Monday, August 31, 2009

The benefits of gardening: Monday harvest tally

The encouraging news of the past week is that two of my tomato varieties, Cosmonaut Volkov and Rose de Berne, have grown with little or no rot or other issues. Some of the fruits are now the size of tennis balls; given the challenges presented by the rainy and unseasonable weather that's no small feat. However, they are still a shade of light green that would be perfectly appropriate if I were growing Granny Smith apples instead.Now to my Cherokee Purples: As you can see from the above photo of Saturday's soggy harvest I had decided not to wait until they reddened some more. I am showing you the more flattering side of these tomatoes. Turn them around or over and you would find soft rot, holes that may have been bored by some unidentified pest, or cracks. Actually, once I cut into one of them I discovered that the damage was not as extensive as I had thought. Hopefully these will stay fresh for another day or two and I can pick a few others to make salsa.

This past Wednesday I harvested the broccoli side shoots that are pictured below. At the farmer's market on Saturday, an organic grower was charging $2.50 for one of those square cardboard containers often used to package cherry tomatoes or berries. I estimate that my yield could fill half of one of those boxes.The pole beans keep coming, more than I had expected. They are still fetching 99 cents a pound, which is about the sum of the two harvests from the past week. As for the price of organically grown tomatoes, I have seen $4.50 a pound and $3 a pound marked down from $5, but I have decided to use the price of $4 reported to me last week by Daphne. Based on the weight of a tomato I purchased on Saturday, I estimate that two of my tomatoes weigh a pound, minus the blighted bits. So, this week's totals are as follows:

Previous benefits total: $100.49
2 pounds of tomatoes (4), at $4/lb.: $8.00
1/2 box of broccoli at $2.50/box: $1.25
1 pound of green beans at $0.99/lb.: $0.99
New benefits total: $110.73

Current costs total: $171.57
New balance: -$60.84

I hope the the Cosmonauts will land by next Monday so I can enjoy them and add them to the tally. Looking ahead, some of my basil, planted late, is now about 6 inches high, and my fall peas appear to have potential.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sounds of the Garden 2009

I'm on the second year of new tradition: missing the annual Sounds of the Garden concert at the Minton Stable Garden, this time because of a vacation conflict. The original show, scheduled for July, had been canceled due to the forecast; luckily the weather cooperated for the rain date, which was Wednesday night, August 19. To honor my new tradition I'll post photos taken by Allan, gardener and former Steering Committee member who acted as host for the event, and provide a very brief, better-late-than-never report.

This year's performers were Deborah and Giovanni Rocha, a husband-and-wife duo whose repertoire included not only original work written by Deborah, the guitarist, but samba and bossa nova standards. The Boston Natural Areas Network supplied free hot dogs and hamburgers, and gardeners and neighbors spread out blankets and pulled up chairs to enjoy the mellow sounds and appreciate the acoustics, which I keep hearing about but have yet to experience at this grand of a scale. As Allan put it, "The reverb from the houses made it sound like you were in a nice hall." Thanks to Allan for providing the photos, including this great aerial view, taken from a Williams Street porch. You can see how much space we have to play with here at the MSG and the potential for hosting more performance events such as this one.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday harvest tally--a mixed bag

I wonder how many gardeners have asked themselves this: Why do our vegetables reach their peak ripeness while we're away? Right before I departed on a weeklong vacation to the land of kudzu and wild rhododendrons, I picked a little over a half pound of perfect pole beans, and since I knew I wouldn't be cooking for at least a few days (or for the entire trip, as it turned out) I left them in the food pantry donation cooler. Having not grown them for a few years, I had forgotten how quickly the harvest progresses once it begins and how one needs to stay on top of it. When I returned this morning with plastic baggies, my eager anticipation turned to disappointment when I parted the leaves and found so many overripe beans, tough pods lumpy with overgrown seeds. I picked them all anyway, though I knew that I'd only be cooking half of them. I added some to an earlier batch I picked about ten days earlier and oven-roasted them with some fingerling potatoes, in olive oil and minced garlic, and will probably stir-fry the remainder using sesame oil. The second method worked well with my bitter-tasting broccoli.Speaking of broccoli, I discovered a few new side shoots of my Fiesta organic variety. I left them on the plants but will definitely harvest them in the next day or so and include them in my next week's harvest tally.Even more distressing than the past-peak pole beans was the discovery of some rot on my Cherokee purple tomatoes, which I had thought were going to pull through with only a little catfacing on the bottoms. I picked these two and placed them on my kitchen windowsill in the hopes that they will finish ripening away from pests and that there may be some salvageable meat in the middle. Most of my other tomatoes are still green and I'm starting to wonder if many of them will stay that way. My volunteer cherries are as hardy as ever, and as you can see in the first photo with the beans, are beginning to turn red, though at this point I have too few to include in my total.

