Thursday, August 17, 2017

Are All Weeds Evil?

Last week I was having a discussion with a new gardener and the topic of composting came up. My response was, why compost? Since she has only kitchen garbage, why not simply dig it into her garden soil? My advice...skip the compost pile. But this led to other questions. Doesn't she need to compost the seeds when she deadheads allysium? My response...do you enjoy having allysium blooming I your garden? "Yes", she said, " But it's coming up in my rows of corn." And she added that she has to weed it out. My response...why? The corn can grow perfectly fine with allysium at its feet. Besides, it helps shade the soil and thus retain moisture by preventing the sun from baking the soil and the wind from sucking it dry. Besides, it's pretty. The allysium is fairly noncompetative with the corn crop. Yes, heavy populations of other kinds of weeds can adversely affect corn, but not the allysium. 

For some reason we have been trained to eliminate 100% of weeds. Gardeners don't seem happy if the garden isn't pristine weed-free. They spend back breaking hours pulling weeds, buy expensive special hoes to get the job done quicker, maybe even spend more bucks on a mechanized cultivator. While I understand the need to keep most weeds down in population, I don't see the sense in being fanatical about it. Harmless weeds can actually be beneficial, helping to retain moisture and more importantly, providing habitat for garden friendly insects. 

Personally, I see weeds as a resource. I harvest the majority of weeds for compost material. Some I simply flip into the soil as biomaterial. Others I chop & drop for mulch. I leave some simply because I'm not going to kill myself trying to get every last one. And I swear that a low population of assorted weeds is actually beneficial. And the shallow rooted weed types don't seem to interfere much with most  veggies anyway. 

The only weed that I serious battle is the Bermuda grass. It is aggressive, spreading quickly and forming a dense mass of underground stolens. It definitely impacts the garden plants, out competing them for root space, sunlight, and water. Other than this, I simply just keep the weed population low so as not to adversely impact my crops. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Unexpected Visitors

Came home the other day to find some unexpected visitors walking up the driveway. At first I couldn't tell what they were at that distance. Getting closer, I was quite surprised to see that they were peacocks. Wow! 


Two female peahens, to be precise. Not sure where they came from. But it turns out that they were only passing through. Don't know where they were heading. But it was nice to catch a glimpse of them. 


One never knows what one will see out in the countryside. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Eggplant Success - I Should Be Jealous

Another local home gardener proudly sent me a picture of her eggplant. I have to admit that I'm duly impressed. 


"J" is doing alright, you agree? Now don't get overly picky. Yes, I see that the Chinese rose beetles have been nibbling. And that eggplant on the lower left might be indicative of thrips. But am I doing any better? No way. In fact, I haven't had particular success growing this type of eggplant, so I give "J" a gold star. A big gold star! 

Now, what's for dinner "J"? Baba ganoush and chips? Eggplant parmigiana? Grilled eggplant and meat sauce? 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Container Beans by "L"

Gardening on one's lanai (aka- porch) is catching on. Super! Glad to see that some people are discovering that they don't have black thumbs afterall, and that growing fresh veggies can be fairly fun and easy. Oh, not that they are growing all their own food, but those few weekly additions of freshly picked veggies that you grew yourself can make all the difference in enjoying not only eating, but one's general happiness overall. There's just something innately satisfying in eating something grown or foraged yourself. 


Garden containers don't have to be expensive or fancy. Yes, I've seen some pretty spiffy & pricy container gardens, but cobbled together containers out of recycled materials work just as fine. As in the photo above, "L" is successfully growing green beans in a low cost homemade table top garden. Yes, it works! "L" claims to be one of those "black thumb" people, but her little container gardens are proving otherwise. I give "L" a hearty applause!!! 

On my farm I use a variety of gardening methods, including container gardening. I simply do what works for me in a particular situation. I'm not a diehard follower of just one gardening method. But when it comes to container gardening, I give it a strong thumbs up. Plus I'm big on making containers via recycling/repurposing. Besides being effective and economical, it's down right fun! 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Cardoon

This year was my first experiment growing cardoon. As you gather by now, I love experimenting. I had never heard about cardoon, never eaten it, never heard of anyone who had eaten it, so this a totally new one on me. But I was game to give it a go. 

Starting the seed was simple. I grew it like just about any other veggie seed. Started it in a flat, transplanted the tiny seedlings to pots, then when two sets of true leaves appeared and the seedlings were good sized, they went out into the garden. 

