Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Act 1 – Scene 1
Stage lights fade up to reveal a small patch of earth that has been neglected. A confused human is holding his head in one hand and a camera in the other. He turns to acknowledge the audience.


The good, the bad, and the beautiful.

Hello all and welcome to the first entry in Jeffrey’s Garden Blog during the 2012 growing season. We had ups and downs last year, but we have acquired a few acquisitions during the off-season and I’m hoping this year we can make a run well into the post season. Thanks to everyone for the support and questions about when the blog and the garden was going to start up again. It’s nice to know that some folks are getting some enjoyment out of my journaling.

The Good:
After having some mediocre success last year I decided to expand the operation. I now have two garden plots.  The second contains no barrier so it will be interesting to see how big an impact the rabbits and other varmints have on the operation.  The reason for the second plot was to have a good place to grow watermelon and other plants that vine outward and take up lots of space.  At least 1/3 of the original plot was dedicated to watermelon last year, and it seemed like I could allocate my space a little better. My family and I loved having melons in the garden, so I decided the best thing to do was to plow up some more ground and dedicate that space to Citrullus lanatus and maybe some pumpkins later in the season. My pal from work, Mr. Spear, was nice enough to bring his tractor with a PTO driven rear tiller and make us a generous sized expansion. It took him about 25 minutes… that included arriving, unloading, tilling, and loading back up to leave. Afterwards I had serious tractor envy. We were able to beat Monday’s ¾ inch of rain and actually got 4 rows of potatoes and 2 rows of white onions planted before the rain started. I refer to this as my experimental garden so I plan on putting some different things in as the season progresses. I also may turn into a rabbit/critter slayer so this should prove to be somewhat interesting.

Taters in the ground, taters in the ground... eaten' real good with my taters in the ground.

The Bad:
As alluded to during the beginning of this blog entry I’m a little behind with my preparations. This week’s scheduled deluge has proved to be ill timed because I had planned to prepare the main garden this week.  I’m not too concerned because I’m still a couple of weeks away from putting anything in the ground. This strange winter and early spring has got me ready to pull the trigger now, but I’m still a little skeptical about putting anything in the ground before mid April. Even then I’m a little nervous, but I think that’s “go time” this year… better than late May like last year!

Currently I'm growing tiny patches of fescue and empty metal cages in the garden.

I have plenty of tiling and upkeep to get things back to normal, but it will be much easier than last year and all that is due to mulching and using newspaper as a barrier.  This year I plan on papering and mulching the entire garden before I put anything in, and this should nearly eliminate any weed or grass problems.  I would highly suggest this method to anyone starting a garden this year, unless you just like to pick weeds.

The Beautiful:
Over a weekend my good friend Rick Todd and I built a cold frame.  He had acquired a double paned window that was just going to be thrown away, but was wise enough to save it from the landfill and give it a second purpose. Along with that window, some fasteners Rick had, and about $40 worth of supplies from a home improvement store the cold frame was born.

Now I know how The Galactic Empire felt when they finished the Death Star

It’s primarily made of 2x2’s and some thin plywood, but with the Styrofoam walls and weather striping around the lid it has proved to be a fine piece of equipment that can produce temperatures over 120°F with the lid closed.  I know this because we installed a thermometer that reached 120°F and it exploded when I left the lid closed on a 65°F afternoon. Yeah… it’s awesome.

It’s taken me about 2 weeks to figure out how to “play” the cold frame but I’ve got a pretty good idea what it can do now.  On a bright sunny day (approx. 70° F) with about a 3-4 inch opening of the lid you can expect about 15-20° increase of temperature inside the cold frame.  If you open the lid about 12 inches you can expect a 5-10° increase of temperature inside. I have developed a couple different sizes of 2x4’s to prop the lid open to get my desired results.  On a cool, cloudy day with the lid closed I can expect about a 10-15° degree increase of the outside temperature inside the cold frame. Done reading this yet…?

