Gardening Before it Rains….Again

I’m sorry we’ve been MIW (missing in writing) for the last few days. We’ve been working very hard on getting the garden planted before yet another round of rain comes through. It’s springtime in Oklahoma when we have a few days of rain, then a few days of semi dry, then a few days of rain, then a few days of sunshine. It is always a gamble when we will be able to get the garden planted. Well, we’ve had a few hot, sunny days that we took advantage of and did a lot of planting.

I’m going to treat you to some pictures of dirt. There are newly planted seeds hiding under all that dirt, so you will have to use your imagination for now. This is the beginning of the transformation of bare ground to overcrowded, abundantly (we hope) producing vegetables. Our friend Grace recently sent me an email that described her garden as an empty blank slate. That’s what most of ours looks like as well. But her comment got me to thinking, and my response to her was, “It’s waiting to become a master piece.” You know, that is what gardening is. Through the miracle of germination, photosynthesis and the blessing of rain, millions of tiny little seeds each year turn into an amazing abundance of food. I am always in awe of this yearly miracle.

Here is the garden tour for now. Since we increased the size of the garden by almost a third, I changed the garden plan quite a bit. The original plan is now quite scribbled on, but I know what it says, even if no one else can decipher it.

Remember when we told you that one end of the new garden piece kept breaking the tiller shear pin on the tractor? Well, Frank broke out the disc for the first time ever and broke new ground in one of our pastures, that we have called the garden pasture for many years. We have amended part of this pasture many times with gifts from the chicken house and the barn, so it is very fertile. This year is the year. We are going to plant this area with animal feed. It can also be people feed, but our goal is to decrease the amount of feed we purchase for our animals dramatically. Yea! Another dream come true, almost. Of course, we will have to fight some very vigorous weeds and briars, but I think we are up for the battle.

While Frank had the disc on, he also worked over the new part of the garden that the tiller couldn’t handle. There are some tremendous rocks down on one end of this area. It was so rocky, we couldn’t get the last t-post in for a trellis, so we pounded it in with the bucket on the tractor. But, this is what happened to the first one we tried. Now it looks like a boomerang and is useless as a t-post. After we moved down the row three times, we finally got the last one in.

Now for the dirt tour. Here is the trellis with the stubborn t-posts in the new area of the garden. We have planted pinto beans on both sides of the trellis. If the weather wasn’t trying to fire up with severe thunderstorms, we would also have planted two rows of cowpeas on each side of this trellis. We chose these crops for their ability to help enrich the soil, and for the food they can provide both us and the animals.

 Next up is one of the turnip patches that has been planted for a while. The seedlings are coming up, along with plenty of grass. As soon as the turnips are big enough, this will be one of the first places that needs weeding.

This next beautiful patch of dirt is planted with alternating rows of spinach, carrots, collards and beets. The blank area of dirt to the right is still empty. The pepper plants will go there, but for now, they are too small to set out. It will be a week or so before they are ready.

The trellis behind this patch in the middle of the row, is planted with cucumber seeds we saved year before last, and zinnias. And speaking of zinnias, they are liberally planted all over the garden, to discourage pest insects, and encourage predator insects.

The new strawberry bed is behind the cucumber trellis. These are the extra strawberries that had escaped the original bed and moved into the garden. They just got planted today and are ready for a drink. I am hoping the rain that is coming will do that for me. (It did.)

The permanent trellis against this building has hops and clematis growing on it. They are both doing very well this year.

If you use your imagination, you will be able to see some small hills in this area. This is where the Buttercup winter squash is planted. For the past two years we have planted our winter squash in July or so. This has not worked out at all, so I am planting it at the beginning of summer, just like our yellow squash. Not only will these be stored for our use, but they make great animal feed. We will be planting them up in the garden pasture as well. The small trellis to the right, by the building, is planted with pickling cucumbers. I plan to try my hand at fermented pickles this summer. If I understand it right, this will give us crunchy pickles, which we like, along with the benefits of fermentation.

The next trellis will support our Rutgers and Arkansas Traveler  tomatoes we grew from seed. Down both sides of the trellis carrot seedlings or seeds have been planted. It really is true that carrots love tomatoes. I have tried this for several years and they grow very well together.


 

On the other side of this trellis you may be able to see some more squash hills. This is where the straight neck yellow squash will grow. I have tried to separate the squashes simply to confuse the bugs. We are growing quite a bit of squash this year, but instead of putting them all together, I’m experimenting with alternating them with other crops. We’ll see how it goes.

