Category Archives: gardening

A brief stop in the garden

We had a garden setback for a while- the sprinkler that was supposed to automatically water our plot was  misaligned, so for several weeks it seems that our plants weren’t being watered at all. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize this until we made the connection between the excessively dry soil and the dying pak choi, radishes, and beets. We’d been watering them every few days and they were still doing poorly, and many of the seedlings died before we realized the problem. We generally go weed in the late afternoons, when it’s  more humid out, so didn’t realize how dry it was really getting.

Now that the sprinkler issue has been fixed, our garden plot is getting plenty of water. There’s a noticeable difference with the plants- though many of the younger plants didn’t make it :(. I’m not planting anything new because I don’t know what the plans for the plot will be after May 1, when the community garden program ends, so we’ll pretty much be harvesting what’s there until that point.

Radicchio & lettuce.

Radicchio & lettuce.

The lettuce and radicchio are doing pretty well- we harvested some of the radicchio leaves this weekend and had to make pesto out of them because they were incredibly bitter. Added to some Italian parsley and escarole, it was pretty good after cooking it slightly. We’re also still eating the last of the carrots, and cooking the radish & carrot leaves.

The happiest tomatillo. The small

The happiest tomatillo plant. (This one’s also pictures in this post.)

The latest thing we’ve eaten a lot of is our neighbors’ turnips- they have so much in their plot that they’ve basically given us free rein to harvest there. The escarole was theirs, as some green onions and Swiss chard have been. It’s nice to get a variety of different things.

Even the little tomatillos are blooming.

Even the little tomatillos are blooming.

One of the things I want to do before the end of the month is gather some of the herbs to make simple syrups. I’ve done that with the mint, but it might be nice to do with the lavender and lemon verbena as well. It should be a tasty way to preserve some of the different flavors.

Spinning wheels in the garden

The garden continues to grow, though it’s been in a low-key state lately. That’s probably because of our involvement with it. The Arboretum will be discontinuing the adopt-a-plot program at the end of the month, and it seems like a lot of the plotters (for lack of a better term) aren’t really doing much lately. The garden itself isn’t going away, but people will go back to volunteering on a more communal basis.

Letting the cilantro go to seed.

Letting the cilantro go to seed.

So that’s been a bit of a bummer for us, and has definitely limited our enthusiasm for long-term planting. It’s been really nice to have the space and facilities available for personal use, and (turnip thieves notwithstanding) it’s also been great to be able to grow and harvest our own produce when we want it. But given that volunteering will now be on a set schedule, I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to participate in it in the future.

We cleared out some of the not-collards to get more sun to the carrots.

We cleared out some of the not-collards to get more sun to the carrots.

So, while we’ve done some planting since the weather turned warmer, it’s mainly been short growing plants: radishes, lettuce, pak choi, misome, arugula. As I’ve mentioned before, the tomatillo and molokhiya seedlings that we were sprouting did get planted; hopefully they fit in to whatever the new plans for the garden will be.

Tomatillo.

Tomatillo.

The misome that was flowering has now really gone to seed- I’m planning on saving some to see if it actually does grow. It would be a bummer if this hybrid went through all of the effort to produce non-viable seed.

Misome seed pods...lots of misome seeds.

Misome seed pods…lots of misome seeds.

The lettuces and radacchio will definitely be harvestable before the end of the month, though we’ll probably leave some growing. I took these photos about a week ago, and they’ve visibly grown as of today.

Lettuces are starting to look yummy.

Lettuces are starting to look yummy.

The beets really did not like being transplanted. We probably lost about half of them. Next time I grow them, I’ll seed them directly. This experience has definitely taught us some lessons about a lot of plants, so it’s been worthwhile. Hopefully we’ll be able to use some of this knowledge in the near future…

Beet survivors.

Beet survivors.

Baby peaches

The peach tree in the community garden is really, really happy. Or so it seems.

Tiny baby peaches.

Tiny baby peaches.

These photos are from last week, before we had some hail over the weekend. I haven’t been back to the garden to see what the damage is yet. I’m a bit concerned, since I just planted the tomatillo and beet seedlings. They’re definitely small enough to be easily squashed. For now, though, I’ll just pretend all is well.

