Follow Ryan and Tricia as they plan, build, plant and care for their first garden. As chefs, they want the freshest food available, and what better way than with their own garden?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Garlic & Onions Sprouting

I've been watering my garden every morning and watching its progress.

onions (left) garlic (right)
I planted carrots, onions and garlic a couple weeks ago and their sprouting finally. The garlic was pretty immediate, I'd say about three days after I planted I started to see the sprouts emerge. The onions finally starting the other day, but I have yet to see any carrots make their debut. I'm sure they'll come along eventually. I see where some gardeners in the area have leaves already, but I bet they planted earlier than I did.

The greens are coming along nicely. The seeds scattered a little more than I would have liked, but I think most of the seeds took. There may be a few that aren't doing so well, like the spicy mesclun mix. There are a couple of those, but not so many as the other mesclun mix had, and it was the same size packet.

The butter lettuce looks pretty good and so does the romaine. In the past I haven't had much luck with head lettuces. They always wither away. I think maybe I wasn't spacing and thinning like I should. This year, I've thinned quite a bit. Which, to me is hard. They all look so wonderful and to pull it out and toss it seems wrong, but in order for one to live, the other has to go.
Mesclun mix
So, it's for the best, but not my favorite part of planting.

Upstairs, with my seedling sprouts, I have tried to transplant the extra seedlings, instead of throw them out. It's been working pretty great and I haven't lost one yet. I noticed in most of my pepper seedlings there were two, healthy sprouts growing side by side. So, I pulled one out ever so gently, and place it in a small hole in another cup that didn't sprout. I'd water it and make sure it was snug in the soil, then leave. When I came back the next day, it was perky and seemed to have taken hold. So, I'm glad I tried that because I wasn't sure if it would work.

Here in a couple weeks, I'll update you on the progress of the garden. Soon, it will be time to plant the summer garden and this year we are changing things up a bit.  Instead of using and entire garden bed for tomatoes and peppers, we've decided to build individual beds for each tomato plant, that way we can space them out around the yard and they will get plenty of airflow and 360 degree sunlight. Last year, because we had such a problem with blight, we almost lost all of our tomato plants. One major reason it affected our plants so much was because they were crammed so closely together. We didn't want to build an entire garden bed because we don't have the space for one plot of land to be dedicated solely to tomatoes. So we had the idea to separate them out. It's going to be some extra work, but hopefully will pay off in the end.

Around the garden I'm noticing some volunteers popping up. Cilantro is all over the place. I have been pulling it, just because I plan to plant some this fall. Last year, I planted cilantro in the spring but then it took up too much space because I was trying to collect the seeds. It worked, it just took a lot longer and more room than I expected. If you want cilantro to come back every year, just find a nice plot of land, maybe 5 feet by 5 feet and plant a packet of cilantro. Harvest it as needed but leave the plants in the ground. Let it do its thing. It will continue to bolt, drop seeds and grow new plants. Then, even the next year, it will start to pop back up. Pretty much all herbs are this way. I just need a permanent spot to put them all so I can just let them go. This is when I miss living in the country on a couple acres.  My rosemary and thyme both came back this year, so I won't have to plant them again. Just more if I want more, which I think I do.

I've been finding a lot of arugula, too. I planted that last fall and didn't do anything with it really. I don't really like arugula, I planted it because Ryan likes it. But, I'm not sure this variety was what he was hoping for. I've let it continue to grow because it looks healthy and like it should taste good, but it's always been too peppery for me. Around it, you can see the butter lettuces have been doing well. and the rosemary is back in the corner, still here from last year.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Spring Planting 2016

It's finally Spring, which means it's time to plant my early garden. This year, I kind of know what to expect, so I am planting a little earlier than last year, and I'm planting more. I know last year I didn't know what I was doing, so I only did one packet of mesclun mix, but we loved it so much I did two this time. I have half a packet of spinach and half a package of butter lettuce, as well as some micro greens.

I planted around nine rows, with a couple of them only half planted because I ran out of seeds. That's OK though, I would rather not have too much.

I also only planted the north bed, leaving the south bed empty until next month when I plant carrots, garlic and a few other things. I'm switching it up this year because last Fall I realized the types of things I wanted to can and decided to try to grow those things. For example, I pickled a bunch of cucumbers, which needed garlic and dill. So, I am planning to plant garlic and dill, as well as a few cucumber plants.

I need to get some garlic and onion bulbs because I decided not to start my own seeds. I think I would have needed to start them already and I am starting some seeds this year, but I don't have much confidence in them as this is just a trial run.

