Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Update on the Chicken Coop

   Update on our other backyard project.  We have been working on the chicken coop every weekend.  We were delayed by bad weather, too-hot-for-comfort days, and things like a tree limb falling on our roof, which subsequently required major cleanup. ^^;  It's been slow going.  We are now getting ready to start putting sidings and the hardware cloth (metal mesh aka "chicken wire") onto the frame.  We are painting this chicken coop in the classic barn colors of white trim and red body.  My daughter wants to put hanging baskets of flowers and window boxes, etc.  Come holiday time, we'll probably be seeing string lights on the chicken coop. ^^;

Monday, May 28, 2012

Day 50

   Our first SFG box is celebrating Day 50 today. :D  It's been a wonderfully fun project for my family, but especially for me, who is a huge salad fan.  The box has been very productive and I have been able to eat greens every day for quite some time now.

   This past Thursday and Friday were extremely unpleasant with high winds gusting at upwards of 70 mph all during the daylight hours while the temperature was in the mid to high 80s.  The peas showed their dislike of the hot weather by turning the bottom leaves yellow and dry. ^^;  Considering that I had a late start on these guys (sowing them on April 8th), I can't complain.  Our area's spring is notoriously short.  The daily high has been consistently in the 80s to lower 90s for weeks now.  One thing that made me pleased was the pea support.  The PVC pipes, rebars and the strings held up well in those 70+ mph gusts of winds (which, by the way, knocked down a good size tree limb right onto our roof with a huge BAM!).  The peas are holding onto one another as well as onto the strings and they're standing tall today as if nothing happened.  The "Alaska" peas are at 2.5 feet, which the Asian snow peas are catching up in height.

   Here's a picture of the flowers from the Asian snow peas.   They are white with an orange-pink tinge and different from the pristine white flowers of "Alaska" peas.

   Now that the temperatures are getting so high, I'm thinking about putting up shade cloth to help keep the plants cool in the spring veggies box.  I am seeing a few of the spinach and lettuce plants starting to bolt.

   I found our first normal size strawberry in our strawberry box today. :D  The color is just beautiful against all the green leaves.

   The corn box on Day 34.  The first crop, which you see on the bottom half of the picture was planted 2 weeks before the second crop.  They have maturation dates that are almost 3 weeks apart, so there should be about 5 weeks separating the pollination times of these two crops.  Corn plants, once they get going, grow so fast with such vigor.  Especially since it's been many seasons since I grew any corn in my backyard, this has been exciting.  I'm very curious to see how well they do in the SFG box.  So far, so good!!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Simple Pleasures

   We seem to be hearing about crops of lettuce or spinach contaminated with Listeria on the news more and more.  Whenever there's a recall announced, I feel so lucky to be growing and having access to fresh greens right in my backyard.  I know exactly what goes into it, too -- all organic, no pesticide, no herbicide.  Since the soil mix is 1/3 compost, I don't use any fertilizer like Miracle Grow.  The only thing I use is a sea kelp concentrate that provides trace minerals.  Oh, and I'm a firm believer of the benefit of fish tank water. :D  Whenever I do a partial water change on my three fish tanks ranging in size from 26 gallons to 72 gallons, I water my houseplants and outdoor plants with the water that is siphoned out of the tanks to be discarded.  As far as I can see, the plants LOVE the fish tank water. lol

   Anyhow, to be able to eat salads every day and know that everything is exactly as nature intended and disease-free is wonderful.  I'm sure the nutrients are doing wonderful things to my body, but the psychological effect can't be overlooked.  There's something very special in helping nature along in the form of growing one's own garden and keeping it healthy, lush, and thriving.  It's life affirming.  It's soothing to the spirit. ^_^

   The Summer Veggies SFG box.  The part of the backyard they are in is just getting out of the shade of the tree in this picture.  In the north part of the box, I have three heirloom tomato plants.  We plan on building a strong support for them so we can grown them vertically.  If all goes well, we will have dark purplish red on the left, yellow in the middle, and pinkish red on the right during the peak of summer and onward.  I also have basil, Italian parsley, eggplant, beans, and soy growing in this box.  I can't wait for the first tomato sandwich of the season! XD

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Day 44

   This is the first entry since Saturday, and since we had a partial solar eclipse on Sunday, I'm posting one of the pictures we took of the dappled sun/shadows on the siding of the tree leaves.  It's so cool how we can see the upside down image of the sun's crescent.

