Sunday, July 29, 2012

End of July Garden Chores

Although I spent several hours working in the garden yesterday, there was still quite a bit to do today.  Here are a few of today's garden chores:
  • I turned the compost.   I do this by pulling Geoffrey's stakes out of the ground, carefully pulling  him up over the compost and moving him over a few feet.  Then I use a garden fork to scoop all the compost back into Geoffrey, only upside down, so the newer stuff goes on the bottom and the older stuff ends up at the top.  This took about an hour today, because there is a lot of compost.  The older stuff is decomposing pretty nicely, although there are a few twigs and other larger pieces that still haven't broken down.
Geoffrey, before turning
  • Transplanted a few plants that weren't doing well in their current locations.  A few weeks ago I stopped by a nursery and picked up a few plants (two bell peppers and an eggplant) that were on sale because it was really late in the season for buying transplants.  I figured they probably didn't have a great chance of survival but they were cheap so I decided to take my chances.  At that time, the zucchini and squash were mammoth so there was no room in the veggie plot for them, so I planted the peppers in pots.  One of the bell peppers was doing okay as was the eggplant, but the other bell pepper is withering away.  Since I had cleared up a lot of space in the plot by removing the zucchini plant, I decided to move the dying bell pepper to the veggie plot to see if that might save it. I turned the soil with my garden fork and added some fertilizer and manure, moved the pepper and sprayed it with some fish fertilizer.  I also moved another pepper from a pot to the other side of the veggie plot, because it wasn't growing well in the pot.
  • Planted some onions and carrots.  Since there was plenty of room around the newly transplanted pepper plant, I sewed several onion sets and carrot seeds.  So far none of the carrots I've tried to plant have come up - either they never germinated or they never grew bigger than a few centimeters.  But, I'm going to keep trying until I get it right. 
  • Harvested four hot peppers and two small onions.  My last attempt at harvesting onions produced a handful of tiny, stunted specimens, which I decided to call "red scallions."  
 

This time, I got two slightly larger onions, which gave me a bit more hope for the next set of onions I just planted.  I also planted a few more onion sets in the area where I harvested the two onions.
  • Watered the tomato pots with water from the rain barrel.  After a long dry spell, we are finally getting some rain these past couple of weeks.  So I've been able to use the water from the rain barrel quite a few times.  Since it's situated right at the end of tomorrow pot alley, I like to use it to water those pots. 
 

I've developed a system now using two alternating watering cans - I let one fill up while I'm using the other to water the pots and then I switch back and forth.  That way, I don't have to keep turning the rain barrel spigot on and off when I fill up the watering can.
 
However, only three beans have come up out of about the 12-15 seeds I planted.  I realized today when I looked more closely, that the pot was extremely water logged.  Evidently, there weren't enough holes drilled in the bottom for the water to drain properly.  When I tipped the pot over, a huge amount of water came pouring out the top and down my driveway.  I brought out my drill and drilled some more holes in the bottom (which is tricky to do with a huge pot filled with wet soil and bean seedlings that you don't want to kill).  I don't know if the seedlings will survive.  I planted a few more bean seeds for good measure, although it may be too late in the season to start beans.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Life, Death and Ratatouille

It's been quite a week in the garden.  Exciting news: last week, I enjoyed my first tomato sandwich with ripe tomatoes straight from the garden:


on my homemade squash bread:


And a dab of light mayo, salt and pepper:


A few days later, I got a slightly larger harvest of tomatoes, along with a green pepper, parsley, oregano, basil ...


 A couple of zucchini and a mystery squash.


I decided it was just enough for a side dish of ratatouille, to go along with the chicken Parmesan that the MOTH was making for dinner that night.  I sauteed some onion, garlic, along with the green pepper:


Then I added the zucchini and squash and sauteed that for a while:


I pureed the tomatoes, and added them to the saute along with the parsley, oregano and basil:


And let it simmer for a while until all the flavors had melded:


It was really delicious.

As you know, I wasn't entirely happy with the squash bread (made from the mystery squash), so this morning I harvested a few more squash and made some banana-squash bread and muffins:


Sadly, while harvesting the squash, it became clear to me that the garden had experienced some serious casualties.  As I previously reported, the zucchini plant had been attacked by some kind of insect (squash borer maybe), which basically chewed through the vines.  I tried to save it, but evidently, the infestation was too great and the zucchini had become completely separated from its roots.  Also, the infestation had spread to the mystery squash plant.  Today, I spent several hours removing the zucchini and cutting out the affected areas of the squash.  Here is a photo of the utterly revolting culprits and some of the devastation they have wrought:

Piece of Zucchini vine with disgusting murderous attacker

Close-up of the culprit
I found dozens of these nasty monsters throughout the both the Zucchini and the Squash plants.  I dug them out of the vines and shmooshed every single one of them I could find - they made a horrible popping sound (or maybe I just imagined the sound, but it was definitely a popping sensation), which was actually more disgusting than satisfying.  Each time I came across another one as I went through my poor plants, I literally shuddered and said things like "oh my god, ahhhh!" out loud.  It was the most disgusting day in the garden by far!

