Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Monday Update 7.26.10

For as stinky as that fish emulsion is, I sure think it's worked wonders on our corn. The corn and some other veggies are going to get another dose tonight, but since the first dose two weeks ago I think our corn has really improved. We're getting a lot of growth on everything, except our peppers, but not a lot of production yet (except on our peppers--they're determined to be the world's smallest pepper bearing plants, I think). The beans finally have some baby beans on them, and after eating fresh beans from the Master Gardener's garden, I couldn't be more ready to have some of our own! We've got a couple of good looking zucchini in the back bed. The Boyfriend and I murdered the squash bug eggs this week and the plant still looks very healthy. As you can see, the sunflowers are also really taking off. As far as I can tell, they're currently serving as high-rise condos for an impressive number of earwigs. Ew.

The peas have finally realized I am not going to extend their trellis and are toppling over. They're actually still producing, but some of the plants are starting to yellow and I can't imagine they'll last much more than a couple weeks. We've harvested a bunch of the muscade carrots, but the Danver's half longs don't seem to be maturing much. I planted more lettuce and carrot seeds last week, but I'm not sure if it's too hot for them to germinate outside. The beans have come up in the front raised bed where we pulled the garlic out, so hopefully we'll be getting a nice, spaced-out bean harvest.

The basil started putting up flowers this past week, so the Boyfriend pinched those off and we should finally get to start harvesting the long awaited basil. The potatoes are still out of control, but seem to have slowed their growth finally. It's been consistently hot now, so I finally mulched with this week's yard clippings.

I've really enjoyed the gladiolas the last couple of weeks. Although I swore I wouldn't dig these bulbs up and save them for next spring, there have been a couple gorgeous flowers that I might just have to make an exception for. Now if I can just remember which plant they came from . . . One of the replacement hydrangeas Erik got us is also in full bloom and looks gorgeous. I added soil acidifier so we would get beautiful vibrant blue blooms, but I quite like the color we ended up with. The survivor hydrangae is starting to bloom as well.

I trimmed up our garlic last night after it dried outside for three weeks. They look beautiful. We ended up with a couple scraggly little ones, but all the rest look great. The hardnecks definitely came out the best. We've got them all hanging in a mesh bag in the pantry ready for use. I'll save the best looking one to plant in the fall and then maybe try another variety as well.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Garlic: A Love Story

I have fallen in love with an Allium. That's right, an Allium. Allium is a genus of plant that is basically the onion family--onions, shallots, leeks, chives, and garlic. When I planted our garlic bulbs on September 5, I had no clue what to do with them. So I did nothing. I didn't mulch over them in the winter like I was supposed to. I think I did throw some compost around them in the spring, which apparently was a good move but it only happened because I had some extra from another bed. In any case, I knew nothing about garlic. I planted two different kinds: Chesnok Red (a hardneck) and Early Italian Purple Grape (a softneck). I thought the garlic would be ready for harvest in the early spring, but I was (shockingly) wrong on that guess. Then I thought it might be ready in June. I did some poking around in books and online and mine just didn't seem ready. I dug down to see the bulbs and they were small and green onion-like. So I left them alone. They looked scraggly, dead, and completely fed up with my abuse.

On July 5th I was lying in bed and thinking about my garlic. (Of course I was, doesn't everyone?) I decided the next day was the day. In the morning when I took the dogs out, I plucked out one of the softnecks and much to my surprise it looked like garlic. I don't know when I will cease to be amazed by plants growing and doing what they've evolved to do, but clearly it's not yet. I pulled the next one out by the leaves, but the stalk broke away from the bulb, which I could see firmly lodged in the dirt below. I decided I'd wait until that evening and harvest them. I announced my plan to the Boyfriend and he was equally excited for the garlic harvest.

We went out to the garden in the evening for the big event. Much to my surprise, the lone bulb that had broken away from the stalk was gone. I hope one of the neighbor cats ate it and hated it and has learned its lesson. In any case, with the exception of that one loss, we harvested all the other bulbs by digging underneath them and prying them out--five softnecks and eight hardnecks.

As long as I live, I will never forget that evening in our garden. One by one we lifted those pungent bulbs out of the ground and each time I was amazed that another legitimate garlic bulb emerged from our garden. The air smelled so good that the Boyfriend kept taking deep breaths and letting out the satisfied sigh that usually accompanies dinner preparation activities at our household. As the bulbs started stacking up on the grass, I realized we probably had a 6- to 9-month supply of garlic here. We were putting away food that would become a part of so many of our meals over the coming months.

