May 19, 2017

Garden Review 2016: Peas, Greens, Corn, Nightshades, Sweet Potatoes



Peas
Violet and Millie grew old fashioned Sugar Snap on 120cm trellises in back of their patches, as seen below.


This variety is so far still my favorite and produces well, but of course needs support. The girls grew Oregon Sugar Pod II on 40cm trellises in the front. Buster and I grew OSP II on short trellises too, though I'm not convinced the trellises did them much good; they didn't grab onto the strings much anyway. Maybe next year we'll just grow them without support. OSP II is easy to grow and a good producer, even if the large snow peas are not quite as tasty as snaps.



It's hard to imagine having too many peas, and so far we have never achieved that happy state. Mostly I try to not grow legumes in the same spot two years in a row, instead alternating years with early season greens.

This year (2017) we will try Super Sugar Snap and Sugar Magnolia Tendril as well as OSP II.


Favas
Along with the peas, I planted a small row of Ianto's Fava. Something kept digging these up while they were in the process of germinating, and the ones that grew up had a tendency to fall over. But they ended up making a small bowl of beans by the time they were done. Wow did they ever attract black aphids; but to be fair these afflicted many other plants in early season 2016. I'm feeling like in a space constrained garden I'd probably rather just have peas. The fava flowers did look nice, and the plants look interesting.



Greens
Once again we had Tokyo Bekana, which continues to amaze. Also had some Tatsoi and Green Wave, which grow quick and easy, if not quite to the level of Tokyo Bekana. Becky is always a little annoyed at how many greens I bring in during late spring, so we end up giving some shopping sacks of greens away to friends, which I consider a fine use of homegrown produce. We also blanch and freeze some, but I feel with these varieties at least they taste rather bland after coming out of the freezer.

It just seems like a waste to NOT grow early greens in space which will not be planted until late May or early June.


For instance this year, I had greens in beds that would later get corn and potatoes.


The greens are not totally done by the time the main season crop wants to start, but the main planting is small for a while. In my 90cm wide beds for both corn and potatoes I put two rows, each 25-30cm in from the edge. So one row of greens running down the center works well; I can plant the next thing in the outer rows while the greens are getting big in the center. Then I cut the greens down when they are done and the next plants are gaining steam.


Another green which is a little too easy to grow, and perennial to boot: horseradish. I grew some in the orchard in 2015 but it got too tall so I moved it to the sidebar by the driveway where normal plants have difficulty. I made a point of giving extra water the first year, but it did grow well and looks interesting.


Once it gets established it seems pretty hard to kill. Remember those spots in the orchard I moved it from? Knowing its reputation for coming back from tiny pieces of root, I put two layers of cardboard over it and some salt marsh hay. Well, it came blowing right through that by July. I began cutting leaves taller than 20cm down to the ground every week, but it just kept making more.

I'd rather have kale, but horseradish greens are fairly edible. They get somewhat bitter late in the season especially if you let the leaves get big and old. They wilt very quickly once cut, and are thin. But especially if you have other greens to mix them with I think they are worth having. Their flowers are nice too.

Speaking of kale, we removed one of our sea kale plants this year because they were getting too big. This is another perennial green which is not as good as you wish it was. But again, when mixed with some other greens it is ok. The flowers in spring are really cool and smell strongly of honey.





Corn
Tried about 1.8 square meters of Parching Starburst Manna from Carol Deppe. Planted in groups of three in early June, thinned to one plant later on. The germination was good and the plants grew well, if not to a very impressive size. Here they are right before I took out the border greens and planted beans by them.


I was constantly shaking the plants to help pollination, which turned out ok but still had room for improvement. We let the corn dry most of the way on the stalks, then brought it inside.



I made two batches of cornbread for a chili cookoff at work entirely from this batch of corn:


It was a fun way to spend a couple hours; first I picked the kernels off the cobs, then ground them in the C.S. Bell #2, then made the batter and cooked it. I used this recipe.


Still have probably 1/3 of the corn left. I was saving it for a potential tamale making effort we may do with some friends; it would be cool if we had some token amount of home grown corn to contribute. I do want to make sure to try some parched which I have not done yet.

Tried to plant some pole beans at the edges of the beds after the spring greens came out. They came up well, but were apparently irresistible to the pack of rabbits that plagued our garden this year. Might need to figure out a way to cut back on the rabbits in future.


Beans
A few groups of Cosse Violetta pole beans were planted around, but all were a near complete fail. As mentioned in the corn section, young bean plants must be especially delicious to bunnies. Up on the orchard terrace level, I had about three plants growing up a piece of bamboo which the bunnies did not find. However after the first picking of beans, the leaves were near completely skeletonized by some insect overnight. The plants did not recover.



Tomatoes
A relatively small tomato effort in 2016, with just 3 Sungold, started inside and moved out in the second half of May to grow on a string trellis in the grain maze area. True to form for everything grown in the grain maze, they did better than terrible but put in a weak performance. I'm starting to think the root competition from the nearby sycamore maple is more oppressive to plants in this area than the shade cast by the tree.


We planted some morning glories to grow on strings up the edges of the trellis, which worked out pretty well.




This year (2017) I'm trying to get tomatoes earlier using wall-o-waters. My mom uses loads of these things, and they always seemed like a lot of work to me, but it would be great to get a few extra weeks of tomato season. We started Sungold seeds inside in February and put them out under wall-o-waters in late April, about a month earlier than I would normally put out tomatoes.


They look very happy in their jackets. We have not had a freeze that whole time, so they probably wouldn't have died even if I didn't put the water cloches over them, but the plants are growing significantly faster than they usually do when I transplant.


