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Posts Tagged ‘harvest’

Taking Down the Vegetable Garden

Potato harvest from my community garden plot

In mid-October, I harvested about two-and-a-half gallons of fingerling and red-skinned potatoes. I’d left the potatoes in the ground way too long; rodents had tunneled under the tubers and had eaten many of them—perhaps almost as many as I harvested.

October 23 was the community garden’s “drop dead” date. I received an email at the beginning of October telling me I had to be done with my plots by the 24th; management would mow the plots and plant barley on that date.

I couldn’t get motivated to take things down in the weeks leading up to the 24th. The average first frost date in this area is October 21, but forecasts were for warm days into November.

Unfortunately, I had a chemotherapy session scheduled for Monday, October 17th. The Friday, Saturday, and Sunday after chemo are particularly brutal: my muscles feel as though I’ve been marching for a week without rest, I feel as though I should be sleeping, and my digestive tract is making me guess whether and when access to plumbing might be necessary.

My own squash variety destroyed by black rot

I’ve been trying to establish a new variety of winter squash using seeds I harvested from a hybrid that happened accidentally in my small kitchen garden several years ago. These are the fruits from this year’s effort. Sadly, I believe the discoloration on the skin is black rot. The flesh is still edible, but black rot is systemic meaning it can live in the cells of the plants. Seeds from these fruits are likely to carry the disease, so it would be wrong to share them with other gardeners. I’m afraid disease has made my new squash variety a dead-end.

Nope. I didn’t let chemo dictate my behavior. I’m deadline-oriented, so naturally I waited until the weekend to finish taking down my community garden plots. It was a forced march.

Back on October 10th, I had dug potatoes and harvested squash and sorghum seed heads. Much remained. Tomatoes and peppers were at various stages of ripe, sorghum stalks still stood, canna lily roots still supported leaf and flower stalks, and tomato trellises needed to come down.

My Small Kitchen Garden Falls

On Sunday morning (probably more like early afternoon), I drove to the community garden and dragged myself, painfully slowly, through the remaining tasks. The worst of it was removing tomato trellises.

With hanging string trellises, some 68 7-foot lengths of binder twine hung from a wooden support structure. At home, I’d simply cut the strings off the trellises and let them drop to the ground along with the tomato plants they supported. They’d winter under leaves and rot into the soil through the 2017 growing season (I don’t till the soil).

Sweet peppers from my small kitchen garden

I harvested about 2 gallons of sweet peppers on October 23rd. I’m afraid they’ve remained in the bag you see in this photo and have experienced many too warm days and several too cold days. I hope to feel well enough this week to work through stuff I harvested on October 23. With luck, I’ll find a few still-usable peppers to put up in the freezer.

At the community garden, it seemed risky to leave the binder’s twine wrapped around the tomato plants. A mower blade would most certainly catch the twine and wrap it around the mower’s drive shaft. I didn’t want to create extra work for someone else, so I untwisted the binder’s twine from the tomato plants… this took more than an hour.

I disassembled the wooden support structure for the hanging string trellises and loaded the wooden stakes into the bed of my pickup truck. Then I harvested the sorghum stalks and loaded them into the truck. Finally, I dug the canna lilies. It felt as though I’d worked for twentyten hours, though it was closer to three.

Tomatoes and peppers would have continued to ripen for another three weeks. It made me sad to have given up on them so early, but rules are rules, and the community garden is an awesome resource—particularly for a gardener challenged by illness. Photos tell the story of my last day of the season when I took down my vegetable garden.

Purple cayenne peppers in my community garden plot

From a package of “Festival Mix” cayenne pepper seeds, a plant produced purple peppers that turned red when fully ripe. Sadly, the plant was laden with under ripe fruits when I had to shut down my community garden plots.

Mystery paste tomatoes in my community garden plot

Some of the last tomatoes on my vines this October were the mystery paste tomatoes I acquired years ago from a local gardener. I harvested these along with Roma, Stupice, and a few varieties I couldn’t identify, and left them for three weeks in a bucket on an end table in the living room. Finally, a few days ago, I sorted the rotten tomatoes from the healthy ones. If all goes well, I’ll process the ripe ones this week and serve up the green ones as fried green tomatoes.

Stupice tomatoes produced earliest and latest in 2016

The first variety of tomato to ripen in my small kitchen garden was also one of the last to produce viable fruits. I harvested these Stupice tomatoes on October 23 just before I tore down my hanging string tomato trellises.

