Archive for the ‘Organic’ Category

2011 Garden Beginnings!

January 2, 2011

For our weekly update this week, we have the beginnings of our 2011 Garden plantings, and a Seed Exchange!


We spent part of the week planning out what (and how many) plants we need to start in the basement to be transplanted out in the Spring.  We’re expanding the garden a bit this year to the front yard to grow melons and winter squash where they can spread out and not be in the way.  Doing so opens up some of the main garden’s boxes for more PEPPERS.  We figure we have room for 86 pepper plants at the dense planting we tried this year (and it worked out great).  We have 16 different varieties we’re going to try to grow next year (some are even home-saved seed!).  The first number in the list below is the number of plants of each variety we hope to end up with; the second number is the number of plants we’ll start in order to (hopefully) end up with the desired number:

HOT Peppers:

Tabasco:  2, 3

Habanero:  5, 7

Ancho:  7, 9

Thai Hot:  1, 2

Cayenne:  5, 7

Jalapeno:  6, 8

Serrano:  4, 6

El Chaco:  2, 4

SWEET Peppers:

Cherry:  5, 7

Anaheim:  7, 9

Pimento:  3, 5

Yellow Pimento:  3, 5

CA Wonder:  11, 14

Red Marconi:  8, 10

Yolo Wonder:  9, 11

Italian Relleno:  8, 10

We’re cutting back on tomato varieties this year to only four (2 paste, 2 slicing) plus tomatillos.  We’ll be planting (and starting):

Better Boy:  9, 12

Early Girl:  5, 8

Amish Paste:  5, 8

Roma (seed gotten from Mimi):  5, 8

Tomatillos:  3, 5

Tomatoes/tomatillos will take up 3 boxes, as they did last year and we thought we had a good amount for eating, canning, and sharing.


In other plants, we had way too much celery last year, even though we lost a number of plants to voles.  But we had so much we actually sold some to a local specialty store.  Next season, we hope to have 25 celery plants and we’ll start 32; all one variety this year (Tendercrisp) – it’s our first time growing this variety so hopefully we’ll be successful!

Eggplant:  we lost all of our eggplant seedlings to the voles last year and had to plant store-bought seedlings.  Four plants survived the voles and we thought this gave us a reasonable number of eggplants through the growing season (basically, 1 per week).  We’re aiming for 4 eggplant plants again next year so we’ll start 8 since we have trouble getting eggplant to germinate well.

Onions:  this year we’ve finally figured out which onions grow in our area!  (Maybe we’re a bit slow…).  We’re growing Yellow Granex from seed.  We’re going to start half of the seed inside and direct sow the other half to see which methods works the best for us.  We may also pick up some Candy onion seeds from Southern States if we decide we need more than one seed pack.

Broccoli and cauliflower:  we’ll try again but this may be the last time we do so.  We do not have good luck growing either of these vegetables to maturity, regardless of whether it’s Spring or Fall.  But we will start two varieties of cauliflower (8 of each, hopefully to end up with 6 of each) and three varieties of broccoli (7 of each, hopefully to end up with 5 of each).

Summer squash:  we normally do not have room under the seed starting lights to start them early but we’re going to make room this year.  The plants germinate so easily when direct sowed but the squash bugs pose such a problem here in NC that the plants die long before they’re even thinking about giving up.  We want to plant transplants this year to give them a bit of a head start on squash bugs and hopefully get a bit more production.

Winter squash:  we may direct seed the butternut varieties since they seem to have a bit of resistance to squash bugs but the acorn squash we want to grow needs an early start indoors if we hope to get any fruit before the plants succumb to bugs.  We also ordered some “Lakota” seeds from Burpee and will likely start those indoors as well.

It’s looking like we may need to expand the indoor seed starting operation!  Maybe I’ll go down to the basement soon and figure out what we can do…

More Seeds!


We’ve culled the seed collection and decided what we’ll be growing next year so we have the following seeds to either just give away if you need seeds but don’t have any to trade or to trade for seeds we’d like to get.

Seeds we’d like to get:





French Breakfast radishes

something you have that you think is particularly worthy

Seeds to give away/trade:

Old Dutch Half-Runner Beans (a great, tasty, prolific green bean that we’ve grown for 3 years and will continue to grow but we have too many seeds.  Stringless when young.  Although a 1/2 runner, it grows to 8 feet in our garden).

