Monday, June 22, 2009

My Little Peppers and How They Grow

Coming up with titles for these posts is often an inside joke for myself. Today the title is patterned after a children's book called "Five Little Peppers and How They Grew," written by Margaret Sidney. The Peppers are a family of six, five children and their widowed mother, at the turn of the century. Extremely poor, starving, on the brink of death, and remarkably cheerful. I love books.

Anyway, this post is about MY peppers, which I have not posted about in awhile.

I've been lackadaisacal about posting updates on the pepper plants. I have three: a jalapeno, and an orange and yellow bell pepper. Or is one of them red? I can't remember. One is definitely orange. Anyway, since i posted a long time ago about the pest eating holes in the leaves, i've just left the subject alone. The plants were kind of wimpy and have been slow to develop.

The jalapeno had one lone pepper and that was it for awhile:
But all of a sudden the rest of the flowers dropped off and developed quickly into peppers:
That photo was taken on June 15. Now pay attention to the top of the plant where the newest peppers are developing.

Look at those hot peppers! Aiy-yai-yai! They're growing like hotcakes. whatever that means. Like the comics in the background?

Then we have the bell peppers. FINALLY they are growing
These are the orange bell peppers, I think. I can see five peppers beginning to grow - the really visible one by my hand and some other myriad tiny baby ones around the plant. I wonder how long it is going to take for them to grow and ripen?

Here is the red or yellow one, whichever it is:
And about four visible peppers developing on this plant so far. I wonder what tripped the development of the veggies on these plants? We have only begun having really hot days, and I know that the peppers are supposed to love sun and heat , , ,

The great thing about this is that soon I can make salsa from my own garden. Some of the cilantro has not completely bolted, the jalapenos are looking great, i can cheat with onions and garlic from the store, and if the tomatoes would just cooperate and ripen!
Because pretty soon we are going to just have green tomato salsa! My brother comes this weekend and i want to serve from the garden!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Growing basil; Terminal Leaves

I recently left a tip about basil and plucking the terminal leaves on The Kitchen Witch's blog. As a new basil grower, she had not heard of this tip yet, and I had not heard of it either two years ago when I first started growing basil in my Aerogarden. (If you don't have an actual garden but want great herbs, consider an Aerogarden, those things work like a dream, and don't take up a lot of room or take a lot of work. Lots of fresh herbs all the time!!) (we got one for our wedding, as requested, b/c we lived in a small apartment, and man, was it heaven)

Anyway, the whole point is, with basil you want to encourage a lot of growth. I mean, you want to make that big batch of pesto that you have to freeze, right! And you want to be out there picking it three, four times a week when you have the tomatoes in season, right? So we have got to get these suckers cooking.

Well, pinching back the terminal leaves does just that. It encourages bushier plants by forcing the plant to produce more growth farther down the stem instead of producing a flower at the top of the stem as it naturally would if you let it go terminal and flower. So what you want to do is, in each bunch of leaves, if you can catch them as your basil grows crazily, pinch of each inner set of two leaves when they appear. Don't worry, because the basil will continue to grow at a rapid rate all over the rest of the plant and you will have plenty to harvest.

An illustration:
In this photo, you can see two sets of what could develop into terminal leaves that I am about to mercilessly pinch off. Directly above the huge basil leaf dominating this photo, in the center of the bunch of symmetrical basil, are two symmetrical leaves that I should have pinched off when they were budding. Don't know how I missed them. Must have been inside when it was raining for days. Nevertheless, they have to go.

Here's a little action shot for ya, showing you how it is done. Notice how, to the right of my fingers, there is a cascade of lighter green symmetrical triangles or diamonds stacked on top of one another? That is a set of terminals that is going to turn into a flower and that set of leaves will produce no more. (I don't know if "terminals" is really an appropriate term w/r/t gardening or basil, so don't borrow it.)
Now those leaves are gone and it is on to the next problem. Directly above where those two leaves were are two others that need to be plucked - they are in the center of a bunch and should have been plucked when they were more like babies.
Yes, I am still using newspaper mulch in the garden and yes, it is still cutting my weeding time down miraculously. It only took me and Mr. Siren about 45 minutes to weed last weekend after about three straight days of rain!!! I mean wow!