Sorghum still going to seed in late October

A theme of this article is that my community garden plots didn’t agree with the mid-October cease-and-desist order. This sorghum seed head makes the point: the seeds aren’t ready! I had already harvested any ripe seeds, but there were many young stalks at various stages of the reproductive cycle.

Sorghum sprouts emerge from roots of mature plants

When I cut the mature sorghum stalks, I discovered emergent shoots; more shoots from each plant than had grown to harvest. This leads me to think that in the tropics, sorghum may be a perennial. Perhaps you can harvest the seeds to make flour or porridge, cut mature stalks to extract sugar, and then wait four months and do the whole thing again.

Late season squash blossom in my kitchen garden

Another holdout against the cease and desist order: a squash blossom. I believe this flower was on one of my hybrid-derived squash plants, but there were also flowers on the zucchini I had planted back in May! In fact, on October 23, I harvested two beautiful zucchini squashes from six-month-old plants. In past years, I’d started a second planting of zucchini mid-summer after the spring-planted vines had withered.

Tomato blossom in my small kitchen garden

Despite bacterial disease, aggressive hornworms, and disgusting tomato fruit worms, many of my tomato plants were trying to remain relevant on October 23rd. There were at least a dozen blossoms through the tomato patch, and many buds about to open. Sadly, it all had to make way for the mower and seed-planter. I hope to garden the same two plots next season. I may be grumbling for having been forced off of my normal gardening methods, but it’s all for the good of the soil. I truly appreciate the quality effort with which the county manages its community garden.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Taking Down the Vegetable Garden

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Sick Pea Plants; Excessive Moisture

Looking toward the northwest corner of my raised vegetable bed, you see sick, stunted, and yellowing pea plants to the north (right), and vigorous plants to the south. The northern plants took a beating from water that accumulated in the soil during a three-day rainstorm in late April or early May.

I’ve lost a lot of pea plants in my small kitchen garden. After the winter that never happened, we’ve had less than average rainfall and I planted just about everything at least two weeks earlier than usual this year. The pea plants grew vigorously until we had an impressive three-day rainstorm. That’s when trouble started.

Drainage Problems in my Small Kitchen Garden

Last year’s biblical rainfall revealed that my kitchen garden is drainage-challenged. I had no garden soil until June; instead I had mud. Things dried up in June and I was able to plant but six weeks later, rain returned and whatever was growing in my raised vegetable bed was wet until autumn.

So, I started excavating a rain garden. I dug a trench to channel water away from the vegetable bed and I dug a deep hole as a reservoir to hold overflow during heavy rains. Soil I removed to make the drainage channel and reservoir went into my raised planting bed. I also bought a hopper of sand—about one cubic yard—and added that to the planting bed.

Overall, I raised the level of soil in my vegetable garden about three inches … and then I planted.

My Raised Vegetable Bed Needs Work

The new drainage system and the deeper soil in my raised bed handled the impressive three-day rainstorm pretty well. At no time during that rain was there standing water in my planting bed. Apparently, however, water was not far below the surface at the northwest end of the garden.

I’ve served fresh peas only once so far, with more to come in the next few days. We’ll most certainly eat all the peas in-season this year and none will make it into the freezer. The sickened pea plants have shown me where I need to increase the depth of soil in my raised planting bed.

Half of my pea plants are in the northwest end of the garden and they’re not happy. Their roots must have been saturated for five or six days. That was long enough, I guess, for them to start rotting, and the pea plants are dramatically stunted. As you move south along any row of plants, the vines become more vigorous and about two-thirds of the way along the row, pea plants tower six or more feet.

From the healthy plants, I’m harvesting more peas per vine than in any previous year. However, the harvest will clearly be less than half of what I get in a typical season. Makes me sad because homegrown peas taste nearly as good after freezing as they do cooked fresh and I love to have a gallon or two in the freezer to serve into the winter (I don’t start serving the frozen peas until we finish with fresh vegetables in the fall).

This fall or next spring, I’ll add more soil and sand to the northwest end of the raised vegetable bed and try to provide a buffer between rain-saturated soil during wet spells and the roots of my vegetable plants.

