Category Archives: The garden

Harvest day

Yesterday was our big harvest day, and we’re happy to say we provided all the vegetables, meat and cheese for our wedding except for some donated goat cheese, greens, broccoli, a couple of pounds of onions and some garlic!


Andy's Brazilian brother Lauro and his girlfriend Daniele helped us harvest

Gabbie loyally guarded our piles of vegetables

Daniele helped pick peppers

We were doubting our slow-growing cabbages, but they pulled through and provided us with more than we need

Tomatoes, peppers and edamame

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Squash soup

Digging yukon gold potatoes

Harvesting is so much fun, and it is so gratifying to see the results of all our work. I love having a refrigerator full of melons and pickles and a living room full of squash, pumpkins and potatoes. Now it’s time to start obsessively checking the forecast for frost warnings and hurricanes (ironically, Hurricane Julia is off the coast of Africa heading for United States). We’re still testing recipes and making last minute arrangements, but we’re feeling ready and excited for the wedding.

A trunk full of butternut squash

We’re so excited to create this meal, to spend time with people we love, and most of all to get married!

Here’s one of my favorite recipes we’ve tested recently. Since you are probably not cooking for 100, you can always shrink the amounts. Dividing by seven gives you around 15 servings and nice even amounts.

Autumn Gold Squash Soup

Ingredients (for 100):

  • 35 lb squash
  • 7 lb onions
  • 1.75 cups vegetable oil
  • 5.25 lb carrots
  • 21 cloves garlic
  • 28 bay leaves
  • 7 tsp thyme
  • 7 tsp cumin
  • 7 tsp cinnamon
  • 7 tsp coriander
  • 7 quarts vegetable stock
  • 3.5 quarts tomato juice
  • 3.5 quarts orange juice
  • ~7 tsp salt
  • ~7 tsp pepper

Directions:

Halve, seed and bake squash, cut side down, on baking trays at 400 degrees for 1 hour or more (until soft).

Saute onions in oil for a few minutes.

Add the bay leaves, garlic and spices and continue sautéing until the onions are translucent.

Add the carrots and stock. Bring to a boil then simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender. Remove the bay leaves.

In a blender, puree the squash, vegetables and juices in batches until smooth.

Mix back together and add salt and pepper to taste. Warm slowly.

The cabbages are coming along nicely

My parents came to help in the garden

Harvest tally

854 cucumbers

End of summer melons, pumpkins and squash

11 pounds potatoes

251 pounds tomatoes

25 watermelons

31 cantaloupes

49 pumpkins

4 pounds jalapeno peppers

Small amounts of carrots, kale, green beans, basil and onions

In the cupboard, fridge and freezer:

Edamame

29 gallons pickles

3 quarts frozen kale

4 quarts dried tomatoes

14 pints & 15 quarts salsa

3 quarts dilly beans

5 quarts frozen roasted tomatoes

Some critter is getting into the garden and nibbling on the squash

1 quart frozen pesto

6 pints pickled hot peppers

= not enough time to write blog posts.

Late summer evenings in the garden

I love later summer evenings.

Andy & I in a late summer field. (Photo copyright Sarah Moore Photography)

The crickets hum as brown seed heads of grass wave in the breeze. There’s a coolness to the air – just enough to wear long sleeves. The light is soft and warm, covering the garden with a glow.

Our garden is tucked back away from the road, surrounded by a field and then woods. It’s a peaceful place. We drive up a hill to get to it. As we crest the hill, we look down on our little square of vegetables in the middle of a field of grass, oats, clover and low bush blueberries. I’m always excited to see how it has changed since the last time we were there.

On this evening I kneel in soft clover pathways and pull weeds from the carrots and beets. Finally, after a long day at work, I can let my mind wander. When I’m tired and grumpy, I always feel better by doing a little work and seeing what we have created. I hope I never lose the feeling of gardening as a miracle of nature.

Us in the corn. (Photo copyright Sarah Moore Photography)

Us on our truck. (Photo copyright Sarah Moore Photography)

Slow down melons! Speed up cabbage!

We’ve switched from trying to figure out what’s eating our crops to trying to determine when we can eat them. This is not as easy as it might seem.

