Thursday, July 26, 2012

Oodles of Garlic

Garlic is one of my very favorite things to grow in the garden. That and potatoes. They are both such satisfying things, so simple and hearty, and different from veggies grown from seed. You plant a piece of potato or a clove of garlic, and under the ground they multiply into a dozen potatoes or a whole head of garlic. You plant them, and then you basically leave them alone, and then you dig them up, and magically they have generated the big final product.

We harvested our garlic two afternoons ago, and got a mighty haul. For those new to growing garlic, Hood River Garlic (where I got my seed garlic) has this great garlic calendar to explain all the steps and timing of the process (in Zone 8, anyway).

We planted 82 cloves of Chesnok Red back in October, and harvested 80 heads this week. I had pulled up one a month or so ago to check on its progress, so only one plant remains unaccounted for. What a yield! This is a perfect year's supply for us, allowing for 1-2 heads per week and some kept back as seed garlic.

I taught Matt how to braid garlic, and he put in several nails to hang the braids from, under the shelter of the front porch overhang. One small unbraided bunch contains the heads that got nicked by the turning fork while we were digging them up. We'll use those ones first.

It should take about two weeks for the garlic to cure, given that we are forecast to have perfect garlic-curing weather: sunny and 80s without a drop of rain.

Once it's all cured, we'll clean it a bit more and cut off the roots, then hang it in the basement where it's cool and dry. We'll keep six or eight of the biggest heads for next year's seed. 

The summer harvest keeps rolling in, and we've been running around picking and blanching, and foisting large bags of greens off onto the neighbors. 

I am  crazily proud of this perfect cabbage.

The chickens enjoyed the outer leaves, plus the colony of caterpillars and slugs that were living in there.

The first of the Giant Marconi sweet peppers. 

We haven't been eating enough salads to keep up with our lettuce production. Hence the foisting upon neighbors.

I planted a few of these Rattlesnake pole beans that I got from an old coworker. LOVE them.

We're off for another whirlwind weekend trip to my hometown, this time for my tenth high school reunion! I'm excited to see what will be waiting for us in the garden when we come back. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Putting Up the Harvest

We picked a big heap of green beans yesterday morning, and while we were at the community garden, another gardener somewhat hysterically forced two big yellow zucchini on us (the reality of zucchini- there will always be more than you need). Time to start filling up the freezer for winter! Or rather, stuffing it to the gills- we're on a quest for a small chest freezer this week, since with our massive garden bounty this year plus the rabbits, the little one atop the fridge is no longer sufficient.

For veggies like beans, chard, corn, and broccoli, blanching and freezing is a great way to store produce. It's a pretty simple process of plunging cut veggies into boiling water, then into ice water to cool. This website has a good run-down of blanching times for different vegetables. Caveat: one guideline that we choose to ignore is that you should blanch summer squash. We just shred it and freeze it without cooking it. I know you're not supposed to, but we actually find that the quality and texture is much better when we do use it (we cook it in fritters and muffins and such), and have never had a problem with it going into the freezer raw. Still, everyone should make their own decision about that!

The final haul! With lots more to come in the next few weeks. This is the first year we've blanched and frozen peas, since it is the first year we've grown shelling peas. We'll do a taste test in the next  couple days on the blanched ones and see how they worked out. 

Friday, July 20, 2012


I love this time of year. The garden is bursting with goodness, it's salsa season, there are barbecues and potlucks to go to, and we've been having loads of thunderstorms at night, but warm days. The whole season speaks of growth and abundance.

Yesterday's garden basket: ingredients for salsa! (and a branch of cherry tomatoes that I broke off. I'm clumsy. They are now ripening by the kitchen window). 

Guacamole in our lava rock mortar. YUM.

 Tonight's garden basket

Which turned into a stone-ground pesto...

...add some pasta...


More potatoes.

 Another batch of rabbits were butchered today (sorry, the terrible lighting makes this look far more gory than it is in reality).

Tonight's task: shelling the Alderman peas. 

This is the time of year when it is insane to go on vacation, because the garden gets ahead of us! Up next on our list: picking the green beans (which have gone totally apesh*t in the last couple days of mild heat), blanching and freezing the peas and beans, and harvesting the garlic! (I pulled up one bulb today, it's looking very good). 

