Category Archives: experiments

Worth the work

So, more days than not Old MacDonald (sometimes accompanied by me, but I have late hours at the job) has been going out to water the Back 40 garden, and it has absolutely paid off:

Photo Aug 05, 6 19 34 PM

Photo Aug 05, 6 43 18 PM

I can’t get over how good it looks.  He did admit that there have been two applications of fertilizer, which combined with the watering seems to more than be working.  Our experiment with grass clippings is also a success; we’ve been out to weed only twice so far this season and both times took about an hour and a half to do the whole garden.

The secret to our success is a 50-gallon cistern we keep in the back, and refill by running hoses linked together from the house whenever it gets down in volume.

And making her first appearance on the blog, Old MacDonald’s mother and a farmer’s daughter (her father was a farmer in Denmark; apparently farming is genetic but skips generations):

Photo Aug 05, 6 40 50 PM
Like Luke, she’s smart enough to help by watching carefully

Our experiment out back is a success – this was the second picking of beans, just two days after our first round:

Photo Aug 10, 9 08 22 AM

I only wish they didn’t turn green when cooked.

The first weeks are always the hardest

The growing season is now underway, with the plants doing remarkably well:

Main gardenMain garden 6-26

I love that picture because it’s a beautiful shot of an Adirondack chair I never get to sit in.

There’s also a critter in the garden:

Luke Main Garden 6-26
Luke

This is our neighbor Luke, who arrived with the new neighbors when they moved in across the street last spring.  Can’t have an updated garden blog without photos of a neighbor’s cat.  He’s reasonably helpful:

Watching for chipmunks
Watching for chipmunks

He’s actually a better birder but we’ve seen him snag a chipmunk or two.  Good kitty!

He’s not much help with the rabbits, though:

Frolicking
Frolicking

Fortunately this year we have not had a moment where I’ve spotted them in the garden because they can squeeze through the fence.  It seems like our bobcat from years past may not be around, because there are a lot of them.  It was a mild winter, however.

Even the Back 40 is coming along nicely:

Back 40 Second Photo

As part of our new crusade to pay more attention to this garden, we’ve been watering.  It’s pretty dry here – there was very little snow this year, and it hasn’t rained much at all.  It’s a pain to walk out there to water, but we figure it will give the seedlings their best chance.

And the season begins

Howdy!  It only seems like we didn’t do any gardening last year, because I never updated the blog.  We did grow plenty of vegetables, although the Back 40 garden was a complete disaster, overwhelmed by weeds.  I was also overwhelmed by a new job, hence no posts.  But we’re back, and this year there’s a new plan.

This year we are of course doing the usual in the front gardens:

Tomatoes 5-22
Tomato plants
Eggplants & peppers
Eggplants & peppers

These are the leftovers, which we will be giving away to friends and family.  Old MacDonald likes to have extras on hand, in case of premature vegetative death.  Or because he has the flats, so why not fill them?  I just nod and smile; as we all know, I don’t do the seeds.

Out back, though, we’ll be trying something new and different.  In previous years, the Back 40 has been a 25′ x 90′ monstrosity of a garden, where whatever is planted must survive on its own – we’ll weed, but we don’t water, and we’ll fence it to keep critters out but we don’t do much about the bugs.  Last year was such a disaster, weed wise, that we knew we had to do something different this year.  It was so bad we barely harvested anything from the gardens and I refused to go back there by late July because the conditions were so depressing.

This year we’re cutting that garden in half.  As much as we’d like to add to the square foot total of gardens, to make people question our sanity (go ahead, we do too!) – last year was depressing from a yield perspective and until we retire, we need to do what we can manage.  Its been reconfigured, too – a series of raised mounds of dirt to help create beds that can be mulched to keep down weeds:

The new Back 40 configuration
The new Back 40 configuration

We’ll fence it, as we always do, and we’re going to try putting down grass clippings as our mulch to control weeds and lock in moisture.  We’ll see how it goes.

No rest for the weary

We have had one heck of a winter in the Northeast this year.  Boston just broke its all-time snow record for the last 20 years over the weekend, and further out where we live it has been a banner year:

This was the first storm
This was the first storm

Of course, all that snow has to go somewhere, which in our case was a big pile next to the deck:

Mount Cocktail
Mount Cocktail

That’s a pre-Prohibition drink perched up on our hastily-assembled ice bar called Satan’s Whiskers.  Here’s the recipe:

1/2 oz. gin
1/2 oz. Grand Marnier
1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
1/2 oz. dry vermouth
1/2 oz. orange juice
Dash orange bitters

Old McDonald likes to stir the cocktail rather than shake it with ice.  Your mileage may vary.

