The Backyard

The Backyard

Friday, June 29, 2012

When The Broccoli is In Season...

Thanks to The Gardener of Eden, we now have Thursday's Kitchen Cupboard to share what's going in and out of the kitchen with our harvests.  I really enjoy seeing what other folks are doing so I thought I'd share mine also. This week is a little boring in my kitchen, but there's ALWAYS something going on, so here's the highlight of the week.  Oh do we love broccoli. So much so, each year I grow no less than about 72ish plants -- sometimes more, sometimes less.  The variety is always Arcadia because of the huge heads it produces.  This year, 90 plants went into the ground, but only 36 of those 90 survived a freeze.  I bought about a dozen of a less-than-desireable variety thinking we lost all the arcadia, but they were terrible tasting.  Alas, the Aracadia is being picked and we are happy campers.  I eat it raw on salads (stems get cut and dipped into hummus), and cooked with baked potatoes or slivered almonds.  Hubby likes soup or broccoli salad.  Here is my husband's favorite broccoli soup recipe from Simply in Season.

Hearty Broccoli Soup

2 cups diced potatoes
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup thinly sliced carrots
1/2 cup celery diced
1 cup water
Cook the above together 5 minutes

2 cups chopped broccoli
Add and continue to cook an additional 5-10 minutes

3 cups milk
2 chicken or vegetable bouillon cubes
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
Add and heat to boiling.

1 cup milk
1/3 cup flour
Blend until smooth in a small bowl.  Sitr into the soup and cook just until thickened.  Turn off heat.

1 cup Swiss or sharp cheddar cheese (shredded)
Add and stir until melted (I omit the cheese).


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

No Ground Shall Be Left Uncovered

Straw around the Butternut Squash seeds
A friend of mine once commented, "what's with all the straw?" My immediate answer was weed control, but the good question deserves a more extended answer. Initially, I found the straw in the garden doing a dandy job at preventing weed growth - mainly purslane that will grab hold of any free ground in the sunshine and spread like wildfire. Over the years, through adding the decomposed straw back into the soil at the end of the season, the ground became more like good humus - a perfect growing medium. At planting time, I find the straw to serve double duty as weed protection between rows, but also the pathway and row markers.  And if you like the Ruth Stout method of gardening, you couldn't live without straw or hay.  This year, after mounding the potatoes, I laid a super-thick layer of straw next to the potato plants as a cover for the potatoes if the mounds weren't enough.  We'll see how that works.  In the summer heat, the straw helps keep moisture in the soil.   And lastly, produce that tends to lay on the ground finds the straw a lovely bed to prevent rotting and soil splashing. Watermelons, squash, and strawberries especially enjoy a bed of straw for their offspring.  I use straw year-round.  When not laying it in the garden, its mixed with the horse manure and grass clippings to make compost as a mulch for ALL the gardens, not just the vegetable patch.  I'm too cheap to buy bark mulch, so I make my own.  You wouldn't have to use straw as a ground cover either.  There's are dozens of other more readily available things you can use. Your local Lowes has a variety of bags of different types of mulches.   The local Amish are using newspapers and Mother Earth News did an excellent article on the use of newspaper as a mulch.  Full sheets are laid down to prevent weed growth and it decomposes very nicely and is mulched back into the ground.  Other folks use grass clippings (be careful with that though... I tried one time and had a lovely grass patch growing the following spring... it's best to compost the clippings first to kill any weed seeds), and of course compost.  So get covering... it's worth the extra effort.
Straw as weed protection and row markers/paths.

