Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Planting Tomatoes and Laying Drip Lines

Yesterday was tomato planting day! Here's the gang. These are ready to vacate their yogurt pots and spread their roots in the new (!) garden bed. I planted 11 plants yesterday which included 2 Amish Pastes, 3 Fiaschettos, a yellow cherry named Sunshine Cherry, a pink cherry named Wheatly's Frost Resistant, a pink tomato named Rosabec, a yellow one named Jaune Flamme, a red beefsteak named Martian Giant, and a black standard sized tomato named Nyagous. All of them are new for me other than the Amish Paste and Fiaschetto and they are all supposed to be adapted to cool climate and/or short season growing. You can read more about them here.

The only amendment that I added to the soil yesterday was about a pound of pulverized egg shells which I dug into the top 12 inches of the soil. I had already thoroughly incorporated my usual amendments (crab meal, sulfate of potash, humic acid, and Sustane fertilizer) into the soil when I filled the bed.

I put the tomato cages in place to figure out the spacing before I planted the tomatoes. The bed is precisely long enough to hold 11 cages. My cages are made from concrete reinforcing mesh. They are 5 feet tall with a 6 foot circumference and the openings in the mesh are 6 inches square which makes it easy to reach into the cages to harvest the tomatoes. I don't stake the plants within the cages, as the tomatoes grow I simply keep tucking the vines inside the cages and they grow up within the cages and often times over the tops and down the sides.

Once the tomatoes are snugly settled into the bed and the cages are set on top of the soil I use a 4 foot length of rebar to anchor the cage. The rebar pole is pushed 2 feet into the soil (as far as it can go without piercing the hardware cloth lining the bottom of the bed) and then I fasten the cage to the rebar using a couple of UV resistant reusable cable ties.

I had my earliest tomato crop in this garden a couple of years ago when I experimented with covering my tomato cages with plastic sheeting (see here). Of course I planted them out a lot earlier that year but my experience in this garden is that it doesn't matter how early I plant the tomatoes, without protection they simply will not set a significant number of tomatoes until late June or mid July without protection from the cold nighttime temperatures. So this year I invested in some UV resistant plastic that is designed to cover green houses or hoop houses. I completely enclosed the row of cages, staking the edges to the soil and clipping the ends closed. I left the tops open at each end and where there is a seam near the middle of the row I propped open a space so that the "greenhouse" is vented to keep it from getting too hot during the day. I hope that this protected environment will help the plants to grow more quickly and set some tomatoes before the end of July. We'll see... Next year I will be able to get an earlier start and the plastic is sturdy enough that I should be able to reuse it for a few more seasons.

So, a bit about my irrigation system. We simply do not get any rain here in the summer so I could never keep my garden adequately watered without irrigation. Overhead sprinklers are too wasteful, water is a precious commodity here and we try to use the least wasteful methods for watering our gardens. I'm fortunate to have my own private well, I don't have to pay the incredible rates that the water company charges, but that doesn't mean that I want to waste water. I've found that the most efficient method for watering my raised beds is to use drip irrigation. I use quarter inch tubing that has emmiters imbeded in the lines every six inches. This particular type emitter tubing is hard to find locally and is very expensive when I do find it so I purchase it in 500-foot rolls online from DripWorks.

I cut the drip lines into 6-foot lengths and run them about 8 inches apart down the length of the beds. I could cut the lines longer but I find that 6 foot lengths are more manageable.

The lines are pinned to the soil using U-shaped stakes placed about every 12 inches, more or less.

Each line is connected to the main 5/8-inch line using flexible 1/4-inch vinyl tubing. I prefer vinyl tubing to the more standard polyethylene tubing because the vinyl is much more flexible, you just have to be sure to keep the water pressure below 30 PSI to keep the lines from blowing off the connectors. I buy the vinyl tubing in 500-foot rolls as well. At the moment I have my main line set up to connect to a garden hose. You can see that connector in the second photo from the top above. Normally I have these lines running to a box that has valves that are controlled by an irrigation controller so that I can schedule the irrigation to run on a set schedule. When my bed construction project is finally completed I'll get that system set up again.

Here's what the drip looks like when it first starts running.

And finally a bit of an update on the rest of the garden. This is the first bed that I started planting. At the moment it contains Oregon Sugar Pod II snow peas, Super Sugar Snap peas, Rolande bush filet beans, and Greek Gigante runner beans. Oh, and the cilantro seeds that I scatter around are starting to pop up as well. The brown weedy looking thing sitting on the soil is a Golden Corn Salad plant that went to seed so I put it there to drop its seeds. The corn salad should start to volunteer sometime this late autumn when the soil temperature cools.

The box for bed number three has just been built and lined with hardware cloth. I need to get more soil and start pushing that wheelbarrow again...

And the view of the whole garden. There's a smidge of soil left in the last bed that will be moved to the newest bed and then that space needs to be leveled and the final box will be built (finally). Sheesh, whoever said that growing your own veggies is a money saver? Not in this garden...

And the final reward for those of you who made it all the way through to the end of this post. Meet my constant garden companion Scleroporus occidentalis. This girl and her boyfriend are there to greet me nearly every time I enter the garden. They have been whooping it up lately, puffing up and doing push-ups, showing off to each other and the competition. It's spring, and you know what happens in spring. There should be baby Scleroporus's running about in a few months...

