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Tuesday, December 15

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

We finally got some really cold weather in central Missouri.  On my porch thermometer a few mornings ago, it was 2 degrees!  Brrr!  My carrots couldn't handle that kind of cold, so I harvested them all.  I got 47 carrots total, a mix of Scarlet Nantes and Danvers.  Some of them were still really small, but I think that was due to lazy thinning efforts on my part.  Most of them, though, were a really great size.  I made an amazing soup with some of them and still have quite a few left.

I'm starting to get some seed catalogs and plan the garden for next spring.  I'll be starting some seeds in February, so I don't have too much longer to wait!  In the meantime, I'm going to continue planning and making some seed mats for my carrots and lettuce so I won't have to worry about thinning next year.

Sunday, October 25

Planting Hardy Kiwi

Sorry I've been MIA.  I really haven't had too much gardening news to share.  We actually had our first frost on October 6th in my backyard, much earlier than the average date of October 20th.


I ordered an Issai Hardy Kiwi from Gurneys a few months ago, and I just received it last week since they only ship in the fall.  I thought it was going to be bareroot, but to my surprise it was a beautiful, tiny green plant.  If you have never heard of hardy kiwi, you're not alone.  I was very excited to read about this variety of kiwi that grows in the colder regions and is cold hardy to about -10!  One Issai Kiwi plant can produce up to 100 pounds of fruit per year!  The best part is that you can eat these kiwi just like grapes because they are fuzz-free.  I chose Issai because it only takes a couple of years to produce fruit and it is self-pollinating, so I didn't have to buy a male plant.  It is also billed as thriving in any type of soil.  Another popular type of hardy kiwi is the Artic Beauty, which requires a male and female plant to be planted within 100 feet of each other and also takes up to 10 years to bear fruit.

One thing to keep in mind with hardy kiwi is that they are a vine.  I have read that they can grow up to 30 feet per year, so you will have to have plenty of space and definitely a support system in place for them.  You also can't be afraid to prune them.  I have seen some gorgeous photos of people who have trained them up the stairs on their deck.  I plan on training mine along the fenceline in the backyard.

This little guy transplanted very easily and looks like it's thriving in the week it's been in the ground.  I'm very excited to see how it will grow this spring. 

Monday, October 5

The End Is Near

Well, it's only 10 days until the average first frost date here in Missouri.  I've looked at the 10-day weather forecast, and it is looking like it may come a little sooner than that.  I have lots of little green half-grown tomatoes that I was really hoping to harvest, but this cool weather has been slowing the growth by a lot.  Since they are in containers, I'm thinking of bringing them in and putting them under a grow light to see if I can harvest some tomatoes this winter!  That would be fun.  I guess it's worth a try since there is really nothing to lose.

When I was inspecting my tomatoes this morning, I came upon this little guy.  I've never seen one before, but I'm assuming this is a tomato hornworm.  He's kind of cute, actually.

Saturday, September 26

Garden Update

Not too much is going on in the garden right now.  I've got less than 30 days until my first expected frost, but with the cool weather we've had all summer, I'm thinking the frost is coming early.

I've been harvesting a couple of snow peas every day and just eating them right off the vine.  I definitely need more plants in the spring to get a decent harvest!

The tomatoes I planted from seed in July look great!  They are finally starting to set fruit.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that at least a couple of tomatoes have time to mature.  Next year for fall tomatoes, I am going to take clones off of my spring/summer tomatoes, so I should be able to keep a constant supply of tomatoes coming all growing season.

The carrots I planted in the tub a little over a month ago are coming on strong.  I need to finish thinning them still.  I skirted a major disaster the other day when we had torrential rains and I realized that I forgot to drill holes in the bottom of the planting tub!  I went out the next day to see the carrots sitting in over an inch of standing water, and I was sure that I had ruined them.  After drilling the holes and draining the water, however, they were completely fine.  Thank goodness!

Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the broccoli that was growing under the row cover.  Why is everyone having such a hard time with broccoli this year?  So far I have yet to see anyone get any good, healthy fall broccoli!  Ugh!  So what happened to the broccoli, you ask?  Well, I had the row cover laid over the broccoli with a couple of sticks on either end to support it.  When we had the torrential rains, the cover was pushed down on top of the broccoli.  Then when the sun came out, the row cover was still wrapped all around the broccoli and it just got fried from the heat.  Note to self:  Next year, bother with making the hoops and doing a better job of securing the row cover.

So that's pretty much it for now.  I'll try to get some pics this weekend.

Thursday, September 17

Snow Pea Harvest

I got to eat my first homegrown snow pea yesterday.  There was only one that was ready to be picked, so I just ate it straight off the vine.  Yum, yum!  I have tons of new flowers forming, so I should get a decent amount soon for some stir-fry.

