so do I.  I munch on them as I go about my gardening chores.

We picked the first Fava beans of the year today.  I can't ever imagine not having them in my veggie garden.  In my opinion, they are one of the tastiest beans you can grow.  Sure they require a bit more work to prepare in the kitchen, but well worth it in my opinion (which probably explains why I've never seen them at any supermarket). 
Lastly, our three Romanesco zucchini plants are producing very well straight out of the gate.  So far this past week, we've picked about a dozen.  I hand pollinate the female flowers each morning to ensure proper fruiting.  Within a day or two of doing so, they are generally ready to pick. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

At Opposite Ends - Artichokes and Zucchini

 I noticed the other day that my 'Imperial Star' artichokes were starting to form buds.  It happened rather quickly as the main flower stalk seemed to rise out of nowhere.  Unfortunately, the young buds are smaller this year then they've been in years past.  I'm guessing the late arrival of spring along with the warm weather we've had these past couple of weeks had something to do with it.
Every year, I debate whether or not to grow them.  Generally artichokes only start producing buds in their second year, but can easily be coaxed to flower in their first year if started early enough indoors and then exposed to cool temperatures for a minimum of 6 weeks.  Most of my neighbors were astounded to learn that you could even grow artichokes here in New England.  You can indeed.  Unfortunately, they will never become the majestic plants you'd see in say the fields of California. When I visited the vegetable gardens at Colonial Williamsburg a few years back, I was amazed by how tall the green globe artichoke plants were and how each plant had at least a half-dozen flower stalks - something I can only dream about in my own garden.  I've never been able to overwinter my artichoke plants successfully here in our Zone 6A climate.  And at best, I'll get between 1 to 3 decent sized artichokes from each plant - not a very good return for the effort involved.   Still, they are strikingly beautiful plants that can add a great deal of interest and impact to both an edible garden and ornamental bed.  So I'm sure this won't be the last time I'll be growing them. 

 On the opposite end to the spectrum, my summer squashes are exploding with growth at the moment.  They seem to double in size every few days.  I'm growing two types of summer squash this year - 'Romanesco' zucchini and three types of Pattypan of varying colors.  The Romanesco seems extraordinarily prolific compared to other zucchini varieties I've grown in years past.  I will be harvesting my first tomorrow and I see several more in the stars by week's end.

I have three zucchini plants this year along with three pattypans.  In retrospect, I probably should have sown only one or two of each.  This is an exercise I go through every year.  In my defense, you forget how productive these plants can be when the weather outside is so bleak even in late April (or at least I do).  I can only pray that our neighbors like summer squash, or at the very least, that they keep their car doors unlocked. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

What's in Season - Stir-fry Veggies

 Snow peas are one of my most favorite veggies to grow, mainly because there's so little work involved.  In early spring, all you do is scatter your seeds into a narrow band about 4-6 inches wide and 1 inch deep, put up some support (in my case, I used pruned branches) and then watch them grow.  By late spring, you're greeted with a prolific crop of edible pods, which will go on producing into early summer when the plants begin to fade.  Out of all my garden vegetables, the snow peas are the most popular among the kids for snacking while on the go (that is until the cherry tomatoes arrive).  It's fun to pick, sweetly mild tasting and crunchy.  And whatever the kids don't get to first, I pick for our weekday stir-fry dinners.

 I picked the rest of our garlic scapes, which are also tasty cooked in stir-fries or simply grilled.  Treat it like you would asparagus. It also lends some mighty garlic flavor to dressings and pesto.

Finally, I picked our first two crowns of broccoli.  Unlike cauliflower, broccoli is very much a reliable crop for us.  Just be sure to firm the soil around your seedlings well when transplanting them out as the plants tend to flop over easily under windy conditions.  I also start all of my brassicas from seed and avoid the commercial 6-packs of seedlings sold at garden centers, which are almost always root-bound and stressed (resulting in the plants bolting prematurely and certain failure).