Speaking of Old McDonald, he’s got a new hobby, and oh lucky me, it involves more boiling!  The new farming hobby is……wait for it…..maple sugaring.  We did the first part the weekend of March 13:

Drilling The tapEmpty single bagEmpty double bagsOf course, you drill the taps and set the bags, and then you get some warm days and this happens:

Full single bagSemi-full double bags40 gallons worth of that, as it happens, in just about 2 weeks.  40 gallons of sap is equivalent to about one gallon of syrup, or so we have read.  But to get to that syrup, first you have to boil it:

Boiling photo 1And boil it…..

Boiling photo 2And by the second weekend, you will decide that you should also have a propane burner to assist in the boiling, and to help your wife this summer, when she cans vegetables:

Boiling photo 3We are currently at about 2 gallons of not-quite syrup, waiting for its final boil.  It’s sitting in the fridge, because we ran out of time and daylight last weekend, and intend to follow up tomorrow, just in time to have it ready for Easter.  Of course, the homemade maple syrup needs a label:

Cocktail_Farmers_LogoI cannot even tell you how excited I am we’ve got a logo now, courtesy of Old McDonald and Adobe Illustrator.  I am going to get a coffee mug out of this entire endeavor if it kills me.

There are always a few surprises

We have always ordered our seeds from Pinetree seeds, in Maine.  We like them because they are a small company and they promote seeds with a good germination rate.  On the few occasions that the seeds do not do well, Pinetree either replaces your seeds or refunds your money. We’ve noticed that when we let them know about a problem, it is probably not limited to us because those types of seeds often disappear from the following year’s catalog.

Last year we ran into our first case of strange vegetables.  We had ordered more of the Mr. Big Pea and decided to try Sugar Snap peas as well.  We very carefully planted the seeds in specific rows, one type at a time.  The plants came up, and we had a mix – some were the Mr. Big Pea (shell peas), others were just Sugar Snap (pea pods.) Literally from one plant to the next they could be different.  We investigated – peas can cross-pollinate.  Lesson learned – we shrugged it off, ate what we liked, and froze the rest (mostly the pea pods.)  I had the thought of using them in a stir fry; I think we still have a few bags, a year later.  Clearly not popular with us.

This year something’s going on with the squash.  We’re growing yellow squash and zucchini; they are in the same area.  One yellow squash plant is producing these:

2014-08-13 19.16.25Now, you would think that it’s a cross-pollination issue, right?  Except that there is a type of squash that looks just like that, called a Zephyr squash.  We know this, because we grew it two years ago.  It was not a particularly disease-resistant plant, so we only grew it that one year.  So it could be cross pollination (both types of plants are in the same area) or it could be a Zephyr squash plant.  Which is essentially a cross-pollinated summer squash/zucchini whose seeds are saved.

Maybe we should start our own seed company with the offspring of all of our mistakes.

The end…..for now

Today I ate the last dozen or so Sungold tomatoes.  I would like to note that it is November, and this is amazing.  I would have documented the occasion, but I was at work and forgot my camera.  The garden kept going all the way through the second-to-last week of October, finally succumbing to a hard frost somewhere over the nights of October 23rd and 24th.  It was a fantastic run.  I can only tally what we canned or froze, but here’s where we stand in our first large-scale effort to preserve our harvest for later use:

  • 22 jars dill pickles
  • 5 jars bread and butter pickles
  • 12 jars sweet banana peppers
  • 4 jars green tomato chutney (hurrah!  A use for unripe green tomatoes at the end of the season!)
  • 56 cups of diced tomatoes
  • 8 bags of beans
  • 1 bag of peas
  • 3 bags of corn
  • 3 bags of peppers (jalapeno & Fooled You)

It was not a stellar year for either the peas or the corn – although we did eat some fresh – but it was an amazing year for tomatoes.  We boiled, peeled, seeded & diced those suckers in 2-cup increments and froze them for use in cooking.  We’ve already used about 9 bags so far, and the taste is so much better than even the canned organic tomatoes I normally buy.  However, all these frozen vegetables take up a bit of room, as you can see:

image

There’s no way to really calculate what we harvested and ate fresh – over the long weekend of Columbus Day, J harvested about 15 of our Bride eggplants, fire roasted them, and turned them into eggplant dip.  We ate one container, and froze the other two for future consumption as the recipe calls exclusively for Asian eggplants and we can’t get them around here unless we grow them.  So we’ll defrost that container, maybe for New Year’s, and think longingly of fresh summer vegetables. It’s just about enough time to have forgotten how hot and backbreaking it is to weed in the middle of summer.