It’s easy to know when to pick and eat tomatoes and cucumbers and kale, but melons and potatoes are a challenge. Andy has been researching how to tell when melons are ripe. He found a whole list of signs to look for, including raised ridges running from end to end, dead tendrils opposite the fruit, yellow coloring underneath and a tough rind. I simply knock on them, but they all sound hollow to me. We picked and ate one watermelon, but it was definitely not ready. This is good news. We’d rather everything waits until the end of September to ripen.

The potatoes are a challenge because our Yukon Gold plants have completely died off and the Russets aren’t far behind. Right now we’re leaving the potatoes in the ground because we don’t have a dark, 40-degree space where we can store them (we so look forward to having a root cellar some day). We’ll keep checking on the potatoes to see if they are doing okay in the ground.

We planted our short season crops recently – lettuce, peas and hakurei salad turnips – which we hope will be ready just in time for the wedding. Since it’s been dry, we’ve been watering these new seedlings every few days.

Our wedding website has a countdown on it. Every time I look at it, I’m surprised by how soon we’re getting married. I am so incredibly thrilled to marry Andy. We’re writing our own vows, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m going to say. I often sit back and realize that I’m more in love with him than ever before, and each time I don’t think it possible to fall even deeper in love.

With the excitement, though, comes stress. It’s a lot of work to plan a wedding. We’ve spread out the planning over time, and we’ve delegated some tasks, but I still feel overwhelmed sometimes. Andy’s good at convincing me that everything will work out fine in the end. Also, I’m very aware of the fact that the point is to enjoy the wedding, including the planning (as much as possible). I try not to stress out too much.

Planning the wedding has been a process of discarding preconceptions of what a wedding “should” be like. In the beginning I thought we needed to hire a caterer. I thought we needed to rent nice dishes. I thought we should send out paper invitations and give everyone a wedding favor.

As we’ve planned the wedding, though, we’ve discarded traditions that we don’t see a purpose for. We decided that, with our friends and family, we can cook the wedding dinner. We don’t have to follow fancy recipes that take hours to complete. Fresh ingredients speak for themselves.

Each step of the way we’ve assessed what’s really important. Making a budget helped us prioritize and throw away the idea of renting dishes and sending invitations. Instead, we’ll use the plastic summer camp dishes and we emailed an invitation I made in Publisher.

We’ve focused in on what’s really important to us, which is spending time with people we care about and being intimately involved in our wedding dinner, from seed to plate.

P.S. Sorry I haven’t posted photos lately. My camera died after falling in the Saco River during my bachelorette party. But Sarah Moore is being kind enough to take photos of us and the garden a couple of times this summer, so maybe I’ll post some of her photos.

Pest report

All we’re harvesting this time of year is bugs. Well, that’s not entirely true. We have picked kale and cucumbers and dug a few potatoes just to make sure that they are there. But the majority of what we’re doing is dealing with pests.

Eric Sideman writes a periodic pest report for MOFGA. We get a lot of good information from him. Here’s our pest report, or here’s what we’ve been able to identify so far…

We first started seeing Colorado potato beetles two to three weeks ago. I’ve always hated potato beetles, especially the juveniles. They’re so slimy and gross. Instead of squishing them, this year we’ve gotten great satisfaction out of feeding them to the chickens. At first the chickens didn’t really know what to do with them. We think they were thrown off by food that moves. Soon they started gobbling the bugs down.

We’ve been picking the potato beetles regularly (two or three times a week). We still find some every time, but we see very few adults. They are doing damage to the potato plants, but we’re optimistic that we’re staying on top of them.

Potatoes probably killed by leaf hoppers

Even with the beetles, the potatoes were doing great until the leaf hoppers moved in. These small, green bugs suck the juice out of plants and inject a toxin that clogs the food conducting tissue. Eric Sideman describes them as “catastrophic.” We’ve been spraying them with an organic insecticidal soap, but some of our potatoes and beans are not going to make it.

Around two weeks ago we first noticed the cabbage caterpillars. These small green caterpillars like to eat brassicas, which include kale, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. There are several species, but I haven’t learned the difference between them yet. The caterpillars are the same color as the leaves of the plants, so they’re quite hard to find. So far we’re trying to control them by picking and squishing them.

Fungus on the tomatoes, possibly early blight

Our tomatoes have some sort of fungus on them. One extension agent thinks it’s early blight. We picked off all the yellow and brown leaves, and we got some copper to spray on the plants to protect them from fungus.

