Monday, June 2, 2014

Harvesting our first crops

Sunday June 1

It has certainly paid off to have the cooler crops seeded 4 weeks ago.  The weather has been very cooperative with hot sunny days and cooler but warm evenings.  Using the reemay cloth for the first 3 weeks to protect the plants and seedlings in the cold and windy days has really paid off.  We cut the first leaves from the spinach, Kale, Swiss Chard and lettuce.  it is by far better to just snip using sharp kitchen scissors than pinching off... lost a few plants which got pulled out.  Some of the leaves were folded with a little critter inside.  These I removed and stepped on.  I also removed any leaves that showed any spotting.  These plants will continue to produce leaves as long as the seed stems are not given an opportunity to mature.  One plant had a flower growing in the center.  Simply pinch this out to allow the plant to produce more leaves.  I came across a really amazing and quick salad dressing:

Spinach Dressing
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard (I also have a honey dijon I use so honey is unnecessary)
1 tsp honey
salt and pepper to taste

I will also add sunflower seeds and organic Sunmaid Raisins to the salad for a bit of crunch and sweetness.  You can add strawberries, cranraisins etc.  The freshly picked greens are sweet with no bitterness.  So unlike the salads you purchase at the grocery stores.

Taking advice

No matter how little or how much experience you have, when  someone offers you advice, it is always wise to listen and take note of what they are saying.  Most advanced gardeners will speak from personal experience and may save you some grief in the long run.  Not having grown a vegetable garden in years, the experienced neighbor gardener came over to look at the garden and made a few recommendations for bug, pest and disease (fungal) control. She noticed that the leaves were curling on the Brussels sprouts and the bean leaves needed attention.  She produced a sulfur powder which she deposited on the questionable plants.  Sulfur with deal effectively with fungus.  She also used a powder on the underside of the rose plant which had some spots on the leaves to prevent bug and mildew damage. It reminds me to review and document pests that come to visit the garden and how to effectively (with natural products) combat losses to the garden.  Keeping an accurate diary on the day to day will help remind you next year of what worked well and what does not.  

What I have learned this week
Planting beans and peas need to happen in warm soil in order to get these started.  They are quick to break the warm soil and reach for sunlight just 7 days after planting.  Those that were planted too early did not sprout at all. One author I read offered the 'bare foot' advice.  If the soil is warm enough for your feet to rest on without getting cold, then it is bean growing season!!  Starting these beans in the vegetable patch and then planting more every 10 days will keep us in beans for the entire summer.  I will trim out the older plants to encourage more growth when they look sad to encourage them to continue to produce.  The whole idea of a plant is to produce seeds in order to reproduce.... remove them before they produce ripened seeds (past the point of what we consider edible).

Planting squash and other vine growers - The transplants did not fare as well as the direct seeding method in my garden.  That being said, the ones that were seeded weeks before transplanting did fairly well.  Covering these beds would have been a better option early in the growing season to encourage better growth.  With the recent hot weather and good rainfall, the squash have begun to grow very fast now that they are established.

Grass Clippings - I used a thin cover of grass clippings and allowed them to dry on top of the garden soil to which I will add to as the season progresses.  The nitrogen and phosphates provide a natural fertilizer and mulch to the plants.  I have put the grass clippings in all of my vegetable pots, planters and out in the back yard around the perennials to reduce the digging from squirrels and so far, so good.  The marigolds around the garden are in full bloom and are filling in around the veggie garden.

Planting distances - ensure you are spacing your plants a recommended spacing apart (you will find these on the tags provided if you purchase plants or on the back of the seed package.  Overcrowded plants produce less not more. I thinned out the tomato plants and offered them to friends around the neighborhood.  FB was a great tool to getting the word out and all the plants were spoken for and picked up within 24 hours.  There is nothing like growing your own tomatoes, even if it is amongst your flower beds or in your flower pots.

Creating a walkway 
Max has ordered a mix of three different sized pavers after pricing out the cost of pouring concrete.  It will cost 1/2 the price but will be more work intensive.  Max is using some pretty neat products to create the curves around the beds and used as a guide to cut the blocks.  So here's the prep:

You will need to use chips and dust to use as a fill and then a tamper (we rented one for half a day for about $50 (after insurance, rental and gas) which shakes the chips and dirt so that it compacts and creates a strong and firm foundation.  Max makes sure that the walkway is angled away from the house and directed down the driveway, so using a large level is critical.  After the walkway is prepared and sits for a few days.... better after a rainstorm, it is time to place the stones.  Creating a pattern using 3 different sizes of stones and making up for the uneven edge of the concrete steps, driveway and the curve of the decorative perennial/annual garden were the challenges that were solved using a stone cutter (Stihl rental), pathway edging (can manipulate by strategic cuts and nailing into place using 10' pegs).  A layer of fine sand is then spread over the walkway - this will help to level the stones and make up for any imperfections between the ground and the stone.  Once the stones are laid and are solidly in place with no rocking motion, you can brush the sand in the crevices between the stones to set them.

In the photo above, you can see the bare patches where the earth mounds were sitting for a few weeks, so I put a grass mix on the patches and just in time for the heavy rains that followed.  The plantings on the S curve are a mix of perennials and annuals.  I love growing a garden that is always in bloom.  Maturing perennial plants really add to a garden's interest.  The Chrysanthemums have been in my garden for years and so I broke the plant into a number of new plantings and gifted the small ones to friends to add to their gardens.  The walkway in this photo already has the chips and dirt and been tamped down to create a hard pack walkway.
Plastic border - This border can be used as a rigid straight edge or they can be clipped (using tin snips) between the nail holes as shown above.  Max will score the curve the edge makes over the stone and then cut it with the stone cutter.

You can see the sand sitting on top of the courser chips and dirt beneath it.  The pattern is looking great!!!

Growing so fast!!

The greens are growing so fast.  I purchased lettuce for cheap, cheap, cheap at the local grocery store garden center - they were going to seed.  I simply cut each plant out of the 'salad bowl' and placed them in my garden after I removed the heavy flower stocks and any poor leaves.  Do not let the lettuce go to seed until the end of the growing season.  These will create new plants in the next growing season.  No need to save seeds or plant any.  I still have lettuce growing in the back garden and now seeds from plants a few years ago.

With them nestled into the garden, they will be ready to eat after a few days.  I cut my leaves because pulling leaves off will often times pull the plant out of the ground.  Use clean kitchen scissors and make sure you clean them afterwards.

I am still reading voraciously through many urban garden books getting ideas for next year.  I will give a list of the ones I love and ones I want in my own library.  

I must admit, when anyone comes by and expresses joy and appreciation for all our hard work, it feels really good.  Being raised by European parents who always had a vegetable garden, its interesting to note how many of our admirers are European as well..... our garden brings back some great memories for them and we hope some new memories for our youth who may not have one growing up.  Having a garden to eat from and one that looks great makes  all the difference in the world!!

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