Monday, January 28, 2013

Feed My Garden

The relationship I have with my garden is a bit dynamic and complex – especially with my summer garden. I expect some relatively simple things from my winter garden as I am able to take care of it with an average amount of inputs. In contrast, my summer garden primarily consists of plants that are more heavy feeders and, as a result, requires a lot more. After growing out two generations of cucumber-melons, huge purple hyacinth bean vines, Sunchoke, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, and over 120 pounds of sweet potatoes I could practically hear my garden say “Feed me!” Perhaps I could not literally “hear” my garden speak to me, though the drop of 8 inches in my previously 24 inch soil depth says it all.

Sheep Manure compost is great stuff

This winter’s compost diet consists of palm tree waste, a few bags of 2-year-old leaves and a truckload of 3-year-old sheep manure (thanks to my friend Beryl from TOG). After unloading the truckload of sheep waste I found it difficult I not to combine the terms “high-quality” and “manure” in everything that came out of my mouth. Having worked with well-processed sheep manure it would be difficult to revert to composting the horse manure I settled for in the past.

Using the Summer Garden for Winter Pit Composting

As stated in an earlier post, my summer garden seconds as a compost pit in the winter as my winter garden does in the summer. This allows me to fallow the unused garden as well as build up structure in the soil from the material and nutrients that result from the composting process. In more literal terms – I give my garden what I expect – I feed it well because that is what I expect from it. For the most part this works out pretty well.

After turning the compost the sheep manure looks better

There is a balance to the bacteria and fungus that reside in living soil. I strive to provide a balance of both nitrogen and carbon rich food to my garden – though I did notice that this last summer’s garden did a lot better on last winter’s carbon rich diet than it did two years ago on a nitrogen rich diet. I have read that carbon-rich diets promote fungus decomposition while nitrogen-rich diets promote bacteria decomposition. This is definitely important to keep in mind when thinking about what plants will do best in a given garden environment. I will plan on keeping this summer’s heavy feeders closer to this winter’s nitrogen-rich finished compost.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Purple Sweet Potato Fries

A few of my purple sweet potatoes were not as marketable as the others - so I decided to use them for dinner. Ever had purple sweet potato fries?

Mixing light oil with washed hands to make fries.

Purple Sweet Potato Fries fresh out of the oven.

They were pretty easy to cut up and cook. I would have to say that the purple sweet potatoes are not usually as sweet as their orange cousins but I sure felt healthy after eating them.

Ready to Serve.

Orange and Purple Sweet Potato Fries make for a colorful dinner

As the photos show, my children enjoyed eating the sweet potatoes too. There is something to say about growing vegetables your children will eat. For some reason cooking home-grown vegetables for my family gives me much more satisfaction than preparing and cooking store-bought produce.

You mean eating my veggies can be fun?


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Purple Beauty Sweet Pepper

Of all my peppers that got shaded out by my Sunchoke plant this last summer, my Purple Beauty Sweet Pepper did the best.

Purple Beauty Pepper Plant

I only got a handful of peppers from it – but that is the way it is with growing tomatoes and their relatives here in Tucson.

Purple Beauty Plant growing

Thought the outside of the pepper becomes purple, it does so at a time in the pepper’s growth when the inside is still green. As I don’t care much for the taste of green peppers, I chose to grow this variety until the peppers matured to their red color.

Purple Beauty Pepper Plant producing peppers

The Peppers are now Purple

Other than the fact that the inside was green, I would definitely grow this variety again. The purple pepper tasted more like a green pepper. When I let it grow to its mature state, the red pepper was quite sweet. This plant exhibited great heat resistance, great disease resistance, and it did well for longer than my other peppers.

A mature Purple Beauty Pepper is red inside and out

Friday, January 11, 2013

2012 Orange Sweet Potato Harvest

Over the last 3 years my sweet potato harvest has been steadily increasing. The first year I harvested almost nothing. The second year I harvested a lot more. This year I harvested more orange sweet potatoes above ground then the quantity I harvested last year – below ground!

