Garden Planning is under way!

Because what better way to spend a day like this

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So cold!

than doing this!

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Dreaming of sunshine

I am very lucky that the DreadBrewer derives such pleasure from cataloging and comparing and cross referencing to make sure that we are going to have an awesome garden come spring. And all I have to do is provide some of the sweat equity when it gets warmer to reap the rewards of his diligence. Though the beer that usually accompanies the arduous task of garden planning makes the experience less onerous, I’m sure…

I did help out this year by making a spreadsheet of what cultivars we grew for the last three years, where we got the seeds, and how many we ordered. I like stuff like that. Poring over garden catalogs and debating whether we should grow Procraft versus Carolina Wonder peppers or hard neck versus soft neck garlic is not my cup of tea. (The answer is we are going to grow both peppers. And we are probably only going to grow hard neck garlic from now on, in case you were wondering.) If it were up to me, I would probably choose what we grew based on how pretty the pictures are, which means that we would order everything from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds because their catalog is gorgeous.)

It makes it a little easier to cope with snow and temps in the 20s when I know that seed starting will begin in a few short weeks and we’ll be planting out in the garden sooner than I think. I am really looking forward to getting out in the sunshine and getting my hands dirty. Because dreaming of and planning for our 2017 garden is all well and good, but actually being able to get out there and do it is awesome.

2016 Summer Garden Update

Just a warning that this post is photo heavy and insanely long, but we all know I love to talk and I love pictures. Did you expect anything less?

Garden June 2016

2016 Summer Garden

Overall, I think the garden is doing phenomenally well. The DreadBrewer never seems as proud of his green thumb as I think he should be – he has a tendency to downplay the awesomeness of our garden and think that it’s not really anything special. think that our garden is amazing and that he should be exceedingly proud, if not downright boastful, of what he’s accomplished. Granted that each crop we grow has good years and bad years and we never seem to have a year that everything does well, but I’m pretty sure that’s the case with any garden. Being able to get all of this planted and tended with two small children in tow is nothing short of a miracle, in my opinion.

But since when does the DreadBrewer listen to me?

Anyways, crop by crop and bed by bed, here’s a rundown of what’s going on in the garden. (Just a FYI, the captions will always list what’s in the pictures from left to right and front to back. In case you’re not adept at identifying plants by foliage alone.) 

Parsnips, Beets, Peppers, Okra

Parsnips, Beets, Peppers, Okra

Parsnips: After their miserable germination rate, the parsnips have been putting on an impressive show with tall, beautiful leaves. We finally picked a few yesterday afternoon and, again, I was disappointed with the effort put forth by these underachieving root vegetables.

Parsnips July 2016

Because really? That was the best that parsnip could come up with based on that amount of leafy top? DB pointed out that we’re not growing the behemoth varieties you see at the grocery store and that’s actually how they’re supposed to look. All I can say is that they better be delicious.

Beets: DB grew some cultivar of beet that I believe is not actually red, as the tops of the beets that I can see out of the soil are sort of pale-ish purplish. We haven’t harvested any yet to have, but it’s coming soon. I managed to thin these down to appropriate spacing (something I detest doing) and that will hopefully translate into lots of delicious, not crowded beets. We’ll see soon.

Peppers: The peppers are doing so-so this year. We tried buying our seeds from a new seed company and both DB and I have been less than impressed with their performance. Additionally, we had to actually buy two or three pepper plants from the big-box growers as ours were so pitiful – which was a total waste of money, as those plants had to be torn out yesterday due to disease. We’ve gotten a few jalapenos and a lot of our plants are laden with peppers, we’re simply waiting for them to turn the appropriate shade of red/yellow/orange/purple prior to harvesting. Additionally, the DreadBrewer – never one to be discouraged by an initial less-than-stellar outcome – started over with more seeds and now has about 20 pepper seedlings in the garage that will either go into a bed that has been recently freed up or repotted into larger pots and kept going on the seed rack indefinitely. We’re both hoping that the garage peppers could produce for us far longer than the garden peppers and thus extend the harvest. DB has vowed multiple times that we are going back to our traditional pepper seed supplier next year and this sub-par pepper plant situation will never happen again.

