2016 IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR – MY SUCKIEST GARDENING YEAR EVER

2016 IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR – MY SUCKIEST GARDENING YEAR EVER

Mother Nature Acts Up

Every gardening year plays out in it’s own unique way.  The weather changes year to year, new garden pests introduce themselves, some old reliable crops don’t do as well, while others do better than expected.  This past year gave us plenty of surprises; many of them not so good.  I know I’ve said it before, but Mother Nature can be a cruel partner, especially now that climate change is altering our weather.  The following are the top ten reasons that this was my suckiest  gardening season ever:

1.  Left “Peachless”

The first omen that this would be a disappointing year occurred in late March.  After a couple of weeks of mild weather the fruit buds on our two peach trees began to swell up in anticipation of Spring.  Bam! We got hit with a series of hard frosts, thus killing the fruit buds on our trees.  No peaches.  Great!

 

2.  Climate Change Indoors – The Tomato Seedling Fiasco

This one is on me.  I went back to work part time in late March.  I lost my focus on gardening and didn’t manage the heat/light aspect of starting my tomato seedlings.  The end result was a humiliating loss of my entire tomato crop.  People depend on my to give them seedlings every year.  I let them down.  I let myself down.  Some gardening expert I am.  Changes are coming.  More about that in a future post.

3.  The Return of the Asparagus Beetles

In  a previous post, I bragged about how my chickens were doing great things digging up grubs, bad worms and insects and making the garden safe for democracy.  I went on about how the asparagus beetles disappeared almost completely in 2015.  Feeling proud of “my girls” I attributed the lack of beetles to their efforts.  Heck, I didn’t even plant calendula in the asparagus patch to ward of the beetles.  Bad move!  Asparagus beetles came back in 2016 with a vengeance.  Fortunately, I was able to manage the situation and had a decent harvest.

4.  The Drought

2016 was the hottest and driest year I can ever remember in my thirty years of gardening.  This phenomenon was responsible for a host of consequences: wild creatures visiting my garden because there was no forage in the wild, domestic creatures visiting my garden because there was no forage about, crop failures due to inadequate irrigation (a combination of my being at work and a water ban), bizarre crop behavior (especially with tomatoes).  However, some crops loved the dry heat (hot peppers, cukes, zucchini).

THE PARCHED LAWN DURING THE DROUGHT

5.  The Crows Ate My Cherries

I have to start by saying that I admire the crows in my neighborhood.  They do a fine job of warning my chickens if there is a hawk in the “hood”.  They are also entertaining with their squawking back and forth.  One day I happened to notice strange undulations in my two cherry trees on a very calm day.  It was the crows.  Having a picnic.  In our cherry trees.  They ate every one.  They weren’t even ripe.  Lesson learned.  Netting up earlier this year.

6.  Zebra Worms Ate my Brassicas

New to “Greg’s Garden Party” this year was an infestation (this may be too nice a word) of black and yellow striped worms.  After comparing them with pictures I looked at on line, it appears that these despicable creatures are called zebra worms.  They attacked the kale, cabbage, broccoli and the Brussels sprouts.  They kept coming back after repeated spraying of Azaguard insecticide.  Worms from hell.  Thank you very much!

7.  Chickens Ate  My Tomatoes

So, I’m working in the vegetable garden one morning in August.  I break for lunch.  When I return to the garden, I noticed that the chickens are over by the heirloom tomatoes.  As I get closer, I notice that they are pecking away at a large, ripe Cherokee Purple tomato.  I yell at them and approach to shoo them away.  The three of them look up at me with tomato juice dripping down their beaks as if to say “You talkin’ to me?  Can’t you see I’m busy?”  Having already chased rabbits out of the garden it was now time to erect a fence to keep out all of the beasts, wild and domestic.