Now see the difference? Both of those sets of center leaves are gone now. The plant will have to produce leaves farther down the stem, which will make it bigger and bushier. It starts producing side stems, etc. Look at this photo compared to the original photo for comparison:
I also moved on to the left side of the plant, because I saw some terminal leaves there as well:
Ok, see those suckers right there in the middle? They gotta go. Pinch 'em off.
And . . . the aftermath:

So, I hope this has been informative. it is pretty easy once you do it one or two times. The hardest part about it is keeping up with your basil plant. But once you have been doing it for a week, you begin to see what it is all about. Because your plants begin to get bigger, and bigger, and grow faster, and faster, and pretty soon you don't have the time, energy or attention for all of that pinching. We are now harvesting these plants about three times a week for various stuff. Pretty soon I am just going to have to make some pesto for fun. Tonight we had it on homemade pizza. yay!

Bon appetit!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Squash blossoms

I heard about frying squash blossoms before and somewhere I remember that these mythical squash blossoms grow on your zucchini plants . . . so i've been waiting . . . . and watching

and these appeared:
I first noticed these about three days ago (after those heavy rains). They are crusted with dirty in the above photo.

Today, though, they were larger and vibrantly full of color:
It's amazing how fast things grow in this garden! I mean, wow.

I was looking around for the place I read about the fried squash blossom recipe and found this scrumptious one on a blog called Cooking With Anne. But, in addition to her recipe, Anne related some very valuable information - there are male and female blossoms (duh), meaning, some of the blossoms will produce fruit (or vegetables, as is the case here) and need to be left on the plant. These are called the female blossoms. You want to pluck off the male blossoms only, Anne says.

This makes a world of sense. Here is a great informative link describing how to discern between the male and female blossoms, with pictorial illustrations. The easiest way to differentiate is by looking at the bottom of the blossom - is there a green bump, or a long skinny stem? If it's a stem, it's a male flower. If it's the green bump, it's female, and the bump eventually grows into zucchini, as long as that flower is pollinated. Another way you can tell is that the male flowers have nothing but stamen inside, the female flowers . . .. more female looking stuff.

One other tidbit I learned was that if the female flowers are not fertilized, they wither up and die. Hmmmm, reminds me of how a lot of the flowers on the Early Girl plant are looking right now. More on that later.

Anne's recipe is to pipe a mixture of goat cheese and chives into the blossoms, dip into a loose batter and fry in oil until crispy .. . . hers look divine but I don't want to steal the photo. Go to her blog to check it out and hopefully I will have my own to show soon!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I'm a Bean Counter

The one thing I have been able to count on in the garden since the beginning has been the bush beans. Those suckers are going to be planted right in the same place next year, that's for sure. (well, the mesclun did well, too.)

As a review of what they looked like along the way, and because I know photos are really what people like to see, here's the beans in the beginning:
After they first emerged as a stately row. That was May 8, the first chance i had to get into the garden after about six days straight of rain, if I recall, and the mud there is churned up from vigorous weeding.

On May 17, they looked about the same:
although they steadily grew bigger, so big, in fact, that eventually one of them fell over and lay in the dirt.

But, eventually, they started producing little bud-like flower capsules - see the photos from May 24:
(sure wish I'd known how to use my camera's closeup function that day)

And then, on June 2, they had full-on flower pods:
Or, actually, those are the bean pods. I don't actually know the correct term of what I am seeing here. Because this is what happened next:
This is a photo from June 7. They flowered, and then the flowers withered, and were pushed off by little baby sprouting beans. You can actually see some if you look closely in this photo, beneath the white flower at the left edge of the big leaf.

Behold, on June 10:
ton's o' beans growing!! You can see, in this following photo, that some of the beans still have flowers attached that they are pushing off:
This is so neat. I just love getting out in this garden every day when I come home from work and learning about how things grow. I was and still am a true novice in every sense of the word when it comes to gardening and growing food and probably will be for years to come. But this process of discovery has been inspiring, uplifting, and awesome (awesome in the sense that it fills me with awe, I mean.) I realize I sound a little like the new parent who can't stop talking about their baby but that's why I started the blog, ha ha, so I can spit it all out here. What can I say, I am obsessed!

