Friday, December 30, 2022

Year-end harvest totals; looking forward to 2023

Family matters have prevented any chance of maintaining The Proud Garden this year, so I end 2022 with the harvest count (which wasn't bad at all given the circumstances).

The 2 pumpkins above were volunteers from a mystery pumpkin that I had acquired the year before at my father-in-law's. I threw some of the seeds in the garden and up they came. Still have no idea what variety but the vines grew like crazy despite neglect. They made an excellent substitute for Libby's pumpkin puree though. Tasty pumpkin pie on the table and a Thanksgiving saved!

2022 totals: 111 pounds

Tayberry: 1 lb. 11 oz.
Bon Odori cukes: 3 lbs. 8 oz.
Cayenne peppers: 12 oz.
Yellow pattypan: 1 lb. 10 oz.
Clemson okra: 2 lbs. 13 oz.
Cherry tomatoes: 1 lb. 8 oz.
Tomatillo: 3 lbs. 1 oz.
Nashi pears: 10 lbs.
Mystery pumpkins: 19 lbs. 10 oz.

Black Magic: 44 lbs.
Sublima: 10 lbs. 12 oz.
Uva fragola: 11 lbs. 11 oz.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Heavy rains, violent storms, hail, temperatures in the scorching highs and then sudden lows - we've had it all this summer and it ain't over yet. It has been a real challenge in the garden, enough that I'm considering giving it a rest the following year. But knowing myself, that won't be 100% true and there will have to be something growing somewhere even if it's in a simple vase. Taking stock of what worked and what didn't, I figured it's time to come up with a strategy so I can work smarter, not harder.

The Good

Cucurbits. The pattypans, bi-color "Zephyr" summer squash, uchiki kuri and even the tiny cucamelons pulled through despite the wild weather, voracious slugs and constant presence of powdery mildew. As long as I can keep up with slaying the slugs, the summer squashes should be okay until the temperatures begin to drop. Pattypans are not well-known in Italy; my husband thinks they look like something a Hobbit would grow.

Blackberries, pattypan, cucamelons

Also doing good are the Sublima and Black Magic grapes. I pruned excess vines and leaves in early summer to allow for more sunlight and air circulation. I never have the heart to thin clusters (for bigger grapes) but I reckon more is better. What we can't eat will go into the compost bin.

Sublima Seedless and Black Magic

The Bad

Stinkbugs! They've become more of a nuisance as each year goes by. Last year they damaged the majority of the nashi pears, inserting their needle-like mouths into young fruit. This year they took a liking to the tomatoes and I've tossed more into the compost bin than onto my plate.

The damage is called 'cloudy spot'. Doesn't matter if the toms are still green or ripe, stinkbugs feed on both. It's time to throw in the towel on large tomatoes; they're harder to cultivate up here in the mountains and not worth the trouble anymore.

The Ugly

The stinkbug should've been the ugly poster child but the blackberries don't look all that pretty this year. It's very possible that I have the beginning of a problem with eriophyd mites. In short, they're itty bitty nasties not visible to the naked eye. At first I thought stinkbugs were the culprit but I found information regarding a commercial fruit grower in northern Italy who experienced mite (acari) damage in their blackberry bushes. The mites, for whatever reason, seem only to feed on thornless blackberry plants.

I should just stick with thorny berry bushes. They're a pain to harvest but nothing bothered the tayberries or gooseberries this year.

2021 totals:

Fava beans: 5 lbs.
Mara de Bois: 7 lbs. 7 oz.
Framberry: 1 lb. 14 oz.
Tayberry: 1 lb. 10 oz.
Red gooseberry: 10 oz. Blackberry: 1 lb. 7 oz.
Cucamelon: 1 lb. 4 oz.
Parisian Pickling: 5 lbs. 8 oz.
Pattypan: 4 lbs. 12 oz.
Uchiki kuri: 6 lbs. 10 oz.
Zephyr squash: 3 lbs. 11 oz.
Cherokee Purple: 1 lb. 6 oz.
Costoluto Genovese: 11 lbs.
Paul Robeson: 5 oz.

Black Magic: 30 lbs. 11 oz.
Sublima: 10 lbs. 1 oz.
Topazia: 1 lb. 5 oz.
Uva fragola: 1 lb. 7 oz.

Friday, July 2, 2021

The garden in July

The second half of the year already! At this point in the season it is now a waiting game in the vegetable garden: waiting for fruits or vegetables to mature and ripen, hoping for much needed rain, and praying for the summer heat to be done and over with. We haven't experienced the heat like elsewhere in Italy at lower altitudes but I expect that to change in July and August. I took these photos yesterday during my morning inspection of the garden.