Blooming radish. They're in the mustard family, like cabbage.

Blooming radish. They’re in the mustard family, like the stubbornly non-blooming broccoli in the background.

Last week’s harvest: carrots, radish leaves (from a plant that had gone to seed and wasn’t producing an edible root), dill, cilantro, Italian parsley, mint, and broccoli (from the neighbors’ plot).

Lettuces and pak choi.

Lettuces and pak choi.

The lettuces and baby pak choi look pretty good, though I think it may be time to fertilize them a bit. The seedlings are not growing as fast as they did over the summer, though that may have to do with the relatively cool weather we’ve been getting.

There seems to be a lot of variation in the spots on the ladybugs.

There seems to be a lot of variation in the spots on the ladybugs.

Garden after the rain

We had a nice long rain on Tuesday, though when I got to the garden in the late afternoon only about the top two inches of soil was damp. It’s been a pretty dry winter, and once again the garden’s irrigation system is saving us a lot of work.

Water beading on the not-collards.

Water beading on the not-collards.

It had just stopped drizzling when I got there, and the birds were making up for lost time and being really energetic. One robin was really going to town on the bugs in the topsoil, while a big flock of yellow-rumped warblers was picking through the grass nearby. I also saw catbirds, northern parulas & cardinals, tufted titmice, a chipping sparrow, and three woodpeckers: downy, yellow-bellied sapsucker, and northern flicker. So a nice mix of birds.

Our lavender has a single flower spike.

Our lavender has a single flower spike. In back is the neighbor’s broccoli- as you can see, it’s flowering, unlike ours.

The remaining misome that’s been blooming is now really enthusiastically developing seeds. It’s a hybrid, so I think the seed will be non-viable, unfortunately.

Misome seed pods.

Misome seed pods. They’re about an inch long.

The few beets that have survived the cold weather seem to be doing okay, though they’re a bit battered looking.

Next time I'll wait a bit later to plant beets- they're not super-hardy.

Next time I’ll wait a bit later to plant beets- they’re not super-hardy.

Our cilantro is really shooting up as it blooms. I think the cold must have triggered it. The flavor has changes quite a bit- it’s much more buttery now.

The cilantro is about waist-high now.

The cilantro is about waist-high now.

Cilantro flowers.

Cilantro flowers.

There were some visible insects out too- I saw the first few lovebugs flying around, as well as some ladybug relatives.

First time I've seen this type of beetle in the garden.

First time I’ve seen this type of beetle in the garden.

I also ran into this critter on our neighbors’ fennel. I left it in place- though given the avian density it’ll be a bit surprising if it survives to adulthood.

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Probably a Black Swallowtail.

Finally, the lettuce and radicchio are still doing well! I wonder how long it will take for the radicchio to ball up…

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Mostly radicchio, with one red-leaf lettuce and a radish in the background.

Unexpected frost

The Friday before last, I decided to finally take action about the mass of not-collards that are happily growing in the garden, and which are really too much for us to eat- even with large amounts of freezing and sharing. What I decided to do was pull out the four plants on the outer edge of the plot. This would leave another four plants, which I figured would still give us more than enough vegetabley goodness from our remaining mystery plants.

Because I was so eager to get started, I didn’t remember to take a “before” photo- though I did photograph “partway through.” I started by cutting off the leaves and bagging them.

Leaves denuded and ready to be pulled up.

Leaves denuded and ready to be pulled up.

As the bags of leaves piled up, I realized that these back four plants were the most luxuriant of the bunch. They’re the southernmost plants in our plot, so are intercepting a lot of low-angle winter sun. This has probably inhibited the growth of the inner plants, as well as the carrots and such in the interior part of this section. They’ve also been acting as a windbreak because of their density, and it would turn out that this was a bad day to remove them…

Imagine four more big paper bags of greens here...

Imagine three more big paper bags of greens here…

I ended up with six big paper grocery bags full of leaves, plus four or so plastic bags. A huge amount! Luckily some of the volunteers from the campus Wellness Center were there and offered to take some of the bags to the food pantry on campus. Several of the rest of the bags went to friends, and the remainder came home to be blanched and frozen.