The pods do come in really fast once the flower forms.  Here is the snow pea pod just three days ago.

Then here it is yesterday, when I harvested it.

The actual plants grew really fast, too!  The seed packet says 72 days to maturity, but it has only been 53 days.  I wasn't expecting snow peas for a while, but I'm glad they decided to come early!

Saturday, September 12

Thinning Carrots

If you have ever planted carrots, you know that the seeds are TINY, and I mean extremely tiny.  Unless you have some kind of special tiny seed planting device, it is very hard to plant these evenly.  So when I planted my carrots a couple of weeks ago, I knew there was going to be some carrot thinning in my future.  I had seeds everywhere!

Now, the first thinning should be done when the carrots are about 2-3 inches tall.  At this point, you only have to thin them to about an inch apart.  I usually just look for the one that looks the best and is the tallest and then pull the others around it out.  Once they start getting bigger, you can do the final thinning to about 2-3 inches apart.  The tool of choice for carrot thinning is tweezers.  It's hard to get your fingers in there without disturbing the carrots that you are leaving in.

There are a lot more carrots than it looks like in this picture.  Several are right on top of each other, so they definitely need to be thinned, even when they are this small.
And the finished product...

Wednesday, September 9

Snow Peas Are Flowering!

It's been raining and raining here for days.  My snow peas seem to love it because the vine has grown at least 6 inches in the past 2 days.  Then this morning, I discovered a perfect little blossom.  Snow peas should be harvested about 5-7 days after flowering, so I should have some within the week.  Yum, yum!

Tuesday, September 8

Broccoli Progress

I lifted back the row cover today to see how the broccoli was coming along.  It is really getting big!  And...there is absolutely no signs of bug damage AT ALL!  I love it.

Monday, September 7

Snow Peas for the Fall

I have some empty space in the garden now that the melons are pretty much done.  I started some snow pea seeds indoors a few weeks ago.  Peas are natural climbers, so you need to give them a trelllis or some kind of fence to grow up.  I took three pieces of PVC pipe and tied them together to make a small tipi for them.  They seem to like it and have been attaching their little feelers to it as they grow.

Since the weather has been so cool, they have been growing really well.  However, I have noticed that the few days where it has been in the 80s, they have completely stopped growing.  I think next year, since it will probably be pretty hot still at this time of year, I am going to grow the peas indoors until at least September and then transplant them for the rest of the fall.

Saturday, September 5

Tomatoes From Seed

I started some tomatoes from seed on July 5th.  From what I have read, that is probably too late in my area, but I decided to go ahead and let them grow as long as possible anyway.  The way our weather has been, we will probably have an early frost this year.

I had the tomatoes growing in homemade newspaper pots until a couple of weeks ago.  I transplanted them to 5-gallon containers.  They have really taken off since then.
There is exactly 30 days between these photos.  The first was taken on August 3rd.  The second was taken September 3rd.  Amazing!  These are Better Boys.

Friday, September 4


I thought I would have a couple of weeks to figure out how to keep my cat off my container of carrots, but they have come up already!  I can't believe it.  It usually takes at least two weeks and sometimes three before carrots come up.  I moved the container off the porch and into the backyard, so hopefully that should solve the cat problem.

TIP:  Make sure to keep carrot seedlings watered regularly.  They are planted very shallow at this point, so it is very easy for them to dry out.  Also, make sure to keep the area weeded very well because carrots are so small and tender when they are young that they can't compete with weeds for space to grow.

It's a little hard to see in the picture, but I have all five rows of carrots coming up.

Thursday, September 3

Well, That Didn't Work

I tried a "No Cats Allowed" sign.  No luck with that.

Friday, August 28

Starting the Winter Gardening Experiment

I have been reading a lot of Eliot Coleman's books lately.  He is a guru when it comes to organic growing and growing in the wintertime.  He grows over 30 varieties of vegetables year-round in an unheated greenhouse in Zone 5, even harvesting carrots and lettuce in December.  His books are definitely worth a read if you are interested in organic gardening techniques or growing in the winter.  They will get you excited about gardening.  His most recently published book just came out a few months ago, The Winter Harvest Handbook.  I am using the book to experiment for the first time with winter gardening.

My first planting is carrots only.  I filled a Rubbermaid container with really good dirt I dug from the cow pasture and then sowed my seed.  Then I covered the top with a row cover to try to hold the moisture in.  Carrot seeds love being moist and relatively cool for the best germination.  I only left about 3 or 4 inches between the rows because in the winter, plants need to be more closely spaced to hold their heat.  I plan on growing them in the open container until the first frost.  Then I will cover them with a plastic hoop that I am constructing right now (plans and photos are coming up).  The back half of the tub is planted with Danvers and the front half is Scarlet Nantes.