On a positive note, here’s what Andy wrote in an email about the garden recently:

Lots of green tomatoes

“I just wanted to give you a garden update since earlier this week I sounded so grim.  The potatoes are still not fairing so well, but from what I’ve read, you can leave them in the ground for a few weeks as long as it’s not too wet. The heat and humidity has broken a bit so that bodes well for the suspected fungus infection that the tomatoes have. Fungus doesn’t like dry breezy weather and that’s what it’s been the last couple of days, and will be most of next week. So there is hope!

Pie pumpkin

Watermelon!

Yesterday I picked 68 cucumbers and Julia has made four gallons of pickles so far. We’ve got several pie pumpkins the size of cantaloupe and several cantaloupes the size of grapefruits and grapefruit the size…no wait, no grapefruit. The corn is growing like crazy and there at least half a dozen tiny baby Hubbard squash. No ripe tomatoes, but lots of green fruit.  Watermelons are growing well, peppers are hanging in there and the edamame are looking great. There’s more, but let’s just say that if we are lucky, most things will do well and we will have a feast to remember in September.”

Some of the onions are doing okay after the addition of wood ash

Corn

pH matters

It’s the time of summer when there aren’t enough hours in the day. In addition to gardening and swimming and planning a wedding, my job for the Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association is also much more time consuming and busy in the summer. I haven’t had much time to write, though it doesn’t mean nothing is happening in the garden.

Garden on July 5th

Some crops seem to grow overnight. The pumpkins and potatoes are huge. The tomatoes and cucumbers and brassicas look great. But the onions and corn leave much to be desired. We’ve been trying to figure out why the onions have done so little even though they were the first seedlings we put in the ground. My father suggested the problem could be pH.

Many crops do best in slightly acidic to neutral soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7. Soil pH affects the chemical forms of nutrients like phosphorus and iron. When soil pH is too acidic or too alkaline, some nutrients convert to a form that cannot be absorbed by plants. Even in nutrient-rich soil, off-balance pH may cause plants to suffer nutrient deficiencies

In Maine, soil is often too acidic for optimum plant growth. Luckily, soil pH can be easily raised by spreading and mixing in ground limestone. When we got our soil tested in the spring, we found out that the pH was 5.6. We spread 350 pounds of lime and 65 pounds of wood ash (about half the recommended amount) and tilled it in. However, we expect that the lime hasn’t had time to completely do its work.

Potatoes are one crop that does grow well in more acidic soils, preferring a pH of 5.5. We didn’t spread any lime in our potato area, and the potato plants are enormous. The onions, however, prefer a pH of 6-7.

To see if we could solve the low pH in our onion patch, we dumped some wood ash around the plants. Wood ash raises pH and is more water soluble than limestone. We only had enough ash for part of the onion row. Today, after the rain had a chance to wash the ash into the soil, the part of the onion row we treated seems to be greener and larger. Before we spread ash on the rest of the onions, we’ll take a picture so we can assess the results more concretely.

We’ve decided to do an experiment with our tomatoes. Some people prune their tomatoes to improve their yield. Tomato plants sprout suckers where new leaves leave the main stem. When pruning, you cut these suckers off. I’ve always wondered whether pruning tomatoes really makes a difference. This summer we intend to find out. We pruned one side of the row and left the other half untouched. We’ll weigh the fruit we get from each side.

First batch of cucumbers and dill

Our first crop is ripening: cucumbers. We were very excited to make our first jar of pickles!

I’ve been adding lots of pictures to the Photos page of chicks, plants and more. Check them out!

In case you’re interested, I found this list of pH preferences for different crops:

  • Beans            6.0-7.0
  • Beets             6.5-8.0
  • Broccoli        6.0-7.0
  • Cabbage       6.0-7.5
  • Cantaloupe  6.0-7.5
  • Carrots         5.5-7.0
  • Corn             5.5-7.5
  • Cucumbers 5.5-7.0
  • Lettuce        6.0-7.0
  • Onions         6.0-7.0
  • Peas             6.0-7.5
  • Peppers       5.5-7.0
  • Potatoes      4.8-6.5
  • Squash        6.0-7.0
  • Tomatoes   5.5-7.5