I DON’T WANT TO BRAG BUT THIS GARDEN IS THE BEST I HAVE EVER GROWN

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Posted by Gordon | Posted in News | Posted on 14-05-2016

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GENERAL GARDEN REPORT

SPRING GARDEN 2016

SPRING GARDEN 2016

It must be the exceptionally pleasant weather, the well composted horse and chicken manure with an addition of 31-0-0 fertilizer to combat the nitrogen drain caused by the manure because the garden reminds me of Jack and the Bean Stalk fantasies.  Everything, and I mean everything, is growing well and promises to produce more that we can consume.  The greens ( lettuce, collards, kale and chard have already exceeded our abilities to keep up with it.  The peppers are starting to bloom among the volunteer Malabar spinach and are barely above the radish greens.  Our giant mystery rape plant (6 feet) has finally gone to seed and has produced thousands of seeds for us.

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GARDEN MIX

GARDEN MIX

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There are a few vegetables that when grown well in the garden really show their stuff.  Cabbage is one of them and although I only have a dozen planted they dominate their section of the garden ( I doubt that I would have room to grow more as they take up so much space but I enjoy cooked cabbage and slaw so they will always have a place in the garden).

I planted a dozen replacement artichoke plants to remedy the loss resulting from our accidental removal of the plants last year.  They are as big as the one remaining original plant and will soon start their bloom.  The carrots are having trouble getting enough sun because everything else is shading them.  I am going to have to find a safe sunny place for them.  This year we have both the rainbow and green variety of Swiss Chard and both are doing exceptionally well.  We are not harvesting fast enough.  Cucumbers are starting to climb the trellis and the Brussels Sprouts are starting to form sprouts along the stems.

This year I obtained from a friend (who obtained from the Clemson University experimental station) a variety of European Lambs Quarter.  Unlike the Lambs Quarter we have here in America, this one has a rim of purple around the top leaves which does not fade when the plant is cooked which makes for a very colorful cooked vegetable.

 

Our sugar peas are about finished and they were delicious but I have now planted cucumbers next to the trellis they were growing on and okra on the others side of the row.   I have dug and prepared two 50 foot rows for the Kentucky Wonder pole beans and planted 5 mounds of squash under hoop protection from the squash bore moth.

Blackberry and Blueberry are starting to swell and the figs are starting to appear at the leaf junctions.  We had a wonderful citrus bloom this spring and the trees set a lot of tangerines and oranges.  Not many grapefruit nor naval oranges and lemon seem to have set.  I have planted two new lime trees (two varieties) which should produce in a couple years.

NOW FOR THE TOMATOES!

I planted 40 tomato plants in straw bales this spring as an experiment (I had heard it was a good way to grow them here and they did not get many of the ground-born virisus tomatoes get.  I also planted 20 additional plants the standard way in the garden beds just as a precaution.  In order to get the hay/straw bales seasoned so as to be ready for the plants, they have to be partially composted.  This is done by digging holes in the bales and placing every two days a half cup of high nitrogen fertilizer into the holes.  This starts the breakdown of the straw bale and in two weeks it is ready to have composted manure added in the holes and to plant the tomato plant.  All went well as can be seen in earlier photographs.  After about two weeks of normal growth, something happened that turned the plants into monsters.  They are 8 feet tall and are said to be able to reach 10 feet.  I have stopped adding anything to them in the hopes of slowing their growth.  One of the things about tomatoes is that they can become very vegetative.  That is to say that they can be big and tall and very strong plants with very few tomatoes.  I want tomatoes!  I have read that it only takes about 5 leaves on the top of a branch to supply a big bunch of fruit with enough energy to grow and the thinness of the leaf cover allows the sun to ripen the fruit.  Some specialty growers actually prune the leaves off their plants to allow the fruit to grow.  My plan is to thin the leaf cover from some of the straw bale plants and test the theory.  My plants are starting to set tomatoes so This is a good time to start the experiment.  I will only prune the plants on the bales as the raised bed plants get a lot of sun.

