Monday, August 18, 2008

Our Vegetable Garden

August 18, 2008

Today is the first anniversary of our move to Morehead City. During this past year we have attempted to get into the growing cycle here for our vegetable garden and we have experienced many successes and many failures.

In Raleigh our greatest gardening adversaries were deer. Here in Morehead City our adversaries are – surprise, at least for me – rabbits.

Last winter I planted many seeds and nurtured them in flats under lights in the garage until the ground was warm enough for transplanting for the spring garden. At the same time I grew winter crops. Only a small percentage of the transplants made it. Virtually everything planted outside of the raised garden we constructed was eaten by rabbits.

My biggest disappointment was my failure to get melons (many kinds) to grow around the back yard. Cantaloupes, muskmelons, watermelons, kiwi plants, zucchini, summer squash, beans and cucumbers were all planned to be growing around the inside perimeter.

Well, the rabbits had a field day. I planted so much that I thought sure some of the baby plants would make it through, but the rabbit crop was even greater. I believe that I have identified at least four distinct generations of rabbits this year. I have pinged them with BBs, thrown cast nets over them and I have even caught one in a fish landing net. But, the only solution to their predation I have implemented that has had results was putting chicken wire fencing around planted mounds.

Our greatest successes have been the winter garden in general, butternut squash, eggplants and a late addition of yard long beans from seeds that my son, Ian, purchased in Thailand.

The winter garden was wonderful with greens, carrots, radishes, beets, rutabagas and onions. We also had a big lettuce patch and lots of Italian flat leafed parsley and cilantro.

The butternut squash was a fluke since I didn’t even plant them. Alice bought a butternut squash at the grocery store and after we ate it we dumped the seeds in a mulch pile outside. I noticed that many plants germinated from those seeds in the mulch pile so I transplanted them in various experimental places around the backyard. Miraculously, the rabbits ignored them and we have harvested many beautiful butternut squash. We have eaten them, shared them with our neighbors, have a good supply on hand and more are set and growing heartily.

We planted two kinds of eggplants. One was an Italian black beauty and the other a Japanese variety with long purple fruits. They have been very sucessful. Both are delicious and we have eaten them in various ways but we enjoy Baba ghanoush best.

Our Baba ganoush recipe:

Bake two and one half pounds of eggplant in the oven for around one hour. Put them in cold in a ceramic baking dish and cook at 400 degrees F. Let cool. Scrape the insides from the skin into a large bowl.

Add three to five garlic cloves (depends on size and strength) - in one batch I put three large regular garlic cloves and one big elephant garlic clove. I push all the garlic through a hand held garlic press.

Add six tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.

Add one and one half teaspoons of salt.

Add six tablespoons of tahini. (We're used to a pretty thick tahini that we have gotten at Food Lion for years. But, the Food Lion was out of it here in Morehed City. So, we found a brand called Shahia from Lebanon at an independent Middle eastern/Mexican grocery. The Shahia seems thinner, but has a very full sesame flavor. We reccomend it if you can find it.)

Add four and one half tablespoons of olive oil and one fourth to one half cup of chopped flat leafed Italian parsley (home grown).

We have mixed this by hand and have put it in a blender. We like it both ways.

Also, we think it tastes better if you make it a day before you eat it and let it "merge" well before eating.

The yard long beans are just becoming spectacular and are growing in their own plot along with the climbing tomatoes and a single Black Beauty Italian eggplant.

The following is a quick swing through our year of learning about vegetable gardening in this new place.

Thanksgiving 2007

My son, Stanley, and I look over the cross ties with Corey Leslie in preparation to putting together my raised vegetable garden. Stanley IV and Corey helped me set up the cross ties and locate the garden.

A week later the garden is assembled. Holes were drilled at joints large enough for rebar and pinned with 6’ long rebar. Each joint was secured by driving the rebar with a sledge hammer flush to the cross ties. We then filled the frame with 147 cubic feet of fifty per cent topsoil and fifty per cent composted horse manure. I was able to purchase the topsoil and compost from a list of local vendors suggested by Ray Harris, director of the Carteret County extension service.
The first planting in the garden was done on Sunday Dec. 2nd on the square in the top left of the garden (see above) it was densely planted with lettuce (mixed seeds left from some mixes I had done in Raleigh), cilantro (from the Mexican section of Food Lion sold as coriander), and some Italian parsley (from seeds I had gathered in Raleigh from the stand of parsley I had grown by our well house when we lived there).