8.  The “Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomato” Incident

After my tomato seedling crop failure I decided to purchase tomato plants from our local garden center.  I love this place; great staff, nice stuff, five minutes from home.  I was happy to see that they were now carrying “Matt’s Wild Cherry” seedlings, our favorite cherry tomato.  I gladly bought a couple, even bought two for my gardening buddy, Steve (one of the people I let down due to my tomato crop failure).  I was a happy camper.  When the tomatoes began to ripen, it was apparent that these two plants were not “Matt’s Wild Cherry”.  I picked a couple and took them over to my favorite garden center.  It turns out that they had been mis-labeled.  You’ve got to be kidding me.  My buddy Steve was pretty upset about this.  Oh, did I mention my wife?  She was beside herself.  Yeah, she got a little chippy about the lack of “Matt’s” in our diet.

9.  Yellow Jackets Ate My Fall-bearing Raspberries

Another consequence of the hot, dry Summer presented itself in early September as our raspberries were ripening.  I grabbed a plastic container and walked out to the raspberry patch one morning anticipating an awesome breakfast of yogurt with fresh picked fruit.  As I got closer to the raspberry patch, I noticed that there were hundreds of Yellow Jackets on the raspberries.  As I tried to pick individual berries, they would fall apart in my hands.  The Yellow Jackets were sucking juice from individual nodes, because there was no moisture for them in the wild.  I suppose you can hardly blame them.

10.  The Zebra Worm Apocalypse Ruined My Brussels Sprouts

We typically don’t begin to harvest Brussels Sprouts until mid-November.  I picked my first sprouts just before Thanksgiving.  I noticed that the sprouts were infested with the eggs of the dreaded Zebra Worm.  My wife, Catherine was grossed out by this.  As a result, we didn’t pick again.  I’m going to take a year off from growing Brussels Sprouts.  Kiss my butt, Zebra Worms.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS SHOWING THE EFFECT OF ZEBRA WORM DAMAGE

I feel better now.  Venting is so Therapeutic.  If you have any gardening horror stories of your own from 2016 that you would like to share, please leave your comments.  I will be happy to publish them.

Here’s to a better gardening year.

All the best,                                                                                                                            Greg Garnache

FUTURE POSTS:                                                                              
  • What I learned about gardening in 2016
  • Mid-Winter Veggie Fest
  • Some of our new favorite varieties from 2016
                  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garden Journal – 3rd Week of March

Garden Journal – 3rd Week of March

Spring Comes Early This Year.

What a difference a year makes.  At this last season, we still had two feet of snow on the ground.  March in my corner of the Globe has been unusually mild this year.  I’ve already planted peas, mache, spinach, curly endive and gourmet baby lettuce seeds in the garden.  That’s right, IN THE GARDEN!  Last weekend I joked that I was embracing global warming because I could get things into the ground a whole month early.  Like many people, I am concerned about this phenomenon and thinking of ways that I can be a better steward of the acre and a half under our care.

A sure sign that we are experiencing an early Spring is that the garlic is up and poking through the bed of leaves I laid down in the Fall.  Time to take down the little fence surrounding the garlic patch and rake out those leaves.

GARLIC PLANTS POKING UP OUT OF THE GROUND

GARLIC PLANTS POKING UP OUT OF THE GROUND

We have been enjoying the “Red Kitten” spinach harvested from the garden.  It was planted last fall and grown under plastic.  My little two foot by four foot patch has produced a colander  full of spinach every other day for the last week plus.  Spinach is one of the most nutritious vegetables you can grow, especially if you eat it raw in salads.  “Red Kitten” is especially good in this regard.

RED KITTEN SPINACH WASHED AND READY TO EAT

RED KITTEN SPINACH WASHED AND READY TO EAT

Direct Seeding in the Garden

The mild conditions at the beginning of March provided a perfect opportunity to get and early start on the growing season.  I planted no to low risk vegetables that can withstand a  frost or even a light snow.  I planted peas, mache (corn salad), spinach, frisee and a gourmet lettuce mix.  The mache was planted due to the poor production of the crop that was planted last Fall.  How disappointing!  We have had great success in the past with our mache crop.  Not sure what the issue was, but I planted fresh seeds this time. We love mache and hope that this planting will produce for us by the end of April.  The variety we grow is “Vit 419” from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  I seeded a 2′ x 4′ patch.

