Kitchen Counter Economics http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com Wed, 17 Jan 2018 21:39:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.9 So, what do I really want, garden-wise? http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3916 Wed, 17 Jan 2018 21:39:43 +0000 http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3916 Hello again. Now,as I sit here, looking out the window, with the snow all around, my thoughts hover closely on this spring, summer and fall and what I want to do in the garden (as do we all). And like all projects that are really long-term, it’s difficult to think so many months ahead, not knowing what the weather is going to be like, what sots of problems we might meet and so on.

But, that’s what we have to do, because the best way to end up with what you want to go into the fall and winter with in the garden is to start thinking about it now. I’ll use lavender as my example because that’s what I’ve got pictures of.

Last year, we started growing a lot more (or, what seemed to me to be a lot more) lavender in one of the beds out at the farm. I wanted plants to sell and lavender to pick. I’d ordered lavender plugs (baby plants) from wholesalers, but again, I didn’t know how popular they’d be or how they’d do. And frankly, we ended up selling a whole lot of lavender plants and had a few of each sort in the bed come summer and the light bulb went off in my head at the beginning of August: I’d better start thinking about 2018: if I didn’t want to have to order more plants, I’d better take cuttings right then.

Which is what I did. Now, I couldn’t just hack up the plants because the mother plants might not survive without some twigs and leaves of their own, but I managed to get about 25 cuttings of Lavender Provence, which I dipped in rooting hormone and stuck into a big tub of a mix of vermiculite and perlite(tm) and stuck in the shade under a tree (very high tech method and as long as you keep an eye on the rain and how moist the tub is, almost foolproof). And they sat happily in the shade for the rest of the summer and into the fall.

Now, once you get into the fall, I had a choice: leave them out under the tree (which is something I’ve done with cuttings from evergreens and as long as we get enough snow and it stays cold enough for them to stay under snow, it works well) until spring and pot them up then, OR stick them in the unheated greenhouse we have at the back of our house and pot them up when the sun starts hitting the greenhouse in January. Which is (since you are seeing these photos right now) exactly what I did. With an unheated greenhouse, it’s not warm enough for the cuttings to grow a LOT, but they are growing a little bit and as things get warmer, they will grow a good deal more and they will branch out and I will nip the growing ends a bit here and there and they will make very nice little plants to put on the sales table come the end of April. My only job at this point, is to keep them reasonably moist (but not wet, more on that in a second) and they will pretty much care for themselves until I get a couple of moments to transplant them into four inch pots.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, ‘Well, how big can they BE, really? She just whacked off a twig and stuck it into the tub late in the summer and it got cold eight weeks later.’

So, I dug up one of the cuttings and as you can see, the amount of roots at the end of that cutting is basically the same length as the cutting itself. Pretty impressive considering that it has not been doing much of anything since October. And all I’ve had to do is keep it just moist enough (seriously, I think I spray that tub once a week on a sunny day) so that the plants don’t dry out. The enemy of things in an unheated greenhouse at this time of the year, to be blunt are too much moisture and cold temperatures. Under standard winter conditions (like, 20 degrees outside during the day), the inside can be in the 50s with sun, 40s without sun. If it’s really cold, like 0 or colder, it can get down to the 20s in the greenhouse and frankly, when it threatens that, I stick a little electric heater or an oil filled radiator out there and that brings it up to the 40s and the plants are safe. But if it stays cold – like in the 40s AND I keep watering things, mold would just take off and kill everything.

So, I am a big skinflint about watering at this time of the year. It gets a little bit crazy once things start to warm up because we can have huge swings during the day in February – like if it’s cold at night, we can have have temperatures at 0 and below and during the day, if it’s sunny, it can get into the 70s in the greenhouse. I can water during the day, but it has to be early enough so that things can dry off before the temperature drops.

So, why bother? Seriously?

Well, yes, in our case, because we now have the nursery, having plants to sell is definitely, as Martha Stewart would say, a ‘good thing’. But what about anyone else? Well, there are certain things that we might have in our gardens that we’d like more of and don’t want to toddle down to the nursery or the home and garden center to have to buy ore. If the plant is a perennial (like lavender is), we can dig it up in the spring and cut it apart and have more plants but the one problem with that is that you are ending up with a bunch of plants that are all the same age, so they will all age and frankly start dying off at about the same time. It’s always good to take cuttings and grow new babies so that you can have plants that are a range of ages so that they don’t all kick off at the same time.

So, right now, I have about 25 of this variety of lavender. And several will go into the bed and the rest will go into pots and onto the sales table. And the ones in the bed will get bigger and I’ll take cuttings from them this summer and start a new tub of cuttings this fall.

And on and on it goes.

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And….we’re new and updated!! http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3876 http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3876#comments Mon, 12 Jun 2017 14:28:06 +0000 http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3876 till1 For readers who have been following us for a while, you know that we’ve been doing agricultural development at a piece of abandoned farm property that we bought a couple of years ago.

Well, we’ve certainly moved forward!!

This spring, we started having plant sales and we now have a real web site and a Face book page! There will be links pointing back and forth between the various sites to keep everyone up to date on what we are doing.

