Saturday, September 16, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 13: Woodcutting Level 2

Year 1 - Summer Day 87

Well, it's getting close to the end of the summer, and with the cool fall weather I've begun to chip away at the wood pile, racking up that sweet, sweet exp.  Today I leveled up, and gained access to a new tool that lets me break apart the giant logs much easier.

It's called a wood grenade (or a splitting wedge as a less fun name) and I picked one up recently and it works great for massive logs.  Not that it makes it totally easy,  but it starts in the center of the giant log and you beat it with a sledge hammer until the log splits in half.  It was recommended to me by a coworker of mine who, in addition to being an awesome engineer, is also releasing a book in January on using hand tools, and is a phenomenal reference for useful tools powered only by aching muscles and sweat.

The Wood Grenade

After 3 Hits

Wood Rack #2

In addition I've also split enough wood that I needed to get a second wood rack started.  The rack is very basic, all you do is get four cinder blocks and lay them evenly spanning 10 ft.  I then ripped a 2"x6"x10' piece of Pressure Treated wood in half and used that as the base.  Then four 5ft 2x4s were placed inside the cinderblocks sticking up and voila, no nailing, screwing or any binding needed for a nice wood rack to keep the wood off the ground and let it cure.

Also the basement herb project is coming along nicely.  I overwatered it a bit and some neat fungus started growing, so I toned back the amount of water I was dumping down there and it seems to be a bit better.  The basil is absolutely thriving and the other herbs are all about evenly paced in growing slowly.

The Kale and Winter Spinach have also started sprouting, but the bugs have been at them a bit it seems as well.   They seem to be doing well in the cool weather, only the tomatoes seem to be lagging a bit and not ripening.  There are a bunch of giant green tomatoes, but none of them have turned red yet.  I've done some reading and it seems likely that the windy, cool weather we've had is the cause.

Things are slowing down, but it's still fun to get out and see things grow and I still have a bunch of wood splitting to do.  I'm looking forward to the quickly approaching fall and all of the delicious beverages and foods it brings.

- Level 1 Gardener, Level 2 Woodcutter: Jace -

Saturday, September 2, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 12: Death of the Vine

Year 1 - Summer Day 73

Today I murdered my Cucumber plants, brutally and quickly.  Not maybe this time, but for sure - they are dead.  It was intentional though, the plants had been suffering and dying slowly, but were still sprawling and choking out other plants.  My own lack of experience is the cause - if they had more room to grow upward and thrive, they would have done much better.  Next year I will give their descendants more room to grow upward and will plant fewer of the massive sprawling vines.

The Dying Cucumber Plants

Slowly I chopped away all the vines and leaves and untangled them from my fence and tomato plants.  They were starting to intertwine with the tomatoes and since the tomato plants are very healthy and doing well, I decided to end the cucumbers short time of being overlord of the garden.  I cut away all the plant, and ripped out the roots.  I also decided to work the ground a bit, adding some fresh, bottom of the pit compost and worked it into the stony ground.  Unsurprisingly the technique is called digging, and you basically dig rows across the land you want to work, turning the dirt over and mixing it in.  I worked a bunch of fresh compost in to help replenish the nutrients the cucumber plants pulled out of the ground.  There are 2 packets of seeds, some hardy Kale and a cold weather variety of spinach that should be able to grow before winter sets in.

Ripping out the plants and stuffing them into bags

Fresh Compost

The freshly tilled ground

Note the Onions that haven't seen the light of day in months

There was also one final harvest of the cucumbers with a bunch of small ones that we'll see how they taste!  The tomato plants also have a bunch of large, plump, green tomatoes, and I'm very excited to harvest them once they are ready!

The Final Harvest

 Plump Green Tomatoes

In addition the basement herb project is going along nicely.  It's amazing to me just how much faster growing and hardy basil is compared to the rest of the herbs.  The basil plants are already well set in and are growing steadily while some of the other herbs are slowly starting to pop their way out.  Notably I've only seen one tiny rosemary plant peek it's leaves out so far and two of the parsley have sprouted out of about ten.

The Herb Project

Cinnamon Basil

So today has been a little sad, it's tough to see the plants I spent so much time prepping for get ripped out, cut up, stuffed in a bag and stuck on the street corner.  Hopefully next year once I'm a level 2 gardener I'll be able to keep my plants alive and producing longer through the season.  The bean plants also look like they're starting to slow bean production, so they might be coming to an end as well.  Next year I do want to try pole beans, as they're said to produce per plant more than bush beans.  Those as well will require some poles to climb up, so I will adequately prepare for that as well.

Fare well first year cucumber plants, it was fun!