Fresh straw getting put down on the strawberry patch

Monday, June 25, 2012

Harvest Monday - June 25, 2012

A few unexpected harvests pleasantly surprised us this week.  We discovered the Red Norland potatoes are ready (it's early) and the Arcadia broccoli I struggled with this year gave us our first pounder head.  I find Arcadia to be THE broccoli to grow as you'll see in my 2009 post.  It produces huge heads and the flavor is oh-so-sweet and luscious.  This year, the seed starting formula seemed to stunt the growth of many of my seeds including the broccoli.  So when it came time to plant, the 90+ plants were tiny and barely visible.  Couple the stunted plants with a few freezes and I thought they were all doomed.  I actually gave up on them and bought about two dozen "stock" seedlings from the local nursery which just finished harvesting, but tasted bland.  Low and behold a few weeks later, I started seeing Aracadia broccoli growing.  Then, last week, I noticed a cabbage worm infestation.  I ran for the BT and thank goodness it worked because those little green monsters would have eaten the entire crop (about 36 plants).   So I'm about to harvest the Arcadia -- my second broccoli harvest this year.  Even though we had a few hot days, the cooler days and nights outnumber the hot and the broccoli is still doing well.  We should have a good harvest of broccoli despite the challenges.  Other highlights this week are the wild black raspberries and the beets are coming in.  Here's the tally, and yes, thanks to Daphne's Dandelions for hosting Harvest Mondays.

8 1/4 quarts black raspberries

1/2 pound mixed greens
1 pound beet greens
2 3/4 pound onions
2 pounds sugar peas
6 pounds snap peas
2 pounds red norland potatoes
1/4 pound radishes
2 1/2 red beets
1 pound swiss chard

18 pounds total for vegetables

Arcadia broccoli and "Candy" onions

Cooking up the Red Beets

Prepping the cooked beets for pickled beets

Wild Black Raspberries

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Harvest Monday Preview 6-24-12

Thought I'd share some pictures of harvest Monday prior to the final tally of harvests. It's been a good week and it ain't over yet.  Broccoli will probably be picked today yet also.  And some more Black Raspberries.
"Flamingo" Swiss Chard.

"Red Norland" potatoes

Snap peas awaiting a freezer bag

We had a stellar pea-picking year.  Very pleased with the harvest.

Friday, June 22, 2012

How Big is Your Garden?

Michelle Obama's White House Kitchen garden is 1,700 square feet and last year harvested produce reached 1,600 pounds.   That's a lot of food.  I was curious and measured all my gardens today.  They total 3,804 square feet, roughly twice the size of Michelle's garden.  Does that mean 3,200 pounds of food will be harvested from the backyard this year?  Dang, that's some produce.   My "garden" is actually several areas throughout the property that have changed throughout the years to eventually become what they are today.   The property started with a focus on antique roses and herbs -- vegetables were minimal -- flowers of all kinds were in abundance. Annuals, perennials, native species, and of course the herbs and roses were everywhere.  The past 5 years, I realized the importance of food production and now the opposite prevails -- few flowers except those needed for attracting beneficial insects -- and a LOT of vegetables stuck in places you'd never expect.  The rose garden, for example, once displayed over 40 antique roses.  Today, all that's left are eight large shrub roses (can't kill those old tough guys).  I now have four parts of the rose garden filled with cantaloupe, watermelon, onions, swiss chard, carrots, red beets, rhubarb and lettuces. The native plant border and wild flower meadow was left to grow in and low and behold wild raspberries are dominating both areas.  The herb garden also displayed many, many herbs at one point in time.  It placed 2nd in an herb garden contest 18 years ago.  Needless to say, as herbs died off,  vegetables filled their spot.  Almost one half of the herb garden is now a squash patch.  Here are the square feet of the various beds around the property:
The expanded strawberry plot

Herb garden - 12 x 60 feet with about 1/2 planted in squash.
Main Vegetable Patch:  22 x 74 feet.  All vegetables
Raspberry/Asparagus row:  4 x 74 feet
Strawberries/Rhubarb row: 10 x 68 feet
Rose Garden plots:  5 x 6, 6x7, 5x2, two areas each being 8 x 11, and 7x 32 feet
The wildflower meadow where the raspberries are growing is about 1/4 acre (not included in the square footage).
Butternut and Spaghetti Squash about to take over an herb garden

Total square footage:  3,804

How big is your garden?  No matter the size, as long as you are growing something, kudos to you for realizing the importance of growing your own food.
Rose garden plots.  Few roses remain.

