Posts Tagged ‘noel valdes’

Prepping Open Raised Beds for Winter

Friday, December 1st, 2017
Open Raised Garden Bed

Open Raised Garden Bed

We’re taking advantage of good weather to get a lot of garden beds prepared for winter.  We’re loosening them up with a broadfork, pulling out most of the weeds, shaping them up neatly, and covering them with a thick layer of leaves.

Raked Smooth, Ready for Winter

Raked Smooth, Ready for Winter

I don’t use cover crops to protect the beds through the winter.  Cover crops are a good approach, as garden soil should not be left uncovered and bare, but I have an abundance of leaves, and covering the garden with them is a lot easier than planting another crop.   A bed all raked smooth as this one is will be ready to plant in the spring.  All we’ll have to do is rake back the leaves, which we can leave in the paths to break down and also act as a weed mulch.

Left – Done, Right – Not Done

Left – Done, Right – Not Done

Note the bed on the right, the one with the bucket.  It needs to be worked up, weeded, and re-shaped.

All Forked Up

All Forked Up

Here’s that bed after I worked it up with a broadfork and removed the weeds.

Shaped Up Bed

Shaped Up Bed

Here’s the same bed after it’s been shaped up and smoothed out using a five-tined cultivating hoe, an antique tool, that in my opinion should be made again, as it is so useful.

Tools

Tools

These are the four tools I use to work and shape my beds: a scoop shovel, a five-tined cultivating hoe, a broadfork, and a steel rake.

I maintain a large garden and the raised bed approach we use is working.  Our soil continues to improve and maintenance is in many ways a lot easier than it would be with a rototiller or any other more conventional approach.  From a sustainability aspect, using low technology and minimal outside inputs, I’m pretty sure this method ranks at or near the top of all home gardening systems.

Black Friday Garlic

Friday, November 24th, 2017
Ridged Garlic Bed

Ridged Garlic Bed

I try to plant garlic by the end of October.  This year it didn’t happen.  Having great faith in climate change, I knew I would get another opportunity or several before the ground froze too hard to work easily. Today the high temperature peaked at around 66 F and it was a quite pleasant day for planting, a very good way to spend Black Friday.

I plant garlic in ridges, three per bed.  I work up the soil in a bed until it is soft. The ideal tool for this is an antique five-tined cultivating hoe. I rake up the soil into three relatively equal ridges.  A steel rake is good for this. I tamp everything down with the rake after I have my ridges shaped as I want them.

Garlic Cloves

Garlic Cloves

This year I was fortunate to meet Greg and Cathy Kosmeder. They own Copper Kettle Farm in Colgate, Wisconsin and are small-scale organic garlic growers. The Kosmeders were vendors at the Wisconsin State Master Gardener Conference as were Judy and I. I came away from the Conference with two varieties of garlic which I added to our home-grown crop of no longer known origin. I seeded the center ridge with Extra Hardy German and Georgia Crystal from the Kosmeder’s farm, and seeded the outer ridges with our home-grown seeds.

Planting Garlic

Planting Garlic

I like to use six-inch spacing for these large cloves. I lay the cloves out on top of the ridges at their six-inch intervals, then come back and insert the closes into the soil, just covering the top of the bulb.  The Original CobraHead works very well as an assist for this. I could just push the cloves into the soil, but by pushing the CobraHead blade into the soil and shoving the clove down alongside the blade it makes the process cleaner, and easier.

Garlic Bed Covered in Straw

Garlic Bed Covered in Straw

A thick covering of straw ensures the garlic will survive the hardest freezes and will be sprouting very early next spring.

Horseradish

Monday, November 13th, 2017
Horseradish

Horseradish

I prepared horseradish sauce yesterday.  I ran the horseradish twice through a food processor, first slicing, then shredding the pieces of root. As I was shredding, I added enough vinegar to keep the horseradish from drying out or heating up. The vinegar helps retain the hot flavor and allows it to keep for a while in the refrigerator. It will last a couple months.  It’s a tasty condiment and it has an impressive list of purported health benefits.

Horseradish Plants

Horseradish Plants

I grow horseradish in the herb bed, along with my plantings of perennial onions, garlic, leeks, and chives.  It is very easy to grow and quite difficult to get rid of once you have it.  I could encourage larger, cleaner, and easier to harvest roots if I grew it in softer soil, but it’s not high enough on my list of priorities to give it the treatment it deserves. I do like to have it around because the finished product is so good.

