Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Strawberry Obsession Weighs 18 Pounds

We had a great holiday weekend. We spent time with family and friends doing the requisite BBQs and trips to the beach. On Saturday morning, my husband and I joined some friends at a pick-your-own farm to collect fresh strawberries, something which I've been itching to do since last year. It was a lot of fun, and as indicated by the post title, we picked a lot of berries.

When we arrived at the farm we were each given a flat (some people brought their own buckets) and driven out to the strawberry fields where we chose a row and got down to business.

We were out in the fields for about an hour, maybe a little less. Picking strawberries is slow, careful, back-breaking business. The plants were low to the ground, so I spent the time bent over or crouched down. They also bruise and squish easily, so I slowly and carefully worked my way down the row, filling my flat with berries and trying not to bump them around too much or squish the unripened berries still on the vine. My friends were a little less careful, and as the morning wore on there were a few more bruises developing on their fruit, but overall their berries looked OK too.

My goal for the day was to collect enough strawberries to freeze and enjoy over the winter months. (I have pledged not to buy berries at the store anymore because, in my experience, they taste bitter and go bad the next day). I thought we might bring home a few pounds, maybe 4 or 5. I was pretty surprised when we made it back to the farm stand and the weight of our flats came in at eighteen pounds!! Yes, I asked the lady to double check the weight. No, the weight of the container wasn't counted. Between what we collected and what we're growing at home, I think it's safe to say that I'll have plenty of strawberries to satisfy my cravings for months to come.
My slat--only ~8 lbs

Strawberry picking was fun, but the real chore was prepping and freezing 18 pounds of strawberries. Tomorrow I'll post about how we did that.

Virginia Department of Agriculture has info on what's in season, farmers' markets, recipes, and how to care/prep fresh-picked food.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Berry Good Progress

strawberries with protective net

90-degree temperatures + Humidity + My frizzy hair + Memorial Day weekend = Summer is here!

And around these here parts, this weekend also marks strawberry festival time. Several farms that are only an hour or two-hour drive away have fresh strawberries for sale and all sorts of delicious straberry-flavored desserts for sale, in addition to pie-eating contests, music, and all that stuff you'd expect of a good festival. My husband and a couple of friends are going to a farm tomorrow that allows you to pick your own strawberries, and I can't wait!

Strawberries are my favorite fruit. The strawberry bed we started is progressing nicely. The netting around the bed has prevented birds and squirrels from nibbling on the budding fruit--so far--and I'm crossing my fingers that the berries grow into sweet delicious fruit.

We have two varieties: everbearing and Quinalt [I just realized, do the everbearing ones have a different name? I need to check the garden tag]. I had never seen pink strawberry blooms before, but apparently the everbearing blooms are pink--very cool! I like them even more now. In addition to several blooms, we have plants with actual berries growing on them. As much as I hope that our home-grown plants will produce berries for us, I know they won't be enough to satisfy my craving and that's part of the reason I'm going berry picking tomorrow. I plan to come home with enough strawberries to freeze to get me through part of fall, if I"m lucky. I'm not buying strawberries at the store anymore. They get mushy too quickly and rarely taste good. Those who live by eating only what's in season or locally grown know this already, and I know it too, but I think I have finally learned my lesson about throwing money away on store-bought berries. So tomorrow morning, it's all about the fresh-picked berries.
To my online friends who may be reading this, have a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Broccoli Bolted

Although the majority of our gardening is done in containers, we do have a 10'x2' space in the backyard where we can put things in the ground. We have worked and re-worked the soil, trying to make it as healthy as possible for the plants that go in, removing huge rocks, wire, old garden tags from the person who lived here before us, and even construction materials that must have been left behind when our house was built more than 15 years ago. We added lime when we first moved in, and we add a bag of manure to the plot every spring. We carefully weed and mulch this little plot. I love seeing earthworms popping in and out of it when I'm gardening there; it lets me know the soil is healthy. I'm writing all this because I feel like we pay a lot of attention to our little plot.

