Thursday, December 6, 2018

December Garden Chores

     December is not my favorite time of the year for gardening but there are still garden chores to be done. I must admit I am a fair-weather gardener and try to get all my garden chores done by Thanksgiving.  This year, however, I headed to the garden in early December to find my asparagus still green and lively.  If any asparagus ferns are yellow or brown, December is the time to trim them back and compost them. At this time, it is also wise to lightly prune dead branches of cane berries and shrubs like currants, no hard pruning until later in February. 

Photo courtesy of Jane B.


     As night temperatures dip, you may extend the growing season for lettuces and other hardy greens if you set up cloches or hoop houses for them. When you're covering plants for the night, ensure your protective coverings touch the ground. Frost protection covers work by trapping radiant heat in the soil. As soil releases its heat, the cover holds the heat around the plant. Use fabric covers, such as row cover cloth. It's easy and quick to build a shelter around tender plants such as artichokes and other tender perennials. Be sure to anchor stakes in soil and attach a cover to stakes.



     If you do not plan to extend your season, harvest everything you can before a freeze-thaw cycle turns your produce mushy. Cover your garden/raised beds with leaf mulch, straw, cardboard, or burlap; this keeps weeds at bay until spring.  Once your garden is tidied up, you can spend the rest of winter looking over seed catalogs and planning your spring plantings.



One final note, if you are so inclined, feed the birds.  Many of our feathered friends would benefit from a supply of food when we’ve cleared our gardens of the things they love to eat.

-Gia




Monday, November 12, 2018

The Bitterest of Gourds

The bitter melon has many names and its other name bitter gourd are used interchangeably.  Some of the most common names are : African Cucumber, Ampalaya, Balsam Pear, Balsam-Apple, Bitter Cucumber, Bitter Gourd,  Karela, Kareli, Korolla, Kuguazi, K'u-Kua, Lai Margose, Margose, Mel√≥n Amargo, Melon Amer, Momordica, Momordica charantia, Momordica murcata, Momordique, Paroka, and Pepino Montero, just to name a few. Its botanical name is Momordica charantia and it originated in India.  Its popularity and use has spread all over southeast Asia and beyond. 

The bitter melon tastes exactly as its name states think a broken aspirin, uncured olive, apple seed, or grapefruit rind. It looks like a warty cucumber; when sliced in half, there is a spongy white pith that is easily scooped out with a spoon.  The seeds are also removed before preparation, however, if you grew up eating this type of gourd, the nostalgia can be very strong.  Most people either love the flavor or straight up hate it.  Its reverence is akin to the love or hate of durian. 

One of our gardeners, grew a bounty of this melon, he shared some with me and although I prepared it in more than one way, my children turned their noses up at it.  This "hot crop" must be treated like tomatoes and peppers.  Since it is hard to find in retail outlets, one has to start the plants from seed. Once the seedlings are hardened off, they must be protected from cool weather and planted out when the nighttime temperatures are at least 55F at night. Maintain evenly warm temperatures, even watering, and feed at least once at planting time and once again when the flowers set. Once the fruit starts to come, pick them when they are firm and the size of supermarket slicing cucumbers. 

-Gia

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Eggplant Profile: Little Fingers

"Little Fingers"  (Solanum melongena) is a compact eggplant cultivar from Japan. It forms small purple, finger-length eggplants and is tolerant of the verticillium fungus. The flesh has a silky texture with few seeds and mildly sweet flavor needing very little cooking time. Tender, thin skins do not require peeling or salting before cooking. Grill whole. A great variety for large containers! This productive plant does not need much support, fruit can be harvested small or left to grow without sacrificing texture or flavor. ~65 days

Remember eggplants are a hot weather crop. You can start them indoors 8-12 weeks before planting outside, BUT you must take precautions. Before planting them out, nighttime temperatures must be above 55F.  Harden them off well, at least 7 days, before planting out. Make your you have good drainage with plenty of organic matter.  Bring the heat with row cover, cloches, raised beds, or plant them in containers. This is an easy eggplant to grow and these simple tips should improve your eggplant crop.