GETTING AN EARLY START WITH DIRECT SEEDING

GETTING AN EARLY START WITH DIRECT SEEDING

We have had great success with “Tyee” spinach, another variety from Johnny’s.  It is an early season spinach, so I thought I would get’r goin’ real early.  Frisee is also a cool weather crop so I planted one row of seeds.  I like adding frisee to other salad greens for texture.

I rounded out the early planting with a 4″ wide band of “Allstar Mix” mesclun, one of our yearly favorites.  This versatile mix works well into early Summer.  I plant a band every three weeks until the hot weather arrives.  Then I switch to “Heatwave Blend”.  I will plant at least one more band of “Allstar Mix” in late Summer.  Love this stuff.  By the way, seeds are available from Johnny’s.

Starting Seeds Indoors – High Nutrition Greens

This was the week to get seeds started for transplant out to the garden in April.  With the exception of celeriac, all of the seed varieties started were high nutrition greens; three varieties of kale, broccoli raab, broccoli, cauliflower, frisee, and lettuce. This year, I am making a conscious effort to make sure that we always have nutritious greens available from the garden.  I planted the seeds into 3/4″ square soil blocks that I made with my 20 block press.  I then planted 10 seeds of each variety except the celeriac and the Black Seeded Simpson lettuce. For those I used 20 blocks.

 

SEED PACKETS READY TO GO AND THE 3/4" SOIL BLOCK MAKER SOAKING IN BETWEEN PRESSINGS

SEED PACKETS READY TO GO AND THE 3/4″ SOIL BLOCK MAKER SOAKING IN BETWEEN PRESSINGS

THE TOOLS I USE FOR SEEDING THE SOIL BLOCKS. THE TWEEZERS MAKE IT EASY TO CENTER THE SEEDS IN EACH BLOCK. I THEN PRESS THE SEEDS INTO THE BLOCK WITH THE POINTED TOOL.

THE TOOLS I USE FOR SEEDING THE SOIL BLOCKS. THE TWEEZERS MAKE IT EASY TO CENTER THE SEEDS IN EACH BLOCK. I THEN PRESS THE SEEDS INTO THE BLOCK WITH THE POINTED TOOL.

 

As we begin another gardening season I wish to express my best wishes to all of you who are reading this post.  May you all have the best gardening year of your life.  If I can be of service, please reach out.  My goal is to build a community of people who enjoy growing their own food and sharing that experience.

All the best,

Greg Garnache
gcgarnache@gmail.com

 

 

Garden Journal – 4th Week of December

Garden Journal – 4th Week of December

Thanks to an “El Nino” weather pattern that we hadn’t experienced in over twenty years, I was out in the vegetable garden on the Sunday before Christmas wearing a short sleeve shirt and harvesting vegetables.  We needed beets for the Christmas Borscht, carrots for Christmas evening dinner, Brussels Sprouts for slaw and other side dishes and beet greens for salad.  I also harvested more leeks for side dishes and as a topping for foccacia.

THE WINTER CARROT PATCH GROWING UNDER A LOW PLASTIC TUNNEL

THE WINTER CARROT PATCH GROWING UNDER A LOW PLASTIC TUNNEL

THE BEET PATCH THE SUNDAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS

THE BEET PATCH THE SUNDAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Taking advantage of the mild weather, I opened up the tunnel containing the beet and carrot patches.  I spent some time watering and fertilizing as well as harvesting.  I was disappointed that the beets had not fully formed.  Luckily, we had frozen some roasted beets earlier in the season.  I did harvest a good supply of greens which we have been using in salads.  Harvesting carrots was basically a thinning operation to give the rest of the crop room to grow.  We got a nice harvest that we enjoyed Christmas Night with short ribs of beef and mashed potatoes.