So, what do you think of the BEANS?!?

I am a big frequenter of others' gardening blogs and love to see photos of the crops I am growing and how they turn out in others' gardens, but I don't think I have noticed bush beans that anyone else is growing. If you have them, or you know where I can check them out, please leave me a comment :)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Am I What We Eat?

I am diving in with both feet to the challenge to post a photo of our refrigerator.

As a precursor, to show you I am not insane, go check out one of the most interesting articles I have read recently: Picture Show: You Are What You Eat. Photographer Mark Menjivar began taking photos of the inside of refrigerators after three years of traveling across the nation studying the effects of hunger. His commentary on how the inside of a fridge reflects an individual is powerful and definitely a dialogue starter . . . just take a look! There is a fridge with a no-lie, whole rattlesnake just staring at you from one of the shelves. A freezer full of nothing but frozen meat and a bottle of jose cuervo. I love these photos.

Others I respect have been brave enough to take this challenge. For instance, the very accomplished food blogger on Life is a Feast did it last year.

As Mark Menjivar states on his own webpage, found here, "someone likened the question 'May I photograph the interior of your fridge' to asking someone to pose nude for the camera." And I definitely sympathize with the sentiment. Because I was ITCHING to tidy up, put things in at least their proper place, and hide certain things before I took this photo.

But here it is, in all its glory, folks:

Regrettably, what really stands out here is quite a big quantity of some sort of light beer. Not fair. We just inherited quite a lot of leftovers from a big group weekend in the woods and are storing it for a party in two weeks. Not that my husband is not drinking it. Hell, it probably won't really be there for the party.

Top shelf, two packs of mushrooms, one opened and covered in foil. Concentrate juice - i don't normally buy that but was having people over and wanted to offer another beverage. I would buy it regularly if we had the extra dough. Individual cottage cheeses which I eat every day to give me protein and calcium. Second shelf exhibits a bowl of hard-boiled eggs Mr. Siren eats for breakfast, a second container of mayo (again, inherited, saving for party), a bunch of chicken and some flank steak you cannot see (for crock pot chicken cacciatore, and for flank steak and fajitas from the leftovers)

So, what else are you looking at? Bottom shelf shows some produce (apples and oranges), a bunch of hamburger buns, the aforesaid beer, and some old rum punch I have saved for when I want to make myself drunk or sick, it will be the game. Also some new juice for making individual rum punch. We keep seltzer behind the beer but you cannot see it. There is produce in the bottom but we go through it so quickly it is all half chopped and in ziplocs and unrecognizable.

Also, there are forty kinds of cheese in the cheese drawer. And lots of leftovers that we cooked in chinese takeout containers that probably need to be cleaned out of the fridge. (I don't buy tupperware, I just reuse those containers.)

What does this tell me about myself and how I eat? For one thing, I need to clean out my own leftovers. For another, the bright beer is kind of embarassing. For the last, it is obvious that we are stretching our grocery budget. Because when I am not, there is a lot more in the fridge. Trust me. Maybe I should make this a weekly comparison. The Beginning of the Month vs. the End of the Month. Ha.

Now it is your turn! Be Brave and post a photo of your fridge and post a link in the comment section!!

My first harvest

On everyone else's gardening blogs, the praises are being sung of spring peas! onions! strawberries! etc etc blah blabbity bippity blah, as Denis Leary would say.

Well I am not so lucky, except for plenty of basil and cilantro which I have gleefully been picking here and there when needed (which is several times a week.)

On my last post I wondered when the mesclun greens would be ready.

Well, I decided it was time. Mostly b/c we're broke this week and i wanted some salad and did not want to buy it! I mean, this was the point of the garden, right? And I wish I had the time or inclination to keep a meticulous log like Sally of the Minton Stable Garden
of the costs and returns of my garden so I could figure out if I'm ever getting ahead in this game . . . . . but in the end, my plan of growing my own food so I could eat for free isn't really racing ahead like I figured it would.

