Captain’s log: June 3rd 2019

I had a very busy day today and only a few scant morning hours to work in the garden. But I got a lot done.

I didn’t have to do much in the way of watering, as one can see from the rain water on my Tokyo market turnips.

It rained in the night which is… really stressing my tomatoes.

What I did today was rip out most of the plants that had gone to seed, and fertilize.

And weed. So. Much. Weeding.

The pea plants are completely taking over the fence- and they’re starting to bear peas.

I probably should have put in a proper trellis instead of relying on stakes and the fence and the eyelets and wire I put on the fence. Either way the purple peas are a huge success.

Speaking of purple produce- in a few days it will be time to pick my not-a-romanesco.

I’ve had quite a bit of harvests lately- All the viable romaine were eaten, as well as the Bok Choy from the fabric bed.

In the place of the Bok Choy I sowed some beets, which are starting to come up. Beets are interesting- the seeds you get are actually like a little ball of seeds- so you always have to thin them, no matter how far apart you sow them.

I made a start on ripping out the carrot bed. I definitely sowed it too thickly, lots of big woody inedible carrots mixed with little squashed babies.

I got one last viable one though.

The stem hadn’t gone to seed so it’s probably a good one.

I’m gonna re seed the carrot bed once I pick some neem seed fertilizer from work, along with some more soil.

And I’m going to re seed a little thinner so I don’t end up with dodgy carrots.

In other fantastic news- looks like I’m getting a blackberry! Not only are the blackberry plants growing like mad- I looks like the first flower I got is turning into an actual fruit! The smaller vine will probably not bear fruit until next year but it looks like the larger vine is going to bear this year.

The plants in between the two blackberries are comfrey. I put them in a week ago or so. They’re an old style herb that like a lot of the herbs grown by our ancestors for medicine, are super duper toxic. But! It’s a documented if odd fact that comfrey salves used topically can help heal bruises. I… could use that. Not to mention supposedly comfrey can be used as a green compost- it has a lot of nitrogen in its leaves and when steeped you can water other plants with the comfrey tea to help them grow.

Sounds good to me.

The sun gold is looking more than a little rough. The ladybugs definitely are going to help- but it looks like the infestation in the sun gold tomato particularly was so heavy I’m going to have to move the few ladybugs that remain in the plant and spray the crap out of the sun gold with neem oil.

It’s got so many baby tomatoes- I’m just waiting for summer and the heat that will hopefully ripen them into beautiful gold goodness.

As much as I’m loving the ladybugs in the garden…

As you can see on my baby basil- they’ve brought quite a few flies. The problem is- out of 1,500 ladybugs- yeah a few were dead. Maybe more than a few. Dead bugs equal flies.

So. Many. Flies.

Ugh.

My cucumber seedlings were absolutely gasping to be planted so I obliged.

Just around the stake trellis. This picture was taken before I mulched it. As you can see the radishes in the center are almost ready to pick.

Speaking of radishes-

So this is where the romaine was. There’s one left as you can see- but the rest were eaten either eaten or pulled as icky. In its place I sowed some extra big radishes. Crimson giants to be precise. They’ll grow quick enough so that in a month I can put something else there- maybe some more green or bunching onions.

The borage is starting to flower. This is nothing- borage flowers are some of the most beautiful herb flowers you can grow. Honestly they’re one of the most beautiful flowers period.

Of course- also a contender for best flower…

Yay! It’s the most perfect little sunflower! The best part is it faces my window. Summer is coming!

The sunflowers demand it!

New plants, new bed, and bad news

So this was a good day, mostly. I got my new fabric bed in the mail a few days ago but I underestimated its size and realized I needed more soil than I actually had.

A trip to the garden center was in order.

I got some blue lake green beans sets along with a replacement for my ailing chervil, a basil gamble and one last squash plant.

First a note on the chervil.

That does not look healthy. It’s the fact that it’s in a bed. This area of the garden, the shade herb bed, is shady in fall and winter. It’s also shadier in spring and summer. But we’ve been having very bright and windy days and that’s just been murder on the chervil. Murder on the parsley too, but that’s solvable.

