Manure and compost

August 28, 2009

This from

humanure1 I may have pointed out in a previous post that we compost cat manure. We do so separate from composting the cat litter in our regular compost. We use the cat manure in our flower gardens. However, when I cleaned out the tumbler composter last week the cat manure compost looked really good … good enough for any use. Now I know that I can’t see microbes but I was just judging it based on the quality of the composting that took place. Now, I need to read this to see what it has to say about composting human waste (beyond a composting toilet) as a way to understand more about composting cat and dog waste.

Go to the site and download the pdf of the entire book.


Thai Hot peppers (dried chilies)

August 28, 2009

Thai hotsEvery year I grow a few Thai Hot pepper plants for my year’s worth of dried hot peppers. I have been using my own seeds for several years now. If I had no seeds, I would just go to an Asian market and buy a bag of dried chilies (most are Thai Hots or very similar) and take seeds from them. Dried hot peppers are an easy source of seeds and they are the ultimate open pollinated fruit.

Most of you know that you are not supposed to grow hot peppers near sweet peppers since the cross-pollination will heat up the sweet peppers. Given this advice and given that hot peppers want as full of sun as they can get, I usually do my Thai Hots as container plants. As container plants I can place them where I want to get the very best sun and to keep them away from my sweet peppers. Moreover, for the containers I have found that nothing beats, chimney liners and chimney thimbles. I am using thimbles now. Thimbles are the part that goes from the chimney into the house. They are 10″ round in cross-section, about 16-18 inches long and made of 1-1.5″ thick clay. Think of them as the heaviest clay flowerpot but without a bottom to the pot. They hold moisture well and the thick clay keeps the roots from overheating.

I set mine on the sunniest part of the driveway. I fill them with compost and put in plants that I have started before hand. They initially grow too much green growth because of all of the rich compost but soon the limited size of the container slows down the top growth and fruiting takes over. I get great production. In a good year, a few (3-4) plants will provide me with dried chilies for more than the year. They are also lovely ornamentals as are most very hot peppers.

When the peppers are all red and/or frost approaches, pull the plants, knock the dirt from the rootball and hang the plants upside down in a warm dry place (the garage?). When the leaves have all fallen off of the plants you can hang them in your pantry along with your herbs and braids of garlic, onions and wild mushrooms (what better way to convince your friends that you are the real deal) or just clip the fruit from the plants and store the dried chilies in bags or containers. When dried they will store in normal cabinets for years. The seed is best if reused in a year.

I get chimney liners and thimbles at a real builder’s supply … not Home Depot or Lowes. Go where they sell bricks and blocks for housing construction. Ask for a deal on ones that are slightly chipped or otherwise imperfect.

Trellis Tomato

August 28, 2009

sweet mill trellisEach year I do one ‘cherry” type tomato plant on an 8′ trellis that is attached to the railing of our small deck. It gets sun most of the day after it gets to be about 18″ tall. Until then it struggles since the deck itself shades it out most of the day. My goal has always been to get this plant up to the 8’ mark by Labor Day. Each year I do something close to a Sweet 100. This year I did a Sweet Million (don’t blame me, I don’t name them). It turned out to be one of the very best I have ever grown.

sweet millionsAs you can see from the pictures it has huge tomato panicles with 30-40 fruits per panicle which ripen over a very long period. In addition, the fruit are terrific … sweet but fleshy. Unlike most cherry types, they are slow to split after rains.

I plant these in a LOT of compost and, since they are right near the deck, they get regular waterings. I built the Trellis out of wood used for lattice and just keep it painted each spring with a quick coating of white primer. I attach the trellis to the deck with velcro garden tape … the inside of the tape velcro-sticks to the outside.

BTW … this particular tomato is exceptionally good for a classic Italian roasted cherry tomato pasta sauce.


July 21, 2009

Just a quick note to say that I set out 16 very small ( one inch) radicchio plants a few days ago. All seem to be doing well. They should head up nicely for the Fall.

A quick note on Spinach

July 15, 2009

As soon as I have another bed available I’ll be starting my Fall spinach. And then in early September I’ll be starting the Spinach that I Winter-over.

Transplanting Fennel

July 15, 2009

If you have been reading this blog for a while you probably know that one of my favorite Fall crops is fennel. It does particularly well maturing in the cool fall temps and will hold in the garden into the Winter if mulched which also helps to blanch it. Last year I had huge late bulbs … easily six inches in diameter … and bigger is better in the case of fennel. Now is the time to plant it for this Fall.

Fennel should ideally be direct seeded. It has a tap root and anything with a tap root HATES to be disturbed (think carrot). But this year has been a very dry year and fennel is slow to sprout in less than optimal conditions. So, I am trying an experiment.

I sprouted a bunch of seeds in a 4″ by 6″ plastic flat. In good seeding medium (I always use Pro-Mix BX by the way) and with lots of warmth and water they were up in a week. I let them grow until their two initial leaves were about 2″ long. Yesterday I transplanted them into the garden with a special technique.

I worked up a bed with my fork, loosening the soil about a foot down (without turning it over since I believe in maintaining soil structure. I put on about 2″ of compost and raked the top smooth. Then, in a 4′ by 4′ bed I set out 25 plants (5 by 5). To set them in I used the “muddy’ing in ” technique.

I watered the flat until the soil was soupy. Then I lifted out a seedling. It comes out easily, undamaged and bare root. I then use my finger to make a drill (3″ deep hole) in the soil where I want the plant to go. I carefully lower the bare roots down into the hole and fill the hole with lots of water from a small watering can. I make sure that the water catches soil on the edge of the hole as I pour it in. Eventually, the muddy water will completely and tightly surround the bare roots with moist soil. I make sure that the plant is sticking out of the ground at the level it grew in the starting flat and that the hole is completely filled in. I did this for all 25 plants and then covered the bed with floating row cover to keep wind and intense sun off of the tender seedlings until I see that they are growing again.