I have to inform anyone considering growing mesclun greens, but harvesting them is no fun at all. I recommend cutting them very close to the leaf since you are going to be trimming all the stems off inside at the sink anyway. Because there are so many small leaves, there are so many surfaces and nooks and crannies to hold dirt and mud from all the rains we've been having. And in one colander of greens, i found four baby slugs lurking! I had to turn over each individual leaf - it felt like hundreds - to ferret them out. Can you imagine if we had been chomping away and bitten into a slimy little slug? I SHUDDER TO IMAGINE IT.

So anyway, I cleaned them all up, it took about 20 minutes, then added some very thin onion, sliced mushroom, and chickpeas. I wish I could have added tomatoes from my garden!! but oh well. And tossed in olive oil, s&p and tarragon vinegar.

Here is our salad!
On the side there is some tuna salad on olive loaf. I don't make my own bread as I am pretty busy with the growing my own food right now. I make my tuna salad these days with celery, red onion, and pickled jalapenos, worcestershire, lemon juice, s&p and minimal mayo and mustard. I also like to make it with celery, grated carrots, onions, and walnuts and mayo. Mmmmmm . . . .

When we were in Italy (Venice) they had little sandwiches all over the place that were tuna fish with just olive oil and sliced green olives and cracked black pepper mixed in. Mister Siren came to really love it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pruning in June

I have found the most wonderful article on how and why you should prune your tomatoes. This could be the answer to all of our problems.

Reasons you should prune your tomato plants include:
1) you maximize the efficiency of photosynthesis, allowing the leaves that remain to present themselves fully to the sun, as well as the fruit. Remember, a tomato plant is a "sugar factory."
2) you decrease the risk of soil-borne diseases getting onto the lower leaves by splashing up onto them
3) the plant will grow stronger main stems
3) you remove the suckers or new stems which grow in the joints, or axils, and therefore allow the plant to produce bigger, more flavorful fruit rather than more plentiful, smaller, less flavorful fruit

The article also revealed that when you have too many leaves on your plant (obviously the problem with Mr. Stripey), the leaves which do not have a chance to get sun will stop photosynthesizing and will become yellow and wither up. The rest of the plant does not need it anymore as part of the sugar assembly line.

So, this is what Mr. Stripey looked like previously, remember:
There are so many leaves, you can even tell at the bottom of the plant that it is shading itself. I should have been able to tell even back then that I needed to lop off some of that growth.

For instance, in a post a week or two ago, in the investigation of the myriad problems of Mr. Stripey, I posted this photo, of the yellowing withering leaves at the bottom:
bad news, here. After reading the pruning article I could not wait to get out there and start clipping.

Here is the product of all that work:
The sun was not ideal for this photo (much too bright) but i mercilessly lopped off the bottom stems that were completely shaded by the upper leaves.
According to this article, you should take off all stems below the first flower cluster. Now, I don't exactly have a first flower cluster, so I could not determine where I should begin pruning based upon that. But, based upon the theory that I need to improve photosynthesis by presenting all leaves to the sun, and decrease the chance of soil-splashed-borne disease, I got rid of everything near the soil and everything in the shade.

Another photo of Mr. Stripey, post-pruning:
I have high hopes that this will assist the Mr. Stripey plant with production of fruit.

I also pruned the other tomato plants. Here is a photo of the Big Boy/Better Boy hybrid, which has produced only one fruit so far, but has recently had many more flowers. I hope with the pruning it starts getting really juicy:
I made sure to take off all of the "suckers" in the joints on both plants.

On another note, here is the size of the mesclun greens. I really have no idea when to harvest these, but I think they may be around that size now. Does anyone out there have an opinion on this? I took a photo of this by my own hand to show their approximate size at this time. I'd like to begin pulling some for my salads now.
It looks like the individual leaves are about half palm size, and my palms are pretty small. So, not that big. Then there are other assorted types of leaves as well, since it is a mix. But I know I have eaten regular mesclun greens as well as "baby mesclun greens", at least I think. Either way I think I could munch them down now . . .

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Flower already!

Looky here, please. Your opinions are valued. This will require emails or comments in the comments section. (psst. if you comment in the comment section vs. emailing me, other people can read your advice too and it might give them ideas)
Are these Mr. Stripey's version of . . . . . . . . . . . flowers? (*said in an incredulous voice*)
I mean . . .

