Monday, October 23, 2017

Cucumber and Transplant Greenhouse

Soon after moving into the house we now live in, a friend from church offered me a greenhouse. I was both grateful and humbled. It took a while before I was able to clean our backyard up enough to place the greenhouse in its current location. Once that was done, it took some time determining what kinds of containers I could use for the greenhouse. Initially a friend said that he could provide some shallow containers, which probably would not have been the best in the long-run.

Note the west-side shade. This is intentional to prolong my spring transplants.

Coconut Fiber (Coir) Blocks in my new stock tank.

A view from the front door. Still need to move blocks and fertilizer! (=

After finding that more shallow containers could not be procured I got tired of having the greenhouse mostly vacant, so I purchased a (nearly) 6’ long by 2’ wide feed stock tank – like the kind used for providing water for livestock. With that done, I then had my father purchase some coco peat fiber blocks or coir from Santa Rosa. These were reconstituted while I sprouted my transplants. Though I normally do not do transplant, sometimes it is the only way to get plants large enough in the time I have. The transplants were potted into the stock tank about a month ago and, despite our diminishing sunlight this fall, they are still growing well.

Carosello Growing in compost, but losing ground to woodlice.

Some plants have been chewed up so much, that they needed to be removed.

One unfortunate thing that I did do was I sifted some compost to help in feeding the small plants. The compost itself was not bad, but the pill bugs or woodlice that came along in the compost decided to start chewing on my plants. I had no idea how destructive they could be! Once they had damaged most of my cucumber plants enough that I was getting pretty desperate the inspiration finally hit me. I could just sprinkle some diatomaceous earth on top of the soil. At last – an organic solution for self-contained invertebrate pests in the greenhouse!

Diatomaceous Earth may not look pretty, but it works!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Fridge Tomatoes

The only place tomatoes have a semi-permanent home in my kitchen is on top of the refrigerator.

July 12th

July 25th

While I would never put home-grown tomatoes into the refrigerator because the flavor suffers dramatically, store-bought tomatoes may have already been chilled, and as a result – have poor flavor. Though most tomato connoisseurs can only describe the significant degradation of flavor in qualitative terms, a 2016 study demonstrated that there are actual chemical changes that take place when tomatoes are stored at cold temperatures. The study does a good job of demonstrating to even the skeptics why you should never put your tomatoes in the refrigerator.

September 6th

September 9th

From late June until now, there was only one week where we needed to purchase a few tomatoes. We use about 5-7 pounds of tomatoes each week. There were several weeks where the tomatoes would not fit on the refrigerator. We sold the excess and made at least $40. In fact - selling tomatoes enabled of my children to buy a pet! If I were to quantify only the amount we ate in monetary value, it would be between $80-$150 if tomatoes were only $1 per pound.  However, money alone cannot quantify the qualitative benefits of a meaty, slightly salty, savory, fully-flavored home-grown red ripe tomato.

September 11th

September 13th

September 14th

September 18th

October 7th

Please excuse the dust and mess - that is just part of life! (=

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Tree Kale or Perennial Collards?

For years I have been overly suspicious of the Brassica family. Growing up, I remember seeing cabbage butterflies annihilate cabbage plants and not caring much for the taste of coleslaw or sauerkraut. Later, the only thing I correlate cabbage with is boiled cabbage, which gives me indigestion. The few experiences I had with growing Brassicas included growing broccoli and Brussel Sprouts, which were a lot of hard work for a meager crop. Then a few years back I heard tales of a super-rich nutrient-packed vegetable called Kale. A good friend of ours even introduced us to Kale chips – an incredibly tasty and healthy snack whose flavor was reminiscent of a fine cheese. Recently, with moving to California and having easy access to cheap kale, I thought I would give it a try - and I started liking it.

My Tree Chard/Perennial Kale - March 3rd

While consuming kale in soups last winter, I read a book that mentioned perennial kale – and I was hooked. The idea of having a plant I did not have to re-plant year after year really appealed to me. You mean that I can access a healthy vegetable any time I want – with minimal effort? You bet!

March 25th after a light rain.

Perennial Kale, April 25th

Being the resourceful individual that I am, I presented my desire to identify a local source for some perennial kale to individuals at my local county garden extension class and happened to find that a master who possessed some tree collards that he was happy to share with me. It turns out that they are that tree kale and perennial collards are the same thing.

Tree Collards in May

It looks like I got the greenhouse in May as well.

So far so good. I read that tree kale/perennial collards require a lot of calcium, so I made sure to add a lot of crushed egg shells in the hole where I deposited each plant. They have done incredibly well. The only other thing I would have done, if I had a chance, would be to stake them. That being said, the location that I planted them, they were able to lean up against the fence, then against the greenhouse.

Perennial Kale in June - lower leaves do die out a bit as the plant matures.

Fuzzy Cabbage Butterfly Caterpillar

Some of the caterpillars were less fuzzy, with a white stripe.

I believe if I continue to plant them further down the fence line, like I plan to do next spring, I will need to stake them. Other than the plants getting a little too large mid-summer, they have been relatively simple and easy to care for. Also – I still don’t care much for the cabbage butterflies that the plants attract to the yard. In the spring, it took some concerted effort to fight against the caterpillars, but by the summer it paid off – when spiders, small wasps and other critters began helping me by preying on the caterpillars.

Tree Chard, August - at just above 5' tall.

I take as many of the lower leaves as I want, whenever I want. We have enjoyed our collards a lot in both soups and stir-fries, though I have not tried making kale chips yet. As for their care, I occasionally add some additional egg shells and nitrogen or compost and watch them grow. I'm excited to see them change color this winter - as I have heard they turn a reddish-purple as the days get shorter. So far, I am an extremely proud owner of some Tree Kale… or Perennial Collards.