Heirloom Iceberg Lettuce (iceberg lettuce can be hard to get to germinate)

Parisian Carrot (small-ish round carrots)

Green Zebra Tomato

Greek Basil

White Sweet Spanish Onion (long day)

Walla Walla Onion (long day)

Bianca di Maggio onion

Ruby Queen beet

Chioggia beet

Plum Purple Radish

Watermelon radish

Chinese Red Meat radish

Chinese Green Luobo radish

Black Spanish radish

Japanese Minowase Daikon radish

Baby eggplant

Russian Tarragon

Utah Celery

Beefsteak Tomato

Bloody Butcher

San Marzano Tomato

Send us an e-mail: foodgardenkitchen at gmail dot com if you’re interested.


Weekly Garden Update 7/11

July 11, 2010


My stepbrother got married yesterday in Missouri, so if you read this,


Have a great honeymoon, and we look forward to seeing you two later!


Kennebec Potatoes

In garden news, I just saw a squirrel make off with one of our san marzano tomatoes.  I don’t know if it picked it off the plant, or if the tomato was on the ground, or what, but the little devil ran across the yard with it and then up a big oak tree.  My word to the squirrels is, “…don’t make me put you on the same list with the voles….”.

Pimento Pepper

We ended up with more celery than we could eat, store, freeze, etc.  So we sold 14 heads we had left to A Southern Season, who paid us a premium for the non-conventional celery.  Feedback from them is that it has a lot of flavor, and they are pleased with it.  No, it wasn’t much money, but it was exciting to pick up some seed cash.


Speaking of seeds, we have several varieties of things we’ve tried to grow here that haven’t grown well or produced in this zone.  Once we catalog what we want to get rid of, we’d be pleased if anyone wants to do a seed swap.

Dying Acorn Squash 1

Dying Acorn Squash 2

Most things are growing well, but we are losing our second acorn squash plant.  Our biodynamic farmer friend at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market had the (informed) opinion that it is the cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and stink bugs.  Some small percentage of the insects carries bacterial wilt which subsequently can infect the plant.  The proximity of a community garden less than a thousand yards from us may be a contributing factor since apparently the range of these insects is fairly large.  We are attempting to pick up some kaolin clay powder as a natural deterrent for these plants and others in the garden.

Field Peas & More

We started our fall broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts seeds down in the basement.  “One of us” likes Brussels sprouts, and they look funny to grow, so we’re gonna try them out.

Tall Tomatoes on 8' Trellis

Even after I topped and suckered the tallest tomato plants, they just keep trying to kiss the sky.  We now have fruits ripening above the 8’ mark and I hate having to get a ladder out just to harvest.  Oh well.

Above the Trellis

We’ve been harvesting cucumbers, yellow squash, tomatoes galore, and more haricot vert.  And now the blue lake green beans are starting to produce.  We harvested more Italian relleno, cayenne, basil, and Anaheim peppers.  We have California wonder peppers which are making.

Tomato Harvest

Harvest of Plenty

Our watermelons are growing!  We are planning on slinging them this week.  One of the places we read up on slinging was Engineering Garden, one of the other gardening blogs we keep a link to here – he posted a small video on the melon slinging process.



Haricot Vert


Tomato 6

Tomato 3


Yellow Squash

New Cucumbers

Dutch Half-runners Over the Trellis

It’s May! It’s May!

May 1, 2010

Tra la! It’s May!

The lusty month of May!


That lovely month when ev’ryone goes

Blissfully astray.

(end singing now)

Lettuce in Harvest Basket

Och Aye, It’s May.  Today we shopped at Carrboro Farmer’s Market and the South Estes Farmer’s Market, buying beets and carrots and biodynamic strawberries that taste like Vanessa Redgrave’s voice sounds.


This afternoon we spent in the Garden.  We harvested green garlic, which makes great garlic bread, and oodles of radishes and enough lettuces to satisfy the entire Efrafa warren.  We harvested young spinach, and the last of the wintered cauliflower.

Trellised Peppers

Then we transplanted peppers to a box, only 21 of the ones we have ready to go.  We harvested lettuces and thinned the rest out by transplanting them so they had more room.

Pepper Seedlings

We have Sugar Snap Peas!  Not many, but enough have come in for a dish.  And we have blueberries growing!


And lit-tle ty-ny apples.  We have half a dozen tomato plants blossoming, plus both our tomatillos.  The snow peas have lovely purple and pink blossoms.

