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Monday, October 31, 2011

Fall Splendor to Celebrate some Victories in the War on Voles

Cause for celebration: I had a much lower level of damage in my vegetable garden from voles this year.  My main strategy involved increasing the amount of lava rock added to the planting holes.  I had previously used lava rock in the bottom and sides of planting holes for daylilies and thus prevented the roots  from being eaten off, leaving a rootless floppy dying plant, which was happening.  I had tried putting some lava rock in furrows when planting vegetables last year.   This year, I increased the amount into a thicker layer in planting holes and furrows.  Last year I lost a couple of nearly full-grown squash plants and some cucumbers; this year none. Sometimes several tall pole beans have mysteriously wilted overnight, their stems nipped at the ground- this year only one!

The second line of defense is sprinkling cayenne pepper over the bean seeds and putting a 4" galvanized nail into the ground next to pole bean seeds.  It can be difficult to recover all the nails the next year or in fall and has some danger- WARNING, use at your own risk.

The third line of defense with pole beans, and I even did some of the bush beans, was wrapping the stems with around 8-9" of aluminum foil, tearing off that length then cutting them into four 3" wide pieces.  I stack the strips before cutting.  It can be a little difficult pulling them apart but it seems easier to me than cutting each strip in 4 pieces by itself.   I had a really good bean year, many of the pole beans were scarlet runner type beans that like the cool days and nights in the Pacific Northwest.  They don't do very well in heat.  They can get tough pods if left on the vine too long but I have been shelling beans for shellies and they are very good, similar to the lima beans of my southern upbringing, meaty and succulent.  What some people call mealy or potato-like.  I like them like that, just as I like okra plain, boiled, mucilaginous and able to slide right down your throat.  I was raised on Southern cooking...

Anyway, lava rock is pretty cheap, close to $1.00 for a 5 gallon bucket, and fairly lightweight for a rock.  I use 5 gallon buckets which are a little heavy but not unmanageable for me, and load them into my car or van.    10 buckets was enough for one season, and since they don't break down or go away, they will be there in the ground next year and eventually perhaps I will not have to add any more.  Deer are supposedly repelled by having to walk on it on the ground surface as well.

Splendor in the Japanese Cutleaf Maple, a cascade on the untrimmed side-
Layers in the cut-away driveway and walkway side-
Side view with a flutter of blueberries-
Acer  palmatum 'Purple Ghost' is finally looking like a tree, though still small, after 5 years-
The newspapers are to try to control the weeds and ground covers there because I want to plant Alpine strawberries next year.  The voles will doubtless go crazy under all that cover, but don't seem to bother the strawberries.

So, here's wishing you success in your battle with the critters,  Hannah

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Blight and the Covered Tomato

I threw together a much less elaborate tomato covering this year, using the pvc pipe I had cut last year for my extensive tomato house, and 10' wide plastic sheeting.  I only covered the shorter determinate tomatoes, because of  time and difficulty constraints.  Covering protects from frost and also keeps the rain from splashing up late blight spores on the plants and deters its development.   I grew mostly the short tomatoes this year because of the discouraging cold springs we have had the last 2 years that result in the tomatoes being a whole month or more late in ripening.  I was also using them as poisonous roots to protect interplanted beans, and I considered this a success, something worth doing again next year. The short plants resulted in a lot less work doing staking, running wire supports, and tying up vines.   I could use just 1-4 bamboo stakes per plant for staking, and  ran only one longitudinal wire down the rows to which I could tie some of the stakes for stability.  With taller tomatoes I typically would have 4 wires run at two levels for a bed 2 rows wide, to which I would tie vines as well as additional bamboo poles for stability to tie up additional vines and keep the wires from sagging.  There were a few tomato cages thrown in at intervals to support some vigorous growers.  I tried some varieties I had not grown recently, or that had not sprouted for me before using peat pots.  I get much better germination, especially of old seed, with ziplock bags and damp paper towels.

