Friday, July 29, 2011

comfrey tea

at this time of year my plants seem to need a little boost, especially my container plants.

i planted comfrey last year after I read that is was a good source of nitrogen and potash and could be made into a valuable plant food that is ideal for potatoes and fruiting plants like tomatoes and peppers. it can also be used as a foliar feed.

comfrey also works as a compost activator, and if added to a compost heap it will help speed up the composting process as well as adding its nutrients to the compost.

comfrey tea

1.harvest your comfrey. comfrey is a very vigorous plant. once it has established in your garden, you will be able to harvest the leaves several times throughout the growing season. simply cut the leaves right back and gather them up.
2.put the comfrey in a container. to make liquid feed from your comfrey, you will need a container with a lid. if it has a tap as well, that makes life easier later on. stuff your comfrey leaves into the container -- cram in as many as you can.
3.put a stone on top of the leaves to weigh them down.
4.don't add water. many recipes for making comfrey tea advise adding water, but when comfrey leaves rot down in water, they make a horrible smell. if you don't add water, the leaves will still rot down
5.put the lid on to keep rain and bugs out.
6.wait 6 weeks. comfrey leaves will take a few weeks to rot down -- you can keep checking on the progress, but expect it to be about 6 weeks before they're finished decomposing.
7.drain off the liquid. it will look a little like a dark brown syrup and have very little odor.
8.add the remains of the rotted comfrey leaves to the compost.
9.start again. if your comfrey plant has grown a new crop of leaves, then you can start the process over.
10.use your feed. your comfrey liquid needs to be watered down 15:1 before use. it is high in potassium, and makes an excellent feed for flowers, tomatoes, peppers, or any fruiting plant. water plants directly with the diluted tea or place in a spray bottle and give plants a foliar feed. i look forward to trying this with my house plants this winter.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Savoring the fruits

I have to admit that the sweltering temperatures in recent weeks have greatly diminished my garden time to actually, well, almost nothing. Except for strolls about the garden and general looking around. No, my husband has been the diligent one, enduring the heat, checking the tomatoes, removing the bugs, pulling weeds, and bearing the patient task of watering. And I have felt somewhat guilty in my lack of attention.
But then the other night in "The Shape of a Year" (a book Shari gave me) I read how this time is "the season of savoring the fruits." Jean Hersey goes on to say that our hurried springtime race to get things in the ground has relaxed. The garden "rolls along" now, and for better or worse it's pretty much what it is going to be.
So I think maybe the garden doesn't really need us busying ourselves as much right now, (other than watering, and checking, and harvesting.) Maybe our gardens just want the attention of our gaze. Maybe for a while we simply savor and appreciate the successful harvests (and perhaps even those that failed) and be very grateful.

I thought I'd share a few of my favorite things in the garden, here as we find ourselves already at the end of July.

One of our edamame patches. Last year was the first year we planted edamame and really enjoyed them so this year we planted three patches, at different times so hopefully we'll have steady picking. The plants have proven to be very heat tolerant.
edamame pods growing
One of our green bean patches, with pepper plants behind it. We're growing two bush bean varieties, including flat Italian. When the plants were just popping up from the ground there were a few rabbits that plowed them down. So the fence is to keep out those munchers!
I think these lilac peppers are so pretty.
To me, it just isn't summer without okra.
Nor do flower bouquets seem as cheery without zinnias. I love having them and they seem to love me picking them, because they just keep blooming.
Last night's supper with yellow squash, okra, peperoncinis, roma tomatoes, and basil from the garden. Yum!

What are you savoring from your garden?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

basil lime soda and a half-eaten tomato

mammoth basil

purple petra basil

cinnamon basil

genovese basil

when it's too hot to cook, one of my favorite ways to enjoy the season's bounty is homemade soda.  i think i got the idea a few years ago when i first heard of rhubarb soda.  since then, i've tried my hand at mint, raspberry, ginger, and sour cherry sodas.  they have all been delicious and i highly recommend making yourself some soda to enjoy on a hot summer afternoon.  last summer at our local farmer's market, one of my favorite food vendors was serving a basil lime soda.  after getting over the initial weirdness of drinking basil, i tried it and was hooked for the rest of the summer.

basil lime soda

like amy, my basil is growing wild these days and i thought i'd try to make my own basil lime soda.  this spring i planted seeds from the "dolce vita blend" by botanical interests, so i currently have a variety of lime, lemon, cinnamon, purple petra, genovese, and mammoth basils.  i used a combination in this syrup recipe (though, i think the lime flavor is so overpowering that it's hard to tell which basils i used). once you've made the syrup, add as much as you like (approximately one tablespoon) to a glass and fill with soda water.  in the fridge, the syrup should keep for at least a few weeks.

