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Posts Tagged ‘autumn’

Waterscapes Photo Challenge (and Spring Planting)

Three pea rows planted

I try to keep my main planting bed covered in leaves through the winter. In spring, it’s fairly easy to rake the leaves aside and scrape furrows in the moist soil to hold pea seeds. This year, my wife made the furrows. I set and buried the peas. If the leaf cover has done its job, there are almost no weeds to remove, and I dig only where I’m planting.

This blog has traditionally been about how to grow and prepare food and it means to stay that way. I’ve taken detours of late because of family issues (my dad moved out of his house and I spent a lot of time cleaning up after him) and because of health issues (I’m recovering from a Whipple—surgery that removed a pancreatic tumor and re-routed my digestive tract).

Here’s a brief “how-to” to keep the blog on course:

It’s spring, plant!

With help from my wife, I’ve started three rows of peas in the garden. I plant a lot so we have peas to eat until July with plenty left over for the freezer. I once posted a video that shows the method I still use – Small Kitchen Garden Pea Notebook. I also wrote a post explaining how-to – Enough Peas to Preserve.

Peas handle frost well, and will even survive a freeze into the 20s. They aren’t as hardy in hot weather. In my experience, a variety called Wando handles early spring heat better than most. So, given we’re in a streak of hottest months on record, hedge your bets and try to plant Wando peas this year. They grow at least five feet tall, so make sure you rig trellises for them.

Starting seeds on the ping-pong table

I just started seeds for my summer vegetables. My setup this year is on our seldom-used ping-pong table: I used the kids’ cardboard bricks to support a four-foot shop light across the five-foot-wide table. The planters are the bottoms of plastic one-gallon milk jugs filled with a commercial seed-starting mix. I set 16 seeds in each planter, for a total of 112 seeds. Soon, I’ll add a second shop light and start a few other seeds; once the first planting emerges I’ll note what failed to germinate and try again with the same varieties.

Along with peas, this is a good time to plant lettuce, spinach, onions, carrots, and potatoes. All prefer to grow in cool weather and can handle frost—though young potato plants may die back in the cold, they’ll quickly make up for it on warmer days.

Start seeds indoors

We’re at the threshold for indoor seed-starting. That is, if you don’t start yours soon, you’ll lose the advantage you get from indoor starts. Ideally, start tomato, pepper, tomatillo, eggplant, and okra seeds indoors six-to-eight weeks before the average last frost in your area. Turns out, if you start eight weeks early—especially with tomatoes—your seedlings will probably need to be transplanted into larger pots before it’s time to set them in the garden. That’s fine if you have the space to manage it.

Around here, the average last frost is mid-April, so I just planted 72 tomato seeds, 8 tomatillo seeds (a new gardening experience for me), and 32 pepper seeds. It’s very easy to do; I’ve written several posts about it over the years:

Start Your Own Seedlings (this is how I start my seeds)
Small Kitchen Garden Seed-Starting Shelf
Start Seeds in Pellets for Your Small Kitchen Garden
Start Your Small Kitchen Garden from Commercial Flats
Really? Start Seeds Indoors for Your Small Kitchen Garden?
Start Seeds in Pots for Your Small Kitchen Garden

Now, Waterscapes

When I assembled photos for my landscapes photo challenge, my set of favorites from 2015 included way more than the requisite seven shots. Rather than choose seven from among 40, I added a Waterscapes photo challenge to my list—and was pleased to learn that “waterscapes” is a real word meaning what I wanted it to mean.

I’ve posted seven waterscapes here. Like the landscapes of my previous post, I captured these photos in central Pennsylvania and in central upstate New York—near Ithaca or on the way to Ithaca from Lewisburg.

Birdhouse at the lake cottage

This photo isn’t about art so much as it is about Mom. Mom kept a “life list” of birds she spotted through the kitchen window. Years after I left home, she and my dad bought a shack on a cliff above Cayuga lake and spent summers cleaning, painting, and making it into their vacation lake cottage. I enjoyed visiting the cottage, but I didn’t fall in love with it until 2015. I finished emptying and repairing my dad’s house, and tenants moved in. That left me with two options when I visited: sleep on my dad’s sofa in his tiny independent living unit, or stay at the lake cottage. Stoking a fire in the wood stove to hold off cold autumn nights called back years of semi-rustic living. Waking up at the cottage to sounds of rustling leaves and nautical activity was meditative.