It's been a busy week! Since getting back from the Spokane area, we spent the last two days celebrating Matt's birthday, first with family on Wednesday night, and then with friends at our house last night. I surprised Matt at his Wednesday party with an ice cream roll-up cake (which I had snuck off to his mom's to make in secret the night before), Jessa and Elliot gave him an ice cream maker (!!!), his dad gave him a massively generous gift of high-quality tools, and he also received The River Cottage Meat Book, Back to Basics, and a couple other very useful books that we're both excited about. At our barbecue last night, there were oodles of small sweet children running around, old friends and new (several young urban farmers that Matt met recently), an impromptu jam session, a fire in the brick fire place, and a lighting storm that created an amazing atmosphere as the sun went down. It's been a nice few days, but I'm glad the weekend is here now, for us to catch up with things!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Checking Out

We're headed up north to the woods tomorrow for an extended weekend with family, including my aunt and uncle who are flying up from California, and to enjoy the bounty of my parents' garden along with some continuing hot weather. I hope you all have a great weekend, and I'll be back here sometime next week!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

At the Community Garden

Things are rolling right along at the community garden. I am so glad we decided to get a plot here, it gives us the extra growing space we need, and the ritual and true community nature of gardening here are wonderful. It really has become something of a ritual: walking the leisurely five minutes up to the garden on these warm beautiful summer evenings to water our plot, walking home later with a basket piled high with peas and lettuce. It's literally straight up our street about six blocks, and I have fallen in love with the walk: we pass all kinds of small houses like our own, filled with people of different colors, many of them young couples like ourselves. Most of the yards have been torn up and turned into gardens, like our own, and it is so encouraging to see this practical way of life here on a residential street. And on each walk, we can see the changes since the last walk, that one family's tomato vines have grown taller, and that the couple on the corner has added a new raised bed today. We now know all the dogs and cats on the street, and many of the human faces too. One yard is planted entirely in rows of raspberries. In front of another house, the inhabitants tilled up their curb strip (except there is no curb: past our block, there are no sidewalks, but also no traffic) and planted it full of sunflowers. Many times Jessa or Elliot is there to walk with, having stopped by our house after work or to check on the rabbits.

Three rows of beans (one of Empress and two of Blue Lake), growing wonderfully. I'm thankful they're so big now that they out-compete the weeds! You can also see that I planted sunflowers fairly randomly throughout the plot.

Our two lonely corn plants, the only ones surviving after two full plantings of this bed. We found gopher pilings, but can't trap them because it is against city policy. So we replanted the rest of this bed in leeks, rainbow chard and parsnips, and are hoping that the gophers have moved elsewhere.

To make the most of our 10' x 20' plot, we made a path in an incomplete loop around the inside of it, you can see it where the bark chips are. The middle bed contains winter squash (Queensland Blue, Red Kuri, and Sunshine) and two red cabbage starts. Behind them there are four potato plants, buttercrunch lettuce, and a row of cilantro.

The snap peas (Oregon Sugar Pod) have been going for broke, much to our delight! They did incredibly well here, but not so great at the house. 

A view of the whole plot. One the near (south) end are two types of heirloom carrots, Chantenay Red Core and Scarlet Nantes, and our compost bin. Two days ago I cut back the massive comfrey bush on the right, as it was encroaching on the carrots and the newly planted leeks. I saved a pile of the leaves and they are currently brewing into comfrey tea to use as fertilizer. I also pulled out the two big poppy plants in the corn bed. I saved a handful of heads which are currently drying in the sun in the backyard so I can save the seed. They are gorgeous purple blooms, and I want to someday be able to plant a big bank of them along a driveway or as a border to something. Oh, dreams of owning property....

I love wandering around the community garden to see how other people have arranged their plots, and what they are growing. Some are haphazard, some are very tidy, and some are amazingly creative. There are hops, raspberries, blueberries, huge pea vines and bean teepees, and pretty much every vegetable that grows in this climate. It is a whole heap of inspiration in one place, and we get the community piece to boot, watering the plots of our garden neighbors when they are out of town, and meeting lots of people who live in our neighborhood. Jessa and Elliot's plot is kitty-corner to ours, a woman who lives a block from us has the big plot right across the pathway, and a good friend of Matt's from college, who he hadn't seen in years, is a few plots away! Community, indeed.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Entertainment on the Cheap, Outdoors.