This year we decided to try something new in the plot--broccoli, onion, and garlic. (In prior years, we have used this area for growing tomatoes and peppers (2009), and beans and luffa (2010)).

The broccoli plants seemed to be doing well at first (first two pics are from April and early May) and now the broccoli is gone because the plant has bolted. I'm not sure how I missed it. It rained a lot last week, so I didn't really go outside. I had a few late nights at work, and Mr. Bumble Lush was out of town, so that was one less pair of eyes to look around. Temperatures suddenly went from comfortably cool to hot and muggy, and it jump started all the cold weather plants into bolting. Regardless, the broccoli has gone to seed, and we missed our chance to harvest it. $#%@!!

We have more broccoli seeds, which we'll hold onto for late summer and try this crop again in the fall. This serves as a reminder that we definitely work by trial and error. Meanwhile I'm admiring the bright yellow flowers and searching the internet to see how involved it is to harvest the broccoli seeds.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Weekend in the Garden: Moving Out

tomatillo seedlings and tomato seedlings

squash, bean, and herb seedlings

We had a very productive weekend. The evening temperatures have finally warmed up enough for us to feel comfortable leaving our containers of seedlings outside overnight, so we moved everything out of the spare room (which was beginning to look and smell like a mini-greenhouse) and onto the deck.

Our row of seedlings are looking great! In fact, more seeds germinated than I anticipated, and we had to go to the hardware store and buy about 15 extra containers to place them all. I was very pleased to see that all 10 seed pods of the Black Krim heirloom tomatoes germinated. The packet says they have a natural salty taste. I often salt my tomatoes anyway, so I'm extremely curious to taste these and see what they look like, as I've never grown them before.

The yellow squash and zucchini seedlings are growing very nicely. We transplanted them from the little seed starting pods into containers. Above are just two of the squash pots. Squash freeze so easily and we still have some of last year's harvest in the freezer. I hope we grow enough this year to have a well-stocked squash freezer. I also planted the Purple Beauty pepper seeds that I ordered from Baker Creek awhile ago.

Other seedling progress:
9 out of 10 loofah seedlings emerged
6 out of 10 teddy bear sunflowers emerged
All 16 summer/zucchini squash seedlings emerged
9 out of 10 beit alpha cucumber seedlings emerged
5 out of 10 jupiter bell peppers emerged
8 out of 10 sweet chocolate peppers emerged

I expect that the rest of the week will involve transplanting more seedlings to pots and thinning them out as well. I'm growing many new things this year (tomatillos, new varieties of peppers and tomatoes) and I can't wait to see how they turn out. I don't want to jinx myself, but I'm so excited for this year's crops!

Friday, May 20, 2011

R.I.P. Endless Summer Hydgrangea

endless summer hydrangea (the one that survived)

brestenburg hydrangea - in pot, blooming slowly

hydrangea tree

I have sad news. I lost an Endless Summer hydrangea plant. I'm not sure why; I think the soil where it was planted was bad, as other things I've planted in that spot seemed to grow abnormally. In fact, this one never really grew as well or as prolifically as its sister on the other side of the walk. Weeks ago, while buds were sprouting on one Endless Summer bush, the other remained brittle and just dead looking. Once we finally decided to pull it out, the roots didn't look good either, poor thing.

So I'm down to one Endless Summer (in ground) one Brestenburg (in pot), and a hydrangea tree (shown above in order). At this time last year, they were already blooming, but actually at this time last year we had already hit 80 degrees a few times, so it makes sense that the blooms haven't burst forth yet in the cooler temperatures.
I have always loved hydrangeas and used to dream of having several thick lush plants when I finally owned a home. I was a little intimidated to grow them at first, but with the exception of the one that just died, the others have done very well. They have survived extreme temperatures, including back-to-back blizzards in the winter of 2009/2010 and a blistering hot summer of 2010.

hydrangea tree post blizzard

The scene of the crime. What to plant??