I had my Bible outside with me. Yes, The Vegetable Gardener's Bible. That's actually what it's called. I love this book for two reasons: it has answers to everything garden-related--including individual write-ups about every vegetable and herb--and because author Edward C. Smith appears on the glossy cover and reminds me of Ducky from NCIS every time I see him. In any case, the book is wonderful. It answers questions I didn't even know I had. When my tomato plants were purple this spring I thought it was odd but didn't give it any more thought. Then one night I was mindlessly flipping through the Bible and saw that purple tomatoes need phosphorus. I'm happy to report I no longer have purple tomatoes.

So anyway, back to the garlic. I had my Bible outside with me to show me how to take care of these bulbs now that I had unearthed them. Following directions carefully (yay me!), I peeled back the first two leaves that created the outer layers of the garlic bulb. As the second layer came off, I think the angels sang. What appeared was a sparkling white and absolutely gorgeous garlic bulb. I repeated this process 14 more times. The angels sang each time.

In the meantime, the Boyfriend seemed less concerned with the angels and more excited to build something. He built our garlic a safehouse. Since some thieving creature had already walked away with one of our precious bulbs, we weren't going to take any chances. These bright white beauties had to stay outside to dry out for the next 2 to 3 weeks, so the Boyfriend built a little garlic cage to keep them safe. It is no exaggeration to say we have the most-loved garlic on the planet at this point.

Will harvesting garlic always be this exciting? Probably not. But I think it will always make me happy, and I know I will never forget our first garlic harvest. Both of us working away in the garden, the air saturated with that delicious garlic aroma, and feeling completely connected to this place. As it turns out, garlic becomes uniquely adapted to its microclimate over time. After you buy your first garlic bulbs at the nursery, each year you should save some of your own harvest to plant for the next season. Your garlic will gradually become particularly suited to its place. I think garlic might just be my vegetable soul mate.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Monday Update 7.12.10

So much has been happening around the garden, and we're finally seeing (and eating) some of the fruits (mostly vegetables) of our labor. In the last week or so, we harvested our first carrots, which looked beautiful when they came out of the ground. They were sticking out of the soil a bit, which is how I noticed they were big and beautiful. (Apparently the Boyfriend knew about these orange beauties and was keeping them a secret.) In any case, my enthusiasm dropped significantly when I cut into these carrots and realized they were a brilliant shade of neon green in the middle. Apparently we let them grow a little too long and it sounds like they got exposed to too much sunlight. I promptly went out and picked some smaller ones and they looked (and tasted) great. We made another stirfry with more broccoli and our carrots. Super yummy, but can't wait until we can add our peppers and basil to the mix!

We also pulled up our one red potato plant. We knew it was too early, but it was taking a turn for the worse and our other potatoes (all fingerlings) looked great, so we thought we should rip out the one plant that didn't look so good. I was like a 4-year-old at Christmas. Obvious I had never harvested potatoes before. The Boyfriend pulled the whole plant out, and a few tiny white orbs were attached to the roots. I thought that was it. But then the Boyfriend loosened the dirt and as I dug around in the ground my hand came upon some bigger potatoes and then finally some real-looking potatoes! It was like digging for treasure. Each time my fingers grasped around a tiny tuber, I pulled it out and held it up in the air like I had unearthed the most magnificent thing you had ever seen. It was so incredibly cool. I let the potatoes dry out a bit then put them in a paper bag to cure. Some are too small to use and others seem to have been pierced or otherwise damaged, but I think we'll have a few we can actually use. It makes me so excited for the next plants!

The Siletz tomato is going crazy. There are dozens of little tomatoes on it and one bigger one. We have a couple baby yellow pear tomatoes as well. The Cuor di Bue is doing well, but no signs of tomatoes yet. The gladiolas finally opened up last week and we've had two dark pink ones that I've loved having in the kitchen.

Our peas have gone absolutely crazy. They're higher than the fence now and we've been picking dozens at a time. Our harvest today included a bunch of peas, a few carrots, and a couple radishes. You might also notice the giant empty spot where our garlic once lived. We finally harvested our garlic last week, but more about that in another post. In the vacated space, we planted a few pepper plants from the store (we've never had good luck with bell peppers, so we tried a couple plants) and some more bean seeds.

The back bed looks good. I think the corn is growing and the sunflowers are definitely getting tall. Yesterday I put some fish emulsion on the corn (and other veggies) so hopefully that will give it the boost it needs. Our raspberries, despite some sick looking leaves, are still forming baby berries and I finally ate one or two the other day. This evening we dug out the strawberries and the Boyfriend took off the bottom of the little box they were in. I had completely forgotten that little raised bed had a bottom. (It was the one I had planted a square foot garden in at the Mini last spring!) If they survived the uprooting and replanting, I think they'll be a lot happier and more productive.