Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gardening Review 2009: Furball Harvest

Not the harvesting of furballs, but the harvesting for furballs. Since I was disciplined this year (i.e. broke) and skipped purchasing annuals, I decided to plant some goodies for my feline friends. In this 2 quart enamel planter I have seeded catnip and "variegated cat grass" (Hordeum vulgare). The wire mesh cover is to keep nosey chipmunks and squirrels from burying their food in it, but it performs a valuable function when it comes to the "harvest". Planting was on June 1st... ....and by June 12th the grass is really taking off. The catnip was just barely emerging at this point, though.
The first harvest that Gizmo and Bentley enjoyed was on June 29th.... you can see, the grass is all they can reach. Catnip is growing well though, and the mesh is protecting it from premature harvest. (Not to mention protecting the grass from being uprooted completely.)
Second harvest was on July 12th, and again only the grass is accessible....

....though you can see the catnip is larger. Slowly but surely I guess.
See how nicely the grass is trimmed? Yet still firmly rooted and ready to bounce back.
Finally on August 7th the catnip is tall enough for the kitties to enjoy, though I picked it for them myself.
The third harvest was on August 22nd, when the boys enjoyed the grass.... ....and the nice tall catnip!
By this time, the catnip was growing so well, that I picked a couple handfuls for them again on October 28th. Then finally, despite some cold weather here and there, the cats enjoyed one more harvest on November 8th. Gizmo must have realized this was the "last hurrah", because he positioned himself over the planter as if to say "Mine!"

Based on this experience, I'd say there are 2 more gardeners in this household who are hooked on "growing your own". I guess carnivores can be enthusiastic farmers as well! =^^= Submitted to Friday Ark.

Discount on Seed Orders!

Just in time for garden planning, my friends at Hometown Seeds are offering the following discount:

By entering the coupon code thanks, 10% will be reduced from the total cost of any order. The code will be good through February 28, 2010.

Let's get this garden party started!

Disclaimer: Hometown seeds sent me a complimentary seed assortment in exchange for a link in my sidebar, however any opinions expressed here are all my own. I was frankly impressed with the cultural, storage and seed-saving information they included with their vegetable selections.

New Mushroom Project

Along with the veggie growing expiriments, in 2009 I decided to try a new mushroom as well. Naturally I bought locally from my friends at Field and Forest Products , where I discovered a mushroom that grows in wood chips like you'd find in a regular flower bed! The mushroom is called Wine Cap Stropharia , and the catalog even suggested using an asparagus bed. I have one of those! Pretty weedy when I started this project June 22nd...
....putting down some of the hardwood chips that they recommended (luckily they sold them too, because often the bags at the stores don't say what kind of chips they are.) I ran out of their chips kinda quickly... I grabbed what I had on hand to finish up. I looked all over this bag and nowhere did it say exactly what "western bark nuggets" are made from! Oh well...
...I got the coverage I needed. Now to innoculate the bed with spawn...I bought the pegs so I could just push them into the chips here and there. Now all that's needed is fairly regular watering (unless it rains of course) and let the mycelium run. Run mycelium, run! :)

In mid-September I had mushrooms! Very cool, since the instructions said I would likely get fruiting the following spring if planted later than spring this year. Of course mid-June kinda is "spring" in Wisconsin! :)The cap spreads out as the mushroom grows. If you let them keep growing.......and manage to forget about them long enough.........they can get quite large!I see why these are "wine" caps! Even somewhat "over-done" like this big one, they taste fantastic!
I got two more yummy mushrooms just three days after I harvested these! Another benefit of this expiriment was more vigorous asparagus, and I learned that I can prune back my asparagus ferns to thicken them so the mushrooms get more shade. (Also helping the asparagus.) Plus once the weather breaks, all I have to do is add some more wood chips and wait for the spring harvest. You can even transfer chips from an established bed to "innoculate" several more beds! This is my favorite "locavore" adventure yet!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

2009 Veggie Container Review #2

This planter is the second of my two "lasagna" veggie planters. I had a seat-less director's chair I'd recouped from the local dump, and when I found this wash tub there as well, I knew what I had to do!

This time I started with wet newspaper (soaked well for several minutes)... ...then a layer of soaked straw from my manure pile (horse/cow mix that's been rained on several months)....

.....with the "extra nutrient mix" (equal parts bone meal, greensand and kelp meal) sprinkled atop. This was sprinkled on each subsequent layer: peat moss, Hyponex "potting soil" (mud-crumbled to break it up), peat moss, crumbly/composted manure.
Then it was planted with: 2 eggplants 'Japanese White Egg' in the back, zinnia 'Benary's Giant Purple' in the center, pepper 'Early Jalapeno' in the right front corner and Tomato 'Sun Pride' in the left front corner (planted lying down like the ones in the last post). Add a layer of mulch and we're almost good to go.

This planter is out in the open along a regular deer path by the river, so I decided to leave nothing to chance! This was a nice piece of mesh, so I just bungeed it to stay up, trying to keep it intact as possible for later use. This planting took place June 24th.

