Saturday, July 31, 2010

Seeds swap package!

Usually the mail does not excite me, because there's always bills in the box. However yesterday, I saw a bubble wrap envelope in the mailbox and was thrilled to see that my seed swap with Food Garden Kitchen has arrived! Anyone interested in a seed swap should check out their blog, they have a lot of seeds!!

Since today was a perfect day, 81F, I decided to spend the afternoon in the garden planting the seeds for a fall harvest. I planted the carrots and greek basil seeds that we got from the swap. I can't wait until they start germinating. I planted snow peas the other day, and they have already germinated and little seedlings are forming. Sa-weet!

Dear Rain,

Dear Rain,

You say you will make an appearance tomorrow. I hope you do. I really miss you.



Nothing makes me smile more than when I'm out in the garden and I pull back some leaves and find a new discovery. "Yes!" Look at what is finally growing!! Bell peppers baby! Finally! Grow baby, grow!

I finally figured out why people love gardening so much. For me, and probably for lots of other gardeners, it's that euphoria and excitement that one feels when they see food or blooms growing from a little seed they planted months ago. I can't believe I wasted 35 years of my life by not having my own garden! Okay, granted, the last decade I lived in apartment buildings with mean landlords that didn't let us grow things on the fire escape. Yeah, okay, it's a fire hazard, I get it mean landlady. Now that's finally in the past, and today we have a backyard that is our big dirt playground!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Garden: Before and After

Every time I go outside to work in the garden, I get so amazed at how much we've accomplished in just 5 short months! Here is the space we picked out for the garden back in November. We chose this spot because we knew we wanted a 25 x 25 ft lot for the garden. The best place to put it was behind our garage, because of the size we wanted and for it's proximity to the house. We are lucky to have a big yard in Staten Island. It's not too common to have such a big space. Look to the left of our garage, see all those Condos? They all have tiny backyards! That is typical of the area. What sold us on this house was the big, big yard. We almost didn't care what the house looked like, we saw the yard and was like "We'll take it!" We lived years in Brooklyn and never had a yard, so this was a dream come true.

In March, when the ground started to thaw out, we started working on removing the sod, and digging the holes for the 4x4 posts. Removing all the sod and digging the holes took 2 full days! We cemented each post in the ground and then installed a picket fence all the way around.

The picket fence was a lot of work, it took about a week to install, because we had to work around our work schedule. So we could only work on it a few hours a day.

Then we tilled the soil and added composted manure, and peat moss.

This is the garden today in all it's glory! It's hard to believe we did all of this in one season! It feels amazing to be growing our own healthy organic food!

Closeup of the tomato plants. I can't wait to grow other varieties next year.

How to water the garden with rain barrel water.

I'm almost embarrassed to show this photo. We have 2 rain barrels, and currently we don't have one of those neat pumps that you attach to the spigot to pump out the water. With rain barrels, unfortunately, gravity has to be your best friend. That's how the water comes out of the barrel, or you buy a pricey barrel pump. I've been eyeing the one at Clean Air Gardening, they have a battery operated pump for $49.99. You attach the pump to a garden hose, and voila, enough water pressure to empty out the barrel to water your plants.

I have to save my pennies to buy this pump, since we've already overspent on the garden this year. We easily spent over $1,000 on start up costs. Hey, a picket fence for a 25x25 lot is not cheap! So for now, this is how I water the plants with water from the rain barrel. I fill up these Arizona bottles and this bucket and wheelbarrow it over to the garden. The garden is a good 160 feet away from the house and rain barrels. I swear my neighbors think we are weird, but I can't pass up free rain water! Since we pay so much for tap water!
For those of you who have rain barrels, how do you water your plants? Do you empty it into a watering can? Use a hose. Use a pump?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Different Size Tomatoes

When I go out into the garden, I've been picking the tomatoes that are starting to get a blush of color. What I noticed on the Romas is that some of the smaller Romas are turning red so fast? They are not even full size yet. While the larger ones are taking its time. Look at the difference in size in these tomatoes. Any idea what is causing this?