BEES

Bee Primer

TOP BAR HIVE HIVES

TOP BAR HIVES

I have been keeping bees for almost 50 years. When I was a young biology teacher, I used honey bees as a teaching tool when I taught animal behavior courses. I had an observation hive in my classroom with a connecting tube through the wall whereby the bees could access the outside environment. We would slide the observation panel away from the glass side and watch the bees do their thing – waggle tail dances, egg laying, rearing brood, superseedures and making new queens. All the good stuff.

Later, a friend and I had 50 hives here in Beaufort. It was not a case of our becoming involved in a commercial honey business but more like a failure to know when to say we had enough hives.

Today, I have three standard (Langstroth) bee hives. Each are made up of two deep brood boxes.

OLD SQUARE HOVES

OLD SQUARE HIVES

I have stopped stacking supers on top of the brood boxes as I don’t spin the honey out any longer.  At my age it is to difficult to lift a 50 lb brood box or a 35 lb super full of honey comb with 10,000 bees flying around looking for a vulnerable spot to investigate.  In fact, I don’t even eat honey any longer due to my per-diabetic condition. So one might question why I keep bees. The answer is simple. I enjoy working with them.  I also am worried that our bee population is crashing due to the miracle insecticides created by the likes of agricultural giants like Monsanto (they contribute or are the primary cause of the disappearance of many other beneficial insects like the Monarch Butterfly).

An off topic comment is to ask you if you have noticed any difference when you drive today as compared to when you were younger. I used to drive between Myrtle Beach and Columbia, South Carolina when I was in college. When I got to my destination, I had to wash all the smashed insects from my windshield or I would not be able to see. Today, I will often not hit one insect when I drive between Beaufort and Columbia. Wonder why?

I have bees so that they can pollinate the Sea Island Garden. It seems that my production is substantially better when they are present. If I did not keep them, I would have none in the garden. Today, I went to Grayco (about 8 miles from the garden) to purchase small hinges (more on this in a minute). There was a profusion of Ligustrum blooms on the many shrubs in the parking lot. The fragrance was almost overwhelming much like a citrus bloom. There was not one honey bee on the blooms. I have never seen a Ligustrum bloom devoid of honey bees. It brought home the fact that we are loosing our pollinators. If that happens, as many as 1/3 of the human population on earth will starve to death. That is 3 to 4 billion people.

The first limiting factor to the human population was the inability to fix atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants could use. That problem was solved by two of Hitlers scientist. Nitrogen is also used to produce explosives and gunpowder. Items Hitler needed. Aside from fueling the second world war munitions, the process also made it possible to add several more billion inhabitant onto the earth which could now grow enough food to maintain the extra billions. Today we are facing a second limiting factor to the human population – producing enough food to support our masses. We might be able to grow the plants but we can’t get to the fruits, grains, vegetables, etc. without the pollinators, also called honey bees.

Since I don’t actively expand the size of my hives to allow for additional storage of honey, my hives fill up to capacity and the queens then form a swarm with all the older bees in the hive and leave en mass to find a new location in the forest (or in the eves of your home). They leave a new fertile queen with all the young bees and those to emerge soon to maintain the old hive. It is called a supersedure and is the natural way by which bees expand their numbers in the wild.

This Spring, my three hives produced 7 swarms. More to come later in the season. I was able to “hive” two of them. The rest escaped and went into the forest to replace those that have been disappearing.

Aside from replenishing the wild stock, this was a good thing because I had decided to switch from the old Langstroth hives to the newer, more easily worked and less disruptive hive style – the top bar hive. Originally designed to be used by the Peace Corp in Africa to help expand small business opportunities. It is cheap to build and easy to work.

I ordered a hive from eBay (jmorrow@wi.rr.com) and was delighted by the quality craftsmanship of the product I ordered a second hive from Joe and used it as a pattern by which I could make my own. I have built two additional long (30 bar) hives and two smaller “nuc” hives(12 bar). This makes 6 new top bar hives (time to stop making hives).

