Friday, September 24, 2010

The Full Harvest Moon and Autumn Equinox

This week we had a rare thing happen. The Harvest Moon fell on the same night as the Autumn Equinox, making things super harvesty! This doesn't happen very often, so it's nice for it to happen during the first full year of this garden. However, Texas being how it is, there's not a lot of actual harvesting going on now. It's still a time of transition, but the summer crops are mostly gone, and I'm planting winter crops now.

I've been working on getting my winter greens started. Winter is the best time to grow things like broccoli, cabbage, kale, collards, lettuce, arugula, and other green leafy vegetables. They can handle our light freezes just fine, and are much sweeter when grown in cold weather. The problem is starting them while it's still hot outside. I'm having trouble with them either drying out or rotting. Tiny little seedlings are very sensitive. I've had to start over with most of my Brassicas because the first batch didn't make it. I've always had an easy time growing collards and kale, but this year I'm trying to branch out into broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.

I'm still waiting for my fall potatoes to show up. Right now all that seems to be growing in the potato beds are weeds. I hope they didn't bake down there in August. I recall my spring potatoes took a long time to sprout too, so that I ended up digging some up to check on them. Except that was when temperatures were cold, and plants grow more slowly in the cold.

The surviving summer crops are really enjoying all this rain we've been getting. The sweet potatoes are going nuts, at least above ground. Vines are rambling all over the place. All the weeds are going nuts too, and I've just about given up on trying to control them, but the veggie plants don't seem to care. You're supposed to let sweet potatoes grow all season, all the way up until right before the first frost, and then dig them up. The idea is to give them as much time as possible to grow big roots, but you can't let them freeze. That damages them. That means the day the weatherman says, "It looks like we're in for our first freeze tonight!" I'll be out there with my garden fork in a sweet potato digging frenzy. I hope I get a lot of nice big fat ones.

As usual, I'm having trouble keeping up with the okra, keeping the pods picked before they get too big and tough. They grow very fast, especially now that they've gotten some rain. It's getting hard to reach the ones at the top.
The jalapenos are happy too, and might give me another crop before frost. I already had one good harvest that I let ripen so I could save the seeds and make chipotles at the same time. Maybe I should consider making some jalapeno jelly if I get another good batch. That stuff, strangely enough, makes a really good peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

My fall tomatoes didn't make it, but I still have some eggplant seedlings in pots I need to set out. Hopefully it's not too late to get a quick crop of Thai green eggplants in before frost. I really should have planted them sooner, but it's been too hot and humid for me to want to be out there digging. Perhaps it's just as well, since my tomatoes fried in the heat when I tried planting them out. The eggplants might actually have a better chance now that it's cooler and wetter.

Now, the one crop that really says Autumn to me, and probably to most Americans, is winter squash. Pumpkins, butternuts, sweet dumplings, hubbards, acorns, whatever the variety, they're the vegetable emblems of Halloween and Thanksgiving. After being ravaged by Squash Vine Borers all year, I'm happy to see that the one variety of squash I have left, the Chihuahuan Landrace Cushaws, are bouncing back! I really hope the SVB's are gone now. I haven't seen one in a while. The squash vines have been running rampant with this tropical storm rain, and now they're setting a new batch of fruit!

Look at them go! I'm having trouble keeping them from taking over the whole garden. I keep try to redirect the vines back away from where I have other things planted so they won't smother them.

I also have to keep pulling them back from going through the fence into my neighbor's yard and smothering her dogs!

It's hard to tell how many fruits are growing now. I counted three just standing in one spot, but I'm sure there are lots more hidden in that jungle of huge squash leaves. I still haven't gotten one single ripe cushaw squash this year. Squash Vine Borers chewed into most of them, causing them to rot and be aborted by the plant. The last one split when we had a heavy rain, causing it to absorb water too quickly. But with how fast these squashes are growing now, I'm optimistic that I'll get a good crop in. It would be really neat to be able to make some "pumpkin" pies and "pumpkin" bread with these babies. It would be very traditional, actually. Cushaws grow much better in the south than your traditional orange ribbed pumpkins, and were considered to be THE pie squash in the south. That is, if you were going to make your Thanksgiving pie out of squash instead of sweet potatoes. Or pecans, for that matter. And that reminds me, while I don't have any pecan trees in my yard, there are some areas of town that have some mature pecan trees which are starting to get some nice, big, fat pecans on them. When they ripen, they fall off the tree and end up rolling all over the place. No one seems to mind when I start picking them up off sidewalks and parking lots.

Mmmm, pie.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Garlic Planting

Well, that cool-down was short lived! It soon went right back to being in the mid to high 90's, and the rain caused very high humidity making it even more miserable out there. The mosquitoes are also terrible. My neighbors all around me have a lot of junk in their yards that undoubtedly collects rain water and provides excellent mosquito breeding habitat. I haven't felt like doing much gardening lately.

I did manage to get started planting next year's garlic before things really heated up. I did it a bit early because the weather was so nice. I read that the best garlic planting time is on or just after the Autumn Equinox. I jumped the gun a little planting some of them in early September, but didn't manage to plant everything. For that I'll probably wait until we get another cold front, because I just don't feel motivated enough to endure the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes out there. Last year I planted my garlic in October, and most of them turned out OK, so I guess I still have plenty of time.