By July 6th, I have a zinnia opening up!

And by the 10th, it was almost ready to cut and bring inside.
Blooms were visible on the eggplants by August 16th...

....along with small tomatoes and this "Herculean" grasshopper (see how it looks like he's balancing the tomato on his head? Dorky, I know :)

'Early Jalapeno' peppers are coming along nicely....
....and the entire planter is bursting at the seams by the end of August!

The zinnia produced 5 flowers, and if we hadn't seen an early freeze there would have been more for sure.
The blooms get so pom-pom looking as they age......
...I find them to be display-worthy until they fall apart!The eggplant only managed to produce this lone fruit, despite the many blossoms. This year I'm planting shorter season varieties (this 'Japanese White Egg' was listed as 65 days, this year I'm planting 'Fairy Tale' at 50 days, and 'Udmalbet' at 51 days.)
However, when sauteed with mushrooms, swiss chard, and 'One Ball' summer squash my eggplant was deliciously satisfactory! :-p

As the season wound down, this little garden responded very well to the wire protection....
....making quite a structural statement in my yard!
The 'Early Jalapeno' peppers were harvested twice...
.....before the frost ended our party! Unfortunately the tomatoes never did ripen :(
More 2009 reviews on the way...

Jewelry Review

I'd like to take a brief journey off the gardening topic to review an online jewelry store, LuShae Jewelry. They sell very nice stuff, pendants, rings, and earrings. I got this ring, intending to wear it as a pinkie ring. It arrived packaged well... ...very shiny! I did notice that two of the black stripes were smaller than the others, which seemed like a design flaw but not really a big deal to me.
The black enamel stripes are separated by rows of cubic zirconias....

....and the silver tone is "white gold rhodium bonded". From the description it sounded like it should stay nice and not tarnish or get dull-cool!

When I tried it on I discovered that it's a size too small and doesn't lay as flat as I'd like, but it's very pretty nonetheless!

Later I discovered that it does fit when I'm not retaining water...super! I will say that I'm not much of a jewery person in general, but LuShae has quite a variety and even I found several items I liked.
Disclaimer: LuShae jewelry gave me this complimentary ring in exchange for a review. The opinions expressed here are honest and all my own.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

2009 Veggie Review

Now that the year is over, I'm evaluating my first veggie-growing trials from last summer. They were all in planters, and our weather was very cool. I used several different types of containers, and employed the "lasagna" technique of soil building with two of them The first lasagna planter is this double wash tub. In a previous life, it was placed on the ground, with metal screen over the drain holes. Unfortunately I did a poor job of leveling it, and the water drained back away from the holes and it became swampy. When I began to use it here, I discovered the drain screens clogged with roots (that didn't help!) So this time, I'm using cloth strips from my old deck bunting to cover the drain holes. The first layer is coarse material from my manure pile, which has been getting rained on for several months...
...and over each layer I sprinkled a "nutrient mix". Using the book "Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces" as a guide.... mix consisted of equal parts bone meal, greensand, and kelp meal. The book suggested equal parts blood meal, rock phosphate and greensand, but I used what I had on hand.

The rest of the layers were: coarse sand, peat moss, well-composted manure, and the top layer was a soil blend (composted manure, old soil from last year's hanging pots, peat moss, nutrient mix and Hyponex "potting soil", a.k.a. MUD). Now for the planting, which took place fairly late in the season on July 1st. These are all plants I started indoors from seed, as you can see they are plenty healthy!

I planted the tomatoes the way my mom taught me-lying down, lower branches pinched off with the leafy top branches above ground.

There! In one tub: 'Abe Lincoln' tomato, 'Green Zebra' tomato, purple basil, Greek oregano, 'Boy Oh Boy' tomato. In the other tub: 'Amish Paste' tomato (two), 'Red Rubin' basil (two), and 'Sun Pride' tomato. Just one more detail... layer of wood chips to help retain moisture. The plants look as excited as me...
...even the teensy basil!
Then just two days later-varmints! Bummer! Luckily none of the plants were uprooted or damaged, so I just filled in and replaced the mulch.
By August 23rd my plants have come a long way....
....but by September 17th the only ripe tomatoes are the 'Green Zebras'. I see an 'Amish Paste' getting close....
....but the rest of the fruits on 'Sun Pride' and 'Boy Oh Boy' are very green and funky-looking. The cool weather made harvesting ripe tomatoes very challenging...
....and the hungry creatures around my yard didn't help! They were beating me to the ripe stuff, and settling for green tomatoes as well.

Overall I have to admit that this planter was a success, and the herbs that grew alongside the tomatoes were harvested several times. (Some of the items in this dish are from other containers.) I originally decided to grow veggies as a fun experiment, but now I'm hooked!

As I plan for next year, my focus/obsession is with speed. I'm searching high and low for the fastest maturing cultivars, because now that I'm an official "farmer" I simply must be as successful as possible! Another container review will be coming soon.....