Saturday, September 17, 2016

Bean Dehydrator

My bean harvest is going well. As expected, the weather has turned rainy and humid, so I am glad I built the dehydrator to dry my beans in. I add beans to it every few days and remove and shell the beans that have dried out.

On the bottom layer, I have beans that I have shelled. I leave them there for a week before putting them into to storage to make sure they are completely dried out. I don't want moldy beans!

On the next four layers I have bean pods laid out so that they do not touch. So far, I haven't used all six layers except when I had a layer of thyme from the garden club at school. For now, I have been inverting the final layer so that the screen is up and I lay the fan on it.

Each weekend, I rotate the dried beans out and replace them with fresh pods that have grown large enough to add to the dehydrator. That's what I have in store for me on this rainy Saturday.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Garden Summary

The weather for June and July was a bit disappointing. Nothing grew in my garden except lettuce and beans. The basil, tomatoes, and peppers were stunted. The cucumbers and squash were doing tolerably well, but what a difference compared to last year.

August rolled around and we are finally having some hot weather. It's been in the mid to upper 80s for a few weeks with no end in sight. OK, we're having some 70s for a couple of days, but then it returns to hot, hot, hot. The nights are a bit cool, though. I think that actually helps tomatoes to ripen. It's been upper 50s at night.

Squash: my cavilli, zucchini, and summer squash have been going bananas (really I think that term should be going zucchini) for at least a month now. I can't keep up! We have been eating vegan zucchini brownies (incredibly good), spiralized zucchini noodles, and zucchini in just about anything I can think of: salsa, soup, lasagna, pizza, etc.

The winter squashes are fairing well. I have four baseball spaghetti squash, several sugar pumpkins, lots of jack o'lanterns, and ONE large pumpkin trying to grow (they keep rotting off at the size of a peach).

Basil, Tomatoes, and Peppers: the basil is finally taking off. It simply wasn't growing. The tomatoes are loaded with green fruits, but so far only five or six have ripened. To compare, last year, I was picking them in early July. The peppers are finally setting en masse. For the longest time, there was just one. I should mention that there are volunteer tomatoes all over my garden, and they are doing nearly as well as the ones I started in the greenhouse.

Finally! A tomato is ripening.

Next year, I will start them on heat pad in the sunroom. I will try my mom's bucket method with a light. I will NOT put any tomatoes in the hanging baskets of the tomato cloche. One last note in this category: I have an eggplant! But the slugs have eaten two huge holes in it. I am hoping two more develop from blossoms, and that the first one will be the sacrifice eggplant. Sigh.

My first eggplant ever has become a slug delicacy.
The tomatoes in pots have great flavor but the plants don't get very big nor do the fruits. 

Onions: they are doing poorly. My friend and I shared starts, and I gave her red onion starts that I grew from seed. Hers are baseball size. Mine are, at best, golf balls.

Beans: these are doing well. Yeah! John and I became vegans in May, so I wanted to grow as many shelling beans as I could. I have them all over the yard and garden. They are profuse.

The beans happily climb the old wooden ladder I used for support. You would never guess there was a ladder inside all that greenery!
Today, I made a dehydrator out of tongue and groove wainscoting. I was going to stack the layers on top of each other with the tongue and groove part, but that didn't end up being necessary. Instead, I fastened little squares of 2 x 2" blocks to each corner and then layered some hardware cloth (mesh screen) over the top. I made three layers today until it got too sunny and hot in my work area. I will finish this afternoon or tomorrow morning. I hope to have six layers in all. I will use a box fan (DIY hyrdrator courtesy of same onion-sharing friend) to dehydrate the beans laid out on the five lower layers. My friend dried hers on the vine and then laid them out (shelled) on newspaper for three days. I will leave mine on the plant as long as I can, but I know that there will come a time when they will start to get moldy, and then I'll use the dehydrator.

Potatoes: doing fine.