Okra: Our okra is just getting ready to start inundating us with pods. We’ve picked a few here and there but you can see that the plants are about to go crazy. Which is pretty cool as the plants are only 2-3 feet tall at this point and our previous cultivars of okra didn’t produce until they reached 3-4 feet. We’ve found a couple of recipes to try and keep up with the bounty this year without always falling back on the tried-and-true breaded baked okra. Though given the way that the Littlest Brewster and BIT inhale the oven okra (and eggplant and zucchini), I’m a little disinclined to mess with a good thing. Supposedly if you split the pods lengthwise, toss ’em with olive oil, and roast ’em until they are crispy, they are unimaginably delicious and not slimy. I have a feeling that soon we will be trying anything we can to plow through the okra harvest and will have plenty of opportunities to try both cooking methods.

Garden 2 July 2016

Carrots, Peppers

Carrots: The carrots did great and they’re all just hanging out in the garden, waiting for us to need them. This is one of the beds that we put hardware cloth on the bottom of to foil the voles and some of the longer carrots have grown through the mesh, leading to a broken off tip when we pull them. In my opinion, that is a very small price to pay for giving the voles a two-fingered salute and I figure that the bits of carrot left behind will just decompose into the soil for next year. We are toying with the idea of adding another level onto one or two of the front beds to make an extra deep, vole-impermeable bed for parsnips and carrots but we have to look into the necessity of crop rotation and these root vegetables. It wouldn’t do us much good to screw the voles only to screw ourselves out of carrots as well.

Peppers: See above. This bed of peppers is doing much better than it’s counterpart, but DB and I are still not blown away with their performance this year.

 Turnips, Eggplant, Zucchini, Cucumbers

Turnips, Eggplant, Zucchini, Cucumbers

Turnips: Turnips are one of those crops that the DreadBrewer decided to grow just to see if he could. And apparently he is a turnip growing champion, as we have more turnips than we can shake a stick at. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a way of preparing turnips that either of us likes, though I will admit to having given away most of our turnip harvest rather than finding new and delicious ways to eat them. We still have a ton though, so if any of you has some amazing way to prepare turnips that will make me a fan please share.

Eggplant: The DreadBrewer hates eggplant. Actually, the DreadBrewer hates American eggplant. Those great big bulbous bitter beasts that overwhelm gardeners every summer. But I really wanted to try eggplant and see if we could make it in a way that wasn’t yucky, so we compromised and planted a Japanese eggplant variety that is very, very yummy. We only planted 4 or 5 plants but we have already gotten more eggplant than we can reasonably eat, so I doubt we expand the number of plants in the future. Thus far, the most popular cooking method has been to bread and bake them – they get really, really crispy and the kids devour them – but there is a miso and sake eggplant stir fry, as well as a chili and garlic one, that are on the menu for the next two weeks.

Zucchini: This is another instance where we changed which company we ordered our seeds from this year and we have been sadly disappointed. The plants are pathetic – puny and yellowish and easily killed off by various bugs or other afflictions. On the bright side, this has meant that we’ve only been able to harvest as many zucchini as we are able to eat and I haven’t had to ding-dong-ditch with bags of zucchini through the neighborhood. But I’ve been so accustomed to having enough zucchini to give away and freeze for future use and make loaves upon loaves of zucchini bread that it smarts a little bit to get, like, one zucchini a day. One! What kind of pathetic seeds are these people selling? The Littlest Brewster has gotten to be an accomplished squash bug egg finder and delights in helping her dad hunt for eggs (and grown bugs) every evening. She’ll even pick the adult bugs off the plants and bring them to DB for disposal in the Jar of Bug Death (a jar of water with a few drops of liquid soap).

Cucumber: Our cucumbers are another one of the crops that is giving the DreadBrewer fits. Every year we’ve had amazing cucumbers and, without changing a thing this year, we’ve got pitiful cucumbers. There will be no pickles this summer. No tzatziki. No sharing. Every time we get a cucumber (still Suyo Long cultivar in this bed), either the kids promptly devour it or DB and I make a cucumber tomato basil salad and it’s gone. I don’t know where we’ve gone wrong with our cukes this year but it’s depressing.