Horseradish Roots

Horseradish Roots

I dug out several plants. The ground was frozen on top but quite soft below the thin crust. I didn’t try to get out the whole plant. That would have entailed a lot of work. Pieces left in the ground will most often grow back. I brushed off as much dirt as I could. I trimmed off the crowns which I shoved back into the soil where I had harvested, just to make sure there would be some around next year. It was too cold to wash them outside so I brought them inside to do that.

Horseradish Peelings

Horseradish Peelings

I’ve read recipes suggesting not peeling the roots, but just washing them before shredding. The roots I harvest are pretty gnarly, with folds packed with dirt, bug holes, rotten spots, and other imperfections I’d rather not have in my sauce. I think peeling is in order.  The peeling process is where the vapors of mustard oil that make horseradish famous first show themselves. Strong whiffs of horseradish vapors could be likened to tear gas. Usually, it’s just some fun in the kitchen, but I think an overdose of fumes could be a real problem.

Peeled and Washed Horseradish Roots

Peeled and Washed Horseradish Roots

Horseradish: washed, trimmed and ready for the food processor.

 

 

 

2017 Sweet Potato Harvest

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017
Sweet Potato Harvest. CobraHead Test Gardens. Cambridge, Wisconsin.

Sweet Potato Harvest

We harvested 89 pounds of sweet potatoes yesterday. That’s not a record, but it’s well above our normal yield, and we’re happy with the results. Our average sweet potato yield is about 80 pounds per bed.  We grow a variety named Jewel (sometimes spelled Jewell).  We’ve been growing Jewel from our own starts for over 10 years and we find it excellent for both yield and long-term storage, and they taste great, too!

Empty Bed. CobraHead Test Gardens. Cambridge, Wisconsin.

Empty Bed

The potatoes were grown in this very clayey bed.

Sweet Potato Vines. CobraHead Test Gardens. Cambridge, Wisconsin.

Sweet Potato Vines

For harvesting, we first removed all the vines and the black plastic sheet which covered the bed and acted as a solar collector to heat up the soil.

18 Harvested Sweet Potato Plants. CobraHead Test Gardens. Cambridge, Wisconsin.

18 Harvested Sweet Potato Plants

Here are the 18 harvested plants.

Vole Damage. CobraHead Test Gardens. Cambridge, Wisconsin.

Vole Damage

More Vole Damage. CobraHead Test Gardens. Cambridge, Wisconsin.

More Vole Damage

The forecast is for warm temperatures for the next ten days, but I had to harvest now because I noticed some vole damage on one of the potatoes when I checked under the plastic, two days ago. Any increase in yields we might have gotten for leaving them in the ground longer could have been easily offset by damage from these little varmints.

Fortunately the damage was limited to two plants and was not significant. I found a nest under the plastic, but no voles.

We trimmed up the roots before we weighed them and wheeled them to the house for a two week curing on the kitchen table.

After two weeks in the kitchen, we’ll wrap the larger potatoes in newspaper and store them in the basement. We will be able to enjoy our harvest all year long.

 

Wood Garden Flats

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

Wood Flat

This old flat dates back to about 1990.  I started making my own flats from some cheap fence wood I had acquired.  I’m not sure where I got the design, probably a garden magazine or garden book, but it has proven to be long-lasting and very useful.  The flats are built using  3″ x 12″ x 5/8″ wood for the ends and 3″ x 18″ x 5/8″ wood for the sides.  Thus they are 3 inches deep.  The construction is very rough, especially the older ones, which were cut with a hand saw.  Now I use a table saw and the newer flats are definitely squarer.

Flat Lined with Newspaper

I line the flats with newspaper. They can be filled with soil, or filled with seed starting cups or pots.

Flat Filled With Potting Soil

When I fill the flat with soil, I use a block of wood to level out the soil and tamp it down.

28 Seed Cups in Flat

The flats hold 28 small 5 ounce drink cups exactly.  I start most of my seeds in these small cups.

Stackable Flats

The flats are stackable and strong.  Unlike many plastic seed starting trays, they are ridged and less likely to be upset when moving them around.  I now have about 30 of these flats in my collection.  They are easily repairable.  Wood flats are an important part of my gardening routine.

Talking and Writing About Gardening

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator

I started CobraHead to sell a tool I designed. I was quite sure my tool would be a help to a lot of gardeners. Since then, sales have proven what I knew when I started, the tool was a good one. Supposedly it was Emerson who said, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” I can assure you Ralph got it wrong. You can have a great product, but you have to sell it and sell it hard before anyone will even know it’s out there.