The main vegetable garden - 1,628 square feet. Bigger than my house!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Strawberry Patch Maintenance

When I first contemplated growing strawberries, the maintenance necessary to keep the patch productive gave me second thoughts.  But the love of strawberries and the dislike of the cost to to purchase a quart (local berries are being sold for $4.50 a box) outweighed the work involved, so we made the investment and started 100 plants in 2009.  A year later, I was questioning my gardening skills and had a strawberry mess because I didn't conduct the required maintenance. I realized then, if I want strawberries, work is involved and a bunch of it.  After the matted mess in 2010, the entire patch was dug up and replanted in two tidy rows.  In 2011, fewer berries were produced because of the transplanting of plants, not knowing if they were original plants or offspring. But this year, I harvested 36 quarts and it has everything to do with maintenance post-harvest.   Each season, when the plants are done producing, the first thing we do is give the entire patch a haircut with the lawnmower.   The patch is then thoroughly weeded (I tend not to weed during fruiting because it damages the berries - I'm a sloppy weeder!). Plants are given a good feeding of compost and fresh straw is put down to keep weeds at bay and moisture in the ground.  And this is the important part: as runners are produced (each plant can send out as many as 5 runners and they are quick to root), they are snipped off to keep the plant producing berries and not putting energy into new plant production.  Last year, I left a handful of runners grow new plants to prepare for future need of new plants in a year or two (a plant lives about 5 years).  This year, we expanded contemplating the life of the original plants may be coming to an end.  I dug up the plants started last year and planted them in a new, third row.  When this row is in full production, the original rows will be dug up and replanted with new plants that we'll let grow next season.  This rotation will continue until we're old and tired.  And that my friends, is what is required to grow strawberries.  I would highly recommend starting with the standard 25 plants if you are contemplating growing berries.  Hubby says I went a little overboard with 100 plants, and he's probably right.  It's a bunch of work, but oh-so-worth-it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Weekly Harvest - June 18

Thanks to Daphne's Dandelions for hosting Monday Harvests.  I really am enjoying reading other folks harvests.  Last week I did a running total of all food produced as of June 10.  This week I'll start a weekly total. At the end of the season and possibly throughout the season, I'll give a grand total to date.  Here is last week's harvest:

Broccoli - 1 pound
Kale - 1/2 pound
Mixed Greens - 3/4 pound
Onions - 1.50 pounds
Sugar Peas - 2.50 pounds
Snap Peas - 1.50 pounds
Radicchio - .50 (pulled all of it: hubby and I don't care for the taste)
Radishes - 2 pounds
Red Beets - 4.25 pounds
Total Vegetables for the week:  14.50 pounds

Black Raspberries (growing wild): 5 quarts
Strawberries:  4 quarts (finished for the season; post coming on strawberry maintenance)

Total berries: 9 quarts

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Millions of Backyard Harvests

I added this blog to another blog that is a network of backyard harvests and I can't recall where it is or what the name of the blog was.  (Doh!)  So I did a google-search of backyard harvests and - bam! - there was a list of 9,900,000 sites with the words backyard and harvest in it.  Scrolling through the first 10 pages of the search gave me goosebumps.  There are thousands - maybe millions - of folks growing their own food and harvesting.  I was soooo impressed and thrilled to see each and every one of them. For whatever the reasons and there are many, folks are growing food.  It's nice to see!  Go ahead -- google "weekly harvests from the backyard." By the way, the website that give weekly harvests is Daphne's Dandelions.  Thanks to Daphne for hosting Harvest Mondays where by 50+ gardeners share their weekly harvests.  Very cool.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Red Beet Season

Earlier this year, I planted a respectable patch of beets outside of the main garden in the rose garden.  An area about 30 square feet was seeded for beets.  This area is not fenced in and I discovered rabbits really like beet greens.  Thinking I wouldn't have much of a harvest, I found some space in my main garden and planted two more 20 foot rows.  It turns out, the trimming the rabbits were giving the plants actually encouraged growth and the beets are beautiful.  So in the next few weeks, I'll be pulling and cooking up several pounds of beets from all areas of the backyard.  But this was part of the planned season and I have the world's best recipe for canned pickled beets to make red beet eggs this winter.  The recipe is at one of my old posts on beets, here,  Beet it!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Backyard Harvests Total As of Today