on an unrelated note, i found this on my balcony monday morning:

it seems to the work of a certain four-legged bushy-tailed critter.  last summer i lost almost all of the few tomatoes i had to squirrels and i was hoping to avoid that fate again this year.  any tips?  i've tried sprinkling cayenne pepper to deter rabbits, does it work for squirrels too? help! 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

controlling pests

i might be the only gardener out there that sinks into a deep, dark hole when pests begin taking control of the garden. thoughts like, "why do i even spend my time doing this?!" and "i hate my life!" are pretty common when i find holes in leaves or shriveled fruit on the vine. thankfully, the garden is a team-effort & my husband is much more level-headed.

well, a similar episode occurred in the garden this weekend. we left for a family reunion & returned only two days later to an aphid & caterpillar attack! usually, aphids (pictured above) are not so bad. in our case, we were not so lucky. thousands of aphids took cover under our lush pumpkin leaves & began their trek of multiplication toward our butternut & acorn squash plants. after a minor panic attack on my part, my husband & i took action.

making a clean cut with our pocket knife, we removed every leaf & blossom within contact of the aphids. i noticed two pumpkins that were beginning to shrivel on the vine. after much research on aphids, i found that aphids can carry viruses that will stunt the growth of various fruits, especially squash & melon. another interesting observation was the pack of ants hovered around the aphids. although at the time we believed the ants were on our side, they actually act as a protector for aphids. aphids & ants have a working partnership... how frustrating! a great way to prevent aphids is actually to rid your garden of ants, too. creating an insecticidal soap or garlic spray will do the job, too.

unfortunately, our pest issues were not over. after our episode with aphids, we soon noticed caterpillar droppings on the leaves of our tomato plants. we took action immediately, checking each leaf & stem of our tomatoes.

we found five caterpillars & squished them relentlessly as they cried, "mercy!"

the moral of the story is, of course, keeping a close eye on your garden as a key to controlling pests. that, & keeping an insecticidal soap close by just in case aphids begin taking refuge under your beautiful pumpkin leaves.

recipe for insecticidal soap
1 to 2 tablespoons liquid soap
1 to 2 heads of garlic
1 quart of water

mix & add to a spray bottle clearly labeled.

Monday, July 25, 2011

around the garden: successes

it's so easy for something to go wrong in the garden. there's the weather, first and foremost. some days it seems like if we need rain we get unrelenting sunshine and even if it does rain, we get hail instead of a nice summer shower. the early spring had me doubting whether anything would grow, but i'm back to share with you some of our garden successes. i hope you'll share a few of yours with me, too.

hot portugal

so let's talk peppers for a moment. we haven't really had any luck growing green peppers here in vermont. i think the growing season is too short. this year, we decided to focus most of our energy on hot peppers. our hot portugal peppers (pictured above) and our hungarian hot wax are both doing beautifully.

garden lesson: to save on disappointment and seed costs, plant what does well in your area. take notes. if green peppers don't want to grow after several seasons, adapt your garden plan.

tall tomato plants

and now, i'm going to contradict myself because while i'm completely happy to let my local farmers grow green peppers, i will never give up on growing tomatoes. to me, it wouldn't be summer without tomatoes in my backyard. we've had mixed luck with them in vermont (including one brutal season of late blight), but i'm happy to report that this year, we have strong, healthy tomato plants.

garden lesson: grow what you love. try blight resistant varieties (read those seed catalogs!) and be vigilant. a daily walk through your garden may help to avert a disaster.

our broccoli harvest

okay, now this is my favorite success story. sure, we've grown broccoli in the past but usually it's been nothing but a battle with cabbage worms. this year, not the case. i'm not even sure what we did differently. i am in LOVE with this variety, and of course, i want to share it with you. this, my friends, is an organic hybrid called fiesta. it can tolerate cold and heat, produces gorgeous heads, and i've heard it produces plentiful side shoots. the only downside to this variety is that you can't save seed because it's a hybrid. however, it's the best broccoli we've ever grown so i'm making notes to buy more seeds next year.

garden lesson: try new varieties. take notes to remember what performed well. celebrate the harvest by making a special supper with your homegrown produce.

mexican sour

i think i'm the most excited right now by this new variety of cucumber we're growing. this is the mexican sour gherkin that i first read about over at you grow girl. they are tiny cucumbers with a beautiful pattern on their skin much like a watermelon. the vines are thin and fragile but they seem to be producing a ton of cucumbers. we're excited to try these.