   Our spring veggies SFG box on Day 44.  I have since planted those two squares vacated by the radishes.  Yesterday's daily high was 91 degrees and set the record for the area.  It comes as no surprise that I found one of the spinach plants starting to set buds.  ^^;  I'm still picking them and using them in my soups, stir fries, and salads and they seem to come right back overnight. :D  The two squares of Mesclun salad mix seem to do the same.  I make myself a nice big plate of salad and the next morning, I can't really see where I pinched off leaves.

   Baby pea pod on the vine.  The Alaska peas have been blooming and started growing baby pods.  It's fun to see things producing.  These plants are now 27 inches tall.  They have tendrils holding onto the support strings as well as onto each other and practically standing straight up as a whole. ^_^

   The tallest corn plant in the Corn Box is now measuring about 8 inches tall.  Both the first crop and second crop have successfully germinated and been growing nicely.  Corn is so fun to watch.  Here's one of out kitties strolling in the SFG zone of our backyard, keeping herself to the pathway. :D

   The Mammoth Russian seedling with the second set of leaves.  This one and a bunch of Mammoth seedlings are doing well.  Other annuals that have germinated nearby include four o'clocks and "Bright Lights" cosmos (yellow, orange, red).  I hope I can get a nice cutting garden strip/natural fence out of them in the peak of summer. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Day 41

   It rained overnight, which is a treat for us since it rarely happens, and everything had droplets on them this morning.  The smell of rain was wonderful to wake up to.  Here's a picture of the Spring Veggies Box on Day 41.  Found a few paw prints in the green onions square.  I don't know how the cat managed that with all those sticks in the way. XD

   The peas have started to bloom.  They have pretty white flowers.  We'll be eating peas soon!

   One of my tomato plants.  This one here is "Black Krim".  It's my first year ever trying this heirloom variety.  I'm looking forward to seeing how this plant's fruits will taste. :D  I have a total of 3 tomatoes planted along the north side of my Summer Veggies Box.  They will have a support to climb on -- eventually.

   The Strawberry Box.  Every plant is growing nicely and filling out the box.  Some of the leaves are really big.  We have only seen sporadic fruiting up to this point, of tiny strawberries.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Soy Beans

   Soy beans square on Day 40.  Of the 9 beans planted in this square, five managed to grow.  I've noticed when I grew  them in traditional in-the-ground garden also that some soy beans would just rot in the ground and never manage to germinate.  Some would also break ground, but turn brown and fail to grow.  These observations were also true when I started them indoors in small pots.  I honestly never expected soy beans to be quite this tricky. ^^;  once they get past the initial baby leaves stage, they seem to do just fine.

   Looking at this photo of my soy beans, it makes me think that they might need more nitrogen -- the newest leaves on top look a little yellow...

   The two squares that radishes were growing in have been all harvested and cleared.  I planted one with curled parsley clump (Came 3 in a decent size pot).  I like fresh parsley in tabouli (I omit mint that traditional tabouli recipes call for in my cooking because parsley and mint together is just ... not my thing. ^^; ) during summer.  They also look quite pretty in a vigorously growing mound.

   As for the other square vacated by the radishes, I'm not sure what I'd like to plant yet.  I know my daughter and I would love more soy beans and/or broccoli while my husband would love more carrots. ^^;

   The Mammoth Russian sunflower seedling that I've been keeping track of.  It's stout, but very healthy.  This one already follows the sun during the day from east to west at this size.

   The newly germinated Mammoth seedling.  I have a single row going in the backyard.  These guys were planted before the Mammoth Russians germinated.  My seed packets for MR were a few years old and I wasn't sure if I was going to get any seedlings at all.  I've got some, but nothing as consistent as the packet of Mammoth, which was purchased brand new this season at a store.  They germinated bigger and are growing faster.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Day 39

   The spring veggies SFG box on Day 39.  As you can see, I've been eating the radishes and they are almost all gone.  I will be planting something else in these two squares soon.  Although I've had a side salad or a meal-size salad made with greens from the two Mesclun salad mix squares for every meal for the past two days, it's hardly noticeable in the way those two squares look -- they look really full.  It is so nice to have easy and continual access to fresh, organically-grown vegetables.  I have not seen any pest in the garden and nothing has had any holes either. ^_^

   One square I have yet to start harvesting is the Swiss chard square.  They are just not getting to be between 5 and 8 inches tall (The tallest is the orange one, and the shortest is the magenta one.) and I'm going to let them grow a little bigger before I'll start taking the outer leaves for me. ^_^  They sure are beautiful!!

