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Posts Tagged ‘plangarden’

Now that we’ve moved to a hot, dry climate, we couldn’t wait to grow melons – watermelons and canteloupes. We even bought a popsicle-making kit to handle the harvest overflow (Gigi loves watermelon popsicles). All our melon seeds were purchased at the Seed Bank in Petaluma.

Alas, not all the melons we planted produced sweet, juicy fruit we had anticipated. And despite the incredible vigor of these plants, we did not get as much fruit as we had hoped (so much for those popsicles). Here’s our Plangarden raised bed layout that shows what we planted.

Honeydew Orange Flesh and Charentais were winners!

Honeydew Orange Flesh and Charentais were winners!

“Far North”, suggests that it can be grown in higher latitudes that have shorter growing seasons. Our patch first produced fruit in early July. They looked beautiful. Perhaps we harvested them too late (early- to mid-August), but the puny, starchy canteloupes were like a hybrid of styrofoam and an Idaho potato. We’d probably try them again next year and see what happens if we harvest them earlier. But these melons are so small, less than single serving, and not really worth the effort.

Far North canteloupe harvest

Puny Far North canteloupes were a disappointment. Did we harvest too late?

“Golden Midget” got us all excited. They are beautiful 4-5 lb. watermelons that start out green and then turn deep yellow once they’re ripe. While they were certainly juicy, they lacked any kind of sweetness you’d expect from a home-grown melon. We were sad to admit that the supermarket melons were far superior.

“Honeydew Orange Flesh” was the winner. Biting into the firm, honeydew-type orange flesh feels so sinful – it’s like candy, but not sickeningly sweet. And a close second is “Charentais”, a much smaller fruit with the lighter flesh of a canteloupe.

Honeydew Orange Flesh were firm, like honeydew melons, but sweet like canteloupes!

Honeydew Orange Flesh were firm, like honeydew melons, but sweet like canteloupes!

Chanterais canteloupes in the early morning

And the first runner up is ... the Charentais canteloupe!

We had problems trying to start “Sugar Lee” from seed, and unlike the other melons, it took 2-3 attempts to finally get a plant to grow. We have one fruit (just one!) which looks like it’ll be about 8 lbs. The jury’s still out but I doubt this can outdo our winners.

What could we have done wrong with the other melons? Did we overwater them? Perhaps. But how does this account for the success with the other melons? We did start the plants in rich soil with lots of seasoned horse manure, and fertilized them regularly.

If you grew melons this year, let us know which varieties you loved. And we’d appreciate any tips on improving flavor and harvest 🙂 !

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Here’s an update on our first season garden at our new digs. We enjoy and appreciate comments (including constructive criticism) so don’t hold back on your impressions 🙂

But first, a bird’s eye view of the garden with our Plangarden layout. Click on the image to get the larger size:

Plangarden's Veggie Garden July18 Status

Here's our garden plan as of July 18, 2010

Starting from the top and moving somewhat left-to-right, here are our garden pics starting with our “Tower of Potatoes”:

Roy inspecting our potato tower which is beginning to blossom!

Roy inspecting our potato tower which is beginning to blossom!

Next is the red Kennebec potato and Yin-Yang shelling bean “boxless” plot. A couple of *huge* rocks stuck out of the ground and were removed, leaving large divets. We thought why not fill it with soil and just make a “normal” bed? The potatoes are doing well but we had problems with this plot for the beans. Roy suspects that root-knot nematodes affected bean germination:

Yin Yang Shelling Bean and Kennebec Potatoes in background

Yin Yang shelling beans and four Kennebec potato plants in rear of bed

Our melon and watermelon patch is going nuts! Good thing we provided lots of “crawl area” for the vines in between boxes (~4-5ft). The “Far North” melon (~65 days) already has fruit the size of a baby’s head. The “Golden Midget” (~70 days) watermelon has some fruit about the size of small apples. This 3-pounder’s rind is supposed to turn golden yellow when ready to harvest – can’t get easier than that! As for the “Sugar Lee”, we have had lots of trouble germinating this baby which is supposed to produce 15-18 pounders. Only one plant is growing vigorously, albeit slowly. But if it succeeds, we may be harvesting watermelons through October!

Melon and Watermelon Patch

Melon and watermelon tendrils have draped well over the sides of garden boxes!

The Yin-Yang shelling beans grown in this box are thriving; so are the cukes “Dragon’s Egg” (technically a melon) and “Straight Eight”.

Yin Yang Beans and Cucumbers

Thriving Yin Yang shelling beans and cucumbers in rear

Royal Burgundy beans in the neighboring box are also doing well though surprisingly not as prolific as I had expected (we’ve only had 1 meal and it’s mid-July!). Suspect a small varmit has been visiting. Roy’s looking to see if the Butternut squash have developed fruit (not yet).