The blackberries (thornless variety) should be ready to pick from August to September. This year I'm freezing harvests for smoothies and mixed berry pies.

The row of Peruvian ground cherry/poha berry plants are really growing slow in this space. I have others growing elsewhere that are 3 times bigger but still no flowers. I've read that it takes 6 months from sowing to harvest so with a little good fortune, something will eventually come of them.

Patty pans and Zephyr summer squash (pictured above in top photo). Like last year, the patty pans are taking their time finding their groove. The bi-color Zephyrs on the other hand, are already producing. I have most of these growing vertically on stakes to maximize space, and I hand-pollinate new baby squash every morning for a better success rate (the bees are not so much this year).

Cherokee Purple and Paul Robeson tomatoes recently started to set fruit. I know we need rain, but thankfully the sparse precipitation means less chance of the plants getting fungal diseases. I always worry about this if it really pours early on in the season but so far, so good.

I predict that we'll be harvesting at least 50 pounds of grapes this year. The white varieties that we have (Topazia and Sublima) put out plenty of flower clusters; same goes for the Black Magic grapes that did very well the previous year. Grape jelly is on the list of things to make but the harvest is really so much that it's impossible to give enough of them away.

Lastly, the bed containing the mini-variety watermelons (Yellow Cutie and Piccolina) and okra. Both took forever to develop in the greenhouse but once it was warm enough and safe (no more slugs) to set them out, they do seem to have grown some. I'm experimenting with training the watermelons to grow on the wire fencing for the most part but also allowing some to sprawl on the ground.

Today's high: 29°C / 84°F

Monday, June 28, 2021

Super Poppy 'Heartbeat'

Is there such a thing as Poppyholics Anonymous? Apparently I can't get enough of them and here's another that I grew this year. 'Hearbeat' is bred from Oriental poppies and therefore comes back each spring. Touted a 'Super Poppy' due to its weather-resistant characteristics (they hold up well during inclement weather), I started it from bare root stock 3 springs ago. The first year nothing came up and I thought it was just bad stock. But then the year after it sprouted leaves and grew into a good-sized plant and put out a couple of flowers. This year it definitely found its groove, producing a half dozen gorgeous blooms.

The orange-red color in the photo is not true to Heartbeat's real hue. It's more like a red, brownish-orange and they really stand out in the flower garden. The flower stems are incredibly sturdy, as so are the petals when compared to other poppies with delicate, whisper-thin petals.

Above: before an impending rainstorm. Below: after the storm. I figured there had to be some truth to the claim of being weather-resistant but I wasn't expecting this. The salmon-colored Icelandic poppies received a beating but Heartbeat stands tall and strong. As a cut flower the blooms keep longer too, so this is another plus. Anticipating the garden catalogs in fall for next year's papaver fix!

Friday, June 11, 2021

Amazing Grey

All of the poppies growing in my flower bed (Oriental and Iceland) were started as nursery plants or rootstock, so growing Amazing Grey from seed was a nice little experiment to learn from. Honestly, if I had known how easy it is to grow this species of poppy (papaver rhoeas), I might've included them on my grow list each year.

Amazing Grey is simply gorgeous. The subtle shades of lavender, grey-lavender, grey-white, blue-grey of the petals are unique. Blooms range in size from 1 - 2 inches / 2.5 - 5 cm in diameter. I've seen photos of Amazing Greys that were maybe twice the size of mine so I can't be sure if it was an improved cultivar.

In late winter I scattered seeds in an 18-inch pot; seedlings quickly emerged but it took until mid-spring for them to really develop. Daily temperatures were beginning to warm up but it still got cool at night (around the 50's fahrenheit). Not willing to risk a sudden cold snap, I covered the pot at the end of the day with an overturned leaf bag.

Naturally I'm saving the seed pods for next year's sowing. The only change would be to sow in early spring to give seedlings a better chance at developing.

Monday, May 31, 2021

A whole lot of stuff going on

The first ripe Mara de Bois strawberry

Sowing seeds, potting up, taking cuttings, weeding, transplanting starts, feeding, fertilizing, putting up protection on cold nights, digging holes and even drilling holes - May is always such a busy month!

Until I get everything into the ground and the irrigation system up and running, the most that I'm able to show is all in these pictures taken a week ago. Fortunately the weather has been cooperative with nights in the mid-teens and days in the low 20°s (celsius). Sunny to partially sunny days and light winds maintain these cool conditions, so I haven't seen a big growth spurt in the more heat-loving plants.

