Napa Cabbage

It has been  a cool enough spring that the napa cabbage is actually ripe and didn’t bolt.  inconceivable!  It was also wet enough that the diakon radishes are about 18″ long.  Inconceivable!  Yet, it’s late enough in the season that the i could pull up a few heads of garlic.  Inconceivable!

“You keep using that word, i do not think it means what you thin it means.”

Sorry, i just watched the Princess Bride…But, i am very excited because the garden is cooperating, and something that i planned out actually worked!   Previously, my napa cabbage either gets chowed by slugs and bugs or it got too hot, and it bolted.  Last year, my entire garlic crop failed because of fungus.  First year growing diakon, so i’m just happy that worked.

Now: what to do with all of this stuff?  Why, kimchi of course!  There are loads of techniques and ratios/recipes on the web, and i ended up picking this at random.  I harvested the best 3 looking cabbages (weighing in at a total of 9 pounds!) and all the ripe diakon, and then picked the garlic according to the ratio in the recipe.  Went to the grocery store to get the other needed items: ginger, carrots (none of mine are ready) and fish sauce.

After scrubbing out the new kitchen sink really well, i brined the chopped veggies (wash them first to remove the lingering bugs) right in it.  A few hours later, it was ready for a light rinse.  Be sure to taste the veggies at this point as it might need more rinsing to leach out some of the salt.

I use a blender to puree the garlic, fish sauce, ginger and chilies.  Don’t bother peeling the ginger- just cut off any bad parts.  I had a bunch of really spicy dried Red Padron chilies a friend gave to us last year, so i tossed in a dozen of those instead of the korean reds.  It won’t have that distinct bright red look traditional kimchi has, but it will still taste wonderful!

Toss it all together in a mixing bowl (wear gloves to avoid burning your eyes!!!), and firmly pack it into your fermenting vessel.  i have a pickling crock that works very well, or you can use a big jar, or a bunch of quart jars.  Either way, make sure you weigh down the veggies so they are covered with fluid- we want anaerobic fermentation.  It’ll probably take about 5 to 7 days during the summer before it’s ready: ferment it to your taste.  Putting it in the fridge will slow the fermentation enough to make it last for a few months- unless you eat it all first!

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That Sounds Dirty

Crotch angles.  Yup, that’s a phrase fruit tree growers use, and i certainly giggle when i say it…it refers to the angle of the main branching relative to the central trunk.  I’m shaping me trees to have an open center, where the central trunk stops 3 feet up and there are 4 main branches radiating from the top of that.  This allows more light and air to get to the center of the tree, yielding more fruit and less disease (molds).

The risk of having “steep” crotch angles, or more vertical branching, is that, the branch can split from the main trunk when loaded with fruit.  Especially when the tree is larger and heavily baring, there can be tens of pounds of apples.  Apply that force at 4 or 5 feet from the trunk, and you have the potential to literally split the trunk in 4!  The branch peels down, taking a strip bark with it, and you could loose the whole tree.


One of the simplest ways to deal with this is establishing good tree structure early on, using clothes pins.  Talk about old school!  Simply put a fews clothespin at the end of the branch, and the weight will pull them down to a “wide” crotch angle.  Leave them on for a month or two, and the sapwood will stiffen into that position.  This is what my new apple tree looks like now (i’ll be pruning the lowest branches off this winter, as they will touch the ground when fruiting):

Make sure that the pins are not pinching the branch, as you will damage the bark and stunt it’s growth.  The pins are great because it allows the tree to sway- versus staking the branches to guy lines in the ground- potentially damaging the tree should heavy winds come along.  If the branches are more established, guy lines will be in order, which i’ll have to do with my 3 year old tree.  Keep those crotch angles wide!

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Freezing Strawberries

There’s really nothing like a fresh picked strawberry- one that’s actually ripe, dark red and juicey.  You can smell them standing a few feet away from the plants, and it’s glorious!  As apposed to store bought ones, home grown strawberries are ripened on the plant, and not picked while they’re young and firm (able to survive shipping across the country…).  There’s no sugar necessary when eating these puppies, and no need to wash them either, since i’m not using pesticides or other toxic sprays.

I planted two varieties last year, so that i would get a slightly longer season, and it’s working for the most part- have had them for the last few weeks, with some still coming on.  They do tend to ripen all at once, leaving you with mounds of fruits.  we’ve eaten all we can, and decided to freeze some to help us get through the winter doldrums.  10 minutes of picking, and i got 3 pounds (and that’s with eating every third one as i was  picking…)!  Pick them early in the morning, to get the best quality fruit, and simply wipe off any dirt, cut the big ones in half, and lay them on a parchment lined sheet tray in a single layer for fast freezing.  After completely frozen, bag them up, and you’re done!  The quicker something freezes, the smaller the ice crystals are inside the fruit: this minimizes damage, and gives you a firmer, juicier product, which will last longer in the freezer.  Not that these are going to last very long come winter!