This has worked for me before so I am hopeful it will work again. It is a gardener technique, not a farmer technique since what you can do for 25 plants you can’t do for 2500.

Update at + 6 days: I had three failures out of 25 transplants. I replaced these with ones that I had set aside in small plastic cells. I now seem to have 25 viable plants. The ones that I transplanted into plastic cells seem to have done OK. I guess the secret to transplanting fennel, whether via plastic cell pots or my “muddy’n in” technique is that Fennel has to be transplanted very quickly after emergence. The tap root can’t be thwarted in its growth.

Japanese Beetles

July 7, 2009

Picture later

WOW! I have never seen Japanese Beetles as bad as they are this year. They absolutely decimated my wife’s holyhocks, are thick on the rugosa rose and and the near by raspberries, and very bad on the Nanking Cherry. Now when I say bad I mean 20 on just one leaf of a holyhock. My guess is that this is just one more side effect of climate change … a few degrees warmer is good for the grubs. I’ll have to get some milky spore down this Fall.

Problems with Open Pollinated Carrots

June 21, 2009

Spring/Summer thinnings

Spring/Summer thinnings

I did a bed of multi-colored carrots this spring. I got the seed from Baker Creek and I selected a “white”, a “yellow”, a “red” and a “purple”. I don’t think much of spring carrots ( I like mature fall carrots) and so I thought that I would grow them just for color accent in meals. I bought open pollinated varieties because I am trying to avoid the big seed companies. In this case, however, there may be a good case to be made for buying carrots from major seed purveyors.

I got a LOT of duds. Duds in this case are “wild” carrot. It is inedible; not poisonous but too tough to eat. And, it wants to act like an annual. That’s how you can tell which carrots in the bed are good and which are not. The duds throw up a seed head right away.

I did some research on saving seed from carrots and here is what I found out. First, they are not self-polinating; they are pollinated by insects so you can’t isolate the seed carrot with floating row cover or such. And, you cannot have ANY other carrot variety within a radius of 1/4 mile. Actually, some instructions say 1/2 mile. Either way, that is a LONG WAY and really difficult. Such isolation is not easily within the means of even the extraordinary gardener or most farmers. You really need to kill everything that can cross pollinate with your target carrots in the radius and that means standards of growing hygiene that are only possible if you are a seed producer. It also, likely, means a lot of herbicides and mono-cultures of other species around the target plants. It makes you wonder how they were grown in pre-industrial times. There were probably a lot of dud carrots grown then. Did pre-industrial growers specialize in seed varieties? I’d like to know more about pre-industrial, locally focused, agriculture. I wonder if all of those post-apocalypse planners about now are curious about these issues too. What do seed savers think about difficult to produce seed for what are food staples. Are there tricks for difficult species?

Fall Crops Started

June 18, 2009

Now is the time in Zone 5-6 to start Fall crops. Actually I started mine a few weeks ago but it can be done now. I have Brussels Sprouts that are in 4 packs and are about 3″ tall. I just pricked out the kale, collards and cauliflower and put them into 4 packs. And I have fall broccoli just coming up in my starter flats. I also started some radicchio. Soon I will direct seed fennel and Belgian Endive (Whitloof Chickory). I started some additional lettuces but they are not yet my Fall crop … maybe a month later for those. The large bed of garlic I have is getting ready to harvest and that’s where a lot of my brassicas will go … that’s my normal rotation.

Fava Beans

June 15, 2009
Favas ready to harvest

Favas ready to harvest

Long time since my last post. Too much gardening to do, too many house (es) repairs and, after all, its almost Summer, a time for doing and not the best time for reflecting.

Our fava crop is in. Whoppie. If you have not grown them then you should. They are relatively easy. You plant them as soon as the ground can be worked, except where the winter temps are moderate and then you plant them as a fall to be wintered-over crop. They like to germinate in cool soils and they don’t like summer heat. We planted Aguadulce from Seeds from Italy. If you live near an ethnic food store (Italian, Indian or Middle-eastern) you can buy a bag of dried favas and just plant them. They’ll germinate. They will probably be Windsor which is a bit gross as a bean compared to other varieties. I use these seeds for Favas grown solely as a cover crop.

In most North American areas, you plant them in late March and harvest them in early June. The plants are GREAT nitrogen fixers so they are good for the soil and the plants are brittle so you can easily chop them into the soil for a green manure. The beans are encased in thick fibrous pods. You harvest them when you can feel that the beans are like small baby limas inside them … maybe 4 inches long and as think as a pinky finger. You boil the whole pod in a lot of water for a few minutes and then cut the tip of the pod off and squeeze out the beans inside. If they are as small as a baby lima then you can just eat them. If they are larger then you can take off the outer shell and eat the inside. There are lots of good instructions for processing them on the web. Here is one. Here is another.

We will likely get three meals from about 15 feet of a double row. Our first small picking was fava risotto. The second was fava beans and bow tie pasta with olive oil, butter and a good Reggiano. We’re not sure what the third will be. If we are lucky (and the temps stay moderate) we will get a fourth small picking.
Fresh favas taste like the best baby limas. They are sweet and green with a little crunch. Most recipes for green favas are Mediterranean in style. Mature dried favas are used to make many middle-eastern dishes including the famous Egyptian nation dish Foul (fa’ oul), of which there are many variations.

If you are going to grow one “uncommon” vegetable, and if you have a bit of room, grow favas. Not only will you get a culinary treat but you will also improve your soil at the same time.