Three big bags of greens = four frozen blanched sandwich baggies.

Two big bags of greens = four frozen blanched sandwich baggies.

So all seemed well in the garden after Friday’s work. There was definitely a different feel in the plot without the wall of greens at the end.

The blooming misome is now about waist-high.

The blooming misome is now about waist-high.

I noticed that the radicchio was starting to develop the characteristic thick, red, veiny leaves- it’s interesting to watch the dainty green first leaves change like this.

Radicchio at center, with red-leaf lettuce below and radishes op top.

Radicchio at center, with red-leaf lettuce below and radishes op top.

So on Sunday afternoon, we returned from an overnight trip to Tampa, and saw the ominous weather forecast: it would get down to near freezing on both Sunday and Monday nights. We decided to go to the garden and put hay around the fragile seedlings, in hopes of at least protecting them from the wind. This is where the lack of not-collard windbreak came into play.  It definitely got down to freezing- or at least close enough to it to kill or damage a bunch of our plants when the windchill factor was added in.

Cold-damaged misome.

Cold-damaged misome. The white is dead tissue, not sun glinting off the leaves.

On Tuesday, it was a bummer to visit the garden and see the damage- though we had enough cool-weather plants to avoid some of the damage that other gardeners apparently had. Our tomatoes (which had survived the last freeze inside the sheltering not-collards), bell peppers, and the unidentified giant mint-family plant were probably killed. The nasturtium seedlings completely dessicated (with the exception of the lone seedling planted under another plant), and many of the beet and pak choi seedlings died. The misome and lemon verbena had some damage. But many of the plants were actually fine: mint (of course), carrots, dill, cilantro, Italian parsley, turnips, not-collards, fennel, lavender, and most of the radish, lettuce, radicchio, arugula, and misome seedlings.

The bees seemed happy to have at least a few still-flowering plants.

The bees seemed happy to have at least a few still-flowering plants.

I suppose as far as frost experiences go, this was pretty mild. Part of the issue is that it’s been unseasonably warm in general this winter, so we were lulled into a sense that the frost danger was over. Obviously it wasn’t. It was still a bit sad to see those dead and dying plants (and no doubt worse for the people with large tomato bushes and strong-looking bean seedlings that were hammered).

At any rate, the next thing to do is get some more seedlings started. I actually have some sprouting tomatillos and molokhia (a North African green we’re trying out), but after this experience I want to hold off on planting those out in the elements. So I’ll wait a few weeks to see how the weather is shaping up for those. I’ve also started some new shiso, nasturtium, and beet seeds on our patio. I did take the chance and plant radishes in the ground directly, since those seem pretty hardy.

So this is a bit of a setback- we were especially looking forward to beets- but not a huge one. The frost danger should be over in the next few weeks, and we’ll be able to be more adventurous with the plantings.

Happy bug on misome flowers.

Happy fly on misome flowers.

Turnip greens pickle

Our garden has been producing so many greens that it’s occasionally difficult to know what to do with them! We’ve blanched and frozen misome and turnip greens already. However, the plan was to use them in soup, and it’s been generally too warm this winter for that type of meal. So with the most recent batch of turnip greens, I decided to try something different: pickled turnip greens.

Pickled turnip greens!

Pickled turnip greens!

I used this recipe for a traditional brined Vietnamese-style pickle, but modified it by leaving out the onion and including some Szechuan pepper and Aleppo pepper in the brine. I also used ‘alaea (Hawaiian sea salt with red clay).

It turned out pretty tasty! Next time, I’ll use a bit less Szechuan pepper- the flavor is a bit strong in this batch. I like how the bright green color of the leaves is preserved by pickling- I was expecting it to turn more yellowish, so that was a nice surprise.

We had to postpone the not-collard cull this week, but the plan is to tackle them next week- so there may be an experiment at pickled Brassicaceae in the future…

Mulberries and turnips

Since the new semester began, we’ve been having some theft from the community garden. It’s pretty disheartening to grow vegetables and wait patiently until they’re almost ripe, only to have them stolen. At any rate, security cameras have been installed, and two of the culprits have been photographed loading up bags of produce (including one of my turnips! who steals a turnip?). I suspect those photos are on their way to the campus police. Other anti-theft measures have also been installed- I probably shouldn’t say what, except that motion sensors are involved…

Things looking good in the garden.