Carrots take anywhere from 2-3 weeks to germinate, so it will look like just a tub of dirt for a while.  I guess it didn't look all that uninviting for someone, though.  I'm going to have to figure out what to do about this before the seedlings start coming up!

Thursday, August 27

A Ripe One...Finally!

I finally got a cantaloupe!  My vines are getting destroyed by cucumber beetles, and this little cantaloupe didn't look like he was getting any nutrients from the vine he was attached to, so I decided to go ahead and pick him.  He was a little bit green yesterday, but after a night out on the counter, he was ready to go this morning.  And he tasted GREAT!  I've got three other melons out on the vines still that should be ready within the next couple of days.

When you buy melon seeds, it will say on the package that cantaloupe should be harvested at 3/4 slip.  That just means that it should come off the vine with a gentle tug.  For other types of melons, it might say full slip.  That means that it should come off the vine extremely easily with no pressure.  Most cantaloupe have a heavy netting around them, so you can tell they are ready to harvest when the spaces in between the netting go from green to tan.  Also, once you pick a melon from the vine, it will continue to ripen.  However, the amount of sugar in the melon is set.  It will not get any sweeter.  So you do want to try to pick it at the peak of ripeness.

Monday, August 24

Growing Herbs Indoors

Even though we are just entering late August, the cool weather we have been having reminds me that winter is not far around the corner. This winter, I am going to try an outdoor growing experiment with carrots and lettuce. I am also going to be growing a few things indoors. I found a really cute kit at Walmart for a great price! At my local grocery store, it will cost $3 to buy one teeny packet of less-than-fresh herbs this winter, so I snapped up the kit.

The kit includes 3 three-inch ceramic pots, a ceramic tray to set them on, a soiless potting mixture, and herb seeds. The kit I chose includes basil, thyme, and sage. As a bonus, there are quite a few seeds left over to plant in the garden outdoors next year.

Growing herbs indoors is easy if you set them in a south-facing window. I planted mine about 10 days ago, and the herbs are already growing like crazy.

Saturday, August 22

What A Day!

I mentioned before that this is probably the coolest summer I can remember. We have been having really crazy weather. It's late August, so I should be wilting in the heat and doing nothing but sitting in front of the air conditioner with four fans blowing on me drinking lemonade. Instead, I am outside and it's 73 degrees! I am loving it!

Today is seriously the most amazing, angelic, bewitching, delightful, divine, exquisite, magnificent, marvelous, pulchritudinous, radiant, resplendent, splendid, stunning, superb, and wonderful day imaginable. (This sentence brought to you by my thesaurus.)
I hope you're having a great day too!

Friday, August 21

Let's Play A Game

It's called, Can You Spot The Melons?

I have a cantaloupe vine jungle growing outside, and there are four decent-size melons in there somewhere. Can you spot them?
The vines have been under seige by the hated and feared cucumber beetle, but so far, they are still doing great. I should have a ripe one any day now. It's hard to believe that just 60 days ago, the vines looked like this.

Monday, August 17

Transplanting Fall Broccoli

As you might remember, my one and only broccoli plant has been through a little stress in its short life. The good news is, it has made a full recovery. I am still not sure if I planted it too late or not, but I will just have to see what happens come frost time. On the broccoli seed packet, it said 72 days. I have since done some research and found out that the 72 days means days from TRANSPLANT to maturity, not seed to maturity. (I really think the seed packet should have given me that important piece of info.)

Today, I moved the broccoli from its semi-shady and protected spot on the porch out to the garden. Since I have been growing it in a newspaper pot, I just planted the pot and all into the dirt. Now, broccoli is notoriously hard to grow organically because lots of bugs and worms (EWWW!) love broccoli. One of the best ways to protect broccoli is by covering it with a floating row cover from the minute you put it in the garden until you are ready to harvest it. Bugs can't get in, but light and water still can. Putting on a row coveris really easy.

First, dig a hole deep enough for your pot. Then stick your plant in the hole. See, isn't this easy?

Cover the entire pot with dirt, right up to the first broccoli leaves.

Cut your row cover to size, making sure to leave plenty of slack on both sides so that the plant can grow. I placed a couple of sticks on either side of the broccoli to keep the row cover off the plant, but that's optional. Then just place the cover over the plant.
Scatter dirt all around the edges to make sure it will stay in place and the bugs don't have any openings. I was thinking of maybe making a long tube and filling it with dirt or sand (kind of like a draft blocker for your door) for next year and then putting that along the edges instead of dirt. I think it would be a lot prettier and would be easy to remove if you want to look under the cover.
That's all there is to it. You can water right through the cover.

