May 27, 2013

Garden Oddities

I've been collecting photos of odd flowers and vegetables for a while. I'm not sure why it never occurred to me to post some of them. So here's a post on "garden oddities". If possible, I'll have to make this a recurring topic (plus there are never-ending ugly tomatoes to share).

Unique foliage:

This is how Red Russian Kale leaves normally look:

I found this interesting specimen in the garden this spring. It seems to be extra frilly. I suppose I could save the seeds from this plant and see if it is a stable trait.

Albino plants:

The white leaf on this cucumber could be chlorosis, but it seems completely isolated to the first true leaf.

This snow pea came up completely chlorotic. It eventually died, but I'm surprised it survived long enough to develop as many leaves as it did.

Ugly Tomatoes:

This Japanese Black Trifele is naturally triangular shaped, but the blossom end of this one turned out particularly bizarre. It vaguely reminds me of the 'E Puribus Anus' school logo from the television show Community.

Although I love heirlooms, sometimes they're just a bit ridiculous. This particular fruit grew as several separate lobes all connected to the same stem. As you can see, the lobes are ripening at different rates. You'd have to do minor surgery on this thing before you could actually eat it.

Conjoined Tomatoes:

Here's another Japanese Black Trifele, but this time it has a strange growth near the stem end. 

This is perhaps my favorite odd tomato I've ever grown...because it looks like a red rubber ducky.

May 24, 2013

Rhubarb Soda Pop

My first garden harvest this year was some rhubarb from my 3-year old rhubarb patch. I planned on making some rhubarb syrup to use to make soda pop...and it was delicious.

My rhubarb bolted this year, probably due to the drought-like conditions last summer. The two sheathed stalks in the photo below are flower stalks. They were cut off near the base of the plant once I realized what they were.

Here's what the unopened rhubarb flower looks like. At first, I thought it was just an unfurled leaf all crinkled up, but it was actually the flower head.

Making the rhubarb syrup was easy. I mention the recipe I use in this post. After letting it cool, I mixed approximately 1 part rhubarb syrup with 2 parts club soda. The resulting color was a pretty pale pink. It reminded me of pink grapefruit...and it actually tasted quite a bit like grapefruit too!

May 22, 2013

2013 Vegetable Garden Layout

I like to be very organized and I'm a chronic maker of to-do lists, diagrams, maps, etc. My attitude towards gardening is no exception. After completely reworking the layout of my garden this year, I got to start with a clean slate (with the exception of an awkwardly placed patch of garlic planted last fall, and my rhubarb patch). It doesn't appear that I posted a map of my 2012 garden, but that's not surprising since last summer I was focusing on my Master's thesis and the garden was somewhat neglected. However, I can compare my current map with my garden layout posted in 2011 (which was fairly similar to 2012).

The 2013 vegetable garden has 13 north-south rows. Each row is 3 feet wide with 18" pathways between rows. So far, all the rows and pathways are constructed and black plastic has been laid on rows 1 through 6. Row 3 and rows 8 through 13 are already planted (except for the beans and corn)

Here's a list of what's going into each row:

Row 1: "Experimental" tomatoes from my cross of martino's roma and Black Krim two years ago (more on this later), as well as some other heirloom tomatoes, and awkwardly located garlic

Row 2: Heirloom tomatoes, peppers

Row3: Yukon gold and banana fingerling potatoes

Row 4: Winter squashes, watermelons, gourds, pumpkins

Row 5: Watermelons, cucumbers, pumpkins

Row 6: Summer squashes, muskmelons, eggplants, pumpkins

Row 7: Edamame and green beans

Row 8: Onions, shallots, leeks, green beans

Row 9: Lettuces, carrots, snow peas

Row 10: Kales, mustards, and other brassicas

Row 11: Parsley, cilantro, celery, strawberries, tomatillos

Row 12/13: Sweet corn and popcorn, rhubarb, perennial herbs

May 20, 2013

Plant Sale Purchases

My shopping trip at the MSU plant sale was pretty successful this year.  As usual, I came home with a bunch of fruit/veggie seedlings, but no flowering plant purchases (I don't like spending money on plants that won't pay me back).  I made a point of getting to the sale extra early this year (I think I arrived at 8:30am), but they were still running out of many varieties!  I was lucky to snag the very last 'Blush' tomato in stock.  I was too late to get this variety last time, which is why I got up so early this year.  I also picked up 'Great White' although I actually grew this variety from seed this year (I thought that I was growing 'White Queen' at home), so now I have a few extra seedlings to put in my giveaway pile.