   Also beautiful are the pea plants with their light grey-green leaves and elegant tendrils.  The tallest one in the crowd, among my "Alaska" peas, measured 24 inches today.  And I noticed some flower buds starting to show. :D  Exciting!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fried Rice with Radish Greens

   Here's a picture of the two varieties of radishes that are coming out of our SFG boxes -- "Sparkler White Top" (red and white bi-color) and "Crimson Giant" (gorgeous scarlet color).  Whenever we buy radishes at the grocery store or farmer's market, the pretty greens always come intact.  And when we pluck them out of the garden, we also notice that there's a lot of greens to go with the commonly eaten part.  The leaves are hairy and  weird for use as a salad green.  They are, however, quite delicious, cooked -- particularly, stir fried.

   Growing up in Japan, learning to cook by watching my mother, I must warn anyone who's reading this that I am a typical Asian cook.  Ever notice how most Asian chefs on TV never measure anything?  We come from the 'school of eyeballing'.  It's a legitimate home-style cooking method, in my humble opinion.   I'm sharing my fried rice recipe that can be easily adjusted and experimented and is great with leftovers from the night before.  All amounts are approximate.

Fried Rice with Radish Greens
-- A very simple and quick recipe that is perfect for using leftover rice and any meat that you have on hand.

  • radish greens, chopped (I used about 1 cup for the single serving for myself.)
  • about 1 table spoon of oil (olive oil, vegetable oil, whatever you prefer)
  • about 1 cup of cooked rice (white or brown, left over from the previous dinner works great)
  • about 4 oz. of cooked meat, chopped into 1/2" cubes (grilled chicken, ham, beef, bacon, hot dogs, etc.)
  • salt & pepper to taste
optional additions: crushed hot pepper, chopped onions, onion powder, chopped garlic, garlic powder, a drizzle of soy sauce, seasoning from ramen noodle packs

vegetarian option: scrambled eggs or cubed/crumbled tofu can be substituted for any type of meat

  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan. (If you like using fresh onions and/or garlic, add them first when the oil is hot and ready before the greens are added.)
  2. Add the greens.  They will cook fast, so be ready with all the other ingredients.  Sautée over medium high heat. 
  3. Add your choice of meat when the greens are just about all 'wilted'.  Make sure you don't overcook the greens.  If they start to stew in their own juice, you've cooked too long.
  4. Add cooked rice into the meat and greens mixture.
  5. Finish up with your desired seasonings to taste.

Plated with a radish 'flower' and leaf garnish.  Just because. ^_^


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Day 37 & Update on Chicken Coop

   Spring Vegetables SFG Box on Day 37.  I have already used some spinach yesterday and have been using Mesclun salad mix leaves for sandwiches also for a few days.

   Took us long enough, but we finally put the climbing support for the peas now that "Alaska" was 2 feet tall.      The seed packet said they'd only grow to  be 2.5 feet, and I have no idea how tall the Asian snow peas climb.  But I have tucked in some moonflower seeds about 8 days ago, and I know they will be able to use the support for sure.  I'm also considering putting some morning glory seeds in there, but wondering if the soil might be a little too rich -- they tend to do better in poor soil while rich soil tend to produce lush growth with no flowers.  Anyhow, you can see the chicken coop frame in the background, far to the upper right.

   The Mother's Day Sunday was a project Sunday for us.  My husband has finished building the frames for the chicken coop.  In this photo, they're just tacked together temporarily (We still need to get some pressure treated wood for the base.), but it sure helps visualize the whole thing.  Our city code allows for up to 6 chickens for properties under 1/2 acres with no permit necessary.  Rooster is not restricted, either.  We are hoping to get 4 hens.  We took apart the old swing set that used to sit there as you can see what's left of it along the fence... and one of out kitties in the background.

   Mesclun salad mix square has grown to look so lush and delicious.

   I'm harvesting these guys today -- "Crimson Giant" radish.  They are about 1.5 to 2 inches across.  Even with the late start (April 8th) and recent hot weather, they've managed to remain sweet without becoming hot, and crunchy without being dry.