Now, I did read that cardoon gets to be a really big plant, so I spaced them about 3 foot apart, which sounded fairly close. Geez, lots of empty space around those small seedlings. So I planted radishes around them to use the space while the cardoon grew. That worked out just fine. Once the radishes were harvested, I dug in some compost around the growing cardoon then mulched the area. And I had dug in manure & compost prior to setting the seedlings out. So far, so good. 

As the months progressed, the cardoon plants filled up the space. Boy, I think they're pretty! Large dramatic toothed leaves. Impressive plants. After a while they produced those light grey-green hearts that I see in the Internet photos, so perhaps it was time to harvest some for a try. 

One of the brave community gardeners took the first harvested plant home to try. Report -- inviting flavor but bitter as all get-out. She followed the preparation directions on the Internet and it was still a big failure. 

Ok. First attempt = fail. But I plan the give it a few more tries. 

#1- try blanching the current plants for several weeks and see if that makes a difference.....


#2- try watering frequently. 
#3- try using manure tea on some of the plants.
#4- try digging in manure around the base of some plants. 
#5- try digging in compost around the base of some plants. 

The idea is to try encouraging some rapid growth plus exclude sunlight to the edible parts. On most of the plants I'll leave the outer leaves exposed to the sun but blanch the hearts. A few plants I'll try blanching the entire thing. 

Another thing, I'll try timing their growing period so that they are ready to harvest around December. The idea being to get the plants to "mature" because it's winter. I'll see if that makes a difference. 

Here's a closer look at how the gardeners are trying blanching....

I like the way it is being done. And I hope it helps eliminate the bitterness. Time will tell. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Farmers' Market Etiquette

Just recently a few people emailed me an article they saw about the proper etiquette at a farmers market. My first reaction was, "Geez Louise, now the Internet has to tell people how to act when they buy food?" But I did go ahead and read the article. Humph. I'm not sure that I totally agree with the advice, or should I say more correctly, the instructions. 

#1- "Do: Take as many free samples as you damn want."
I disagree. While a farmer or vendor may offer free samples, they weren't free for the farmer/vendor. It costs them money. So taking one sample is fine, but making the sample bowls your lunch menu for the day is simply wrong. I've seen people do it. They just keep coming back for handfuls. For real! 

#2- "Do: Feel free to haggle" 
I partially disagree. Haggling when one wants to buy in bulk is fine (20 papayas; 10 lbs of tomatoes; an entire stalk of bananas). But I've recently watched people trying to haggle over one carrot, one bunch of beets, one bag of coffee. Perhaps they read the article too? I don't believe in haggling on small items. The farmer/vendor has a perishable product that costs them money and labor. Haggling over one carrot is not only an insult, it's discouraging to the seller. 

#3- "Do: Buy the bad-for-you pastries."
I disagree. Now mind you, I buy "bad for me" chocolate cake on a regular basis. But instructing folks to buy pastries is simply wrong. Each person needs to evaluate their own health and situation and not be urged to purchase forbidden foods. 

#4- "Do: Flirt with the staff."
Totally disagree! My first reaction was "what the hell?" I quickly checked the name of the author. Katie, I assume female. But she's interviewing Chris. Male? Female? Humph. Flirting - no. Friendly chitchat - ok as long as the seller isn't busy or there are no other customers at the booth waiting their turn. Flirting? No way! Most vendors are too busy and serious about selling to put up with the hassle of flirting. 

#5- "Do: Return stuff if you hate it."
Agree and disagree. While I wouldn't return a food item myself (I simply wouldn't buy it again), I can understand where a person wants to get their money back on a bad product. Take one bite out of a mochi bar and hate it? Ok. Eat one dried banana chip and spit it out? Ok. But returns can be abused. I've seen people bring back limp old veggies and try to claim it was the farmer's fault. Oh, really? I've also has a person bring back a half eaten piece of pie claiming it was terrible and wanted their money back. Sorry Jack, you ate 5 spoonfuls before you noticed that you didn't like it? No refund just because you are sated. One of the coffee growers said that she has had tourists bring back a half used bag of coffee and expect a refund on the "terrible coffee". Seems that their week long vacation was up and they were trying to get a full refund on their unfinished coffee. Nice try - go home. 

#6- "
Don’t: Bother asking before taking a sample of something that’s not labeled as a sample."
Disagree!!! What? Just pick up a lychee and start munching? Grab a carrot and give it a taste? Egads, where's your manners and sensibilities? I'm my book, unless you end up paying for it, it's stealing. 