The thyme doesn’t give a shit it’s huge.

To solve the evaporation problem on the parsley side, the answer is, as always, more mulch.

Just got to lay it on. As for the chervil…

Sometimes you just got to get a new plant. Healthy plant in a pot which will help with water conservation, and on the shade herb table in the shadiest possible spot in the garden. It’s a nice delicate herb chervil, hope this one takes.

In the long shot category, we have basil.

I have completely given up on Italian basil, and if I were to un-give up on it, it would go into a pot. They didn’t have any blue bush basil which is a shame, but they had some very healthy looking Thai basil. Slightly different flavor, but a heartier plant, which as you can see I’ve mulched the absolute heck out of. It’s still a crazy gamble, but it’s been so sunny… well, all gardening is a gamble really.

The squash was fun though.

See I’ve been growing pretty much all plain green zucchini, largely because it’s easier and mom likes them. But it occurred to me that I had a space for one more plant, and dad likes grey squash, so I got a “Magda” zucchini for him. It was a really healthy looking plant, and it’s a cinch to grow so no skin off my nose to put in an extra plant.

The beans went in easy, as beans tend to, I still mulched the heck out of them of course.

I also put some stakes down for them, I also have some netting that I think I’m gonna use for the trionfo beans.

The main issue today was turnips. They’d been growing slow, and were starting to bolt, no surprise there. One of the reasons I got this fabric bed to stash in the shadiest part of my garden was so I could grow the more temperature sensitive crops like lettuces and arugula and turnips in a shaded area of the garden.

The problem was cabbage fly. I had eaten a lovely turnip a week ago, small but tender, and was all set to pick the biggest few for tonight’s dinner. Only to discover all but one eaten up by cabbage fly maggots.

The one survivor was added to dinner, the rest were added to the compost bin. This is not my first tangle with cabbage fly. Years ago I had a whole lot of really beautiful turnips ruined by them. They’d been scarce as of late, and I thought I could get away with it, but it looks like our really wet start to spring helped the damn flies get off to a good start. Of course, while the damage cabbage fly can do to turnips is the most dramatic due to them eating the roots all up, cabbage fly can damage the roots of any brassica. SO tomorrow’s big task is going to be checking the roots of all my cabbage family crops for maggots or eggs and hand destroying and spraying the lot of them. And sadly I have a lot of brassicas.

This is the new bed. There was clearly a sewing error as you can see it’s a little lopsided. As I got it fairly cheap I suppose it would be bad form to complain about a minor cosmetic error so who cares.

I have quite a few plants I’m putting into this bed, including a few types of fancier lettuce, but these are some of my favorite Japanese vegetables that I picked up from the ferry building a few days ago and can’t wait to grow. Of course both are cabbage family crops so now that I know the cabbage flies are out I’m going to have to be extra vigilant. Both of these plants are quick growers, so it should be only a month from sprouting to harvest and then I can sow again. In between most of the lettuces I sowed some extra french breakfast radishes. I had sowed some radishes in front of the peas, and due to the extreme wet only about three came up.

This guy was my first to eating size. I cleaned it up and gave it to dad and he ate the whole thing leaves and all.

God bless him.

Well soon I’ll have many more, radishes are one of those plants you can tuck anywhere and they’ll mostly grow no matter what you do. Of course they are cabbage adjacent so I will once again have to be a little diligent sweeping for fly eggs.

In other not so good news, the red aphids have returned to the sun gold, and in the course of hand picking them, I made a truly bone-headed error.

This is the rose tip of my watering can, and as you can see, the inner part that has the little holes in it is missing. That’s because I set the can down to remove the aphids from the sun gold (and they only were on the sun gold which was weird) and I stepped on it. I heard a *ping* as the inner part went flying somewhere and I have no idea where it went. So while I will scour the garden in the morning hoping to find my missing part, I have a good idea I’m going to have to replace my watering can tip, possibly my watering can.