Mercado de Paris carrots (small, round, sweet variety) grown in an 18-inch container. Netting to keep out cabbage moths.

In the greenhouse: pattypan squash, Yellow Cutie and Piccolina watermelon, okra, pak choi, cucamelon (Mexican sour gherkin), and echinacea seedlings.

Like I said, I also drill holes! In 5-gallon buckets that is. There's something liberating about going into my husband's workspace and pawing through his carpentry tools. One day I will learn how to use the table saw, or better yet, chainsaw!

Cracked open a dried up passion fruit, threw it in some dirt and this happens.

Started way too many physalis peruviana (poha berry) from seed and hope they'll take to our mountain climate. I'd say the germination was 100% with all of the little seedlings that popped up.

This is Bartzella, my first Itoh peony grown from rootstock. Only in its 2nd year but it produced 3 blooms (last year I got only leaves). Now I understand why all the fuss over peonies; they're beautiful, elegant, and just breathtaking. This one has a lemony scent; I'll be potting up to a larger, permanent container as there is no space to put it into the ground.

Lastly, zephyr bi-color summer squash and Red Kuri seedlings. Waiting for them to fill out a bit before transplanting into the ground. I'll be staking and growing the zephyrs vertically to allow space for the Red Kuri to develop and sprawl underneath.

Next month: putting the last of the seedlings out and hopefully, the first harvest of fall-sown broadbeans.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Lawn renovation to start the new season

Ready for hosting outdoor summer grilling

What a way to start off the growing season. Old grass, weeds, crabgrass, and dead spots (from the dogs peeing in the same place) had been gradually taking its toll on the front yard. We knew that spring would be the best time for a project like this, so the last week of April (typically a vacation week in Italy as April 25 and May 1 are national holidays) was spent getting down and dirty.

An order for 50 (16x60-inch) sod rolls was to be delivered on April 27th, but we didn't start tearing out the old lawn until a few days before. Using a flat-edged digging shovel, the MotH did the brunt of the work, shearing segments of lawn about a square yard at a time. Grass roots are more tenacious than I could've imagined. We also tried using a pitchfork to dig up clumps, but that resulted in more work to shake off the dirt. Hours were spent tapping chunks of grass with a trowel to get out as much dirt as possible.

After 2 long days, the major part of the yard is cleared and raked smooth. The last section was left temporarily for the dachshund to have someplace to do his business...

Delivery day. Weighing in at about 20 pounds each, MotH carried each roll up (they were deposited on a pallet just outside the garage). There were 37 instead of the 50 rolls ordered. Fortunately, after laying all of them down, MotH calculated that we only needed 2 more. Instead of making a fuss, it was agreed that we would pick up the rolls ourselves (and also the potting soil that they had forgotten), and be reimbursed for any rolls that we did not need.

Sod rolls: 50 x 7.50€
Potting soil (45 liters) for lawn use: 2 x 7.50€
Delivery: 55€
Total: 445 euros
Credit: 82.50€

A nice bonus of redoing the lawn: expanding the flower section even if by a few inches. Next project: digging up and repositioning bulbs, dividing the poppies and what the heck, maybe even clearing everything out and redesigning the whole flower bed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Egg shell seed tray update, fall berry bushes, compost tea

Left image: So the egg shell tray experiment earlier this month was a partial success, with 9 out of 10 pak choi egg cells germinating. This isn't the most efficient way to grow seedlings, but I imagine that I'll have quite a collection of egg shells by the time spring rolls around next year!

And on the right, to get ahead of the fall online ordering rush, I sent for a Mojo Berry mulberrry bush and a yellow raspberry. When the pandemic had us all on lockdown in March, garden nurseries were either at full stop or backlogged for weeks in processing orders. I hope we never have to go through that again.

This year I also tried using compost tea for the first time. Take several generous scoops of compost, add water, allow to sit for a day or two, and pour off the liquid into a watering can.! The amount of growth in everything that I used it on was utterly amazing. For instance, my potted kaffir lime tree. Note the leaves to the left: these are normal size, the same size when I first bought the tree. To the right are the leaves after fertilizing with compost tea. I gave only one application each to the kaffir lime and calamandino, and they look very healthy.

Cosmos varieties and Lilliput zinnia

The small harvests these days consist of the last of the tomatoes, pickling cucumbers, and Mara de Bois strawberries. Not a bad total yield for this year given a late start in June. Tuscan kale and kohlrabi seedlings are in the ground for winter, but the real stars now are the flowers as they continue bloom after bloom. I get so OCD about deadheading spent flowers that they don't stand a chance of reseeding until I say so.