Our Web Site: www.woodsravinefarm.com

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Old Wood Versus New Wood (SFW) http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3862 Sun, 13 Nov 2016 16:43:45 +0000 http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3862 hydrangea1At all times of the year, we see questions on gardening/landscaping sites with regard to ‘when do I prune my flowering shrubs?’

The issue, people, revolves around — does the plant flower(that is, set buds which then open up) on ‘old wood’ or on ‘new wood’. Now, this is actually a lot more complicated than it looks, frankly, because you can’t give a blanket statement on this. But in general:
Old Wood: You have a shrub. It is now October or November. The growth that took place THIS YEAR, is now ‘old wood’. It’s brown on the outside/green on the inside.

New Wood: You have a shrub. It is now March. The growth that WILL TAKE PLACE this season in April, May, June, July, August, September is NEW WOOD. It will be green, a little bit ‘bendy’ or even floppy early in the spring. It gets firmer later in the season and by August/September/October, it turns brown on the outside, is quite firm. At that point – voila! It’s ‘old wood’.

Let’s look at some shrubs from the garden here at Chez Siberia that show ‘old wood’ flower buds:rhodedendronThis is a rhododendron. Rhododendrons and azaleas both show this ‘flower on old wood’ situation – see the flower buds in the middle of the sprays of leaves? Right now, they are protected by leaf ‘scales’ but in the spring, provided that they do not get blasted by really hard freezes during the winter, they will open up. This particular rhodie got blasted by horrific (minus 27 degrees F) freezes last year. We got no flowers in the spring – not to worry, I pruned out the dead stuff and the bush put on new growth, made new buds. I’m thinking seriously about putting burlap around this for the winter.

andromeda-1 This is an Andromeda shrub – see all the strings of little flowers? Again – these set this year and will open in the spring: old wood.

starmagnoliaThis is a Star Magnolia – those fuzzy things which look like pussy willow catkins are the flowers – the magnolia uses a the same protective device for the flowers – the fuzzy scales. If they get super frozen, we will have no flowers in the spring.

roseofsharonNow onto ‘new wood’. This is a Rose of Sharon. Because of the horrific freezes we had last winter, in the spring, a lot of it was frankly dead. So, I made a ruthless pruning – you can see the cuts in the middle of the picture. Literally all I had left of the bush was a few ‘sticks’ like that. See all that new growth coming out of those ‘sticks’? That bush in the late summer/early autumn was literally covered in flowers. This is a bush that a) loves to be pruned and b) sets flower buds on ‘new wood’.

And finally, we go back to the photo at the top. These are three hydrangeas. Don’t ask me what the varieties are – the tall one is probably a ‘pee gee’ hydrangea. The two at the side are mophead types. These are ‘new wood’ flowering hydrangeas. If we don’t cut them way back in the late fall/winter, then they will not set flowers the next year. I learned this a couple of years ago and though it sort of kills me to go after them with the pruners and loppers, I do love the flowers. hydrangea2 As you can see, I basically cut the small ones to half their size – their full size is about as tall as I am – these are 2.5 to 3′ tall and will set a lot of new growth in the spring and summer. The huge ‘pee gee’ in the center will get the same treatment – that thing is taller than even my husband is so, I’ll be taking that down to probably 4′.

Now, having said that, I have to admit that NOT ALL HYDRANGEAS FLOWER ON NEW WOOD. So, you need to take this on a case by case basis and ask when you buy one to put into your hard ‘new wood or old wood’ – the nursery will know.

Here are two lists of shrubs which bloom on new or old wood:

Old Wood — prune these in the spring, right after they flower.
Witch Hazel
Forsythia
Andromeda
Flowering quince
Kerria
Viburnams
Daphne
Azaleas/Rhododendrons
Purple leaf sand cherry
Pearl bush
Deutzia
Weigela
Mock Orange
Lilac
Ninebark
SOME hydrangeas
Some Spireas (Vanhoutte/bridal veil) – the ones that flower in the spring.
Some Roses — the old fashioned sort that only blossom for one period in the spring/summer

New Wood — prune these in late fall/winter/early spring.
Beautyberry
Blue beard (caryopteris)
Buddleia
Rose of Sharon
Hardy hibiscus
Smoke Bush
Some hydrangeas(annabelle and panicle types)
Some Spireas – summer-blooming varieties such as Neon flash and Gold Mound
Buttonbush
Clethra
Roses – the repeat blooming varieties

Hope this helps. Everyone enjoy your holidays!!

H

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This works: roses http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3854 Sat, 22 Oct 2016 01:45:02 +0000 http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3854 rose1Over the years, your old Aunty has tried many times to root rose cuttings. I have what I’d call a ‘nostalgia rose’ bush at Chez Siberia. When the DH and I got married and rented our first house, my mom went out to the garden with a spade, whacked off a chunk of the old rose bush growing there (it was probably put in when the house was built in 1917 – a very old rose). No one knew what rose it was – it’s has flattish blossoms with a gillion little petals on it, once a year, in June. The fragrance is definitely ‘knock your socks off’. It throws off long canes with huge thorns. But they reminded me of home. When we move to Chez Siberia, we dug the thing up and took it with us and put it next to the deck. It’s not in a very good spot – it’s very exposed, so many times, if we have a bad winter, I end up having to prune it almost to the ground to get off all the dead stuff, but it comes back.