In the meantime, I have this little fellow playing back up. So what if he doesn’t hold much water, he has the right tip and he doesn’t just barf water out like a plain spout does. I could blame the aphids for this latest clumsy mistake, but I think it’s just my complete inability to see where I’m stepping.

I will of course blame the aphids anyways.

April bugs have returned

But not the bugs I want sadly. The bees have been showing up but as a trickle and not a roar. Nothing I can do about that- it was such a wet and cold winter that I suspect the big buzzers are still shaking it all off. Still- I have herbs flowering or about to flower- and soon I’ll have sunflowers and poppies.

The cabbage moths however, are back in force. Those little white butterflies are not the vegetable growers friend. Far from it. Luckily as far as turnips go- who cares. It’s not like I’m eating the leaves. I’ve already eaten one of the turnips, it was delicious, but before I pick more I’m waiting for them to get a little bigger.

Unfortunately I most certainly will be eating the Bok Choy leaves. I put down sluggo in case this is slug damage but as I was doing so I saw the white butterfly of doom flying around my head. Tried to kill it but it got away. I’m just trying to be diligent about checking the leaves for caterpillars but they’re little green things the same color as most plant’s leaves so it’s always hit or miss if you can actually find them.

There was some sort of cocoon on one of my carrots. I wasn’t so worried for my carrots, not much eats carrots except for carrot fly and it’s still too cold for them. Still I destroyed the cocoon to protect my other plants.

Some bugs are fairly harmless however. This lovely bit of froth conceals the spittlebug or frog hopper. Now if their numbers go crazy they can damage plants but they’re pretty harmless so I don’t go crazy killing them. I wish all the bugs in my garden were as harmless as these guys.

Speaking of harmless- sow bugs! Or rollypollies or pull bugs or wood louse. They’re isopods! They’re super cool! They don’t really do much and they aren’t mega creepy like earwigs so I don’t really care.

Also they make me smile so that’s nice.

Something has been nibbling on one of my potatoes which is fairly hilarious since I’m fairly sure potato leaves are mildly toxic. Probably something in the rodentia family so not much I can do about that.

What’s really annoying and I have no pictures of is the green aphids that keep getting up on my pepper seedlings. Aphids aren’t great but green aphids are like the easy mode of aphids so it’s easy enough to squish as many of them as you can and then just spray the plants down with neem oil. It’s more annoying then anything.

Of course the way the aphids are climbing the bench to get to the seedling are ants. Here’s a few on my first really spectacular squash blossom. I had to cut back some of the moldy leaves on the squash monster and mulch heavily but it seems to be taking well.

Here’s hoping to more bees and less pests.

And maybe some netting for my Bok Choy.

Damn cabbage moths.

Captain’s log: February 10th 2019

Today was clear and cool. Very cool, under 50 degrees. One of those things that made me glad the only warm weather plant out back was my wonderful pepper, which will be the subject of another post.

Everything was so well watered from the heavens opening up I didn’t have to do anything except take pictures of beautiful plants.

The amazing surprise garlic is just thriving in the wet. Which is good data to have if I grow garlic this year intentionally- maybe time it in order to take advantage of the winter rains.

In other allium news- the baby leeks are growing well. I mean I assume as much, as I have zero experience growing leeks. It’s interesting how much the baby leeks look like the baby green onions and baby chives. The chives of course stayed little, the green onions will hopefully get bigger than chives, and the leeks will hopefully get even bigger than that.

Alliums!

There seems to be a distinct winner in the battle that is mint thunderdome. After a while where the mint plants were bare twigs the Roman mint has joyfully rebounded into leaf. There are some scattered growth from the orange and chocolate mints- but Roman mint is the clear winner of the thunderdome.

The hyssop has also responded well to the deluge- turning bushy and thick. Not sure if I’ll ever use this herb culinarily but it smells real nice and flowers are good for the bees in the summer.

I swear I could fill this blog to the brim with just glamor shots of turnips. They’re so lovely and green but with yellow touches- and I love their leaf pattern.