Herb Garden Kit: Update

Ok, Burpee. You have redeemed yourself! I wrote about how I got this cool herb garden kit and hoped for the best. I had a bad time trying to grow herbs from seed. Not anymore! Feast your eyes on this! Finally, Greek Oregano, Italian Parsley, Genovese Basil, and Chives at my fingertips!! The basil grew first and so fast, it got big in no time. Genovese Basil, you are my new love! Look how much bigger it is than the other herbs! Wow! I think what did the trick was this peat moss soil mixture that came with this kit. It was a perfect mixture for these seeds to germinate. Thanks Burpee for coming through this time and germinating, I'm sorry I was so mad at you at the beginning of the season! Oh, and get this, I was looking at the Burpee website, and this is what they say about the container. "The biodegradable oval container is made from compressed plant material (rice hulls) and decomposes within 36 months or less when discarded." Wow, now that is cool!

A Girl and Her Garden is having a CSN giveaway. A lucky reader will get a $45 gift card. Just visit her blog and follow the entry rules! Good luck!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Seed Exchange?

This first year of gardening has been a fun experiment. And I quickly realized a very expensive one too. I lost count on how much we have spent, since a lot of it was start up costs. For example, rental of the industrial tiller, wooden picket fencing, rabbit guard, soil amendments, 20 bags of composted manure, 15 bags of peat moss, cement, 4x4 posts, galvanized wire, 200ft garden hose, shovels, hand tools, gardening gloves, pots, flowering plants, fruit plants and vegetable seeds etc, etc. I mean we had to start from scratch since this was our first garden. We didn't even own a hand trowel!!

So when I read around the garden blogosphere that there are fall crops too, I was like, "Whattttt???? People do this again for the fall??". LOL! Growing up, I remember as a kid my dad only having a summer garden, I don't recall him ever doing a second round of gardening for the fall. The thought of spending more money on the garden this year is definitely draining. So I thought, let me find some ways to save money, I read around the blogs people exchanging seeds. Heck, I grew all my vegetable plants for the summer, I guess I can do that for the fall too! OMG, am I really saying this? Seedlings taking over my life all over again! haha

I found a garden blogger that was doing a seed exchange, so I am putting together my first seed exchange, and I am so excited. I'm exchanging my seeds for some Parisian Carrots, Iceberg, Greek Basil and Green Zebra tomatoes. Score! Here are my little packets getting ready to go out in the mail tomorrow.

I want to try the carrots and iceberg for my fall crops. Does anyone know, can you do tomatoes as a fall crop?

Is anyone else interested in doing a seed exchange. This is what I have.

Blue Lake Pole Beans
Detroit Dark Red Beets
Roma Tomatos
Melting Sugar Snow Peas
Chinese Mustard Greens

I also have Long Island Cheese Squash (pumpkin) and Acorn Squash that I saved from squash from my in-laws farm. I am not sure if all the seeds will germinate, but I can provide 20 squash seeds each for you to experiment.

Finally, storm clouds!

This past Sunday, we finally got some much needed rain. These storm clouds was a sight for sore eyes! It hasn't rained in weeks, at least not in Staten Island. Our friends in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens boasted about summer showers, but it never seemed to be over Staten Island. A conspiracy I tell ya! We were hoping for a good drenching but we did not get as much rain as I would have liked, it only rained for 30 minutes, but enough to mostly fill our rain barrels. Full rain barrels waters our garden for 3 WHOLE DAYs. Yee haw! Despite the fact that we've had very little rain this month, we have collected for the year so far, 530 gallons of water!!
We don't have the rain barrels side by side like in this photo anymore. We moved the other rain barrel to the back of the house to catch the rain from the back gutters. We've been trying to conserve water as much as possible. When we received our first water / sewer bill from the city, we were shocked to find out that for 6 months we were paying over $600! We were shocked to see that we were using over 300 gallons of water a day? Could this be right? How could this be? We factored in that a lot of it must be the fact that we were watering the garden with the hose. This is because it hasn't rained much. Wow, waste of water! So we thought of ways we could conserve water and save money. In addition to purchasing the rain barrels, we invested in a new shower head. We bought an eco-friendly WaterPik shower head that has a slower trickle of water. The water comes out at a lower pressure. It took a while to get used to but it helped to know that this was going to conserve water and save us money, and help the environment. Water is precious, and shouldn't be wasted!