Over the years, I’ve tried to root cuttings many times. With rooting hormone, without rooting hormone. Under a jar in the garden, in pots inside plastic bags. I’ve always ended up with moldy dead cuttings which I threw over the tip.

Earlier in the fall, I saw a video on youtube on rooting cuttings using a very interesting technique. this supposedly is basically how roses used to be propagated a long time ago, but the grower in the video added the booster of using rooting hormone. I figured I did not have anything to lose, so I tried it. To do this, you need:
Cuttings of roses (not softwood – I did this in September; you can probably do it with dormant cuttings too), 6-8″ long.

Wet newspapers. Wet them well and then squeeze most of the water out.

Dry rooting hormone powder.
You can get this at any home and garden center.

Three plastic bags, like the sort you get from stores.

Paring knife.

Sticky tape.

First – using the paring knife, shave off the bottom inch of outer surface of the cuttings.
Second – dip the bottoms in rooting hormone – make sure you get some on the shaved surface.
Third – bundle up the cuttings and wrap in a layer of damp news print. Fold it over both of the ends.
Fourth – Take 2-3 sheets of damp news print and lay out flat and roll the bundle up like a burrito, folding in the ends of the news paper. Put that in the first plastic bag and roll the entire thing up.
Fifth – Put THAT bundle into the next plastic bag and roll that up.
Sixth – Put THAT bundle into the final plastic bag. Roll that up rightly and secure the bag on the outside with a piece of tape.

Put the bundle someplace that stays cool (summer or winter) and leave it for 4-6 weeks. If you check after 4 weeks and it’s not done – roll everything back up and leave it again. I started mine on 9-18 and checked it today (10-21) and Voila!

rose2 There are two things to look for here – first, the obvious thing is that some of them have roots, which is what we want.

Another thing to look for is this: rose2bSee those white knobbly growths around the bottom? Even where there might not be roots? That is called ‘callous’ and the roots will emerge from that. If the cutting does not ‘callous’, it won’t develop roots. I’ve never seen this before but this is great stuff.

rose3And, we have roots as well. This is so exciting.

The best part of this – is NO MOLD. I didn’t do anything weird or strange or different here. Yes, I took off all the leaves, but I usually do that when I’ve failed as well. But this method produces results and no mold killing the cuttings.

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When it’s over…over…over http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3849 Sun, 25 Sep 2016 23:52:47 +0000 http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3849 norwichgarden-end Well, with night-time frosts banging on the door, we harvested everything harvestable in the big garden (the test garden, which, if you’ve been following had four beds with different soil treatments: buckwheat, mustard, black plastic and nothing). And in the interest of completing as ‘scientific’ an analysis, the DH and I hauled out big cardboard boxes which I dutifully labeled and set them at the ends of the appropriate rows. Everything that got taken from the buckwheat row ended up in the buckwheat boxes and so on. When we got everything home, we washed it all carefully, counted items, weighed them and tabulated the results.

Now, some things just did not do well – actually some things did not do anything at all and that was basically all the varieties of the beans. They got nibbled down almost as soon as they germinated. No beans.

Butternut squash for some reason was a giant failure as well, which is really interesting because the other winter squashes and pumpkins did fantastically. Sweet corn was nothing to get excited about either. But here are the results, in the order of the position of the beds, in terms of their proximity to the woods (and we’ll discuss that later):

Buckwheat: 11 pounds of pumpkins, 20 pounds of spaghetti squash, 2.5 pounds of pontimarron squash. No sweet corn, no popcorn.

Mustard Treatment: 8 ears of popcorn, 12 ears of sweet corn, 38 pounds of pumpkins, 22.7 pounds of spaghetti squash, 3.3 pounds of pontimarron squash.

Black Plastic: 4 sweet corn, 27 pounds of pumpkins, 10 pounds of spaghetti squash, 3.3 pounds of pontimarron squash.

No treatment: no popcorn, 4 ears of sweet corn, 48.6 pounds of pumpkins, 64.5 pounds of spaghetti squashes, no pontimarron squash.

So, what does this mean? I bit more information: It’s not as if the buckwheat bed only produced 20 pounds of pumpkins: it only produced 20 pounds of harvestable pumpkins. Ditto for the Mustard-treatment bed. We discovered something: Deer really like pumpkins and squash. I went into this thinking that the deer would go after the corn, which they did early on but then as the summer progressed, they abandoned the corn (which then tasseled and formed ears as long as the original corn plant had not been savaged too badly) and went after the pumpkins and squashes in the buckwheat and mustard treated beds. Why those beds?

Those were the beds closest in terms of access to where the deer hang out: the edges of the woods. Ahhhhhh. Take a bit of a nap; get up at dusk and dawn and go over to the buffet for a bit of nosh. We found the remains of at least three pumpkins in both the buckwheat and mustard treated beds — big ones, too. And the deer went after the squashes in the mustard treated bed. The one type of squash that did not get savaged too much was the spaghetti squashes.

