Friday, May 22, 2015

Compost Happens

That's my philosophy about compost, it happens, eventually, sometimes more quickly.

More often than not, it's the "eventually" method that I employ. I typically just toss whatever spent plants are coming out of the vegetable garden into a bin. Sometimes I'll cut it up a bit, other times it just gets tossed in. When the bin fills up I'll start filling another one. The contents will shrink and sink so I'll add more on top. I just keep adding more until I need some "finished" compost.

This is what the contents eventually look like. The stuff around the edges and on the top tend to dry out.

Dig down a bit deeper though, and I usually find worms and sowbugs at work.

I sift the contents through a riddle and end up with some nice stuff.

This is what I'll dig into the beds, complete with worms, and sow bugs.

The chunky stuff gets tossed into another bin that's in process.

The biggest problem I have is that the contents tend to dry out and oftentimes stay dry. I dug into this bin last week and found dry material that I had tossed in last spring, spring of 2014, it's been a year and most of the contents are as dry as a bone with nary a worm in sight. I had even been watering the bin to keep it moist (or so I thought) to keep the worms happy. But obviously the water wasn't getting very far. When this happens I shift the contents into a new bin, watering the layers as I go. 

And that tends to speed things up. If you can't read the thermometer, it shows that it's about 150ºF (65ºC) after a couple of days. After it cools, if I can keep it moist, the worms and sowbugs will move in and finish the work. I really avoid turning compost unless it is absolutely necessary, it's just too much work, so it usually happens only when I need to get an old bin sifted or restarted.

Around this time of year I have to trim the oak trees around the house. You may have noticed the dry grass that covers the hillside above the garden, it's the same situation behind our house. If a wildfire sweeps through the area it could easily jump into the trees making it difficult to protect the house from a fire. We have to keep the trees near the house trimmed up 6 feet from the ground to reduce the fire hazard.  It produces a lot of brush that I can't let sit around. I could pay someone to do the trimming and haul it off, but I would rather use it, so I do what trimming I can and I invested in a chipper shredder that makes short work of the trimmings. It doesn't take long to process enough trimmings to fill one of my bins.

And it doesn't take long for the contents to heat up. The oak trimmings make the best compost.

There's one more bin that I keep going, this is the one that gets old veggies, coffee filters, and kitchen scraps, even the occasional fish skeleton which always seems to just disappear. This is definitely in the "eventually" category of compost making.

I just keep adding layers of scraps and shredded newspapers. When it eventually gets too full I start emptying it out. The stuff on top starts a new bin and the stuff on the bottom gets sifted.

So those are my methods of composting. Not very scientific, but they work for me.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


I don't mean the things that keep your clothing from flying open. My cauliflower is misbehaving.

Amazing Taste cauliflower plants
Six plants, all doing this.

Making little tiny heads.

It's called buttoning. It's pretty common because it's really easy to make any one or more of the mistakes that can provoke your plants to prematurely go from producing leaves to producing flowers, which is pretty much anything that stresses the plants. I suspect that these plants are buttoning because they sat in their pots too long before I planted them out and they most likely wilted in their little pots while I was away for a week. It might also be because I started them earlier this year. Or it might be because the weather has been all over the map, anything from 80ºF "winter" days to spring nights below 40ºF and lately it has been consistently gray, cool, and moist. (May Gray is giving us a preview of the coming June Gloom). I know it isn't a problem with the variety of cauliflower because I had spectacular success with it last year (big time beginner's luck).

2014 harvest of Amazing Taste cauliflower
There's four plants of Sicilian Violet cauliflower in the garden and they are still putting out leaves so far. Maybe I still have a chance at getting something bigger than a button. And there's a second chance for a fall crop.

Sicilian Violet cauliflower
On a more cheerful note, the tomatoes are huge and ready to go into the garden, some of them even have flowers already. The peppers are doing their usual looking crappy act, but they generally seem to pull through and produce a decent crop.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Harvest Monday - May 18, 2015

I'm down to just a few things to harvest from the garden as the spring veggies finish and the transition to summer is barely started.

I harvested the last of the favas as I cleared out the patch to make way for summer plantings. The final tally for favas in the pod came in at 78 pounds. I tucked another 3.5 pounds of peeled beans in 1/2 pound portions into the freezer, so there's nearly 10 pounds of peeled beans to enjoy through the year.