Matt and I very rarely spend money on "entertainment," i.e. movies, concerts, museums, etc. I guess we don't subscribe to the most common forms of entertainment. Instead we tend to hang out with friends at someone's house, go to a park, make music, read books, or watch movies from netflix. All of these things cost little or no money, and ultimately they are what we enjoy. The outdoors is our most common form of entertainment, although this spring we hardly stuck to our usual habit of getting out into the woods regularly, because our schedules got so hectic.

Yesterday, we finally got out onto our state's hiking trails again. We hiked Tom, Dick & Harry Mountain next door to Mt. Hood in the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, on a perfectly gorgeous July day, 80 degrees and barely any clouds. For the cost of a few gallons of gas (and the $30 for a Northwest Forest Pass, which lasts a year!), we got a day of clean air, wilderness, six miles of exercise, and some spectacular views of The Mountain.

Matt on the outcropping where we stopped for lunch.

 Our provisions for the day were egg salad sandwiches, carrots and snap peas from the garden, some salami and crackers, cookies, and cantaloupe. 

Mt. Hood and Mirror Lake (even though we were technically in the wilderness, we can see civilization: see Highway 26 winding through the valley?)

Government Camp, Oregon

Mirror Lake wasn't still enough to mirror the mountain, but still beautiful.

We are so lucky to live where we live, to have this an hour and a half to the east, and the coast the same distance to the west. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Front Garden and a Potato Diagnosis

Matt and I managed to put in a good several hours' work in the front yard garden yesterday, although these pictures were taken the day before, when it was less sunny (July 4th every year: sunny summer weather finally turns up!). I'm so pleased at our space out front and how well everything is coming along. 
Our first beet! We have many others at various stages, but this is the first one to reach harvesting size.

I snapped this photo of the red-orange calendula just as a honeybee flew into the frame!

My vision for a yard bordered/landscaped with interplanted veggies and flowers is coming to life. Here are zinnias and lavender, with a big tomato at the left and a potato on the right (background) as well as a pepper (foreground).

I have loved pansies since I was a kid and my parents were seed testers for Organic Gardening magazine and I got to plant all the new pansy varieties. This year I bought a pack of mixed-color ones and now their happy faces are blooming all over the garden. 

It's all looking a little tidier since I took this picture- Matt raked up the leaves (actually dogwood sepals) and I mowed and edged the lawn yesterday. 

We have had two ripe tomatoes this week, from this plant. This is one of the mystery plants whose seeds all got washed around in the planting trays...although I'm pretty sure it's a Brandywine.

The northwest corner of the yard is still a bit of a jungle. This crazy pampas grass-type plant has gone totally crazy. Next on the list of chores is to cut it back to give the cabbage, zucchini, beets and beans back here more space and light.

Gorgeous blossom on the burgundy beans (these are the ones that grow nice dark purple pods and then turn green when you cook them).

 I got freaked out when this potato plant started to go yellow and get brown spots. I was afraid it was blight, which would be bad news for our potato production and all the tomatoes planted nearby. However, upon consulting the all-knowing interwebs, it appears to be a magnesium deficiency. I didn't know this could affect potatoes, but here it is! One of the things that can make it happen is too much potassium- I wonder if the rabbit poo that was mixed into this soil contained enough potassium to keep the plant from taking up magnesium. Now that we know, we'll begin amending the soil accordingly and treating the other plants (ideally in an organic way) to keep this from happening too much elsewhere. This was the only plant so massively affected. The others, and some of the tomatoes, have yellow spotty leaves here and there. We decided to go ahead and pull this one out since it had no green leaves left, and were rewarded with a small heap of perfect (non-blighted!) Yukon Golds.

I think you can be a gardener your whole life and still be constantly learning new tricks, timings, and ways to identify plant diseases and prevent them. Every year we add more knowledge necessitated by new challenges our garden throws at us, and every year we manage to get more from the earth and be a little more confident in doing so.