In the end, I salvaged one last zucchini and a few remaining squash and squash blossoms:


The Zucchini plant is completely dead and has been removed.  I also removed most of the squash plant, but left two vines that might stand a chance of surviving.  We will see.

In addition to the last of the zucchini harvest and what may well be the last of the squash harvest, I also harvested a bunch of basil (which I will puree and freeze for future use):


In addition, I spent several hours pruning and tying up the tomato plants, which are growing like crazy in this heat and have started to tip over again.  I ended up pruning off several branches of tiny green tomatoes, so I'm going to see if I can find some recipe to use those in:


As well as a bunch of ripe tomatoes - a combination of Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes and Early Treat Hybrid tomatoes:


Still pondering what to make with today's harvest.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Squash!

Okay, so even though no one responded to my stupid question of the day to help me identify what the heck kind of squash I'm growing, in my garden, I'm not bitter!  I harvested the first of the mystery squash yesterday, along with some more hot peppers and my very sad, pathetic attempt at beets:

You can sort of make out the tiny, stunted beet at the end of one of the plants.  The other one doesn't have any beet at all (like me - ha ha - you know, cause I'm white - sigh).  I will probably just use the greens in a saute.  I have planted some more recent beet seeds in pot - they have started to sprout, so I will see if I have more luck with them.

Anyway, I made a stuffed squash dish last night by cutting the squash in half, steaming it for a few minutes, making a stuffing out of the squash innards, bread crumbs, herbs, Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, garlic, etc.  Then stuffing the squash halves and baking them in the oven for about 25 minutes.  Frankly, it wasn't a huge hit.  A little bland.  I need to find some more interesting recipes.

Today, I harvested three more of the squash:


And, after running some searches on line for different recipes, decided to make some squash bread.

First, I cut the squash in half and steamed it in the microwave:


Then scooped out the squash, mashed it and mixed with the batter:


Added flour, kneaded it, and then covered it and let it sit for a while:


After it sat for a couple of hours, I kneaded it some more, and divided it into two portions.  The first, I formed into a loaf and put in a baking tin:


I covered that and let it sit for another hour or so to rise some more:


The other portion, I just put back in the bowl to sit for a while.  I ended up freezing that to bake another time:

I baked the first batch for about 35 minutes and put it on a rack to cool:

It looks really good.  After it cooled a little, we cut a piece off the end and ate it with a little butter.  Honestly, we were both like - meh.  It's okay.  It's always nice to have fresh warm bread.  But it doesn't have a ton of flavor.  It's sort of just okay.

I really need to figure out some better recipes for this squash, because there are a lot of them on that plant.

I even took the trouble to clean off all the squash seeds and roast them with olive oil and salt in the oven. 

And, although I thought they were fine, the Moth wasn't not particularly taken with those either.

I think the lesson is - you can't just walk into a nursery and buy any old veggie plant, thinking it's going to taste fine.  If I'm going to devote the limited space to my garden to a huge squash plant, it better be an awesome squash.  Plus, I need better recipes.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Stupid Question Day: What Kind of Squash is This?

Okay, I am going to admit right upfront that I feel incredibly stupid for asking this question.  After all, I bought the little squash plant from a nursery and intentionally planted it in my veggie garden:

A couple of weeks after transplanting
I have lovingly watched over it and cared for it for weeks, as it grew into this monster:



I protected it from leaf-eating groundhogs:


I've watched the squashes grow from little tiny acorn-shaped nuggets into this:


But, I'm not actually sure what type of squash it is.  You see, I just bought the plant on impulse, along with the zucchini plant, while I was at the nursery.  I wasn't even planning to grow squash this year.  I didn't bother to ask what type of squash it was, nor do I recall it coming with any descriptive information.  I've run some google image searches for different types of summer squash, but haven't found anything that looks exactly like this.  The closest I could find is a round zucchini squash, but these look lighter and more "scalloped" than the other images I've seen.  Does anyone know what type of squash is growing in my garden?  Also, how big should it be when I pick it?

Thanks!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pesto Chicken and Sauteed Zucchini-Pepper

Today, I harvested three Zucchini and a hot pepper.  But, most importantly, I harvested my first ripe tomato!

Okay, he's tiny.  But he's cute!
I decided to make some sauteed zucchini, orange peppers and tomatoes as a side dish along with the organic chicken breast I had marinated overnight in homemade pesto sauce.

I chopped up the zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and some basil to season the vegetables.