My plan is to keep these six hives and once they are self sufficient to sell the three Langstroth hives (with bees).

I have placed the new hives into the garden apiary and installed the two swarms. I will divide two of my existing hives into the other top bar hives. I have designed a hinged top for the top bar hives so that all I have to do is swing the top open and remove a top bar from the hive and cut off 5 lbs of honey comb when ever I want. As I stated above, I don’t eat the honey any longer but a lot of my garden friends do.

GORDON

 

EUROPEAN LAMBS QUARTER

EUROPEAN LAMBS QUARTER

 

 

 

NO RAIN AT THE SEVENTH ANNUAL WISTERIA SOIREE!

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Posted by Gordon | Posted in News | Posted on 28-03-2016

How lucky can we get?  It was a perfect day.  Overcast, yes but not a sprinkle.  Cool but without “no-see-um” or mosquitoes.  A wonderful Soiree where we ate and visited, made new friends, admired the rapid growth of the Spring garden and just had a great time.  We had guest from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina as well as from California and Canada.  Several new local guest voices their intent to join us in the garden – always an encouraging event.  We welcomed the Graves family from Saint Helena who are starting their own raised bed garden, fish pond and chicken coop – people after my own heart with which we will exchange ideas.  I only wish that more of you could have been there but it took 17 brave soles to gamble with that weather forecast.  Hopefully we will enjoy the usual sunny weather we have come to expect for our soiree afternoons.  PLEASE PUT THE LAST SATURDAY IN MARCH – 2017  ON YOUR CALENDAR FOR THE 8TH ANNUAL WISTERIA SOIREE.   But you don’t have to wait a year to visit.  Call any time and check to make sure I will be here and come up, down or over.  I had many visitors this year and enjoyed each and every one of them so don’t stay away even if you are far away.  I had visitors from Pennsylvania, Georgia and Tennessee but the farthest came from France.

Gardening is a wonderful activity but it is a true joy when it is shared with others.  Come visit, ask questions and make suggestion

7th ANNUAL WISTERIA SOIREE

7th ANNUAL WISTERIA SOIREE      GORDON

I’M A DAY AHEAD OF MYSELF – TODAY IS THURSDAY – NOT FRIDAY

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Posted by Gordon | Posted in News | Posted on 24-03-2016

That makes the weather prognosis even better as the front may be out of here by Saturday.  In any event, the 7th Annual Wisteria Soiree is on for 1:00 Saturday the 26yth of March.  See you then.

Gordon

WINTER STORM SELENE CAST ITS CLOUDS ON OUR 7TH ANNUAL WISTERIA SOIREE

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Posted by Gordon | Posted in News | Posted on 24-03-2016

We have been lucky for the first six Wisteria Soirees but it looks like our luck has run out.  The weather reports put the front over us tomorrow and holding for Sunday so a one day delay will not solve the problem.  That problem is that there are several people planning to attend from distant areas including Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Colorado and California so a one week delay is also out of the question.

It is too bad that the weather has put a damper on the plans as it has been such a perfect Spring with the garden in full growth mode and the citrus in full bloom.  FORTUNATELY, WE HAVE A LARGE 25 X 40 COVERED SHED in which we can move the activities into.   It is very possible that the rains will be light for most of the time with only occasional heavy downpours.  I don’t believe a cancellation or rescheduling is possible so The seventh Annual Wisteria Soiree will start at 1:00 tomorrow and go until the last person leaves.  I know the weather will affect the attendance but I urge you to come.  You will be able to stay dry and the Frogmore stew and other eats will still be very good as well as the company.  Add your rain coat and umbrella to the chair, bug spray, covered dish, and drink of choice that you will bring.  I understand that during much of the time the event is scheduled it will be only overcast.

I really hope to see you tomorrow.

Gordon

OUR EARLY SPRING GARDEN IS IN!