Middle Perennial Kale is just reaching 6' by September

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Neighborhood Farm Stand

So, I happened to be walking in my parents neighborhood Sebastopol, California and came upon this delightful little vegetable stand.

A home-made farm stand in one's neighborhood is probably the next best thing to having veggies grown in your own backyard.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Linda's Garden

A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit my Dad's house and have a look at the garden that my step-mother had created. Unlike my garden which is much more functional than aesthetic, the garden here was both functional and beautiful. Like me, you can see what vegetables, fruits and flowers you can identify or you can just appreciate the pictures for what they are. Either way, I hope you enjoy!

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Polymorphic Carosello Polisello

While I thoroughly enjoy the pursuit of a variety of Carosello cucumbers, I do my best to keep from growing multiple varieties all at once. It is not that I do not appreciate each one, but rather that I appreciate each one so much that I want to keep it true to its type – if a cucumber is supposed to be short or long, round or oval, light or dark, striped, blotched or a uniform color – it should remain predictable. My most recent experience attempting to grow the light Carosello Polisello proved that, if a variety is not carefully maintained, it will result in being completely unpredictable.

An assortment of Carosello Polisello Fruit

Another assortment of Carosello Polisello Fruit

The initial Carosello Polisello that I was introduced to was a drought-resistant, crispy medium-sized light cucumber with dark spotching. The last time I grew this variety in 2012, I selected out all the light fruit with dark splotching, regardless of size. Because I then selected the dark Polisello with such good results - with over 75% success, I thought that this next trial would go well.

Carosello Polisello sprouting up

I had to sow my seeds three separate times because of slugs

Third try - did much better than the first two because of the heat.

Carosello Polisello cucumber plant.

The male flowers begin to appear

Though there were quite a variety of cucumbers in the initial grow-out in 2012, I had culled in the process of selection, and I considered the initial planting only as a mix-up of seeds. Nope. It turns out that, if bees are involved, that even with selection it can be difficult to isolate specific morph of a polymorphic vegetable.

The plants continue to grow.

Another male flower

From my experience, the Carosello Polisello has a number of color, length and taste genes that interlap. The first year I grew them, there was no bitterness to the fruit. In fact, most cucumber-melons are, as a rule, bitter-free. This season a portion of the fruit were bitter, regardless of color. (This was incredibly disheartening because it makes the process of ideal morph selection even longer by adding another factor).

The expectation of a harvest is wonderful.

Plants reaching for the sky.

Care is needed to keep from stepping on sprawling branches

The problem of dealing with bees in a monoecious plant - where both female and male structures are grown in different places on the same plant - is that bees may take pollen from a nearby male part of Cucumber B and pollinate the female flower of Plant A. Because the gardener cannot remove all the unwanted cucumber types in a selection until the fruit begins to form, it is difficult to cull a plant from the population based on fruit color or pattern until its flowers have spread their genetic material to all the other plants in the garden. This means that, even if you are selecting for a specific trait from an F1 (first generation hybrid where up to 50% of the population exhibit a specific trait) to get to an F2 (second generation hybrid, where ideally 75% of the population exhibits a specific trait) you are having to fight the bees, who are making your plants a homogeneous genetic mess.

Carosello Polisello Light Morph in stages of development

Light Carosello Polisello growing on the vine

Light morph of the Carosello Polisello

How this morph looks when cut up

The complete light morph of the C. Polisello is dominant

A closeup of the skin when the fruit gets larger.

Some of the Carosello were dark, some were light, some were medium dark, some were medium dark with darker splotching while others were light with dark splotching (the target morph in my 2017 grow-out). The amazing thing is that, given time, each of these factors can be isolated and remedied if the gardener has both the ability to isolate the fruit and the time to select for the most desirable traits.

Solid Dark morph of the C. Polisello

A look at the top of this one.

Partly dark morph

Another look at the dark C. Polisello

Despite the odds presented to me by all the busy bees, I did find one way to help increase the chances of success with my random assortment of cucumber varieties. A cluster of three plants with light fruit and dark splotches presented the possibility that, if I labeled the middle fruit from the peripheral fruit, I could get closer to the 75% desirable morph than the 50% desirable morph. 

My Target approach to selecting for light cucumbers with dark splotching.

Like a target, the closer I get to the center, the more likely it will be that the next generation of seed will produce light cucumbers with dark splotches. Out of 9 cucumbers out of three plants, three were in the center (desired position 1), three were around them (desired position 2) and three were on the outer edges of the group of plants (desired position 3). I kept all my position 1 and 2 seed and tossed all the position 3 seed. I figure that I can work off of the position 1 seed and use the position 2 seed as backup.

These numbers tell me how close I am getting to my ideal.

The beginning of my Light w/Dark Blotched Carosello Polisello

The inner lines and dark splotches are beginning to show.

Carosello Polisello - not as much splotching as I would like.

Light Carosello Polisello with dark splotching

Carosello Polisello

Definitely very light in color!

Another picture a day or two later.

Two C. Polisello friends.

Later in the day, under different lighting.

The Light Carosello Polisello.

Another C. Polisello picture for effect.

Polisello family photo.

C. Polisello, looking a little shady.

The light C. Polisello

We’ll see how this technique pans out for the future, but as for the near term I will probably be focusing on a few varieties that are a little more consistent. In the meantime, enjoy my little Youtube clip about the Polymorphic Carosello Polisello.