Things looking good in the garden.

At any rate, we’ve done some harvesting of vegetables this week. On Tuesday, we picked assorted herbs, a fennel bulb, and some not-collards. Today, I collected some turnips and pulled up one of the last remaining misome plants, which was just beginning to bloom. More misome seedlings are in the ground, though.

Flowering misome.

Flowering misome.

Most of the seedlings that we planted recently seem to be doing fine. Interestingly, the read-leaf lettuce, which stayed green when sprouting on the patio, is now turning red. A neat example of sun-protective pigments!

lettuce

Pak choi seedlings are in the foreground, with lettuce behind them.

The beets all seem to be doing well, which is nice to see. It’ll be nice to get some more root vegetables after the turnips are gone.

Beet seedling.

Beet seedling.

The fennel all seems really happy too- it looks like some of the really small transplants did take, and are now sprouting up.

Sprouting baby fennel- very cute!

Sprouting baby fennel- very cute!

The new carrots are still growing strong, and the transplanted chives seem to be much happier here than rootbound in the pot on our patio.

Carrots, and the ever-present not-collards.

Carrots, and the ever-present not-collards.

I saw quite a few birds today- some of which are probably feeding on the mulberries, which are now going quite well. A palm warbler hopped around to different perches scolding me, but eventually flew off to menace another warbler and some savannah sparrows. There were also cardinals, catbirds, a red-bellied woodpecker, red-shouldered hawk, mourning dove, a titmouse, and of course robins. I keep planning to just loiter in the garden a while with my binoculars to watch the birds, but never seem to do so.

Mulberry flowers and unripe berries.

Mulberry flowers and unripe berries.

Finally, here’s a look at today’s turnip harvest. I’ve just used most of the leaves to make a Asian-style pickle. Hopefully it turns out well.

More turnips.

More turnips.

Progress in the garden

Well, I’ve learned this week that the plants we thought was collard greens (because we got them as “collard green” seedlings) are actually…something else. Exactly what else, we’re not sure about. They’re quite obviously in the cabbage/broccoli family, and haven’t bloomed- so we can’t really tell what their major product is supposed to look like. So this makes me feel a bit silly. But the leaves are edible, so we keep eating them and giving them away. They are clearly happy as they are and don’t want to be categorized, thank you very much.

The transplanted fennel & chives are doing well.

The transplanted fennel & chives are doing well.

So some of the most recent seeds have sprouted: nasturtiums, pak choi, and radishes. It really happened quickly- especially with the pak choi. Cabbage family FTW!

I was worried I wouldn't be able to recognize the seedlings, but nasturtiums are pretty distinctive.

I was worried I wouldn’t be able to recognize the seedlings, but nasturtiums are pretty distinctive.

The arugula is also sprouting, though it’s slower growing. We selected cool-weather seeds to plant this winter, and it’s consistently been between 50 and the high 80’s since we planted. Pretty abnormal winter weather.

Arugula peeking out.

Arugula peeking out.

Yesterday, I harvested a bunch of things: misome, some notcollards, cilantro, dill, Italian parsley, radishes, a carrot, and the first turnips. The turnips have a lot of greens, so I’ll have to figure out how to cook those.

Yay turnips!

Yay turnips!

Noe appreciated my garden activities this week- as I was washing the herbs, she realized that the turnip leaves were within chomping distance. She does not look a gift horse like that in the mouth, let me tell you.

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Top to bottom: notcollards, root vegetables (with greens), herbs, misome.

The turnips look much happier than the radishes & carrot.

The turnips look much happier than the radishes & carrot.

Friday bunnyblogging, plus gardening

Today, I did some gardening: pulled out some mint (which had sneaked its evil tendrils under nearly a third of one of the patches), did some planting of seeds, and transplanted a few things.