It’s possible my mother never saw the birdhouse in this photo. However, seeing it hanging along the stairway down to the lake made it easy to imagine my mom pausing on those stairs to watch birds come and go. I hope to spend time at the cottage this year absorbing the same sensations that lured my parents there.

Grass seed heads

There are few places that make my dog Nutmeg happier than she is at the local dog park. Far from the park’s parking area, there’s a stream in which Nutmeg tests her Labrador breeding… and fails. She’ll chase sticks into the water and bring them back as long as she never gets in deep enough to swim. Last August, grass seed heads caught sun against the dark waters of Nutmeg’s favorite stream.

Mansfield Pennsylvania boat launch

Mansfield, Pennsylvania is halfway to Ithaca from the Cityslipper ranch. Mansfield boasts a nature preserve with hiking trails, a picnic area, and a boat launch, and I love to stop there to capture photos. Water at the boat launch is a weird shade of blue that makes me wonder about agricultural runoff, but were that not the case the waterway would still be surreal. In this photo, the white flowers lining the river are knotweed—an invasive that looks awesome in bloom. Depending on cloud cover and the time of day, different features pop, so I always discover something new when I stop in Mansfield.

From a bridge in Mifflinburg Pennsylvania

South and west of Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania there are many waterways that flow to the Susquehanna River. I’ve photographed these streams, creeks, and rivers at so many places, I’m not always sure which is which. It’s compelling to me that I could drop a canoe in one of the streams and float in it 140 miles to the Chesapeake Bay and then into the Atlantic ocean.

Swamp north of Corning New York

On trips to Ithaca, I sometimes drive north to Corning, NY, and then up route 414 to Watkins Glen. The road follows a valley with farmland guarded by wooded hills that put on quite a display in autumn. Last October, I stopped to capture photos where wetlands cover much of the valley floor.

Waterfall in Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania

Perhaps stretching the definition of “waterscape,” this is one of dozens of waterfalls at a Pennsylvania nature preserve called Ricketts Glen. We hosted two Japanese students for nearly three weeks in August, and shared a hike with them along the Glen’s most popular trail.

Roots and a waterfall in Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania

I lingered below a waterfall at Ricketts Glen where the roots of a tree felt their way over rocks to find soil in the creek bed. If you want a photo session in Ricketts Glen, clear the day, go alone, and stay all day… though it’s fun to share the trip with a group.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Waterscapes Photo Challenge (and Spring Planting)

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The 40: My Cousins’ Garden

Minnesota prairie pond

The pond at The 40 is a fishing hole—perhaps the only place my kids ever tried fishing.

One of my cousins eloped. Months later, he threw a party. In Minnesota. (I live in central Pennsylvania.) I went. I drove. It was a very pleasant escape.

A benefit of making a long road trip alone: None of your passengers complains when you make side trips, stop to take pictures, drive too late into the evening (or next morning), or fail to find cushy lodging for the night.

I stopped often, but not often enough. Captured photos along the way, but not enough. Moved into a cousin’s house in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota and stayed for two nights. Loved seeing him; we was a great host. Loved his dogs: two yellow labs—one old and slow, one the same age as my Nutmeg.

Minnesota prairie fishing pond

Pond at The 40 photographed from the parking area looking down.

The Blooming Prairie branch of our family is my Mother’s sister’s clan. We don’t cross paths often; a thousand miles is quite a barrier for busy families. In fact, I hadn’t seen anyone from the Blooming Prairie gang since the year after my mom died; there was a family reunion out there, and we packed our kids and the camping gear into the minivan and drove west.

On that trip, we caught up just a tad (toting a toddler took attention), we attended a July 4th parade that was an hour longer than the longest July 4th parade ON EARTH, and we went fishing at The 40.

This post is about The 40

Oak tree in early autumn

With a turn to the left, I caught an oak tree announcing autumn by tossing a leaf earthward.

My uncle invested in land. I learned on my recent trip that he bought farmland and leased it to farmers. He also bought a 40 acre parcel for recreation: The 40. I don’t know the history of The 40’s development. Apparently, the pond is bigger now than it was years ago. In several visits—including the one with my family 20+ years ago—I’d never gone farther than the shore of the pond which is at the bottom of a hill near the entrance drive.

