Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Easy Potato Harvest!

We grew a few different kinds of potatoes this year and in different ways. Recently we harvested our red potatoes which were grown in the most interesting way. This harvest was done with just my bare hands and I didn't even get very dirty! Here is one of the plants pulled up with the tubers underneath:


 These were grown in a small cinder block raised bed. The growing medium was not dirt. It was a soil-less mix of peat moss, rice hulls and other organic material. Since this medium is so loose, you can harvest these potatoes by just reaching into to mix.

It is pretty hard to show you what I mean in words or pictures, so here's a first for GardenDesk - a video!

It really is that easy. My favorite thing about harvesting in this way is that it is easy to steal away new potatoes any time while they're growing. I didn't get a video of that earlier in the year, but below is a good simulation. Ignore that the plant has died back. This technique worked the same way while the plants were growing.

I just reached in every so often and took a new potato without harming the plant.

So if this mix is so great, why isn't my whole garden like this? First of all, it is a bit expensive. More importantly, The mix dries out quickly and is really hard to keep watered while the plants are growing.

I actually found this mix last year and thought maybe it would be good to have many beds like this. Before buying too much, I conducted a side-by-side test comparing this mix with my regular raised bed of garden soil, compost and peat. I grew one tomato plant, one pepper plant and four cucumber plants in each 4 foot square bed. Here were the results - this first picture is early in the season:


At harvest time, it looked like this:


My normal soil is on the left, the soil-less mix is on the right. Both sides yielded about the same amount of produce, but the new mix dried out too much. I think you can tell that the cucumber vines in the back were a bit smaller. So last year I was a bit disappointed with the new mix.

This year I began dismantling the cinder blocks but ended up keeping the new mix side of the bed. I planted the potatoes on a whim and now this mix has new value to me. I think I will reserve it for root crops from now on. Maybe I will move it into the greenhouse. 


These reds are oh so delicious! For only 4 feet of growing, I can't complain with the amount we got, and harvesting as shown in the video is so easy. Forget the pitch fork! What fun. 

Monday, September 28, 2009

Old Friends, Yellow Tomatoes and Salsa!

My tomatoes didn't perform as well as I had hoped this year. We had plenty to eat fresh, but not enough to freeze or can any. There just weren't many tomatoes on each plant. I'll admit that I grew too many different heirloom varieties with too few plants of any one kind. There were never very many tomatoes of the same kind ripe at any given time.

Just as I thought we would not have any fresh garden salsa or spaghetti sauce this year, we ran into a dear old friend at the grocery. She only grew one kind of tomato and had a gazillion of them! She invited us over to pick some. Here is what we picked:

They were organically grown, and as you can see from the picture, they were yellow tomatoes. Could we still make salsa without red tomatoes? We were up to the challenge.

These friends are a generation older than me and were neighbors of mine growing up. More summer days as a boy were spent playing on their farm than at my own house, so it was great talking with them and catching up on how each other's families were doing. I think their gardens were the first I ever saw as a youngster. What used to be an acre or more of vegetables is now just a small plot, but they are still better gardeners with that tiny garden than I am with a larger one. Their 6 tomato plants produced far more than my 30 plants! That is a bit humbling for me, but I was so glad to get to see them (and glad to get the tomatoes!) We said our goodbyes and headed home to process the tomatoes!

It was getting late in the day already, so the whole family pitched in to make to work go faster. My daughters did a great job getting the skins off the tomatoes and cutting them up.

Renee and I mixed their bright yellow tomatoes in a large pot with the other salsa ingredients. It instantly smelled delicious. It didn't look quite as appetizing. The other ingredients changed the color to an orange-brown.

We canned 10 pints of this odd salsa as well as a few pints and a few quarts of yellow spaghetti sauce, which looked equally as strange.

The only thing that didn't look odd was one quart of plain tomatoes that we will use in chili.

That jar looked fairly pretty, but more resembled canned peaches than tomatoes. I wish we could have canned more of the plain tomatoes - now I'm sounding greedy.

It was quite a blessing to get these tomatoes in the first place, and to get to visit with the farmers who grew them.

By the way, although it looks odd, the salsa tastes great!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fall in the Garden

Now that it is officially Autumn in my garden, I have taken my Summer blinders off and noticed that it actually is beginning to look like Fall.

First Fall Foto 

The trees in the background are just beginning to turn colors. Several of the beds are empty now after their residents have been harvested. The white row cover in the middle is protecting new fall cabbage from those awful cabbage moths that produce the even more awful cabbage worms that I struggled with last Fall. Several beds have been re-seeded with lettuce and spinach.

All that's left to harvest from the Summer's bounty is sweet potatoes and the last of the green beans, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. Soon it will be time to turn our attention to the Fall/Winter crops in the  greenhouse.

I guess I must admit, Fall is actually here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Harvesting Vermicompost (Worm Castings)

Back in March, we began raising red worms in our kitchen with our new worm factory.


By April they were already having many little worm babies. We kept feeding them all summer and adding trays for them to expand into. We started with 1000 worms and by now I estimate that we have over 5000! They are hard to take pictures of because they don't like the light, but here is my best shot:


The best thing about raising worms inside is that they give you an easy way to recycle your kitchen vegetable scraps. They break down the veggies and create the best plant fertilizer on Earth - vermicompost!


Once again, this is not an easy thing to photograph. Here is a closer look at a smaller amount:


They look like coffee grounds but have no oder at all.  I was able to get quite a bit of these plant nutritious worm castings from the bottom tray which I will add to our new greenhouse growing beds.

After harvesting this compost, I created a new bedding environment for the worms to move into just like I detailed at the bottom of this previous post.

We really like having these worms. Have you ever raised worms or considered it? I recommend keeping worms to any avid gardener!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Oh Deer!

Twice now we have looked out the window and were surprised to see three young deer in our backyard. They eat a little from the tomatoes, a few leaves from the apple trees, and then just walk around aimlessly.

This one is looking at the tomatoes.

This one is leaving the apple tree.

I wonder if they lost their mother who should still be guiding them. You can still see their spots and they seem lost.

The funniest thing about their tour of the yard is that both times they have been very curious about the chickens. They stare at the coop and the chickens inside with puzzled looks.

They don't seem to be afraid of anything except when the chickens flap their wings. Both times the deer walked around a bit and then disappeared into the woods. They don't seem to be eating much from the garden.

I just hope they don't come back in the spring and eat everything! They are magnificent animals. For now we are content to just watch them when they come. Next spring will be another story!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Still picking green beans

With Fall almost here, there is not as much to harvest in the garden right now. But if you walk up the path between the chicken coop and the greenhouse, the first bed you come to is the green beans.

This bed gave us lettuce in early spring and then early potatoes in summer. The third planting was green beans, and now they are ready!

My wife and I picked a heaping bowl full of them. She also picked some late tomatoes. I only found one ripe tomato from my topsy turvy. When I carried it in with the beans, it looked like a green bean sundae!

With this heaping bowl of beans, we froze 5 quarts and made 5 pints of Dilly Beans. We have never tried pickled green beans before, so we only made a small batch.

If we like them enough, we will make a lot more next summer.

Since green beans are probably the easiest thing to grow in the garden, I don't know why I don't plant more. Next year!

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