Crimson Emperor nasturtium

Monday, September 7, 2020

August & September in the garden

Chopping down the mirabelle

Since my husband aka MotH does not read my garden blog I'm just going to come right out and say it: I'm glad he's back at work! It has been quite the extended summer what with his smartworking from home during lockdown and then the 4-day work weeks when the company finally reopened. But when the office issued a mandatory August off to use up accumulated vacation time, I knew I'd never have time to properly sit down and blog. I would never have my own space!

That's not to say August went by without incident. On the contrary, it was a big deal to get rid of the mirabelle plum. For several years it had been plagued with aphids each season and failed to produce healthy fruit, so we both decided it best to chop it down. I will miss the small yellow plums that reminded us of northeastern France (that's where we first learned of mirabelles), but what to put in its place is still up in the air.

The vegetable yields are off this year since it was only warm enough to transplant in the 2nd half of June: moderate crop of tomatoes, zero zucchini (lebanese), a handful of Parisian pickling cucumbers, and just over a pound of patty pan squash. There were loads of male flowers on the zucchini and patty pan, but hardly any females. I can't say if it had anything to do with the weather (which stopped being hot at the end of August), but all I saw was a lot of powdery mildew and slugs in the garden.

Large patty pan squash bushes. Spread is about 2' with vine length at 3'.

Now, in September, I'm in fall garden mode and hope to get good germination with some new (and old) seeds in my stash. These egg shell trays are something that I'd seen on garden blogs and am giving them a try. If the chard and turnip leaves don't come up (old seeds), the whole lot will simply go into the compost bin.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Mara de Bois strawberry stand

The Mara de Bois strawberries are doing so splendidly that Man of the House solved the problem of limited space by building a stand to start stacking up the planters.  What's nice is that some of the wood is upcycled from an Ikea mattress support board, and the paint was leftover from last year's dog house color.

I am completely sold on Mara's.  They do well in planters and so far haven't presented any health issues.  I've already potted up 10 'daughters' out of 22 plants, and as you can see, they're already putting out blossoms of their own.

Information online says that you can sever the daughters from the mother plant at 4-6 weeks, but as I potted them with roots already growing out of the base, I cut them loose after 10 days.  All of them did suffer (wilted) for a day or two, but after watering them well and placed into a cool, shaded area, they sprung back to life in no time.  The daughters are putting out new leaves (I snip off the blossoms, it's pointless to leave them on at the current growth stage) and I feed them a weak solution of fish emulsion every week.

I thought Mara de Bois produced small to medium-sized berries and they do for the most part, but every so often I get a fairly large one like this. In shortcakes, turned into jam, or eaten fresh are the ways I've been using them. Picked when perfectly ripe (I actually smell them before picking), Mara's are sublime. If I can harvest at least half a dozen large ones at once, dipping them in a variety of chocolate will be the next thing to try.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

June hailstorms and a visit to a berry farm

Black and red mulberries (left), tayberries (right)

It seems like the umpteenth time this month that I've had to push, pull, drag or carry potted plants and strawberry containers under protective cover in anticipation of yet another hailstorm. Late spring/early summer is proving to be a test of patience with relentless downpours and fluctuating temperatures. With weather like this, I won't risk doing any transplanting only to have the young veggies and flowers pummeled into the ground. Oh 2020, why did you have to be such a pain in the arse!

Rant over, now to these gorgeous berries that we picked up at a berry farm last week. Searching for info on mulberry trees, I came across Azienda Agricola Martina Biraghi and was thrilled to discover that the farm grows and sells not ony mulberry fruit, but a host of other berries as well. I got the 2 varieties of mulberries (top and bottom on the left) and a couple of tayberries to supplement the small harvest from my tayberry bush at home. I've never had fresh mulberries before and these were sweet and delicious. The tayberries taste like raspberries (they are a cross between a blackberry and red raspberry) so I cooked them down with a bit of sugar into a syrup for pancakes and ice cream.

And the mulberries? Well if there's one thing that immediately comes to mind, it has to be the famous granita served in Sicily! Gelso (mulberry) granita and brioche con tuppo (a sweet dough roll with a top) is a breakfast classic. I made brioche using my sourdough starter and it has been granita, brioche, and whipped cream at any hour of the day.

Year-end harvest totals; looking forward to 2023

Family matters have prevented any chance of maintaining The Proud Garden this year, so I end 2022 with the harvest count (which wasn't ...