CobraHead Logo

 

 

Fifteen years into our CobraHead venture it’s obvious no one would know anything about the tool if I didn’t become a marketeer to extol its virtues to the public. Word of mouth happens, but it’s way too slow. You have to fuel the fire. There is so much noise out there and so many people claiming, just like me, that they’ve got something people need to buy. Selling is actually the most time consuming part of the business. Fortunately, I was a salesman before I started the company, and I‘ve learned a whole lot about marketing since we first launched.

Magazine Ad

 

We’ve chosen a relatively low key approach to marketing our company. Print advertising hasn’t been our best venue. We don’t do a lot of it. We’ve found many lower cost tools to get our message out. Maintaining a blog is quite inexpensive. Talking about gardening at trade shows and garden conferences can cost almost nothing and I often get paid for doing it. And while I almost never talk about my tools directly, the association and connection to our company through blogs and public appearances strengthens the perception that I’m a gardener who walks the talk.

The CobraHead Blog

Very early into our history, we found out about a group called the Garden Writers Association. We began attending their conferences with the specific purpose of getting tools into the hands of garden writers with the hope they would like the tool and mention it in their articles and talks. That has proved to be our most successful method of gaining publicity, but attending the conferences also taught us about writing and presenting. Now, while I hardly consider myself a garden writer, I really am one. It’s just not my full time job.

PowerPoint Slide Show

While I’m not on the speaker’s circuit, I’ll be giving three talks on gardening at our favorite garden show, the Madison Garden Expo, coming up in February. I’m talking about growing garlic, growing sweet potatoes, and the raised bed method of gardening that I employ. In none of these talks do I hard sell my tools, but they do generate sales for us at the show and after.

Facebook Page

Social media is the newest selling tool out there and it can be low cost. We maintain a Facebook page, but so far, Twitter, Pinterest, and other such venues are yet to be explored. It probably will be a while before we jump in with those.

Promoting CobraHead has taught me a lot about marketing and certainly has improved my gardening knowledge just by being associated with the garden industry and trying to figure out ways to become a stronger part of it. I’ve met hundreds of people in the industry and many of them are, like me, trying to show others the value of gardening. I’ve learned a lot from them.

Late Fall Planting of Wine Cap Mushrooms

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016
Wine Cap Mushrooms

Wine Cap Mushrooms

Wine Cap Mushrooms (Stropharia rugosa annulata) are considered one of the easiest mushrooms to grow. Easy to grow, but highly prized, Wine Caps are noted for both their large size and excellent taste. Wine Caps are not often found in stores because of their fragile nature. This is my first attempt at growing them. As with the shiitake mushrooms I’ve grown for many years, my Wine Cap stropharia spawn came from Field and Forest Products, Inc., Peshtigo, Wisconsin. http://www.fieldforest.net/ If you want to know anything about growing mushrooms and want buy the products you need to grow them, check out Field and Forest. We highly recommend them.

Wine Cap Spawn

Wine Cap Spawn

Wine Caps are often grown on wood chips. Yields with wood chips are larger and longer lasting, but growing on straw is fast and easy. Field and Forest sells Wine Cap spawn in 5.5 lb. bags, which they recommend for a fifty square foot planting using one small square bale of straw. I doubled that and planted two 5.5 lb. bags.

Shady Spot Prepared for Planting

Shady Spot Prepared for Planting

A shady area with good soil surface contact is recommended for planting beds. The ground should not be covered with sod or other materials that might keep the mushroom spawn from interacting with the soil. We had an excellent spot on the edge of the woods where the grass never gets established and was showing some bare soil, anyway. It was easy to scratch up a 10 foot by ten foot bed.

Soaking Weighted Down Straw Bales

Soaking Weighted Down Straw Bales

The straw should be of good quality, and relatively weed free. It needs to be soaked under water for three to six days. I had a big stock tank that worked perfectly for this. I soaked three straw bales (just to be safe), although I only ended up using just two bales. I had to weigh down the straw bales with blocks and rocks. Without the weight, the bales would float and not soak up the water in a short time period.

Bagged Spawn

Bagged Spawn

Here’s a picture of the two bags of spawn. Field and Forest has developed a breathable bag that allows the spawn to remain fresh and viable without refrigeration for up to two weeks. If not used immediately, the spawn can be refrigerated for up to six months. The spawn breaks up easily. I just put the contents of the bag into a large bowl and crumbled it by hand. After it’s all broken up, it looks like brown sugar.