Extra Precoce Violetto favas

Last night we enjoyed one more round of bruschetta with chopped favas, just warmed with some sauteed spring onions, mint, olive oil, and Parmesan.

The next big item to come from the garden is the Little Jade napa cabbages. Here's the best looking one of the bunch so far. The leaves are a bit lacy from the attention of earwigs (big yuck), but the unsightly damage won't deter me from enjoying the harvest.

Little Jade napa cabbage
I keep intending to put together a batch of kimchi but haven't gotten to it yet. In the meantime we've been enjoying wilted cabbage sautes. I devised one easy dish that has been great for breakfast, thinly sliced napa cabbage and spring onions, placed in a porcelain bowl, pour in 1/2 cup of hot broth, cover and microwave on high one minute. Put a slice of toasted rustic bread on top of the hot cabbage, top with grated cheese, pour another half cup of broth over the bread and cheese, cover and let sit a couple of moments until the bread soaks up some of the broth, dust the top with some smoked paprika. Quick and very tasty!

Uh oh, the first Romanesco zucchini of the season... A bit odd shaped but still good.

The  Spigariello Foglia Liscia broccoli is in full production now. This is the smooth leaf version and to the left of the basket you can see a glimpse of the curly version, Spigariello Foglia Riccia, which is not yet producing shoots.

Spigariello Foglia Liscia broccoli
Spigariello can be harvested for it leaves, like kale, or allowed to produce shoots. I like to harvest the shoots. My plants are putting out really long shoots that I cut fairly low on the plant. The bottoms of the long shoots are too tough to eat, but I collect all the leaves to use them like kale. The entire top portion of the shoots, about 8 inches, are good to eat. One night I made a simple soup with a big bunch of spring onions sauteed until tender and then added chopped Spigariello and the green portions of the onions, broth and seasonings. I served that with a thick slice of toasted bread with cheese, like a big cheesy crouton. (That big slice of bread with cheese in broth is a great way to use up bread that's a few days old.)

Purple Peacock and Spigariello Foglia Liscia broccolis
Last night we enjoyed the Spigariello in a braise with pancetta, pine nuts, and spring onions, drizzled with some cherry balsamico.

The only harvests not photographed last week were some baby Tuscan kale and more spring onions.

Here's the details of the harvests:

Purple Peacock broccoli - 3.2 oz.
Spigariello Liscia broccoli - 2 lb., 6.1 oz.
Little Jade napa cabbage - 10 lb., 11.3 oz.
Extra Precoce Violetto fava beans - 16 lb., 9 oz.
Baby Tuscan kale - 2 lb., 4 oz.
Spring onions - 3 lb., .2 oz.

Total for the week - 35 lb., 10.8 oz.
2015 YTD - 303 lb., 12.4 oz.

Harvest Monday is hosted by Daphne on her blog Daphne's Dandelions, head on over there to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting lately.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Garden Update - May 2015

I haven't done a garden tour in 2 months so I'll try to do a quick tour to show how things have come along.

Let's start with bed #1. This bed has been 2/3 filled with alliums and 1/3 with brassicas.

May 6
Not a lot has changed since the last tour on March 18. I pulled out the Atlantis brokali plants which had filled the corner at the front of the photo and I replaced them with Spigariello Foglia Riccia. The Purple Peacock and Spigariello Foglia Liscia remain. Purple Peacock is slowly putting out side shoots and Spigariello Liscia is in full production right now.

May 6
The empty space shown above was full of cabbages, the last of which were harvested on April 28. On May 9 I moved the young leeks into their final positions there.

May 9
The onion patch has filled in quite a bit since mid March. These are Candy, Red Candy Apple, and Superstar from Dixondale plus Rossa Lunga di Firenza and Tonda Musona Bianca that I started from seeds.

May 6
The rust infected garlic shown below is holding onto life with the help of multiple treatments of 70% Neem oil extract and a couple of feedings with fish emulsion. They look like they are producing ok bulbs so I won't be entirely without garlic this year. The Gray Shallots (Lower right) are struggling along but also seemed to appreciate a couple of feedings with fish fertilizer. The seed grown shallots behind them are doing great and starting to produce bulbs.