We recently got our new quarterly water bill, and we are happy to report that with the rain barrels and the new shower head, we managed to cut our water consumption in half! We now use only 165 gallons of water a day. Woo hoo! Conserving rocks! And even better, our water bill was cut in half! Instead of $300 for 3 months, the bill was $160! Going green is saving green!

Pole bean plant is really taking over the stick trellis.

I was out in the garden and noticed that the pole beans have really taken over the homemade trellises. You can barely see the branches anymore. Nice! However, the plants have pretty much stopped producing any more beans. (sigh) We didn't get much of a harvest, we only picked a total of 27 beans. I'm thinking the heat may have been an issue with these plants producing so little. The plants look too pretty to pull up, so I'm going to leave them in for now. I have a few new pole bean plants growing on the other side of the garden. They are about 4 inches tall. I'll have to start some more in pots for the fall harvest.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Biggest bird I've ever seen in my backyard...Ever!

The other day, my husband was outside in the yard, doing some weedwacking. My cellphone rings, and he's on the line. "Honey, look at the driveway, but don't make any noise." Okay, I said, a bit worried. I peer out the window, and I see this gigantic bird. "Whoa, what is that?" I said? Okay, I know I live on an island, but I live on Staten Island, not some tropical paradise, so to see a bird like this, it's totally rare. My husband said it looks like a heron. I've only seen herons in Florida. When he came back into the house, he did a Google search, and we saw pictures of blue herons. This bird looks like a baby blue heron! On further research, apparently there is a Blue Heron Park right in Staten Island about 5 miles from our house. It's a wildlife sanctuary with lots of ponds, and home to some blue herons. How cool is that?
I hope to see this bird often in our yard!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

First of the Tomatos!

This week, we saw lots of red in the garden! Jackpot! We started picking away. Unfortunately, about a dozen of these beauties had blossom end rot, which is a major bummer. But we did get some good ones.
Here's our harvest! These tomatos were perfect Roma size and not scarred at all. We gave this harvest to our neighbors who generously gave my hubby some 2 by 4s that he didn't need. He saw hubby making a garden tool bench for me, and thought we could use the extra wood! Nice neighbors!

I'm a sucker for advertising!

The one thing I really hate about gardening is the mosquitos in my back yard. Unfortunately for us, behind the road right behind our property is an inlet of water and marshlands! Mosquito heaven! So when I saw a commercial for this new product by OFF for a clip on mosquito repellent, I was intrigued. The commercial showed this couple enjoying their backyard wearing these clip on fans and the mosquitos flying away from them. I went to Home Depot and bought this OFF clip on to try. Okay, I should have known that this is too good to be true. This did not work.... AT ALL! I turned on the fan, clipped this to my pants pocket and went outside just as the packaging said. It didn't deter any mosquitos from biting me, in fact in the time it took me to water the garden, I was bitten 10 times. The mosquitos even flew near the fan and was not affected at all. Dang! $8.50 down the drain!

Does anyone have any good bug repellents they use that actually work? I've been using Cutter spray but it just doesn't work either! For all those gardeners out there with a lot more experience than I, what do you do to keep the mosquitos away? Do you use bug zappers? Citronella? Bug Spray? Any advice would be so appreciated. The mosquitos make being outside in my backyard so unbearable! I find myself giving up and running back into the house!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Grapevines: before and after

This is what the grapevines looked like when we planted them. The first photo, you can barely see it, but it was literally a twig.

Here is a closeup of the grapevine. We ordered our grape plants from Gurney's and when it came in the mail, it was just a stick with roots. We planted it and hoped for the best.

Here is the grapevine today, 5 months later! Soon after we planted the vines, it immediately started sprouting leaves. Then every passing week, it got bigger and bigger. When we planted these, the hubby put cemented these wooden posts in the ground and screwed galvanized wire to them for the vines to grow on. We've been training the vines to follow the wire. I can't wait until next year to see if the plants produce any fruit!!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Canning my new addiction?

If I knew that growing cucumbers would be this easy, I would have planted a lot more of these beauties in my garden. Our 5 cucumber plants have been producing so many cucumbers and we are so thrilled. Look at this vine! It totally climbed up the garden fence.

Check out this beauty. It was so pretty, that I didn't even want to pick it. But I did.
So far, we have harvested a total of 21 cucumbers! Awesome! And we decided to make them into... Pickles!