This trip, my cousin showed me The 40. We walked trails from one corner to the other, and he pointed out areas planted in walnut trees, in corn and turnips, in prairie grasses, and in garden flowers.

The 40 is gorgeous. I took photos. I hope you enjoy them.

Prairie marshland

We walked around the pond and from a wooded hillside caught this view of some very mushy-looking landscape.

Duckweed-covered pond

If I followed my cousin’s explanation, a big chunk of this duckweed-covered pond is on The 40, and some is on neighboring land. It looked like a great place to put in a canoe and paddle around.

Turnip patch for grazing deer

My cousin planted patches of corn in a corner of The 40. When it was spent, he planted turnips for deer to munch. I enjoyed the visual textures.

Native prairie grasses

While my uncle planted a flower garden that included a whole bunch of equinacea, my cousin has been acquiring native prairie grasses and planting them on The 40. He believes he has varieties that are native to Minnesota; a nice touch considering that state-run reclamation projects often work with prairie grasses from other states.

Staghorn sumac on the prairie

The sumac berry clusters on The 40 tended to hang down and my cousin called them poison sumac. I’m certain these were staghorn sumac—you can harvest the berries, cook them in water, add sugar, and drink the resultant pink liquid as a hot or cold drink. It seemed odd they were too lazy to hold their berry clusters upright, but perhaps that’s a regional variant. I wouldn’t recognize poison sumac if I saw it, but Googling it convinced me that the sumac on The 40 is edible, not poisonous.

Turtle pond on the prairie

At one of my stops during the trip (not at The 40), I found a turtle pond (as opposed to a duck pond). The logs were lined with turtles, but most slipped into the water while I was getting my camera into position.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – The 40: My Cousins’ Garden

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The Bigsby Market for Produce in Ithaca

Crysanthemums at The Bigsby Market

If you’re a farm stand, produce market, or garden center in the northeast, you sell chrysanthemums in autumn… which begins, apparently, during the last month of summer.

On my many forays to Ithaca over the past three years, I noticed and grew fond of a farm market just northeast of the city. The Bigsby Market is on route 13 and 366 just beyond where the two converge on the way to Dryden.

When I’m in Ithaca, I’m not about to invest in large amounts of produce, but I still stop to enjoy the displays and I try to buy something I can use. I’ve chatted with various employees there, and learned that some of the produce they sell comes from central Pennsylvania. In fact, they often have produce purchased from the Buffalo Valley Produce Auction which is about eight miles from my house.

Canarie melons at The Bigsby Market

The bin of canary melons was quite a mix of sunny orange and deep shadows.

I was in Ithaca two weeks ago, and I stopped at Bigsby Market late in the day. The market was decked out for autumn, and the late-day/late-summer sunlight provided the kind of illumination that excites all photographers.

I bought one delicious, perfectly ripe Bartlett pear, and I captured a whole bunch of photos from which I chose a handful of favorites to include in this post. It seriously looked like autumn at Ithaca’s Bigsby Market. Please have a look.

Canary melons at The Bigsby Market

Cantaloupe snuggled against watermelons in one of the produce bins at The Bigsby Market.

Pumpkins and winter squash at The Bigsby Market

Employees at the Bigsby Market stack pumpkins and winter squashes to make small towers. Some of the squashes avoid the fate and end up in heaps or bins.

Farm stand in Autumn

Sometimes things just fall into line. The Bigsby Market had an astonishing amount of produce; this is a modest sampling.

Sweet peppers at the Bigsby Market in Ithaca

Sweet peppers at The Bigsby Market shown in the evening sunlight. It won’t be long before local growers no longer have fresh produce to offer. At least for a little while, we can enjoy the colors and textures of autumn’s harvest.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Ithaca’s Bigsby Market

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Hen and Chicks?

You Can Grow That!

Hens and Chicks

I spent a dollar to buy two Hen and Chicks plants at a yard sale in autumn. With snow predicted, I “heeled in” the plants in my vegetable bed. When the snow finally melted in March, I found this little family looking healthy and ready for action. Eventually, these will find a home in a rock garden I plan to build where the compost heap now rests.