So, why did the No treatment bed do so well with pumpkins and and spaghetti squashes? That’s the bed farthest away from the tree line – the deer were very content vising the buffet closest to them. Considering the number of squashes and pumpkins which we found the remains of, and estimating what they would have weighed if they’d gone to full maturity, I think we would have added at least ten pounds of pumpkins to the buckwheat bed and the same for the mustard bed, which would have made it an equal of the no treatment bed – except that the corn did best in the mustard bed and we did get a good amount of the pontimarron squashes in the mustard bed as well.

Another factor we were testing was sheer amount of weeds and the mustard bed won that test handily – just scanning the beds once all the pumpkin and squash vines, the corn plants and so on were taken away and it was easy to see a major difference in terms of weed populations and sizes of weeds. So the suppressive effects of the mustard treatment lasted throughout the growing season. Another aspect was the size of the plants. All of the vegetable plants – the corn stalks, the squash and pumpkin vines, the sun flowers and so on were bigger, healthier, faster to flower and faster maturing (see the pop corn and sweet corn figures on that) than the plants in any of the other beds. But what about all the squashes and pumpkins in the ‘no treatment’ bed? See Damage, Deer above: it’s easy to end up with more and bigger veggies if you don’t have voracious chompers going after the plants. The fact that the mustard bed produced the second highest poundage of pumpkins, despite losing probably a half dozen pumpkins and squashes is an indicator to me that given a different set of circumstances (9 foot fencing, no deer), the mustard bed probably would have done even better than the ‘no treatment’ bed.

So, as with all investigations, what are the plans for next year?

Well first thing, is that today, I sowed all the beds with a combination of buckwheat, tillage radishes and oats as a cover crop. These will grow until they are killed by a real killer frost – which will probably be at the end of October or early November. In the early spring, we will sow all the beds with mustard and perform the treatment as prescribed (that is: let it grow until it flowers, wait until the weather predicts rain, chop it down and till it in; wait two weeks after the rain and then start putting in vegetable seeds).

Oh yes — we’re looking at 9′ fencing. With a ‘hot wire (that is, we’ll have a solar-powered battery to provide electrical fencing) to discourage the deer.

Hope your gardening was successful this year!!

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Something to relieve the boredom http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3840 Mon, 29 Aug 2016 00:33:48 +0000 http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3840 rose cuttings1 At this time of the year, we’re either weeding, watering or picking veggies out of the garden. We’re inundated with hot peppers, sweet peppers, tomatoes and zuccini here at Chez Siberia and lots of what we put into the beds at the property to test out soil treatments (as you recall, we did four beds: black plastic, no treatment at all, mustard and buckwheat) are maturing. Frankly at this point in the cycle, I can say, without any hesitation that the mustard treatment won. Hands down. Now, it might be difficult to measure that, though I did get out there with a measuring tape and measured the corn and the sizes of the squashes and pumpkins. Every other bed is behind the mustard-treated bed. I’ll even forgive the deer (or the ground hog or whatever it is that ate half a squash that we discovered). But we now know that growing mustard, chopping it up, tilling it in and waiting two weeks after a rain just was fantastic – at this point, even though everything was planted the same way, on the same day, and treated the same way (that is, we watered everything in well on the day we put in the seeds), everything in the mustard-treated bed is bigger, taller, and more mature (like, the corn in the mustard bed has brown tassels and ears which are filling out – in the other beds? Meh). No way to argue with that.

But I’m sure no one wants to read about my adventures with weeding and shoveling wood chip mulch on all of my flower beds, right? Right? (yes, you in the back; no – I can’t think of any discussion more boring than mulch at the moment) So, instead, we’re going to take about taking cuttings.

A lot of things in the garden don’t look really spiffy at the moment and frankly, a lot of the excitement gets drained out of things when you are faced with a sink full of zucchinis. But making new little plants is always fun and means that next spring, you will have all sorts of things that you won’t have to go to the garden center to buy.

We have a rose here that I inherited from my mother. It comes from a huge hold bush that was behind the garage at my parents house and I have very fond memories of it’s arching canes, covered with pink old fashioned blossoms. I also have a very un-fond memory of my father trying to teach me how to ride a bike and on that day, I not only fell off the bike into a neighbor’s hedge made of what we called ‘pricker bushes’, but when I tried to ride in the back yard, I also ended up keeling over into the rose bush and like most old-fashioned rose bushes, it has rather nasty thorns. But, I loved the flowers just the same – mostly for their fragrance, which was ‘knock you off your feet raspberry’ (I should trademark that). I realize that ‘real rose people’ are into form and rankings and so on, but I’m still that 5 year old at heart (and I think a lot of people fall in love with roses from their first experience with them which is…through the nose), and I’m determined to keep this rose around. When I got married and moved into our first home, my mom, went out and chopped off a chunk of the rose bush (my mother was not subtle – she literally went out with a hatchet and a shovel) and the DH and I dug a hole next to our rented house, threw in some compost and put the rose bush in. Five years later, when we bought our own home, we dug it up and brought it with us. Roses are tough.