It looks like this after it rains... all sexy and gorgeous

I have never seen the temperature below 42°F inside the cold frame.  Even on nights were the temps got to around 32°F and small amounts of frost was on the outside window. Ah snap!

So with this advantage I have started many plants extremely early, and my plan is to harden them off inside the cold frame before planting them after the last frost date of April 11th. Hopefully this will result in earlier yields… especially concerning tomatoes.  I have Early Girl Tomatoes that have already sprouted and if all things go to plan we should have a harvest available around May 7th. Bam!

Basil, dill and sunflowers are already enjoying some time in the cold frame
Think of it as a hot tub for plants

I have also started a different hybrid tomato that should supplement later harvests as well as basil, dill, rosemary, long and pickling cucumbers and green peppers.  My hope is that these plants will respond well to the transplant and the garden will have a big jump on last year’s.  I hope to repay my obvious debt to Mr. Todd for designing and building most of the cold frame in copious amounts of produce over the spring and summer.  Thanks Rick.

Well there’s an over extended update and preview of 2012.  I’m really excited about this year, and I hope that folks continue to come back to the site again.  Please feel free to suggest things or comment whenever you like.  One quick plug… if you live in SW MO and you’re in the market for quality seeds and garden supplies… and have a tendency to despise box stores like I do… please visit Springfield Seed and Supply.  They are very polite and helpful to novice gardeners, and they have a great variety of seeds at very competitive prices.

And now… a ukulele song.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Waiting and Sweating... and sweating some more.

Well the heat has really taken a toll on the garden... especially the tomatoes.  All the plants still appear to be healthy but their production of fruit has slowed, but the tomatoes are all but dormant.  Some fruit is beginning to ripen, but no new fruit is forming with any regularity. The bad part about this is that the existing tomatoes haven't grown real well and are slowly starting to be taken by worms and other pests.  I've refused to use chemicals so far, and my goal is to continue to raise them naturally.  I have a few tricks left to employ, but I think I will wait out this heat and hopefully have healthy plants to deal with when the weather starts to cool.  I'll just have tomatoes later than everyone else, and that's ok.  Meanwhile I've been spending money at the farmer's markets around and supporting other tomato growers.

The cucumbers have been doing great, And Amy is trying some pickling for the first time.  I am really excited about trying the first batch.  With the help of a generous donation of cucumbers from my good friend Kory she was able to try two different pickling methods. The first involves placing the whole cucumbers in a 21 day brine followed by a hot water bath while canning.  These pickles would then be ready to eat.

Get your pickle on

The second method involves cutting the cucumbers into spears and then placing them and other seasonings directly into the jar, placing them into the hot water bath for about 10-15 minutes, and then sealing them and waiting for 3-4 weeks.

Amy conjuring some pickles from cucmbers
The waiting has proved to actually be the hardest part because I am very excited about trying these.  I hope they turn out as awesome as I imagine them.  And I plan on shipping these out to some of my closest homies under the Cactus Jack brand name.  Where our quality refuses to change!

Other good news involves the watermelon.  These have all but taken over the eastern third of the garden.  They have probably quadrupled in size since the last post.  I've noticed a few striped beauties on the ground recently, and this one is about as big as a softball now.

Awwww.... it's so cute.

Meanwhile, this is what I took from the garden today.  Not too bad.  I hope that the tomatoes come around and I have much more to show.

Such a meager feast... but very much appreciated

Sorry the delay in this post.  I will try to get back to the 1-2 times a week status real soon. Especially if we get some relief from this heat.  TASTE THE HEAT!!!

Meanwhile enjoy this if you are tired of being inside.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Picklin' and a Grinnin'

The sky finally opened up this morning and we got some much needed rain!!!  We've been missing every little popup shower that has come around so there was much rejoicing.

Red sky in the morning, sailers take out the garbage... wait...

