Monday, December 27, 2010

2011 Garden Plan

We are enjoying winter but starting to actively look forward to spring and summer. I've drawn up the plan for our garden next year with some slight modifications from what we did last year. This little sketch is not to scale and is leaving out a couple things that I can't figure out what to do with. It's amazing how quickly garden space gets used up. When people come see our garden they think it's quite large, but I could easily see Jeff and I making use of 3 or 4 times the amount of space that we've currently got.

We will also be growing more food in the greenhouse and solarium. We will be starting seeds in the next week or two. This will include tomatoes for growing in the solarium and some cool weather crops for planting out into the greenhouse around March or so. I can't wait to get our seeds in the mail and get things growing again!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Gardening

We have been loving the snow recently. We've got over a foot on the ground and may get up to another foot in the next couple days! Snowboarding season is finally on the horizon!

Obviously we're done tinkering in the garden for a few months at least. We were able to spread a few truckloads of manure and clear out the majority of the beds. We've got a bit of pruning to do this spring, otherwise the beds will be ready to go once the snow melts.

After some recent days of -12 temperatures everything in the greenhouse froze. There is a chance that the lettuce will thaw and perk up, but we might just begin to pick frozen salads.

In the solarium the tomatoes are doing pretty good. They're a bit more anemic looking despite fertilizing them regularly. I think it is the short day light that is doing that.

Despite the low light, they continue to flower and slowly fruit! The solarium temperatures are very similar to our summers here. During the coldest nights it gets down to about 40-45 in here and the daytime temperatures with or without a fire going range from 65-90! Pretty good temperatures to keep growing tomatoes. Someday we might supplement in here with artificial light, but we're currently trying to work with what we've got.

The citrus trees are growing steadily. They have been slowly adding more and more leaves since their initial shock of being planted and then quickly transplanted again. They all (meyer lemon, lime and mandarinquat) have fruit and are ever bearing.

The mandarinquat has several fruits that are ripening.

The lime tree just set it's second generation of fruit.

We've also got potted peppers in the solarium that are doing well. I think we'll have to pick these and stuff them with some sort of home-made venison sausage mixture.

The jalapenos are doing wonderful despite the low daylight. These must be pretty hot right now!

Despite living in Montana, our unique house allows us to try to garden year round. In one of our spare bedrooms there are some coreopsis and chrysanthemum cuttings that I started in the fall. Pretty soon I'll move these out to the solarium where I'll let them grow until spring. These will be going in the decorative bed in front of the house.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fall Garden and Summer Highlights

It's hard to believe that it has been 2 months since I posted an update. We have been busy with our garden and with life. Here are a couple pictures that I meant to post and some recent pictures of the garden.

At the peak of summer things looked pretty good. We had some bald spots in the garden with some experiments that didn't work out, but we had a lot of success in the garden as well.

The bald spot in the foreground on the picture above is where we tried to grow amaranth. This just did nothing. Maybe the Montana nights are too cold. On the other hand, the quinoa grew 5 feet tall and we are letting it dry right now so that we can harvest it. We also discovered that the leaves of quinoa are nice to eat as well. The sunflowers did great. Next year I might devote a bit more real estate to the sunflowers.

A mix of veggies harvested from the garden and greenhouse. We had some colorful dinners this summer.

This past weekend we got a few truckloads of composted horse manure from our neighbor and spread it on the beds (we're not quite done). We also planted a winter cover crop of various things that we plan to grow now, and till under in the spring.

We've still got some cool weather crops growing in the garden. Recent nighttime lows have gotten down in the low 20's. Eventually we'd like to have some row covers, but can't afford that quite yet.

Below is a picture displaying some of our harvest. We got about 35 pounds of honey. Jeff is making mead and we're using the rest as presents and for baking. If you've never tried baking with honey, give it a shot. It's very easy to modify a recipe to use honey.