Today in the Harvest Coop I noted that green beans are selling for $0.99 a pound. My question is: if some of my harvest gets composted because it's overripe, can I count it in my total? Many of my strawberries ended up in the bin, so I guess I will include it. Using a not-so-scientific method of weighing a quarter pound of beans in the store and estimating that a sandwich bag full is around a half pound, I figure that I have picked about a pound and a half of pole beans so far.

Previous benefits total: $99.00
1 1/2 pounds of beans at $0.99/lb.: $1.49
New benefits total: $100.49

Current costs total: $171.57
New balance: -$71.08

Okay, if you find this too depressing, keep in mind that the negative number includes a major purchase, and that there's more to come--broccoli, tomatoes I hope, maybe a few more beans, basil, and, quite possibly, a fall crop of snap peas. But if you want to read about some gardens in the black, visit Daphne's Dandelions and check out the other blogs participating in the Monday harvest tally.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

Welcome to my first time participating in the Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, which takes place on the 15th of each month. I have been aware of this ritual, started in the May Dreams Gardens blog, since earlier in the season but it had slipped my mind for one reason or another. This morning I will add my blog to the Mr. Linky widgit and weigh in. Due to limited time today, I won't make it over to the Minton Stable Garden, but that plot consists mostly of vegetables, and I have shown my perennials in recent posts. So I'll feature what has been growing at home.Yesterday marked our eleventh anniversary of home ownership, so I'll begin with what had already been in the ground before our closing. My first stop is at the Rose of Sharon. The plant itself has doubled in size but the amount of shade we have has limited the number of blooms. In front of the house we have a hydrangea growing in our acidic soil (as one can tell by the blue color). A magnolia has been shading it out; as a result we see fewer blooms each year.We have planted hostas here and there all over our property; at any time during the summer we can find one in bloom. The most spectacular at the moment is growing near our Rose of Sharon. Most of our backyard flowering plants are perennials but I usually throw in a few impatiens to add some extra color.With more sun hitting the west side of our house, I was able to grow a sunflower which had originally been a volunteer in my MSG plot, but I had decided to move to make room for more vegetables. The blooming period for the beach rose you see behind it and to the left has past.On the other side of the front yard, I have turned over the soil and started a perennial bed. The echinacea, daisies, and black-eyed susans were all divided from my mother's garden.I have not planted a single cosmos seed here. Almost every summer we have been in the house, seeds have blown over from other gardens in the neighborhood. Before I started the perennial bed, we had let them grow on both sides of the walk. They used to completely take over and attack anyone who approached the front porch, but perhaps due to the weather this year, they are much more limited in height and scope.The GBBD has given me an opportunity to take a closer look at what has been growing in my other gardens. Because the focus of this blog has been the Minton Stable Garden, and also due to the mosquito problem we have in our backyard, I have not gotten out enough to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I should put on my long pants and bug spray and get out there more often.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Around the Minton Stable Garden

