Saturday, June 18, 2011

Garlic Harvest

Raised bed of Inchelium Red garlic in mid-May.
I harvested my Inchelium Red garlic about 2 weeks ago. Some of the stalks were starting to lean over and were laying on the soil. The bottom-most 5 or 6 leaves were also brown and dry. I'm not a garlic expert, but I've used these signs in past years to determine when to harvest and I did the same thing this year.

Dry and brown lower leaves on garlic plants.  This photo was taken around June 1.
I actually used a fork (think flatware not pitchfork) to dig up each bulb. I'm not sure why I used a fork. I guess it's because I found an old fork in the garden shed and figured "Why not?!" It worked quite well, and I gave a nod to MacGyver. After harvest, I placed all the bulbs (approximately 50) in my shed for about 2 weeks to cure. I hung them from the rafters, cracked the windows, and ran a box fan to provide ventilation.

This is my third harvest of garlic, and first at .09 Acres. I figured I should do something special to celebrate the occasion. I went online to figure out how to braid garlic. I found a lot of sites with various diagrams, contradicting information, and mostly confusion. I learn by watching and doing so I fired up YouTube and found this decent video ( by Christi Wilhelmi of I set aside about 1/3 of my cleaned and cured harvest and went to work. The results weren't stellar, but I started to get the hang of things.

My first attempt at a garlic braid.  These are my biggest bulbs and I will likely save them for next year's planting.  That's one reason I used them for my trial braid.  The other reason is that they have fairly thick necks and were more difficult to work with.  I wanted to save the easy stuff for last!
The trick is to keep a very tight braid as you introduce new bulbs to the braid. The other important thing to remember is that you won't produce a textbook garlic braid on your first attempt. I had the occasional bulb slip loose, I dropped one on the floor and scared the heck out of my dog that was sleeping nearby, and a rogue spider or two crawled from the pile of cured bulbs. All minor problems. After tying the top of the braid and making a loop for hanging, I worked up the courage to start my second braid with the remainder of my Inchelium Red garlic.

My second braid of Inchelium Red garlic.  Again, not textbook in appearance, but not bad either.  
Some of the bulbs aren't tightly spaced with nearby bulbs. There is also a bit of dirt on a few bulbs that I still need to remove. But other than that, I think it was a pretty successful first attempt at braiding garlic. Now I've got the pleasure and pride of hanging this beast in my kitchen. Garlic anyone?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Espalier Fig II

Celeste fig espalier at the corner of my garden shed.
My Celeste fig espalier is now in it's second year of training and is beginning to look decent. I chose a Celeste fig for a few reasons. First, I had a few available whips to experiment with. Second, it is hardy in this region (7b) so I won't have to worry too much about frost damage. Third, it is productive and can withstand drought conditions once established. Fourth, it grows very quickly. And fifth, it is darn tasty.

I planted the tree a the southwest corner of my shed and started to guide it horizontally in each direction. I hadn't seen any espaliers growing on two different planes so I figured "What the heck, why not?" I selected the strongest shoots approximately 9" apart and encouraged them to grow vertically. I pinched off all undesirable growth elsewhere along the espalier. I screwed small metal eyes into the shed walls at even distances along the paths of the vertical growth. I tied each shoot to the eyes with plastic ribbon when they reached the appropriate height. You can see the metal guides in the first photo just above the top of each vertical branch.

Detailed picture of the right side of the fig espalier.
The second photo shows the right side of my espalier. You can clearly see each vertical growth that branches off the main arm of the tree. I accidentally broke off the end of the horizontal leader about 2 months ago so the plant has not extended as far to the right as I intended. I'm hoping it will regrow from that spot next season. Individual figs are now growing well just above each leaf. It remains to be seen whether or not the ants will use the espalier training posts as a super highway to sugary goodness later this summer. Regardless, my intent is to grow a unique looking espalier rather than to focus on heavy fruit production. Are any of you growing espaliers in your yards for decoration and/or fruit? If so, what types of trees are you using?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Early June

I'm back.  It's been almost 2 months since my last post.  Too long. Figured I'd do a big pictures post from the yard.  It's been an interesting and productive Spring, with a few setbacks as well. Generally speaking the garden is doing great.  Let's start with the good then I'll move on to the bad and ugly.  I successfully saved seed from my Vates kale and two varieties of Swiss chard.  They get tall when they bloom.  I'm talking 6-feet tall!  I added about 4" of fresh compost to each bed and built a small extension designated for herbs. Cucumber production has been nothing short of amazing.  I've got 5 Burpless plants in the ground and I'm pulling about 8 cukes/day.  I planted borage as a companion plant to my tomatoes, and it  is growing very well.  Beautiful flowers and they are edible too.  Peaches are hanging from the tree, the pomegranate is still in bloom. Raspberries were a tasty treat for about 3 weeks and are slowing now, but the blackberries are starting to kick in.  Figs have also put on new growth and, more importantly, many figs.  Not as many as I hoped for, but I pruned them back in early spring to encourage more branching for larger future harvests.  The fig espalier is developing fairly well.  I also just finished harvesting approximately 50 heads of Inchelium Red garlic and they are drying in my shed.  That's a short version of the good.