Here are descriptions of what I bought:

Celery 'Giant Red': A recent re-selection from the European red-stalked celeries. Selection goals were better color, earliness and disease resistance. Red celery has a richer flavor than the green types. Until you've sampled the golden-pink hearts, you haven't tasted celery! (Baker Creek)

Kohlrabi 'Superschmelz': 60-70 days-Spectacular light green kohlrabi makes the largest bulb of any variety, up to 10 inches across, and weighing up to 10 LB! Yet the flesh is tender and never gets fibrous. Requires a very rich soil and plenty of space to reach gigantic proportions. (Baker Creek)

Melon 'Ananas': Sweet and juicy white flesh. A rare white muskmelon, fruit are around 5 lbs. An old 1800's heirloom. (Baker Creek)

Melon 'Prescott Fond Blanc': 70 days. The most unique and beautiful French melon we sell! The fruit is 4-9 lbs., very flattened and ribbed, with warts and bumps. Melons have grey/green skin turning straw color; flesh is salmon-orange. Once one of the best known melons, it was mentioned in the 1860's, but it likely is much older. The flavor is very rich if picked at perfection, and the fragrance is heavenly. This is a favorite melon of mine; almost unheard of in this country. (Baker Creek)

Pepper 'Quadrato D'Asti Giallo': 80 days. The giant yellow Quadrato bell pepper. The huge fruit are a favorite here. The largest variety we have grown, beautiful and blocky, with very thick walls; the flavor is outstanding--sweet and rich! This Italian variety gives very heavy yields; one of the best varieties for marketing. This superb pepper is a real winner! (Baker Creek)

Tomato 'Blush': These 2 inch long cherry tomatoes have an unforgettable tropical sweet flavor reminiscent of pineapple and are ready to pick when the pink blush starts to appear over the yellow background. Widely adapted with a heavy fruit set over an extended period, the tall vines need staking. (Seeds of Change)

Tomato 'Hillbilly': 80 - 85 days. A huge, bi-color heirloom: brilliant yellow color with red marbling. Very large with a rich, sweet flavor. Beautiful when sliced. An heirloom believed to be from West Virginia. (Baker Creek)

Tomato 'Great White': 80-85 days. Large, 1-lb giant, creamy white fruit, this tomato is superbly wonderful. The flesh is so good and deliciously fruity, it reminds one of a mixture of fresh-cut pineapple, melon and guava. One of our favorite fresh-eating tomatoes! Fruit are smoother than most large beefsteak types, and yields can be very high. Introduced by Gleckler's Seedsmen. (Baker Creek)

May 17, 2013

Salad Garden

I'm trying to put a little more effort into the salad greens portion of my garden this year. In past years, I have had so many volunteer lettuce seedlings pop up around the garden that I never had to intentionally plant any. However, after overhauling the garden this year, I wanted to start with a clean slate, which means no volunteers.

I'm trying several new salad crop varieties this year including 'Tom Thumb' shown in the foreground below. Tom thumb is a miniature butterhead lettuce. The idea is that you can harvest the entire head and it's enough for a single salad. Head lettuces can be difficult to grow in my area because spring is almost nonexistent (and this year was no exception).  They need cool weather in order to "head up" and our temps tend to jump straight from freezing to boiling. Even if these little guys don't make it to the table, they're adorable in they're own right.

I'm also trying frisee for the first time this year. This is a variety of endive that will grow into really wispy leaves, great for adding texture and bulk to salad mixes. My seedlings haven't started to take on the wispy growth yet, but they're still pretty young.