Figs: not as good as last year's 132. but so far I have 74. I am hoping to get to 100. All but three of those came from the main tree, but the new Olympia fig gave me a few. They weren't very good (dry and no flavor).

The smaller ones higher on the branch will not likely reach maturity before the weather turns.

Cucumbers: doing OK. Could be better. I may have to consider a fourth bed for them out front (see below).

The cucumbers are mostly easy to spot growing up the trellis, and it gives the cabbage a shady spot.

Changes for next year: this fall, I will need to move everything out of the greenhouse and put in a black-stained concrete floor. I will also need to build at least three 4 x 10 beds in the front yard so that I can move tomatoes, onions, peppers, and basil to a sunnier location. The saddest thing to report is that my garden is no longer getting full sun from 10:00 to 4:00. It's more like 12:00 to 3:00 at best. The trees in our yard have just gotten that much taller. Cutting the beautiful trees is NOT an option. That means I will have to take apart my tomato cloche and move it to the front. Good thing I built it with screws. On that note, the tomato bed will have to be 5 by 10 to accommodate the cloche.

As for the flower pots, I will buy some plants for the pots on the deck. If I get some six-packs from Home Depot, I should be able to keep the cost down. I will also be putting baby diapers in my coconut lined baskets. They just didn't hold water. I am going to collect the seeds from the yellow nasturtium (below) for baskets again next year. I like its compact, curly growth.

The water just runs right out of these baskets, and some of the plants on the edges died. Better luck next year with the addition of diapers.
Instructables: I have been doing some canning and Instructables has a contest for pickling and canning. I entered two how-tos: bread and butter pickles and fig jam I hope to win a prize for having a good instructable. If you want to vote, click on the Vote icon on the top right on the instructable.

Next up will be my dehydrator in action!


Pear Harvest

After years with no pears at all, (we had one delicious pear several years ago), we finally got 16 fairly large Red Anjou pears from our tree. My neighbors just harvested their Bartlett pears and mentioned a chilling period in the fridge, so I figured I'd better investigate.

My Red Anjou pears began their three-week chill today.

How to tell when a pear is ready to be picked
A pear will NOT ripen on the tree, so it must be picked before it's ripe. So how do you know when to pick it? Simply, you tilt the pear upward, lifting it from it's normal hanging position. If it comes off easily, it's mature and ready to be picked. Note: Bosc pears never come off easily, according to Oregon State University Extension. I guess with those, it's trial and error plus experience!

Chilling the pear so it will ripen properly
Pears will not ripen properly unless they go through a chilling period in the fridge. Commercial growers chill them at 30 to 31 degrees F, but Oregon State University Medford and UC Davis have been doing some research at different temperatures ( At 41 degrees F, the Anjou pear seems to need around two or three weeks of chill (as compared to at least 60 days at 31 degrees F). I'm going with 41 degrees F and three weeks since I don't have a way to chill a pear at 31 degrees F anyways.

Once the pears have gone through their chill period, you can bring them out on the counter to ripen. Mine went in the fridge today. Hopefully, I didn't pick them too late. If you do pick them a little late, it sounds like they don't get as sweet and can be mealy (yuck). Fingers crossed!


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Time to transplant

We have had an incredible spring in the Pacific Northwest. Three days in April above 80 degrees set a new record, and now here we are May 1st and it was 80 degrees with more sunshine in store for tomorrow. Last weekend, it was raining, so I transplanted the cool weather crops: lettuce, spinach, broccoli, and nasturtiums. This weekend, I have been trying for two days now to plant everything else. Granted my mornings are taken up with breakfast, a dog walk, and a two-hour run, so I haven't been able to get started until 1:00.

Can you say beans? We made the decision to eat vegan to see if lowers our cholesterol. Eating a plant based diet is supposed to help with all sorts of diseases, so we are jumping in. That means we're going to eat lots of beans. I planted every last bean I had. I am growing many varieties: Cherokee Trail of Tears from my pal Nicole, Sunset Runner Bean, Eye of the Goat, Zuni Gold, Good Mother Stollard Pole Bean, Bolita, and Flambo Bush Bean. With the exception of the last, they all require something really tall to grow up. I think I may have gotten a little carried away....