Tomato Blossom

We transplanted winter squash that we set to germinate last week into a box, and the summer squash are starting to unfurl from beneath the top layer of dirt.  The haricot vert are germinating as well as the cucumbers.

Squash Seedlings

Below are photos of many of our herbs we have growing in railing boxes and by windows and in large containers outside scattered amongst the Garden.

We’ve been growing mung bean sprouts from beans purchased at our local Co-Op, and have gotten nicely efficient at having them on hand most of the time.  Mostly they go into the salads.

Sometimes I feel redundant; shooting what seems to me to be similar pictures over and over.  Then I remind myself that a year from now it will be nice to have a visual record of the weeks passing in the garden.

More cilantro


More tomatillo blossoms

Tomatillo blossom







Tomato Blossom




Grow, my pretties, Grow!

April 17, 2010

We saw our first hummingbird of the year in the garden yesterday!  Last year we had one feeder up, and one hummingbird was a bit of a bully, trying to guard it as much as possible.  She received a Christmas present of another one this year.  We put up both earlier this week, and have been rewarded with their presence already.

Mounded potatoes

Mounded Potatoes

Celery Seedlings

We mounded the potatoes twice this week, that’s just how fast they are growing.  We transplanted 45 of our celery seedlings to the garden.  All the other seedlings we have needed to be repotted *again*, so we’ve been doing that.  We found a lot of seedling pots at the local recycling center, because we’d run out.

We’re busy researching how to cure garlic, including asking local farmers for tips.  And we’re researching how to keep our garlic the longest, because frankly it looks like our harvest is going to be more than we could eat in a year, which would be exciting.



Broccoli raab

We continue to harvest record quantities of lettuce with even more coming along, and also this week harvested radishes and broccoli raab, as well as some pea shoots.



In two weeks, we’ll be putting our tomato plants out, along with all our pepper plants.

Since we put out the castor oil granules, I haven’t seen any new vole digging in the boxes.  We’re crossing our fingers.  I gave some of my moonflower seeds to a couple we’re friends with, they had moved this winter and are restarting their farm all from scratch, and didn’t have a moonflower plant in the new location.



One of our cauliflowers is heading up!  Now it is a race for how big can it grow before we can’t stand it anymore and just take it to be eaten.  I’m favoring just simply steaming it, served with a bit of butter and some pepper.

Spring has Sprung

March 31, 2010

Thunderstorms rolled through night before last, and we got about 1.25 inches of rain, which happened to be exactly what we needed as water for the next week.  The weather is uncooperative enough for all gardeners and farmers that I like to give it credit when good things happen.

(Indoor Lettuce

Indoor Lettuce

I think we’ve finally gotten the hang of growing actual stuff inside and/or on railing boxes.  The production of lettuce and cilantro this time around has really perked up.

Harvestable Cilantro

Harvestable Cilantro

New cilantro

New cilantro coming up

Meanwhile the garlic is jumping.  We planted 40 s.f. of box in garlic this fall and buried it in leaf mulch.  This is our first stab at garlic, and the diagnosis is “so far so good”.  We’re hoping to get at least a years supply of garlic, but will adjust next fall’s planting accordingly.

Garlic jumping

Garlic Jumping

The remains of the winter lettuce and carrots are maturing rapidly.





The snow peas are putting out tendrils and growing like a crazed yeast culture; we put up the trellises on them this past weekend.  The sugar snap peas aren’t doing quite as well this year, for some reason the germination rate on them hasn’t been nearly as vigorous as last spring.

Snow Peas

Snow Peas

The blueberry bushes and apple trees are leafing out; the fig bushes have nice buds on them and the stems are showing signs of being ready to start lengthening.

We have a dozen logs inoculated with mushroom spore – oyster mushrooms and shitaki, and they’re slung on a hammock of the same green plastic-wire fencing we use to guard the raised boxes from random animal incursions.  No mushrooms yet this spring, but we’re hoping.

One of the most frequent questions we get when someone sees the garden is, “Don’t you have deer and other varmint problems?”  Herds of whitetail deer cruise through the creek bottom at the back of our lot.  We have rabbits that live out there who come up into the yard to graze in the early morning and at dusk.  Between the dog and the little fences and the occasional plastic netting we throw over a box we don’t seem to have much of a problem, actually.  The dog roams inside her invisible fence, which includes the garden area.  We’ve watched the rabbits hop right between the boxes while crossing the yard, and we’ve never seen one stop and try to investigate a box.