#7- "
Don’t: Feel obligated to purchase just because you’ve accepted samples."
Agreed. Samples are to introduce you to a product and entice you to buy. But there is no obligation to buy. 

#8- "Don’t: Be afraid to use large bills."
Disagree. Most of our vendors start out with about $20 cash on hand. Some have a bit more. When I ran a farmers market, vendors had to run to me to break those $100 bills into smaller stuff. So I had to keep several hundreds in change to meet the demand, which came primarily from tourists driving through. I guess they used the market as a bank to get smaller bills, since our local bank won't break a bill if you don't have an account there. I've seen many a tourist buy a $1 cup of coffee with a $100 bill. Please people, don't do it! 

#9- "Don’t: Jump other customers in line."
Agreed. Some cultures don't seem to understand the idea of waiting in a line. But most people do. 

So the tally is in.......I generally don't agree with the instructions. It's scary to think that there will be a lot of people following these "rules". 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Hottest 24 Hours So Far

Yesterday I recorded a high of 84° and a low of 68°. This is the highest readings I've had since I started keeping records in the beginning of 2005. 

I have one of those high-low thermometers that I keep in a shaded spot under a lanai roof. I've never moved it from that spot. Each morning at 7 I record the low for that morning and the high of the day before. I reset the thermometer about 9 a.m. after I come in from morning chores. I attempt to keep everything consistent. 


Although I've been keeping my own records for years now, recently I've been posting the data on a website called .......... www.cocorahs.org
The sight is designed for rain data, but by using the daily comments/reports, I can also keep records of daily temps. Because of my nasty habit of misplacing past calendars (where I used to keep daily records), I pleased to be able to use the Cocorahs instead. 

If you happen to visit the website, you may find the "maps" feature interesting. And of course there is the "view data" function. By the way, my station is hi-hi-12

Consider joining the group. It's pretty neat to see what the weather is like in your own area. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Lettuce in Pots

Speaking of container gardening, here's a photo of "L" growing lettuce on her patio table. What a super idea! Around here gardeners are switching away from growing lettuce in the ground where it can easily be contaminated with slugs. 


One of the benefits of this system is that the pots and table can be moved as needed. Another plus is that the plants are at an easy level to access. No bending over. The back appreciates that! 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Beans in an Old Cooler

"S" sent me an email that I thought would be great to pass along. 
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"Isn't this lovely?  One Old-dead-cooler full of purple green beans, about eight plants, plenty enough for a household of one.  Have another container going with the same beans about three/four weeks younger....I have noticed that reliably continuous production in the home garden quickly leads to culinary burn-out, so I'm trying to space things out a bit further..."

______________________________________________________

I agree with "S" that familiarity breeds boredom. A continuous supply of a particular food item tends to result in the ho-hum syndrome. No matter how cute and tasty they were the first couple of weeks, by the fourth week they don't seem so appealing anymore. Culinary burnout is a nice way of saying it. 

By the way, "S" grows things in coolers because she lives on lava where it's impossible to dig a hole. The beauty of using coolers are two fold -- they keep the plant roots cooler so that they don't sun bake, plus they can be easily moved to a different location to follow either the sun or the shade, whichever the plant prefers. Great idea and solution! 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Heat Units & Sweet Potatoes

One of my friends ("S") grew sweet potatoes where it is much cooler than my location. As a result, her sweets took far longer to produce tubers. Plus when she harvested them, they were smaller.

(Harvested at 9 months)

Initially I didn't know why, but I've been researching it. I what I found was that sweet potatoes have a heat unit requirement. They need a certain number of warm days of suitable warmth to grow tubers. 

Sweet potatoes are adapted to the warmth. And they prefer sandy, well drained soil. Plus give them a summer of hot days and warm nights and they'll produce really well. Thus I find my sweets produce better at my seed farm than at my homestead location, primarily because it's much warmer there. I've also noticed another trend. Although I grow them year around here, they produce more and bigger tubers when they are ready to harvest in the fall. Must have something to do with the shortening days. 

From various university websites, I've learned that most sweet potatoes require 1200 heat units. Some varieties require more. A definition of a heat unit for sweets is.... "the daily 24 hour average temperature over 55°". So if my high for yesterday was 80° and the low 60°, then that day's heat units were 15 (80+60=140; 140/2=70; 70-55=15). But I often get days where the high is only 70°, low of 55°. Heat unit is 7. Thus the hotter my days are, the more heat units. (I don't get days over 90°. When it gets into the high 90s it actually slows tuber development according to the websites.) Based upon heat units, I can now see why my sweet potatoes grow way slower during the cooler half of the year. And this is most likely the reason my friend's sweet potatoes takes much longer to develop. 