Garden 6 July 2016

Cucumber: (2nd bed thereof) This is our attempt at growing pickling cucumbers this year and it’s just embarrassing. You can barely see what the plant is trying to pass off as a cucumber on the 3rd one from the left. I think these cucumbers must be in league with the parsnips and they’re both trying to get a free ride while producing as little as possible to earn their keep. It’s appalling to have to listen to my dad gloat about his bountiful cucumber harvest (“I made 5 quarts of pickles yesterday!”) but it’s all going to be okay because I think our tomatoes will trump his and we all know that’s what really counts in a garden.

Garden 4 July 2016

Tomatoes

Tomatoes: Though you can’t tell it from that sad-looking plant that’s fallen over in the front of the left hand bed, our tomatoes are actually doing very, very well this year. (Unfortunately that happens to be our yellow pear tomato plant, which is exceedingly depressing to lose as they are super delicious. C’est la vie in a garden, right?) Not having totally thought through the implications of planting our tomatoes in beds with hardware cloth on the bottom, DB and I were taken by surprise when we were unable to use our handy-dandy tomato cages to support the plants. (We couldn’t get them down far enough without ripping the mesh and thus defeating the purpose of both the mesh and the cages.) So we looked into various methods of holding up the plants and we’re trying twine and fence posts, with variable success. The times that we get out there and get a level of twine up before the plants are in desperate need are the times that the twine supports them much, much better. We have a tendency to get side tracked and forget to add twine until the plants are groaning under their own weight, so the whole twine-support experiment has been less successful than we might have hoped but I think we’ll do better next year. The tomatoes are just starting to hit and I am super excited. I have big plans for these tomatoes and can’t wait to start making homemade salsa and tomato sauce. If they don’t all get eaten in salads or straight off the plant…

Green Beans

Green Beans

Green Beans: Have I told you how much I detest picking beans? Detest. Loathe. Abhor. Unfortunately for me and my deep aversion to bean picking, everyone in my family (myself included) loves eating beans. The girls absolute favorite vegetable in the whole wide world are green beans, dipped in ketchup of course. Oven roasted green beans and garlic are so delicious that it should be illegal. Green bean pesto pasta is amazing. And all of these things mean that, every 2 to 3 days, I find myself out there picking beans and mumbling terrible things under my breath. Thankfully this year the DreadBrewer had a modicum of sense and staggered the bean plantings so I’ve really only been dealing with one side of the bed at a time. Because picking 50 square feet of beans is bad enough, but 100? Oh heck no. Each time I pick, I’ve been getting anywhere from 8-10 pounds of beans, giving us plenty to eat now, freeze for the winter, and give away. I went out this morning and only got 4 or so pounds, so I’m thinking we’re nearly done for the season with beans. My aching back rejoices.

Garden 7 July 2016

Bunching Onions

Bunching Onions: Fairly self-explanatory; these have done really well and will be a welcome addition to our eggplant stir fries, I’m sure.

Garden 8 July 2016

Lima Beans

Lima Beans: God must have known how relieved I was that our green bean harvest has almost passed and had a chuckle to Himself, knowing that our lima beans are about to hit. Luckily for me, we only have one teeny tiny 4×5 foot bed of lima beans. After struggling through the bush beans, I have a feeling that these will be a breeze. We’ll see when they’re ready for harvest in a week or so.

Onions July 2016

Onions

Onions (Red and White): I only pictured the red onions and then only part of the harvest, as I’m sure you guys remember the ridiculousness that was our onion harvest. They’ve gotten pretty dry, so we went ahead and trimmed the tops and roots and rearranged them for the final bit of drying. Red onions are more difficult to dry and store than white or yellow, but I’m hopeful that most of the harvest will make it. We were able to give away a bunch of fresh onions and I was really surprised at how excited people got about them. But as DB pointed out, a high percentage of savory recipes call for onions and people love free, fresh, useful produce. I was just glad that we were able to offload the ones we were unable to dry for later.

