New Compost Pile

I’ve waited my promised year, or very nearly, and I am ready to get dirty again!  We’re here in NE Kansas now, and I’ve spent the last year watching the four seasons.  Since I die a little inside every time I toss out guinea pig bedding, dead plants, kitchen veggie scraps, and shredded paper….I went ahead and took advantage of twelve rotting Halloween pumpkins to make a lumpy pile in the yard.  I can build a bin or whatever later, but for right now, that’s a trash can full of stuff that’s not headed to the landfill.  (The landfill a mile away, on the banks of the Kansas River.  THAT landfill.)

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Such a nice, big, BLUMP of a pile.  I don’t even think my neighbors will notice. We’re in a rather posh, suburban neighborhood this time around, so I will need to be a little more discreet than I was in our hippie/yuppie town near Seattle.

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Harvest in August

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Roma, cherry, and yellow pear tomatoes, a few figs, and a bowl’s worth of tomatillos. This is my first harvest of figs and tomatillos!

I need to test my garden soil, all but one raised bed is full of skimpy, stunted plants with small fruits. I would think it’s an issue with me, except the kids garden bed is lush and dark green with enormous plants. Same plants, water, fertilizer, and gardener!

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August Garden Tour

Story of gardening is win some, lose some, and he who has the best dirt wins.

First fail- my potatoes. They were destroyed over and over by slugs. Next year I will use dirt instead of straw to fill the can. Or, just plant them in the ground.

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Second fail- the tomatillos. Normally these are bomb-proof, but they got a leaf fungus in the cold greenhouse waiting for summer to start. I peeled off all the diseased leaves and they took a fresh start, but they were irreparably delayed I think. Probably no harvest this year.

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Third and fourth fail- the basil and tomatoes. The basil all shriveled and died soon after transplanting, and the tomatoes are just limping along. It’s simply too cold this year- we’ve been lucky if we reach the 70’s. There was not a single sunny day in June. Also, this bed has a bad mix of dirt- I will be aggressively amending it this fall and winter with chicken bedding and worm compost. Last year’s plantings in this box failed too, although I didn’t realize why.

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Alright, good news!!

My corn is going gangbusters, planted with scarlet runner beans. (None of my pumpkins germinated/survived slug attacks, though.) Good dirt, good companions.

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Dependable kale is always awesome- I plant it once in the early spring, and harvest all year. This won’t bolt until next spring.

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Finally, Cougar Mama’s gifted fig tree has a decent-sized crop this year. Looking forward to harvesting next month, and glad all our digging and weeding and digging again and amending are going to do some good!

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Not pictured, but doing great, is zucchini, mint, and oregano.

I’m trying to decide what I want to mulch with in the garden next year- anything on the ground turns into breeding spots for hordes of slugs. Hmm.

Dried Peas

The peas dried on the vines this year- they weren’t as sweet as last spring. Today we yanked up all the vines and pulled off the dried pods.

Shelled, we ended up with half a quart of dried peas. A disgustingly small amount of fruit for two hours of labor (they clung tightly to the vines) but it’s more than we would have had if I’d just thrown it all in the compost pile. We will cook them like split peas or lentils, I am excited for that!

My sister was here to help out today- I don’t think she’s impressed with urban farming right now, when $3 would buy the same amount of split peas from the grocery store. But, the peas added nitrogen to the garden bed, the roots left behind air pockets and organic matter to enrich the soil, the kids learned to plant and wait and watch. So really, it was worth it because we garden for so many more reasons than the food.

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Tomatoes at my House, From Seed to Kitchen

Every February or March, either my mom or I plant up a squillion or so tomato seeds in dirt trays in our greenhouses, and wait for them to sprout.  Once they’ve come up, we use a very careful method involving a teaspoon and a sharp pencil to pick up each little sprout and transplant it into a beer cup full of miracle-gro dirt.  (What do YOU call those red, 20 oz., Solo brand plastic cups?)

(These are actually basil starts, but you get the idea)
basil starts in the greenhouse

tomato starts in the greenhouse

We leave our army of tomato-seedling-filled beer cups in our green houses until they’re nice and big, and the weather has warmed up.  Once that’s happened, they’re transplanted outside.  This is normally in June or July.  This year, I took my biggest transplants and moved them to gallon pots in May and June, to give them bigger root systems before putting them in the ground.  Tomatoes can send out roots wherever their stems touch dirt, so I de-leaf the bottom half of the vine and bury it.

In years past, I’ve put my tomatoes in pots.  While lots of people have huge success with this (including my mom) I never do.  That’s probably because I’m not the most conscientious waterer, and plants in the ground are more forgiving about water since they can find their own.  Now, I put them in the ground, again burying the bottom part of the stalk so I can get a stronger root system.

I discovered my favorite staking method this year, and it surprised me: I found plastic “bamboo” stakes in the shed, left behind by a previous owner.  They’re about a 1/4 inch thick, and four feet tall.  I stuck them in the ground behind the transplants, and used a rubberized wire to twist-tie the tomato vines to the stakes as they grew taller.  Next year I’ll remember to snip off the top of the vine once they reach the top of the stakes, but even without this they did great this year and nothing fell over.

We had such a cold, late, summer this year that none of my large tomatoes (roma and Early Girl) ever turned red.  Not even close.  I got a handful of yellow pear cherry tomatoes, but nothing to write home about.

tomatillos and green tomatoes

When the Fall rains started, I harvested every tomato I could find.  I put all the big tomatoes into a cardboard box, in two layers with some newspaper in between.  I intended to just store them in there until I used them in curries or salsas, or found recipes to use them in.  As of right now, three weeks after that harvest, fully 3/4 of my big tomatoes have ripened and are delicious!  Totally surprised me- next year, I’m going to harvest tomatoes as soon as they’re full-sized and let them ripen inside.  I’ll get ripe tomatoes all summer, and the plants will focus on the next crop of tomatoes when I remove the most mature fruit.

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What I’ve not eaten, I’ve been throwing into gallon ziploc bags and putting them in the freezer for later.  From what I’ve read, I’ll be able to just thaw them and the skins will slide off.  Then, I can cook them into quick sauces, soups, salsa, etc.

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green tomatoes in the sink

The cherry tomatoes have not done well ripening on the counter, for some reason.  The ripe and almost ripe were picked too late after the rains started, and they’d already split open and were mealy.  Luckily, I’ve been on a pickle kick lately and have a new favorite brine.  In the end, I had two gallons of green cherry tomatoes and they are all taking a bath in a sextuple batch of that brine.  I’m pretty stoked.  (They’ve been fermenting three days now, they have four more to go before they go into the refrigerator.)