Saturday, August 15

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a...skink?

Friday morning I was checking on my garden when I caught a flash of electric blue out of the corner of my eye. I scanned the area until I saw it, a little snake-like thing with a black and cream-striped body and a bright blue tail! I grabbed my camera, but it shot under the porch before I could get a picture of it. I ran inside to figure out what this thing was. I have never seen anything like it. The color was so amazing! This photo is courtesy of Wikipedia and Michael Holroyd.

After doing some research, I discovered it was a five-lined skink, which is a type of lizard. The blue tail means it is a baby. When it matures into an adult, it will have more visible legs (like the one in the photo). When it fully matures, in about two years, it will have a red head. Apparently, it is beneficial to my garden and will eat some of the nasty bugs. Yeah!

Here's a little fascinating tidbit for you. If a skink is threatened, they can actually detach their tail and run for cover without it. The tail will stay behind and wriggle, distracting whatever is trying to attack the lizard. The lizard will eventually grow a new tail. Who knew?

Friday, August 14

How To Make Homemade Butter

If the early American pioneers knew how easy things were for us today, they would probably hate us. Case in point: making your own butter. It is SO easy. It only takes about 10 minutes. The difference in taste is noticeable compared to buying butter at the supermarket. You will never want to buy butter again. As a bonus, you get homemade buttermilk. Yummy! Try this, and you will not regret it!

All you need is heavy cream and a stand mixer or hand mixer. That's it! You can use any amount of cream. 1 pint of cream makes 1 cup of butter (about 2 sticks) and 1 cup of buttermilk.

Start by pouring your cream into a COLD mixing bowl. I like to put my bowl in the freezer for about 5 minutes before I make the butter.

Turn the mixer on medium-high and just let it go. First you will see the cream form peaks. If you want whipped cream, stop right here.

It will get thicker and become stiff. Keep mixing!

The cream will start to get lumpy and take on a light yellow color. You're almost there.

The cream will break down and begin splashing around in the bowl. At this point, you may need to turn the speed down on the mixer to keep from making a huge mess. You will be able to see clumps of butter in the liquid.

Once the butter forms, stop the blender.

Pour the contents of the mixing bowl through a fine strainer to separate the butter and the buttermilk. Save the liquid (that's the buttermilk), and use it for pancakes tomorrow. Squeeze the butter in your hands or cheesecloth to get all the liquid out.

You're done. Wrap your cute little butter ball in plastic wrap and stick it in the refrigerator. Try to use it up within the next week or two.

The possibilities are endless with this butter. You can easily mix in honey, salt, garlic, or any other spice you can think of to make a delicious flavored butter. The best time to add something would be when you are squeezing out the liquid.

Thursday, August 13

Carrot Harvest

I finally pulled enough carrots to make a meal with. Roasted carrots are on the menu tonight. YUM! Some of them were still pretty small, but a lot of them were nice and big. They smell really great! The carrot tops smell like fresh parsley, and the actual carrots smell like...well, carrots (but delicious and VERY fresh ones). I wonder if you can use the carrot tops for anything. Does anyone know?

One quick carrot tip. If you plan on storing your carrots, it is best to cut the tops off right away. I know they are pretty with the tops on, but it makes the carrots go bad much, much faster. Depending on the variety of carrot you have, you can store some carrots in a cool, moist place for 4-5 months! If you leave the tops on, you need to use them within a week or so.

Monday, August 10

Great Resource For Gardeners

I was looking around the other day for resources that would help me figure out exactly what I can plant in spring, summer, and fall and what varieties will be out of the garden by spring and can be replanted. I am getting an early start on my garden next year, and I don't want any space to go unused!

I came across the University of Missouri Extension site. It has a TON of great info. It even tells you which varieties are best suited for Missouri and how to control some of the disease and insect problems that occur in Missouri. If you don't live in Missouri, just Google your state and then "extension office," and you should be able to find some information that is tailored for your state.

For my fellow Missourians, here's the link to the Missouri Extension.

I have also been planning on doing some winter gardening on a small scale (carrots and lettuce), just to see if I can actually grow things OUTDOORS when the temperature is way below freezing. When looking through the University of Missouri Extension site, I noticed that they built an unheated greenhouse (which is what I'm going to do...sort of) and were able to grow quite a few cold-hardy vegetables in it with no problems. That gives me hope for my project. Don't worry. I'll have much more to come on the winter project. It's still in the planning stages right now.