On Monday Dec. 3rd I planted a row of carrots (one package) and a row of beets (one package) parallel to each other on the right side of the garden for most of the length of the garden. At the bottom of those two rows I planted three short tight rows of radishes. All of the seeds were purchased from Williams Hardware in Morehead City and were closeouts at 25 cents per package.

On Wed. Dec. 5th with a cold temperature drop to freezing expected, I completed a cold frame for the lettuce. On Thurs, Dec. 6th I completed a “hoop” system cover for the rows along the south long edge of the garden. This system is easily taken on or off as needed.

The lettuce had started coming up by Fri. Dec.7th.

Just a few days later the beets and carrots were up. And, the radishes! I thinned them several time and put the radish thinnings into salads. They were excellent!

About the middle of December I planted more. The weather, except for a brief cold snap right before Christmas during which time everything was covered, stayed pretty warm (daytime in the 70’s). And by the 27th everything was up except the second batch of carrots which were from last years bargain seed and they totally failed.

Far left row prepped for mixed greens; next row to right, mixed greens; next row to right, rutabagas; next row to right, carrots.

By January 2nd the garden looked like this.

By mid January we were having fresh lettuce, cilantro, parsley and radishes every night for supper.

Above our “hoop” rows, beets, carrots and radishes are “unbuttoned” for thinning and picking during the warmest part of a cold day. Toward the end of January, we planted a couple of rows of sweet onion sets in the middle of the garden adjacent and parallel to the cross ties the radishes are on above. Just above that and covered with myrtle branches are snow peas – three short rows, an experiment. Just past the snow peas is a short row (five cloves) of elephant garlic.
Below is the lettuce, cilantro, and Italian parsley on January 28th, 2008.

February 18, 2008

Today I planted 60 garlic cloves from regular grocery store garlic and thinned our carrots.

Yesterday I heavily thinned the beets and greens. We mixed them with lettuce, cilantro and parsley. It was a great salad!

Alice cooked the carrots below tonight– greens and all. They were so sweet.

Also, yesterday I got the first rain barrel set up. It was just in time for heavy rains today. The barrel pictured below was filled in about one half an hour and was overflowing! I had to drain it into another barrel.

April 6, 2008

Today I drilled lots of holes into a pickle barrel, and then transferred about half of the main mulch pile into it. The rest, the really dark mulch from the bottom, I put in the climbing trellis raised bed where I intend to put climbing tomatoes and kiwis.


All of the seeds I planted are up and I have been carefully hardening them by taking them outside everyday to aclimate. It is time to get them in the ground outside.

My plan is to plant one third of the raised garden in various tomatoes, one third in various eggplants and the balance in peppers. Also, I plan to put the pineapple plant that I have been nursing along inside the house in a corner of the pepper section of the garden.

In the garage I have set up a "grow house" with lights and I have raised from seed:

Brandywine Tomatoes (a heritage variety)

Juliette Tomatoes (a small "sauce" heritage variety)

Striped Italian Tomatoes

Climbing Tomatoes ( a large Seed Company Special)

Purple Japanese Eggplant

Black Italian Eggplant

Sweet Green Peppers

Jalapena Peppers

Cayenne Peppers

Yellow Squash


All were transplanted to the raised garden except for the Squash and Zuchinni. I planted mounds all around the inside fence perimeter in the backyard with cantaloupes, squash, zuchinni and beans.
And as I said earlier, rabbits came out of the woodwork.

Eggplants peeping

Small butternut squash
We ate many of these just as you would yellow squash when they were small. Others turned thick skinned tan and we baked them or stored them.

We now have a new challenge for the Fall/Winter garden. My son Ian, who frequently travels with his job, has sent us a new collection of Asian seeds. They are:

Bao-Sin Kai Tsail ( a leaf heading Mustard)

Chinese White Flower Kale

Chinese Celery (looks suspiciously like cilantro in the picture on the package)

Pai-Tsai (long white stalk like Bok Choy)

Shanghai Pai-Tsai ( a green heading Chinese cabbage)

Thai Hot Pepper

More fun to come. Stayed tuned.

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