This was my determinate tomato list , source, name, started, and yields in pounds-
TSF Azure paste det 2/8/2011 4.53
 MS Martino's Roma det 2/8/2011 8.44
 HL Mtn Princess  det 2/7/2011 7.81
 MS Napoli det  2/7/2011 7.56
 ***tr New Big Dwarf det 07 2/7/2011 13.81
 TSF Novinka Kubani det 2/8/2011 2.38
 EH Or Spring det 04 2/7/2011 1.81
 SH Prairie Fire det 2/7/2011 1.25
 EH Princip Borghese  det 2/7/2011 7.44
 ALF Ropreco det 2/7/2011 1.77
 MS San Remo det 2/7/2011 3.19
SH Siberian Pink  det 2/7/2011 0.22
 SH Tricot Czech det 2/7/2011 4.81

I did have more plants of New Big Dwarf.

This was my indeterminate tomato list and yields-

 ebay Rostova heart ind 2/7/2011 10.47
 ebay Shilling Giant heart ind 2/7/2011 12.56
  ebay Super Italian Paste ind 2/7/2011 1.31 
 ebay Virginia Sweets ind 2/7/2011 1.31

Total yield-   90.67  #  at $3.00 per pound for organically grown = $272

(Sources- Abundant Life Seed Foundation- reduced varieties after fire, Ed Hume, Heirloom Seeds, Mariseeds,  Sandhill, trades, Tanager Song Farms- not selling seeds at present)

While I liked the heart tomatoes, which is my favorite category of tomato, meaty, few seeds, and often with a luscious texture and taste, I will return next year to some of my old standbys, Verna's Orange Oxheart, Sochulak, and Ukraine Heart.  I also want to find new seed for an old favorite bicolor, Lucky Cross,  the last time I grew it, it didn't come true from seed.  I want also perhaps to try some other bicolors, since I like their texture and fruity flavor.
Here is my tomato covering this year, rather makeshift.  I had to add some flying buttresses since my first attempt was not stable enough and leaned , had some sagging which filled with water, etc.  Being able to pull the plastic tightly to the vertical supports kept it from sagging, and I ran the plastic to the ground on the windward side so had no blowing over problems after the first adjustment.  It is working to prevent late blight and frost destruction.   There was at least one night below freezing.   I may still be able to get enough tomatoes for our salad for a while.  Here are some tomatoes under my cover, Ropreco-
And another paste, Martino's Roma-
And these are my tall indeterminate plants which have not been covered for comparison, completely decimated by late blight and frost-
Another tomato I will grow next year again is Legend, which is rather late but has some late blight resistance so can fill out that difficult late season ripening slot.  I also want to pursue the early ripening cold tolerant tomatoes a little more.

I research tomatoes on the Gardenweb forum.  Plus I like their bean forum and others, lots of archives to search.

Happy Fall, Hannah

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What's Blooming Today October 15, 2011

Thanks to Carol and her fairy friends for again hosting Garden Blogger's Bloom Day!  We have slipped into the grey and perpetually dripping, misting, or raining days of fall, but  my containers on my deck, are still doing well, here some mums and some purple Calibrachoa.
I don't actually have much blooming this time en masse except the Japanese Anemones, in pink and purple,
These cheery Snapdragons have actually volunteered in my baskets for 2 years running.
There are a few Dianthus superbus with their feathery blooms.  This one is ablaze-
And the more demure pinks-
This one looks almost iridescent-
A large Cyclamen hederifolium bulb somehow ended up over near my woods-

Some of the Agastaches are valiantly trying a few last blooms-
Pink Panda strawberries are blooming here and there-
And the very common and reliable Sedum 'Autumn Joy' are putting on a show,
A similar color in my favorite rose, Zepherine Drouhin, first and last rose to bloom in my garden-
And another pink flower, Spirea japonica 'Little Princess, contrasting with leaves that have their fall flame colors on.
Similar colors in their everyday foliage, Berberis thunbergii 'Rosy Glow', contrasting with Variegated Silverberry, which has little out of focus flower buds coming on, soon to open to waft a delightful fragrance across the yard.
Meanwhile over in the vegetable garden, colorful blooms on my Cardoon plant-
One of those mysterious disappearances, my usual fall asters are nowhere to be seen....  Yours are heart wrenchingly beautiful, Carol.  Sigh.  And the variegated foliage on your toad lilies is so crisp and lovely.