Even with the heat the plants have been doing fine and are even starting to produce some fruit now.  We enjoyed our first cucumbers on July 2nd and many more have followed suit.  I am starting to get a little concerned with being completely run over by my cucumber crop because if the existing blooms are any indication of what's in store we could have a very busy couple of weeks approaching.

Insert weird phallic comments here_____

We have decided to practice some sorcery and turn some of these cukes into pickles, and by we I mean Amy.  She has been busy with recipes and getting some canning supplies, so I am eagerly anticipating the results of her effort.

Nice title overpaid magazine writer.

Concerning tomatoes, I've always heard... yep Dad, talking about you here... that when the temperature gets over 90 degrees that the plants have trouble blooming.  I haven't found that to be entirely true because I've had some new blooms appear and make fruit during the hot spell... not many... but a few.  So maybe I'm lucky.  The existing fruit hasn't split or anything so I hope I've avoided any crazy heat related problems.

New tomatoes when it's over 90 degrees... who knew?
Lastly, the watermelon are doing great!  Can't wait to eat one of these things late this summer.

Get Big and tasty!

Enjoy this song that I've recently been playing with my good pal Rick here.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

FRUITS of Labor

TASTE THE HEAT! - Ryan Lynch

We are bracing for the heatwave at Johnson Farms by giving the garden a good drink in the morning hours every other day.  It seems to be working because we now have Cucumbers! I noticed these bad boys last night, and I'm very excited about making some pickles with a portion of the crop.  The vines seem to be covered with them, so I hope that production will continue to be high and last throughout the summer months.

Ahhh snap.

The tomatoes are still doing great.  I did some pretty heavy pruning last night, so I hope that I didn't disrupt them too much.  Cutting them back always makes me nervous, but it hasn't failed me yet... gulp.  Here are some close-ups of the Early Gils and the Yellow Pear tomatoes.

You look marvelous  darlings.

The rest of the bunch also seem to be doing their thing.  This process has been real fun to watch, and I am giddy thinking about what this garden might look like in a month!

Corn - Watermelons - Sunflowers gettin' busy

Here is some classic Big Smith to cool you off!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Progress, Problems, Possibilities and a Python

Things continue to go pretty good in the garden.  The caterpillar threat has seemed to diminish while another has risen... but more on that later.  I counted 15 tomatoes that have formed on the plants which doesn't include the horde of the yellow pear tomatoes that have also set.  I need to trim some of the plants back a little in hopes to get more energy toward making fruit and less to making leaves, but other than that the tomato crop is looking real good.  Here's a shot of one of the Black Krims that have formed.

From Russia with love... yep... this plant comes from Crimea, an island peninsula in the Black Sea
I just can't say enough about how useful the trellis and cucumber cages are.  Cucumbers have a reputation of really taking over a lot of garden space, but I've been able to contain them in a small area with the use of these cages and the trellis.  This is simply the way to go.  It makes the harvest easier and the plants are thriving.  I hope some cukes set on the vines soon.

Cage/Trellis 2012
I also have a bit of a problem and another concern now.  The problem isn't huge and it stems from an experiment that I tried so I guess it's a good thing.  I didn't put newspaper down before my straw when I was mulching the first part of the garden, but I decided to later just to see if you could tell a difference.  Wow! It might not make that much of a difference in a garden that has existed for a while, but on gardens newly made from prairie grassland it makes a huge difference.  So lesson learned.  If you don't want to weed your mulched areas use a barrier, or better yet get some newspapers that people are going to throw away and use them before you put your mulching material down.

Without Newspaper              -                   With Newspaper  
My concern is with the Japanese Beetle.  They have already made a mess of my basil plant and I noticed that they are taking up residence in the tree next to my garden.  I'm worried that some afternoon, while on a sake bender, they might all decide to fly down to the garden and start a munchathon.  I'm thinking about getting one of those bags that I've seen around, but I'm worried about attracting more to my area than are already there.  If anyone has any ideas chime in... I'd love to hear them.