The seeds I started I got at a seed exchange in Lawrence a couple weeks ago. It was great. I took some of my coriander from last year's cilantro crop and left them on the "Herbs" table. I brought my own small ziploc baggies and went around to all the different tables and got the seeds I thought I'd use. It was a pretty cool event because I got most of the seeds I need for my garden this year. If I was going to start my own tomato seeds I could have gotten those, too, but I didn't have the confidence. I will probably get those at the Topeka Farmers Market
like I did last year.

Ryan went to one of our neighbors for compost. He lives a few blocks away, and we met him at the farmers market last spring. We bought a couple gallons of compost from him last year and he told us where he lives and invited us to come by there whenever we should need compost. So, we do, and it's pretty cheap. We pay like $5 for a five-gallon bucket of charcoal-infused compost that is so rich and soft, it's so worth it. I started my seeds in it, and I mounded it up in my garden beds in rows and planted my seeds in it, too.

Whenever I use his compost, everything always grows so fast and strong, so I have confidence in that. I just hope my seeds get enough direct sunlight and warmth so they have enough energy to grow. I've been setting the container out on my porch the past couple days and that seems to help them sprout.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Drying and Canning

Ryan has gone on a drying spree.

We've been given a bunch of peppers and tomatoes by a lady I work with and we had too many peppers for salsa alone. Ryan decided to dry the various peppers whole in our dehydrator. He dried jalapeƱos, habaneros and another garden pepper, I'm not sure what kind it is exactly.

Many of the tomatoes we got were big cherry tomatoes that we cut in half and dried in the dehydrator, too. These ended up being perfect for dried tomatoes because they were so big that by the time they dehydrated all the way there was actually something left. Ryan
dried tomatoes
had the idea of grinding these dried tomatoes up and using them in things like sauces and salsa. It worked out great. He ground up the tomatoes and it turned into this great powder with a pungent aroma and deep flavor and color. I can't wait to use it in everything.

Most of the tomatoes were cut up into chunks, cold packed into pint jars and preserved for over-winter. I would so much rather have my own canned tomatoes than buy them at the store where they have tons of sodium and other preservatives. This is just tomatoes, lemon juice and water.

dried tomato po
I saved back a portion of the tomatoes for salsa. I have never made my own salsa before, and this batch ended up a success. I pretty much looked at two or three different recipes to go off of for amounts, but kind of just threw what I wanted in the pot. Once I got everything in there that I wanted: JalapeƱos, red and green bell peppers, chopped onions, garlic, one habanero pepper, red pepper flakes, dried tomato powder, cumin, oregano, sugar, salt and pepper, I brought it all to a boil and let it simmer for 30-45 minutes. Really just until it was the right consistency. Then, I canned it. I did pints because quarts are just way too much and anything smaller is definitely not enough. Pints are perfect for salsa.

Our last two tomato plants are still giving us some tomatoes. The Cherokee Purple is going strong and the Sunrise Bumblebee is doing okay. The purple ones are big, beefy and great for slicing and canning. We've made BLTs with them and the flavor is on point. The texture is perfect, too. I want to grow these every year. We had an abundance so I canned a quart of them and threw a handful into my salsa. I still have five or six that I just picked this morning that will be ripe in the next couple of days.

Ryan made pasta dough with some of the dried tomato powder, as well as the butternut squash from the garden. There is just all kinds of things you can do with dried tomato powder and I intend to try more and let you know.

Monday, October 5, 2015

A Month Later...

It's been about a month since I last posted. So that means, it's also been a month since I planted fall crops.

Lots of tomatoes, but also a dead squash plant
The good news is that the tomato plants we have left are producing a second round of beautiful fruit. I'm thinking that because it's fall and there are tons of nuts and other things for the squirrels to put away, they aren't as focused on the garden. I did see one out there nibbling on a few green tomatoes so I grabbed my Halloween dummy and threw him out in the garden. I think he's making a sufficient "scarecrow" and haven't seen any more furry friends out there pilfering my goodies.

The various greens we planted are sprouting and beginning to grow. The cilantro is the most surprising crop yet. We harvested our own coriander from our spring cilantro crop, so I didn't have to buy seeds and used my own. I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical they were going to do anything. But, a couple days after everything else started sprouting, up came little cilantro sprouts.

The only thing about our garden this fall is that we planted on a day that was followed by a stormy night. It was a pretty powerful storm, too and had high winds and hail. We planted some crops in rows and others broadcast method, but because of the storm the seeds just kind of ended up all over the place.  So I'm just kind of watering the entire bed and watching sprouts pop up randomly.

The squash bugs ended up killing our butternut squash plant, but not before we could harvest at least eight big, beautiful squash. There were about four more on the vine that could have used another month to season on the vine, but the bugs got the plant first. I started noticing them about six weeks ago. I guess Ryan started noticing the eggs on the bottom of the leaf much sooner, but wasn't sure what he was seeing. The bugs took over quickly and started killing off the plant one leaf at a time. Pretty soon it was every leaf. It was kind of sad to witness. But we weren't too unhappy since we were able to get quite a few squash from it.