You’ll note that there’s still a bunch of mint in the plot; I didn’t want to get rid of all of it. But I did clear it out of the old misome bed, which is now planted with pak choy, radishes, and some nasturtiums. I’m hoping that the nasturtiums will do well enough in shade that we can put them under/in between the collards eventually. But I don’t know what nasturtium seedlings look like, so I thought it would be better to start them out in the open so as to avoid weeding them by mistake.

I'm sure the mint will be back for revenge sooner or later.

I’m sure the mint will be back for revenge sooner or later (it’s running along the side and bottom of the photo).

I transplanted a batch of chives that I’d had growing on the porch into various spots in the garden. They were getting pretty rootbound in their pot. We’ll see how they do, given freedom to spread out. I also took a few baby fennel bulbs from a giant plant in the communal area, separated them, and planted them in our plot. I’m leaving some blank space for now, which the radicchio, beets, and lettuce will end up in after they sprout at home. But I did seed some arugula into the old pak choi territory.

Turnips are still growing nicely- though it's too early for big roots yet.

Turnips are still growing nicely- though it’s too early for big roots yet. You can also see the droopy fennel at the bottom left.

The communal plot next to ours has a lot of really big carrots, so I harvested some of those today. Carrots will only grow straight when they’re in soil that’s completely free of rocks and other obstructions, which this soil clearly is not. As a result, some of them are pretty freaky looking. Noe was of course very interested in them:

Noe confronts the carrot monster.

Noe confronts the carrot monster.

The next two photos are pretty blurry, but I think this helps capture the drama of the epic carrot monster confrontation:

She goes for the end first...

She goes for the end first…

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…and then takes a chunk out of the middle.

I did let her nom on it for a bit before taking it away. I have no doubt she’d try to eat the whole thing, which would be really, really bad…

It took her about a second to nip off one of the smaller legs. She's pretty fast.

It took her about 2 seconds to nip off one of the smaller legs. She’s pretty fast.

A new year, and yet more collard greens

Well, it’s a new year, and I forgot to post the first Friday bunnyblogging for January. I’ll have to try to get some good photos of Noe for this week’s post. I did go to the garden today to check things out (we’ve been out of town for a few days) and gather some veggies for the next few days, so she got some of those to snack on.

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Happy turnips…

Weed growth is way down over the winter, though still no freeze. In fact, it’s been in the mid to upper 70s this week, and isn’t really forecast to get cold anytime soon. I’d really like to plant some of the new seeds we got- all cool weather plants- but I’m hesitating because it is after all still January. The new things I’d like to try out are red oak leaf lettuce, arugula, beets, radicchio, and nasturtium (though I believe the last is pretty weedy, so we’ll have to keep an eye on it). Speaking of weedy, the mint seems to love the cool weather:

Ominous tentacles of mint.

Ominous tendrils of mint.

As expected, the collards are also quite happy. We’ll have to do a big trimming this weekend. The carrots are not turning out as expected- they’re producing lots of leaves, but not very large carrots. Not sure why that’s the case.

Carrots and collards

Carrots and collards

Two of the remaining pak choi are blooming, and it’s neat to see how quickly they change shape. Bolting makes them tough and not good to eat, so I’m planning on just leaving them there. The bees seem to like the flowers.

Bolting pak choi.

Bolting pak choi.

The new mini-patch of radishes is being overshaded a bit too much by the collards, but two were pretty much big enough to harvest today. These are round red ones, unlike the last batch which were long and red. They seem to be doing well in the cooler weather, so we may plant a few more. Not really my favorite veggie (unless pickled) but Yan likes them (unless pickled).

Little radish, peeking out.

Little radish, peeking out.

So I collected a little bit of several things for this week, and brought them home. As I was washing them in the kitchen, Noe was napping on one of the chairs under the dining room table- her usual spot. Seems it was just too much effort to leap off the chair and beg in the kitchen, so she started to gnaw on the table to let me know that she needed a sample. Of course, I gave her something- some fragrant cilantro and a bit of pak choi. Spoiled bunny.

Italian parsley & cilantro, eggplant, misome, mint, carrots, radishes, collards, and pak choi.

Italian parsley & cilantro, eggplant, misome, mint, carrots, radishes, collards, and pak choi.