The question now is what to do with the empty space where the other one was. I doubt I'll put anything in the ground again because I think the soil in that spot is possessed. Maybe another hydrangea plant and keep it in a container? Maybe a totally different plant?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Elusive Mr. Cardinal

Finally, I snapped your picture, you camera-shy little cardinal!

First I'd like to thank everyone who visited and left comments on my last post. It's nice to connect with others in the gardening community, and I love visiting different garden sites, both the veggie and floral kind. I'm drawn to the floral posts because I have only a few blooms in my garden, and I'm living vicariously through all of you who grow such beautiful flowers!

Bless my backyard neighbors. Our backyards face each other, and on their deck they have recently installed a bird feeder. Right now I'm sitting at my dining room table, typing away and looking out the back window, admiring the parade of birds that visit their feeder. I've hesitated to install one myself, as I grow vegetables in containers and don't want to provide more encouragement to the birds or squirrels that there is food on my deck. My neighbors' feeder has welcomed yellow finches, sparrows, blackbirds, birds that look like finches with red heads, and cardinals, my most favorite bird. I'm not stealthy enough to get close to the window and take pictures without scaring them away, and I need a better zoom, but I did manage to take pictures of this beautiful male cardinal. I've seen a female cardinal too, and with their pink-orange beaks I think they're just as pretty as the bright red males. Another reason I'm grateful for the neighbors' feeder is that it provides hours of entertainment to my cat, who sits at the back window watching the birds all day long.

Can I complain for a just a teensy bit now? Ugh, gone are the cool spring temperatures and beautiful, sunny days. This week it's muggy, rainy, and warmer. The East Coast is finally getting all that rain that hit the ret of the country last week. At least Mother Nature is taking care of watering the plants. The warmer temps mean it may be time to finish hardening off the seedlings and get them out on the deck, which will be my task for the weekend.

p.s. Check out this post by Julia at Polka Dot Galoshes about some determined birds in her garden.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

In Bloom This May

While I anxiously wait for my vegetable plants to bloom so I can play matchmaker and pollinate the blooms, I have these friendly plants and flowers to keep me company:
The azaleas are finally in bloom, a few weeks late thanks to a cooler 2011 spring compared to last year.

hostas, ~April 15
 hostas, April 24
hostas now

Look at the progress the hostas made! I went into the backyard a week ago and was amazed at how quickly they grew, seemingly overnight. So hard to believe that just a month ago they were little shoots barely poking out of the ground. I feel corny as I'm typing this, but isn't nature amazing?

Next to the hostas I have a Heuchera "Beaujolais" plant. The leaf colors are a pretty deep red color, like the wine it's named after! It needs a little more sun than the hostas. It's in a pot, and I can move it around as needed. I repotted it last year, and it's doing well again this year, so I think I'll need to relocate it into a bigger pot soon. Supposedly these leaves are supposed to get silvery, but mine never have. I think this plant would go nicely with a lovely Camembert.

Lastly, I added some dianthus to the pot of snapdragons in the front yard. They filled the pot out better and added to the bright red and pink colors of the snapdragons. 

That's it for floral blooms this month. The hydrangeas haven't bloomed yet, but I hope to have pictures of those flowers soon.

Friday, May 13, 2011

In the Berry Patch

strawberries 4-24-11, originally uploaded by Bumble Lush.
Putting strawberry plants in

strawberries aerial view 4-24
aerial view of the bed
strawberries with protective net
the net
first strawberry
First berry!

A few more details about my little berry patch this year-- Last year we tried growing strawberries for the first time. I say “tried” because things didn’t go so well. Some of the plants produced small, bitter berries, and the birds and squirrels ate most of the ones that were left.

This year we’re trying again. We bought plants about three weeks ago and put them in a raised bed that we used for squash last year. We thought this would give the berries more room to spread out, and we rigged a net over the top of it to keep birds and squirrels out. Bees and other small pollinators can still get through the holes, and we have a way of lifting some of the net to reach the plants and pick fruit.

Some of the plants have blooms already and we picked the first strawberry a few days ago! (I’ve been playing with the photo editing software to get those faded edges, but the blurriness is total operator error).

