Gardening: preparing my fall garden

22 09 2013

A lot has happened since I first started a garden. I have learned a lot, I have experienced the length of the growing season and started to ponder how to more intelligently garden. I have learned that most fruits have hairs but they are removed before they make it to the store, that the tomatoes trichomes hold the smell I like so well but also can sting and give me a rash if I get enough of them on me, and that bell peppers are expensive because they take forever to be ripe. Also, I am not a sentimental gardener, I found myself not feeling bad about cutting down plants I found of no use anymore.

 

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Radish plants, lovely and so delicious!

As the Summer officially came to an end with Labor Day and the temperatures dropped, days became shorter and plants started to struggle, I decided that it was time to plan the fall garden. So I set to research about what grows in colder temperatures, what do we like and what seeds I could find. I got arugula, spinach, lettuce, radish and peas… just because it was about the only things from my list I could find at our local Home Depot. I heartlessly tore down the plants that were not producing anymore, gone were my eggplants (which never produced!), two tomato plants from which I took green tomatoes which were not turning red and rotting instead, the corn that was standing pretty but dead, and put them all in a pile of debris that I believe is the composting pile of the communal garden. I also readjusted the support of the bell peppers and took off the floral heads that were coming in, they take so long in maturing that there is no way that any flower I have now will become a pepper, so I rather the plant to invest its energy in getting the peppers I have ready for the kitchen. I worked for about an hour in tearing down the plants, taking roots out of the ground, and raking the dirt. Then planted my seeds and strawberry runners.

 

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Likely, Ignacio’s plot will turn into a strawberry patch, I don’t think he’ll object.

 

 

The radishes grow fast! In three weeks I had tiny little plants ready to harvest. But surprise! No nice red radishes, which might be a problem of crowding. So we just ate the greens, now I have second set getting ready more spaced out, if again I have no red radishes underground it might be a problem of the soil, which I need to amend. I had already tried the lettuce, spinach and arugula, but the temperatures kept spiking here and there and nothing was growing, plus the tomatoes kept shading them and it seems that not enough sun was coming through. Now, I am just waiting, hearing the rain fall while I dream of chemically free grown spinach and arugula in my salads.

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This is how the garden looks in preparation for fall.

 

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Gardening. End of the Summer thoughts.

6 08 2013

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Our very first harvest! Promising!

I started my garden in May, a couple of killer frosts came by and hurt some plants. So I started over with those plants. As a first time gardener, I am learning that gardening is dynamic, that you can continue working on it through the summer for a fall crop, and I really like that.

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One of our midsummer harvests. That night dinner was awesome.

So, what have I learned from this season? Some plants are extremely sensitive to low temps, it does not need to freeze for them to be lost. Okra and cucumbers are in this group, next year I’ll wait until the temperatures stabilize, even if that means waiting “too long”. Likewise, high temperatures can be damaging for plants, even those that like it hot. We had a two week period of very high temperatures that did not even let go through the night (86 F at 9 PM!?) and this stopped production, blossoms fell, new flowers did not show up. Now that the summer is cooling off my plants are starting to make some more flowers. It might be profitable to find a mixture of varieties that can tolerate different temperatures in the future, to get fruit all through the season.

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Diseased zucchini, powdery mildew… boo!

I am disappointed at my zucchini. I’ve heard so much that you get so tired of eating zucchini, that they produce so much! That I was really excited about eating zucchini all summer long. Sadly, I only got two very small fruits. Looking around the other plots, they also got either very little or nothing. Asking other gardeners in Pittsburgh, they agree, this year they didn’t get anything much. I guess it was either the very high temperatures or the too abundant rains we got in mid summer. On top of that, my plant got a case of powdery mildew, so I removed it to free up some space.

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Bacterial wilt. My cucumbers never filled in.

My cucumbers also didn’t fare well. The first plant got killed by a late frost, the second had a slow start because of low temperatures, but then it started to grow nicely, set blooms and produce fruit. But then it started to wilt, and no matter how much I’d water it, it would wilt again after not too long. I looked around and again I saw that other plants in other plots were suffering a similar fate. It happens that they got bacterial wilt, likely transmitted by cucumber beetles. So I removed that plant too.

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Cucumber beetles. Pretty, but harmful.

The tomatoes were an interesting bunch. I got an Early Girl, a Patio and a grape variety. Though the Patio and Early Girl started to bloom and produce fruit at about the same time, the Early Girl was ripe and ready sooner, the fruits are good, sweet tasting, they mature quite uniformly and are juicy! The plant is a little sick to judge for those yellowish leaves, though. But it is a plant I would consider planting again. The Patio variety was disappointing. The plant looks robust and beautiful, but it produced very little and small fruit, and the fruit bruises easily, I’ve even had a couple of tomatoes that rotted before being ripe! I understand its charm is that it can be planted in a container, but I will probably not plant it again. The grape tomatoes are still blooming and going strong. I love to have a bunch in the kitchen to snack here and there while I cook… my little guilty pleasure 🙂 Next year I would like to experiment with a second crop to have some fall tomatoes too, I don’t think I have enough time this year to do so.