   The other square of radish -- "Sparkler White Tip".  Red top with white bottom.  A pretty color combination.  The very first one that I pulled out turned out to be very hot and disappointed me.  But the rest of the batch I pulled out for breakfast turned out to be the classic radish flavor with no obnoxious hotness.   That made me happy.

   In the past, whenever I grew radish, cracking and dryness were always a problem with some part of the garden that didn't stay consistently moist.  With Mel's Mix in the SFG box, the moisture was consistent throughout the growing season and there were no problems.  So this method is clearly great for radishes.

   The little sunflower seedling that I've been keeping track of.  His real leaves are now bigger than the baby leaves.  The stem is getting really dark.  Very sturdy since it was grown outside from seed.  I get way more kitty traffic out there than in the SFG box (with those sticks XD ).

   Here's my Zebra Iris.  It sits quietly by the little jellybean pond by itself with unique yellow and green leaves.  This is the first year that it has grown a decent size bloom. ^_^

   Another picture of the same bloom taken from a different angle.  The blooms are relatively simple to compliment the showy foliage.  In the background are the lily pads.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Day 34

   It was hot yesterday and we are seeing even more growth on these plants on Day 34.  It has been windy this morning and I gave them a drink before taking this picture.  Soil looks darker when wet, providing a nice contrast to the greens.  The radishes have really started growing fast -- they're bursting out of their squares.  The "Alaska" peas on the left are now about 12 inches tall.

   Corn Box on Day 17.  Neat rows of corn seedlings on the right half of the box.  They were still in the shade of the house when this picture was taken, but they'll come out of that shade by 9:30.  It has been many seasons since I grew corn in the backyard, so this is exciting!

   Now onto other things in the backyard.  Here's a sunflower seedling (Along with elm tree seedlings and tumble weed seedlings ... I must bust them before they get big and become a nuisance.)  This sunflower is getting plenty of sun (Look how dark the stem is already.) and plenty of moisture.  I have also given it a drink of sea kelp solution already.  I want to see HUGE sunflowers this summer. ^^

   Morning glory seedlings.  I have planted two different kinds in several spots.  These guys popped up first.

   A new plantings of dianthus near the jellybean shaped pond in the backyard.  Now we have solid magenta kind and magenta and white bi-color.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Little Mushrooms

   I found a tiny surprise this morning when I was checking the SFG boxes.  Right in an "Alaska" peas shade were two little mushrooms.  They are about 1.5 inches.  As much attention as I pay to these boxes, I doubt that I missed them yesterday, so they must have come up overnight.   My area is very dry, so we don't see a lot of mushrooms unless in the mountains or in the shade after a rainstorm.  The soil mix for SFG must be doing an excellent job keeping things moist.  These are the only two I've found.

   Aside from their tiny stature making them look undeniably cute, I think they are beautiful.  The texture of their tops reminds me of ribbed sweater.

   I removed the soil around the roots of the radish to see how they are coming along. ^_^  Bright red!  Still a little small, but they're definitely getting there.

   Something else that is getting colorful in my spring veggies SFG box is the "Neon Lights" Swiss chard.  In the SFG book, Mel recommended 4 Swiss chard plants per square, so I planted about 4 to 5 seeds per spot, hoping that I'll be able to get one of each color that was in the mix -- red, pink, yellow, and orange.  When they germinated, the red and pink/magenta seedlings look almost identical and so did the yellow and orange babies.  So I waited until a pair of true leaves grew.  By then, the oranges looked a little darker than the yellow guys and the red ones looked more intense than the pink/magenta ones, helping me identify and thin according to desired color.  They are about 3 to 3.5 inches tall right now.  Clockwise from lower left: yellow, orange, red, and magenta/pink.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Day 32

   Now that many of the veggies have reached a certain size, daily growth is more noticeable. :D

   Corn seedlings in the morning sun.  They also grow fast, and therefore, a pleasure to watch.

Around the House

   I haven't grown sunflowers in many seasons.  I used to get volunteer sunflowers in the backyard after one season of growing them from seeds.  They would do really well because nature knows best when it comes to timing things like germination.  One thing I noticed though, was that all subsequent generations of volunteer sunflowers never grew like the original giant, but rather smaller and bushier with lots of side shoots and thus, smaller flowers.  They look much like the wild ones we see along the state highways in Colorado.