Next is another trellis with pinto beans planted on both sides, with carrots planted down each side about 10 inches out from the beans. We are going to use immature pinto beans for green beans this year. A friend of ours told us about this practice. We can pick them young and can them as green beans, then when we have enough canned for the year, we will let the beans mature into pinto beans and can them as well. Kind of like a dual purpose bean. I will be very interested to see how this works out.

Our last type of squash is planted next to this bean trellis, which is a Cushaw winter squash. I planted the seeds we saved from one of our few mature squash from last summer. We hope they are viable and will produce a good crop.

The next area is another experimental area. I planted two rows of okra with a row of cow peas on either side. Last summer I was surprised at how long and vine like the cowpeas grew. This year we are going to see if the cow peas will grow up the okra plants.

The other end of the new portion of the garden is planted in a similar fashion. We put one row of okra down the center with cowpeas on either side. Then we filled up the rest of the bed with three rows of peanuts on either side. The okra will not improve the soil, but the cowpeas and peanuts will.

Next to the okra/cowpea area in the garden is the portion that was planted previously and we have already shown you. The onions are starting to grow, kind of. The broccoli, green cabbage, Chinese cabbage and beets are growing well. 



Beets
Broccoli
Chinese cabbage

Cabbage

  

 

I planted the new comfrey roots over in this corner. I originally planned to spread them into a larger space, but they were outgrowing their tubs and it will still be a while before the rest of the area is ready to plant.

The salad fixings I planted in front of the herb bed are doing okay. I will be giving them some of the manure tea and whey sometime in the next few days. 

Kohlrabi
Lettuce

Lettuce
Lettuce
Spinach
Swiss Chard

The turnip patch by the herb bed is doing very well. It will be time to thin the plants and pull some weeds before long.

So there you have it, our garden of mostly dirt, for this year. I still need to plant the peppers when they are big enough, put the cowpeas into the stubborn end of the new bed, plant a few more onions, and figure out what I want to put in an empty portion of the new bed in front of the herb bed. And then there is the new garden in the pasture to play with. This is our blank slate awaiting to become a master piece.


I hope spring is treating you well, and you are able to make a dream or two come true in your life. It usually takes a lot of work to realize a dream, but it is well worth the effort.

Until next time – Fern

Our Winter Squash Failures

Two years ago I planted a number of winter squashes in May. They struggled through the hot part of the summer, but produced very well, eventually. That summer we tried a number of different varieties to see how we liked them. These included Buttercup, Cushaw, Hubbard and Acorn. The Hubbard didn’t produce well, but tasted okay. The Acorn didn’t produce well either. We had previously grown Butternut and Spaghetti squash. The Butternut was okay, but we didn’t really care for the Spaghetti squash.

Immature Buttercup, September 2013


The Buttercup was prolific, and although rather ugly and warty, tasted great. The flavor is very similar to sweet potatoes. We peeled off the worst of the warts, cut them in half, removed the seeds and placed them face down in a shallow baking dish with a small amount of water, covered with foil and baked. They were so good, we didn’t even add butter. Another plus for the Buttercup, is that they are great keepers.
 

Immature Cushaw, September 2013


The Cushaw squash produced very well, also. The flavor wasn’t as sweet, but they were huge. We were surprised. The volume of edible squash is very large. This squash freezes well either in chunks or boiled and mashed into a puree type consistency. One of  our goals is to can some of this squash, but we haven’t achieved that goal yet.

Both the Buttercup and the Cushaw make great squash pie which we enjoy every winter.

The last two years I have planted our winter squash in late July or early August. I figured it was still hot enough for squash to grow, but closer to fall, which is when I thought a winter squash should be grown, like pumpkins. It hasn’t worked out well at all. Both last year and this year the plants have suffered from powdery mildew, had the flowers affected somewhat by potato beetles, still had to contend with some squash bugs and just overall haven’t thrived. This year we will be lucky to get 3 decent Cushaws. We only planted one variety this year because we wanted to save the seeds. It was difficult not to plant the Buttercup because we really like them, too.

The last Cushaw on the vine for this year. We hope it gets bigger.

Next year I will plant the winter squashes when I plant the yellow squash. In May. There may be locations where the winter squashes do better later in the season, but it just doesn’t seem to be the case here. We really were hopeful about this crop. Our goal was to be able to store at least 20 large Cushaw. They are very nutritious and so are the seeds, which is an added bonus. Squash seeds also make good animal feed for chickens and goats.
 

Our Cushaw harvest. All 2 of them.