This is the first year I'm tracking what we are harvesting and putting a price tag on savings. It's very difficult to estimate some of the pricing because organic produce is practically non-existent in my area.  My estimates on savings are very conservative using Walmart pricing.   I missed calculating the first harvests of asparagus, spinach, and rhubarb, but suffice it to say the below is pretty accurate since the Strawberries starting coming in.
Strawberries: 32 quarts, avg $3.00/quart = $96.00

Romaine - 6 lbs. - $12.00
Kale - 4 lbs. - $4.00
Radishes - 3 lbs. - $3.00
Broccoli - 7.5 lbs. - $14.00
Rhubarb - 6.75 lbs. - (??? - never saw this for sale anywhere around here)
Asparagus - 5 lbs (estimate) - $15.00
Spinach - 2.5 lbs (estimate) - $3.00
Sugar peas - 8 lb.- $16.00
Snap peas - 3.75 lbs. - $5.00
Mesclun mixed greens - .5 lbs. - $3.00
Spring Onions .5 lbs. - $1.00
Carrots .5 lbs. - $.50
Total pounds:  48 pounds and 32 quarts of berries
Total savings: $172.50

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Why Grow Swiss Chard

Greens are nutrient powerhouses and until I realized that, I thought spinach and lettuce were  the greens of choice given their prominent spots at grocery stores.  Enter a healthy eating habit, gardening, and seed catalogs and the wonderful world of greens opens up.  There are literally hundreds of varieties of greens.  From asian greens such as tatsoi and mizuno to the all-too-common spinach, greens should be part of your garden.  I grow about 10 varieties of greens: kale, New Zealand spinach, bloomsdale spinach, tatsoi, pak choi, mesclun greens, radicchio, romaine, ruby swiss chard, and red beets (yes, the greens are used too).   I love them all, but swiss chard is tops.  Why?  Primarily because of the nutrient content. Chard is in the spinach family, so there are many nutrient similarities to Popeye's favorite vegetable.   I'm one that zeros in on foods packed with the highest amount of nutrients, especially iron because I typically fall short in iron (I eat little red meat).  In one cup of cooked chard, you get 21% of your daily requirement of iron AND (the best part) there are only 35 calories in that one cup.  Swiss chard is very easy to grow from seed and will hang around all summer without bolting or any pests bothering it too much.  It can take part shade and looks magnificent in the garden or even in a container on the patio.   It will overwinter too if your winters are mild.  There are numerous varieties to choose from and the stalks along with the leaves are eaten.  Most varieties differ because of the color of the stalks which are beautiful in their own rite.  Bright Lights is a very popular variety with its multi-colored stalks.   I'm discovering the colored stalks look lovely in recipes.  Last year, I grew a golden chard.  This year, the ruby (variety "rhubarb") stalks are making their debut in the backyard.  You can eat chard leaves in your salad but I found the most efficient way to get the nutrients is cooked.  My Popeye energy starts first thing in the morning with a cup of swiss chard in my scrambled eggs.  Bring on the day... and the chard.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Working Overtime

I'm in overtime mode and the strawberries are the reason.  Twenty quarts of strawberries over the past 9 days have been keeping me hopping.  The time to pick them totals about 1.25 hrs, but the time it takes to preserve them sometimes takes double that time and even triple depending on what I do.  Today was a jam-making day and it took 3 hrs from beginning to end. I had forgotten how canning consumes a bunch of time but the results are oh-so-worth-it.  I realized today that when I hot-water bath again, I'm going to make a day of it because once the water gets boiling, it seems a waste not to keep using it for a couple batches of whatever is ready to be canned.  A yield of only 6 pints of jam had me questioning the practicality of firing up the only canner I have which is fairly large.  I may look into a smaller canner, or utilizing the time better.  The rest of the berries are getting cleaned and cut up for Ricky to snack on or freezing.  I typically eat so many while I'm picking them that I'm not hungry for them anymore.  The rest of the gardens don't stop needing attention while the berries are doing their thing.  The weeds keep growing, the compost keeps cooking and begging to be turned, and the crops need fed with finished compost.  Mulch needs laid on the beds and the peas need picked, cleaned, and preserved.  Herbs need cut and spread out to dry.  By the end of the day I feel like I just can't go anymore -- I can't bend over one more time and I can't take another step.   Truly.   Berries, berries, berries... and working overtime.  Time and half of R&R will be perfect pay.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Strawberry Stretch, Lunge, Squat and Twist