But you know, I’ve never seen a picture of a rose in a book or magazine which looked like this one. I’m sure it was just some rose that was in production when my parents house was built in 1917 and the first owner bought it from the local nursery and threw it into a hole in back of the garage and that was the end of it. It’s not a terrific rose – it’s one of those flat old-fashioned roses with a gillion little petals and is only 2-3″ across. But the fragrance is intoxicating. It’s not even in the best spot in our yard – it’s in what’s probably the worst exposure and I really should dig it up and move it. But, I’m concerned that if I do it, I might kill it this time – the bush I have is from a bush that was probably 50 years old when I got it. Scary thought.

Hence, the taking cuttings. To take cuttings from bushes (and this technique will work on everything from magnolias to Ninebark to rhododendrons, and so on), you will need:
Pruners – use off-set pruners

Potting mix or coarse sand (be careful with this – the bags of ‘coarse sand’ from the big box stores many times have chemicals in them which will kill cuttings). If you are going with potting mix, also get a small bag of Perlite ™ and mix it together in a ration of 1 part Perlite(tm) to 3 parts potting mix.

Rooting hormone: There are all sorts of these around – powders, gels, liquids. If you are doing this with what is called ‘soft wood’ cuttings, then the regular stuff will do. If you wait until later in the fall, when the weather has gotten colder, the ends of the branches on the bush have matured (that is, the outside has turned brown and more ‘bark’ like), then you will want to get the type of hormone for ‘hard wood’ cuttings.

Water

Big pot or some sort of big vessel with holes in the bottom.

Large white garbage bag.

Now, the trick with this is as follows: take a cutting – about 4-6″ off the end of a growing branch, stick it into some sort of moist growing medium and keep it warm and moist for 4-8 weeks. Some of the cuttings are going to root. A lot of them won’t. This is not fool proof, which is why you see so many cuttings in the dish pan at the top (I drilled a lot of drainage holes in the bottom of that pan). If 25% of these ‘take’ then I’ll be more than happy.

Here’s the plan:

First thing – mix up your planting mix and put it into the pot or dish pan or whatever you are using and water it well. If it’s really swimming, squeeze out the excess water. You will want at least 4-6″ of growing medium so that the cuttings can put down roots.

rose cuttings 2 Take your cuttings. In this photo, you see the cutting on the left and the pile of the rooting hormone on the right. Now, you will want to strip off the leaves from the bottom 3 inches or so because that is what will be under the soil line. At the same time, with roses, break off the thorns as well.

rose cuttings3Once you do that, you’ll see that you have these little marks left from where you broke off the thorns – thorns are modified leaves, so you are actually giving the cutting a little bit of a scratch (which you would want to do in any case; with cuttings from bushes without thorns, you’ll want to take your fingernail and scrape down the sides of the cutting in a couple of places). This will give the rooting hormone spots to cling to, to encourage rooting.

rose cuttings4Roll the bottom end of the cutting in the rooting hormone until the bottom inch or so is covered in powder and tap off the cutting to get rid of the excess.

Finally, and this is something I do since I have seen a lot of cuttings end up being taken off to ‘cutting heaven’ through fungus, is I cut the leaves at the top of the cutting in half. This does two things – first, it lessens the infrastructure that the cutting has to maintain and allows the cutting to put all of its energy into making roots. Second, it lessens the contact between cuttings – you’ll want to put at least an inch between cuttings – perhaps even more – and you really don’t want all of these cuttings touching one another. If one ends up with a fungus (which would not be a huge surprise), anything touching it will get that fungus as well and the cuttings will die.

Then, put your cuttings into the growing medium and press the soil or sand around them. Give them a good drink to settle any soil around the cuttings and get rid of any air pockets. Then put the whole thing into a white garbage bag and seal it up. At this time of the year – late summer here in the northern hemisphere, put the whole thing in a shady spot and check back on it in a couple of weeks. If anything looks fuzzy, pull those out and get rid of them. Let the cuttings air out for a couple of hours, and put back into the bag. In a month or so, pull a little bit on one of the cuttings – if you feel resistance, then they are rooting. If not, put the pot back into the bag.

If you are doing this heading into colder weather, you need to put the bag and the pot into someplace in your house where there is bright indirect light (that is, don’t put the bag and the pot next to a south-facing window) and it stays relatively warm. If it’s getting chilly, then put a heating pad with a towel on top underneath the bag to keep the roots warm so that they will root.

Gardening: always an adventure!!

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If you have garlic.. like I have garlic…oh…oh… http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3832 Sun, 31 Jul 2016 22:52:35 +0000 http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3832 garlic1Well, it’s that time of the year again. Or actually, it would be that time of the year in several weeks except that with the hot and extremely dry weather we had this summer, the garlic (as you can see from the photo) basically gave up the ghost and went ‘toes up’ (as we say here in the country) about 2-3 weeks early. We were trialing the two ‘winners’ from last year (Susanville and Vietnamese Red) against three ‘new’ varieties, Music (which actually we’ve grown before), Premium Northern White (which around here is the standard garlic grown by market gardeners) and Early Italian Red. Well, the growing season threw us and the garlic bulbs a complete fluke — hot and incredibly dry from the spring through frankly this weekend, when we finally got some concentrated rainfall for two days.