Now for the bad.  My precious, beloved, sacred, and coveted heirloom tomatoes are taking a beating.  They grew well for the first 6 weeks after I transplanted them into the garden, and they grew large.  I'm talking appx. 4-5 feet tall.  Then I started noticing what I believe to be blight.   It first appeared on a few leaves, then a stem, a truss of tomatoes, an entire stalks.  I quickly pruned those areas, sterilized my pruners, and then moved to the next plant.  But it kept moving.  So this past weekend and evening I ripped out 5 of my 7 in-ground tomatoes.  2 German Johnson, 1 Black from Tula, 1 Bull's Heart, and 1 Marvel Striped. I don't know why it hit so hard.  I immediately tossed them in the garbage bin.  I've been careful about watering, 2 doses of organic foliar feed (spaced 4 weeks apart) in the early morning, etc. etc., but I guess a large harvest like last year wasn't meant to be.  I'm planning on purchasing a few more plants and probably dropping in a few seeds as well, but I'm flat out bummed.

And the ugly.  Despite my best attempt at smothering the grass, it's back.  And lots of it.  Multiple layers of cardboard, 4-5 inches of mulch, periodic hand weeding of the errant shoot of grass, all for nothing.

Alright, enough gibberish!  Let's do the photos, shall we?
This is a mix of the good and the ugly.  Figs down the left, raised beds front and center, berries/peach/pomegranate on the right.  Oh yeah, and grass everywhere...son of a...
Row of figs down the left wall of the yard.  They are all fairly small, but are adapting well to their permanent location.  I grow a mix of brown, purple, and green figs.   If you look closely, you can spot Scout.  She's the hairless wonder dog.
Peter's Honey fig.  In some areas this plant is putting out 2 figs per leaf, and I don't think that's very common. I'm not complaining.
Violet de Bordeaux figs.  I will pick individual ants off the tree to protect these, partly because I'm crazy but mostly because these things are heavenly.
The Red Haven peach tree is getting very large.  I pruned it heavily this winter and again about 3 weeks ago, and it keeps on growing.  I also thinned the fruits a while ago, but it's still hanging about 25 peaches.
Overhead view of the Red Haven peach tree showing the main scaffold limbs.  I'm trying to maintain an open center to allow light in and air to circulate.
I haven't sprayed this tree with a single thing this year and it still looks healthy.  I hope that holds up for the rest of the year.
The Russian Pomegranate also likes its sunny but sheltered location.  It's approximately 7' x 7' and was covered in blooms for 3 weeks.
A tiny pomegranate and a few blooms in the background.
This is a young Haku-Botan pomegranate tree, courtesy of Sybil Mays.  It will eventually produce yellow/gold pomegranates.  Sybil, this is the little plant you dug up from your side yard.  It has recovered and grown ALOT!
It's a cucumber jungle out there.  By now they've established very deep roots and don't show much wilting during the hottest (98 degrees) driest weather this year.
These beasts make a mean cucumber salad.
Ouachita blackberries beginning to ripen.  I'm not sure exactly what happened (or didn't happen), but I think poor or incomplete pollination led to irregularly shaped berries.  Look closely in the picture and you'll see what I'm talking about.
Almost ready.
All the literature says that borage flowers have a cucumber taste.  I disagree.  They taste like borage flowers.  Not really cucumbery, but just a general leafy green pleasant flavor.  I grew these as a companion plant for the tomatoes, but it clearly hasn't helped this season.  
Don't ask me how this partially ripened black cherry tomato tasted.  I wouldn't know.  My dog Diego ate it so you'll have to ask him.  
When most people draw a picture of the devil, they draw a red devil.  The devil is NOT red.  The devil is green.  Check out this mix of Bermuda grass and some other green beasts that are growing well despite Operation Smother.
Bermuda grass a-creepin'.  This is the aforementioned ugly.  I plan on pulling everything I can by hand rather than using some ineffective organic herbicide or crazy poisonous herbicide.  I do not want to mow this back yard ever again.  
I'll post again soon with pictures of the garlic harvest as well as the fig espalier.  How are things growing in your gardens?  If you are fortunate enough to have a bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes later in the summer, I'll likely be begging at your front door. That's a promise.