Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tomato seeds planted

Tonight I planted the four varieties of tomato seed that I will be growing in the garden this year. They are all from Seed Savers Exchange. They are:

Nyagous - baseball-sized black tomato
Mexico Midget - looks like a standard cherry tomato
Martino Roma - Roma-style
Austin's pear - tiny pear-shaped tomatoes

Yes those are two normal sized tomatoes and two small varieties. The small varieties are mostly for this kids - during tomato season, they rarely make it into the house as the kids devour them with vigor. Good for them! I decided on a Roma this year because we can rarely eat all the tomatoes we produce, and we might as well have one that will be good for sauce. The black tomato looked interesting. In addition to these, I will also have some Early Girls from my dad. I've grown a lot of different types of tomatoes over the past few years, and year after year, the little Early Girl is a solid producer, with early (go figure) fruit, good flavor, and production into late September. You can't beat that.

Mason Bee House

Last year the power company came though and cut down a bunch of trees in my neighbor's house. I burn wood in the fireplace through the winter, so I had them just saw up the logs and leave them. This has given me a ton of firewood for the next few years, but it's still a big mess I'm working to clean up. Yesterday I was back there working and saw some smaller logs. I decided to take a craft break from splitting and make a little home for some mason bees. Mason bees are little bluish bees that some in the spring and make nests in holes that have been drilled by other insects like carpenter bees, which I hate with a passion. You can buy mason bee houses that you can reuse year after year, but I figured I have the materials so I might as well make something simple and see if they come. Here's what I came up with:

Yeah. Not complicated. The holes are 5/16" in diameter and about 4" deep. I hung it on the chain link fence on the western edge of the garden, facing East. This is supposedly the correct orientation because the sunrise will wake up the little critters and encourage them to go out and forage. 

The idea behind attracting mason bees is that they are effective pollinators. This is great, but based on everything I've read, I'm unconvinced that they will help at all with my garden. The mason bee lifecycle dictates that in the spring, they will look for a suitable home like this one, and start laying eggs in layers inside those holes. Come summer, the adults die and the young begin to develop. The following spring the new adult bees fly out of the nest and the cycle continues. This is different from honeybees, which are social insects, and forage throughout the year. Here in Eastern Ohio, I don't have a whole lot that's waiting to be pollinated in the early spring. How effective these bees are to my garden will depend on how early my plants have blossoms, and how long the bees actually take to complete their nest building. Whatever - we'll see. That's why they call it an experiment, right? At the very least, I'll be bringing some happy buzzing to the garden. That's the best part - these bees rarely sting!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Garden Update - April 9, 2011

With temperatures finally warming up, I took the plastic off the hoop houses a few days ago and let them get some air. I imagine the little plants in there are breathing the fresh air the same as I am when I get out of the house! Here is a little mini-update of how things are looking today.

Hoop House #1 has lettuce transplanted from the sea of overwintered lettuce in Hoop House #2. I want to see if it will grow into large bunches. Since I transplanted a couple weeks ago, the sun has been dim and the temperature cold. It has grown some, but I'm hoping to see it really take off over the next few days.

I have some weeding to do in there too while the ground is nice and moist. I also threw down some arugula and basil seed. The arugula is coming up nicely. I look forward to including it in spring salads. It's one of my favorite flavors. Here's how it's looking:

Hoop House #2 was the winter experiment. I put in a few Kale seed in October (just checked my notes from last year to be sure), and threw down a bunch of old lettuce seed packets I had in the freezer from 2008. Later I added some corn salad seed to try. Through the winter the Kale did great the the little lettuce seedlings would grow a little and die back a little with the fluctuations in sunlight and temperature. I have to say that I'm pretty happy with the success of it - especially the kale. The lettuce is nice - I did have a fresh salad this week - but this year I might build a cold frame closer to the house that I can get the greens more readily from. 

Look at all that lettuce! I can eat fresh salad on that every day until the ones I transplanted get big! The corn salad is there too, but honestly I'm not a big fan of the flavor, so I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with it. I vowed to not throw away any food from the garden this year. Maybe I'll see if the kids like it.

Raised beds #2 and #4 didn't have tents over them for the winter, but they were the first to get spring attention. The radishes I planted in #4 have popped up, and some peas were added this week but haven't emerged yet.

The fence on there is to protect the radishes from whatever dug them up or chewed them off last year when they were this size. We have a lot of squirrels in the yard. I wonder if they like radish greens. I've never seen a rabbit in the garden since I put up the fence, and there's one living elsewhere in the yard, so I don't think it's him. Either way, a piece of fence covered with row cover fabric keeps whatever bird or critter out of it. 

In the Northwest corner of the garden is a large raised bed that has some asparagus in the back against the shed (not emerged yet). Last year I had peppers and a potato tower in here (failed experiment). It's the only part of the garden that is shady, since there's a big oak tree limb that hangs over it. The peppers didn't do well there, so this year I'm doing peppers in Raised Bed #2 and putting Romanesco, Broccoli, Chard, Garlic and probably some cucumbers in this big bed. The Romanesco has been growing in the house for some time now, so I transplanted it outside. I'm planning on covering it up with straw or a couple layers of row cover on frosty nights.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Let's make some Kale Chips!

Last fall I planted some kale seed to see how it would grow in the hoop house. The kale was a very successful. Everything else in the hoop houses either went dormant or died off through the hard winter, but the kale actually grew! Now that it's warming up and is a little sunnier, I don't think it's frozen in the hoop houses in several weeks, and the kale is growing great. Here's a picture from last week, taken with my cell phone camera (hence bad quality):

I'm planning to pull out that kale soon, since it's been growing since last fall and it's in the bed that I'm planning on growing peppers in this year. I've vowed to not waste food from the garden this year, so I've been trying to think of interesting stuff to make with it that the family will eat. I saw online somewhere that you can roast kale in the oven and make kale chips, so I decided to give it a try.

First step is to pick some kale and wash it. I went out with some scissors and picked about enough to fill my salad spinner. I washed it with some water and spun it dry:

Next was to prep it for roasting. I got two baking sheets and spread out the dry kale. I used my Misto olive oil sprayer to mist it with oil, and added Kosher salt, Parmesan cheese and garlic powder. Both sheets went into the oven at 375 degrees:

After about 15 minutes in the oven, the edges were brown and they were crispy to the touch. Here's how they looked when they came out:

These are actually pretty tasty! They have a good taste from the seasonings and the sort of broccoli-ish flavor of the kale itself, and a satisfying crunch! Even the kids like them.