First Layer of Straw

First Layer of Straw

I laid down about one inch of wet straw. Working with wet straw is really sloppy, so boots and old clothes are highly recommended. On top of this straw I scattered as evenly as possible the contents of one bag of spawn. Then I added another couple inches of straw and scattered the second bag of spawn on top of that.

Finished Planting

Finished Planting

I covered the second layer with a final cover of about three inches of straw, which used up all of two bales. I blocked the whole pile up neatly and were not winter coming soon, the job would be done. In warmer weather I could expect some mushrooms in just a few weeks.

Wine Cap Straw Pile Mulched with Leaves

Wine Cap Straw Pile Mulched with Leaves

The cold weather will slow things down and the mushrooms shouldn’t show up until spring. To keep the pile wet but not soaked, I mulched the bed with about six inches of leaves.

Wine Cap Harvest

Wine Cap Harvest

If all goes well, we can expect a huge harvest soon after warm weather returns. Field and Forest Products, Inc. also kindly provided the three pictures of wine caps, as we won’t have any to show until next spring.

Wine Caps

Wine Caps

Sweet Potato Harvest 2016

Saturday, October 15th, 2016
127 Pounds of Sweet Potatoes

127 Pounds of Sweet Potatoes

This year’s sweet potato harvest was certainly different than most. It was the largest we’ve ever had, over 125 pounds. Our previous best was 85 pounds. We normally yield between 75 and 80 pounds, so this was “really shocking”. We also had the largest single potato we’ve ever grown, eleven pounds. The quality was definitely not the best ever as we had a lot of cracked skins, which we are attributing to unusually high rainfall.

Sweet Potato Bed

Sweet Potato Bed

Our planting routine for sweet potatoes varies little. We grow 18 plants set under black plastic in a 20 foot long raised bed. Starts go in the last week of May and we harvest around the first frosts, usually mid-October. We never feed the plants and rarely water them. Sweet potatoes require almost no maintenance during their outdoor growing period. We had two nights of near frost the day before the harvest and the bed was covered with plastic. Above, the protective plastic is removed and the bed is ready to be harvested.

Cutting Off Vines

Cutting Off Vines

The thick tangled mass of vines is removed by cutting the vines from the roots using pruning loppers. The plastic circles we put around the plants when they are babies makes this job easier.

Vines Removed

Vines Removed

The vine mass is rolled up and out of the way as it is cut away from the roots.

Plastic Removed

Plastic Removed

We knew even before the plastic was removed that this was going to be a very large harvest with some very big roots.

Big Root

Big Root

They can grow ‘em big down south, but for us this is a rare sight.

11 Pound Sweet Pototo

11 Pound Sweet Pototo

Biggest one we ever grew.

Lots of Big Plants

Lots of Big Plants

Noel shows off more big ones.

Snake

Snake

We found several of these nested in the bed. There was no insect or mammal damage to our crop. Maybe the snakes helped.

Drying the Harvest

Drying the Harvest

We knock off the excess dirt and dry the potatoes in the sun. The potatoes are trimmed and turned.

Cracked Sweet Potatoes

Cracked Sweet Potatoes

A lot of the larger potatoes had big splits. The splits weren’t deep and had already healed over, so we don’t think our losses will be great, but we won’t know for sure until we cut a few big ones open to check the quality inside and start pulling them from storage.

The 2016 sweet potato harvest was probably our most interesting. Now we have to figure out what to do with all these potatoes.

Open Raised Bed Garden

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016
South Garden Area

South Garden Area

I advocate the use of open raised beds for home gardening.  I’ve been working with open beds for over 30 years.  There are lots of advantages over both conventional planting in rows, and also over assembled, boxed in beds.  I’ve got two plots with open beds.  The area I call the south beds is a very geometric layout of 18 beds, each about 5 feet wide by 20 feet long.

North Garden Area

North Garden Area

The north bed area is a lot more haphazard.  It borders on a weedy, woody area “where the wild things are”.  Most of the beds in the north area are 10 feet long and five feet wide.  I thought an interesting post for July might be to show what’s going on in each of the beds.

Coles, Sweet Potatoes, Empty Garlic Bed

Coles, Sweet Potatoes, Empty Garlic Bed

The bed in the foreground has cabbages, kohlrabi, Chinese cabbages, Pac Choi, fennel, nasturtiums and some volunteer mustard.   The next bed with the black plastic has sweet potatoes.  The third bed is where I just harvested garlic.  It still has a few lettuces in it.  I’ll harvest those, level off the bed and plant a fall crop of beets and carrots. Open beds make succession planting easy.