Another new variety, and possibly my most favorite new variety, is 'Ruby Streaks' mustard. It's peppery, texturey (is that a word?), and gorgeous!

I've devoted almost two whole (approximately 22' long) rows to what I'm calling salad crops this year including kales, endives, swiss chards, carrots, and lettuces. I attempted to plant them in alternating bands of green and red/purple-leaved varieties, so once they bulk up a bit, I think it will be really pretty.

Here's a better look at the drip tape I installed. There are little holes every 12 inches that drip water at a fairly fast pace. I only installed two rows of tape per 36" wide bed. So far it seems to be adequate.

I also plan on fencing in the salad garden this year. Last year the rabbits and squirrels got a little out of hand. While the fence won't keep the squirrels out, at least the rabbits won't be able to make a buffet out of my kale (below) and the rest of my salad garden.

May 16, 2013

Fun Links and Plant Sale!

I was recently interviewed about urban chicken keeping in the Greater Lansing area by Lansing Area Capitol Gains, and online publication. I got to share a little bit of my enthusiasm for urban agriculture and homegrown food. My hens also got their photos taken, including a gorgeous close-up of Graybeard The Pirate (AKA George Clooney), my gray feathered hen given her celebrity name by the neighbor boys (who didn't realize all my chickens are female).

Photo by Dave Trumpie of Lansing Area Capitol Gains

Here's a link to the article:

I also wanted to make a quick shout-out to the MSU Horticulture Gardens annual Plant Sale!!! Their prices are great (I actually think they should raise their prices, considering it's a fundraiser), the selection of flowering plants is exotic (compared to what you'll find at most big-box garden centers), and they have a huge selection of heirloom vegetable seedlings.

Here's a link for the plant sale info:  They even have lists of what will be available for purchase. Time to make my shopping list!

Although all of my garden beds are already reserved, I'm going to have to make room for a few extras.

May 13, 2013

Getting back to it!

It has been a LONG time since I last posted. Life has been busy (and difficult). I've worked at 5 different jobs since last fall...trying to find that long term career has been more difficult than I ever imagined. I spent the spring semester teaching introductory biology at a community college, which was a blast. However, once May rolled around, I found myself unemployed yet again. That said, the last week and a half since the semester ended has been fantastic! 

I got my lettuce and other salad greens planted.

I grew my first ever pullable lettuce plug. For someone with an horticultural background, this is a BIG DEAL!

I've been able to spend all day, every day, in my garden. I've transformed my raised bed garden into a (hopefully) more productive linear bed layout with a drip tape irrigation system. I bought an irrigation kit from and added a few extra components to customize it to the size of my garden.

The drip-tape system was incredibly easy to install, I didn't even need the instructions once I got the filter and backflow preventer hooked up to my spigot. After last year's drought-like conditions, this is going to be a huge timesaver (and plantsaver). All I have to do is turn on the spigot for about 45 minutes each morning and walk away. The hardest part is remembering to turn the water off again!

My chickens have been enjoying some valuable mommy-and-me time. I've been letting them out into the yard all day every day (except for the day when a giant husky tried to eat them). They are still enclosed in a makeshift fence, so they aren't completely free-ranging (which is illegal in my city, by the way). 

I haven't been able to harvest much from the garden yet. However, the perennial herbs and rhubarb have already been quite productive. I made a rhubarb syrup using 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 4 cups chopped rhubarb. I simmered it for about 20 minutes and strained the syrup from the pulp. I imagine the pulp would make great fruit leather, but I didn't want to haul out my giant dehydrator just for one sheet. So far I've used the syrup to make rhubarb soda, which is pretty tasty.

My front tulips, daffodils, and other bulbs were really pretty this spring despite the harsh drought conditions of 2012. After the tough summer last year, I was pretty sure that my bulbs wouldn't do much this spring, but I was wrong. My grape hyacinths were particularly nice this year. I brought these bulbs from my parents house to my new digs four years ago. They have multiplied quite a bit!

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