And speaking of babies, I wish I had had my camera on hand at the time, I found a very young gopher snake sleeping off a recent meal when I was moving the soil out of the last bed. I'm so happy to see the gopher snakes are back in the neighborhood! And there's a Whiptail and I think an Alligator lizard running around as well. It sure is gratifying to know that the (good) critters are finding a refuge in my garden, I must be doing something right.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fresh Coriander Seed

It's funny how here in the States we commonly use the term coriander to refer to the seeds of the plant that we commonly call cilantro but in most other English speaking countries the term coriander refers to both the seeds and the plants. Why don't we call it cilantro seed other than when we are sowing it? Or, why do we have to be different and call the plants cilantro? Actually, I remember years ago when some recipes referred to it as Chinese parsley. Talk about confusing. At least we don't have a problem with confusion about which part of the plant a recipe may be calling for if the author is not being specific.

My volunteer cilantro plants are in full bloom now and I noticed yesterday that many of them were sporting umbels of fresh green seeds - coriander seeds. Coriander is one of my favorite spices and in the past I've waited none too patiently for my cilantro, um coriander, seeds to dry on the plants before I collected them. Then, one day last year when the coriander seeds were nearly ready to harvest I thought to pop a few immature green seeds into my mouth. Hmm, pleasantly crunchy and the flavor was somewhere between fresh cilantro and dried coriander (thoroughly confused yet?), and the aroma, oh the aroma was amazing. Yum, yum, yum. But darn, the plants were done blooming and the supply of green seeds was minimal and there wasn't enough left to really do some experimenting in the kitchen. So yesterday I was excited to see these special treats appearing once again, but not only that, it was something in the garden that I could harvest (I can't wait to get my garden up and running again) and I had to come up with a way to use them right now.

I had just been to the village to pick up my latest share from Local Catch, the community supported fishery that I signed up for a few months ago. This week the selection was incredibly fresh wild King Salmon filets from the Monterey Bay. The fresh coriander would be a great match with the salmon, but I already had a plan for the salmon, just a simple pan roast that would probably burn the coriander seeds so I turned my thoughts to the accompanying vegetable - sugar snap peas (from the farmer's market, sigh).  I had a little more than a half pound of peas, just enough for the two of us. I warmed some olive oil in a skillet and threw in a handful of pepitas (raw skinless pumpkin seeds) and the fresh coriander seeds that I had plucked off the umbels. Once the pepitas started to pop I tossed in some sliced red onion and the stringed peas and tossed it all together until the peas turned bright green. I then turned the heat down to the lowest setting, covered the pan and allowed the peas to finish steaming in their own juices. Once they were crisp-tender I seasoned them with some salt, fresh ground black pepper, and the juice of half a lime. Yum, but the coriander was so fragrant and flavorful that it was almost too much, next time I'll use about half the amount. I used all the seeds that you can see in the photo above. I served the salmon and peas with more lime juice and a drizzle of my best extra virgin olive oil.

Now I'm trying to think of more ways to use the fresh seeds. If I had some garden fresh veggies I would try making some pickles. If I had some garden fresh.... Well, I've got a fresh local pasture raised chicken for dinner tonight, time to put on my thinking cap and come up with a way to spice it up with some fresh coriander seeds. Hmm, maybe a coconut curry of some sort. Fresh coriander and lemongrass from the garden? Coriander, lemongrass, and fish sauce... Ok, I'm getting there.

How would you use a bunch of fresh coriander seeds?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Potting Up

I have been trying to write this post for a couple of weeks now but I just haven't been able to find the time and then the one time I did sit down at the computer to get it done Blogger and Picasa were not cooperating so I gave up. So here's my latest attempt at updating the progress of the summer seedlings.

The potting up process began on April 30 with this lot of tomatoes and eggplant and another flat of pepper seedlings not shown. These seedlings were all sown of March 30 with bottom heat under grow lights. I transition the seedlings to natural light for about a week to 10 days or more before I pot them up. You can see the motley collection of pots that I scrounged up to pot them up into.

A new addition to the pot collection this year is a bunch of one-quart yougurt conatiners. My husband and I consume about 2 quarts of yogurt every week and even though I reuse the containers for a lot of things, they were starting to stack up. So, when the annual search for pots to put my seedlings into started I hit upon the brilliant idea (I hope) of drilling holes into the bottoms of the containers and using them as pots.

Here's the first round of potted up babies and more seedlings coming along. These were being coddled for the first couple of days and nights on my cozy warm living room floor (radiant heat!).

After a couple of days indoors to let the roots recover from the shock of being disentangled and then popped into new soil the plants have to go back outside. I don't bother to shade them on cloudy days but I protect the new transplants on sunny days by putting them under the patio table or I rig up some other way to shade them. These are my broccoli and kale seedlings on May 3 when the weather was cool and foggy.

The last few days have topped out at 80ºF so the brassicas have been hiding in the shade of the tomato and pepper seedlings which are sitting on the table.

The tomato and pepper seedlings are coming along ok. In the past I have schlepped the flats indoors at night to help them along, but I just can't be bothered to do that this year. They got a few nights of that treatment early on but now that the nighttime temperatures are staying above 40ºF they are just having to tought it out in the cold at night. There's still a few small pots of slow growing baccatum pepper seedlings that I have to pot up which you can see in the foreground.

The eggplant seedlings are coming along ok.

These are the Lark's Tongue kale and Apollo broccoli seedlings this morning. They have grown quite a bit since May 3.

This is a new batch of peppers and tomatoes that I potted up 2 days ago. I put them outside this morning after letting them sit in the "recovery room" for a couple of days and nights.

They get to transition to full sunlight again under a double layer of row cover cloth that I rigged up to provide some shade.

Now it's time to get the rest of those seedlings potted up...

So many plants, so little space, I can't possibly stuff all those babies into my garden so I'm thinking of having a little plant sale. Interested?