This year I've got some new varieties to try, thanks to a GardenWeb trade with a very generous trade partner. He sent me five more varieties of heirloom garlic (which is a lot more than what I actually asked for). Top row pictured is Lorz Italian, Ajo Rojo, and Inchelium Red. The bottom row is two bulbs each of Sonoran and Shilla.

Sadly, when I was looking over my "seed garlic" saved from my last harvest, Bogatyr was all rotted. I pulled out the bulbs I set aside for planting, and they squished in my hand. I immediately dug out the Bogatyr I had set aside for eating, stored in a mesh onion bag in a kitchen cabinet, and it was also all squishy. I know that hardnecks in general don't store as long as softnecks, but they have to at least store until replanting time, right? What a shame!

Next I checked out the garlics that didn't do that well for me the last time around: Chrysalis Purple, Pskem River, and Persian Star.
If you'll remember from my garlic harvest post, Persian Star yielded 15 small bulbs that at the time I didn't feel were worth eating, and suspected had not even divided since they were so small. Well, I was wrong. Once I started unwrapping the bulbs, I found undersized, but still fully formed cloves. I ended up cracking open all 15 bulbs just to make sure, and then picking out 40 of the biggest cloves for replanting. The rest of the cloves went into the food dehydrator since I thought now that they've been unwrapped they won't keep well. Also I didn't want them to rot like their fellow Purple Stripe, Bogatyr. I have high hopes that Persian Star will adjust to my growing conditions and I'll get descent-sized bulbs next year. It's such a beautiful variety that I really don't want to give up on it.

I can't complain about Pskem River too much either. I only got three bulbs, but that's because one of the bulbs I received from SSE was rotten and this variety doesn't have a lot of cloves per bulb. I went ahead and replanted all of them. Shown is the unwrapped largest bulb, which was a good size. The other two were undersized but had still matured and divided into cloves, similar to Persian Star.

The worst garlic, Chrysalis Purple, the one I finally pulled in July because I was just tired of waiting, didn't get a chance to divide. I unwrapped all my bulbs and all of them were solid like this one. I'm really not sure if they're worth replanting. What happens when the garlic life cycle is interrupted? I set these aside and haven't replanted them yet. I'm saving my planting room for more promising varieties, and might just stick CP in where I have some spare space after everyone else is in the ground.

In addition to planting Persian Star and Pskem River right away, I also planted some of my new varieties. Sonoran and Shilla are both reputed to not store for a long time, so I decided to plant them early as well. I noticed my Georgian Fire is starting to get a bit of green to them, meaning they're about to sprout. I went ahead and planted my GF planting stock and am trying to eat up the rest before my other eating garlic.

The rest of my garlic varieties don't seem to have any sign of rotting or sprouting yet, so I didn't feel any urgency to plant any of them. I had some extra room left in the bed I had prepared, so I went with Lorz Italian since I only have one bulb of that.

I also couldn't resist unwrapping Ajo Rojo, a Creole variety, which I heard are some of the most beautiful garlics. Peeling away the white outer wrapper revealed a perfect single ring of cloves in beautiful rose-colored wrappers. I'm very grateful to my swapping partner for sending me such cool garlic varieties! Creole garlic is supposed to keep well, so I'm in no hurry to plant these, but I guess since it's unwrapped now I should plant it next.

The problem is that to plant any more garlic, I'll have to till up some more dirt. Not looking forward to doing that in the mosquito-infested sauna out there. You saw what I had to go through to plant my potatoes! Ugh. But with such a homogeneous forecast for the next 7 days, with no sign of any relief from the heat and humidity, maybe I'll just have to hunker down and get it done.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Cold Front and Pictures of my Toads

I am sitting here with the air conditioner off and the windows open. It is wonderful!

Friday we had a significant cold front, after the driest August in decades. It brought lots of rain and cooler temperatures. For the next seven days at least we are forecast to have highs "only" in the upper 80s to low 90s, and lows in the high 60s. That's ten degrees cooler than it was for most of August.

My toads are probably very happy, since I haven't seen them since the rainstorm on Friday. I've got two now, and on hot days they got into the habit of burying themselves in the soil of the container plants I have on my back porch. I think it's because that soil was being kept moist while the soil in the yard was bone dry. Here we have a picture of the flat of broccoli I planted that the toads decided was a nice place to hang out. On the left of this picture is the big fat one I showed you before. On the right is a smaller one that's started hanging out with the big fat one. I don't know much about toad social behavior. Do toads have friends? How territorial are they? Do toads pair up in couples? I mean, is this a boy toad and a girl toad that want to make baby toads? That would be nice.

Can you spot the toad in this picture? This is why when I move my plants around, sometimes I am startled by toads suddently jumping out at me. They're almost invisible when they bury themselves in the soil with only the tops of their heads sticking out.

I think the toads must have gone back out in the yard since I haven't seen them in my plants since the rainstorm. The yard is nice and muddy now for them. I think in the future, when it gets hot and dry again, I might put out a pan of wet soil just for them. Now I know who's been uprooting some of my potted plants. This plant was ok, but I've found smaller plants before that looked like they had been squashed or dug up, like some animal had been rooting around in the pot. Mystery solved!