Monday, May 28, 2012

GTTC - kale, swiss chard and beets

Two posts in one day! I wanted to share some of the dishes my mom created with the harvest. She is a fantastic cook, so I am very happy that she is here to turn the home grown vegetables into great meals and snacks. First, with the kale, she made a smoothie. I tried this once but the kale didn't completely breakdown so I had bits of kale floating in my smoothie. She somehow got it all smooth. This smoothie had banana, mango, kale and milk. I couldn't taste the kale at all, so I guess this is good if you don't like the taste of kale.
Next up is a quick stir fry swiss chard with bacon and boiled egg. Not bad...but I'm not sure if I am a big fan of swiss chard. It tastes almost like spinach but more soil-y (if you know what I mean).
Now the beets. The beets (early wonder) are FANTASTIC. They are so sweet and just absolutely delicious. My mom made a wonderful salad.
With the beet greens, she made some stir fry with garlic and bacon with vinegar and soy sauce (I think). This too was delicious!
I'm really happy to be eating out of my garden! I'm linking to Wendy's Greenish Thumb for garden to table challenge.  Thank you Wendy for hosting GTTC!

Harvest Monday - May 28, 2012

It was extremely hot this weekend, but the veggies are doing wonderfully! In fact, I underestimated how large the greens get and the community garden is exploding with kale and collard greens. I may have to move one or two of the collard green out of the garden and into containers (I have 4 plants in the community garden). The swiss chard was also doing OK, but the caterpillars really love them so they are all chewed up.
Collard Greens and Swiss Chard (from community garden)
Kale (from the community garden)
The bok choy out on the balcony is starting to bolt so I harvested them all. I have one plant in the shade, this one is still going strong.
Bok choy (from the balcony) and spinach that has completely bolted
I pulled out all the beets. From the outside it looked like only one of the plant will have any beet root, but there was a good number of beets - small but beautiful. I also like the beet leaves so I am happy with the harvest. I will try to grow more next time around.
Last of the beets (grown in 5 and 3 gallon container)
I'm linking to Daphne's Harvest Monday - check out all the fruits and veggies being harvested around the world!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

It's on (part 2)! Me vs squash vine borers - the preemptive strike

The battle with the elements continues here at charm city balcony garden and also at charm city community garden. Last year I lost my summer squash plant to vine borers, fortunately it was after I harvested a good number of delicious squashes. I even performed surgery on the bigger of the two plants I had. If I remember correctly, I got a couple more tiny squashes afterwards, but it never truly recovered. This year, I have 1 squash planted in the community garden and I also plan to have 1 for the container garden (which I have yet to start). When I transplanted the squash seedling to the community garden, I took a preventative measure that I read about online:
I wrapped nylon socks at the base of the squash plant. I wasn't sure if it was too early for this, but I don't think it will hurt the plant. The nylon can expand as the squash grows, my only concern is that the nylon will promote fungus and/or mold especially because it is so humid here.  I'll just be optimistic and feel good about being a prepared gardener!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