Arugula! So much arugula! I just picked some and it’s almost all grown back which is nice. It’s also super weedy. The plants grew together because I sowed the seed rather thickly- which with arugula you can totally get away with. But it is problematic when it comes time to weed. I have to get in there, but I only had a little time outside today, and we have another straight week of rain coming.

The dill is growing so well- which is wonderful considering how long it took me to realize that dill was a seed herb not a transplant herb. It’ll probably be another month before I can pick some for pickling though.

Why… why is the rosemary flowering in February? I’m not upset- just confused.

Might as well make lemonade with rosemary flower lemons!

That’s… a weird metaphor I apologize.

What I mean is that I picked some of the flowery rosemary and some Mitsuba and made a bouquet for my lemon pitcher. It’s a nice table decoration that won’t make me sneeze like real flowers will. It also, as my dad might say, stinks the house up real pretty.

Here’s to rainy days!

Captain’s log: February 1st 2019

Man it’s just been a week of nothing. Between the rain and just waiting for things to sprout I’ve been left twiddling my thumbs.

But despite that it’s been an exciting Friday.

First things first- the weird purple Rosy Bok Choy is… being a weirdo.

It’s growing a stalk and flowers. All edible of course- that’s the glory of the Brassica family of vegetables, after all Broccoli and Cauliflower are just edible flowers. It’s still really weird though! You can see in front of the Bok Choy my baby romaine lettuces are growing nice.

The leeks in a pot and green onions (the ones that came up anyways) are growing well. Even more excitingly…

Baby potatoes have begun to sprout! Only one bag so far- but we’re getting so much rain the other one will sprout soon, potatoes are a long project, I probably won’t get a single spud til at least August.

The turnips are doing great, though I noticed some yellow old leaves. I think the constant rain is washing some nutrients into the ground water, so what I did do today was give everything a very light fertilize.

The turnips are super pretty though. A few days ago I put a few more turnip seeds in the gaps, for maximum turnip. The peas never sprouted behind them. Which is ok at this point, since as soon as we have a warm spell I’m putting in the first of my pole beans.

But we had a visitor in the night!

That’s some cat prints in my arugula pot. Since there was no cat poop in the arugula pot- I don’t care if a local kitty decided to patrol. Keeps the rodents down. But there were more exciting activities in this pot:

Itty bitty baby arugula sprouts! The sassy salad mix in the pot next door has also sprouted which is grand. Weirdly the two Swiss chard pots have not sprouted yet.

Eh whenever they sprout they sprout.

I’ve got a lot of weeding ahead of me. Both mowing and hand pulling. Nothing for it!

I also have some work up here.

I’ve ordered two new 8×2 beds, for up here and over here.

Both areas need to be mowed, and the bench has to be moved. I have other work too- but this is the most pressing. All in all I have work to do.

But hey- the dill is growing spectacularly! And that’s worth enduring a deluge.

Bok Choy, Pac Choi, Brassica rapa, it’s all Latin to me.

Or in the case of the first two names, Cantonese.

It’s my 100th post! So since I harvested my first Bok Choy of the year, I thought I’d do a deep dive into one of my favorite cabbages!

Bok Choy, also know as Pac Choi, which is how my garden center spells it- is a member of the cabbage family of plants. Specifically, Bok Choy is Brassica rapa. Now the really really cool thing about cabbages is that we’ve been breeding them for so long that even members of the same species of cabbage can have wildly different forms based on the specific cultivar or variety.

Bok Choy, is one of two cabbages sometimes referred to as “Chinese Cabbage” the other of course being napa cabbage. Both are members of the same species, but if you’ve ever put a napa cabbage and a bok choy together, you’ve probably noticed they look quite different.

Here’s where it gets crazier. The “rapa” in the scientific name is Latin for turnip.

That’s right! The turnip is also Brassica rapa! in other words, the Bok Choy I’m growing in one part of my garden, and the turnips I’m growing in another, are the same species of plant!

Bok Choy and Pac Choi are just different ways of transliterating the Cantonese word for the plant into English, traditionally the first is American English while the second is British English. Which raises a few questions as to why a plant nursery in California is using the British transliteration? Who knows.