 

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Exploring Neck Pumpkin at Your Small Kitchen Garden

There’s my big boy neck pumpkin on my large cutting board next to my biggest chef’s knife in front of my KitchenAid stand mixer. (Trying to provide a sense of scale.)

While my small kitchen garden lies dormant for the coming winter, I’ve been exploring winter squash. Always a fan of butternut squash, I planted several hills of it this year, and harvested about 25 pounds of fruits. Some were as small as grapefruits while others were about as large as quart jars. For my family, a one-quart butternut squash lasts for two or three meals.

I visit a farmers’ market nearly every Wednesday, and flea market produce vendors on most Sundays. Every autumn, I see a delightful variety of winter squashes. However, happy with my homegrown butternuts, I’ve never explored these others. Until this year.

In my last post, I described a Blue Hubbard squash, the full 27 pounds of which I purchased for $1.50. That post included a photo of a neck pumpkin that weighed in at a hefty 20 pounds. After two weeks of delays, I finally dissected the neck pumpkin. This is one very impressive squash!

I washed the neck pumpkin thoroughly before I started carving so as not to contaminate the squash’s innards with soil that might have remained from the farm where it grew. I cut sections starting at the neck end, and finally cut the bulbous seed chamber in two. A neck pumpkin is almost solid meat.

Gourds from the Amish

The neck pumpkin goes by many names, among them Pennsylvania Crookneck Squash (according to Cornell University’s web site). They are very common in central Pennsylvania—Amish country—and apparently not so common outside of this area.

Neck pumpkins I’ve seen have been as small as a large butternut squash, and even larger than the 20 pound fruit I bought at the farmers’ market three weeks ago.

I understand that neck pumpkin is ideal for making pumpkin pie. Given its resemblance to butternut squash, I imagined it might also be fine for eating as a side dish… and for cooking up in baked goods and other foods that call for pumpkin as an ingredient.

A simple vegetable peeler easily removes the skin from the neck pumpkin. Of course, such a peeler has trouble on very large expanses of skin; curves of the pumpkin interfere with the ends of the peeler. Cutting the neck pumpkin into small sections would reduce the problems of paring it. With the skin removed, I used my largest chef’s knife to cut the sections into one-inch cubes.

Neck Pumpkin Preparation

The photos in this blog post reveal the steps I took to prepare my neck pumpkin for consumption. Actually, I cooked only a half cup of the squash so I could taste it… the rest I canned in quart jars. The canning operation itself, I explain in my other blog, Your Home Kitchen Garden.

Preparing and storing winter squash offers many options: you can steam, boil, bake, roast, and even dry squash. Use a crock pot, a microwave oven, a stove pot, a conventional oven, a grill… it doesn’t matter. However you cook squash, it gets soft and mashable. For a chunkier side dish, peel and cube it before cooking. To save effort, leave the skin on until after cooking… but by the time you scrape the squash out of its skin, you’re likely to have mashed it up quite a bit.

As with cleaning a pumpkin that I’m about to carve into a jack-o-lantern, I used a spoon to scrape the seeds and their anchoring fibers from the squash’s seed cavity. I set the seeds aside to dry; I’ll be growing neck pumpkins from them in my small kitchen garden next year.

For canning, you create one-inch cubes of raw squash which you blanch for only a few minutes before putting them in jars and cooking in a pressure canner. You can use freshly cubed squash in any squash dish… cook peeled and cubed squash any way you want. Most simply, cover some with water in a pot and cook until soft. Pour off the water, mash the squash with a potato masher, and stir in butter and brown sugar to taste.

If you want to can some squash, please enjoy my squash dissection photos, and then head over to Your Home Kitchen Garden for a step-by-step canning review. This one, 20 pound neck pumpkin filled seven quart jars and left about two cups of pumpkin cubes that I used to make bread.

More about neck pumpkins and som excellent ways to use them:

 

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Friendly Visitor to my Small Kitchen Garden

By late summer, squash and pumpkin plants dominate in my small kitchen garden. There are bush wax beans, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower still producing, and they’re all packed in so tightly that it’s nearly impossible to navigate among the leaves.

Within a few weeks of starting Your Small Kitchen Garden blog, I realized it had taken me somewhere I’d always wanted to be: out in my garden with friends. Within days of my first post, Your Small Kitchen Garden had visitors. And, as I’ve posted more of my gardening experiences, more visitors have come. I’ve enjoyed the comments and the conversations, though seeing the number of visitors, I often wish more of them would leave comments, suggestions, or questions.