The cantaloupe plant was killed by the squash bugs, too I think. The same kind of thing happened with it, although I never really saw squash bugs on that plant. Something happened because the last cantaloupe was small and the vine died before I picked it.

The tomatoes are hanging on, though. The blight is still there, but, because it's not so hot and humid any more the fungus isn't spreading. I think we'll actually get some if we can keep the squirrels at bay.

Squash bugs taking over my plant!
I also think I could get one more harvest from my herbs, maybe two. The basil is starting to flower, (I picked off the first round of flowering so the plants wouldn't die yet), and the sage is, too but it's also starting to get yellow. The thyme still looks great, same with the rosemary. I'll cut a bunch today or tomorrow and dry it all for sauces and cooking through the winter. I love fresh herbs, but dry ones last longer. And that way I can use my dehydrator again.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Fall garden

This weekend I ripped up the north bed and replanted fall crops. The blight had just gotten too bad and I had to make that decision to get rid of the diseased plants and get some fall lettuces going.

First off, the night before I soaked my seeds to get them germinating. I put the contents of each seed packet in a separate red solo cup and covered the seeds with water. After at least 12 hours I strained the seeds out of each cup and put them on paper towels. This helped me separate the seeds so I didn't plant them in clusters
and was able to broadcast them all over the plot.

I sectioned off the bed into four plots using cardboard pieces from canning jar boxes. I was even able to use them as labels. I did arugula, spinach, cilantro and collard greens. For these plots I just kind of threw the seeds around randomly and pushed them into the dirt. I might have to thin some of the greens, but maybe not. Last spring my mesclun mix grew close together but it worked just fine.

For the cilantro, I used seeds from our spring cilantro crop. I let it bolt, then cut the plants when they had seeded, then dried them inside. Hopefully, the seeds will be ready and actually grow something. If not, I guess we will just plant something else. Ryan and I figured we may as well try since we have a lot of coriander, more than we know what to do with anyway.

That night, after planting, a huge thunderstorm came. There was even a flood warning, but I don't think we got that much rain, maybe 2 and 1/2 inches, tops. I'm hoping my seeds weren't washed away or ruined. I think it'll be okay, but just got to wait and see.

Ryan put down some of our compost that was ready, before we planted. We had some alfalfa mulch left, too so we hand-tilled that in with the compost. The compost was kind of wet but I think it'll be ok. I only tilled down about an inch, I didn't want to go much further because we were planting crops that need to be planted shallow. And why work harder if I don't have to?

In the south bed we planted butter lettuce and bok choy. For those we planted rows since they'll grow better that way because they are more like heads of lettuce. Also, there weren't as many seeds in those packets, and the seeds were bigger than the others so it was easier to plant them in rows.

Hopefully our fall crops will do better than our summer tomatoes and peppers. Now, we just wait.

Garden Update

The north bed. This is the Sunpeach plant.
It's been about a month since I last posted and that's because our tomatoes aren't doing the best. This morning I ripped up the north bed, even though there was new growth and possible tomatoes to come because the blight wasn't too far behind. My logic was why wait for a few small tomatoes to hopefully ripen when I could go ahead and get started on some greens and lettuces for the fall.

Over the past month I've been trying to save these tomato plants but nothing seems to work. It's been a rainy and humid year, so the blight just spreads no matter what. I did slow it down, but then the squirrels arrived. In less than a day all of our green, almost ready to ripen tomatoes were stolen from their vines and eaten by rude, thieves. So now, there are new tomatoes beginning but their branches are full of blight and by the time they ripen they will be half rotten anyway. So I pulled the plants. It was hard to do, but something that needed to be done.

The south bed is doing a little bit better in regards to blight.
Squash bugs!
There are small amounts of it on the bottoms of the plants, but I've given up pulling those leaves. Now I've been using that Fertilome spray, which seems to affect the insects and other wildlife very minimally. I tried spraying it on some squash bugs and they seemed unbothered by it, even a few hours later. So that's a good sign, except those bugs are still there, I guess.

The butternut squash is still growing baby squash and right now we have at least eight fully grown squash we are letting age a bit on the vine so we can store them overwinter. We
South bed. 
have a minor problem with some squash bugs, but now that Ryan knows what they are and what their eggs look like (little black dots on the underside of squash leaves, usually in perfect little rows) we can combat them. But right now, our squash plant is going crazy so a few bugs won't hurt. We just can't let them get out of control.