Garlic July 2016

Garlic

Garlic: Poor DB had to harvest the entire 10×10 bed of garlic himself while the girls and I were out of town or risk having them rot in the ground. Having harvested garlic with him for the past few years, I know what a long process it is and I was super grateful that he did himself (and not a little relieved to have missed it). We’ve gotten them all laid out in front of the fans in the garage and are just waiting for them to dry thoroughly. After the great garlic debacle of 2014, when all of the heads I had braided rotted, I believe we’ll just trim them and store them loose. We’ve been using some fresh and it is so good. I think this is one of the few instances this year were we tried a new supplier and have actually been happy with the switch. (For those of you who are interested, I’m trying to put together a list of what cultivars we planted and where we got them; it’ll be another post sometime in the future.)

Not Pictured: 

Berries: Our blueberries have produced about one half pint total this year, which is 1000% more than any other year and has made all of us very happy. The raspberries are getting ready to have their first production of the year – they had to recover from being mowed to the ground last fall and are lagging behind. And the blackberries were hard hit by a late frost and the first wave of berries was reduced by half. Luckily, there is another wave of berries ripening as we speak that looks like it will be amazing. People that DB works with have asked him what happened to the berries he used to bring in and he always answers, “I have two kids now. We don’t have any extra berries.” Which is totally true because LB and BIT can spot a ripe berry from 20 paces. We’re lucky if we get any of the berries for ourselves before those two greedy girls eat them all.

Shallots: The shallots are happily growing in grow bags on top of the septic system. For once, the DreadBrewer didn’t put twice as many plants as recommended into the space so I’m hopeful that the shallots will be able to grow to a reasonable size before we harvest them. In past years, we’ve been stuck with a ton of teeny tiny shallots, which are a pain in the butt to peel and use, so larger shallots with more bang for my buck (so to speak) would be much appreciated.

And there you have it. An extremely long, picture heavy update on the garden. And I actually didn’t even touch on the basil, the leeks, the kale, the cabbage, the lettuce, the kohlrabi, or what happened to the asparagus bed. Even my ability to ramble on has its limits. (You’re welcome. ;))

Happy growing you guys! What’s doing well in your gardens? What are you cooking to use up your bounty?

Onions, anyone?

This past weekend was onion harvesting time here at BeerCat Brewing Farm (I think that should be our new name – or maybe just BeerCat Farm – given the amount of time we spend growing things versus brewing things).

And in true DreadBrewer fashion, we planted, oh, a million onions when a fraction of that many would suffice. Well, more like 200-225 onions rather than a million, but honestly, how many onions can a family of 4 go through in a reasonable amount of time? Especially when none of us particularly cares for raw onions?

If you grow your own onions, you will know your onions are ready for harvest when the tops start to flop over:

This is just one of our two beds of onions. We planted a lot of onions. 

This is just one of our two beds of onions. We planted a lot of onions.

Prior to harvesting, we consulted our many books on vegetable gardening and got many different answers regarding how to best harvest onions. Trim the roots, don’t trim the roots, brush the dirt off, don’t brush the dirt, do it in the morning, do it later in the day…. you get the idea. Ultimately, we decided we would gently brush off a little dirt, trim the roots, and do it whenever we had a chance (read: the girls were napping or actually entertaining themselves without whining).

This is the point at which I started to become overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of onions.

This is the point at which I started to become overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of onions.

After you harvest your onions and brush them (or don’t) and trim the roots (or don’t), they need to be put in a reasonably dry, reasonably cool place with good airflow to cure for storage. Some of the books recommended doing so out in the garden, but as one book actually written for the hot summers in the South pointed out, those recommendations are for onions grown in far more temperate and forgiving climes than ours. So we repurposed our new seed starting rack as our new onion drying rack.

Yep, That's a lot of onions.

Yep, That’s a lot of onions.

We then set up an assortment of fans to try and keep air flowing across the onions. The garage is less than ideal in terms of humidity and temperature, so we’re hoping that a constant stream of air will remedy that.

