Sunday, July 31, 2011

A little bit of "Wow that's cool!" and a whole lot of "WTF?"

Baby Tomatillo (purple I think).

A very weirdly formed Gypsy Bell.  There are a few like this.

First ripening Mr. Stripey.

Heart-shaped tomato.

Siamese tomato twins.

An as-yet-unidentified affliction of my banana peppers.

First ripe Yummy Bell.

Something tunneled through this Black Krim.

A Celtic trinity knot tomato (also Black Krim).

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Planting Carrots in Containers

One of our goals for Fall planting is to actually get a good crop of carrots.  As you can see from this Harvest Monday post a few weeks back, our Spring planted carrots didn't really get anywhere due to the overly wet spring and partial clay ground being too hard.

We decided to try growing carrots in containers to avoid the hard ground and the bugs that bored into our other root veggies last fall.  Here's is the general outline of our plan of action:
  • First, we bought several bags of high quality potting soil that is now on sale, plus several packets of carrots and 3 of those big rope-handle tubs with straight sides that people use for beer at barbecue parties.  The potting soil is half the price it was in the spring and will be a nice loose medium for our carrots.  The brand we got had plant food already mixed in.  You will also need burlap, which we already had for free from a coffee house that would otherwise have thrown it away.
  • Second, we drilled a ton of holes in the bottom and around the bottom 2 inches of the sides of our buckets with our biggest drill bit for drainage.  Drill way more holes than you think you need.
  • Third, we filled the buckets 3/4 of the way with the potting soil.  We found that three of the buckets took four bags total of potting soil that contained 1.5 cubic feet each.  Reserve about a gallon of soil in a bucket...maybe a little less.  Make sure you break up the soil clumps if you just pour it into the buckets.  Lightly pat down.
  • Fourth, we sprinkled about half of a packet of carrot seeds on the top of each bucket.  Make sure you get good coverage as you will be thinning in a few weeks.  Carrot seeds are usually clearanced this time of year and we got ours for a few cents.  Spring carrot seeds will cost a bit more.
  • Fifth, we evenly distributed a 1/4 inch layer of potting soil on top of our seeds and lightly patted it down.  Try to make the coverage as even as possible.
  • Finally, we cut a square of the burlap and pressed it down on top of the soil.  We wet it down thoroughly and will keep it moist by watering a few times a day if needed until the seeds germinate.  Be sure to check FREQUENTLY and remove the burlap as soon as you see and carrot greens poking through the soil.  

The straight sided buckets are important for maximizing space if you'll be growing long carrots, but slant-walled buckets and containers can be used as well if you don't plant so much near the edge.  There are also a whole bunch of shorter carrot varieties that might work out well in shallower containers.  Just remember that the tap root will be quite a bit longer than the carrot itself, so you can't just go by the expected carrot length when deciding on soil depth.  

Good luck to anyone who decides to try it!  Here are what ours look like now...I'll keep you posted on the results.

Our carrot buckets.

Carrot bucket number two.  We have three total.

UPDATE:  It was a HUGE success!  For the first time ever we got LOADS of perfect carrots!  Here's the post with pictures of the results:

Friday, July 29, 2011

Fall planting time!

It's a little late for fall planting in Pittsburgh, but I still feel pretty accomplished since this is the first year I managed to get a fall crop in the ground at all.  Getting everything planted meant pulling a lot of what was there, even some things that might have produced more if left in the ground.  Ultimately, I pulled anything past it's prime, diseased, or too crowded to really be worth the space.  Things I removed include:

1)  All bush beans - The yellow Arikara beans CAN be picked young and eaten in the pod, but we found them to be pretty fibrous and unpleasant.  We didn't plant enough to shell though, so I decided to pull them and plant the space with fall broccoli.  The other bush beans were past their prime, though it seems like the purple might have produced again if allowed...I decided to try and get a fall crop from new seeds instead.  We'll see if this gamble pays off.