Roy inspecting Butternut Squash and Royal Burgundy Beans

Roy looking for Butternut squash fruit. Royal Burgundy beans in foreground

We love it when a stray seed or two goes from soil to compost and back to new soil. These two beautiful purple Amaranth plants are “squatting” in between the bell peppers. We didn’t have the heart to remove them, and the peppers don’t seem to mind it (yet). We will probably harvest the Amaranth leaves for salad and not let them get too large. In the rear of the box are a gorgeous sweet Armenian cucumber (“Metki White Serpent”) and two prolific straightneck yellow summer squash plants.

Bell peppers, Armenian cucumber, Yellow squash & Amaranth

Amaranth popped out of nowhere but don't seem to bother the bell peppers

We think our tomato plants are probably the most spoiled on the planet. Some would probably have abandoned them long ago, but not us. Well, not Roy. I nearly gave up, but acquiesced to Roy’s insistence on buying the black shade cloth that blocks 60% of the sun (~$50) and a misting system (~$25) to cool down the tomatoes in the middle of the day. Since the temps started climbing in the upper 90’s to 100’s in mid-June, these babies have been suffering from blossom drop. I also used old muslin fabric to protect the western side. We had our first attack of tobacco hornworms, but now have them under control, thanks to our chickens 🙂

Heirloom Tomato garden box

Doing everything we can to salvage our heirloom tomatoes from extreme heat

Our last veggie box houses the corn. We sowed two different varieties with different days-to-harvest times about a week apart to further stagger the harvest. We also sowed climbing beans about 2 weeks after planting the corn so that the stalks would be larger than the bean plant. This looks successful so far.

Corn provides trellis for pole beans

We staggered planting of two different corn varieties

Pole bean plant climbing up corn stalk

Pole bean plant climbing up corn stalk

Our first attempt at upside-down tomato plants have not been successful, probably because of the high temps that have overheated the plastic paint bucket containers. The “Celebrity” tomato plant has died, but “Early Girl” is still hanging in there, and produced two ripe (albeit small) fruit. The cloth you see is what I used to cover the plants to protect them from too much sun:

Upside Down Tomatoes & Thai Basil

Upside-down tomatoes may have broiled in those plastic buckets. Thai basil on top.

Finally, here’s the big picture showing our recently-built (final) chicken coop on the left (click on the image for larger pic). We’re still adding more plants, sorely needing ornamentals, but we have had to prioritize. Hopefully next year, we’ll have more grapevines, landscaped paths around the fence, more flowers and attractive shrubs.

Plangarden's veggie garden and coop mid-July 2010

Our veggie garden and coop in the heat of the summer.

Quick flashback to May 1st, just 2 1/2 months ago:

Finished Building Veggie Garden Boxes

Construction of veg garden was a Herculean effort, thanks to abundant rocks, most of which had long been cleared out of this photo

And here it is the morning of April 1st, just 3 1/2 months ago, with snow-covered Mt. St. Helena in the background. It looks idyllic here (gee why did you ruin your view?), but the shrubs you see are a fire hazard (chamise or “greasewood”), and the overgrown former lawn was teeming with yellow star thistle!

View of Mt. Saint Helena from our backyard

A vegetable garden was but a dream in early Spring ...

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Finally! A long overdue blog post.

For nearly 15 years we had lived in Half Moon Bay, CA (a wonderful, small-town community just south of San Francisco).  The soil was pure clay, the climate cool and often foggy. While we eventually were successful in veggie gardening in raised beds and containers, I look back at our mistakes as we begin planning for our new garden.

Planning New Vegetable Garden

From the 'burbs to the country. Starting anew.

We’ve recently moved to Lake County (just north of Napa County, CA) where we have a bit of land and a chance to set up a vegetable garden the right way from the start. And by they ‘right way’ we simply are going to try to minimize the number of mistakes that we make!

How I pledge to do things differently:

  1. Learn habitat and climate. Even though I knew Half Moon Bay was different, I tried to apply too many things that I had learned when growing up and gardening in the Midwest. I’ll also take advantage of free advice from master gardener volunteers at the county extension office.
  2. Test the soil. Know what’s in it and amend where needed. This will save many seasons of frustration.
  3. Prepare and plan. Before I wrote Plangarden software, I would just plant whatever I “thought” might grow, without doing research on specific varieties that thrive better in my climate. Getting too much harvest or seeing crops fail wasn’t fun!

I have already spent time at the local nursery and with my neighbors learning about the climate, soil, and certain varieties of plants that do well out here. I haven’t sent in the soil sample yet, so nothing goes in the soil other than compost until I get the test results. I know I have a loam/red clay soil, and the ratio of calcium to magnesium is not ideal for most plants (too much magnesium).

The charming fauna – deer, jack rabbits, squirrels – are a new pest for us. Fencing will be critical. Also, rocks and boulders seem to “grow” on this property (Sonoma rock – the kind suburbanites pay landscapers to put in their gardens). I will try to create raised beds with these rocks (as my wife rolls her eyes, amused at my youthful enthusiasm).