The strawberries and peas are giving me a workout – literally.  It takes nearly two hours a day to search for and harvest the little red and green nutritional powerhouses.  Visions of farmers bending over a plant and picking the ripe fruit come to mind, right?  In reality, that’s only one small part of the gyrations the body goes through when picking strawberries.   The berries are at ground level and there are hundreds of them to pick.  Other ground level crops are typically vining crops that grow larger fruit; thus, less to pick.  Think squash and cucumbers.  Root crops are a whole other story.   Ground level picking for an hour goes something like this:  After the back starts to scream hey-stop-that-bending thing, more strategic moves take over.  First it’s the squat that can be endured for about 15 minutes of down….hold….up….step right…. Repeat.  Then the lunge takes over and while in the lunge, a little stretching helps out. While in that lunge and stretch, now gently twist and turn your body.   Yup – a yoga class in the backyard.  By the time the berry patch is picked, the peas await.  They are a blessing because most can be picked from the standing position.  Just a couple more squats to finish up the workout will get me through the pea patch.  The garden can be a wonderful activity to keep you moving and healthy.  For three to four hours a day, my garden has me lifting, pulling, pushing, sliding, turning, throwing and walking along with the bending, squatting, stretching and twisting.  My regular exercise has fallen to the wayside and I thought for sure the garden would suffice as exercise and it does for staying active and moving.  But for improving fitness, I’ll need to elevate my heart rate according to this interesting post from Vreeland Clinic in Vermont, Activity or Exercise, Do You Know the Difference?  Any movement is good, in my opinion.   Dr. Kevin O'Neil agrees in this article on The Benefits of Movement.   My dear old 81-year old dad is living proof of staying young by staying active.  He swears he’s still here today because he won’t stop moving.  His daily routine of tending to race horses has him also doing lifting, pulling, twisting, pushing and throwing, but at a little heavier weight.   He’s such an inspiration.   I think I’ll head out to the garden now for a little yoga.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Globe Thistle Devouring Caterpillars

The bank of thistles.
Several years ago, I found a beautiful perennial plant with unusual blue balls as blooms and I just had to have one.  The plant is called Echinops, a.k.a. globe thistle.  It falls into the category of plants to attract beneficial insects that every organic gardener must have throughout their landscape.  The thistle fit nicely in with the herbs and was originally planted for aesthetics and design in the garden.  It's one of those plants that enjoys blooming then spewing its seeds everywhere and each one of these seeds loves to try to grow.  Eventually, after moving a couple plants to several locations, the plant took hold by my front door and there's now a huge bank of globe thistles growing wild at our entrance way.  It always attracted a ton of bees and butterflies and knowing the benefits of  the pollinators, I just left the plant to spread as it may. Don't worry, if you come to visit, when you walk by the bees they keep to themselves and won't stop to say hi.  Yesterday (actually, I spied some bug poop about a month ago but didn't pay much attention until now)  I noticed about 20 little silk nests on the plants and I started freaking out and was ready to run for the jar to start picking them off, worried they'd affect the blooms.  Ahhh, but alas, the old gut feeling prevailed and sent me to the caterpillar book and of the course the wondrous google search.   Not having much luck with the book, google saved the day, err- saved the caterpillars in this case.   The eventual finding was the caterpillar of the Painted lady butterfly.  They feed on plants of the thistle family and build a webbed nest while they feed.  What an exciting find by my front doorstep.  Our chairs are already parked on the porch to watch the parade of the painted ladies in a couple weeks.  Thanks to one of my Facebook friends, Donna G-W, she shared this cool site on the Painted Lady and what she looks like.  Donna also is the artist of the beautiful Butterfly bath below that sits 5 feet from the bank of thistles.  I find it ironic that her creation arrived at my doorstep and a couple weeks later, 20 painted lady caterpillars were discovered.   
Yes, that's a milkweed plant.  I let them grow freely.
The webs the caterpillars encase themselves in.