Saturday, August 8

Things You Don't Know Until You Grow

Watching different plants growing in the garden over the last couple of months makes me realize that I never really knew how things grew. Fruits and vegetables just showed up in the produce section at the grocery store and that was that. Sure, I knew the basics. Apples come from trees. Blueberries come from bushes. Melons are grown on vines. But I couldn't tell you what it looked like to watch something go from a tiny seed to actual food. Watching the stages each plant goes through is fascinating to me, and I think that's part of the reason I really love growing things.

A cantaloupe starts out as a little swell at the base of the female flower.

Then the flower dries up, leaving just a tiny, green, fuzzy cantaloupe.

The cantaloupe then begins to grow bigger and loses the fuzz but remains green.

Then some of the thick, bristly netting that you see on the cantaloupes in the grocery store starts to appear.

As soon as the melon is heavily netted all the way around and the color in between the netting goes from green to tan, it will be ready to eat!

Friday, August 7

Getting there...slowly

I planted my carrots WAY late this year. Carrots are best when the weather is cool, and you can actually plant them directly in the ground before you have even had your last frost of the spring. The last frost date here in Missouri is around the 1st of May, so I should have had my carrots in the ground in April. I didn't plant carrots until May 23rd. Woops! However, with the crazy cool weather we've been having, they've been doing fine. I have been pulling one every few days to see the size difference.

Here's a carrot I pulled 10 days ago. Hey, don't laugh at the little guy! He has self-esteem issues.

Here's one I pulled today. It's amazing to see how much something can grow in just 10 days' time. I should be able to get a decent harvest within the next 2 weeks. I am also planning to plant a new crop of carrots this week for late fall/early winter harvest (more on that later).

Wednesday, August 5

Thar She Blows!

In Missouri, we are famous for having wild spring storms and tornadoes. August, however, is usually much more calm...except this year. We have been having the craziest weather I can remember! Yesterday morning I woke up to a tree branch banging on the roof. When I looked out the window, it was dark and windy...I mean, really windy. After weathering the storm, I had to rush out to see how my melons on the trellis had done. Some of the vines had gotten blown over into the carrots, but my two biggest cantaloupes were still strapped safely into their pantyhose.

Tuesday, August 4

Oh, the Humanity!

My four-year-old niece came down for a visit, and I was excited to show her how much things had grown since she was last here. The last time she visited, she planted a broccoli seed for me to grow for the fall. One broccoli plant is all I have room for in my fall garden, so this tiny seed was my one shot at enjoying fresh, organic broccoli this fall. Much to my dismay, when I showed her that the little guy had not only germinated in just a week’s time but was now almost 2 inches tall, her reaction was to reach down and pluck the tiny seedling right out of the dirt! I could not believe my eyes. My one and only broccoli plant had just been uprooted right in front of me. I tried to re-pot the baby broccoli, but he just keeled over. Things were not looking good at all.

Cut to three hours later. The teeny broccoli made a miraculous comeback! He is now looking amazing and starting to get his true leaves! Is it wrong to be dreaming of steamed broccoli? Does that make me weird?

Here is the culprit after picking some things that are meant to be picked, wildflowers from my field.

Monday, August 3

Melons in Knee-Highs? What Exactly is Going on Back There?

Okay. So it’s true. My cantaloupes are wearing pantyhose. Why, you ask? Well, I’m growing my melons on a trellis. Unfortunately, I only have 16 square feet of garden space this year (I know, it’s pathetic). However, I am not willing to sacrifice growing melons so I had to resort to some drastic measures. With a little ingenuity, I now have melons growing in only 4 square feet of space.

Melon vines traditionally spread anywhere from 10 to 25 feet on the ground. Since melons are vines, you can grow them up a trellis and save a LOT of space. They will naturally climb the trellis and send out little feelers to hang on to the trellis. If you have a small container garden or if you just don’t have a lot of garden space, you should try the trellis method. A trellis could be anything from a chain-link fence, a cattle panel (if you live on a farm, like me), or just a traditional garden trellis. Stay tuned for a posting about how to make a homemade trellis for growing a variety of vegetables or fruits.

The only problem with growing your fruit on a trellis is the fact that melons are heavy. They can’t hang on a trellis by themselves. That is where the pantyhose comes in. You use the knee-highs to create slings in which your melons sit. You tie these slings on to your trellis. My melons have been growing in their slings for a couple of weeks, and they seem very happy. For best results, choose smaller varieties of melons. These are Hale's Best cantaloupes and should get no bigger than 3 pounds each. I’m sure it’s possible, but I would not want to try to strap a 20-pound watermelon to my trellis! I'll keep you updated on the progress of these little babies.