Where to Find Gardeners on line

When I wrote my first post, I had no idea that there are, perhaps, thousands of gardening blogs. You can find these by reading blog rolls—lists of the blogs bloggers like to visit. (I recently started a blog roll to which I’ll be adding more sites over the coming weeks; you may need to scroll down quite far to find my blog roll, but please check it out; I hope you’ll enjoy some of the blogs I enjoy.)

My “Imaginary” Gardening Friends

You can also find gardeners on Twitter. There, home gardeners, landscapers, farmers, nursery owners and workers, gardening magazine and book writers, garden products producers, and radio and television personalities exchange thoughts and encouragement. Connect with one or two of them, and the interaction will lead to hundreds of others. Float a question to the gardeners on Twitter and you’re likely to get some helpful answers within a few hours.

I’ve interacted with several hundred gardeners and garden-focused folks on Twitter, but because I haven’t met them in person, my daughter refers to them as my imaginary friends.

Imaginary Becomes Real

Someplace along the on-line gardening path, members of the community find ways to meet in person. So far, two of my imaginary friends have become real. Each visited me in my isolated homestead in central Pennsylvania.

Yes, I had an awesome tomato season, despite the trench foot and the very late expression of late blight. We’ve eaten a lot of tomato salad, various pasta dishes with tomato sauces, risotto with tomatoes, and sandwiches with tomatoes. On top of all the great tomato dishes, I’ve put up 36 pints of tomato sauce and 18 pints of diced and whole tomatoes. Still, there is about a half bushel of tomatoes awaiting attention, and, perhaps, two or three more gallons on the vines.

I’m pleased that an upshot of one of these visits is that my no-longer-imaginary friend, Punkrockgardens (Laura Mathews is her given name) has featured my tomatoes in her blog. In her post, Tomato Tidbits: Why do we do all this? she captures the motivation of home tomato growers, and highlights some of the quirks of this nearly past growing season.

I enjoy Laura’s blog because she reports at-large about the gardening scene in central Pennsylvania… which is where I live. I also enjoy the photos she includes with her blog posts; she is a professional photographer with a thoughful and creative eye.

Expand Your Small Kitchen Garden

Please check out the Punk Rock Gardens blog, and visit other blogs on my blog roll. As you browse my blog posts and those of other garden bloggers, leave comments and bookmark entries that you find useful; comments are just about the only measure bloggers have of whether they’re reaching their audiences.

But don’t stop with blogs. Join Twitter if you haven’t yet, and participate in the gardening chatter. Follow me as @cityslipper and you’ll quickly find hundreds of gardeners and gardening enthusiasts with plenty to share.

 

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The Vine-Ripened Tomato Lie

From a tiny yellow blossom: a grape-sized tomato, a golf-ball-sized orb, or something the size of a grapefruit? The size of the blossom doesn’t tell you much about the size of the fruit that’s on the way.

Tomatoes are coming on full-force in my small kitchen garden, and I hope you’re having the same kind of luck with yours. I understand that cool and wet weather has challenged many tomato plants from the Midwest into the Northeast. The lucky folks, apparently, have lost some fruit to blossom-end rot. The unlucky ones have seen late blight decimate their plants.

Whether your tomatoes are growing strong, coming ripe, or dying on the vine, you’ve probably been involved in at least one conversation about tomatoes this year. The one I hear repeatedly is about how terrible are the tomatoes you buy in grocery stores. Invariably, everyone in this conversation agrees, and someone offers up that those tomatoes come off the vines green and travel cross-country while ripening… and if it doesn’t ripen on the vine, it’s just no good.

I respectfully submit: That last observation is complete hogwash.

Water regularly, and your tomatoes will likely come out OK. However, one ill-timed rainstorm could cause cracks that lead to rot, insect infestations, and mildew.

Genetics Makes a Lousy Tomato

If you want a tomato that tastes horrible and has lousy texture, start by planting seeds for the “tastes horrible and has lousy texture” tomato. That’s what commercial grocery suppliers do. Plant breeders spent decades developing varieties of tomatoes that hold up incredibly well when stacked and jostled during harvest and transport. They paid no attention to the flavor and textural appeal of these tomatoes.