I’ve been a sucker for succulents since I grew a jungle in my bedroom during my high school years. So, despite my garden’s intense focus on food plants, I’ve mused for a long time about establishing a succulent garden in my yard. Near the end of last year, I was working specifically toward that end: I had packed several carloads of rocks back from my brother’s farm to use in building a rock garden that would host a variety of cold-hardy succulents.

One afternoon in late autumn, I stopped at a yard sale. There, the only items that interested me were foam coffee cups planted with Hens and Chicks. Each cup had a price of fifty cents—lower than I’ve seen nursery plants discounted at the end of the season. I bought two. I hope my experiences with them so far inspire you.

No Garden Yet

By the time it got too cold to garden, I’d not yet prepared my new planting bed. I had enough rocks stacked on the driveway, but I needed to move the compost heap and it became too unpleasant outside for me to feel motivated.

Hens and Chicks Hedge Row

To emphasize the certainty that you can grow Hens and Chicks, I captured this photo of a border along a sidewalk in Toronto. Toronto is well north of me and they experienced as punishing a winter as ours. However, by early March, snow had melted off and revealed this healthy-looking planting bed. Hens and Chicks have crowded the bed enough that it could benefit from thinning—a procedure the harsh winter failed to accomplish.

I didn’t want my Hens and Chicks—along with several other succulents I’d acquired—to spend winter outdoors in pots. And, there was no way I’d try to keep them growing indoors under lights. So, I decided to “heel in” the plants at one end of the vegetable bed.

Heeling in means planting a seedling poorly; without commitment. You can dig a shallow hole or find a bare patch of soil, lay the roots of the plant against the soil, and then cover the roots with more soil. I’ve seen young fruit trees heeled in while they were all but lying flat on the ground.

In any case, I heeled in the Hen and Chicks plants along with close to a dozen other succulents I’d bought at a garden center at “we don’t want these anymore” prices. Winter happened.

It was an impressive winter! We had more than a month where temperatures never rose out of the teens, and we had many, many days near and below zero. We also had snow, which is a blessing. Snow covered the garden continuously for several months and provided some relief from the cold for perennials.

Finally, Thaw

A rule of thumb for central Pennsylvania is to plant peas on St Patrick’s Day. Usually by mid-February daffodils are at least sprouting and by March warm days beckon us to garden. This year St Patrick’s Day came and went and we got to April 1st before there was any real beckoning.

Hen and Chicks Chick

A chick must have broken off one of the potted plants when I heeled it in last autumn. Under snow at seriously frigid temperatures, the little plant managed to drop roots into the soil. It looked perfect when the snow melted, and it will look just fine in its new home when I get the rock garden assembled.

But look at the photos! Hens and Chicks are very well, thank you. The two plants I heeled in are healthy and ready to move. What’s more, a small “chick” that must have broken off last fall had rooted where it lay despite the cold and snow!

To reinforce the point, I’ve included a photo of a border along a yard in Toronto. I visited Toronto in early March—at least one hardiness zone farther north than central PA. In the city, snow had melted, and that dense growth of Hens and Chicks made a dramatic in-your-face, winter, statement.

If you have any doubts about succeeding with gardening, try growing a Hen and Chicks plant. If a small piece of this plant can break off and root itself during a miserably cold winter, I feel safe to suggest: you can grow that!

Follow this link for more You Can Grow That posts.

 
http://www.smallkitchengarden.net/you-can-grow-that/hen-and-chicks

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Lost Onions in my Small Kitchen Garden

The view in early June shows onions holding their own between closely-spaced tomatoes and broccoli (left). However, even at this point, the lower parts of the onion stalks spend most of the day in shade. The stalks are the leaves, and they obviously require full sun all day for best production. (Ignore the onions on the right; they are last season’s victims of the Lost Onions method of kitchen gardening.)

My small kitchen garden is a laboratory that provides evidence each year supporting well-accepted theories of kitchen gardening. It also suggests that many alleged “best practices” are, at best, pretty good practices. This season, my success with crowding tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower reinforced my growing belief in cramming together vegetable plants to maximize your harvest. Eventually, I suppose I’ll have to think up a cutesy name for this approach so it can take its place next to “square foot gardening,” “lasagna gardening,” “straw-bale gardening,” “vertical gardening,” and “no-dig gardening,” among others.