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Posted by Gordon | Posted in News | Posted on 08-03-2016

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MARCH 2016 THE BEGINNING

MARCH 2016 THE BEGINNING

It doesn’t look like much yet but I have great expectations for it.  There are several new things to report.  My son, Cam, and I completed the greenhouse construction reported in the last blog and it is filled with plants.  I thought that a 12 x 20 space would be enough but I was wrong.  We could use twice that.  All of the patio plantings spent the winter in their new house but I am most interested in the seedling production for the garden as well as the rooting of cuttings that I have taken.

HOME GROWN TOMATO SEEDLINGS

HOME GROWN TOMATO SEEDLINGS

I have produced over 200 plants of 10 varieties of tomatoes.  Sure beats buying them six at a time at Lowes.    I have set these out in the garden anticipating that we have seen the last of our cold nights.  This year I am trying a new process by which to grow the tomatoes.  I have had several friends suggest that I try the straw bale method as they have had good results with it.  So this year, I am trying it along with the tried and true method of planting in the raised beds.

STRAW BALE GARDENING

STRAW BALE GARDENING

The advantages to straw bale growing is that there are no weeds to worry with as well as the plants are raised 2 1/2 feet above the ground making it easier to work them.  The root system stays at the correct temperature and can spread throughout the bale.  I have seen ten foot plants loaded with tomatoes.  I can only dream.  I have planted 60 plants in 10 bales with wire supports.  I will install a timed water drip system on each plant.  Next year, I will work the bales into the garden soil increasing the organic content and start over with new bales.

I have not been satisfied with our 6 year old asparagus bed which should be producing a lot of spears each spring.  The variety is Mary Washington and I get just enough to get a good taste in the garden but none make it to the house.  This year I have raised the bed an additional six inches and added a six inch layer of aged horse manure.  To this I have added a high nitrogen fertilizer (41-0-0) as the manure is often deficient in nitrogen and I have replaced the Mary Washington variety with 12- 2 year old  New Jersey male plants.  I hope to get a good crop next spring.

ASPARAGUS BED

ASPARAGUS BED

I am still trying to get a good stand of globe artichoke plants going.  I planted 10 plants last year to fill in the spaces between an earlier planting (which produced fantastic artichokes – better than anything I have ever tasted from a grocery store) but they did not survive the hot summer in their raised bed which was deficient in organic matter to retain moisture.  I have in the past separated the individual plants (usually 4 to a pot) before planting.
This year, I planted the pots undisturbed after I added four wheel barrows of composted horse and chicken manure (again adding the nitrogen fertilizer).  I’m crossing my fingers as this is a wonderful homegrown vegetable.

ARTICHOKE BED

ARTICHOKE BED

I am looking for where I saved the “Diva” cucumber seeds from last year.  They were a wonderful variety but the seeds cost fifty cents each so I wanted to see it they stayed true (or close to it) and plant from my seed stash.  Can’t do that if I can find them.  I did plant cucumbers from purchased seed but they were an older variety.  My sweet pepper selection for this year is a red California bell and a yellow banana pepper.  I can’t eat the hot varieties and no one in the garden group wants them either.

PEPPER PLANTING

PEPPER PLANTING

Speaking of the garden group – I have lost a couple good workers due to medical reasons.  Davis blew out his Achilles Tendon and will be in recovery for six months following surgery.  Kathy and Chris are busy doing their yoga and sea turtle projects respectively.  That leaves me.  I have two couples that are interested in joining the garden and I am hopeful that they will participate soon.  There will be a great need for the collection of the small live oak leaves from my access road which we use as weed control between the raised beds the first year and then add the organic remains to the beds the second year.

I will add pole and green beans along with okra as soon as the soil gets warmer (May) and rotate other plantings into the garden as time matures the first crops.  I still have to plant the bok choy, carrots, squash, melons and others to the onions, multiple varieties of lettuce and greens, radish, Swiss chard, collards, kale, peas, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, peppers, artichokes, asparagus, cucumber, Malabar spinach and others.