Hapless grocery store shoppers buy those horrid things because those shoppers have grown up believing real tomatoes taste horrible and have lousy texture. OK… that horrible flavor becomes an acquired taste if it’s the only tomato you ever eat.

If the tomato cracks early, it may try to heal itself. Once healed, it won’t attract insects and disease, but there will be a section you’d rather not chew.

These tomatoes aren’t bad because they’re picked green. They’re bad because they’re a lousy breed. Put a decent tomato on a truck and ship it 3,000 miles, and it’ll be a smooshed tomato at its destination.

Vine-Ripened is Over-Rated

On the flip-side of this discussion is the erroneously perpetuated belief that a tomato must ripen on the vine to be good. I’m confident that the belief exists because no right-minded gardener would pick a tomato before it’s ripe (unless there was threat of frost). Yet, would the right-minded gardeners of the world pick some un-ripened tomatoes for the sake of comparison, they would learn an astonishing and happy truth: vine-ripening is way over-rated.

In fact, vine-ripening tomatoes is one of the most challenging of all gardening tasks… yet experienced gardeners so often suggest tomatoes as the ideal beginner’s crop: Tomatoes are so easy to grow, we say, and they’re so superior to store-bought. But unless you have absolute control over how much rain falls in your small kitchen garden, and how often it falls, growing beautiful ripe tomatoes is a bit of a nail-biting proposition.

This tomato cracked because it got too much water during ripening. The cracks healed, but then the tomato received too much sunshine, so it developed green shoulders. When I slice this up for salad, I’ll probably cut off some of the green stuff, leaving less to eat.

Perfect Tomato Culture

When a tomato first emerges from its tiny yellow tomato flower, it’s hard to visualize the monster it may eventually become. Still, over the course of a month, the little green ball grows larger as it sucks water from the tomato plant. To produce a perfect, ripe tomato, the plant must draw from a steady supply of water. If there is no rain, you should water two or three times a week. Ideally the weekly total will be a full inch of water over the area defined by the outstretched leaves of the plant.

If you can manage that, you may also need to control the amount of sunlight that reaches the individual tomatoes; a tomato that gets excessive direct sun may not ripen evenly.

Cracks and Hard Spots (Green Shoulders)

So, you’re controlling the amount of water and sunlight your tomatoes get, and then it rains. Your tomato plants don’t mind too much of a good thing; they suck up the additional burst of water and the young, green tomatoes get larger. Here’s the rub: tomatoes that have started to ripen aren’t as resilient as younger, greener tomatoes. As they expand under the new load of water, their skins are likely to stretch and tear.

A tomato that gets extra water during its last week or two of growth can develop stretch marks and cracks in the skin. Left to finish ripening, the cracked tomato can attract fruit flies and other sugar-loving insects, fungus and mold, and bacteria that rapidly reduce the tomato’s innards to smelly slime.

Even without the rain storm, sunlight striking the top of a tomato on the vine can prevent ripening there while the bottom and sides of the tomato sweeten, soften, and turn bright red (or whatever other color represents ripe for the varieties you grow). These “green shoulders” detract considerably from the flavor and texture of an otherwise ripe fruit.

This tomato has just started to show pink; I‘ll let it ripen on my dining room table and it will be ready to use in seven-to-fourteen days. It will taste every bit as good as a cracked tomato with green shoulders that ripens on the vine. Actually, it’ll taste better, because it won’t have green shoulders!

So, Don’t Vine-Ripen!

Earlier I said, “…unless you have absolute control over how much rain falls and how often…” You do have such control! Quite simply: don’t let your tomatoes ripen on the vine. When pink first appears on a tomato’s skin, pick the tomato and set it inside out of direct sunlight.

Unless I get busy and miss a few days, I pick each tomato when it starts to change color. Typically, this means that every second day, I harvest anything showing pink. I fill a large stainless steel bowl with the day’s pickings, and set it on my dining room table. About seven-to-ten days later, the tomatoes reach peak ripeness without torn skin and without green shoulders… and every tomato is just as delectable as any tomato I ever let ripen on the vine. In fact, every tomato is nearly perfect… and I could never say that in the days that I left them on the plants.

I picked these tomatoes about two weeks before I photographed them. They ripened on my dining room table, and they are as red, juicy, sweet, and delicious as any vine-ripened tomato.