Now I am about to plant my fall harvest. I am excited about it and I hope it works out well. We got some lettuce (which did really bad through the summer indoors and outdoors), spinach, arugula, radish and peas. So much learning to do! This is seriously a lot of fun!





Updates on gardening

25 06 2013

After having lost one cucumber and one okra plant, temperatures finally settled and Summer started… sort of. We still have a lot of fluctuations, some cold days, some really hot days, but no more freezing. We just had a couple of very rainy weeks and the result was tomatoes on steroids! The plants are so big that I had to cut one down because it got larger than the cage and I was afraid the branches were too heavy for them to have enough support.

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Huge tomatoes, caged zucchini, and lots of goodness to come!

I also decided to cage the zucchini plant. I know it is not a very orthodox move (do you cage zucchini?) but I needed to get it out of my peppers, cucumbers and eggplants. It is now growing upwards inside the cage, I just have to give it gentle nudges to keep the leaves inside every few days. An interesting side effect of being inexperienced about anything is that sometimes you come up with solutions that are not the norm, will they work? only time will tell. For example, I realized that the second cucumber plant I planted was not a bush like my first choice, but a vine… surprise! So I got a bamboo rod and I am getting it to climb up along it. My husband told me you normally have them in a trellis, but maybe this will work, what do you think?

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A friend of mine passed me some chives, which are happily rooting in Ignacio’s plot, and I started some lettuce inside. That proved to be more challenging than what I thought. My first batch got burnt by the sun one particularly hot day, so my next batch I move around for it to get good morning sun but not to get too hot afternoon sun… Ignacio is delighted watering them. The second challenge is that the cats find them yummy. Yesterday I started a second batch outside, because I want to see how they do outside compared with inside and because everybody is of the idea that having a succession of seeds started every two weeks is best.

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I put the chives in water until the rains passed and I could go out in the garden and plant them. They performed really well.

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Lettuces in a pot, the leaves are super pretty too!

The tomatoes are full of fruits, all of them green. The peppers are too fruiting… today Ignacio sneaked away and took my first pepper way before its time. I was rather sad… I really was looking forward to eating that yellow pepper :/ we ate it anyway, but it was not fleshed out, not good tasting… meh. Next one will be.

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That little pepper? It is no more.

I am so excited about all the plants doing so well I even got another okra to give it a try again now that the frost is not a danger anymore. My husband gave me a bunch of gardening books for my birthday and I am really looking forward the next growing season so I can actually plan a garden to get started early and have a good harvest season early on.

What do you like to plant best? Ideas?





We are eating our back yard!!

29 05 2013

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The cutest helping hands ever!

Our apartment complex did something wonderful and prepared raised beds for the tenants, we requested one and they even made a little plot for our two year old! He is so excited about it! I think this is such a wonderful experience for all of us, not only we get to eat fresh veggies but he also will learn a lot about nature, gardening and responsibly taking care of plants.

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You cannot get any more local than this!

I have never gardened before, so this is a learning experience for me too. So far I’ve had herbs and other plants in pots, our tomatoes attempts indoors failed each time, so this is certainly a lot of learning.

Initially I planted corn, okra, three different tomatoes, different color bell peppers, two eggplants, zucchini, cucumber, rosemary, parsley, thyme and basil seeds; only to be hit by a surprise late frost and lose our okra and

cucumber the first week. I planted another cucumber plant and some cilantro and thought it would be best to start reading about the plants I chose, because obviously just watering them was not going to work.

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Our first tomato! I am so excited about this that it is silly!

So next week I mulched the beds. This is a process that took three sessions… incredible how everything can take so long when you are hauling a baby and a two year old! But the mulching got done, and to keep it green I used grass that was just cut and from the grounds in our apartment complex. Not only it would protect the dirt from overheating and losing moisture too fast, but it should also bring back nutrients to the dirt and attract animals that might be beneficial for our plants (Hello, little spider!).

Ignacio wanted a gnome, now he gets showers :)

Ignacio wanted a gnome, now he gets showers 🙂

Last weekend though, I found my eggplant was attracting flea beetles, so I went to the interweb again to try to find a solution for that problem that

would be viable with my green living ideal. So on Monday I went over to the nearest Starbucks to get some coffee grounds that I promptly placed around our two eggplants. I hope it works!

Our plants are growing strong and healthy, except the cucumber that keeps getting hit by low temperatures at night, which come out of nowhere. My basil seedlings are starting to grow and soon I’ll be thinning them and choosing a few vigorous plants to keep… the rest might become salad 🙂

Are you gardening already? How do you deal with pests, do you have any suggestion for flea beetles?

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Flea beetles… boo!