The worst animal problem so far has been neighborhood cats.  Any box near the perimeter of the yard without a little fence is a potential litter box target for them.  Deer have come in and nibbled a couple of times, mostly when we are out of town and the dog isn’t out regularly.  For some reason early last fall, they decided to come and nibble the haricot vert vines, which I’ve never seen them do before.  A hen turkey ravaged the one box closest to the woods which had broccoli planted in it, and dug a roosting hole.  We put netting over it, and she sat off in the bottom and cursed us for a week or so before deciding to move on to live somewhere else.

The new boxes are set and filled, we’re surrounding them with mulch.

Placed and filled

Placed and filled



The Seeds of Wrath

March 20, 2010

In December 2008, she started ordering seeds from the various organic, heritage, heirloom, and rare seeds sources, e.g.:

Baker Creek Seeds (

Heirloom seeds (

Botanical Interests (

Seeds of Change (

High Mowing Seeds (

And even Burpee Organics (

My experience consisted primarily of sowing seeds into the ground, or buying seedlings and planting them.  As a child, the Southern States store in my local town was a Mecca, along with the little red grain mill (mostly for corn meal), and the farmer’s market.  Farmer’s Market in those days meant the place where you went to buy a hog or a cow or some other animal on Wednesday at auction, it had none of the current meaning of the phrase.  Each trip was also likely to include a trip to the country store with my grandfather or my father.  We’d sit with the old men on rickety chairs and stools near the woodstove, and eat some hoop cheese and a few crackers, and maybe get a Nehi or an RC cola, or a piece of penny candy.  Talk consisted of farming, hunting, fishing, and local “news”.

What my experience didn’t include was germinating seeds indoors starting as early as January.  We did some research, read a book or so, looked at some blogs, and created our setup in the basement.

Our list of mistakes was awesome.

We bought what turned out to be sterile foam-like “starter plugs” to set in the trays and germinate the seeds.  Neither of us realized the “sterile” part, and as a result we spent weeks starving our seedlings of any nutrients save water and the grow lights.  In addition, these insidious starter plugs were a bit too foam-like, and none of the plants we started in them were able to easily or freely get their root systems through it.  Over a year later, those curs-ed plugs still lay in wait in the garden soil, though I throw out a few every time I rake the dirt.  They’re a bit harder now, but no less decomposed.

This meant that even the seedlings that survived the starvation had stunted root systems.  We were very proud of our 100% germination rate on our onions, and they looked great for the first several weeks.  Not one ever outgrew the starter plugs, and we had a 0% success rate on onions.

This year we used organic potting mix and soil-less seed starting mix.

In addition we did the following:

We left the domes on the trays for over a month after the seedlings germinated, reasoning that a terrarium like atmosphere would recycle the moisture in a positive way while keeping the temperature up.  This promotes the growth of mold, etc. on the poor seedlings and keeps them fragile which makes it more difficult to harden them off and stunts them once exposed yet again.

We left the lights on 24 hours a day so they wouldn’t get too cold.  Bad, bad.  Plants need rest from the light.  Now we have a cheapie timer and 12 hours of light.

Lack of nutrients.  Now we use fish emulsion and bat guano and liquid seaweed.

We did a poor job of hardening plants off, failing to expose them to breezes in addition to the temperature change, i.e., we still sheltered them too much.

We left the heating mats for germination on through the whole process, for months.  Don’t do this.  Turn them off as soon as the seeds get up above the soil good.

The lights were too far above the plants, resulting in spindly seedlings.  This year we put them close down on top, and used cheap 4’ shop lights with metal refractive covers instead of expensive short growlights.

Seedlings, 2010

Seedlings, 2010

The difference in the look of our seedlings from 2009 and 2010 is remarkable.  Our heirloom tomatoes look waaaay improved over last year, with much stronger stems and leaf systems.  The celery looks healthy, not anemic.  We’re even getting better germination on Eggplant, which bedeviled us last year.

Celery Germinating 2010

Celery Germinating 2010

We failed to transplant smaller seedlings into larger cups as they grew.  This year she has already moved the tomatoes to larger cups and they are responding happily.

Those items we have already transplanted to the soil outside in 2010  (onions, broccoli, cauliflower, and broccoli raab) appear to be doing well.  In 2009 they suffered, looked sad, some died, some recovered, some just never changed, appearing to be in some sort of un-dead state.

Germinating seeds and care of seedlings has been a real education, and we’re looking forward to seeing how 2010 goes.