Oh, Yeah? (an Anecdote)

I visited with a farmer once who managed an impressive kitchen garden. Before touring his garden, his wife and I discussed various gardening techniques. At one point, she insisted: “Oh, we let all our tomatoes ripen on the vine. They’re just not as good if they don’t.”

I countered: “I’ve found if I pick them when they start to ripen, they never split or develop green shoulders… and you can’t taste the difference.”

Her reply: “A farmer can taste the difference… and our tomatoes never crack.”

When we reached the garden, every red tomato on every tomato plant had one or more cracks in its skin. (No, I didn’t comment about it… that would have been rude. But I’d sure like to put my tomatoes up against hers in a taste-test with farmers.)

 

Here are links to other articles that discuss green shoulders and cracking tomatoes:

 

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Soda Bottle Carrots: a Very Small Kitchen Garden


Seventeen days after I planted carrots in a sawed-off soda bottle, young carrot tops had sprouted on the windowsill in my basement.

I encourage people who have little space that they can still grow small kitchen gardens. To that end, on May 1st I cut the top off of a two-liter soda bottle, filled the bottle with soil, and planted carrots in it. I described this project in a post titled Small Kitchen Garden Carrots in Containers. I mentioned my container carrots again on May 18, and again on June 17. It has been an interesting project, and I encourage you to try it. I want to relate what to expect.

Mature Container Carrots

After three months of growing, a carrot of nearly any variety should be mature. By “mature” I mean the carrot plant has sent up a flower stalk and is making seeds. I would rather eat an immature carrot than I would one that has flowers. In fact, I’ve only let my carrots flower once, and I vowed that season never again to do so.

After three months of growth, my container carrots have pathetic tops. These are no better than a third the height of my in-ground carrots. I planted the in-ground carrots fully a month after the soda bottle carrots; and woodchucks have dined twice on the in-ground carrot tops.

So, my container carrots—a variety that matures in 65 days—ought to be dropping seeds all over my deck. That’s hardly the case. Rather, the carrot tops started to look stressed some time in June, and now they look very stressed. These stressed plants have very short tops compared to free-range carrot plants. Those tops have fewer fronds than my in-ground carrots do, and many of the carrot fronds are turning yellow or purple or some other color that isn’t green.

The good news is that those sickly-looking carrot tops protrude from very pronounced orange carrot shoulders. It should follow that there are whole carrots in the soil beneath those shoulders, albeit rather small carrots.

Pushing Plants

When my container carrots started to look bad, I took some steps to pep them up: I pulled a carrot to provide a bit more space in the soil (I’d planted 11 seeds). I also made a mixture of compost and water and poured it into the carrot container to provide an infusion of nutrients. The carrot plants weren’t impressed.

So, I decided that the container carrots are done: there are too many carrots growing in too small a space. I harvested them to put the poor things out of their misery. My suspicions about crowding were oh so right: I shook the soil out of the planter, and it came out in a cylindrical brick. You could use several hundred of these carrot planter bricks to build a small sod house.

The good news: my soda bottle carrot plants have shoulders!

The largest carrots were only four inches long, but it’s clear they would not have grown longer. Regardless, they taste grand as all fresh, young carrots do.

More Small Kitchen Garden Carrots

This carrot experiment was very satisfying. You know what I did? I cut the top off of a three-liter soda bottle, filled it with soil, and planted some carrot seeds in it. This time, I planted fewer seeds… in a bigger container. There may be only 70 days remaining in our growing season, but I’m hoping to get bigger carrots from this planter than I got from the first one.

If I don’t? No matter. It’s still likely to produce a handful of three-bite carrot snacks. Not bad for such a small kitchen garden.

As my soda bottle carrots slide out of the planter, I feel considerable heat in the soil. I’ve often touched the side of the planter to gauge whether it was overheating in direct sunlight, but it has never felt as hot as the soil does in my hand. I suspect being pot-bound was only half the stress my carrots experienced. The insulating plastic of the soda bottle concealed from me the extent of the greenhouse effect taking place around the carrots’ roots. The root ball has me musing about growing pre-formed sod bricks… it would be so much easier than cutting them out of prairie grass.

 

I always marvel that so much of what matters in life involves dirt. No, OK, I’m a purist: I grow food in soil. But when soil ends up on your hands, your clothing, your kitchen floor, or YOUR FOOD, it’s dirt. These little snackers are sweet and delicious.