Until next year……

CIMG6793

First harvest

Well, the first harvest has already happened:

image

The first planting of lettuce was a success, obviously. I can’t remember when exactly it was planted (mid- to- late April, maybe?) but it’s been cool and damp so it’s produced nicely. It also got much larger during the 90 degree heat snap we had last week, because this is what it looked like at the end of the week of May 17th:

CIMG6303

We picked enough for a salad for both of us, and while I was out there I noticed that the second planting has already started to sprout. It will be a while yet before anything else is ready. That’s ok, though, because when it comes, we usually get buried.  We’ll see if I am still so Zen about waiting in a few weeks, when it’s all weeding and no vegetables for our (my) efforts.

Done…..with planting

We finished planting this weekend, in some of the hottest weather we have seen this early in June. It felt unspeakably hot to be out there yesterday, but we persevered. The tally:

125 Mr. Big Peas
120 Sweet Peas
100 Royal Purple Bush Beans
48 Pole Beans
2nd planting of Sweet corn
7 Sugar Baby watermelon plants
4 Moon & Stars watermelon plants
8 Dill’s Atlantic Giant pumpkins
9 Amish pumpkins (those mysterious pumpkins from the purchase 2 years ago in upstate NY at an Amish farm stand)
8 Jack-Be-Little pumpkins
7 Orange Smoothies

And it look like this:

CIMG6323

…..which doesn’t look like much at this point. It joins the sweet potatoes, first corn planting (of a brand called Quickie; we’ll see if it lives up to it’s name) and sunflowers. No edible value to sunflowers, really (well, except the seeds) but we’ve always wanted to grow them so this year we finally got around to planting some.

This year we’ve fenced the entire garden. Last year we only fenced the peas, beans and corn, which worked out fine, but once the pumpkins, watermelons and winter squash had matured, something came through and sampled a little bit out of quite a few of the fruits. Plus, this year we have a turkey. We think it’s a female, but who can tell? (It could be a juvenile male. Only time will tell.) This turkey enjoys walking across the corn, and snoozing in the dirt mounds we created to plant the watermelons, squash and pumpkins. So up went the fence. Which works, because as I was finishing up the watering yesterday she walked out of the brush and right into the fence. Someone unhelpfully pointed out turkeys can fly. We’re hoping the dirt isn’t that appealing to her that she’ll fly over and end up stuck. Or knock the fence over.

What on earth…..?

Saturday night we arrived home from a day out to discover these plants in our mailbox:

CIMG6307

They were packaged up with moss around the roots, waxed paper around that, bound up with an elastic. I was mystified – what on earth had we ordered that would result in us being sent live plants?

Any guesses?

Sweet potatoes! We were astonished – all the other potatoes have arrived as tubers. We were even more astonished to have them arrive at the house, because both of us mistakenly believed we’d taken sweet potatoes off the order list because of their price. Apparently not, but this is a mistake I’m more than happy to live with.

This particular variety will produce potatoes that are between 2 -3 pounds if grown properly, and evidently do well in all types of soil, including very poor soil. Which is good, because we have a habit of benign neglect when it comes to our potatoes.

Looks good enought to eat

I have lots to say on the garden, now that it’s April, the seedlings are up, and we’ve put seeds in the ground.  However, it’s going to be a bit of time before we begin harvesting anything, so I decided to create a little summer harvest substitution:

You can read all about my current obsession with knit vegetables over on the other blog.  I am currently also working on an ear of corn.  Because why not?  J just shook his head when I bought the book on knitted vegetables (and I got one for knitted fruit, not that I am growing fruit – yet) but I came home yesterday and learned that he had ordered more tractor parts.  I would like to state for the record that my yarn takes up way less room – one small set of drawers in the family room.  Also, nobody ever exclaims how cute tractor parts are.  I’m just saying.