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That’s Not a Knife…

This is a knife!

Just got a new soil knife from A.M. Leonard the other day, and it’s excellent.  Years ago, when i was working as a gardner in colorado, i used this for nearly everything, weeding, cutting, transplanting, digging small and medium holes.  Sadly, i lost it in the move to DC.   Just be careful, cause the new ones are really sharp!

I used it just the other day to transplant my eggplants and sweet peppers.  Ended up going with 3 Black Beauty and 4 Japanese long eggplants, and 6 sweet pepper plants  this year.  Remembering how big eggplants gets (very bushy!),  i gave them their own bed so they don’t shade out any neighbors.

The jack in the pulpit (which i completely forgot where i planted last year!) has really taken off with the recent rains, as has the garlic.




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Strawberry Madness!

Not to sure i should be broadcasting this across the web- all you strawberry theves out there- but my strawberries are going off!  That’s a good thing…i knew i took a few years for them to get established after first planting, but i didn’t think i’d get so many this year! Now, i just need to set up the bird netting before they ripen this year.

The new apple tree (winter banana) has really taken off as well, and avoided the aphids for the most part- they really like the taste of new leaves!

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Flower Photos

Almost done with the kitchen…meanwhile, the world continues turning, and it feels like summer already.  I just put in another order for perennials, which should arrive this week, to fill in some bare spots here and there.

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Hop to it!

Oh joyous day- the hop rhizomes i ordered over the winter arrived today!

I’ve been homebrewing beer on and off for the past 12 years, and i recently started kegging it using old 5 gallon soda kegs.  This  eliminates the few hours it takes to bottle the beer, freeing up some time to do things like grow my own hops!  I have brewed with fresh hops before, and the taste is far superior than using the usual hop pellets or oils, giving a much more complex flavor without being overpowering.

I personally don’t like overly hoppy beers, so i went with lower acid varieties- used more for aroma and flavor than bitterness.  For the first year, i plan on simply trellising them onto the pergola (they’re planted next to it), as they should only get 8 feet long.  The following years, the bines should get upwards of 20 feet long, so i plan on dropping some rope from the roof down to the raised bed.  This will also shade the side of the house, cooling it down a bit during the blazing summer months.

I’ve never grown my own hops before, so this is certainly an experiment.  From what i’ve read, they require even, high moisture and rich soil as they are fast growers (up to a foot a day!).  I dug gallons of compost to each planting spot earlier this winter to let the soil mellow a bit, and plated the hops rhizomes as soon as they arrived, so they didn’t dry out.

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Rhubarb Flowers…not any more!

As you may have guessed, my rhubarb that i planted last year decided to try to start a family in my yard and shot up a huge flower stalk.  Little did it know, i was watching…

and the flower didn’t last long!

Why did i cut it? Because i don’t want the rhubarb sacraficing energy and stalk/leaf growth for flower and seed production.  I’ve read that it’ll probably try again, but i’ll simply cut it off again until it gets the message.  Plants can flower because they are happy, and ready to reproduce, or because they are very stressed and think they’re going to die- thus a last ditch effort to reproduce…heat and drought are probably the most common causes of stress induced flowering.  As far as i can tell, my rhubarb is healthy and happy.

If you want to get technical- i should say that the rhubarb is “bolting,” since i don’t want it to reproduce- making the flower unwanted.  “Flowering” is when a plant produces a flower that you want.  For example, one of my orchids decided to “flower.”

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Sorry blog readers and fans, i’ve been remodeling the kitchen…for the past month!  needless to say, the garden has been demoted to second place when it comes to free time. Of course, it’s been such an accelerated spring and garden waits for no one, so i could be doing much more outside.

I just transplanted the first round of cool crops from the basement growlights.  Cauliflower, napa cabbage, kale, and collards are in the ground.  I also started kohlrabi, fennel, and regular green cabbage indoors as well, for transplanting in another 2 weeks.  The eggplant and peppers seeds have just sprouted in the basement, and i’ll seed the tomatoes next week.  As soon as i get a spare moment, i’ll direct (outdoors) seed some beets, lettuce, radishes, and diakon radish.  I also put in the snap peas on St. Patrick’s day (that’s how i remember to plant peas…).

The flowers are taking off as well, and we’ll be getting the bluberry and apple flowers in soon too, as the buds are swelling rapidly.

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So Much For Winter

and spring, for that matter- it’s supposed to be in the mid 80’s all week!  here’s a quick photo  of a great gift i got from my parents (thanks, mom and dad!).  This gardener’s basket is excellent: big, nice and sturdy, and coated mesh so you can run a hose through it to wash the veggies you pick.

This is the last of the winter’s harvest, all of the carrots, beets, and kale were from last fall, and are starting to grow again and bolt with the sudden heat.  Besides, i need to make room for the spring’s plantings, which i’ve started to harden off.


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