To extend the harvest, I only grow varieties that produce plenty of side-shoots after the main crown has been picked.  Give the plants some protection and you'll be harvesting fall broccoli well into November here in New England. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

June Garden Picture Tour Part 1 - Vegetables

East Garden - June 2014
 It's amazing how fast things are growing now that the weather has warmed up.  The garden is starting to look a bit less bare these days.  I've noticed a remarkable difference in just the past week alone, which is a sure sign that summer has officially arrived.  In any case, here's a picture tour of the vegetable beds in my garden.

 In the middle of the East garden is my three sisters bed.  I have summer and winter squash growing alongside 'Oaxacan Green' dent corn and 'Cherokee Trail of Tears' dry beans.

 I have another small bed dedicated exclusively to sweet corn ('Sugar Pearl'). 
 My 'Collective Farm Woman' melon and pickling cucumbers are coming along well.  I still need to erect a trellis for them.

 A bed of 'Sugar Baby' bush watermelons and 'Tasty Jade' cucumbers.

Circle Garden - June 2014
Things are also coming along nicely in the circle bed.

 My 'Imperial Star' artichokes have started to form buds.  And my 'Red Russian' kale is putting out new leaves daily.

 I love the rich red color of these nasturtiums.

 My scarlet runner beans are flowering as well.  However, I have a feeling it will be at least a few more weeks until they begin to set pods.

 We started harvesting our snow peas earlier this week.  I love seeing Jonathan and the neighborhood kids picking them to snack on as they play about the yard.

 My savoy cabbages are starting to form heads.  The 'Red Sails' lettuce is looking stunning these days.  It's become too bitter to eat, but I haven't pulled them out yet because the foliage looks so attractive.

 My 'Arcadia' broccoli is about ready to harvest.  This variety is also supposed to put out plenty of side shoots once the main crown is picked.

 My Fava beans are being attacked by black aphids these days.  I try to keep them in check by spraying soapy water, which kills them.  Today, I noticed a ladybug on one of my plants.  Hopefully I'll be able to attract more beneficial insects to my garden in the coming years.  

 Aphids aside, my Favas are starting to develop pods.

 My heirloom shell peas are growing very tall.  'Champion of England' can grow up to 10 feet.

 This is my first time growing purple podded soup peas.  I was stunned by the bright magenta color of these flowers, which are a stark contrast to the usual white.

 I planted purple asparagus crowns in the great border in early May and they seem to be coming along well.  If I'm lucky, I'll be able to harvest a small crop next spring.  I think the mature plants also add a lot of texture to an ornamental bed.  

 Last fall, I planted some organic Jerusalem artichokes I'd purchased from Whole Foods.  Low and behold, they've sprouted.  I'm looking forward to seeing their flowers, and of course harvesting the edible tubers this winter.
The Great Border - June 2014
And that concludes Part 1 of our tour.  Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Building Tomato Trellises From Rebar and Remesh

 This past weekend, I finally got around to building trellises for my tomatoes - in the nick of time too as a few of the plants were starting to keel over.  Up until recently, I didn't quite know how I was going to accomplish this from a design perspective.  In the past, my homemade trellises never quite lived up to expectations. Indeterminate tomatoes can grow extremely tall, which make them quite heavy.  My vines can reach up to 15 feet long if left unpruned.  I've built metal trellises using heavy duty fence posts and 9 gauge wire as well as wooden A-frame trellises with 1x 3s and garden twine.  Both designs were either wobbly or sagged under the strain of these heavy tomato plants.  So this time around, I decided to do much more research.

 I was leaning towards building homemade tomato cages out of concrete reinforcement wire as they seem to work for my fellow garden bloggers and are a fraction of the cost of those Texas tomato cages.  Unfortunately, I'm growing 6 tomato plants per 4' x 4' raised bed and was doubtful that I could fit 6 cages within this limited space.  There's also the storage issue if you don't design the cages to nest.  Then by chance, I came across a wonderful blog (which I can't find now - so frustrating Google Images!) that featured these amazing trellises built from 10' rebar and 3 1/2' x 7' remesh.  I knew instantly that these would suit my raised beds perfectly.  