Just one of four rows

Just one of four shelves of onions

And we actually still have 20 or so onions out in the garden that we haven’t harvested yet. Their tops hadn’t fallen over yet, so we left them in situ and figure we’ll harvest them over the next few days to use fresh and to give away to neighbors and coworkers.

I’ve started perusing online recipes to try and find some new things to do with our bounty. We cook a lot of things with onions in them but have very few recipes that either showcase onions or use them in an appreciable quantity. I’m sure I’ll give onion soup a go soon, as well as trying my hand at homemade baked onion rings. However, if any of you has a killer recipe with onions – lots and lots of onions – please share. Otherwise we may have to ding-dong-ditch with onions instead of zucchini this year.

My main concern now, actually, isn’t even using up all of these onions. It’s figuring out where to put the 150 heads of garlic we need to harvest and dry in the next week or so. I don’t suppose any of you has a spare garage and a couple of box fans you’re not using, do you?

And thus it begins again

It’s that time of year again – time for seed starting! I don’t know if you remember, but we’ve actually added another four beds to the garden this year. Yep, we’re crazy. Totally nuts. Over-achieving, certifiable garden nuts.

The thing is it takes a whole heck of a lot of planning to fill all of these spaces with plants.

That's a lot of garden to fill

That’s a lot of garden to fill

And I am so, so, so lucky that the DreadBrewer has a passion (not to mention an exceedingly nerdy talent) for garden planning. Because if I had to come up with lists like this, I would throw in the towel and we would grow whatever crap plants they had at the local hardware store.

Plan 2016Not only does DB take the time – every year – to compare between his 20+ garden catalogs and 10 or 12 gardening books before deciding which cultivars we’re going to grow, but he also then organizes it based on plant, cultivar, where to purchase the seed, and when we need to start our seedlings. It’s mind boggling the effort he puts into this.

(In case you were wondering what I actually contribute to this venture, I fulfill the essential functions of kid wrangler, official tool holder, and manual laborer.)

Last weekend was our first big seed starting weekend. Alas, I remember the good ol’ days when we first started our garden and we had no small fiends running rampant and we got to do everything together. This year, the girls and I let Daddy have a few much needed hours of peace to start the broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and eggplant. He was supposed to start the peppers too but ran out of time.

Seeds 2 Seeds 3He was very happy.

And since all of his hard work means fresh fruits and veggies for us, we were very happy too.

If Mother Nature cooperates (ha!) and we can finally triumph over the voles (ha! ha!), his brains and my brawn should mean we have a pretty amazing garden this year.

Further Garden Insanity

Dec.12.15.9Yep, that’s the DreadBrewer tilling for another row (“Our last! I promise!” says he) of garden beds.

(Like how we’ve put BIT and LB to work combing for rocks?)

AND, that’s another potato bed to the left of DB. Building it with Daddy gave the girls an opportunity to hone their power tool skills, because we all know it’s never to early to start that process.

Dec.12.15.8 Dec.12.15.7We also managed to finally – finally! – expand our compost bin system. For anyone who is thinking of making their own compost bin, please learn from our mistake and make a three part bin from the start. If we had taken a moment to think about it, obviously we would have to have a bin for to throw fresh compostables in, a bin for the compost that’s composting, and a bin for the compost that’s ready. But we didn’t and we limped along with two (1 1/2, really) compost bins for a few years.

But no more!

Compost Bin 2015Thanks in large part to DB’s mom for watching the girls while we screwed it together (Thank you!!!), we finally have a three bin system. And I can finally start composting again! It’s really galling to trash lovely compostable things because the bins are full or resting or out of commission.

Now all we have to do is assemble the new beds. For these new ones, our plan is to put hardware cloth along the bottoms like we do for the potato beds. Hopefully this will thwart the little bastards voles in our garden and they will wave the white flag and move on to greener pastures elsewhere.

And then we will be done expanding the garden.

Stop laughing! DB promised these were the last four beds. I really believe him this time!

Kind of…