BEET GREENS AND BABY CARROTS HARVESTED THE SUNDAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS

BEET GREENS AND BABY CARROTS HARVESTED THE SUNDAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS

A BRUSSELS SPROUTS SLAW MADE IN DECEMBER WITH INGREDIENTS FROM THE GARDEN

BRUSSELS SPROUT SLAW

We tried something a bit different with the harvested Brussels Sprouts.  I made a slaw composed of thinly sliced Brussels Sprouts, recently harvested carrot slices and red onion harvested last Summer.  I liked it!  It went well with a batch of chili we had made for our Patriot’s couch tailgate party.

I also tried a side dish using Brussels Sprouts and leeks flavored with lime juice and zest from Suzie Middleton, one of our favorite cookbook authors and recipe creators.  As far as I’m concerned, she is a rock star when it comes to cooking vegetables.  We have her book, Fast, Fresh and Green  which has been a tremendous resource for us over the last several years.  Her influence is beginning to rub off on me.  It finally dawned on me to consider pairing Brussels Sprouts and leeks in a recipe.  After all, they are both available at the end of the year.  After a Google search, I found a recipe with her name on it.  We had it with sauteed center cut pork chops with carmelized onions.  Here is a link to the recipe:http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/brussels-sprouts-leeks-lime-ginger-butter.aspx

It’s hard to believe that the year is almost over.  Reflecting on the gardening year I am grateful for another fun and rewarding year of gardening and feasting with family and friends.  It’s time to kick back, look at all the seed catalogs that have arrived over the last couple of weeks and start thinking about the new gardening year.  I wish you all the best.

Greg Garnache
gcgarnache@gmail.com

Garden Journal – late November

Garden Journal – late November

So, What’s Up with the Slowdown in Blog Post Production?

When I retired, I thought that I would have plenty of free time to blog, play the guitar, golf and garden.  Lately, there hasn’t been time for any of that.  Between caring for my ninety-three year old  mother and raking leaves, there hasn’t been much time for anything else.

About a month ago, Mom had a fall that resulted in a hospital stay.  While in the hospital, it was discovered that she had an infection.  She returned home weak, depressed and unable to live independently.  Being her only living child, it has fallen on me to make sure that she is well taken care of.  This is the beginning of a new chapter with lots of decisions to be made about where we go from here.  I am trying to embrace the moment, feeling that kindness is it’s own reward and that serving is a blessing.

As for the leaves, we have ’em and lots of them.  We have two giant and ancient sycamore trees in front of our house.  Many of the leaves are as big as dinner plates.  In addition, we have a copper beech tree that is just as large as the sycamores.  Add in the forty odd trees that line most of our property and we’ve got leaves – billions of leaves.  Armed with my i-pod, a lawn tractor pulling a cart with a homemade leaf hauling attachment, a leaf blower and a rake I kept after it until the vast majority of the leaves were removed from lawns and planting beds.  I move the leaves to giant bins where they will break down into leaf mulch which will be used in both the vegetable garden and perennial beds to enhance the texture of the soil.  I know what your thinking:  “Small benefit for a large investment of time”.

Lately, I have been feeling the same way.  It might be time to consider adding  ” fall clean-up by others” to the family budget.  However,   I do love being outside and I do feel a deep connection to our 1.5 acre home.  I also like doing physical things.  My motto is “you can do almost anything if you have the right mix on your i-pod.

ONE OF OUR MASSIVE LEAF CORRALS

ONE OF OUR MASSIVE LEAF CORRALS

 

Vegetable Garden Update

Leeks

We have been harvesting and cooking with leeks nearly the entire month of November.  I love leeks.  The aroma of a focaccia topped with sauteed leeks as it bakes in the oven is one of my favorite smells.  I recently made a leek, potato and bean soup that was delicious.  I will publish the recipe in my next blog post.     Also, I found a recipe for butternut squash and leek  casserole with prosciutto that was “The Hit” at a recent church potluck supper.  My goal was to find a dish  that featured vegetables from the garden that were in abundance in mid-November.  The leeks and butternut squash are a great match.  We’ve made this recipe twice and recommend adding twice as much cheese as recommended.  Here is a link to the recipe:http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/butternut-squash-casserole-with-leeks-prosciutto-and-thyme