We are glad we have had time to learn the most effective growing patterns for the vegetables we like. The knowledge that some crops grow and produce better than others in our location is valuable information. There are always things that come up that compete with the time and effort needed to grow and preserve food. This year has definitely been one of the less productive years for us. But, in the midst of the gardening and preserving disruptions, we have still learned a lot of very valuable lessons. For that, we are thankful.

Until next time – Fern
 

Not Much Winter Squash

Last year, I planted my winter squash too early. This year I planted it too late. Neither worked out very well. Last year the plants really suffered in the extreme heat and drought, but we did get a semi decent harvest. So, this year I planted them later. Actually, later than I planned, so they were too late. And then along came some mildew and squash bugs after I had started back to work. The end result? A rather dismal harvest.

Then because of the mildew and bugs, the plants died before the squash was very mature.

So. I picked everything and left them out on the porch to dry and cure a little before frost came and I had to bring them inside. Most of the stems were a little mushy when I picked them and I figured this would end up affecting the squash. It did.

I left them as long as I could before I knew I would have to do something or lose them all. As it is, I lost more than I wanted to. Again, I just waited too long.

The necks were the first place to show they were going bad. 

I took all of the Cushaw squash I had, peeled them, took the seeds out and cut them up. As I did so, I ran into places that were deteriorating.

The chickens enjoyed the scraps and the seeds.

I used just enough water to cover the squash and boiled it gently until it was soft.

Then I scooped out enough to work with and mashed it up with my potato masher. 

I  put it in ziplock freezer bags in four cup increments because this is how much I use to make a pie.


Even with all of the waste, I ended up with a fair amount of squash. These seven quarts will make seven pies throughout the winter. I have tried using it to make a squash bread recipe that is very good also, but we prefer the pie. It is very simple and tastes great.  

Since we are having pretty cold weather and are defrosting one of the freezers, I decided to freeze these overnight out on the porch. It worked pretty well.

  

Not all ventures in providing food for ourselves are a great success. Some are, some aren’t and some are just so-so. But one thing is always guaranteed. If you try, you will learn, from successes or failures. Another thing is also guaranteed. If you don’t try, you will never learn. Which way will you choose?

Until next time – Fern

September Garden Update

By this time of year the garden usually looks rather sad. Most of the hot weather plants are starting to wind down and none of them are getting the attention they got in the spring when the excitement of planting and growing is at it’s peak for me. I find it easy in August and September to let some things go in the garden because it is so hot. This is the first year we have actually gotten a few fall crops planted even though we have talked about it for years. 

Shortly after we started the seedlings, the temperatures inched up into triple digits and made it difficult to keep them going. The winter squashes are happy with all of the heat, but the carrots, broccoli, cabbage, beets and snap peas aren’t at all happy. 

 

 


Only the pumpkins,                                                winter squash, 

                                                    beets 

Snap peas

and snap peas made it into the garden. It was cooler when I planted the snap peas and they were happy, started growing and even started blooming. Then we made it up to 105 degrees and they put the brakes on and started drooping. Maybe the fall temperatures will bring them back around. 

Mangel beets

The beets started growing as well, but the grasshoppers really liked the small seedlings, then along came the dog and dug up a few, then the kittens thought it would be fun to dig up a few more.

Pretty Girl

Our small row of sugar beets dwindled to only a few plants. If they continue to grow we can at least see how they do and see if we can grow a much larger patch next year.

Potatoes among the weeds

The potatoes we experimented with are few and far between, and the weeds are prolific, but maybe we will get enough to use as seed potatoes for spring. 

 

Melons

The melons won’t be big enough to produce before fall. I should have started them much, much earlier. I just thought I would give a few a try while I was planting the winter squash. 

Cushaw
Buttercup
Acorn

Winter squashes
Besides a few squash vine borers which I think the assassin bugs took care of, the cushaw, acorn and buttercup winter squashes are going great guns. I am hopeful that we will get a good harvest to store and experiment with canning. 

Pumpkins

I’m not too sure about the pumpkins. They are much slower than the winter squashes to produce even though we put them in a much more fertile area than the others. Maybe that is the problem, I don’t know.

We are still picking some okra,  

green beans, (even though the grasshoppers have really taken a liking to the vines)

peppers 

 

and tomatoes.

The yellow summer squashes have pretty much died down. 

 
The lima beans, once again, have beautiful vines but only 
a few flat pods with no beans. This is the third year I have planted lima beans – all in different locations with varying amounts of nitrogen, and three different varieties. So I have come to the conclusion that lima beans just don’t produce here and will go on to other vegetables that I know produce well. 