It's on! Me vs flea beetle & caterpillar

I am starting to realize that in-ground gardening is much more challenging than container gardening. I knew there will be more issues just based on the greater number of vegetable plants I have in the community plot. Beyond the greater number, the in-ground garden is more accessible to insects and other garden pests (but also to beneficial creatures as well). My container garden has the added benefit of being on a balcony so not as many insects get to it.  So far, in the community garden, I've had the attack of rodents and/or birds on the tomato seedlings. The little make-shift cage is working and the tomatoes are now growing well. Something is also feasting on the swiss chard. The huge black poop on the leaves indicate that it is some sort of caterpillar. I usually go to the garden after work so the caterpillars are probably hiding in the soil. I will catch them in the act one of these days!
All you can eat swiss chard for the caterpillars
I also noticed something is attacking one of my eggplants. I am growing 3 types of eggplants: black beauty, classic italian (not sure of exact name) and ichiban. The flea beetle decided to attack the classic italian, maybe because it is the smallest plant. I read that flea beetles are one of the main pests of eggplants and they are usually a problem early in the season particularly following a mild winter.  This describes the current condition perfectly. I'm not sure how to gauge how bad the damage is, but I feel like the plant will be OK. Here is how the leaves looked:
Classic sign of flea beetle damage
A little blurry, but you can see the discoloration and holes in the leaves
My plan of attack is to manually remove the fleas (there aren't too many yet, I only spotted like 4-5 tiny fleas) and to use caffeine (coffee). The other organic control method I read is neem oil - but I don't have this, so for now I'm going with coffee. I marched to the garden with a bottle of cooled coffee (extra strong) and a container of fresh coffee grinds in hand. I sprinkled the coffee grinds around the base of the eggplant and sprayed the leaves with coffee, making my garden smell like a cafe. I will post updates on how this goes.
Coffee sprayed on leaves and coffee grind at the base of the eggplant
It is not all bad in the garden. Some plants are the curly kale and collard greens. The kale is definitely doing much better in-ground than in the container. This might be because it has much more space in the community garden. I should thin out the kale in my containers. I hate thinning out plants...
Happy kale

Monday, May 21, 2012

Harvest Monday - May 21, 2012

I was away this past week in a land far far away. My vegetables were left in good hands, but I couldn't help worrying about my babies. I missed tending to my vegetables and digging around in the soil - even if it's 5 minutes per day. I found myself looking at people's yards to check out what they had growing in their garden. I was very happy to be come back home, and even more excited to see that my beets looked ready to harvest. The beets were started as seeds on Feb 28, so its been about 3 months now. The seed package (these beets are called Early Wonder) says 48 days to maturity, but I can't complain. I had 2 containers of beets. I thought they would do better in the larger 5 gallon bucket, but the beets in the 3 gallon container are larger (same soil, same spacing). I harvested 2, and left the rest to grow some more.  I also was able to harvest a handful of snap peas, but I think the pea plant is about ready to die.
Freshly harvested beets
Beets all cleaned up!
Romaine lettuce and snap peas
I'm joining Daphne and gardeners around the world for harvest Monday. Thanks Daphne for hosting!! I'm closing this post with some pictures from my trip...I was in Iceland! It's a beautiful country...but COLD! And during this time of year, it never gets completely dark which was a very strange experience.
City of Reykjavik
Waterfall Gullfoss

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Harvest Monday - May 14, 2012

The lettuce continues to provide tasty goodness (the aphids like them too!). The home-grown romaine has a different texture than the ones from the store. My lettuce is a little bit more...leathery and has stronger flavors. I wish they were a little bit more crispy, but I do like the flavors. I've been making salad with the lettuce and bok choy leaves...mixed in with some store bought tomatoes, cucumbers and olives. And I have to say, it is absolutely delicious!
Romaine lettuce and snap peas - the sun makes the red romaine bright red
Blanching snap peas brings out the color, it is really beautiful to watch. There is one pea in this picture that is raw. To the naked eye, it is clear to see, but in the picture it may be harder to spot...

Romaine lettuce, bok choy and snap peas
The sugar snap peas are getting sweeter?! I am getting about a handful every day, and they are a perfect snack for when I get back from work. I think this Fall, I'm going to try to grow more containers of snap peas. I read that peas are used as cover crop to get nitrogen back into the soil...I understand the concept, but don't quite get it yet. I'm still researching into this....if they are truly good at rejuvenating soil, then it would be really cool to grow a whole bunch of them just for the pea shoots, which are just as delicious as the peas.
A handful of mint
Delicious mint tea!
I've also harvested some mint. I absolutely adore mint tea, but I had never been able to make a good cup of tea. My mom showed me how to do turns out it is much simpler than what I was doing. I was crushing the mints and pouring hot water on it, like I saw once at a Turkish coffee place. This made the tea bitter and brown with little to no flavor of the mint - I guess too much oxidation or something. What my mom showed me was to simply throw the mint into some water and boil it for a while. This creates a gorgeously green and fragrant mint tea. I can get used to having this every day:)