This is a fasciated eggplant. Parts of the flower have elongated or fused together and after they were pollinated, they produced triplet eggplants.







Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Pepper Profile: Mad Hatter

It is not hard to see why this pepper is called the Mad Hatter. You won’t have to fall down a rabbit hole to bring the ‘Mad Hatter’ to your garden!  The shape of the fruit resembles a flattened hat. This exotic looking pepper is unique, vigorous, and delicious. Mad Hatter is a member of the Capsicum baccatum pepper species from South America commonly used in Bolivian and Peruvian cuisine. This is a mild pepper with a Scoville rating of 500, meaning it is mostly sweet with a floral scent. Flavors intensify as the fruit ripens. Hot, dry climates may produce fruits with a hint of heat at the center, but the outer parts remain sweet.  I picked these peppers before they were fully ripe but I will update this post if I get any red peppers in the near future.

-Gia







Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Not Your Backyard Blackberry

There is no shortage of blackberries in the Pacific Northwest, as a matter a fact, we are inundated with the invasive Himalayan blackberry.  This extremely prolific but tasty "weed" is a serious problem in our open spaces, woodlands, shores, and forested areas.  As much as I enjoy the flavor of blackberries, I know better than to plant this thorny pest in the garden.

Almost a decade ago, I did some research on thornless blackberries. I knew my children, at the time 1 and 2, would appreciate picking the fruit from a thornless bramble.  After a few months of research, I settled on the cultivar "Loch Ness."  This is a very large fruiting blackberry that is similar to wild blackberries in flavor.  One of the other advantages of this variety is that it grows upright and does not need much support. A decade later, this wonderful berry is still producing.  I recommend it highly to those who have the space to host this tall yet tameable beast.  It grows 6+ feet in height but not much in width.  The blackberries are perfect mouthfuls of deliciousness, come by of you want a taste. We are at plot A17.

-gia



Thursday, August 9, 2018

Tomato Profile:White Cherry

Several years ago, I wrote about a tomato called Great White. This season I have found its miniature counterpart in a cultivar called White Cherry. This is a cherry tomato that is reported to be easy to grow, prolific, and resistant to cracking. (This can happen naturally or when your tomato plant is left to wilt or dry out and then is flooded with water.)

These genuinely adorable pale, yellow fruits keep producing right up to frost. They are sweet and very delicious, with a light tomato taste that is very refreshing. The one-ounce fruits are larger than Sweet Million and larger than SunGold (in our garden). They require no special care but staking or caging is recommended.

Note: These cherry tomatoes are not truly white but the less sun exposure they get, the lighter in color they will be.

-Gia



Sungold next to White Cherry.




Saturday, July 14, 2018

Shrubs- The Kind You Drink

 Yes, shrubs are a category of plant, but as of late, they are also a very trendy drink. Shrubs are also called fruit shrubs, drinking vinegar, and in my experience, they are a fruity drink with spice flavoring and a little hint of vinegar. The concoction is concentrated and very flavorful. It is used to make many different types of cocktails but in and of itself,  it’s just fruit, sugar, and vinegar. My favorite way to enjoy shrubs is with lots of ice and sparkling water. Pour the shrub concentrate into the sparkling water and ice to your liking.  In colonial times, shrubs were used as a method to help colonist preserve fruit.  As modern refrigeration gained popularity, drinking shrubs fell out of style until recently!

 Here’s a link to a recipe I’ve tried: https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-a-fruit-shrub-syrup-174072


My co-gardener Alessandra made raspberry shrub with our berries.  
-Gia


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Slug-O-Rama

         Spring is the time for slugs.  These mollusks are shell-less but, like their snail cousins, they do a lot of damage.  Slugs eat their way around your garden all night long and can destroy plant starts and seedlings overnight. Their telltale damage is marked by slime trails as well as holes in your vegetation.  If you see slug damage, there is more than one way to lessen their numbers and thus the damage to your crops.



1.  Put out some cozy spaces for your slugs, upturned melon rinds, cardboard, plywood boards, any dark and moist places will attract your slugs.  Once you overturn the melon rinds, plywood, and cardboard, you can discreetly or NOT dispose of your slugs.