Friday, July 22, 2011

evening in the garden

these past few days have been hot.
really hot!

i haven’t been spending too much time in the garden for fear I just might melt.
in this kind of heat i like to save time in the evening for the garden.

as the sun goes down it’s hard not to admire the light, and the shadows.

in the evening everything seems to have a magical hue. petals and leaves seem to glow.

i pick a bouquet for the table to enjoy at breakfast.

and grab a bedtime snack.

good night!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

scenes from my community garden

potato towers

bull nose bell pepper

tiger's eye dry beans

ace bush

african crackerjack marigold

cherokee purple

lettuce gone to seed

i'll admit that i haven't been the best at keeping up with both of my gardens.  i've been extremely busy these past few weeks, and it's been particularly hot and rainy (meaning that i don't have to get over there to water and that it's been extremely unpleasant to be outdoors these past few days).  so this afternoon, with a slight break in the heat, i decided i'd better go check on how things were progressing over there.  i clearly need to weed badly, but otherwise, i am really excited about all the growth that's taken place over the past week and a half since i was over there last.  beans are growing, cucumbers and squash and melons are flowering, potato towers are towering, tomatoes are exploding with blossoms and big green tomatoes, peppers are emerging, and lettuce is going to seed.  i am beyond excited that it truly does look like this is going to be my best tomato year yet (heck, i'm pretty sure it's going to be my best garden year yet!).

despite how well things are growing, i definitely will need to make some time over the next few days for a little bit of maintenance.

do you have more than one garden? how do you balance your time between them?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

soaker hose for the garden

we just recently added soaker hoses to our garden. after spending every day watering our garden for an hour, making sure not to water any of the foliage as to prevent certain plant diseases, it was a huge relief to add this time-saving system to our day.

do you have a soaker hose or drip tape in your garden? we opted for the soaker hose because it allows for the hose to wrap around plants, unlike drip tape which is better for large-scale agriculture & production farms. both are wonderful ways of irrigating, though. they both are fairly affordable, prevent most of foliage from getting wet & save water.

we purchased two hoses for $10 each. we used our gardening hose & a 2-way hose connector to connect the soakers.

then, we wrapped the soaker hose around each base of the plant. we made sure it was secure by adding soil around some sides of the hose.

the areas that were hanging between the two beds were covered in duct tape & electrical tape to keep them from leaking. although not as aesthetically pleasing as i would like, it works well by not watering the grass.

this system is working so well for our small garden. the time that we spent watering is now spent weeding, pruning & enjoying our hard work.

Monday, July 18, 2011

three sisters and a few thoughts on weeding

three sisters

about 1/4 of our field garden is set aside for a three sisters planting. my husband is a bit obsessed with this idea. the three sisters garden is an old native american concept where corn, squash, and beans are grown together. the beans twine themselves up and around the corn and the squash provides a lovely but prickly ground covering underneath to help the soil retain moisture and also to deter raccoons from going after your ears of corn. beans add nitrogen to the soil and help nourish the other plantings. the three sisters are planted in mounds with corn in the center and beans planted in a circle around the corn. squash, zukes, or pumpkins are planted on the sides of the corn mounds.

this is our second year planting a three sisters garden. last year we had poor soil and because of this we had trouble growing anything other than a few zucchini. it's working beautifully this year due to our soil amendments. this photo is about two weeks old, and the corn is really towering over the beans now and the squash/zukes/pumpkins are filling in nicely. i can't wait to see what this area of our garden looks like in just a few weeks.

i wanted to briefly talk about weeding. as you may notice in some of my photographs, our weed problem is a bit out of control. this field garden is constantly trying to return itself to its former state, and we don't have the time to keep the weeds under control. recently, i had a bit of an epiphany. i'm trying a little experiment by weeding only the tops of the raised beds and letting the pathways and sides of the beds go wild. i decided to do this because i noticed that the plants in the field garden look really strong and don't have much insect damage. i have a suspicion that the weeds are creating a little ecosystem with beneficial insects that are taking care of the garden pests. plus, i love that we have daisies, st. john's wort (!) and other wild meadow plants growing in and around our garden beds. i'll be sure to let you know what i think of this approach to weeding at the end of the season.

are you familiar with the three sisters?