More thoughts on growing carrots in a small kitchen garden

  • Grow your own in local skips – Gardeners are being encouraged to grow carrots in skips on building sites and tomatoes in hospital car parks under new plans to increase the amount of land available for grow-your-own vegetables. The Government is setting up a national …

  • How to Grow Carrots – How to grow carrots in the vegetable garden: fresh-carrots. carrots like a sunny spot; dig soil in autumn & break soil down to fine, crumbly seedbed before sowing. carrot-bed. sow outdoors from March to August – if in March cover with …

 

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A Small Kitchen Garden Broccoli Notebook

From time-to-time, I’ve grown broccoli in my small kitchen garden. This is an ideal vegetable for someone who hasn’t done much gardening, but there are a few things worth knowing before you get started.

Start from live plants

small kitchen garden broccoli

If you’re new to gardening and planting broccoli, do yourself a favor and buy plants already started at a garden store (if your small kitchen garden is deep in the city, you might have to start from seeds, but I’m encouraging you to make this as easy as possible).

Broccoli tolerates crowding

Instructions that come with the plant(s) or seeds will tell you to grow them two-to-three feet apart. I’ve crowded them to one-and-a-half feet between plants. Those plants have reached above my knee, and have produced a fine supply of broccoli spears. There are three disadvantages of crowding your plants:

  1. It will be hard to move between them… and a broccoli plant gets bushy enough that you might not be able to step over it.
  2. Disease can spread more easily among crowded plants than it can among plants that are spaced generously.
  3. The foliage of crowded plants can create a moisture barrier that may trap water and promote rot.

Still, I’ve never had a problem when leaving only 18 inches between broccoli plants.

Don’t harvest the plant

When that big crown of broccoli florets is perfectly ready (you’ll know it because it will look like broccoli you buy in a grocery store), harvest the crown, but leave the rest of the plant alone; the plant will produce more food for you over the next several weeks.

When you harvest, use a sharp knife to cut cleanly through the main stalk an inch or so below where the stem branches to the various clusters of buds. (Each little ball in a broccoli floret is a bud waiting to blossom into a small yellow flower.) Make the cut on a bias so water will run off of it easily.

Prepare your meal

Even if broccoli has never before grown in your neighborhood, the dreaded broccoli worms will find your plants. Actually, the worms aren’t so dreadful, but they’ve turned many a small kitchen gardener off to growing their own broccoli. These worms are smooth and green, and they tend to hide in the branches of broccoli florets.

broccoli worm

If you don’t want green worms to cook along with your broccoli, dissolve a few tablespoons of salt in a pot of water, separate the broccoli into serving-sized florets, and soak the florets in the salt water for twenty minutes. Almost all the broccoli worms will die and float to the surface. If you’re not convinced, inspect the florets before you cook them.

About aging broccoli plants

When you harvest the main crown of a broccoli plant, the stem becomes susceptible to rot. In a dry year, the plant may not rot at all. However, don’t be surprised if the stump rots from the center, creating a bowl that holds moisture promoting even more rot. At its worst, a broccoli plant decaying this way can smell incredibly bad… but it may continue to produce more florets on new stalks that grow from the side of the main stalk. If this happens in your garden, you’ll have to decide whether the sustained broccoli harvest is worth having such a stench in your small kitchen garden.

The photo of a broccoli worm (more properly known as the Imported Cabbageworm) is from the University of Kentucky Entomology web page: http://www.ca.uky.edu/entomology/entfacts/ef300.asp

 

Here are links to other articles about growing broccoli and dealing with broccoli worms:

  • Broccoli Growing Guide – SOIL PREPRATION You dont need any special form of soil or location to grow broccoli. All it needs is the sunlight with some shadow shades of clouds. But dont grow broccoli under a closed compound. Use a little heavy soil which is not …

  • Some notes on the broccoli experiment – I thought perhaps that most people don’t grow broccoli in their home gardens because the plants take up too much space and only produce one big head, but from this spring’s sowing, I have had a constant (trickling) supply of broccoli …

  • The Great Bacillus Thuringiensis Story, no more Woms, non Chemical … – “When I realized I could grow broccoli without ever worrying about worms again, I wanted to get up and dance! No More Worms! For a long time I didn’t eat much broccoli. I planted a lot of it but each spring when my broccoli was starting …

 

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Harvesting Pears

Green  pear

Why is a blog about your small kitchen garden talking about harvesting pears? Pears grow on trees, so how can they qualify for a small kitchen garden? Well… when it comes to home-grown fruit, you have to stretch some rules: if you want home-grown pears, the smallest thing you can grow to get them is a tree. For many of us, there’s an even simpler excuse: we moved to houses that had pear trees growing in the yard, and it seems a shame to let the fruit go to waste.