Happy Bloom Day, Hannah

More fall crops

I hope you still have something to harvest in your vegetable garden.  It's always hard for me seeing the end of the growing season.  I'm finally getting enough tomatoes after the long cold spring and early summer to cook down for sauce in my crockpot.   Here is part of one day's harvest.  Starting at the top, long skinny paste San Remo.  The fluted one clock-wise is labeled Azure Paste from Tanager Song Farms, I don't know if it is the correct tomato.  Then Rostova, a heart, 4 Martino's Roma, and continuing on the outside and under San Remos is the impressive New Big Dwarf, large pink tomatoes for a short determinate plant, with rugose leaves.  In the center is another TSF tomato, Novinka Kubani.  All these tomatoes are blemish-free.  Mountain Princess and Shilling's Giant Heart had the most cracking this year.
The fall rains started later this year so it may be a while before late blight may strike.  I did get a partial cover over my tomatoes this year, though not like my tomato house last year, which had wire fencing in the roof to prevent sagging plastic sheeting.   I'm also searching for drying pods among the bean plants for my seed-saving.   My runner beans are getting dry, so I have been shelling lots of them.  Last year I had solid black, violet with black specks, and violet with lots of black, but this year I had one plant with white flowers instead of red, and white seeds as well.  Magical beans.  These are Insuk's Wang Kong beans from a trade.  Insuk is a Korean lady gardener who introduced the runner beans here from Korea, I don't remember the exact story.
The turnips and other greens are going strong and will continue after frost and especially in late winter/early spring when they start growing again to go to seed, providing lots of greens when nothing else is available, and small clusters of flower buds like miniature broccoli.  This is a cylindrical turnip from Gourmet Seeds of  Italy, it weighed in at about a pound.
I cook the greens as well, they were favorites of mine along with other greens as a child.
The squash and cucumbers have their usual late season mildew and have slowed down in bearing from the cold temperatures.  But one variety of cucumber, Tanja, which I neglected to pick, has attained a mature size here with a 12"/30.5 cm ruler.  I peeled one, sliced and removed the seeds, and stir-fried it with mushrooms, onions, garlic, ginger, and Bragg's Liquid Aminos.  They can also be stuffed and roasted, or made into a cream soup with cream or coconut milk, which also works very well with pumpkin.

Here is something I'm trying for the first time, Cardoon, a thistle.

 One plant out of the 4 that I got planted in the ground grew large and is flowering, very prickly flowers.   I am supposed to wrap the stems to blanch them but have been too busy.  It is a very interesting thistle.  The stems are supposed to taste like artichoke hearts.

Well, if you have no vegetables to harvest at this point, you can still take advantage of the abundance of pumpkins to make the above mentioned soup, and spice it up with some Turmeric, Curry Powder, Ginger, or Cinnamon.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Taming the Wild Blackberries

I'm working intensively at present on reducing the amount of out-of-control blackberries on my two acres. These consist mostly of Himalayan blackberries, Rubus armeniacus, brought over from Europe in 1885 by Luther Burbank.  These can get canes 20-30 feet long and grow up into trees, sometimes bending over the young and susceptible ones like an oak I planted at the edge of my woods, hard to see but at around a 30* angle from the big alder, bending out over the ladder.  Note the brown area where blackberries and stinging nettle have already been cut back, which will be mowed next year to maintain the space.  I will cut back the rest to our property line after the berries are done.  I have to get up on the ladder to pick them, and the ladder also gives perspective.
It is especially important to try to control the canes at this time of year because the fall rains are beginning in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) and the canes are starting to tip-root, the growing end in contact with the soil will dig in and form roots, thus multiplying and spreading the number of plants.  The other invasive blackberry, the native Rubus ursinus, AKA Vegetable Barbed Wire, also tip roots.  It is a smaller vine but very invasive, and can festoon smaller trees and shrubs and cover the ground.  It is not very productive of fruit, unlike the Himalayan blackberry, from which I have picked almost a quart of berries a day this year for a couple of months.   I make a gelatin dessert from it with unflavored beef gelatin or vegetarian (seaweed) gelatin, Stevia and a little honey for sweetening, and additions of other available berries, like the wild Oregon Holly Grapes, Thimbleberries and  Salal, or Aronia berries, or Mulberries.   For a sauce I also like to thicken it occasionally with Guar Gum, which must be added to cold water and stirred well to prevent lumping.  I get it from Azure Standard, a co-op on the west coast that has truck routes and drop points, but also ships UPS.