Above Ground Sweet Potatoes

Some More Sweet Potatoes emerging from the ground

I had purchased the original “seed” potato for my second year of planting from a local farm, Sunzona, through a Whole Foods Market. I contacted Sunzona farms to find out the name of the variety, but they never got back to me. After speaking with several of the produce employees at the Whole Foods Market, one of them explained to me that it was some kind of Garnett. After searching online for a while and comparing all the pictures and vine descriptions I still couldn’t figure out what variety I have. Perhaps it's Beauregard.

This Sweet Potato Harvest came from the ground below the buckets

All but the biggest of the Orange Sweet Potato Harvest

The largest of these tubers, weighing in at almost 5 pounds, was (with no small effort) cut up and diced, then split between two casserole dishes of candied yams for our last Thanksgiving feast. Yes – I know sweet potatoes are not yams, but that is the name of the oven-baked marshmallow-topped dish I serve my family each Thanksgiving.

Large Orange Sweet Potato for Thanksgiving Dinner

Orange Sweet Potatoes chopped up for Thanksgiving Dinner

From my experience, I would not grow sweet potatoes from market bought potatoes unless I knew that they were grown locally.

Here are a few of the many online companies that you can get Sweet Potato Slips from in the U.S.:

- Brown’s Omaha

Pulling out Sweet Potatoes

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Composting with Grubs

In the past, I collected worms from different locations in and out of Tucson and dispersed them into my watered garden. After multiple attempts to start a worm colony in my soil, I have very rarely seen worms, even when watering my garden in the off-season. Without the aid of worms, what living organisms do I discover when I dig in the ground and in my compost? Grubs, of course.

Japanese June Beetle Grub

Because grubs can often eat away at roots, causing havoc to seedlings as well as damaging root crops, my previous tendency was to dispose of them by throwing them violently against a wall. However, because my children have taken the time to spare the lives of some fortunate grubs in buckets, I have experienced a recent change of heart.

Adult Japanese June Beetle

My change of heart transpired while I was upset at my daughter for putting my valuable compost into the grub buckets. As this blog is not devoted to my irrational behavior, I will just note that I need to make a mental impression to not be so quick to judgment. I suppose this is one example of why my wife keeps reminding me of this attribute I need to develop. In any case, once my initial anger about the compost subsided I quickly realized that she had not put any compost into the buckets. Instead, the rhinoceros beetle grubs had eaten away at the wood chips provided for them and turned it into rich compost.

Perhaps grubs can be useful after all.

Inside of Grub bucket - where the compost happens

Compost from Grubs

I am continuing to experiment with grubs to determine what environment suits them best, but so far I have learned the following:

1. Larger grubs are easier to work with. I can sift out the compost and leave the grubs if the grubs are larger.

2. Different varieties of beetle require a different diet in their composting environment. The large green Japanese fruit beetles prefer bedding with more nitrogen-rich foods (such as wood chips) while the very large rhinoceros beetle grubs prefer bedding that consists of more carbon-rich foods (such as horse manure).

Rhinoceros Beetle Grubs - Pretty gross!

An adult Rhinoceros Beetle

Should I learn any additional information concerning the rearing of grubs for compost purposes, I will gladly add it to this post.

If worms don't work - try Composting with Grubs!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Purple Sweet Potato Pie at Christmas

The Friday before Christmas I took my sweet potatoes to a local farmer’s market. Unfortunately, there was very little interest in them. Perhaps I can try again soon.

Making Purple Sweet Potato Pies

The next day I made some purple sweet potato pies in preparation for Christmas. It was humbling to see how much everyone enjoyed the pies - everyone wanted more.

Purple Sweet Potato Pie

Gluten-Free Purple Sweet Potato Pie

I made four pies – two with graham cracker crust and two with a gluten-free crust. I wish that people’s love of pies would translate to their buying my purple sweet potatoes.

Kids love Purple Sweet Potato Pie

Oh well – I’ll just keep trying! (=

21 people + Purple Pie = No more pie.