Now, to review: The reason the DH and I have been going through all of this effort to try out different varieties of garlic is because sooner than later, we are going to become a market garden ourselves (yay, us!) and we need to find the best couple of varieties for our climate. Now, the goal is to find enough garlic varieties which will get us a couple of early ones, a couple of mid-season ones and a late one to give us product coverage all summer. I was hoping the Early Italian Red would do the trick for the early one but… frankly, it started dying down only about 2 weeks before the others. And Premium Northern White crashed at the same time as the others (and I think the lack of water and the super hot weather did that). So, I ended up digging up everything at the same time to evaluate them.

Again, to review my evaluation process:
Dig up the bulbs.
Let them dry in the greenhouse overnight
Cut off the stems and clean then up the next morning (I use a bucket of water and a 3M pad).
Let them dry again for a day
Count and weigh.

garlic2Here are the results, remembering that I knew how much I was planting when I went into this last fall:
Holdovers from 2015 – we saved the largest bulbs:
Vietnamese Red: Planted 6.5 ounces of bulbs.
Total Weight of cleaned bulbs: 4 lbs., 1.25 oz.
Number of cleaned bulbs: 23
Average Weight per bulb: 2.8 ounce
Largest bulbs: 3 at 3.5 ounces; 1 at 3.88 ounces
Notes: No bulbs under 2 ounces

Susanville: Planted 4.75 ounces of bulbs
Total Weight of cleaned bulbs: 3 lbs., 7.16 oz.
Number of cleaned bulbs: 22
Average Weight per bulb: 2.5 ounces
Largest bulbs: 4 at 3.75 oz., 4 between 3.25 and 3.4
Notes: 3 bulbs less than 2 ounces; some had teeny inner cloves

New This Year:
Music: Planted 8 ounces
Total Weight of cleaned bulbs: 3 lbs., 5.16 oz.
Number of cleaned bulbs: 21
Average Weight per bulb: 2.5 oz.
Largest bulbs:1 at 4.16 oz. 4 between 3.5 and 4 oz.
Notes: 5 bulbs less than 2 ounces

Premium Northern White: Planted 8 ounces
Total Weight of cleaned bulbs: 4 lbs., 9.16 oz.
Number of cleaned bulbs: 33
Average Weight per bulb: 2.2 oz.
Largest bulbs: 4 over 4 ounces, 4 between 3.5 and 4.
Notes: 18 bulbs less than 2 ounces. But doesn’t seem to make teeny inner cloves

Early Italian Red. Planted 8 ounces
Total Weight of cleaned bulbs: 6 lbs., 10 oz.
Number of cleaned bulbs: 62
Average Weight: 1.7 oz.
Largest bulbs: 5 between 3 and 4 oz., 17 between 2 and 3 oz.
Notes: 65% of bulbs were under 2 oz. Does nto seem to make teeny inner cloves

garlic3So, what is all of this telling us?

Well, it certainly is amazing how different garlic varieties respond to heat stress and lack of water. Early Italian Red (where we started with 8 ounces), produced more than 13 times it’s planting weight in bulbs. Now, 65% of them turned out to be small bulbs, but I opened several and there were no teeny cloves in the center (which is what I expected). It’s as if the plant’s message to itself was “Things are bad, but it’s better to have a few big strong cloves for survival rather than a bunch of little ones). On the other hand, if we want no little garlic bulbs at all, Vietnamese Red is the one to choose because from a 6.5 ounces vs. 8 ounces planted and what we got out of it, plus a more consistent product.

We’ll have to do more studying on this. I’ve already ordered (if you haven’t ordered your seed garlic for this fall, hop to it because suppliers tend to get sold out by September) two new varieties to trial for next year: Elephant garlic and Chinese Pink (which is marketed as an ‘extra early’ type – heh, we’ll see about that).

Something else of the ‘lightbulb’ fashion is this thought: Considering the hot and very dry weather we had, we actually did very well, much better than I expected. Why?

Well, I planted all of this in early October, once we’d had a good stiff freeze. Between October 1 and March 31, we got 15.7 inches of precipitation. Between April 1 and July 31, we had 10.7 inches. One of the things I do is plant my cloves a lot deeper than is usually recommended. Usually, directions read to plant them 1-2 inches down. I plant mine as far as I can dig a hole with my hand – which is 6-7 inches down. I think, in terms of the amount of rainfall/snow we got (or rather, did not get), burying the cloves really deep helped them find deeper reserves of moisture. When I dug them up, the roots on most of them (especially on the larger ones) were 5-7” long. So, these cloves were sending out very aggressive roots to find moisture far, far below.

Root veggies planted this spring, such as onions, have not done as well (unless given lots of water with hoses or sprinklers. I don’t think we’ll get any onions at all because we did not irrigate.

