Recent Posts

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.

Sunday, August 2

How To Make Your Own Seed-Starting Pots From Newspaper

I recently discovered a great way to save some money and recycle at the same time! You can't beat that, right?

Many types of plants should be started from seed indoors before your last frost date so they can get a jumpstart on growing before the season really warms up. However, planting them in the cells that you see them in at Wal-Mart or the hardware store can start getting expensive if you have a lot of seedlings. It can also be hard to get them out of those packs when it comes time to transplant them, and a lot of plants do not like to have their roots disturbed. The solution is to make your own newspaper seed-starting pots. These pots give the plants plenty of room to grow. And here's the best part: You can plant the newspaper pots right in the ground! You don't have to disturb the plant at all.

Newspaper is absolutely safe to put in your garden. In fact, I have seen composting books that suggest adding shredded newspaper to bulk up your compost. The only caution is to use newspaper with black ink. The colored inks can sometimes be damaging to your soil.

Making the newspaper pots is easy and fun! Once you get the hang of it, you can make quite a few in a short period of time.  If you have a hard time figuring out how to fold the pots yourself, Burpee's makes a newspaper pot making tool that makes it extremely easy.  This would be a great project to do with kids.

Right now, I have tomatoes, snow peas, and broccoli growing in these pots. The tomatoes have been in the pots for over 3 weeks, and the pots are holding up VERY well.