I think I had 10 flats of bean plants, and I still have two left to find homes for. I managed to plant squash, cucumbers, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage yesterday, but I can't believe I am still planting beans. Tomorrow, I have the day off work, thank goodness, so I will finish the beans and I hope to plant my flower pots and spread rock dust in my garden.

Rock dust is how you replenish the mineral content of your soil. I got a five gallon bucket of sludge from Marenakos, a rock center, for free! It isn't a fertilizer, so it won't make your plants grow better. It will, however, make your fruits and vegetables taste better and be more nutritious. It's hard to know for sure if there is a difference in taste because I can't do a side-by-side comparison, but I have had two people tell me that my cucumbers were really good. One person said they were the most cucumber-y cucumbers she'd ever tasted!

Meanwhile, it would be nice to weed the blueberry patch, set up a chicken pen in some weed controlled garden beds, take some garden photos for this blog, and, oh yeah, relax. Maybe next weekend. But next weekend, I'll be painting some Adirondack chairs.


Monday, April 4, 2016

We have corn!

My corn sprouted yesterday! That is pretty fast for corn. Thanks to a warm week and even warmer weekend, the temperatures in the greenhouse have soared and that's what corn likes. I also saw a couple of squash poking their leaves out, as well as a pole bean or two. Thursday's high is projected to be in the 80s, so I have high hopes for this week (though today is cold and wet).


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Everyone loves freebies; sprout update

I'm driving home from my run and subsequent stop at the hardware store for the obligatory potting soil when I see "FREE SEED STARTER KIT" alongside the road. I come to an urching stop, throw the Prius in reverse, and back up to the driveway to check it out. There before me was a metal frame garden grow kit from Garden Supply Company, value somewhere around $250. I grabbed simply the seed starters, five of them complete with rigid tall domes and heat/humidity vents. I got them home and cleaned them up; other than a little yellowing from sun damage, they were in great shape. I also looked up what they were originally in terms of purpose and value.

I am still debating about going back to get the light fixture, but I don't really have a place for it. Each little seedling kit, complete with capillary mat, support structure, and planting pots (along with the tray and tall dome) is a $39.95 value. Turns out the kit is designed to be maintenance friendly; that is, you only have to water it every two weeks or so. But my freebie was missing everything but the tray and dome, so my free kit turned out to be $60 to get enough of the missing parts to stock five starter kits. It was still a bargain, and something I won't have to buy again for years. For now, I have used some empty plant containers and planted an experimental carrot crop.

Meanwhile, my corn is up! So exciting! No beans have come up yet. I have run out of room in my greenhouse, so I have some trays in the sunroom. I am considering expanding my greenhouse by four feet. We have had stellar weather--it's been 70 plus degrees all week, which means over 100 degrees in the greenhouse. We have some rain coming in for a few days, but the sun comes back by Wednesday. Our usual temperature is about 15 degrees cooler.

I weeded some flower beds and transplanted some irises and peonies. The daffodils are just about done and the tulips and alums are coming on. The seven hyacinths are beautiful!


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Red Bull Onions Are Up!

Just a quick seed update. The onions have finally sprouted, and also one tiny impatiens. Still waiting on tomatoes, sweet peas, peppers, and beans. I had to order more flats to plant the rest of my beans; they arrive tomorrow.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Planting potatoes and onions

We had four sunny days in a row, with highs reaching near 60. I planted my potatoes and onions on the last sunny day. My friend, Nicole, said to lay the potatoes out in the sun after cutting them to harden them off a bit before planting them. I have never done that before! I put the onion starts just barely into the soil. I remember seeing the way they practically sat on top of the soil in Nicole's garden last year. Hers got significantly bigger than mine, and we split the very same bunch of onion starts.