Which put the thought into my head: “What other veggies can we plant in the fall which overwinter so that they can take advantage of the rain and snow and send out roots to pull up moisture from fall below?” I was especially interested in finding onions and I found two types:
— Multiplier onions multiplier

–Shallots shallots There are many different varieties of shallots, this is just one.

This will be another experiment for us; supposedly you break apart the shallot bulbs into ‘cloves’ just the way you do with garlic, so we shall see.

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Olla! Olla! http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3824 Sun, 17 Jul 2016 16:09:02 +0000 http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3824 waterdivitYour Dear Old Aunty is getting mighty tired of reading headlines saying “Hottest (pick your month) Ever!”

Well, of course it IS. This is what climate change is all about.

Along with weird winters (we had very little snow this past winter and then in late April, after all the fruit trees were in blossom, WHAM, we had a massive freeze. No apples, cherries, peaches etc. for us.

It also means that rains during the summer are crazy too. What we are getting here in Upstate New York is rather spotty rain. Forty-five minutes north and west from me, up in the Finger Lakes, the grass isn’t brown – it’s crispy. Forty-five minutes north and east of me, moving toward Albany, they’ve had almost 4 inches of rain since the beginning of July.

Life is not fair.

So, gardening is more than a bit of a challenge.

We’ve discussed cover cropping to help hold water in the soil. But here are a couple of tricks I use.

Divots. See photo at the top.
When I plant out seedlings, I press down a pretty big ‘divot’ into the soil around the seedling. This holds extra water when (and if) it rains and if I want to give the seedlings and plants extra water. We use double-dug raised beds and frankly, watering tends to just roll off the sides. Wasteful and not getting the moisture to the veggies (which is the whole point in any case). In the Southwest, traditional dry-land growing uses literally little walls of earth, waffle gardening. Some people even believe the popular ‘square foot garden’ method is a version of this. My version of this is the divot, and it works. Another thing it does is direct the water right next to the plant – where the roots are located. That means I’m not watering soil with no veggies in it. It wastes water, which has become more and more precious and actually feeds weed seeds.

Another thing I do, when I transplant seedlings is provide some shade for the first 24 hours. waterdivit2Transplanting really is very stressful for seedlings and if the weather is hot and sunny, it’s even more of a shock. In this case, I was cutting back the rhubarb (at this point, the stems of the leaves are woody and no one is interested in it in any case, but the big rigid leaves can be used as shade for my seedlings. (yes, yes, I know – it’s very late for zucchini, but as long as we get some, and you KNOW we’ll get some, we’re ok and they’ll be small, not big enough to throw a saddle on and ride off into the sunset)

A second watering method (and another one borrowed from Southwest native peoples) is the Olla. Now traditionally, these are unglazed clay pots which are buried and refilled on a regular basis to seep moisture through the ground to nearby growing plants.

Now, I don’t happen to have unglazed clay pot with a small neck to bury, but I do have plenty of plastic water bottles. This method is not necessarily as efficient as using an unglazed pot, but the theory is the same.
ola1Take a plastic beverage bottle and put holes in the bottom. I’m using a 16 ounce water bottle here; if I had something larger, I would. The whole thing is that you need something with a neck that’s narrower than the vessel itself. I’m also going to use the cap, so I’m saving that. As you can see from the photo, I cut holes in the bottom. If you have something more rigid (like a plastic juice jug), you might need to use a nail or something like that.

The next step is to bury your bottle next to your plants. I planted out some very short season cucumbers last week and I’m burying the bottle in between them. ola2 I really did not bury this as deeply as I should. The bottle really should be buried deeply enough so that all you can see is the neck. We’ll survive. I filled the bottle and it immediately emptied into the dirt, so I filled it again and this time, it held most of the water. Then I screwed on the top. This will prevent whatever water still in the bottle from evaporating and being lost. I’ll fill this bottle on a regular basis (barring a good solid rainfall, which at this point will need to be at least 1″ in 24 hours) to keep the cucumbers growing. At the end of the growing season, I’ll dig up the bottle and save it for next year.

Hope everyone’s gardens are growing well. We’re starting to get peppers and tomatoes now and the garlic is starting the fall over, which means we get to harvest garlic soon!!!

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Tool for the job http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3819 Sun, 03 Jul 2016 20:57:36 +0000 http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3819 pruner2You would think that your dear old Aunty would never admit to doing this, but I did.

I was seduced (seduced! I say) by marketing copy and price. “These pruners are designed for comfort for people with small hands.”

Small hands.

Yes, they were comfortable and I do have small hands (not small for my size, actually – I’m pretty short and the hand size goes along with that). And I have to admit that they were referred to as ‘light duty’.

‘Light duty’ must have meant ‘trimming the spent heads off perennials’ of some such thing because as you can see from the photo at the top, they gave up the ghost.

For a closer idea of what happened, here is your requisite close up:pruner1Steel casting that just frankly got pushed beyond its spec. Which must have been something like 1/8″ in diameter.

OK, I admit it. I push tools long past their useful life. I have a tendency to ‘horse’ (as my dear departed father would express it) the thing around and then when the handle flies to pieces or something gets bent, well, I have no one to blame but myself.