The Lost Onion Gardening Method

Last season, I planted several rows of tomatoes in which I left only 12 inches from one plant to the next. Until late blight struck, the plants thrived. So, in the interest of growing more produce in the same space, this season I went a step further: I set plants a foot apart within their rows. I also laid out rows very close together.

Here’s a map of my small kitchen garden’s main bed in 2010. I added details only in the section I’ve described in the main article: Tomatoes, onions, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower (labeled as broccoli). The grid represents one-foot squares, with the planting bed being 14’ deep and 28’ long. When you plant this tightly, you don’t walk in your vegetable garden, you wade in it.

I left just 18 inches from one row of tomatoes to another. When that looked “airy” I planted a second pair of rows with only a one-foot gap. My rationale for putting two rows of tomato plants just one foot apart was that I’d be able to reach and manage both rows of plants from one side.

18 inches from one of the tomato rows, I planted a double row of onion sets: white and purple. 18 inches from there, I planted a zig-zag row of broccoli plants, making the broccoli row itself very crowded. The line drawing shows this section of my small kitchen garden with tomatoes on the right, then onions (with cabbage at the bottom), and then broccoli and cauliflower.

I was very happy with this layout with one exception: I lost my onions.

How my Garden Grew

After several hard frosts, I peeled back the dried up tomato plants and ripped out small broccoli trees. There, right where I’d planted sets in the spring, were young onion sprouts. A few onions are in good enough shape that I can use the bulbs. The others’ stalks will substitute as spring onions in my Chinese stir fry dishes.

Technically, I didn’t so much lose my onions as I lost access to them. The tomatoes grew like champs, eventually extending four feet beyond the tops of their 7 foot supports. The broccoli also outgrew the onions; by season’s end one broccoli plant was eight feet tall!

The onions? They kept pace with the tomatoes and broccoli for a while, but sadly, onions grow to about 20 inches. So, the season wasn’t far along before the onions were in complete shade.

Consider the onion: They have tall, slender, spiky leaves that seem well-adapted for survival in very sunny climates. They have none of those thin, flimsy leaves typical of annuals that can’t survive extreme summer heat.

Heavily shaded, only a few of the onions produced flowers. But by the time the tops should have matured and started falling over under their own weight, the tomato and broccoli plants had formed a canopy over them; I could barely wiggle between the plants to do maintenance, and no way was I able to bend down to the onions without displacing tomatoes or broccoli. I’d lost my onions.

Mid autumn is a tad late in the year to pull your first onions but these are my first. There may yet be another dozen golf-ball-sized wonders ready to harvest from my small kitchen garden.

Autumn’s Gifts

In early November, I dismantled the tomato trellises, pulled the spent plants, and ripped out the broccoli trees. As I pulled back the weeds, lo-and-behold: there were young onion tops! These were a large onion variety, but the biggest ones in my garden are the size of golf balls. In many cases, the onion bulbs are too ratty to eat. However, the tops are tender enough to use as spring onions.

So, despite the abuse I’ve given these plants, they have forgiven me and provided some flavor to my life and my cooking. They have also taught me that onions will not tolerate crowding if it covers them in shade. When I plant onion sets next spring, they will have the front row of southern exposure… or there will be a generous three foot gap on each side of the onion bed to assure a sunny disposition.

 

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Autumn Shuts Down my Small Kitchen Garden

I had a Christmas cactus when I was a kid, and it never produced a blossom. The one in this photo started as a four-segment branch from my daughter’s plant just two years ago. It blossomed that first autumn, and it blossomed more last November. It’s about to put on a show unlike any I’ve seen a Christmas Cactus produce. The secret, I think, is to make sure the plant knows summer has ended; apparently, cooler days encourage the plant to blossom.

Though Your Small Kitchen Garden blog has been catching up with a backlog of posts that didn’t get written during the growing season, a few things have come up recently and I felt like sharing them.

Christmas Cactus Knows it’s Cold

It has nothing to do with kitchen gardening, but I’ve gotten a little excited about my Christmas cactus. This started two winters ago as three or four leaves broken off of my daughter’s plant. Even in its first year in my care the plant flowered, and last autumn it produced a couple of blossoms. This month the plant has produced several dozen buds– I’m told in response to the lowering temperature. It’s about to put on quite a show!