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -
Next Episode 13: Woodcutting Level 2

Saturday, August 26, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 11: Cucumber Encumbered

Year 1 - Summer Day 66

I have too many cucumbers!  It doesn't come much as a surprise but the plants continue to produce bunches of interesting bright yellow lemon cucumbers.  Twice I have brought a batch of twelve or so to work and they were nabbed up immediately.  So far my coworkers have been intrigued and delighted by the interesting, non-traditional fruit.  Just this morning, I ended up picking nine more cucumbers, and I wasn't even going out to find any!  But not all is perfect in Cucumber land, my plants are suffering a bit.

The cucumber plants are plagued with a bad case of Powdery Mildew, which is slowing down photosynthesis and killing off the leaves.  There are things I can do to help prevent it, such as next year I will build a bigger trellis for the plants to grow up on, giving them space to breathe and air out, as well as use a drip irrigation system so that I do not get the leaves wet as often.  With how I was watering the plants, the leaves would often get wet and most likely contributed to a good environment for the mildew to spread.  I have mixed up a treatment though, water with a bit of dish soap, vegetable oil and baking soda is said to help prevent the spread of the mildew so I've sprayed a bunch of that on my plants and we'll see if it helps.

Powdery Mildew

The bean plants however continue to produce plenty of beans and the tomato plants are getting very close!  Lots of little tomatoes are popping up all over the massive behemoths that are my tomato plants.  The ones that rooted certainly thrived this season.  I did not trim them back at all but perhaps next year I can trim them down a bit to stop them from getting so massive and perhaps spur a bit more fruit production.

Also the basement herb garden has had a bunch of the herbs sprout so it will be nice to see those thrive.  They're doing even better with the timed grow light than the outdoor herbs.  The light turns on at 6am and off at 9pm and gives them a nice long growing day in the basement.  Having a timed outlet is extremely nice because the herbs do not require a ton of water at this point since the basement is fairly moist, so it's very easy to take care of them.

Vegetable and Fruit production is in full swing!  I've gotten my first decently sized carrot and have had many delightful salads and dishes prepared with the beans and cucumbers we've harvested so far.  
- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -

Saturday, August 19, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 10: Growing the Herb

Year 1 - Summer Day 59

Finally got my basement grow light set up to grow some...

Basil! and Thyme, Parsley, Rosemary, Spearmint and Oregano.  Also I have some Lemon Mint getting shipped to plant as well.  What did you THINK I was growing?  I decided to start a basement setup so that I can prepare plants for transplanting outside before the last frost of spring next year as well as grow herbs throughout the winter.  I've since bumped the planter up on some buckets to get closer to the grow light but the setup remains generally the same.  The planter has some holes drilled in the bottom to allow drainage so having those over buckets works better anyway.

The garden has been progressing nicely, I've harvested another seven or so Cucumbers and continue to pick a handful or two of green beans every 3-4 days.  I'll need to start giving cucumbers away by the baskets because I just cannot force myself to eat this many cucumbers and drink this much cucumber water.  They are very delicious though.  In fact my dog tried to grab them out of my hand!  (Disclaimer:  I may have baited him into the picture).

The garden continues to teem with life, from little frogs hopping around beneath the shady cucumber canopy to crimson dragonflies sun bathing on broad leaves, many insects, spiders and amphibians have made the garden their home, and the number of bees keeps increasing!  There are now four to five bumblebees when I go check on the cucumbers in the morning as well as two to three honey bees.  They generally leave me alone unless I dump water on their head in which case they buzz around in a frenzy.  

Soon I should be able to pick some carrots and potatoes as the flowers have already bloomed.  I've also picked up a few skill books to help level up and hit level 2:  The Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques and The New Vegetables, Herbs & Fruits, An Illustrated Encyclopedia.

I bought them from Barnes & Noble as impulse purchases as I was browsing, but they're a bit cheaper at the Amazon links above.

I'm very excited for my new basement herb garden and the potted herbs I have outside have started to sprout already (the cinnamon basil at least).  It's very fun and exciting (and delicious).

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -
Next Episode 11 - Cucumber Encumbered

Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 9: Cucumbers and Herb Planting

Year 1 - Summer Day 53

The first two Lemon Cucumbers have been harvested!  I wasn't sure if they were ready since on the vine they look very green, but once I picked them and sliced them they were perfectly ready to eat!  They're milder than your average cucumber with a very slight tang making them tastier than a store bought cuke.  These are just the first two of hundreds to come, but it was fun to pick them and get some harvest out of the giant tangle of leaves that's taking over half my garden.  Max, my cattle dog mutt, also found the cucumbers to be very enthralling.