So, I bought myself a new, bigger set of pruners (with the new! improved! rotating handles which will be so much better for my ‘small hands’), which are specified for 3/4″ diameter branches.

Do you have any idea who small a 3/4″ diameter branch actually IS? That’s smaller than the diameter of your thumb. 80% of what we have to cut back and cut down (fie, honeysuckle! Fie!) here at Chez Siberia qualifies as being over 3/4″ in diameter.

What to do?

Well, our next ‘weapon of mass destruction’ is the set of loppers. loppers We own a set of these and although they say they will handle anything up to 2″ in diameter, I have to tell you that anything over 1″ requires some rather interesting body mechanics on my part so that I can wedge both handles into my chest so that I can use the force of both arms. It works but it…leaves a mark.

Another option for the 2″ plus is a pruning saw, and we’ve found them to be both easy to use and very effective, even on branches which are 3″ in diameter. I happen to like the folding one (that is, the blade folds into the handle), which makes it easier to slip into a pocket. The teeth on these are rather impressive and we use them to cut right to the trunk, which makes pruning fruit trees a lot more effective.

Finally, I have to bring up the last and most destructive (and frankly, most dangerous) tool to cut off branches: The powered chain saw. There are models on offer which are so small that one might be tempted to try to use it one-handed (ack!). If you have a lot of nasty huge bushes (with big 6″ trunks to get through), a chain saw is your tool of choice unless you go for an axe (which has it’s own skill set and dangers as well). Anything with that level of power can cut off pieces of bodies very easily and if you are considering getting one, find a dealer which offers a workshop on using one safely. The DH wears a helmet (with a face shield, metal screen and ear protection) and Kevlar chaps whenever he uses our chain saw and I think everyone should wear safety equipment when they use anything like that. He also wears steel-toed heavy boots with thick soles and wide heels to give himself a solid position when he uses it.

In the end, however, the point is this: Don’t try to use a tool for other than its intended use and buy the size for the job.

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Better Late Than Never http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3812 Sun, 26 Jun 2016 17:29:53 +0000 http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/?p=3812 wateringAs I discussed last time, we’re late, late, late in getting the experimental garden in. Actually, looking around at what’s happening to the corn fields in our area, we’re not the only ones who got ‘the garden’ in late.

Timing, is everything, but again, as discussed, the weather this spring (thank you El Nino) was horrific. Too cold and wet at all the wrong times. The farmers are feeling it too. I have seen very few corn fields out there where the growth is uniform and uniformly bright green. I’m seeing lots of stress.

At this point in the growth cycle, why is that? The corn ordinarily is just jumping out of the ground. I’m seeing plants with yellowing leaves, even brown leaves.

It’s water (see the photo above – that is your dear old aunty, watering, watering, watering).

We didn’t get any snow cover to recharge the moisture in the ground. We started at a moisture deficit. And it has not gotten any better, either. So, even farmers who ‘got lucky’ in terms of finding a window where it was warm enough and the ground was dry enough for them to get the equipment into the fields to plant corn, soybeans or whatever are now in the position where the corn made decent early growth but now has no moisture to sustain it.

Corn is a finicky customer. It doesn’t matter if you are growing 500 acres of the stuff or a couple of blocks of it in your backyard garden, the requirements are the same: lots of fertility in the soil (corn is a heavy feeder) and moisture at just the right times. Up where I live, 30-40 years ago, this was not an issue. We had frequent enough rain that not only was the corn in good shape, but farmers got multiple cuttings of hay.

No more. Farmers who are not used to growing crops requiring irrigation or watering are at a definite disadvantage in terms of having equipment to handle moving water from where it IS to where it’s needed.

Now, at our experimental garden, we are lucky that we have a decent sized pond. Ordinarily, we, too, would have put the garden in in May, when there was still some moisture in the ground, but this year because of weather and other commitments, we didn’t get to it until this weekend (major tip of the hat to the DH and our son who put in yeoman work with me yesterday to get everything planted and watered). It was obvious when we dug down into the soil to plant the seeds and the onion plants that the beds that had been put into buckwheat and tilled in were still moist 4″ down from the surface. The bed that had black plastic on top of it to kill any weeds and the bed which had nothing done to it except for being tilled were dry. As in ‘handful of dust’ dry. No vegetable seed is going to germinate without added water in that situation.

Hence the photo at the top. We went out and bought an irrigation pump and several lengths of hose (note to anyone thinking of this: if you are not going to go out with a huge measuring tape to find out exactly what the distance is between your water source and where you need to move the water, do yourself a favor and buy one more 100′ length of hose) and while the DH and I were finishing up planting seemingly everything under the sun, our son started watering everything in.

And given that the weather predictions are that we are not going to get any rain for several days, we went back up this morning and spent three hours watering everything again.

There is nothing, trust me, nothing as boring as standing by a garden bed, staring at the soil, and watering. Knowing that in order for any of the seeds to germinate or the onion plants to actually survive will require this water and if there is not water weekly, we’ll have to go out, hitch up the pump and stand there and do it.

Jun26bedsAgain…and again…and again.

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