Do you have a Christmas cactus that never seems to blossom? Move it near a window—especially one in a room that you don’t heat thoroughly in winter. The plant responds to cooler days and nights by producing buds.

Container Gardening Lima Beans

A pair of lima bean pods hangs in front of a baluster below the handrail on my deck. Recently I wrote a guest post for a friend about growing lima beans in containers.

I grew lima beans on my deck this summer. I’d never before grown lima beans, and I was quite pleased with the experience. What’s more, I had the pleasure of being a guest blogger for my friend Kerry Michaels over at About.com’s Container Gardening where I explained how I set up my planter and how it worked out. Please have a look. While you’re at it, poke around a bit. Kerry writes about growing stuff in containers which is small-space gardening at its extreme.

The Final Harvest from my Small Kitchen Garden

One especially poignant task for me lately was spending a half hour harvesting the last of everything that looked edible in my small kitchen garden. We’ve had several frosts, one of them heavy enough to kill off the tomato, pepper, and winter squash plants. Still, fruits have held on and continued to ripen. But with November looming large, there was growing danger that we’d have cold enough to freeze the produce.

Most of what you see in my “final harvest” photo is peppers, but there are decent layers of green and semi-ripe tomatoes beneath them. I haven’t decided what to do with any of these, but if I don’t decide soon, enzymes will do the job for me and I’ll be adding the lot to my compost heap.

If I get myself in gear, I’ll preserve the season’s last chili peppers by canning, freezing, or dehydrating them. The semi-ripe tomatoes will finish ripening and end up in pasta sauce or curry, and the green tomatoes will end up as green tomato mincemeat for pies.

My gardening is far from finished. I’m still setting perennial herbs into a planting bed I created this summer, and I need to clean up my vegetable beds. There are trellises and stakes that I’d like to move into the garden shed before snow falls. Sadly, facing these tasks emphasizes for me just how much I despise yard work. I’m a kitchen gardener because my small kitchen garden produces better vegetables than I can buy anywhere… and because for an initial investment of about $30 each season, I manage to grow several hundred dollars worth of fruits and vegetables.

By October, my excitement for gardening has worn away and I’m ready to get on with winter. Fortunately, winter recharges me and I emerge from it full of energy and enthusiasm for the next season’s kitchen garden.

 

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Picture This from my Small Kitchen Garden

My small kitchen garden is almost down for the winter. Because there is so little left to do out there, I’ve spent much time lately using my camera to record the change of seasons. While composing shots, I’ve had two thoughts:

1. There is a lot of food out there drying on stalks, vines, trees, and bushes; wild animals will not go hungry. In fact, I might be able to forage enough to carry me though several weeks of winter.

2. So much of what looks dead or dying holds all the promise of life for the coming spring: leafless trees with tiny leaf buds, berries drying around seeds, pods rattling with next year’s babies… autumn is when nature stages things for the big show.

The End of the Line

One of the many gardening blogs I try to follow—Gardening Gone Wild—runs a monthly photo contest called Picture This. I happened in to that blog yesterday and saw that November’s Picture This contest theme is “The End of the Line.”

The theme relates to the ending of the growing season, and reading the Picture This guidelines provided me with a new spin for many of the photos I’ve taken. I picked one to submit to the contest. When I created the photo, it was about the play of sunlight among the pampas grass clusters, on the lawn, and in the orange leaves of the one tree still holding leaves. But recasting the photo under the theme of “The End of the Line” refocuses my attention on so many elements…

Here’s my photographic interpretation of the garden theme, “The End of the Line.”

Thank you for visiting Your Small Kitchen Garden blog.

 

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Tomato Strife in Small Kitchen Gardens Everywhere

A cluster of tomatoes illustrates the ugly progression of late blight through my small kitchen garden. I’m losing about a bushel of tomatoes to the horrible disease.

It’s not news to anyone who owns a small kitchen garden: This has been a challenging year for gardeners in North America. I’m sorry if this was your first year planting a kitchen garden; I hope the aggravation wasn’t enough to discourage you in coming years.

The south western United States experienced sustained heat and dryness; I heard complaints from gardeners that they couldn’t keep plants watered and cool enough to get decent harvests.