 

I started out by sauteeing onions and garlic in one pan (to go with the vegetables):


Meanwhile, I sauteed the shallots in a second pan (to go with the chicken):


Then, I added the some fresh chopped basil and hot pepper to the veggie pan:


And started browning one side of the marinated chicken breast in the other pan with the shallots:


Then, I added the orange peppers to the onions, garlic, pepper, and basil:


I continued to brown the other side of the chicken:


I added the sliced zucchini and the rest of the fresh basil to the veggie pan:


I added some more basil sauce to the chicken along with homemade stock:


Then, I added chopped tomatoes to the veggie pan, along with 3 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce, a half teaspoon of sugar, and a dash of salt and pepper:


We had some leftover new potatoes from the other night, which I heated up and served with the chicken and veggies:


For dessert, we had the rest of the berry crumble I made a couple of days ago from a Martha Stewart recipe.  Her recipe was for blackberry crumble, but I made it with a mixture of blueberries and strawberries:


Although, I'm not generally a huge fan of berry desserts (I'm a chocolate person), this berry crumble was incredibly delicious.  I will definitely be making it again.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Veggie Garden Update

I got a lot done in the garden this morning, and finished up by about 2:00pm, right before it started raining.  Yay - it has been pretty dry so I am glad to see some rain.

First, the tomatoes needed some pruning and staking.   The row of tomatoes along the back of the veggie plot are supported by just a rough homemade bamboo frame (made out of bamboo stakes stuck into the ground with a couple of bamboo "cross-beams" running horizontally).  Since there is nothing to attach the frame to the side of the house, the weight of the tomatoes is starting to pull the frame over.  I should have taken a photo of it earlier - you can kind of see in this older photo how the plants are starting to list to the left.


The vines have been growing like crazy in the heat, so I needed to pinch off many of the suckers (which grow in the crooks between the main vine and the leaves).  Some of them had grown quite large, so I felt bad about pruning them but it had to be done.  I needed to figure out some way to support the bamboo stakes so they would sit a bit more upright.  So I tied the right side of the bamboo frame to a pipe that sticks out from the side of the house.


Then I took an old metal stake that I found rusting in the backyard when we  moved in to the house and hammered into the left side of the plot and tied it to the bamboo frame on that side.


So far, this seems to be working.  We will see what happens as the tomatoes continue to grow:

slightly more upright
I also pruned the tomatoes in Tomato Pot Alley and added some fertilizer to each of the plants.


The extra orange bucket you see there is filled with water mixed with the tomato clippings I pruned today.  We read that water steeped with tomato clippings makes a good insect repellant.  After it steeps for a while, we will drain it and put it into spray bottles to spray on the plants to keep bugs away.

While I was pruning and staking the tomatoes, I noticed this:

One of the tomatoes is starting to ripen!
And this:

Another ripening tomato!

Second, I continued my cleaning up of the veggie plot by removing a bunch of the marigold plants.  You may recall that when I first planted the marigolds (which I did to deter insects from eating my veggie plants), they looked like this:


But, before long, they turned into this:


In other words, many of the marigolds have been completely overtaken by the other plants.  I was planning to just pull a bunch of them out and discard them, but for whatever reason, the Moth has developed an affection for them and wanted me to save them - despite the fact that we have more than enough marigolds in containers on our front steps:

The Marigolds are just there to protect the basil plants I have growing in containers
So, I pulled four of the marigold plants out of the veggie plot and transplanted them into a pot, which is now at the corner of our walkway, leading up to the front door:


After clearing out the veggie plot, and harvesting yet more of the basil plants, the peppers are finally getting a little room to breath.  I noticed that some of the hot peppers were bowing over a little, so I hammered a couple of bamboo stakes into the ground and tied them up:


I just use ordinary twine (which I cut into pieces from large ball)
to tie up my tomatoes and peppers
More peppers being staked:




And some new teeny purple peppers on one of my black pearl pepper plants:

Kissed by raindrops (yes, I'm poetic)

Another more disturbing thing I discovered while I was doing all this pruning and cleaning is that the stems of my zucchini plant (closest to the ground) looked as though someone had been chewing on them.  After some internet research, I realized this was probably not a furry pest, but an insect.  Maybe a cucumber beetle or squash vine borer.  There's a lot of different advice on how to combat them, but this is what I decided to do in the end:

I cut into the affected area with a sharp knife.  Any disgusting insects that crawled out (of which there were many) I shmooshed and killed.  Then, I sprinkled the vine with Diamotaceous Earth (which I had purchased on Amazon previously because I read it was a good insect repellant and/or killer).  Then, I sprayed with hot pepper spray, buried the vines with moist soil and then sprinkled again with DE. This is how the area looked after all of my machinations. 



I hope I'm not too late and the evil bugs have not already killed my plant.  We will see.  For good measure, I sprinkled the rest of the veggie plot, including the squash plant, with DE and sprayed some hot pepper spray.  Of course, a couple of hours later it rained, so it may all have to be reapplied.

Finally, I pulled up some very small onions that I have interplanted throughout the garden:


I was hoping they would be a bit bigger by now, but - okay - we will just call them red scallions.  How about that?  They are supposed to cure for a while before using - at least according to the internet.  Although, since I'm not exactly planning to store them for the long cold winter (this about half of the amount of onion I use for one dish) I'm not really sure if that step is necessary.