OK, but have you bitten into one of those pears, picked fresh-ripe from your tree? Did it make you wonder what’s wrong with the tree? Did you think, perhaps, that you got stuck with an inferior plant?

The hard truth is actually good news: picking a ripe pear and biting into it can be really disappointing. A pear that ripens on the tree often develops unevenly: there may be hard spots among the soft. As well, a tree-ripened pear may be grainy—as if there is sand sprinkled through it.

Here’s the good part: you can get terrific fruit from your pear tree.

Getting perfect pears

When your pears start to look big enough to eat, pay enough attention to notice when one falls off the tree. This usually happens before the pears are ripe. At this point, pick all of them. Stack the newly-picked, still green pears in a refrigerator where they can stay for a month or so without interfering with your life. Your mission is to keep the pears at about 40 degrees.

After four or more weeks, take several pears out of the refrigerator and leave them at room temperature for two or three days—or until they’re ripe. As you consume the first set of pears, remove several more from cold-storage, and set them to ripen at room temperature. When you bite into a pear harvested and stored this way, you’ll gain considerable appreciation for that pear tree in your yard.

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Are Your Tomatoes a Mess?

Many years ago, I read in our local newspaper that I was harvesting my tomatoes in the worst possible way: I was letting them ripen on the vine.

What? The grocery store sells vine-ripened tomatoes. Aren’t these the best? Isn’t there a produce supplier that calls itself “Vine-Ripe Tomatoes.” Truth is, vine ripening is hype. Unless you carefully control your soil’s nutrition, watering, and the climate, ripening on the vine is not what it’s cracked up to be… and all that activity makes your small kitchen garden anything but a lazy garden.

Do your vine-ripened tomatoes have any of the following problems?

  • There is a hard ring of flesh around the top that isn’t as tasty as the rest of the tomato.
  • The lower part of the tomato is dead-ripe or even starting to rot while the top of the tomato is still green.
  • There are rings of thin white skin around the top of the tomato, blemishing the healthy, red skin.
  • There are cracks that run from the stem down the sides of the tomato, and some start to turn black before the rest of the tomato is ripe.

Ripening tomatoes

Here’s the easiest way to cure these problems:

When you see pink on your mostly-green tomatoes, pick them. Yes, I’m telling you to pick your tomatoes when they’re almost completely green.

Leave the tomatoes someplace out of the elements. I typically fill a large stainless steel bowl with my nearly green tomatoes, and leave it on my dining room table. If you’re meticulous and you like the bowl idea, put the greenest tomatoes on the bottom, and stack more on them so the ripest tomatoes are on top. As you pick more nearly-green tomatoes, stack them in a separate container.

Monitor the tomatoes casually: have a look each day. In three days to a week, you’ll be able to pick ripe tomatoes from the bowl, and most of the tomatoes will ripen at about the same time. You can leave the ones that ripen first for several days as the slower tomatoes catch up.

If this whole idea sounds crazy, then do a test with a few tomatoes: pick three or four that are showing their first pink, and set them aside till they’re ripe. Compare the quality with your vine-ripened, challenged tomatoes. You might decide to harvest all your tomatoes this way.

Other’s thoughts about harvesting tomatoes, and about what to do with them after the harvest:

  • When To Harvest Tomatoes – I’d pondered this issue when I first started growing tomatoes. Reading advice from various experts, the “ideal” first choice is to allow the tomatoes to ripen on the vine, are fully red (or other color, such as yellow, depending on the …

  • De-hydrating the Harvest: Tomatoes, Pears and Apples – Last year when working at the farm in Tehachapi I lucked out when I had an excess of tomatoes combined with a thoughtful friend and farm volunteer, Kristin, who provided me with a perfect tool for preserving the excess for winter use. …

  • A garden meal – As I was working in the garden last weekend, I took stock of our harvest: tomatoes, eggplant, basil, tomatillos, spinach, beans and peppers. The tomatoes and eggplant needed to be used, so I decided to take advantage of the cooler …

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