It's so disappointing. I just can't figure this plant out. And despite the prior link I posted where Mr. Stripey wasn't exactly given great reviews as a plant, this blog reports that it is a gourmet tomato with excellent taste. So I would like it to start flowering so that it could one day bear fruit.

I have done some research on why it would not be flowering at this point. Possible reasons seem to be:
1) too much nitrogen, too little phosphorous in the soil
2) too many leaves
3) too much fertilizer (I doubt this is it since the only fertilizer it has had was what it came with)
4) and if it HAD flowers (which I have not noticed), there could be a pollination problem, and I could kind of help it get pollinated.

Now, the pollination thing could be true. As you may or may not know, the honey bees are quickly disappearing across the country. But that's not the issue with this plant. This plant just keeps making leaves and no flowers. Or nubbly little diseased flowers.

Well, there is good news! You won't have to suffer with my blurry closeup photographs anymore. I sat myself down and finally figured out that the button with the little flower on it is made for extreme closeup shots. I knew there had to be some setting for that! (now aren't you flattered that you are part of this constant process of discovery? I am literally sharing everything with you. There is no reason for anyone reading this blog to ever, ever feel ignorant . . . . . . .)

For instance, here is an extreme closeup the OLD WAY of the beans:
It was extremely frustrating that I could not show close-up detail.

But with my new discovery (I could probably have read the manual, but who has time to dig that out), check out the pods developing on the beans:
Not sure how much longer we have until these develop into nice, crunchy, tasty beans!

On that note, take another look at the Early Girl tomatoes:
I wanted to show, in reference to my hand, how large these were getting, so:
(i know in some of the prior photos they looked enormous). This plant certainly has no problem flowering!

The bunny (we call him Lenny now) is making regular daily visits. The cats were talking to him this morning out the window. He came right up to the back porch :)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Peas are so Cute

These sugar snaps are so sweet. (not tasting. They aren't producing anything yet or I would have snapped them up and stuffed them in my mouth and then all you would be reading is the equivalent of me munching: nom nom nom . . . ) No, I mean sweet in a heart-warming way.

They have these little tendrils that are sent out every two inches or so along the stem and reeeeeeach for something to cling to, and then twine and twine around it, helping it climb higher and higher. This is how vines work.

I don't know how much higher it needs to climb before it begins to flower.
But it is really starting to lean out and I have had to direct it back to its "trellis". It could probably use a better trellis than a tomato cage, but I don't know, seems to be working ok for now. I planted about twenty more sugar snap pea seeds and hopefully they will start coming up soon!

Now look at the zucchini - it's really getting big and beautiful!
At least this plant is. It also has some smaller inner leaves developing.
Some of the plants have a yellow sickness, though. Why must something always be wrong in this garden?

Take a look at the zucchini plant in the middle:
Some of the leaves are completely yellow and you can see where some of them are yellowing around the edges.

Then there is the one on the end:
All yellowing around the edges. ???? I've found a couple of other people who have had this problem such as this blogger , who seems to have had a split stem in her zucchini plant. We don't seem to have that problem yet, the plants aren't big enough. Other sources say it could be a nitrogen deficiency. Apparently you can correct that with liquid fish fertilizer or with manure. You gotta love the internet, don't you? How would I be finding out all of this without it?

For instance, I learned that when your cilantro looks like this:
It means that it is bolting. Bolting means it is about to stop producing the tasty flat leaves we like to eat and it is about to begin flowering and producing the seeds we like to grind for ground coriander. You can tell by the feathery-type leaves it produces, as you can see up at the top.

I did a lot of research over the past two days and there are several schools of thought on the cilantro. You can either, in the first place, plant the slow-bolting variety. On the other hand, some feel that you can pinch off the feathery leaves when they appear, and this may slow or stop the bolting and coax your plant to continue producing the flat leaves. (This is hotly contested.) Third, you can and should plant rotated crops of cilantro so that when your plants start bolting, you can have the new plants getting ready to produce.

Thankfully for me, a BIG cilantro lover, three of the cilantro seeds I planted are steadily growing:
So pretty soon I will cut off all the cilantro on the above plant and make a big batch of cilantro pesto, freeze it, and save it. It is GREAT on chicken tacos. I'll post the recipe!!