I was aware that peas and corn have heat unit requirements. Now I've learned that sweets do too. Something for me to keep in mind. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Sweet Potatoes - Where Are They?

"E" wrote to say he was really surprised to discover that his sweet potato tubers weren't right under the plant like it is with Irish potatoes. For most sweet potato varieties, he's right. First of all, sweet potatoes and Irish potatoes are two totally different crops. They aren't related. So I wouldn't compare them. 

There are indeed some sweet potato varieties that will grow most of their tubers right under the mother plant. But I'm finding that most varieties do not. In fact, I have one variety that produces tubers several feet away from the mother plant, making it challenging to harvest them. Truthfully, I don't even try. I just use the greenery as livestock fodder. Occasionally I'll happen upon a tuber or two. 

But I've found some varieties can be quite variable. In the photos below, I pulled out some young plants in order to open a space to plant a moringa seedling. These 3 plants nicely demonstrate the variation I find I this variety. (photos taken on the tailgate of my pickup truck.)

Plant #1.... No start of tuber development yet. With this variety it is not uncommon to find a percentage of plants with zero tubers. This particular plant is just a baby, so it would have had plenty of time still to produce tubers, if it were so inclined. 


Plant #2..... Very young tuber starting close to the base of the plant. 


Plant #3..... Tuber starting away from the base of the plant. 


As I said, this is normal for this variety. I find tubers all over the place. So I can't plant this one in rows in the normal garden. Instead I grow it in wide beds, acknowledging that some will end up well outside the bed area. 


Saturday, August 5, 2017

New Pumpkin

This one's a new one. No, I didn't grow it, but plan to try. This nice looking pumpkin came from a friend of mine. It's a beauty! 


The flesh inside was orange, just like a normal pumpkin. I made a great pumpkin soup with it. Very tasty. And of course I've saved the seeds. I'm hoping they are mature enough to germinate. I'll found out in a week or so. 

Pumpkins can come in all sorts of colors, sizes, and shapes. Some are actually different species and cannot cross pollinate, but I'll talk about that another time. And some taste better than others. Because of my location, I have difficulty growing pumpkins. The top problem for me is the pickleworm moth who lays it's eggs on the immature fruit, causing it to die. I also see problems with powdery mildew, squash borers, and the melon fruit fly. 

I have had moderate success with certain varieties of pumpkins, and have been looking for landrace types that will produce in my location. So I'm eager to give this new one a try. I know nothing of its breeding background so I don't even know if it will breed true to its type. So it will be a surprise to see what sort of pumpkins grow from these seeds. 

I like everything about this pumpkin so far. Nice shape. Nice color. Nice flavor. I hope it can reproduce itself. We shall see. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

New Fungus

Came out today to find something new. It's probably a variety of dog vomit fungus, but it looks all the world like somebody dumped a jar of grated Parmesan cheese on the log edging of one of the gardens. 


The fungus....or whatever else it might be....is growing right up the stems and leaves of the nearby weeds. 


By the way, that's hubby's hand. My arms aren't that hairy! And my nails aren't that clean, either. 


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Planting Pipinola

Pipinolas (known as chayote on the mainland USA) are a good crop for my location. Except for during drought years, I get enough rain for them to grow without the need to irrigate. Yes, a good crop......not only because I eat it myself, but it's good food for the livestock too. I find pips to be rather bland when eaten by themselves, but they are great additions to soups, stews, and stir fries because they absorb the flavor of what they are cooked with. My favorite use for them is as mock apple pie. Hubby loves this better than when made with real apples, and that's saying something! 

I'm slowly planting more pipinola in my semi-shade areas. While it will grow in full sun, it also does well in part shade. Actually, I'm finding that this plant is really happy with moist, shaded roots and a sunny environment for the vines to climb into. 


This week I'm expanding my pipinola patches. Here's what I'm doing: 

Take one large pipinola. It doesn't need to be sprouting yet. As long as the skin has toughened up, it's mature enough to sprout. I will next prepare a spot for planting by turning in a generous amount of compost. Then I'll take the pipinola and push it gently into the surface soil, pucker side down. I don't bury it at all. I just have the pucker make soil contact. 

These pipinolas are being planted where the full sun sometimes shines. So I wish to protect the pips from sun burning. The easiest thing I've tried so far is a piece of old sheet suspended from a stick teepee. I use guava sticks simply because they are readily available and don't break easily. 