Meanwhile, John moved more loads of composted chicken manure from their pen to my tomato bed. I mixed in lime and peat moss and cow manure. I hope the PH of the soil will be OK. Soil that is too acidic causes blossom end rot in tomatoes. I will test the soil PH in May before I plant the tomato starts and adjust as needed. The bed is still a little low, so I may ad a few bags of potting soil.

I didn't quite get to planting squash and beans in the greenhouse this weekend. I spent much of the day putting mulch on the garden beds in the patio and I finished pruning the plum tree. Next weekend is supposed to be sunny again, so I will probably plant the remaining seeds Tuesday so they can have the burst of warmth to hopefully sprout.

I saved some pansy seeds and one has come up. Other than that, nothing new in the greenhouse.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Sunshine = Sprouts

In the last few days, the weather has been sunny and a bit warmer. It made it to 60 today. It was 80 degrees in my greenhouse yesterday afternoon, and 60 degrees this evening. Not bad. New sprouts include Mongolian Giant Sunflowers, leeks, lots of peas, cilantro, and a few marigolds,

John moved composted chicken manure from the chicken yard to my tomato bed. Tomorrow, I will mix in some peat moss, sand, and lime and till the bed. Meanwhile, I will also plant potatoes and onions, which finally arrived from Territorial Seeds. They have been on back order since early February.

All for now.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Seed sprout update

I spent the day tilling the garden beds. Remarkably, I only encountered a little bit of rain. The little tiller did well, and I managed to work out just when I need to "give it some air," as I like to think of it, when it needed it. Once it gets hot, it tends to die, but I got the hang of when to back off and keep it from dying.

The beds look beautiful: rich black soil so fluffy you really do want to just lay down in it. I finally understood why my dog might want to do that. I got the soaker hoses laid out and connected, clamps and all.

Meanwhile, in my greenhouse, some new seeds have sprouted: leeks and peas. It seemed to be a fairly consistent 60 degrees in there today with some sunshine. It was enough to cause a few seedlings to pop through the soil.

Tomorrow, I will return two raspberry plants to Flower World that appear to be dead. I am hoping for some sun breaks again to warm things up inside the greenhouse.

Nitty Gritty Gardener

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Pelleted Onion Seeds

I have never tried pelleted seeds before, but I decided to give it a go with red onion seeds. Last year, I bought Red Bull onion sets from Territorial Seeds, but this year, they were only available in seed form. I doubt I will have much success with getting onions to sprout soon enough and grow big enough to transplant them into the garden to become onion bulbs. I figure my chances were better if I didn't also have to thin the tiny seedlings, if and when they do come up. Small seeds, like onions and lettuce, are coated in clay that dissolves or pops open when they are watered. Because they are coated in clay, the are easier to see so you know you've only planted one seed in the hole. I'll let you know how it goes.

Meanwhile, nothing new has sprouted in the greenhouse. There are more seeds sprouting of the plants that were already up, though. The weather has still been cold and wet and will continue to be for another week. If the forecast holds, we'll have 60-65 degrees next Thursday through the weekend. That should get some seeds to sprout!

Come on sunshine!


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Sprout Update

Despite the cool nights (40) and not-so-warm days (45-50), my greenhouse has a little warmth to it and some new seeds sprouted. Other kinds of lettuce, purple cabbage, and spinach have come up since yesterday.

I am hoping for some sunshine soon to warm the greenhouse better and sprout more seeds.

We got a giant metal sunflower at an antique store in Duvall.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Planting Journal

Whether or not anyone reads my blog, it is most useful to me as a planting journal. Keeping a record of when you plant, temperatures, and how long it takes seedlings to sprout is a helpful strategy in a gardener's toolkit.

I did a good deal of planting in the greenhouse this weekend, trying to get caught up. As I was labeling, I noticed in my collection of past labels a handwritten list from last year of when I should plant lists of seeds. At the top, I had written, "Plant everything two weeks earlier." If only I had included that in my blog, I might have read it before it was too late. Thus, I planted most things later than last year, but I did manage to plant my tomatoes and peppers a week earlier. My purple light glows in the greenhouse once again!