Good sized muskmelon
I picked our first cantaloupe last week. The excess rain this year helped that one right along. Our muskmelon was sweet, juicy and the texture was just perfect, not like store bought. It was a pretty good size, too. There are three or four more out on the vine, but that last one is gonna be small. That's okay though, I'm still excited for it. Sometimes smaller fruit is better.

Over the past couple weeks Ryan and I have been trying to preserve as much food as we can. My mother's friend Annie has an apple tree that her family can't pick because they have disabilities and can't go climb a ladder and pick the apples, so we do it. This year we got nine crates of apples. I am not sure what kind of apples they are, but I do know they make great apple sauce and apple butter.

I've also taken up pickling. A lady Ryan works with brought a bunch (like a LOT) of cucumbers to
work for whoever so Ryan brought them home and I pickled them. I did whole dill, spears and chips as well as some bread and butter pickles. I added some red pepper and chilis to a few of the jars in hopes those will be spicy. After the brine cooled it smelled spicy, so there is hope.

The dill recipe I found is simple and it's actually made for dilling green tomatoes but I figured it Sean Brock's Heritage, and the recipe is Dilled Green Tomatoes on page 230. If anyone is interested in this recipe, please ask. I'll send it to you.
could work on pickles, too. And it did. I pulled out a jar at a party a couple weeks ago and everyone said they were good on their pulled pork sandwiches. I plan to use them for catering in the upcoming months when we do pulled pork buffets. I think that will be a nice touch to our catering, don't you? Here's the book I got the recipe from:

So, although I've been a canning fool, none of that stuff has actually come from my own garden. Our tomatoes were stolen, the ones that weren't were killed by a nasty fungus and we haven't gotten enough of anything else to can. It's a little depressing but I feel like we will be prepared for next year. At least, as prepared as we can be!

In other news, I was on Facebook last night and saw a friend who posted a picture of a pressure cooker, never used for $50. Originally $100. I jumped on that! Brought it home last night and figured out it can be used as a cooker or a pressure canner! Steal! I can now plan a garden next year and not worry about if I have the equipment to can it all. Now I do! I think Ryan and I are going to mess around with canning beans, soup and other stuff like that. Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Sad News

The blight has taken another plant. I had to get rid of the 'Sweeties' plant the other day when I noticed it wasn't producing new growth, and most of the tomatoes that were previously growing had stopped. The stems were turning brown and I decided it was time to let it go.

I sprayed the Fertilome again last Thursday. There were new blight spots but it wasn't spreading like before. It's been rainy, so I haven't been able to spray it again, but I plan to maybe do it this afternoon. The fungus has slowed down but it hasn't stopped. I think it's just a humid, rainy year and we planted our tomatoes too close together. Next year we will hopefully have better luck.

Our peach tree has exploded, on the other hand. It's giving us tender, sweet fruit that I can't get enough of. Some of them have been eaten by worms but not so bad they can't be salvaged. I'll just have to be careful and cut out the parts that are worm-eaten. Some of the ones that have fallen on the
ground had somewhat moldy pits, but I've only found a couple like that. I've read where that could be the result of too much rain, but who knows? If you do, please comment below.

I plan to can a bunch of peaches, freeze some and eat even more fresh. I may even make a peach pie or cobbler.

The tomatoes are still coming, I'm just not getting as many as I had hoped. I think that is because the plants are too close and they weren't allowed to spread out. Also, I read where pruning the plants of the suckers helps the plants focus on fruiting instead of producing leaves and stems. I didn't start doing that until later on. Also, the blight seems to be slowing down the process and I only get one good harvest from a plant before the blight takes over completely and I lose the plant.

I've lost two plants completely but two others that were affected are producing new growth. That's a good sign, I think, but I'm not sure either will give me any more tomatoes. One of those plants was the 'Black From Tula' and it had  some big, beautiful, red and blackish tomatoes but squirrels got to them. I went out to pick them and they had already been torn apart from those furry little robbers. I hope they enjoyed them! Next time I won't try to let big tomatoes like that vine-ripen.

Although we've had some problems, it's all a learning experience. I'm having a lot of fun figuring things out, researching and getting my hands dirty. I feel like I can only get better and that makes me excited for next year. I think I'm going to try to get some seeds going inside on my own this year. Ryan and I also have plans to expand our garden and spread it out a bunch. I think I'm going to move my herb garden and plant more of a variety. I love drying them and cooking with them because the flavors are much fresher that way.

I'm excited to get canning this year. Peaches will be first and I'm hoping I'll have enough tomatoes for canning. If not, I plan to get some from the farmers market or maybe friends who have too many. The families I've gotten produce from in the past had way too much rain this year and not enough luck. My mom's friend has an apple tree that will be ready in the upcoming weeks, so I'll have some apples, too. Can't wait!