Monday, January 22, 2018

Winter Doldrums

Winter can be a very difficult time for someone who gets a lot out of the health of their garden. Everything slows as the amount of light decreases and more things begin happening to the garden than things happening in the garden. Wind and cats have taken their toll. High winds knocked over a lot of plants, which only began to recover as kitties began to utilize my garden more as a litter box than as a place to avoid. Every spare inch of vacant soil is toilet fodder for my neighbor’s cats.

Meanwhile, back in the greenhouse the fabulous idea I had for using diatomaceous earth on the pill bugs did not work as well as I had supposed. The little crustaceans were relatively immune to the powder and finished off my cucumber plants pretty quickly. I was under the false assumption that they would begin to die off without much food, but they continue to reproduce. I should probably take a layer of soil off the top of the planter and put it into a black plastic bag to bake them. Eventually I got the good idea to replant the stock tank with Fava beans. The Fava beans have done relatively well so far. Still - I’ll have to keep up my night-time visits to the greenhouse to make sure.

After the pill bugs, comes the fava beans

Even in the greenhouse I am using sideways tomato cages to deter kitties.

My tree collards have done well. I have experienced difficulty with reproducing them due to the prevalence of little green caterpillars (some sort of moth larvae) that continually devour the small leaves of the transplants. The lemongrass has done well in broths to help me to stave off the effects of any cold virus. The red leaf lettuce has been slowly growing. It has taken a beating from caterpillars, slugs, aphids and some sections the lettuce bed have been excavated by kitties.

Red leaf lettuce and onions

I split apart and re-potted most of the lemongrass (to share with friends)

In order to stop the incessant assault from my feline foes I have turned some tomato cages on their sides. It does not look pretty in my garden, but I have gone past the point of caring. The need to have my plants live is a little more important than my garden looking like a lunar moonscape (complete with kitty-created craters).

Working to make my garden a little more kitty resistant (and ugly!)

The few carrots that I have grown are doing alright, though it looks as if I could have done a few more plantings. I believe most of them perished from poor watering. The peas seem to be doing well and a few chickpeas have managed to survive. Meanwhile, garlic and onions are sprouting up everywhere.

Messy onions, garlic and peas.

The biggest winners this winter are the tree collards, the lemongrass and the fava beans. The fava beans are from some plants grown by a local elementary school. They were willing to share, so I planted some. I quickly learned that favas do not take well to excess nitrogen (probably because they produce much of their own), but they do love the cool weather of this winter and have thrived as a result. I am really impressed.

My fava beans

Friday, January 5, 2018

Free Tree Kale (Perennial Collards)

Whilst battling against fuzzy feline garden invaders today, I cut back my perennial collards. That means I have plenty to share. 

If you live in the Fairfield area and would like some for your own garden, please respond to this Craigslist post and come by. Otherwise I might eat them all... Perhaps even raw!


Monday, October 23, 2017

Cucumber and Transplant Greenhouse

Soon after moving into the house we now live in, a friend from church offered me a greenhouse. I was both grateful and humbled. It took a while before I was able to clean our backyard up enough to place the greenhouse in its current location. Once that was done, it took some time determining what kinds of containers I could use for the greenhouse. Initially a friend said that he could provide some shallow containers, which probably would not have been the best in the long-run.

Note the west-side shade. This is intentional to prolong my spring transplants.

Coconut Fiber (Coir) Blocks in my new stock tank.

A view from the front door. Still need to move blocks and fertilizer! (=

After finding that more shallow containers could not be procured I got tired of having the greenhouse mostly vacant, so I purchased a (nearly) 6’ long by 2’ wide feed stock tank – like the kind used for providing water for livestock. With that done, I then had my father purchase some coco peat fiber blocks or coir from Santa Rosa. These were reconstituted while I sprouted my transplants. Though I normally do not do transplant, sometimes it is the only way to get plants large enough in the time I have. The transplants were potted into the stock tank about a month ago and, despite our diminishing sunlight this fall, they are still growing well.

Carosello Growing in compost, but losing ground to woodlice.

Some plants have been chewed up so much, that they needed to be removed.

One unfortunate thing that I did do was I sifted some compost to help in feeding the small plants. The compost itself was not bad, but the pill bugs or woodlice that came along in the compost decided to start chewing on my plants. I had no idea how destructive they could be! Once they had damaged most of my cucumber plants enough that I was getting pretty desperate the inspiration finally hit me. I could just sprinkle some diatomaceous earth on top of the soil. At last – an organic solution for self-contained invertebrate pests in the greenhouse!