 

We are still getting some purple hull peas, but they have been rather neglected too. 

It will be interesting to see how the sweet potatoes have done when we  dig them up. I think I will try digging up a few plants in a couple of weeks. The books say 100-140 days, and I figure the end of September will be about 120 days. Besides that, I am curious to see what’s under all those vines.

The first average frost date here is October 31st, so we still have about 6 more weeks of growing season left. I think when the first frost comes I will experiment with my frost cloth again and see if I can keep some of the garden going, especially the winter squashes. We like them and the chickens and goats do too. We are ready for cooler weather. It was still 98 degrees today. 

It will be interesting to see how much more we can harvest this year. We have learned so much and gotten to eat some really good food. And one of the best parts is yet to come – winter. When we can go look on the shelf at all of the things we have put up, and eat some more really good food.

Until next time – Fern

Seedlings for the Fall Garden

Frank made a great discovery a few years ago – a Pot Maker. We had always saved up a bunch of newspapers to wrap chickens in when we freeze them and various other things. When we got serious about growing our own seedlings, we wanted a way that would be economical, practical and ecological. With all of the information coming out about GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds, we were determined to grow and eat the most natural foods we could. Thus, the discovery of the Pot Maker. They are very simple wooden forms which make great little biodegradable pots. And since it is time (well, actually a little past time) to start my seedlings for the fall garden, I thought I would share this with you.

The pot maker comes with instructions and measurements for the

size of paper to use. At first I cut them according to directions. I soon figured out that you can cut six strips out of a standard sized newspaper and it works just fine, so I no longer measure. Start off by rolling the paper up on the wooden form. One 

trick I learned was to begin the fold under where the paper ended. This tucks that open part of the newspaper in first and lets the other folds hold it closed. After all of the paper is folded under, place the form into the base and twist back and

forth, shaping and somewhat sealing the bottom in place. It doesn’t take much effort or pressure to do this. Children love to make pots for seeds. So if you have any kids at home, this is a great project. Gently slide the paper off of the form. They tear

sometimes, but are still usable. The dirt will hold them together. These pots are easy to make. It doesn’t take any time at all to make up a hundred or so, and then you are ready to plant.

For now, we are buying garden soil for our seedlings. My handy red crate holds 100 pots and that will be a start. I will need to roll up about 400 more, which sounds like a lot, but it really doesn’t take long.

We buy our laundry detergent in buckets at a warehouse market and have found out that the lids make great trays for our seedlings. Each tray will hold 20 plants.

 

Another trick I have discovered, is to make sure I pack the dirt into the pots until they are full. Some of the first pots we did ended up with about an inch of dirt in them because after we watered them in, the dirt really settled a lot. It wasn’t really

enough to support the plant well and they dried out very quickly.  It doesn’t take long to fill the pots and get ready to plant the seeds.

One more thing learned by trial and error was paying attention to the way the pots are turned. If I put the open side of the pot toward another pot instead of facing out, they won’t gap open when I water them.


 

I mark my seedlings with popsicle sticks and I reuse them until they rot or break off. I have a fine tipped marker for writing the name of the plant, but some of these I have already marked and they are ready to go.

.
A friend was at a yard sale and saw this bundle of popsicle sticks. She knew I used them, so she brought them to me. Some people may think that is funny, but I thought it was a great gift.

 

I am planting Acorn, Buttercup and Cushaw squashes along with some pumpkin and melons. The seeds we buy are heirloom or open pollinated or non-hybrid. This is so we can save the seeds. Hybrid plants don’t always reproduce the same product as the original plant.

Then there are the spinach, mixed greens, kale, kohlrabi, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce…… 

and snap peas…..

Here are some zinnia and marigold seeds we picked this afternoon. I’ll show you how I harvested and processed some cucumber seeds in another post.

 
There. I have them started. That feels much better. I hope I haven’t waited too late on the winter squash. We really enjoy it. The planter in the back in another experiment. We planted some of our chicken scratch to see what would come up. So far we have sunflowers and something else that could be wheat or milo. 

The seeds are watered in and ready to germinate. Tomorrow morning Frank will hear, “Did my seeds come up last night?” I am always impatient and excited to see new growth.

Seeds are truly miracles. It always amazes me to see what can come from a tiny little seed. Soon they will be worth more than gold. Do you have a good supply of seeds to grow the things your family eats, enjoys and that will provide the nourishment necessary to carry out your daily duties? Frank has been heard to say, “You can never have too many seeds.”

Until next time – Fern