Potatoes, More Potatoes, Rhubarb and Raspberries

Potatoes, More Potatoes, Rhubarb and Raspberries

Next we have two beds of potatoes and a more perennial bed of rhubarb and raspberries.  I’ll probably relocate the rhubarb and raspberries this fall.  They’ve been in that spot since 2004.  It’s time for a change.

Peas, Onions, Strawberries

Peas, Onions, Strawberries

The trellised bed has peas, which are just about finished producing.  I’ll rip all the structure out and plant a fall crop of green beans and other greens in that bed.  In front of that are red and yellow storage onions.  The closest bed is a three year old bed of strawberries, from which any baby  plants will be used to start a bed this fall or early next spring.  I recently bought that green wheeled cart with a tractor seat.  I’m liking it and using it a lot.

Strawberries, More Strawberries, Squash and Cukes

Strawberries, More Strawberries, Squash and Cukes

Here are two beds of strawberries, new this year, and a bed of squash and cucumbers.  The big hubbard and kuri squash are sprawling on the ground.  The smaller squash and cukes are trellised.

Coles, Herbs, Zukes and Melons

Coles, Herbs, Zukes and Melons

The furthest bed is zucchini, and melons, along with some mustard and cilantro that I’m letting go to seed, a rather unkempt but very productive herb bed, and a bed of coles – cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

Tomatoes and Two Beds of Corn

Tomatoes and Two Beds of Corn

Lastly on the south side are tomatoes and two beds of corn.  I have to fence the corn in, otherwise the thunderstorm winds easily topple the stalks over.

Potatoes, Shallots

Potatoes, Shallots

The far more shaggy north garden area contains my compost pile. It’s barely visible, but capped by two buckets in the upper left side.  In front of that is a bed of potatoes.  Directly in front is a half bed of shallots and I’ve got a couple blackberry starts doing pretty well in front of those.  I’ve got a huge crop of girasole (Jerusalem artichoke, sunchoke, Helianthus tuberosus,) growing in several areas on the north side.  We don’t use them as much as we should.  Once you’ve got them, they are here to stay.

Candy Onions

Candy Onions

Behind the shallots I’ve got a bed of candy onions, bordering next to the wild lands.  Fortunately, the critters, so far, don’t seem to have a penchant for onions.

Asparagus, Peppers, Tomatoes, Okra and Leeks, Comfrey

Asparagus, Peppers, Tomatoes, Okra and Leeks, Comfrey

Rounding out the garden tour is more girasole.  Next to that, okra and leeks (which are past due for transplanting to a larger space).  Behind the leeks is a bed of comfrey, which is spreading well outside its borders, but I’m encouraging it, as it is a miraculous plant that I’m using a lot as a mulch and compost.  Next to this are beds of peppers and eggplants and more trellised tomatoes.  And finally on the left, our almost 30 year old bed of asparagus.

Open beds offer more flexibility than other systems.  They are relatively easy to maintain, and they truly do produce a heck of a lot of food in a pretty small area.

 

Garlic Harvest

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016
Harvesting Garlic

Harvesting Garlic

We harvested our 100 garlic plants yesterday.  The bulbs were almost all quite large and firm.  We didn’t wait for the stalks (on the soft necks) to fall over, the traditional sign that it’s time to harvest.  We were expecting some extended rains and we didn’t want to harvest wet bulbs, nor did we want the outer skin layers to start splitting.  The time was right.

Lettuce and Garlic

Lettuce and Garlic

We planted two rows of hard necks and one row of soft necks.  I started out using the broad fork to lift out several bulbs at a time, but I quickly switched to using a small fork and a CobraHead Weeder to pull out each bulb individually.  That was because I still have a lot of young lettuce plants that I had planted between the rows and I want to keep them going until I clean up the bed and do a late summer planting of beets and carrots.

Drying Garlic

Drying Garlic

We’ll dry the garlic for about two weeks on tables in the garage, but if it gets too hot we’ll bring them into the house to finish drying slowly.  High heat can overdry the garlic and practically cause them to disintegrate.

When the leaves turn brown we’ll cut them off leaving a 2″ stalk and store in the basement in mesh hanging baskets for good air circulation.

Garlic Bulbs

Garlic Bulbs