In addition I also picked and stripped the leaves off of the last spinach plant.  I had picked some of the lower leaves before and what happened was that new stems grew out of those leaves and instead of giant leaves like the plant had before, I had a bunch of stems with tons of tiny leaves.  In addition the bean plants were pushing the spinach plant over and it wasn't faring well.

I did get a ton of leaves off of it though and once they dry from rinsing I'll be able to store them.  I continue to get a couple handfuls of green beans every 3-4 days and the tomato plants have bloomed so there should be tomatoes as well in a couple weeks.  Also the potato plants have flowered with pretty purple flowers that dangle from the stems.

I'm also working on a basement herb garden and have a grow light and a table ready to set up.  This will help me get it started so next year I can sprout my plants in the basement before transferring them outside.  The two pots that the tomato plants used to be in have now also gotten repurposed for a bunch of herbs to grow out in the backyard as well.  I've planted Cinnamon Basil, Rosemary, Spearmint, Oregano and Parsley and I have some Thyme to plant in the basement once I get that set up as well.  This should give us a nice little herb garden for seasonings and it should let us grow plants in the basement throughout the winter.  Overall the harvests are starting and it's exciting to see some profit from the work put in.

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -
Next Episode 10: Growing the Herb

Sunday, August 6, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 8: Beans, Bees and Baby Carrots

Year 1 - Summer Day 46

Beans!  I was able to pick twenty or so green beans from the garden today as well as snap a few photos of the bumbling bumble bees scurrying from flower to flower amidst the cucumber jungle.  The green beans are a bush type and are the first to start producing vegetables, and although the harvest is small, they should continue producing throughout the summer and I'll need to harvest the bushes twice a week.  I also attempted to pick one of the carrots since the plants were getting very large, but that was a mistake and I lost one of the few carrots I actually am growing in the garden.  Just goes to prove that I'm still truly a level 1 gardener.

I did eat the carrot though after cleaning it and gave a small bit of it to my dog who gladly chomped down on some fresh veggies.  It was not a very filling meal being as small as it was, but nonetheless it was good to taste it to get an idea of what the future holds for the rest of the carrots.

While out and about there were many bugs, butterflies, bees and spiders roaming the garden and I was able to snap a few pictures of the bumblebees as they noshed on some nectar.  The little fellows have been out there all day roaming from flower to flower and have brought more friends to feast on the plentiful flowers.  It's pretty funny to watch them stuff their head down in the flower with their legs splayed out on the petals.

 It's an exciting time in the garden as the plants start giving back for the work put in!  I'm also getting ready to set up an herb garden in my basement to continue growing a variety of herbs for use in the kitchen throughout the year.  I've ordered a bunch of Oregano, Basil, Thyme, Rosemary, and a few other herbs to put in a planter under a grow light.  This will let me set up a system that I can use for sprouting my garden plants next spring as well.

It was a very relaxing day watching the wildlife and harvesting in the garden.

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -

Saturday, August 5, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 7: Overgrown and Flowering

Year 1 - Summer Day 45

I'm going to have a LOT of cucumbers.  The plants have grown incredibly over the past few weeks and are sprawling over everything nearby.  I never expected they would grow so big!  Hundreds of pretty yellow flowers are tucked away in the jungle of foliage as bumble bees dart from flower to flower, straddling the petals with their splayed out black legs munching on the nectar inside.  If I knew from the beginning how large my cucumber plants were going to grow, I would have built a much better structure for them to grow up on and would have given them much more room.  As it stands now the plants can barely fit in the raised garden and have sprawled out into the yard!

Above is just one small view of the myriad of flowers that will all turn into delicious fruits (of the vegetable-y kind).  I'm going to have to give away a lot of these cucumbers, but it's very exciting to see them thrive and grow large.  In addition to the cucumber plants, the bean plants have also begun flowering and growing beans.  They're small so far, but there are lots of little white flowers dotting my bush beans.

And the tomato plants?  Well I put them on those twisted poles and they've already topped them!  Soon my tomato plants will be as tall as I am!  I'm very excited for the multitude of tomatoes, beans and cucumbers that I will have, even if my other plants aren't doing quite as well.

All in all, it's very exciting to see the garden come alive with bees and flowers and everything growing so big!  I thought I was spreading plants out too much when I originally started the garden, but it turns out I didn't give them enough room!  Next year I will definitely plan a little more space for my plants (especially the cucumbers).  I've also harvested some of the basil as well and it smells amazing!  I haven't used it yet, but I'm looking forward to drying it or crushing it in a beverage as it has a wonderfully fragrant smell and I'm sure it's delicious.

I've learned a lot so far and it's fun being a newb farmer!  As my skills level up I'll be able to keep my entire garden flourishing and produce even more vegetables than I have currently growing and that's really exciting!  Soon I should have a cucumber and tomato harvest to share so stay tuned!