The Atlantic coast and clear out to the Midwest had crazy, sustained rains and cool temperatures. Especially in the north—from New York up into Canada, rain drowned the roots of vegetable plants, and the cool temperatures slowed growth.

Late Blight and Tomatoes

Perhaps worst of all this growing season: Late blight, the fungus that created the Irish potato famine in 1845, shipped along with tomato seedlings to big-box garden centers all over the eastern United States. Late blight thrives in the cool-wet, and for the most part, tomatoes didn’t have a chance.

I completely fell in love with these tomatoes in 2009. Shaped like peppers, they grow quite large. They are so devoid of moisture that they float in water where beefsteaks and other slicing tomatoes sink. They taste terrific. Sadly, the last twenty or so still in my garden are infected with late blight.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, late blight is an American export; someone accidentally introduced it to Ireland. I long ago learned that the late blight fungus is pretty much always on-hand, waiting for the right conditions to kick it into action. A gardener’s best defense against late blight is culture:

  • Provide good drainage— If drainage is good, air movement around your plants’ roots is also good; and good for the plants..
  • Minimize moisture— Water only as much as the plants need; I haven’t met a vegetable plant that wants its roots wet constantly.
  • Control moisture— That is, focus watering on the soil near plants’ roots; don’t use sprinklers and spray nozzles that soak foliage with every watering.
  • Don’t crowd plants— You can plant things closer than seed packages recommend and you’ll get great production… as long as everything else goes right. I understand the risks of crowding and I take the lumps when they come… but please choose a level of pain that’s acceptable to you. Crowding traps moisture, blocks air flow, and provides easy pathways for insects and diseases.
  • Make sure air can circulate freely— If there’s a lot of air movement within your garden plot, plants will tolerate crowding better than they will in a well-sheltered area.
  • Rotate crops— Don’t plant the same crop in the same area two years in a row. Ideally, figure a three- or four-year rotation; don’t repeat tomatoes in the same space for three or four years if you can avoid it.
  • Follow a crop only with crops that aren’t closely-related— Tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant are all related closely enough that if you plant one in a specific area this season, none should go in that area next season. Please check my small kitchen garden store for books that will guide you to responsible choices for next year’s crops.
  • Prevent the spread of disease— Remove sick plants quickly. Bag them and toss them in the garbage, but don’t compost them.
  • Plant seedlings grown locally— Best of all: learn to start your own plants from seeds about four-to-six weeks before you put them in your garden. If you prefer to leave that hassle to someone else, at least find a local nursery or garden store that starts its own seedlings. The farther you go for your live plants, the more opportunities the plants have to acquire unwanted pathogens.

Gardening Lucky

I feel pretty confident in guessing that this bell pepper is inflicted with late blight. I had been anticipating a second wave of peppers to harvest in early autumn, but the very difficult growing season had other ideas.

I got very lucky this season:

  • I started all my plants from seeds for the first time ever.
  • The micro climate of central PA was cool but “wet enough” meaning we got rain when we needed it, but not to excess. I’m quite sure it was low temperatures that caused the most trouble.
  • Despite heavy crowding, my plants showed no sign of stress until late August.
  • By late August, I’d already harvested about 3 bushels of tomatoes
  • Late blight spread very slowly in my garden; it seems to have missed the potatoes, though it seems to be damaging some of my peppers.

Despite the good luck, in just two weeks, my tomato plants have gone from late-season production of gorgeous fruits to overwhelming melt-down with nearly every fruit showing ugly brown lesions. I’m used to harvesting tomatoes up to the first frost, but this weekend I’ll be pulling all the plants and stuffing them into a plastic bag for garbage pickup.

Keep On Gardening

This was an unusual year! It is my first in fourteen seasons at this address where disease has taken hold… and some of those years were far wetter. My guess is that the temperature was the biggest villain in my garden’s problems; summer seemed to last about two weeks. Those weeks fell between three months of early spring and the sudden onset of autumn.

So, don’t be discouraged. Chances are, next season will be “normal…” and if not, perhaps the season after that will be.

 

 

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Frost in my Small Kitchen Garden

The first frost of autumn sits lightly on yesterday’s grass clippings: the most recent addition to my compost heap.