Do you grow strawberries, and if so, what are your tips for growing productive plants?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What's Growing This Season

I almost called this post "Round-up" of what's growing, but that brought to mind weed-killing chemicals flying through the air, so this is just a plain old list of some of the new and interesting vegetables we will be growing this year. Over the weekend we planted the rest of our summer seeds.

As always, we're growing tomatoes, peppers, squash, pole beans, cucumbers, and herbs. As I was outlining my garden plans several months ago, I decided that I wanted to branch out and try some different crops, so we have added tomatillos (both green and purple!) to our list, as well as the following peppers from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds:
Top to bottom: Bronze D'Amposta onion, Jupiter sweet pepper, Purple Beauty sweet pepper, Sweet Chocolate pepper

I'm so curious to see what the Jupiter pepper really looks like, as there were no actual pictures available. And I keep a running list of what we're growing on this page.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Weekend in the Garden: New Seeds!

What a beautiful spring weekend! We spent time outdoors and with friends over the weekend, and despite some overcast skies and threats of rain, we actually got a good bit of sunshine and cool breezes. It's so nice to have the windows open and not need to use the heat or AC. After last year's full throttle jump from winter to summer, I am truly enjoying these cool spring mornings and evenings.

Last week the heirloom seeds I ordered from Baker Creek arrived. Between those and some other seeds I've bought at nurseries here and there, we'll be planting some new and interesting tomato and pepper seeds this year, including chocolate bell peppers, purple bell peppers, and Black Krim tomatoes, among others. We put those in some started cells on Friday. We're waiting for the evening temperatures to get warm enough to put our seedlings out. Right now night time temperatures are in the mid-low 50s, and I don't have the equipment to keep my plants warm while out at night on the deck, so they're all in the spare bedroom where they get plenty of sun. The room is starting to feel a bit like a greenhouse with the increased humidity from our waterings.

We have three new crops this year: broccoli, onions, and garlic. The cool temps have been great for the broccoli. 

I've been playing with the photo software on my computer. This is matte. But obviously I forgot to play with lighting and contrat, which is why my other pictures are so dark.

The raised bed above shows our strawberry patch. May is strawberry month in the DC area. At the end of May there are many strawberry festivals at local farms and u-pick farms and orchards, and I'm hoping to make it to one this year so I can buy pounds of fresh strawberries to supplement my little crop. We are growing strawberries again this year, but with an improved system over last year: the raised bed. I saw the first strawberry yesterday, and there are numerous other blooms on the plants. I hope this year's strawberry harvest goes to us and not the birds or squirrels this year.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Recipe: Strawberry Lemonade

strawberry lemonade, originally uploaded by Bumble Lush.
Soggy, brown, and bruised. Doesn't that sound appetizing when you're talking about fruit?? Almost all of the strawberries I bought from the store Friday were mushy, bruised, and bad by Saturday. The pint of strawberries I bought at the farmers' market yesterday still looks great. Yes, I know strawberries that are grown in CA and transported across the country out of season are not going to stay fresh. I have foolishly wasted my money on berries that go bad two days later for the last time. Now that strawberry season is approaching here in northern VA, I plan to buy lots of fresh-picked berries to freeze for use throughout the year.

Meanwhile, I whipped this drink up with what I salvaged from the bruised batch. It made enough for two pint glasses for me and the hubby, but I will play with the recipe to see what will get to a whole pitcher.

1/4 cup strawberries (8 whole strawberries)
1 whole lemon
2 heaping tablespoons of agave nectar
water/seltzer/sparkling wine to taste

Puree the strawberries and pour into a pitcher. Add the fresh squeezed lemon juice, agave nectar, and water. Serve.

Makes 2 pint glasses.

I'll be better prepared next time I make this and maybe add some mint and possibly some champagne, prosecco, etc. as an alternative to mimosas for brunch. Also, I think I will have a cheesecloth handy to strain the strawberry seeds because they all collected at the bottom of the glass and came rushing to nail me in the face as I took my last sip. Was very tasty though. :)