LATE FALL LEEK HARVEST

LATE FALL LEEK HARVEST

DSCN1058

LEEKS TRIMMED AND CLEANED UP

Brussels Sprouts

This years crop is in very good shape.  Speaking with someone at the potluck supper, I was reminded that I haven’t always had success with Brussels Sprouts.  Why the good crop this year?  If I had to guess, I would say that it’s all about plant management.  This year, we have tried to be more proactive regarding removing leaves to promote good air circulation and removing competition for nutrients for the Sprouts as well as removing sprouts that have not fully formed or that show signs of black mold.  I also added plant supports to keep the individual plants upright.  This all seems to be working well.  So far, we have enjoyed Brussels Sprouts on several occasions.  Lately, we have been roasting them and then tossing them with crispy bacon and sliced apples.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS READY FOR HARVEST

BRUSSELS SPROUTS READY FOR HARVEST

 

Carrot Harvest

Last week, I harvested the carrots that I planted in the same space that had been the garlic patch.  These carrots were planted in early August.  The harvest was approximately eight pounds of carrots that should last us until the first of the year.  I made a beef stew with carrots recently that was well worth the effort.  I found the recipe on the Website “Once Upon a Chef’.  Some of my foodie friends tell me that this is really a beef bourguignone.  Here is a link to the recipe: http://www.onceuponachef.com/2011/02/beef-stew-with-carrots-potatoes.html#tabrecipe

 

Growing Crops in Low Tunnels

As I have been doing for the last four years, I have planted both Mache and “Red Kitten” spinach in the last several weeks so that they can over winter under plastic for harvest in early March.  It doesn’t take much effort but the reward is great, especially at a time of year when there isn’t much else going on in the garden.

In addition to the greens, I also planted carrots and beets in another tunnel for harvest before Christmas.  We will use the beets in our holiday borscht.  My wife, Catherine, is part Ukranian so borscht and pierogis have been part of our holidays for over forty years.  There is something quite satisfying about making the borscht with our own beets.

LATE CARROTS GROWING IN A LOW PLASTIC TUNNEL

LATE CARROTS GROWING IN A LOW PLASTIC TUNNEL

BEETS GROWING IN A LOW PLASTIC TUNNEL

BEETS GROWING IN A LOW PLASTIC TUNNEL

The Asparagus Bed

ASPARAGUS FERNS AT THE END OF NOVEMBER

ASPARAGUS FERNS AT THE END OF NOVEMBER

One of the last chores of the season in the vegetable garden is cutting back the ferns, raking and laying down lime and green sand.  This little bit of TLC is very important.  Asparagus likes a sweet soil as well as the potassium in the green sand.  Next Spring, I will water with fish emulsion in anticipation of another great crop.

THE ASPARAGUS PATCH CLEANED UP FOR WINTER

THE ASPARAGUS PATCH CLEANED UP FOR WINTER

This was another great year of vegetable gardening.  I hope that you had great success as well.  Now that Winter is coming, it is my intention to devote more of my posts to recipes, garden planning and crop rotation.  I wish you all a festive holiday season.

Greg Garnache

Garden Journal – 1st Week of October

Garden Journal – 1st Week of October

The gorgeous weather we enjoyed in September has spilled over into the first week of October.   The rock-n-roll and jazz-funk of Summer has been replaced  with more sedate classical music for company as I harvest late season tomatoes, peppers, fennel, kale, beets, carrots and raspberries.  Ah, the raspberries.  This is the first full year of production for our Fall bearing “Heritage” raspberries.  What a pleasant surprise; tasty and prolific.  One twenty five foot bed has yielded somewhere in the neighborhood of two gallons of berries.  We are about to process our third batch of jam.  We have frozen raspberry sauce and three quart containers of berries for later use.  We are eating fresh berries daily on yogurt, over chocolate ice cream, in raspberry swirl brownies, etc.  Life is good.