I weigh down the edges with either rocks, soil, or grass clippings. I use whatever is on hand. The sheet is enough to block the worst of the sun, help retain moisture, keep the drying wind off. 


Below is a photo of the teepee before I drape a sheet over it. Since I don't need the teepee long, I use a piece of duck tape to hold the sticks together. I used to use wire, then later tried string, but they were more complicated to use. I next tried duct tape and was happier. It's not "sustainably friendly" as homemade twine, but a roll of the stuff could last me years and years. In this photo, the pipinola has started to sprout and it's time to remove the sheet covering. 


I once tried a quad (4 sticks) but discovered that the three stick teepee was simpler and did the job. It's that old KISS principle...keep it simple. This pipinola is doing great and producing two vibes already. 




Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Greens

Greens. We didn't arrive here being big consumers of greens, especially not things that aren't crispy lettuce. Iceberg lettuce - yes. All other lettuces - no. But over time I've developed the habit of adding greens to stir fries, soups, sauces, and smoothies. Ah, sneaky ways to get greens into hubby! 

At first, the greens I turned to were the ones I had been raised with - spinach. Yup, that's it. Not very diversified. Oh yeah, I forgot. Once in awhile in the early springtime Mother would get some fresh picked dandelion for a special salad or watercress for a sandwich addition in place of lettuce. 

Since creating my homestead, I've been experimenting with all sorts of foods new to us. Hubby's not impressed, but he graciously eats small amounts. 

...Lettuces other than iceberg. I can sneak small amounts chopped in with the iceberg. Lettuce leaves in soup are actually good and tasty. 
...Sweet potato greens. The growing tips are tender and tasty. 
...Pipinola. The growing tips make a nice green when cooked with tomatoes and fish sauce. Sshh. Don't tell hubby about the fish sauce. 
...Turnip leaves. Young leaves from plants growing in the semi shade are tender and mild. 
...Radish and daikon leaves. Ditto above. 
...Kale. Ditto. But I find that make grown during the summer months here to be too tough and strongly flavored. 
...Beet leaves and chard. Young, fast growing leaves are best. 
....Chaya. I add a few leaves to whatever I'm cooking. I don't eat this raw. Once cooked and chilled, I use them in place of grape leaves. 
...Chinese bok choy and Chinese cabbages. We've both come to love these, both fresh and cooked. 
...Regular cabbage. Good both fresh and cooked. Love the stuff. 
...Watercress. I only get a chance to forage this occasionally. Hubby won't touch it but I enjoy the slightly bitter greens. 
...Okinawan spinach. I add a few chopped up leaves to fresh salads. They are a bit slimy when cooked so I use them sparingly in soups and stirfries. 
...Amaranth. Good for both fresh salad and as an addition to cooked meals. 
...Onion greens. I'm not fond of them raw, though hubby likes them that way. I use plenty in cooking. 
...Broccoli leaves. The small young leaves go fine in stir fry. I prefer them when they are grown in semi shade with a lot of fertilizer (compost & manure) for fast succulent growth. Older leaves aren't so good. 
...Aztec spinach. The only time I tried this, I found the leaves to be tough and chewy. Next time I will try growing them as I do for broccoli leaves and see if that method improves them. This plant is very easy to grow here.
...New Zealand spinach. Good in stir fry and soups. 
...Malabar spinach. This is slimy when cooked, so I use sparingly and normally only in soups. 
...Herb leaves. I use many different ones in fresh salads, smoothies, teas, and in cooking. Chervil. Celery. Chive. Basil. Dill. Parsley. Rosemary. Mint. Borage. Cilantro. Dandelion. Catnip. Nasturtium. Oregano. Sage. Summer savory. Thyme. Purslane. 
...Tree leaves. These I use for flavoring. Allspice. Clove. Bay. 

The greens that we tried but never developed a liking for is arugula and broccoli raab. 

I still plan to explore many other greens. On the list are:
Lilikoi, cowpea, okra, moringa, winged bean, zuike taro, other taros, tanier spinach, orach, baby bean leaves, baby pea leaves and young tendrils, baby pigeon pea leaves, bottle gourd and pumpkin young tips, young quinoa, stinging nettle. And there are herbs I haven't tried growing yet. 

I've heard that young papaya leaves are edible. Same for some hibiscus. Noni. 

There are plenty of other greens out there. They're just not common to my thinking. But I'm gradually exploring the world of greens.