The season has turned in my small kitchen garden: there was a significant frost last night. Living in hardiness zone 5b, I hope that you zone sixers have several more weeks of growing season ahead… and I’m jealous of you zone seveners, eighters, niners, and tenners (oh, the cool stuff you can grow in zone 10). Fortunately, the weather forecasts had warned of frost, and I’d taken steps in case they were right.

A Defensive Harvest

It doesn’t take deep cold to kill tomato plants, but they may survive a minor frost. I never take that chance. So, yesterday I picked every tomato that appeared to have any chance of ripening. Some were already partially ripe, while others were completely green. Why had tomatoes ripened on the vine in my small kitchen garden? Because I’m lazy.

Some months ago, I explained why you shouldn’t let tomatoes ripen on the vine. I harvest by that philosophy. However, I planted far more tomato plants than I needed this year, and after making and canning more than three gallons of tomato sauce, I lost interest in doing more… until I heard the frost warning. I couldn’t let all those tomatoes go to waste.

Frost completely destroys basil. So, I cut off a dozen or so plants yesterday, and set them in a bowl of water to hold them over so I can use them today. I thought I’d finished with tomato and mozzarella salad, but it’s too good not to make up one more bowl full. Dill and lettuce I ignored; they don’t mind frost. In fact, I’m expecting another solid week or two of growth on the lettuce plants… I’ll use the dill to make pickles this week or on the weekend—I’ve never made pickles, and I like trying new things.

My Dining Room Table

During my transition from fall gardening to winter sloth, a lot of stuff lands on my dining room table. That’s where I always ripen tomatoes. Now, along with ripening tomatoes, there is a bouquet of basil, a platter of butternut squash seeds, and a paper towel dotted with tomato seeds. These will move on before Thanksgiving.

We’ll eat some tomatoes and sauce or toss the others. The basil will go down with the tomatoes we eat. I’ll put the seeds in the refrigerator in a week or two to convince them it’s winter. In March, I’ll plant the tomato seeds indoors for transplanting to the garden in May. I’ll plant the squash seeds in the garden in June as the spring pea plants begin to expire.

Is Your Small Kitchen Garden on Break?

Is it tempting or sad to think that time has run out this year for gardeners? Actually, it’s wrong to think that time has run out. There’s still much time to do useful things in a garden. I’m going to plant a pear tree soon; later today, I’ll place an order on line and have the tree shipped to me (I’ve been posting quite a bit lately about planting pears).

End-of-season tomatoes, tomato seeds, squash seeds, and a bouquet of basil are prominent on my dining room table. Yes, that’s also a dying Venus fly trap that followed my wife home from the gardening store about a month ago.

If you’re not planting fruit or other perennials, this is a great time to start a new garden. Lay out new planting beds, cut and remove sod, build raised bed gardens, and condition the soil so it’s ready to work at the earliest possible moment in the spring. Some annuals like to start in the fall so they have a head start in the spring, and some seeds winter over just fine so they can pop the moment the soil thaws. I’ve never planted annuals in autumn, so I can’t make recommendations. I have had volunteer plants show up in my garden, and those lead to a few suggestions.

Annuals to Plant in Autumn

Planting cilantro and dill now will likely result in early sprouting in the spring. By planting, I mean to get the seeds in the ground as you would in the spring, but don’t water them and encourage them to grow. Actually, established, young cilantro plants may stay green well until mid winter, and they’ll start growing as the air warms in the spring.

I’ve seen onions winter over and start growing in the spring with no special attention. I’ve also had volunteer tomatoes, squash, and gourds start in my garden, but I wouldn’t plant those in the fall; I want squash to sprout in late spring, and I’d rather plant tomato plants (rather than seeds) after the last frost instead of waiting for seeds to sprout several weeks later.

I’ve heard you can plant some varieties of broccoli in the fall… come to think of it, I once left several “spent” plants in the garden one year, and they started growing again the next spring. I wouldn’t chance this with any common variety; look for hardy, slow-growing plants—and maybe the supplier can confirm they’ll winter over OK outdoors. I’ve also heard peas planted now—or later this fall, will start growing when the soil thaws, and I’d be very tempted to do this… but I never have. If I think of it, I’ll put in a test row this fall and tell you what comes of it next March or April.

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