I always was afraid to pickle anything, because in my mind I always thought it was terribly difficult. However, making dill pickles was SO easy! So easy in fact that now I think I'm addicted! This recipe said to wait 10 days before trying the pickles, but who can wait that long?? LOL. I let the sliced cukes soak in the brine for 2 hours and then tasted it. O M G, the BEST pickles EVER!!! For seasoning I used dill, garlic, mustard seed, peppercorns, red pepper flakes, habanero pepper, sugar, vinegar and water. Better than any pickle I've ever bought at a store. By far!

This is definitely a year of firsts for me. First time with my own garden, first time pickling, and first time canning! I can't believe I didn't have a backyard before, this is way too much fun! This Ball canning utensil set, if you don't have it, you have to get it. It's so useful and the tong it comes with to pick up the hot jars works so well!

Does anyone know where you can buy cases of canning jars either online or at a store that is reasonably priced? We bought these jars at Michael's craft store for $1.99 for a quart jar. Pricey, if you ask me. We saw the same thing at A.C. Moore. Unfortunately, where we live, there aren't many places to buy canning jars. You'd think it would be something you can find in NYC, but nope, not really.

I put these babies in a hot water bath for 15 minutes and took them out and let it cool. And low and behold, when it was cool, it was indeed vacuum sealed!

Now, If I can only wait the 10 days before we open these....

Thursday, July 22, 2010

This is what the hosta used to look like

I realized after posting my "dead zone" photos, that I didn't show before photos. I found a few photos of the hostas we had growing in the backyard. These photos were taken in early July before all the relentless 90+ degree heat waves. The previous owner of this house planted this nice row of hostas. Look how green it was! To see how it looks now, you can view previous post.
It was so healthy looking and made a nice border from our patio to the grass.

It also bloomed 2 different kinds of purple flowers. But alas, no more. With the heat wave and no rain in sight, we only watered the plants that we planted this year, since they needed the water. We figured that the perennials could probably withstand the heat wave. Gulp... we hope. Also, since we are trying to conserve water, in addition to new plantings, we only watered the vegetable garden and grape plants. Anything edible got water, and any new plantings like the rose bushes got water. Unfortunately for everything else, it was survival of the fittest....

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Welcome to the Dead Zone

We have been having the worst heat wave in quite some time. I have already lost count of how many 90+ degree days of heat, hot and humidity. And there is no relief in sight. Even worse, we've had very little rainfall to speak of. So everything is pretty much withering in this torching heat, despite trying to water the garden and plants twice a day. Here is poor Holly plant, all the leaves have turned brown!

Our once beautiful hostas are now tan and brown too. Crispy, to say the least!

Poor fern, it didn't know what hit him.

Last, but not least, poor little rhubarb plant is being decimated by a bug and the heat. I hope it will survive!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Herb Garden!

I was so excited to see that within the cool house warming gift that our Aunt Dominica gave us, there was also an herb garden! In previous posts, I complained that the herbs that I tried to grow from seed, where a dismal failure. So getting this herb kit was a nice surprise. Maybe, just maybe I can grow herbs afterall. Hey it's worth a try! This herb garden kit is also by Burpee, so here's a chance for them to redeem themselves with me.
The kit came with these peat pellets. It came with 4 of them, but we only needed 3.

Just add warm water.

Then presto! It becomes soil for the plants. Stay tuned to see what germinates!

Monday, July 19, 2010

It's Still Monday, Harvest Photo

I've been sick these last couple of days, so I've been avoiding gardening. My husband has taken over on the watering of the plants, harvesting and cooking. (Help!) This is what was harvested the other day. We are getting such an amazing crop of cucumbers! To date, we have harvested 19 cukes! I am so thrilled! He also picked one red Roma tomato, but to my disappointment, there was end rot on this little 'mato. Dang it!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Pepper plants getting bigger!

Our bell pepper plants are getting bigger but still no blooms yet. The good news is that the heat is not destroying them. I'm going to be so excited when I see the first peppers forming. I'm already dreaming about stuffed peppers.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Feeling Cheated

We bought this bag of composted manure from Home Depot, and noticed that the bag contained a lot of little rocks. I guess that is normal. But look at the rock I found in the bag! I put my gardening glove next to the rock so you can see the scale of it. What the heck? I have enough rocks in my garden already!
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