 Building these trellises was straight forward enough.  I drove wooden stakes into the ground about 15 inches deep and then pulled them out, creating holes to insert the rebar at each corner of my raised bed.  Once in, I firmed the soil around the base to secure them.  Next, I used plastic zip ties to connect the rebar at the top (I used two for good measure) and attach the remesh to each pole (I spaced these about a foot and a half apart). 

In the end, I was very happy with this design.  It was simple to construct and seems very sturdy and stable.  Four of my tomatoes will be trained to grow up the remesh while the remaining two will be trained onto heavy duty garden twine stretching from the top of the trellis to the base of the plant.  The cost to build these three trellises (enough for 18 plants) was approximately $110, which is still very reasonable.  Once the season ends, I can easily dismantle them to store - another added bonus. I have high hopes for them but only time will tell whether they'll ultimately live up to my expectations. 

(PS - To the mystery blogger - I will keep trying to find you, but if by any chance you find this post, please reach out to me and I will certainly give you proper credit for your wonderful design!)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Late Spring Harvest

 This week's harvest included the most perfect Napa cabbage I've ever grown.  It still wasn't the mother of all cabbages, but at least it had a solid heart and remained untouched by slugs.  My winter density was starting to develop a slightly bitter tang - typical for this time of year.  So I picked the lot to enjoy while we still could.  We are also starting to get snow peas, which is proving to a go-to snack for 6 year olds.

 The garlic scapes are currently at their best.  Who needs asparagus when you have these beauties.  The are great in a stir-fry and you don't even have to mince any garlic. 

The kale harvest is still going strong.  It's such a work horse vegetable - grow a few plants and you will never go hungry.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

First Bloom - Thoughts on Gardening

I started my first garden in 2009, soon after my husband and I bought our first house (and after many years of moving from one urban apartment to the next).  That garden was strictly devoted to growing edible plants and was heavily influenced by my favorite food advocates and gardening writers at the time - namely Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Waters, Michael Pollen and Eliot Coleman.  It was a productive garden, one that took me back to those early childhood memories of growing up in Philadelphia  and being with my father in our humble little urban vegetable patch.  Yet that first garden of mine always felt somehow incomplete and halfhearted.  I'd forgotten that my father was a great lover of flowering plants as well and that half of our garden was devoted to growing colorful ornamentals like petunias, marigolds, impatiens, coleus and my favorite of all, dahlias.  Maybe it's a sign that I'm maturing as a gardener, but when we moved back to Massachusetts and were in the market for a new home, I was adamant about doing things differently this time around.  I wanted our garden to be just as beautiful as it was productive.  I wanted not only taste and nourishment, but also color and scent.  I wanted a proper cottage garden.

Admittedly, I've spent more time these past twelve months thinking about flowers then I have about vegetables (mainly because I've had so little experience growing them).  There's just so much to learn and I still feel as though I've only cracked the surface of it all.  In many ways, this experience has opened my eyes to a how vast and challenging a passion like gardening can be.  There's always something new to learn and many more plants to discover.  But at the same time, it's really about the process and finding those aspects of gardening that really appeal to you.  Otherwise, it can become quite overwhelming.  For instance, based on my childhood memories, my father was a great lover of showy vibrant bedding plants.  I, on the other hand, find myself more attracted to traditional cottage garden plants, particularly those that still resemble their wild cousins in many ways and can grow with a minimum of care.  While I want my garden to be colorful, I also want it to be serene - a place that invokes a particular mood based on the season.  Ultimately that is what I'll be working towards in the coming years.

But today represents another milestone in a way.  Earlier this year, I must have started at least a couple thousand flowering plants from seed, most of which are perennials.  As many of you are aware, many perennials don't flower the first year, so starting them from seed can require a great deal of patience.  However, some do.  And my newly-planted cottage garden saw its first perennial bloom today - in this case, a rather demure yet graceful white dianthus. A lot of planning and hard work has gone into our garden thus far and we're getting started.  However, I'm really looking forward to all of the future flowers that will surely follow this one. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Name this Plant....Please.