   This spring though, I'm in a growing race with a friend in France to see which one of us gets the tallest sunflower and the first bloom. ^^  She had a head start on me with indoor starts.  I was still getting my backyard strip of flower bed ready bit by bit.  It's still not as nice as my SFG boxes with lots of organic substances, but the sunflowers I planted in the past always did well without much attention and fussing from me, so I'm hoping that once they get going, they'll do just fine mostly on their own.  Anyhow, the packet of Mammoth Russian (or is it Russian Mammoth...?) I had was several years old, but I put them in the ground anyway to see if they'd germinate.  I also had a packet of seeds of other sunflowers that are shorter with different colored petals that was a few years old, so I put these seeds in the ground as well.  A week later, I saw some sunflower seedlings.  The one in the photo above is the biggest one I've seen so far.

   These are one of the four large clumps of irises along our garage.  They are pretty much left on their own (You can see the old stalks and dead leaves from previous season in the picture.) and the only water they get is the runoff water from the roof when it rains (And THAT hardly happens here in the desert west of Colorado.).  They do, however, perform very well every spring, protected by the garage and kept warm from the reflected and radiating heat off the siding.

   Here is the photo of one of the roses in my front yard.  This one is in the dappled sun from the wisteria vines.  I can't remember what the variety was, but I think they look a lot like Angel Face. ^^;

   This is one of the hybrid irises I have in our front yard.  The heavily crinkled petals give the ruffled appearance.  The blue is a deliciously rich shade of royal blue.  And the petals glisten in the sunlight.  (So many things the camera fails to capture... ^^; )  I can't remember the name of the variety, though.

   A slightly different angle of the same iris.  It's showing a little more purple than it actually is.  The actual color is closer to the first photo.

   After the irises are done blooming, with the peonies and bachelor's buttons also done blooming about the same time, I will have a lull in the garden until the roses really pick up.  It got me thinking though, because after the first series of blooming by the roses, I will have a period of time where there's no bright color going in my front yard until the canna and cosmos start to flower.  This got me motivated to till the small empty space behind the irises in my front bed where nothing is growing at the moment.  I'll plant some kind of annuals so weed control will be easier from season to season.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Day 31

   Looking at all four of our SFG boxes at once.  (In the right upper corner, you can see the frames of the chicken coop that my husband has started building.)  The spring veggies box closest to us is starting to look nicely loaded with fresh green colors.  I do notice a bare spot in one of the Mesclun salad mix squares where a cat had dug around. T_T

   Oops, I took this photo from the north side.  I have been taking the pictures of this box from the east side all this time.  I put the peas along the west side of the box, although the book recommended to put the trellis in the north of the box so the sun doesn't get blocked.  The peak summer sun in the afternoon will be so harsh for the greens, I figured they will be able to use a break later in the season.  We'll see if this works out ... or not. :D

   Visiting the boxes counter clock wise, starting with the spring veggies box, the next up is the corn box.  I just planted the second variety of corn on the south half of the box (8 squares).  The variety planted is Honey and Cream -- an yellow and white bi-color.

   The summer veggies box (Box #4).  I have two heirloom tomatoes, Black Krim and Brandywine.  Brandywine is a favorite of mine for the classic tomato flavor and the size of fruits, and Black Krim is something I'm growing for the first time ever -- it's a variety from Ukraine and has purple/black shoulders and the inside of the fruit shows the color as well.  I'm curious how this tomato will do in our climate.  I haven't grown tomatoes in several seasons.  I've missed them and am extra-excited about growing them in  the SFG to see how they'll perform.  I'm the only one in the family who enjoys unprocessed tomatoes straight from the vine.  I guess I will be sharing them with neighbors. ^^;

   Also in the summer veggies box so far are: Japanese eggplant "Ichiban", Italian flat-leaf parsley, red bell pepper, all from the local nursery.  I have also planted squares of soybeans, garden beans (bush variety), broccoli, carrots and four o'clocks (for color).  I'm also planning to plant sweet basil and some other veggies (not all the squares are filled yet in this box).

   Finally, the strawberry box.  They have stayed healthy without wilting since the transplant, and also managed to avoid any intrusion by our kitties for some reason.  I have seen only tiny fruits so far, but they had strong strawberry flavor.