It's been a while since I zoomed out of my own plot, so I spent a little time yesterday focusing on developments in other parts of the community garden. Most members have managed to keep out weeds and stay on top of their harvests. Echinacea, beebalm, phlox, and other perennials provide a variety of colors among all the green, and marigolds stand guard on the edges of many vegetable beds. A few tomatoes have reddened, while zucchini and squash are concealed under their leaves. The vines of pole beans have outgrown their trellises and in some cases begun to latch onto any nearby plants. The skeletal remains of spring peas still hang in some places, but all in all, plants are benefitting from the seasonal conditions that have often seemed the exception more than the rule.At times gardeners find that their yield is much larger than they can enjoy themselves, and if they can't give away the excess, some of it goes to waste. In response to this as well as the needs of many others in our community, the Boston Gardeners' Council has begun a food donation initiative. Once a week, participating gardens collect any unwanted produce, which gets picked up and delivered to the Roxbury Food Pantry. Our system at the MSG involves leaving a cooler out the day before, locking it in the shed overnight and bringing it back out for pickup the next morning. At first the Steering Committee thought that at this point in the season we would not collect enough to warrant a pickup but have found the cooler to be full or near-full of zuchhini, swiss chard, and other goodies that we hope have reached those who would benefit from them.The efforts from previous work days are now evident on the edges of the property. Sunflowers planted by the Dungarven Road fence conceal the chain link from anyone looking out from inside the garden, though as you can see in the above photo, they have lots of company. Meanwhile, along the back near the barbecue area, the raspberries divided and donated by a few members are on their way to a fruitful yield.But some of the most interesting developments lie ahead. At the last Steering Committee meeting, we approved taking steps to restore and redesign a wildflower area over where the Minton Stable barn had once stood, in the southeastern corner of the property. The "Habitat Paddock" would contain wildflowers and native plants that attract butterflies and birds that may also populate neighboring Franklin Park. Although this zone appears to be somewhat established already, with echinacea and flowering weeds that have been spared by the lawn mower, what it really needs is a healthy layer of compost, carefully chosen plantings, and landscaping that works for both the wildlife and the people who would like to safely enjoy and learn from it. A subcommittee and future work days devoted to this project are just the beginning.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

An absence of red

One of the growers I encountered this morning at the Roslindale Farmers Market had prepared an informative display about late blight in an effort to explain why there would be no tomatoes or potatoes for sale this year. Perhaps they were getting tired of being asked about the absence of red at their vegetable stand. Although there were some tomatoes available from at least one of the 4-5 growers on hand, most of the vegetables on offer were mainly green, with some white, purple, and orange. The effects of our mostly rainy, dreary summer continue to plague us.Though relieved to have escaped late blight, after a week away, I approached my tomato plants with much trepidation. First I checked what I had growing in containers at home. At the first glance of the green fruit all seems normal. I have come to expect them to be leggier and more behind because of the lack of full sun. I could put the planters on wheels and move them around all day and they would still not benefit from as much light as the ones I have planted in the Minton Stable Garden. But the real test was yet to come.

Like many gardeners, I would feel the bottom of the fruit hoping for a smooth surface, but this year I have had to lower my expectations. In almost every case my fingers would catch something rough or soft, or a hole of some sort. My heart would sink a little as I bent my knees and craned my neck to get a visual assessment, dreading the common condition of blossom end rot. I had never thought I would be relieved to discover a case of catfacing; at least I can cut that part away and enjoy the rest of the tomato. That is, if it ever turns red.My MSG tomatoes are a bit larger, including this Cherokee purple at about four inches across. Normally at this time of year, I'd be harvesting red fruit already and bringing them on a mid-August vacation somewhere, while begging someone to pick whatever becomes ripe while I'm away. Not this season. I'll be lucky if I can make a batch of salsa.Not anticipating any harvest today, I left my bags and containers at home. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find a few beans already, and even more broccoli, about a half pound, though it was on the verge of flowering. Unfortunately, there seems to be some rot on the stumps of where I had previously cut off crowns on the other plants. I haven't checked the plants more closely to figure out if it is being caused by mold or some pests; I'll be back tomorrow to have another look. Hopefully it doesn't affect the chances of edible side shoots.I'll end by returning to my not-so-scientific tally of how much I've been earning on my harvest. I won't include the two pole beans until I get more, but all of the broccoli I harvested. At the Farmers Market organic broccoli was selling for $2.50 a pound. Also, I'll have to add to my expenses by including the basil plants my husband picked up to make up for our lack of a fresh supply.

Previous benefits total: $92.75
2 1/2 lbs. of broccoli at $2.50/lb.: $6.25
New benefits total: $99.00

Previous costs total: $167.07
2 basil plants purchased at Farmers Market: $4.50
New costs total: $171.57
Current balance: -$72.57

I'm looking forward to enough pole beans for a side dish and to close the gap a little more. After I finish this post I'll check out some of the other blogs and experience some tomato envy.