I am linking to Daphne's Harvest Monday - I really appreciate her hosting this every monday for us to share our harvest. I'm also linking to Wendy's GTTC with mint is not much of a recipe but I was so excited about this, so for me, it is a delightful garden recipe.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Protecting my tomatoes

Out of the 5 tomato plants, 2 (cherokee purple and brandywine) were completely destroyed by the birds/squirrel. One seedling (second cherokee purple) was torn up pretty badly but I feel like it can recover.  I  have 2 cherokee purple seedlings that I started from seeds that are almost ready for transplanting. I am thinking one can go to the community garden and the other I will grow in a 5 gallon container. Instead of the brandywine (I have a second one in the garden that was not killed), I decided to get San Marzano tomato. I also caged them up using wire fencing as a temporary fix. These cages are too short and will need to replaced eventually. The garden is getting pretty full. I am trying to figure out if I can squeeze in some cucumbers...I love cucumbers and would love to taste some fresh out of the garden.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Death in the garden...something ate my tomato seedlings!!!

I planted out my community garden plot yesterday - it is not complete but I all the tomatoes are planted out. I have 2 cherokee purple, 2 brandywine and 1 mortgage lifter. I also plan to put in two supersweet 100s that I have growing in my windowsill. When I left yesterday, the garden was looking good and I was feeling pretty good.
This was just yesterday, y-e-s-t-e-r-d-a-y. My parents are visiting so I decided to show my mom the little plot. And this is what I found...exhibit A.
And exhibit B.
Something ATE my cherokee purple seedlings! Out of all the tomato starts, the 2 cherokee purple plants were small (in the first picture, it is the two plants on the far right in the middle row). I was SO mad when I saw the seedlings all chewed up, I AM so mad. My mom asked why I don't have a net over the plants (apparently this is what she does). She told me I need to go in the morning to check for critters. Exhibit A, makes me think it was birds because the leaves looks as though they were torn off. Exhibit B looks more like tomato horn worm? But I didn't see any poop and the plant is too small for worms to hide in them (and I looked) - where would they go after eating the baby plants? In the soil perhaps. I guess it could also be slugs...or squirrels or mice or RATS. argh! The other tomato starts looked untouched - but I'm going to be checking them everyday!! If I lose all the tomato plants, let it be a hard and painful gardening lesson. grrr.... I have 2 cherokee purple plants that I have started, so once they are ready I think I will transplant them to the garden. I could also look for larger plants at the garden store. Grrrr...
    I read that planting cilantro and dill may also deter worms (if that is what it is). I also have Bt...but I think it is a little early for that. My mom was amused that I was so upset and obsessively googling for answers. I had absolutely no interest in gardening just 2 years ago, so she is getting used to her gardening obsessed daughter.

Update: I went to the garden in the morning and inspected the plants but there were no worms. However, there were many birds (starlings and sparrow) pecking at the soil and squirrels perched on the wooden frame of the raised bed. I thought I saw a couple birds pecking at small seedlings in the other beds. So I think the damage was caused by the birds! I guess on the plus side, they eat some of the insects that may damage the I'm not too angry long as they stay away from MY VEGETABLES!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Harvest Monday - 5/7/2012

I have been busy setting up my community garden and my muscles are a little sore from hauling compost and turning the old soil. Gardening is a great way to get some physical activity, and unlike being at the gym, I can be out there for hours at a time.