May 6
Not much has changed in the past week, the garlic still looks grim, but I'm happy it's still alive.

May 14
The onions, however, are doing great! This is Superstar and I'm hoping that it will live up to its name this year. Superstar wasn't quite so super last year, by this time last year a lot of them were starting to send up flower stalks. The Candy onions were even more prone to bolting. So far this year neither one of them has flower heads showing, not yet...

Superstar, May 14
Red Candy Apple is also fattening up. It was the only one of the 3 varieties from Dixondale that didn't bolt last year. All 3 onions should do well in my area, they're all intermediate day length types which is appropriate for the latitude here. I decided to give them another chance this year because last year was such an unusually warm and extremely dry year and I wanted to believe that that stress was what pushed them to bolt. So I've got my fingers crossed that I don't see any flower stalks poking up in the next couple of weeks.

Red Candy Apple, May 14
The seed grown onions are also starting to form bulbs. Rossa Lunga di Firenza is a torpedo type and is a short to intermediate day length type. The other seed grown onion that I'm growing is Tonda Musona Bianca which is top-shaped and is supposed to be a fair keeper so I'm hoping that I'll be able to keep it in storage as I use up the sweet onions. It's also an intermediate day length type.

Rossa Lunga di Firenza, May 14
Bed # 2 was where I had overwintering vegetables such as kale, cabbage, chard, romanesco broccoli, and such. All of the overwintered veggies except for the chard are now gone, but the chard is bolting so it's on the short list for removal. I set up a couple of tunnels in this bed to protect cutting greens and lettuces from the birds. There was a lot of lettuce coming along and greens to cut back in mid March. The lettuces are finished and I'm starting to set out new plants. The cutting greens, except for some baby Tuscan kale, are finishing up (bolting). There's a couple of sowings of radishes coming along. Other than that the tunnels are a bit empty so I need to get some new cutting greens sown.

Here's the patch of chicory, arugula, mizuna and cress (hidden by the mizuna) just before a haircut last week.
May 6
The chard in back has been putting out HUGE leaves and I haven't been able to keep up with it. I'm trying my luck with cauliflower again this year. Last year I harvested some beautiful heads of Amazing Taste cauliflower, so here's the latest round of the same variety.

April 3
It's growing well and probably appreciates the cooler than normal weather we've been having for the last couple of weeks. I sowed the seeds for this planting back on February 5, multiple seeds into a 4-inch pot. Potted up the best seedlings some time in March and set the plants out on April 1.

May 6
I'm also trying another cauliflower this year. These are Sicilian Violet, which are not as neon colored as the hybrid purple cauliflowers but supposedly tastier. I started these at the same time as the Amazing Taste plants but didn't set them out until April 18. They seem to be catching up quickly.

May 6
In another part of the bed, some Little Jade napa cabbages which were sown at the same time as the cauliflowers but are such quick growers that they were ready to set out on March 21.

March 23
And now they are ready, more than ready to be harvested. You can see some leaves sitting on the soil to the left, those are the outer leaves from the first head that I harvested yesterday. The only problem with these is that the earwigs have taken up residence. Fortunately, the critters seem to be partial to the green portions and haven't gotten to the hearts. Earwigs really give me the creeps, I'm not afraid of bugs and don't usually mind them, but earwigs are just yucky. It was not fun harvesting, trimming, and cleaning the first head, so I treated the rest of the heads with some Spinosad and hope that knocks the earwigs back. Regardless, the remaining heads are being harvested tomorrow. There's kimchi in my future!

May 14
The far end of the bed is the new strawberry patch. I mentioned a while back how some critter munched the ripe strawberries right through the tulle that I had draped over the patch. So I started to set up a cage around the patch, which I've not completed, but so far the cage/mesh is doing the job.

Here's the patch mostly cleared of the Golden Corn Salad that I had interplanted for a quick harvest of salad greens. That worked quite well, it actually produced more greens than I could use.

May 6
 There's a bit of sweetness about ready to harvest.