2) Yellow Squash and one of the Pan Patty plants - The yellow squash were just covered in disease and the last few fruits had rotted on the plant.  The pan patty seemed generally healthy but was HUGE and showed many signs of Squash Vine Borer damage so I pulled it in favor of planting beets.  The area taken up by the plant can double the planting space for beets, plus I have 3 pan patty plants left.

3)  All cucumbers - These were pulled due to the unlikelihood of getting any kind of solid crop.  The leaves on many plants were wilting and several vines were killed by some type of bacteria.  The vines were also all clumped together on one end of a chicken wire trellis because I didn't properly direct them at the beginning.  There are several free buckets in which I will be planting cucumbers to possibly get a fall crop and I'll use the now vacated trellis for peas.  I have seeds but it might be a better idea to swing by Garden Dreams to see if they have any seedlings left.

Anyway, today we planted 3 buckets of carrots, 3 types of bush bean, 3 types of beet and 2 kinds of pea (snap and snow).  I also did a general clean up of the garden, pulled a bunch of weeds, and moved some things around.  I'll have bigger post after the fall planting is done tomorrow, but here are some of today's sights:

A mini watermelon cut from the vine by a bunny...a bunny that should be living in fear of me ever catching it.

The nest over my composter is now empty, but this little birdy was roaming among my hay.  It seemed young so I think it's one of the chicks, but I have no idea if this is normal bird behavior or not.

Okra!  No idea when to pick it, but I don't think it's ready yet.

This little yellow lemon cucumber was left behind after I pulled the plants.  I have to cut it out of the wire.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Some of the more pleasant visuals from around the garden today...

Eggplant blooms

Bee shortage?  Not in Pittsburgh (or at least not in my yard).

A Black Krim doubling as a disguise.  Oink oink oink!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Harvest Monday ~ Eyeball Cucumber Edition

  This week will see the last of the beans, cucumbers and yellow squash unless the seeds I plant over the next few days actually grow in time for a fall crop.  It may be a little late in the season, but last year we wore T-shirts while trick or treating with the kids so we just might just be OK.  We got maybe 4 cucumbers total from the 12 seeds I planted because their bed gets irregular sunlight and the vines all crowded into a thick mess on one end of the trellis.  I could have guided them more and maybe it would have worked out better.  Who knows, but I'm giving that area to the fall peas and trying a few fall cukes in buckets that have been vacated by jalapenos and broccoli so it's something to think about for next year.

On to the harvest!  Thanks again to Daphne from Daphne's Dandelions for hosting harvest Monday!

July 19th brought us our first ever broccoli!  The kids were out of their minds with excitement.

(also from July 19th) This has been the week of peppers.  Last year we had maybe 2 peppers a week starting sometime in August.  What a change!  We have noticed more and more of the banana peppers with necrotic spots that could be blossom end rot, plus the leaves are getting kind of pale, so I will be amending with blood and bone meal plus a little powdered milk.  

We got our first small black krim tomato this week!  The plant seems to have beaten back the blight a little bit...I know I committed garden sacrileg by letting a sick plant stand, but my growing area is so small that it's pretty impossible for me to beat things by isolation and crop rotation.  Next year we'll be looking for resistant varieties and growing a surplus to hedge our bets.

The second broccoli cutting!  We have three plants total and were floored to have a harvest at  all considering the heat.  All three plants were harvested this week and we are now eagerly awaiting side shoots.

This is the harvest from Sunday.  I pulled the beans up completely after that and will be planting more beans and other fall veggies.  Probably half of those banana peppers have a small brown dead spot.

Today's harvest.  That green tomato is a black krim knocked down by yesterdays storm.  The red tomatoes are Early girl  and that yellow ball is the ONLY cucumber set on our tangled lemon cucumber vines.  It's quite creepy looking in person but was the best tasting cucumber I've ever grown...very mild with thin skin.