THE HARVEST BASKET IN THE FIRST WEEK OF OCTOBER

THE HARVEST BASKET IN THE FIRST WEEK OF OCTOBER

 

Tomato Season Winds Down

I have been gradually reducing the tomato plant population over the last couple of weeks, harvesting both ripe and green tomatoes and pulling plants.  Our kitchen windows are lined with fruit in various stages of ripeness; trophies of another successful season.  It won’t be long before those tomatoes are replaced with Christmas decorations.

A WINDOW DECORATED WITH RIPENING TOMATOES

A WINDOW DECORATED WITH RIPENING TOMATOES

A few Words About Kale

Over the Summer months we don’t tend to eat much kale.  We use it mostly in  juice making and treats for the chickens.  Now that fall is here, we will begin using it in soups and stews.  Right now, we have four plants in the garden;  two Russian Kale and two Tuscan or Dinosaur Kale.  These plants have been in the ground since early May.  They’re not pretty but still producing.

A BIG UGLY TUSCAN KALE PLANT

A BIG UGLY TUSCAN KALE PLANT

A Soup Comes Together

Chicken Soup with Beans and Kale

I’ve been retired now for about a year and a half and since then have been gradually taking on more of the cooking duties.  One of my favorite cooking projects is soup.  As with most of my soups, this one started with a roasted chicken.  Last Sunday, I prepared a “Beer Can” chicken in our Weber kettle grill using a spice rub recipe from “Weber’s Big Book of Grilling“.  After our meal, I removed the remaining meat from the carcass and used the bones to make stock.

GREG'S GARDEN PARTY CHICKEN SOUP WITH BEANS AND KALE

A NICE HOT BOWL OF GREG’S CHICKEN SOUP WITH BEANS AND KALE

In addition, I had some leftover “Vermont Cranberry” beans I had slow cookedfor chili.  Stock, chicken meat, beans;  time to make some soup.  To me, classic soup starts with the trinity of onion, celery and carrots.  I finely chopped one large onion, two stalks of celery and two large carrots; then sauteed them in olive oil.  I added six cups of stock, two cups of chicken, two cups of cooked “Cranberry beans”,  four “Tuscan Kale” leaves shredded, a tablespoon of fresh thyme, a two cup bag of chopped plum tomatoes from the freezer and salt and pepper to taste.  Everything except the chicken and celery came from the garden, which made this an act of love. The smokiness of the chicken stock and the texture of the beans helped to make this soup one to remember.  Catherine loved it.

All the best,

Greg

 

 

 

Garden Journal – 4th Week of September

Garden Journal – 4th Week of September

Weeding the Carrot Patch

The carrots that I planted at the end of July in the planting bed where the garlic had grown are doing well, but were in need of some TLC.  Weeding the bed was overdue.  After twenty minutes of weeding, I can report that the carrot patch is “lookin’ good”.  We will begin thinning/harvesting baby carrots soon, so I really wanted to make sure that the crop didn’t have to compete with the weed population for nutrients.

CARROTS PLANTED IN LATE JULY

THE CARROT PATCH WEEDED AND ALMOST READY FOR THINNING/HARVESTING BABY CARROTS

Harvesting Butternut Squash

This week, I noticed that our one squash plant was beginning to show signs of dying back and the fruit had turned color from cream to beige.  Time to harvest.  I was amazed that there were 15 fruit on the one vine.  Believe me when I tell you that the squash plant was neglected all Summer except for watering and occasional applications of fish fertilizer.  The variety that I grow is called METRO PMRwhich I source from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  Can’t say enough about Metro;  strong disease resistance, great production, minimal effort.

METRO PMR SQUASH HARVESTED FROM ONE PLANT

METRO PMR SQUASH HARVESTED FROM ONE PLANT

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