Last week I harvested some bok choy and kale (more like thinning than harvesting). I also have some wild arugula that are ready for thinning/harvesting. I grew this last year and it was really spicy. I thought maybe it was because I started them when it was already quite hot, so I sowed it earlier this year. There is a nice arugula taste in the beginning but pretty quickly the spice (beyond peppery) hits you.  I'll just let it grow out and cook it rather than eating it raw.
Bok choy, arugula, kale
My second harvest was included some red and green romaine lettuce leaves. The romaine lettuce is doing quite well and pretty soon I will be able to cut down on the amount of lettuce I buy. I also harvested a handful of sugar snap peas. They are very sweet raw, but I prefer to blanch them (they get incredibly sweet).
Snap peas, romaine, kale, bok choy
I'm joining Daphne for Harvest Monday. Please go and check out all the wonderful greens that are being harvested by gardeners around the world!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Community garden bed, aphids and aphid mummies!

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the garden space I was allotted is in a community garden that is closest to my house. I watched as this community garden was built last year with lots of excitement, as I'm sure other residents did too. This garden is located just on the boarder to the rougher part of the neighborhood - well, not "rough" Baltimore rough, but not as nice as the other parts of the neighborhood. It used to be an abandoned lot/park space with 4-5 trees and a couple of shrubs. It wasn't one of those nice urban green space, it was more...well, sketchy. During the day it was fine, but definitely at night it was a corner that I avoided. The transformation to the community garden happened almost overnight, and it made the area into a great green space.
Each *first year* community gardener is given one 4x12 raised bed. The city provides compost and you can add any amendments as long as it is organic. After the first year, you can rent a second raised bed.  Being accustomed to container gardening, the raised bed feels gigantic. I'll see how this season goes and decide if I want a second next year. For now, I am just really excited to have so much space!

Back in the container garden, my vegetables are growing really well. There is a patch of aphids here and there, but nothing that cannot be handled (yet!). Among the aphids, there was a cluster of white-looking bugs. Initially thought it was white flies, but it turns out it is shedded aphid skin. I also found these tiny silvery bugs, the size of aphid, but round. It looks like one of the creatures in super mario brothers. Again, I thought this was some new kind of bug, but I think it is an aphid "mummy". Apparently there is a parasitic wasp that lays its egg in aphids and when the eggs hatch, the aphid blows up and becomes a round aphid mummy. I found this information at this page here. As much as I hate any sort of insect, this information is kind of cool. I sprayed the romaine lettuce with some soapy water to start managing the aphids.
Lots of aphid skin

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Lettuce and swiss chard...and happy happy news!

I'm growing "regular" green romaine lettuce and red romaine - both are growing quite well. I have spotted aphids here and there, but I don't have too many plants so I can manually swipe them away. I think I have spaced them too close though...I probably should transplant some to a different container to promote maximum growth.
I have a second container with lettuce and swiss chard. This was before I realized that swiss chard can get very large if you give them the space.
I think the swiss chard is large enough to withstand a move. But what about container space? Well, I just got some really great news! They have a community garden space available for rent!! I put in a request way back in November and just got a call on Monday! So exciting! I'm not sure where it is yet, so we'll see if everything will work out. If everything goes well,  I will have to go buy some starts (fun fun!). I'm so excited!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

First harvest 2012!

It is getting warm and starting to feel like summer here in charm city. The early girl bush tomato is starting to flower and there are a few teeny tiny tomatoes. The sugar snap peas are also doing really well with healthy bushy leaves and greenish-white flowers. It looks like I will be harvesting some peas very soon! Can't wait!
Flowers on my snap peas
Tiny snap pea
Baby early girl bush tomato
For the first harvest of 2012, I got some pak choy and baby kale. I also harvested some snap pea leaves - some shoots, but mostly leaves.
Harvest #1 2012!!
I made a quick stir fry with garlic and oyster sauce. Everything was delicious, but I think I liked the flavor of the snap pea leaves the best. I will try to grow more snap peas this fall, since it will take A LOT of snap pea leaves to create one dish.
Super simple garden fresh stir fry
I'm linking to Daphne's harvest monday and Wendy's GTTC. Thank you both for setting up a place for us to share our garden accomplishments!!