Our one lemon cuke before slicing.  It's like a peeled eyeball (thank my 6 year old for the description).

A side view of the eyeball cuke.  I totally hope I get some of these from the seeds we just planted by the end of the year.   It was SO good.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

This weeks CSA box and garden update.

Our CSA box is now bringing us tomatoes each week!  Woo hoo!  Of course the kids end up eating them like apples the minute they're ripe enough, but I'm not complaining.  If you look closely you'll see a container of blueberries that was half eaten before we took the picture...we made blueberry pancakes for dinner that night, and even the two year old ate them, which is a feat since 90% of his diet is peanut better and jelly sandwiches.

Our amazing Kretschmann Farm CSA box this week.

The lady bugs on the eggplant...hopefully they'll go eat that flea beetle.

I have a few tomatillo flowers on each plant, so we should have purple and green tomatillos soon!

The broccoli is setting out side shoots, though I can't imagine them getting very large in this ridiculous heat.  

The mystery melon is getting larger.

A baby watermelon starting.

These volunteers look nothing like any of the tomatoes I've ever grown or bought.  They're probably some hybrid of a roma.

Those two had blossom end rot so I picked them.  Look how weirdly long and skinny!

I though I saw squash vine borer fracas there, but now I'm not sure.  The plant is definitely sick but it seems to be more of a leaf issue.

That is another volunteer that is an obvious hybrid of last years Black Prince and some other tomato.

Sweet Mother of God.  I should have pulled these all last week...look at all the powdery mildew.   This is the worst case of it I've ever seen, and it's bizarre because the weather has been super hot.

My black beauty eggplant was looking very sick so I picked the two little eggplants  pretty small.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mid-Summer Garden Status Tour.

Tonight I'll be finalizing plans for the fall plantings, so we took a bunch of pictures of what the garden looks like now before we start ripping things out over the next week.  The kids also got to harvest a lot of fun things today, including the first broccoli that we left in for just a smidge too long (one little yellow bloom on the green head).  

It's funny how this garden did a complete 180 from where we were last year.  I planted broccoli, cabbage and kohlrabi last year and all of it was eaten by bunnies or bugs.  This year I did lose some but they were mostly plants I would have been forced to thin anyway.  The broccoli and cabbage have all bounced back from early bug damage and are pristine now with no treatment required.  We even harvested every kohlrabi we planted.

Peppers produced maybe one or two fruits per plant last year, and this year I have buckets coming in.  I will lose a few plants (and have lost one already) but the ones that are healthy are LOADED with fruit.  Even the beets did well this season when last year they were filled with bug trails on the bulbs.  I didn't really do much different.

The tomatoes on the other hand, are producing about the same amount of total fruit from 14 plants as I got last year from 4.  The weather did delay the transplants a few weeks, but even the later harvest will be less than stellar because the plants are all slowly dying from various blights.  The beans seem to have tapped out a lot quicker than last year, and the onions (which did amazingly in 2010) are small and pitiful.  Don't even get me started on the eggplant again...last year it was my best producer, and this year it's more of an ugly ornamental that produces a few things here and there.

Anyway, here's where we're at currently:

First broccoli!

Harvesting Green Bell Peppers.

Baby birds nesting on the wall above my composter.

Some of the eggplant are beginning to flower, though they are weirdly short.

The front yard garden to the right of the sidewalk.

A cucumber visor?

I only left that green cabbage because I thought it was doomed and wanted to distract the bunnies from the purple one...turns out to have quite a nice head on it!

Pepper Bed.

The bean and broccoli bed.

Searching for yellow beans.

The first Black Krim is about ripe....though the plant is on it's last legs.

I think the volunteer there is a musk mellon.

Banana pepper city.

Beans and broccoli are his favorites.

Pan patty squash and cucumbers are his favorites.

Beans fresh out of the garden (isn't it nice not to have to wash a bunch of chemicals off  first?)