One of the things I love most about this time of year is the potential each day holds. I love seeing all the signs that it's spring: the cherry blossoms, daffodils, and forsythia, not to mention the chirping frogs, bird songs that greet you first thing in the morning, and simply the wonderful smell of spring. (I think that smell may actually come from the cottonwood trees, which drop what looks to me like a flower sprig.) In that same spirit of spring awakening, I love to discover what seeds have sprouted.

And the winner of the first seedling to sprout in my greenhouse is...Brussels sprouts! And then my husband pointed out the tiny lettuce sprouts. By the end of the day yesterday, which was a sunny and warm 60 degrees, several other vegetables came up: broccoli, cabbage, and maybe a pea. I had hoped for more today, but it never got warmer than 60 degrees in the greenhouse, despite the intermittent sunshine.

Next weekend, I must get the garden beds ready, which means a weekend of tilling, laying out soaker hoses, and spreading rock dust. It's been a while since I have replenished the minerals in my garden soil with rock dust. John plans to try Marenakos for granite or basalt dust, since they cut both types of rock there. We already know we can get granite dust there, but I am hoping for basalt because it has a greater number of minerals in it, whereas granite has mostly potassium.

Once the beds are ready, I need to get whatever is finally coming from Territorial Seeds this week into the ground. I can see that something is on its way; I just don't know what. I am hoping for potatoes or onion sets. I also need to plant carrots, but I am afraid the seeds will rot. We are getting a lot of rain so I may wait until April.

Until next weekend....


Thursday, February 25, 2016

What I learned last year

As my 2016 gardening season fills me with excitement for spring, I reflect upon some of the things I learned last year.

  1. Don't save the seeds of any kind of squash plant. They hybridize easily, so I got all kinds of weird things last year. I bought all new squash seeds for 2016.
  2. Plant some of the colorful vegetables in the patio beds. Cabbage, chard, kale, and collard greens can be quite attractive among the flowers.
  3. Don't overcrowd raspberries. John dug them all out this winter and we have replaced them with new plants. We only have three rows of three plants each. They'll get much more sunlight to each plant, which means more berries, and it means I will be able to get between the rows to pick more easily.
  4. Don't forget to plant wheat, garlic, and some flowers in the fall. They need the winter to grow and/or to germinate (cold temps) and reach maturity in time.

I would love it if you'd comment and tell all about the things you have learned by trial and error. You might think everyone already knew that, but I bet it will be helpful to many.


Back from the Dead of Winter

Last summer's garden was nothing short of spectacular! I couldn't keep up with the harvest, especially in the fall when I returned to work. Suffice it to say that I still have bags of frozen tomatoes, peppers, and figs to use. I am hoping that the tomatoes and peppers will get me through to the next harvest; we'll see.

Meanwhile, it's time to begin the 2016 gardening season, and I am a little behind! I planted vegetable seeds in the greenhouse this evening after dinner, including

  • Lettuce (5 kinds)
  • Spinach
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Chard
  • Leeks
  • Cabbage (purple & green)
  • Peas
  • Cilantro

Tomorrow evening, I plan to get started on the flowers if I can get some more potting soil. Duvall's True Value was out of my preferred Edna's Best Organic Potting Soil in the larger bag, so I had to buy a small one and it is almost gone.

I wish I could have gotten everything planted the previous Sunday (today is Thursday), as we have had a week of wonderful weather (55-63 degrees). The seeds would surely have sprouted. Better late than never, I guess.

My seed potatoes, blackberries, onion plants, and onion seeds are all backordered. I hope they get here soon, as I need to get them in the ground.

Last weekend, we spent a rainy Saturday driving up to Index and Sultan to shop for garden art. We found a few fun items, so I will get some pictures and update this post soon!

Back to blogging; it's about time!

NG Gardener