Millie is doing two plants in the terrace bed and I have four in the front box.


Potatoes
Planted about 4 square meters of Nicola bought from Maine Potato Lady into a grain maze bed. Green Wave mustard greens were grown in a strip down the center of these beds, then the potatoes planted on either side of the greens using a handheld bulb planter.


This worked out well and the plants were happy other than showing the usual failure to thrive in the grain maze. They were done pretty early and we dug them in August.




Sweet Potatoes
After growing them once, I like this plant! One downside to it is that our resident rabbits seem to find sweet potato leaves extremely tasty. I got slips of Molokai Purple, Korean Purple, Apache, and Laceleaf from Sand Hill Preservation Center. They looked pathetic when they arrived and I had my doubts about whether they would survive. But they quickly gained steam and looked set to do well, right up until they got completely defoliated by the bunnies.


I tried spraying castor oil, put on granular animal repellent, and a cage over some of them. The bunnies munched a few more times to a less severe degree, but I think the initial stripping really set them back.


Nonetheless we dug them in the fall and got an ok amount of tubers.


The rabbits didn't like the foliage of Laceleaf as much, but unfortunately some kind of root eating insect grubs preferred Laceleaf to the others and ruined all but one tuber. Molokai purple did not produce as much as Apache and Korean Purple.

Upper left is Molokai Purple, upper middle Laceleaf, upper right Apache, lower is Korean Purple.


I was hoping for more, but it was fun to eat these. No one except me was much into eating sweet potatoes, but Violet recently made some baked sweet potato fries that everyone liked pretty well. Over the winter I made pan fried and tempura fried sweet potato rounds a few times. Those were nice. Something must be done about the rabbits if I am going to grow them again though.

Another cool thing about sweet potatoes is that the above ground part is edible, unlike irish potatoes. Here is my friend from work Jim Serdy about to bike home with a box of apples and a couple of my just cut sweet potato plant tops.



May 9, 2017

Ramen Made at Home


Characters in Korean dramas are often eating instant ramen. Since we are hopelessly addicted to watching K-drama on the internets, we frequently find ourselves craving ramen. There are now numerous local options to get a tasty bowl of ramen in the Cambridge/Somerville area, some of which require a significant wait to get in the door. But I wondered how hard it would be to make ramen at home.

April 8, 2017

Garden Review 2016: Berries and Compost


Another great year in June bearing Strawberries, plus significant contributions from the Alpines. A few tastes of other berries were had, but mostly still waiting for them to do anything. Compost is steaming ahead full bore.

March 18, 2017

Kids make more clothes for American Girl dolls


We rearranged some rooms in our apartment over the summer and created a project room. All the sewing, printing, and electronics supplies went there. The new room has a great view of the backyard and is a little isolated from the rest of the house, being up a back winding stairway on the third floor. This presents a bit more of a barrier to working on a project there vs. taking it out on the dining room table. But for a few months the kids were having a lot of fun hanging out up there by themselves listening to music and working on their own stuff.

February 16, 2017

Sage Breakfast Sausage


Last time we made breakfast sausage I followed the recipe from Ruhlman and lacking a stuffer at the time, formed it into patties. It was pretty good, but a little salty, and the kids found it too "spicy". They LOVE to eat frozen breakfast sausages from Applegate. Now that we have a stuffer I wanted to try to make breakfast sausage the kids would like better, put into small casings.

February 1, 2017

Urban Micro-Orchard Year 3




2016 saw the third growing season for our espalier micro-orchard project. Some things are going easier than I thought, like training to the trellis, pruning, and grafting, while other unexpected challenges have emerged. Things are shaping up well, and I can see the way to a wonderful established planting. But it is going to be a longer and more winding path I had originally thought!

December 12, 2016

New bunny suit for Old Bunny


I've been continuing to make these bunnies as baby gifts these last few years, never actually catching up with how many I'd like to make. Meanwhile, Violet still keeps her bunny (the first I made, in 2010) as her favorite, and it has gotten pretty ragged looking. This bunny has been slept with thousands of times, and has soaked up an ocean of tears (plus some drool and a little blood). It has been on trips in suitcases, on planes, and in the car. The ears were near to falling off completely, and the rest of the outer fabric had degraded to a fragile spider web like layer. The ones I've been making since the first one have used a double layer of muslin for the outer shell to help with durability and to prevent wool fibers from escaping.


I proposed making her a new one, but she was adamant in her desire to not retire her old one. So we came up with a scheme for preserving the old bunny but protecting it from further decline while still keeping it in constant use. A bunny suit!

October 25, 2016

Cider 12 - Winter wheat from the orchard and a bicycle powered apple washer


Another great year of cidering at Five Islands, Maine with a good group of people, excellent weather, and delicious food.

A complementary writeup and different set of photos can be found at Ben's blog.

May 4, 2016

A Quick and Basic Frame Saw


I bought some rough cut green oak from a local supplier early this spring, for making into some plant trellises and a little perch on a maple tree for the kids. Feeling that this by itself was not enough of a challenge apparently, I decided to try to do a bit of carving on the tops of the posts to make these installations more interesting.

April 11, 2016

Tapping the Urban Maple, and Boiled Cider


Last year, I read about tapping trees that are NOT sugar maple at the blog of Anna Hess, and I resolved to tap the handful of trees on our small city lot. We have two Sycamore Maples and two Norway Maples. I had no idea what to expect, but I thought it would be fun to try. The easiest way I could come up with to test the waters was a piece of metal tube stuck in a hole, with a length of tubing run down to a container sitting on the ground.