In the jars are some dried soybeans, huckleberry jam, garlic-pepper jelly, buckwheat honey, wildflower honey, and green tomato relish. We didn't get any ripe tomatoes from outdoors this year, but we did get about 20 pounds of green tomatoes. We've been eating green tomato pie and I made 12 pints of green tomato relish. I would recommend both of these if you've got green tomatoes to deal with. Here are the recipes I used:

Green Tomato Pie

Green Tomato Relish

Our cayennes from the greenhouse are drying. Pretty soon these will be flavoring our chili.

More later...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Summer Garden Update

It's been a while since my last update, I kept waiting to post an update until everything took off and was huge. This hasn't happened yet and probably won't happen this year. According to the locals, this has been a challenging gardening year in our area due to early cool weather and lots of rain.

We've given up on a couple areas in the garden and are planting these sections with clover that we will later till in to add more organic matter.

Overall, things are looking pretty small compared to our neighbor's gardens. I wonder if this is caused by a lack of organic matter? When we purchased our soil we were shown a soil test that indicated the soil had 10% organic matter. We did dilute the good soil with ~25% sandy loam to create a soil that warms up more quickly in the spring. We also added in a fair bit of blood and bone meal to fix nutrient deficiencies. We did a drainage test that indicated our soil did not drain too fast. Still, I wonder if we may have created too sandy of a soil.

The scarlett runner beans are doing fairly well. Behind them you can see radishes that have gone to seed.

The sunflowers are looking good. We seem to be on pace with other area gardens as far as the sunflowers go.

We had fairly intermittent success with the carrots. We have yet to harvest any carrots and got rather spotty germination. I hear that some other people in the area had this same problem and attributed it to too much rain early on in the season.

The blooming radishes have been amazing. I had no idea these plants would get this big. Our bees seem to really like the flowers.

It took 3 separate tries of planting out tomatoes to get some to stick. We first planted out at our last frost date. Those plants are still alive but have grown no more than an inch in the last 2.5 months. We planted out two weeks later, these plants have maybe doubled in size. Then we planted one more time at the beginning of July. The large tomato plants you can see are those plants. It was a good thing we started so many tomato plants to experiment with!

Our (mostly) perennial bed is doing great. All of the herbs are booming. The rhubarb, asparagus and chives are also doing great.

The tomatoes in the greenhouse are finishing up. We've probably been getting about 5 pounds of tomatoes per week from the greenhouse for the last 1.5 months and maybe a couple pounds of peppers. We are looking forward to winter squash, melons and lots of basil coming soon.

The peppers love our greenhouse! These have done really well and have been easy to pollinate by hand.

The melons are slowly coming along. It has been challenging to pollinate these. Our success rate is pretty low (maybe less than 15%) but there are so many flowers per plant that we should still have quite a few melons. We've been trying to encourage bees to come into the greenhouse and give us a hand. Despite bringing in a couple frames of a few hundred bees and shaking them off in the greenhouse, still no luck.

The squash has also been difficult to pollinate by hand. Out of ~50 squash flowers, these are the only two that we've pollinated successfully! The varieties we've been working with include pumpkins, spaghetti squash (pictured above), acorn squash, patty pan squash and zucchini.

Any suggestions or ideas of what might be going on in the garden would be much appreciated! We're also currently trying to plan a fall crop of some plants. If you know of some plants that might do well in a zone 4 area for fall, let me know.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bloomin' Tuesday

Click on the Marigold to go to Jean's blog and Bloomin' Tuesday.

The marigolds in the greenhouse are getting big. These blooms are 3-4 inches across.

The greenhouse violas are sprawling. I know it's too warm for them but I can't bear to say goodbye to these plants. I tried to kill them without success this past fall and they sprung up in the greenhouse in February after freezing temperatures and months without water. The faces are getting a bit bleached in the afternoon sun.

This is a whatchamacallit. It's a perennial of some sort and one of the only perennials that is blooming outdoors. It looks like we won't see much excitement in the perennial flower bed until next year.

I've got a couple baskets of geranium that are basking in the heat of the greenhouse. These really brightened up the place and made it look a lot less utilitarian.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Harvest Monday

Today's harvest included about 1.5 pounds of tomatoes and a 1/2 pound of peppers.