Even varieties within a specific cultivar can look and grow quite different. This is the Rosy cultivar I’ve been growing along with the green and white type, which is called “Joi Choi”. The Joi Choi is growing really well and big, while the purple type is… growing. As you can see in the picture, the interior is flowering, which makes no sense- that’s usually something that gets triggered by heat, and it’s January. Now the flowering part is most likely totally edible, that’s what Cauliflower and Broccoli are after all, a cabbage that was bred for it’s edible flowers. (That however is Brassica oleracea, the species that includes cabbages proper, kale, Brussels sprouts and the aforementioned cauliflower and broccoli). So even if it is growing weirdly- I’ll still eat it.

I’m hoping that as I harvest the Joi Choi, the added space will cause the Rosy cultivar to grow a bit better. Or it might not, and I’ll just harvest all the purple ones all together for baby bok choy. Either way, I win. Such is the way of cabbages.

Bok Choy is like a lot of cabbage species and cultivars in that it needs a good wash. It’s not as bad as something like a leek, or god forbid, artichokes- which will never grace my garden kill them with fire they are bug hotels. But you still need to cut off the root end and give everything a good rinse. Depending on how you’re cooking them (or if you plan to eat them raw) you might not even use a salad spinner or towels to dry them off. I don’t.

General cooking advice is to cook them like chard or kale, separate the leaves from the stems, cut both up, saute the stems first in a little oil and salt, and once those are starting to soften, throw in the leaves and finish it up with a good grind of pepper. Bok Choy are also good in stir fry, just add the stems first and the leaves at the end along side whatever other veggies and proteins are in your fry.

This bad boy was actually destined for some braised steaks, added into the braising liquid along with some carrots and onions, steaks nestled inside, and slow cooked in the oven for two hours. It was delicious.

Now I use starts to save time, but much as growing turnips from seed is super easy peasy, so is growing bok choy. Brassica rapa is just one of the easier vegetables to grow, and I’ve done it year round. They might not love the hottest of summers, but as long as you grow them in the shade they should be fine. Similarly, while there is not a real danger of frost out here, in places where it does snow, you can grow Bok Choy easily in cold frames. Like most cabbages, they’re resilient and easy to grow, a testament to the fact that they are the modern descendants of one of the first vegetable species domesticated by humans.

One caveat. Like all cabbages they will attract some bugs. One of the reasons I prefer raised beds and growing my cabbages in the colder months is because of a nasty but pretty little white moth called a cabbage moth or cabbage butterfly. Two species of this winged foe exist, Pieris brassicae and Pieris rapae. The fact that their species name translates into cabbage and turnip respectively should tell you everything about their preferred food. But they’re not the only ones. The last time I grew turnips in the ground instead of in a raised bed, I lost 90 percent of my crop to an unknown grub, that I only discovered while cutting into my turnips. (EW.) But the various grubs and the cabbage moths are much more active in the summer. What is active this time of year is slugs and snails, especially after all this rain. That’s most likely the culprit behind the few scattered holes on the bok choy. I put down the slug bait, but honestly? A few holes in your cabbages won’t spoil your dinner. (Grubs in your turnips on the other hand…)

So give growing Bok Choy (or Pac Choi) a try! It’s easier than you think, and the rewards are delicious.

I can’t believe I’ve managed to crank out 100 posts in less than a year. I still feel slightly like I’m shouting into the void, but it’s a nice hobby, and I hope I’m brightening someone’s day. Thanks to everyone who reads this- here’s to my garden, and yours!

Post-rain overview

Well It’s instructive to see what’s really benefited from the rain, and what hasn’t.

The surprise garlic like getting drenched.

The Pac Choi are growing like mad- something is chewing on them though.

The string of pearls succulent is all plump again.

And the turnips are happy campers too.

The peas still haven’t sprouted, neither has the Swiss chard in the pots. So I’m probably gonna re sow them today or tomorrow.

Other things have benefited too of course,

But that’s just par for the course after a long stretch of rain.

I have about a weeks worth of mowing to do- along with my new project of moving the bench and putting in a couple new raised beds.

Work work work!