 To one side of our driveway sits a rather tall shrub.  And by the looks of things, you can just tell that it has seen better days.  When we first moved in late last summer, I thought for sure that it was some kind of magnolia.  I waited this spring for it to bloom and to my dismay, nothing happened.  Then the leaves began to emerge, followed a few weeks later by these springy white flowers. 

 The leaves are handsome enough but otherwise the shrub is rather unremarkable.  The flowers (if you can consider them flowers) have no detectable scent and the leaves just turn brown and fall off during the autumn. 

At this point, I'm left with two basic questions - 1) What is this plant?  2) More importantly, why on earth would anyone grow it?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

What's In Season - Kale and Garlic Scapes

 The garden is continuing to produce plenty of greens.  This week we picked tons of kale and shared it with three other families.  All of my Asian greens are bolting now.  I'll have to salvage what remains tomorrow and clear the space to plant other things.   Our lettuce is still going strong though and I'll be certain to keep them well watered as temperatures continue to climb.

And here are some of the garlic scapes I picked the other day.  I used some in a lemon sauce that I made to go with some pan seared flounder, which we had for dinner tonight.  I'll have to think of some creative ways to use the rest as they get harvested. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Garlic Scapes

 The garlic scapes have arrived.  The last time I saw them was three years ago, which was also the last time we grew garlic. Good luck finding these at a supermarket.  In fact, I don't think I've even seen them at our local farmer's markets.  Something tells me most of the general public wouldn't even know what to do with them.  One great thing about growing your own vegetable garden  is that you get to learn about, appreciate and in many cases utilize other parts of a plant like garlic normally considered waste in our commercial food production.

The best time to harvest scapes is when the stems are still curved.  I usually cut them off a couple of inches above the tallest leaf.  (You have to do this as the plant will develop a seed head, which draws energy away from the developing bulbs if you don't.) We've enjoyed them sauteed with other veggies.  They also make a rather pungent pesto.  I think using them in a pureed soup of some sort would also be nice.  Just be prepared to wake up to the scent of garlic in the morning.  But then again, there are far worst things in life for those of us who love garlic. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Veggie Garden Update

 I thought I'd do a quick update on how things are coming along in the vegetable garden.  By now, most of my summer vegetables have been planted.  And as the last of the early spring greens are harvested and space opens up, I'll be sowing more beets, carrots and other summer veggies with moderate maturity dates.  Then before you know it, we'll be planting our fall and winter gardens.  Such is the cycle of every vegetable gardening year.  There's always so much anticipation of what's to come, and some anxiety about what needs to be done.  Sometimes you just have to remind yourself to stop and stare and just enjoy the moment.  I thought about this tonight as I walked around the garden. 

I noticed that the first nasturtium flowers are blooming.  I've never had much success with them in the past.  But they seem to off to a rather good start this year.

 The Fava beans are in full bloom right now.  There seems to be an abundance of flowers this year.  I will make sure that they get an adequate amount of watering in the coming weeks.  Hopefully this will translate into a good harvest this year.  Fava beans are one of my most favorite veggies to grow, and a seriously underrated veggie in my opinion. 

 What's this?  Is that a snow pea blossom I see?  It feels like we've been waiting forever, and my plants are a good 2 1/2 tall.  But today, these delicate white beauties finally arrived. I've been anxiously waiting for the garden to produce something with a bit of crunch.  Of course the first snow pea will be munched within seconds of being picked. 

 My Napa cabbages are heading up nicely.  Even better, there are only a couple of holes in each.  I'd given up growing Napa cabbages at our old garden because of the voracious slugs.  Luckily the slugs have not followed us here (so far). 
 The broccoli is starting to crown as well.  I'm growing a variety called 'Acadia' this year.  I will be curious to see how it compares to my longtime favorite, 'Bonanza'.

 Step aside cut-and-come-again lettuce, I'm looking forward to picking whole heads of 'Winter Density'.  In the past, I've had a tendency to wait too long before harvesting my heads of lettuce.  This year, I'm not taking any chances.

Finally, one of my tomato plants is flowering.  Not surprisingly, it's an 'Amish Paste'.  We grew wonderful heirloom tomatoes at our old house.  Hopefully they will grow just as well here in our new coastal environment.