I sliced the tomatoes into 1/4 inch chunks and coated them with a little bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and some herbs from the garden. I left them in the food dehydrator for half the day and ended up with "sun-dried tomatoes".

I made the peppers into a hot garlic-pepper jam. We used it to glaze some chicken breasts tonight. What was left of the tomatoes after I snacked on them went into a pilaf. I'm really looking forward to the middle of summer when we have a major surplus of tomatoes and I can make a couple batches of sun-dried tomatoes.

You can finally see a bit of green from my roof-top pictures. Before I got in the garden and weeded for a couple hours today there was a lot more green. We decided to put down some landscape fabric on the edges of the garden as the grass and invasive weeds on the property were starting to encroach on our garden. This next weekend we'll cover the fabric with mulch.

Our potatoes were almost 8 inches tall before I raked back some soil on to them. Apparently planting the potatoes in trenches and then gradually raking the soil back onto the growing plants increases production. Forgive the wonky rows, the dogs dug in the garden a couple times before it was truly puppy-proof.

My favorite bed of the garden includes fava beans (foreground), soybeans and corn. Our corn was getting devoured by birds and we strung cut up pieces of cans across the corn. This has deterred the birds quite well.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rasta Pasta

Tonight's harvest resulted in what I am now calling Rasta Pasta. 1 lb 8 oz of tomatoes, 7 oz of peppers.

Added this to some Italian Sausage and Pasta. Yum!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Late Spring Indoor Gardening

Our monster tomato plants are taking over the solarium. This picture was taken about 3 weeks ago after our first harvest of ripe tomatoes. I was so excited to have ripe home grown tomatoes this early in the season that I only remembered pictures after we'd eaten the tomatoes.

We've probably harvested 4-5 pounds of tomatoes so far starting about 3 weeks ago. I think next year we can move this up a month and have ripe tomatoes from the indoor plants in mid April by starting tomatoes January 1st indoors. (This year we started plants February 1st.)

Our mandarinquat, lime and lemon are developing larger fruit and are growing more leaves. How long until these are ready? I'm already planning on making some marmalade.

Here is a cayenne pepper from the solarium with a quarter for scale. I couldn't wait to harvest this sucker and figured it would be pretty mild. When I taste-tested this pepper I ended up having to drink milk for half an hour my mouth was burning so bad. Note: Cayenne peppers do not have to turn red to set your mouth on fire. We're planning on drying and grinding these peppers for our own cayenne powder.

Now on to the greenhouse... The tomatoes are enormous. We've pruned them several times and they're still pretty big. We haven't gotten any ripe tomatoes out of the greenhouse, but have full grown green tomatoes that are starting to ripen. I don't think we could speed this up much next year. So far, the time that we planted this year seemed pretty ideal (Started seeds in February, transplanted in April). Currently I am starting new tomato plants to replace these ones and the ones in the greenhouse mid-summer. I'm guessing in a month or two they'll start to wear out and get too gangly for us. Hopefully this year we'll have ripe tomatoes from mid-May to late fall. Every house should have a solarium and greenhouse.

This is a spaghetti squash growing in the greenhouse. Apparently, some years in Montana the summer is too short to grow these outdoors. To hedge our bets, we're growing melons, and winter squash in the greenhouse along with tomatoes, peppers, onions and basil. Next year I might add okra and eggplants to the mix.

Here are our peppers. Not quite sure how good they are doing, they are certainly putting a lot of energy into the fruit. We just fertilized these again recently and hope they get a bit bigger. If not, next year we'll start twice as many and jam them into their beds.

I'm not sure how worthwhile marigolds are as companion plants in the greenhouse, but they look so cute I had to grow some.

As the lettuce in the greenhouse has been bolting we've been replacing those sections with basil. We're planning on making some pesto once we have enough.

Here is tonight's harvest. Greenhouse hybrid tomatoes, debarao tall vine tomatoes (excellent flavor), oregano, antohi peppers, bell peppers, easter egg radish, winter density lettuce and tom thumb lettuce.

I combined our harvest with some violas, noodles, smoked sausage and cheese for a pasta salad. It was a delicious dinner!