There is a possibility of rain this week and the plants could use some good ol' fashion sky water.  I often wonder why rain water seems to have a much more positive effect on plants than well water.  I might save that question for another post.  Below is a pic of the tiniest green pepper I've ever seen, as well as the progress of a watermelon vine.  Both peppers and melons have really made positive advances this past week.  Good job team.

Dear Sky, please bring rain for the melons and the peppers.  Thanks.

For those that remember Scout the Mockingbird he's doing fine and has a doppleganger that's been hanging around as well.  But, the newest member of the family is a Black Ratsnake that measures somewhere in the 6-7 foot range.  Yeah... it's that big.  Saturday marked the 3rd time he's been spotted in the yard, so I figure he's here to stay.  I noticed him coming down out of a tree while I was mowing, and by noticed I mean screamed while atop a riding mower towards his direction like a frightened child when he caught my eye. I've decided to name him Lucious and I hope to get a picture of him soon, but not too soon.

So in honor of Lucious enjoy a song by Black Prairie.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Field Trip to a Magic Plant

By the suggestion of my mother and father I decided to take Jeffrey's Garden Blog on a field trip to another garden and report on the mysterious plant that inhabits it.  Dan & Wanda Westfall of Northern Greene County have found themselves entertaining a handful of people for about a week now during the sunset hours with their Evening Primrose.  Folks seem to just wander over to their backyard, or pull up the drive, grab a lawn chair and commence to sitting in front of this bush to watch the show.  Sometimes it starts right at sunset... sometimes it takes a little longer, but the waiting and anticipation seems to feed the anxiety and wonder about what they are about to witness.  The flowers of this plant begin to pull their outer shell back and bloom in a very quick fashion right in front of your eyes.  The blooming process can take anywhere from 10-45 seconds.

So I went, with camera in hand to see for myself.  I was amazed.  To see something like the blooming of a flower happen so quickly was awe inspiring, but my mind quickly turned to the others in the crowd and what we were doing there.  I was standing in a yard with my parents, the Westfalls, and 4 other people who I did not know and watching this take place, pointing and excitedly laughing about what we were witnessing.  No television, no radio, just the sound of a rural ozarks night, and a handful of natures pilgrims gathered together. It was a very rewarding experience.

Below is a video of different shots collected throughout the night set to some fine music I borrowed from Steve Martin and The Fleet Foxes.  If you want to see this in HD click on the YouTube icon and play it full screen from YouTube's site.

I hope you enjoy watching this as much as I enjoyed being there.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Some good news... and some bad news.

As of yesterday I have about 5 tomatoes that have made themselves known.  The Early Girls have proved to be early... and... girls, but that's another story.  It's nice to see something actually bearing fruit in the garden and it makes me wonder what things will look like in a month.  I hope I have copious amounts of veggies to share with everyone.
Look at you... you sexy fruit.
In other good news, the cucumbers are thriving and reaching the bottom section of the trellis.  They are preparing their assent toward the top of The Arch de Cucumb.  Spirits have continued to be high with the morale meter reaching approximately 8.5 and their bar to man ratio is still well within operating range.

Prenez la colline!

Now... the bad news.  Caterpillars have waged an assault on members of the alliance, wiping out several green pepper plants and threatening to make their way toward the tomatoes.  Currently we have elevated the status of the garden to Defcon 2 in order to squash (garden humor) the threat and return peace to the the land of the straw and mocking bird.  How to do this exactly is still in question because with much power comes much responsibility.  Wiping out the threat of the intruders with chemical weapons remains on the table but the allied command is researching options to eliminate this threat while still retaining the organic moniker it currently holds.

It's a dark time in the rebellion.

We have currently dispatched peace keeping teams to find a solution to this problem and now WE NEED YOU!  If you have a solution to this problem you are urged to share your ideas in the most hastily of fashions before the situation escalates and the need to use excessive force is granted.  Help me dear readers... you are my only hope.

And with that... a pearly war jam.