2.  Beer traps-When the beer is used for trapping and drowning slugs, it is legally a pesticide.  Beer contains yeast and slugs love yeast. They will follow the aroma of beer, drink it, then drown in it.  Refill your beer trap often and make sure to use the type with a top, so the beer does not get diluted when it rains.  The only downfall to beer traps is the slime that may collect in them.  Blech.....

3.  Make a barrier between your plants and your slugs, eggshells, copper barriers, and more. The scratchier the ground, the more likely they will stay away from your succulent starts.

When all else fails...

4.  Use Sluggo, it is also known as iron phosphate.  OMRI certified, it is a pesticide that kills slugs when they eat the bait.  It turns super mushy when it rains and must often be reapplied to keep the slugs at bay.  Another caution, do not apply the product to the leaves of your plants.  Since this is an iron product, it may blacken the leaves of your greens.

Communing with nature at the garden often involves creepy crawlies. We hope these tips help you manage your slug families in the most productive way!


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Asparagus, The King of Spring Vegetables

     Asparagus is one of the first vegetables to emerge in spring. At Marymoor, they are ready for harvest anytime from early April onwards. Being one of the first garden crops makes asparagus especially susceptible to slugs and snails that thrive on cool, moist spring weather.  If you want a good harvest, control slugs early on in the season.  Handpick them, put out beer traps or use an organic slug control product. 

     Harvest your spears when they are at least pencil width or wider.  If you have an established bed, harvest only one-half of your spears so the rest can grow up and turn into asparagus ferns. If you harvest too many spears and do not allow the spears to grow into ferns, the plants will lose the opportunity photosynthesize and make food for next years crop.  These perennial plants can and will live in the same bed for many, many years.  Once established, they are very difficult to move because of deep and very widespread roots. They will live happily in our NW soil and climate as long as they are given decent drainage and plenty of food.  Asparagus is a heavy feeder and needs a good application of compost or manure once a year along with some organic fertilizer.   Even with a bit of neglect, these vibrant, colorful and delicious spears will produce for many seasons to come.



Purple and green asparagus


A perfect asparagus spear


Spears that are a bit past their prime, the spears have begun to open and will form ferns if not picked.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Soil, Dirt, Compost and Friends

We have had a few questions about the difference between dirt, soil, compost and other amendments.


Here are a few tips for new gardeners and veteran gardeners alike.  These are abbreviated notes from the talk, Gia Parsons will give on Sat March 3 10 am-11:30 am at the new LWIT, Redmond location.


-There are 70,000 types of soil in the U.S. alone
-Soil is made up of 4 main things:
     Rock-there are minerals in rock
     Organic Matter-all dead things
     Water
     Air-many kinds of gasses

-Ideal soil contains 45 percent rock particles, 5 percent organic matter, and 25 percent water and 25 percent air in the spaces between particles

-Compost is decomposed plant matter like kitchen waste and rotting plants. It also includes dead shrubs, tree branches, and basically, anything living thing can turn into compost.

-Too much compost can cause problems including excess nutrient levels (too much potassium (straw), primarily nitrogen and phosphorous, high soluble salts (steer manure), and excessive levels of organic matter. (Levels of organic matter above 5% to 8% by weight are too high.)

Organic Amendments:
Manure
Compost
Peat or Sphagnum moss-acidifying
Pine needles-acidifying
Straw
Leaf mold
Wood chips
Seaweed and kelp meal
Eggshells
Coffee grounds
Wood Ash-highly alkaline

Inorganic Amendments:
Perlite-a volcanic rock
Vermiculite-a heated mineral
Dolomite lime-a rock (for raising the ph)
Rock Dust
Azomite-minerals and trace elements
Sulfur-an element (for reducing ph)

Take Home Message:

With new gardens, better start with a soil test
Soil tests at King Conservation District
Established gardens, test the soil if you have not done so in a while
Add a variety of things to your garden but always in small amounts at first
Observe your results and make notes for the coming years.

If there are no issues, don’t make new ones!