What else have I left out?

Wishing you an excellent gardening year,

Roy

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Seed CatalogsThe cause of cabin fever is not clearly defined.  It can be caused by a prolonged cold snap of sub freezing weather, a particularly bad storm, or checking the mail in snow boots and finding several cheerful, brightly-illustrated, encyclopedic seed catalogs waiting for you.

The symptoms vary, from homicidal extremes enacted by Jack Nicholson in The Shining, but hopefully for most of us gardeners, it goes something like this:  We look at a white blanket of snow and see where the tomatoes will be next year.  We try to remember if there was a member of the nightshade family there last year so we can do our crop rotation properly.

While a good cure is to start some seedlings, it is a bit too early for that in most parts of the northern hemisphere.  So instead, here are a few ideas to help with cabin fever.

  1. Start planning your garden for next year.  You can use Plangarden free for 45 days as an alternative to graph paper and pencils!  Look through what you planted lasted year.  Make the adjustments, and come up with a plan that will be just right for 2009.
  2. Join a social media group and talk about gardening. Plangarden, Twitter, The GardenWeb, and Dave’s Garden have forums where people exchange ideas about vegetable gardening.  And who knows?  Someone having gardening woes in the southern hemisphere may actually benefit from your wisdom and experience!
  3. Start some indoor herbs.  When the days get longer, a little success with a culinary herb at a kitchen window can be the right remedy to cabin fever!

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Garlic Shrimp (like Shrimp Scampi) for Lazies

Garlic Shrimp (like Shrimp Scampi) for Lazies

I confess to being occasionally lazy in the kitchen.  Well … ok, often lazy might be more appropriate.  The solution to being a lazy yet discerning foodie?  KISS: keep it simple, (very) satisfying.

This shrimp scampi-style recipe takes about 30 min. start-to-finish and calls for:

  • 1 small bulb (yes, bulb, not clove) garlic
    (peel/mince this while watching the news)
  • peeled, medium-sized, raw shrimp about 3/4-1 lb should feed at least 2, if not 3 people, depending on your side dish and carb intake
  • 3 tblspns corn starch
  • 1/4 cup cooking sherry
  • ~ 5 tblspns olive oil (a healthy fat, so don’t fret!)
  • salt/pepper to taste

Mix corn starch and sherry.  Throw in shrimp in this mixture and let it sit while you work on the garlic.  P.S. Don’t thow the shrimp shells in the garbage.  Bury it in your garden like this.

Peel and mince entire bulb of garlic (or around 6 big cloves).  When finished, return to the shrimp mixture, stir it one last time and then remove excess liquid.

Heat oil in frying pan.  Add minced garlic, cook till slightly golden.  Add shrimp (you should be at med-high heat) and stir fry quickly till done, but don’t overcook.  This usually takes about 3 min.

We usually serve with rice and a veggie dish (zucchini, broccoli are popular).

Our favorite recipes will soon appear on our Plangarden Web site.  Stay tuned!

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So pooped after this big harvest!

So pooped after this big harvest!

It’s been a warm, dry winter here in N. California.  There’s a threat of frost and rain/snow in the forecast this weekend so ran out and salvaged the last of the cherry “grape” tomatoes.  Harvested about 4 1/2 lbs – it’s incredible.  And there’s still more babies left on the vines that will perish when the frost kicks in 😦

Am amazed these gems have lasted as long as they have.  The seeds are so hardy and pop up like weeds in the spring.  Send us a SASE and we’ll be happy to send you seeds for your next growing season: Plangarden, P.O. Box 1973, El Granada, CA 94018.

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Last year I looked at the border hedge between my neighbor and me and realized that while the pineapple guava (recommended by Pam Peirce in her book Golden Gate Gardening) were doing ok, they were not the greatest looking plants.  The soil was horrible clay and had trees in it before.

Originally, I dug compost in right before planting the guavas.  Not bad, but still not good.  So at the end of last year I removed the bushes and started a several-month-effort to get the soil ready.  Mind you I don’t have much free time, so it may sound like I did more work than I really did.  I first dumped some vermicompost in the are (compost done with red composting worms).  I am lazy and don’t do too good of a job separating the compost from the worms, so I know the soil will have lots of worms.  Even if the compost worms can’t live there forever, they do great things for the soil and to decompose things.  I then threw on half composted materials.  Later I saw weeds coming up so for two weeks I dumped fresh grass on top and let it get hot and kill the weeds.

I called my local Half Moon Bay Nursery and confirmed that they would get berries in January.  After some initial rain storms I got out and turn the soil around and dug down to get the compost mixed in with the clay.  Then I finally planted the berries.  That has been a month and a half ago and now they are starting to wake up and the woody stalks are getting green.  The olallieberries are going to be the last to burst open, but then I do need to get some time so I can put posts in the ground and rung trellis wires.

While I don’t plan on entering too much into Plangarden on these, I will record the harvest so I know how much I get out of them.

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