Thursday, November 9, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 17: Putting the Tomato Plants out of their Misery

Year 1 - Fall Day 50

This year was not a great year for tomatoes.  A couple months ago we had a terrible windy storm that thrashed them pretty hard and I had not taken the proper precautions to protect them.  So this past weekend, I finally tore them out of the ground and stuffed the poor, poor plants into bags, meeting the same fate as their cucumber brothers.

The Sad Plants

What Remained

I learned some lessons though, for starters, plant them earlier so they harvest earlier.  I did not get very many tomatoes from the plants before it started getting chilly.  Second, I need to tie the tomato stalks off to the poles to keep them upright and secure.  I have a bunch of twine, I just didn't think to tie them off.  But I got a new book on tomato plants that talked about making sure to tie them off to stakes to protect them from wind, so next year I will do that.  It's all been learning.  This year has been insightful so far.

I still have some onion, garlic and spinach growing (and Kale but the fallen tomato plants pretty much crushed them) so we'll see if I can get anything out of them before it gets too cold to grow anymore.  I believe the spinach has survived one frost already so we'll see how far in it can go.  This year has been pretty warm, first frost was supposed to be October 10, but it's already November 9 and I think we've only gotten one frost.

Things are winding down for the year, outside of the basement herb garden, which is a little sad, it's been fun working in the yard.  It's going to be a long winter before we get back to planting and gardening again in the spring.

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -

Saturday, October 21, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 16: The Potato Harvest!

Year 1 - Fall Day 31

Today I harvested the rest of the potatoes!  There was a nice small bags worth from the 3 to 4 potato plants that produced.  I didn't get a ton of potatoes, and I also didn't let the skin harden enough for long term storage, so we'll have to eat them relatively soon.  There were a bunch of medium and small potatoes as well as some really large ones.  Above is one of the bigger ones that I got.  It was neat since these were just red potatoes from the store that I used to start the plants, and next year I plan to get some fancier, rarer brands of potatoes to grow.  In addition I will also dig up the ground before planting to give them some broken up earth beneath to easily grow down into.  The ground is a bit hard and I think that contributed to the limited potato supply.

Other than harvesting potatoes today, I also planted 200+ flower bulbs in front of my house.  For 25$ on Bulbs Direct I got 2 large bundles of various bulb flowers and planted them around our feature plants in the front.  Some of the flowers included:

Liatris Spicata Purple

Anemone Coronaria Mr Fokker

Muscari Armeniacum

Gladiola Nanus Mix

And there were a bunch more varieties of flowers as well from white and purple flowers to yellow flowers.  So I am looking forward to seeing these all bloom next spring and seeing them fill in the front of the house.

Next year I will be sure to photograph the beautiful displays of color!

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -

Saturday, October 14, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 15: First Potato & Lunch

Year 1 - Fall Day 24

Today I got my first little red potato!  The potato plants were dying and getting eaten up, so I cut down the tops and will let them sit for a week or so before harvesting the rest of the potatoes.  I'm curious to see how many the plants produced in the rocky ground.  There does appear to be a couple large ones near the surface, so hopefully there are a bunch more deeper in.

Some Early Potatoes on the Surface

I've also harvested a bunch of tomatoes: a lot of little ones and a few big ones.  They're full of tomato flavor and have been good cut up on sandwiches and in other dishes.  I also finished picking all of the carrots, as they've stopped growing too much in the rocky soil.  Their growth was stunted, as the rocks beneath the first few inches of soil stopped them from getting big, so next spring I'm going to till up those rocks and pull em out so that the carrots can grow deeper.  I wonder if that will affect the potatoes as well.

Final Carrots and First Bunch of Tomatoes

Tasty things have been made with the tomatoes and the first medium sized potato above.  Today I made myself a scrambled-eggs-cheezy-hashbrown thing that looks horrendous but was pretty tasty!  I sautéed some onions and made the hash browns from the first big red potato, and then added some sliced tomato and topped it all with whipped eggs and cheese.  Was a bit of a goopy mess, but was actually pretty good.

Delicious, despite looking like mush

The basement herb garden has been going okay, but all of the herbs seem rather stunted, so I decided to pick half of them to allow the other half to grow bigger.  I also transplanted a few of the lemon mint plants outside in one of the flower pots so that they could get some room to breath and grow.  This should give the rest of the herbs in the basement growing area a bit of breathing room and space to stretch out and thrive.

For the ones I picked I created a little place to hang them in the kitchen window.  The fragrant aromas of the basil, oregano and thyme are a pleasant experience and in a few weeks they'll be dried and ready for storage.

Fresh Herbs and Tomatoes

The spinach continues to slowly grow despite my dog, Max thinking the garden is an area to jump into and stomp around.  He's knocked over the barrier a few times, and I've had to fix it and staple it back up.  The kale however... we'll see what happens but this one seems to be a failure.  Something, either rabbits or my dog, keeps getting in and eating all the leaves.  (Maybe caterpillars?)  And the tomato plants have fallen over where the kale was planted, so they're not getting much sunlight.  However the onions and garlic are finally making a resurgence after removing the overbearing cucumber plants.  They're finally starting to thicken up and grow a bit, hopefully they can finish growing before winter sets in.

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -

Saturday, September 30, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 14: Fall Tomatoes

Year 1 - Fall Day 9

It's officially fall!  A delicious time of year, filled with apple cider, warm stews and tasty treats throughout.  Things are slowing down in the gardening aspect, with the weather starting to get colder and wetter.  Tomatoes are starting to ripen and the bean plants have been cleaned out of the garden with a final, small harvest.  Soon the potatoes should be ready to start prepping for harvest and the kale and spinach continues to slowly grow in the cold, wet fall weather.

Tearing out the Bean Bushes

As the bean plants waned in their production, I made the decision to finally clear them out of the garden and bag them up.  We got some tasty beans out of the plants, but I think next year I'm going to go with the pole variety and see if I can harvest more out of each plant.  In addition we've gotten a few small tomatoes, but many have stayed green, and are slowly starting to darken.  I also brought a few green ones inside to ripen on the windowsill and after a few weeks they're just starting to turn red.

Ripening Tomatoes and Last Harvest of Beans

There is a wide spread of tomato sizes, the small ones seem to turn red relatively quickly and I've gotten a few of those so far, but the big green ones are slowly turning red in the garden.  One lesson learned is that the twisty poles I got for the tomato plants do not protect them very well from wind.  We had some very windy rainy days for a while, and the tomato plants are all bent over and got damaged by the poles bending the main stems.  So they're a bit of a mess.  Next year I will build a sturdy wooden structure to let them grow in to give them a lot of support.

Struggling Tomato Plants

But some reddening deep inside!

I'm still learning how to prevent nature from destroying my garden, so next year I'm looking forward to better yields.  However, I've picked a ton of basil from the basement garden so far.  It's been growing incredibly quickly and I've been able to harvest quite a bit and take the extra basil to work.

Delicious Cinnamon Basil

The basil is quite delicious with a earthy flavor (cinnamon-y to some I guess?)  I've made some tasty drinks with it so far and blended some of it up into tomato soup, which was great.  That said I can hardly use all the basil I have growing, so I've given a lot of it away to coworkers, who were glad to take free, fresh basil.

Things are coming along slowly, I look forward to harvesting the potatoes eventually and am looking forward to seeing if the spinach and kale plants take root and start to flourish, as they're still struggling.

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -
Next Episode 15: First Potato & Lunch

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 -
Next Episode 14: Fall Tomatoes

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 -