Diatomaceous Earth may not look pretty, but it works!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Fridge Tomatoes

The only place tomatoes have a semi-permanent home in my kitchen is on top of the refrigerator.

July 12th

July 25th

While I would never put home-grown tomatoes into the refrigerator because the flavor suffers dramatically, store-bought tomatoes may have already been chilled, and as a result – have poor flavor. Though most tomato connoisseurs can only describe the significant degradation of flavor in qualitative terms, a 2016 study demonstrated that there are actual chemical changes that take place when tomatoes are stored at cold temperatures. The study does a good job of demonstrating to even the skeptics why you should never put your tomatoes in the refrigerator.

September 6th

September 9th

From late June until now, there was only one week where we needed to purchase a few tomatoes. We use about 5-7 pounds of tomatoes each week. There were several weeks where the tomatoes would not fit on the refrigerator. We sold the excess and made at least $40. In fact - selling tomatoes enabled of my children to buy a pet! If I were to quantify only the amount we ate in monetary value, it would be between $80-$150 if tomatoes were only $1 per pound.  However, money alone cannot quantify the qualitative benefits of a meaty, slightly salty, savory, fully-flavored home-grown red ripe tomato.

September 11th

September 13th

September 14th

September 18th

October 7th

Please excuse the dust and mess - that is just part of life! (=

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Tree Kale or Perennial Collards?

For years I have been overly suspicious of the Brassica family. Growing up, I remember seeing cabbage butterflies annihilate cabbage plants and not caring much for the taste of coleslaw or sauerkraut. Later, the only thing I correlate cabbage with is boiled cabbage, which gives me indigestion. The few experiences I had with growing Brassicas included growing broccoli and Brussel Sprouts, which were a lot of hard work for a meager crop. Then a few years back I heard tales of a super-rich nutrient-packed vegetable called Kale. A good friend of ours even introduced us to Kale chips – an incredibly tasty and healthy snack whose flavor was reminiscent of a fine cheese. Recently, with moving to California and having easy access to cheap kale, I thought I would give it a try - and I started liking it.

My Tree Chard/Perennial Kale - March 3rd

While consuming kale in soups last winter, I read a book that mentioned perennial kale – and I was hooked. The idea of having a plant I did not have to re-plant year after year really appealed to me. You mean that I can access a healthy vegetable any time I want – with minimal effort? You bet!

March 25th after a light rain.

Perennial Kale, April 25th

Being the resourceful individual that I am, I presented my desire to identify a local source for some perennial kale to individuals at my local county garden extension class and happened to find that a master who possessed some tree collards that he was happy to share with me. It turns out that they are that tree kale and perennial collards are the same thing.

Tree Collards in May

It looks like I got the greenhouse in May as well.

So far so good. I read that tree kale/perennial collards require a lot of calcium, so I made sure to add a lot of crushed egg shells in the hole where I deposited each plant. They have done incredibly well. The only other thing I would have done, if I had a chance, would be to stake them. That being said, the location that I planted them, they were able to lean up against the fence, then against the greenhouse.

Perennial Kale in June - lower leaves do die out a bit as the plant matures.

Fuzzy Cabbage Butterfly Caterpillar

Some of the caterpillars were less fuzzy, with a white stripe.

I believe if I continue to plant them further down the fence line, like I plan to do next spring, I will need to stake them. Other than the plants getting a little too large mid-summer, they have been relatively simple and easy to care for. Also – I still don’t care much for the cabbage butterflies that the plants attract to the yard. In the spring, it took some concerted effort to fight against the caterpillars, but by the summer it paid off – when spiders, small wasps and other critters began helping me by preying on the caterpillars.

Tree Chard, August - at just above 5' tall.

I take as many of the lower leaves as I want, whenever I want. We have enjoyed our collards a lot in both soups and stir-fries, though I have not tried making kale chips yet. As for their care, I occasionally add some additional egg shells and nitrogen or compost and watch them grow. I'm excited to see them change color this winter - as I have heard they turn a reddish-purple as the days get shorter. So far, I am an extremely proud owner of some Tree Kale… or Perennial Collards.

Middle Perennial Kale is just reaching 6' by September