Best control of blackberries has been mowing, so I am presently involved in reducing areas in my yard that have been too overgrown to mow, or had barriers.  Sometimes this just involves cutting down a lot of blackberries, but in some areas I have to remove logs on the ground that have kept us from mowing in the past.  One log was harboring  a nest of termites!   Our previous owners logged the property and piled up a lot of big logs behind our shop. Many of these have been in place so long they are falling apart.  There are also brush piles which I considered wildlife refuges, so I am having to remove some of them.

  This area has been overrun with blackberries ever since we moved in, and still cannot be mowed, though the logs are starting to break down enough to crumble.  I picked up one small crumbly log and found a cute little nest of a salamander mother and her tiny puplets.  I hope she doesn't abandon them after being disturbed, though I am unable to find if she is actually caring for them at this point.  Here is the same area after several days cutting out vines and stacking them for chipping.  I left some wild roses and a few thimbleberries, and a native flowering currant.  I have a Trazel planted there as well, a hybrid Hazelnut.  But a couple of others self-sown trees will go.  The bamboo, shown in a previous post,  looks much nicer all weeded as well.

I am hoping to plant some shrubs with edible fruits there this fall or next spring, to provide some shade cover to discourage the blackberry vines.   Although I have been an organic gardener, I am using a very small amount of brush killer, Triclopyr, by applying it to the fresh cut surface of the canes with a bottle with small tubular applicator.  It does seem to help prevent regrowth of the cane.

Then there are areas where blackberry vines have crept in around the bases of rows of trees.  I hope to remove the vines and cut off lower limbs or remove dead trees as here, so I can mow in closer and reduce hand weeding and cutting.
Well, it's raining so I may have to postpone getting this one done, so I am going to post anyway.  Happy Fall!  BTW my MIL whom we cargive was 100 years old yesterday!


Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Shell Game- Fall Bean Crops

I've been out searching for drying bean pods and still edible pods among the bean vines.  Here are some picked today.  The cute curved pods are the Yellow Shrimp Bean, purple streaked at maturity, Anellino Gialo from Gourmet Seeds of Italy.  The purple ones are thin Velour beans from Park Seed.  The green ones are the second sowing of Marconi Nano, a bush Marconi from GS.  Then the dry pods are runner beans, mostly Insuk's Wang Kong.
Anellino Gialo is a cute bean,  productive and tasty.  There are other colors of shrimp beans, green and a green with magenta streaks that look alot like my Uncle Steve heirloom pole beans.  A closer view
Here are some Uncle Steve's pole beans I picked today.

Here are some of my shelled bean seeds, all broad flat Romano types.   The brown ones are an heirloom bush bean, Yer Fasulyasi, from the Abundant Life Seed Foundation, which used to have a very wide range of heirloom vegetables and beans before they had a fire a few years ago.  The black ones are Marconi nano.    Another similar bean is Capitano, a yellow Romano bush bean from Park Seeds with white seeds.  All of these beans are very tasty and meaty, and seem to be staying tender into the larger stages with fully developed seeds.
Some pole beans appeared among my Marconi nano beans, a nice error, tasty and a good grower, with green pods with a purple blush.  They resemble 'Peck to a Hill' pole beans on the Heritage Harvest Seed website.  They have attractive black seeds with white mottling (below this photo).  I will grow more next year.
Another ALF heirloom, Pisarecka Zlutoluske, is an early yellow wax bean that seems very cold tolerant, I have planted it out on April 15 before, one month before my usual bean planting date, and had good crops of tender yellow beans with rosy seeds flecked with white spots.
I also have good yields of beans and seeds from Speedy (Gourmet Seeds, below), which was as fast as Pisarecka Zlutoluske, and the red-podded Velour (Park Seeds), which though small were slow to develope, both bush beans of the thin pencil shape, tender, delicate and delicious.  
Velour beans are quite thin but tender, here are the very messy mature dry pods that had flopped in the dirt.  It was good I picked them since it rained later.   
Since they were mostly dry I got them shelled, but they are difficult because the thin pods really stick onto the beans and don't want to split.  The Romanos by contrast have a pod wider than the beans and are easy to open.  But the Velour beans, below, did clean up nicely.  They are small, and become very hard small seeds when they dry so not good for shellies.

The runner beans, Insuk's Wang Kong, are beginning to dry out for picking pods for seeds.  I will probably eat some of them as shellies.  Here are the huge seeds from one pod taken with the other beans for comparison.
Have fun shelling those beans,  and find some good heirlooms to pass along.