Archive for September, 2009

A Score of Gorgeous Caps

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

The cold weather that was delivered with five inches of rain last week dealt me this beautiful flush. The shiitake in my hand is neither the largest nor the smallest. It is one of twenty close to perfect mushrooms I sliced off the plugged logs this afternoon.

I have a chance to win even bigger in the next few days. There are at least 27 more on the logs. They’re smaller, and I’m not sure if they are going to fill out as nicely as these. But I will bet on this: The twenty in the bowl are going to taste great!

Writing About Writers

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

We attended the Garden Writers Association 61st Annual Symposium in Raleigh , North Carolina, last week. It was CobraHead’s 6th GWA, and our fifth as an exhibitor.

Here’s Anneliese putting the final touches on our booth. The symposium includes a trade show, seminars, speakers, tours, dinners, and awards. It is held in a different city every year, and tours of both public and private local gardens are a big part of the trip

Pictures from the Sarah P. Duke Gardens at Duke University. A truly outstanding public garden and arboretum.

These are from Montrose , a former estate of a governor of North Carolina, William Alexander Graham, now a foundation maintained by Nancy and Craufurd Goodwin.

S.E.E.D.S. , is a community garden project in inner city Durham that teaches people to grow food and care for the earth. The young people are paid interns and the food grown is sold at the facility. They were harvesting sweet potatoes while we were there. The second shot is of a green roof project constructed on the site.

On Sunday our tour had a mis-adventure as our bus slid off a driveway and got hung up.

Touring the Wal-Mart garden center in Mt. Olive was not on the agenda, but here’s the group at the big box waiting for a replacement bus. The bus mishap put a damper on the last day’s fun as we missed several of the scheduled stops, but overall, the trip and trade show were excellent.

Next year the symposium is in Dallas and the organizers promise another excellent show. GWA is as close to a vacation as Judy and I get since we started CobraHead. So we are looking forward to the gardens of the big D.

One Sweet Potato, Two Sweet Potato

Friday, September 18th, 2009

I’ve dug two sweet potato plants out early, well ahead of the first frost, which is when they will all need to be removed from the ground. The plant on the left yielded over four pounds of usable tuber. We’ve already eaten one tuber that weighed a little over a pound. The plant on the right will give us just over three pounds. So if our average continues, we could get about seventy pounds of sweet potatoes from 20 plants started in one bed.

The potatoes actually become sweeter and taste better after they’ve cured, but they are still quite usable right out of the ground. Judy has a recipe for sweet potato quesadillas that uses shredded sweet potato as the filler. It’s our favorite sweet potato recipe. The fresh sweet potatoes work just as well as ones out of storage. The new potatoes also can be used immediately in dishes like stir fries and casseroles, but they lack the sweetness for pies and baking.

We’ll cure the potatoes by keeping them in the warm kitchen for at least two weeks. Then we individually wrap each tuber in newspaper and store the crop in five gallon pails or on shelves in the basement. The stored sweet potatoes can last nine months, easily. We’ve frequently gotten them to last well over a year. The trick is to use the little tubers up first. They don’t last, but the big one have lots of storage power.

If you have the room in your garden, sweet potatoes are a great vegetable. They are quite easy to grow, although they do require a little bit of special culture. And while we don’t get some of the insect problems that southern growers encounter, voles, and wireworms can be a problem under the ground. Above ground I’ve never had a problem with insects, but deer and groundhogs love the vines.

This year, the plants appear very healthy above and below, so we expect an excellent harvest.

Bloom Day! Or: How I Learned What’s Growing in My Garden

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

About a week and a half ago, I bought a house. It’s my first house, and I have to admit I’m a bit intimidated by it. Just the idea of home ownership and the responsibility that goes with it is intimidating enough, but on top of that I had to go and buy a “fixer upper”. The house needs new windows, new wiring, more insulation, an additional bathroom, new paint in every single room, floor refinishing, and a couple of new basement steps. Did I say basement? I meant hole in the ground.

As daunting as those repairs may seem, I think I’m even more afraid of the yard.

It’s not a very big yard, but you wouldn’t know that by walking through it. The previous owner of the house spent the last fifteen years turning the yard into his own personal botanical garden. There are plants everywhere, and the less than quarter acre corner lot has an incredible amount of privacy. It’s really a lovely little yard, but when it comes to maintenance, I don’t even know where to start. The fact that I don’t even know what half the stuff is doesn’t help. This morning, I decided to go out there and take pictures of everything that’s blooming right now (I didn’t include everything here). I know what some of these flowers are, but not all. By all means, please enlighten me. While you’re at it, feel free to stop by, grab pair of pruners and get to work.

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Now please go check out the originator of Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!

Potato Bonanza

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

The bucket is holding over 28 pounds of Purple Viking and Durango potatoes that I dug yesterday. There are some very large specimens and I’m quite happy with this year’s crop. The entire bed yielded about 55 total pounds of spuds including these, some blue fleshed Adirondack Blue, and a little pinkish fingerling called Rose Finn Apple. I still have most of another bed to harvest, so we’ll be eating a lot of potatoes in the coming months.

To harvest the potatoes, I break the edges of the bed with a fork and use the fork to get under the potatoes and break the dense clay. Then I get down on my hands and knees and use a CobraHead to lift out the potatoes, all the while pushing the soil behind me as I move down the bed. The harvesting results in a complete double digging. I end up with a lopsided bed and lots of clay clods

I use a wheel barrow to move the excess soil from the one end of the bed to the other. It takes a over an hour to get the bed back in shape, but when I’m done, I have a weed-free bed that is ready to go.

The tools I use to shape the bed and break up some of the bigger chunks of clay include a digging fork,a border fork, a scoop shovel, a digging spade, a steel rake, a long handled CobraHead, and my antique five-tined hand cultivator. Even after gardening in the same spot for over twenty years; composting, rotating crops and covering the beds with leaves in the fall, the clay here is still tough.

It does get softer, though, and some parts of the garden have soil that is now quite friable, but the south end is still the worst. Nevertheless, the clay is fertile and it produces some fine crops. I don’t think I’d want anything else now. I’m happy with my soil and my raised bed system and I like the way my garden makes me feel connected to the earth.