May 14

Bed #3. I made the mistake of not lining this bed with a fabric to slow the invasion of roots from the oak trees. You wouldn't believe how they can take over a space when they are unimpeded. So instead of sowing a cover crop and pretty much ignoring this bed through the spring, I got out the shovel and started moving soil. I dug out one end of the bed and moved the soil to the driveway. Then I started lining the bed with a landscape fabric and shifted the soil over, doing it in increments until I got to the end of the bed. It took me two months to accomplish the chore, I did just a little at a time so I wouldn't strain my back. At the very end, when one end of the bed was empty and there was just a pile of soil sitting in the driveway Dave took pity on me and volunteered to man the wheelbarrow. He moved all the soil from the driveway into the bed. That last bit got done this past Sunday afternoon. And by the way, my back is just fine.

May 6
May 14

At last, bed #4. The main activities in this bed through the spring have been fava beans and a mustard cover crop. I sowed most of the favas on December 13 last year and then finished sowing the row on the 23rd. The first harvest was on April 10. I sowed a cover crop of Kodiak mustard in the other half of the bed on December 23. It was ready to cut down and dig in of February 16 which is when I covered the area with newspaper as a mulch. I probably should have planted it with peas or some other quick cool weather veggies, or even some other quick cover crop.

April 3

I know I said that I wouldn't grow the amazingly overproductive Romanesco zucchini again this year, but when I realized that I wouldn't have a spot in the garden for the Tromba D'Albenga squash until late May I relented and started a plant. There it is getting an early start.

April 3
Aphids started to proliferate in the favas in late February and early March. I was watching them advance through the tender new growth but I didn't do anything since I generally wait and watch and hope that the good bugs find the feast and take care of the problem for me. By the time I was ready to leave for more than a week of hiking in Utah I figured I'd come home to a sticky icky mess. The aphids were proliferating with no good bugs in sight. So I was really surprised when I got home and found almost no aphids. I did spot three different kinds of lady beetles (Convergent, Seven-Spotted, Multicolored Asian), both adults and larvae. It wasn't long before there wasn't an aphid in sight and they didn't come back. It's amazing how quickly they got the job done - from the verge of a sticky mess to nary a bad bug in sight in about 10 days.

Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle Larva
That's not a fava leaf that the lady beetle larva is working on it's cilantro. Early on I sowed patches of cilantro along the length of the fava planting. I also sowed Golden Corn Salad amongst the emerging favas and allowed some other volunteers to grow. So I ended up with a bit of a jungle with wild arugula, chamomile, Monticello poppies, California poppies, and bolting cilantro and a carpet of corn salad growing in and around the favas. It doesn't seem to hurt, I harvested slightly more beans this year from an identical space as last year. And I do think that the variety of plants and the flowers they produced helped to draw in more good bugs and probably gave the soil microbes a more varied diet to feast upon.

Cilantro and corn salad amongst the favas.

Do you see the bright blossoms of the California poppy down the row?

May 6
The other side of the bed is now home to a planting of Purgatory beans, and a few Purple and Slenderette snap beans. And of course the Romanesco zucchini.
May 6
Here's the young Purgatory beans. I've interplanted some Speedy arugula in hopes of getting a quick crop of salad greens. I've been doing a fair amount of experimenting with interplanting to make better use of my space and because I think it's good for the soil.

 The first zuke coming along.

May 6
Say goodbye to the Favas. The project this week is to get the transition from spring to summer veggies started.

May 11
On Monday I start going down the row of favas, removing the cages, harvesting the remaining beans and cutting the plants down.

May 11
I nearly finished the job yesterday. There's one big Monticello poppy that I've left in hopes of enjoying some blooms. The fava roots are still in the soil, I'll try to leave them in place and plant around them if possible. Because I don't have time to grow a cover crop in bed #3 I shredded the fava plants in my chipper shredder, scattered them over the soil of bed #3 and dug them in.
May 14
Harvest date tomorrow...

I've already got some seeds sown that are destined for this bed, including my first ever attempt at garbanzos (chickpeas), Monachelle Trevio pole dry beans, Rattlesnake & Purple pole snap beans, and Stortino di Trento pole snap beans. And I've got the seeds for Tromba D'Albenga and Honey Nut butternut squashes out and ready to go as well. As soon as the weather clears up (rain today!), I'll get part of the bed ready to plant some flour corn.