STRAWBERRY

STRAWBERRY

 

Huge surviving "rape" plant from last years garden - almost 5 feet across - "too big to pull"!

Huge surviving “rape” plant from last years garden – almost 5 feet across – “too big to pull”!

 

COLLARD

COLLARD

 

COLLARD

COLLARD

I have order a 3 lb package of bees to fill the new top bar hive I purchased.  The top Bar Hive I built several years ago is still empty but I plan to move a swarm into it this spring.  I will keep the three square Langstrogh hives but they are so difficult to work requiring the removal of each section (50+ lbs each) so as to get to the honey and then the frames have to be spun to remove the honey.  With the top bar hive, the top is removed (one lb) and a single 4 lb top bar filled with honey comb is removed and the honey comb is cut off and the bar replaced so the bees can draw it out again and fill it.  My new hive contains 30 bars – 10 of which will be used as the breeding chamber with the rest being allocated to honey storage.

 

SEVENTH ANNUAL WISTERIA SOIREE

It is that time of the year again.  It really surprised me last week when I was reminded that the wisteria are about to bloom.  All readers of this blog are invited to attend.  Last year we had about 40 who showed up.  It was a great gathering and we visited and ate until it got dark.  It starts at 2:00 and goes from there.  Everyone brings their chair, drink (often a bottle of wine), a covered dish or two and insect spray (often not needed).  If it rains we can move to under the shed but I hope it doesn’t because the garden is a great place to sit and let the wisteria blossoms fall onto our plates and into our wine.  I usually provide the shrimp either as a Frogmore stew or as a steaming pile.  Last year Laura Puccini brought a bushel of blue crabs and someone else brought a couple bushels of oysters.  I hope they can do the same this year as we had a wonderful low country bash.  I ask that you RSVP to seaislandman@islc.net to insure that I have enough shrimp.  I will provide the location, tables, ice, soft drinks, plats and utensils.  Any other contributions will be appreciated.  It is scheduled for the last Saturday in March – The 26th at 2:00.  Put it on your calendar as it is only 18 days away.  DON’T FORGET TO RSVP AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

Gordon

TANGERINE JELLY

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Posted by Gordon | Posted in News | Posted on 05-01-2016

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I was complaining in the last garden blog about the abundance of “root stock tangerines” this year.  None of the other citrus did anything after the cold weather we had last winter but the little semisweet, seedy tangerines on the five volunteer root stock trees did really well.  With over 1000 fruit on the trees, I decided that there was no way that all the fruit could be consumed before they fell to the ground and rotted.  I’ve been eating 4 or more a day but that is not making a dent.

Root stock tangerines

Root stock tangerines

 

what you need for jelly making

what you need for jelly making

 

This evening I picked 62 tangerines and brought them inside.  They are pretty little things and they filled the bucket I had.

tangerines

tangerines

Once inside, I peeled them.  The aroma was spectacular.  Nothing smells as good or like a tangerine.

tangerine peel

tangerine peel

 

peeled

peeled

I placed the peeled fruit into a blender (ninja type but any blender will do) and miraculously turned them into juice.

ready to juice

ready to juice

Well juice, pulp and 10 thousand seeds.  After straining the pulp and seeds away, I had a semisweet tangerine juice.

mmmm seeds and pulp

mmmm seeds and pulp

To this I added 12 cups of sugar and then discovered that I had sweet tangerine juice.  I added two packets of Sure Jell (pectin) and cooked for one hour until I got thickening on the metal spoon I used to stir the cooking juice.

rolling boil

rolling boil

I then placed the sanitized jars next to the pot and filled them with the hot (very hot) tangerine  juice.

jars at the ready

jars at the ready

I placed the lids on the jars and put them all on the counter.  I got 12- 1/2 pint jars, two pint jars and a single quart jar.

When I make jelly, there is no guarantee that it will not be syrup for pancakes.  It is difficult to get it to set up as jelly is supposed to do.  I have an assortment of sweet syrups in my pantry.  However, this time it worked.  All the jars set up and made jelly.  I mean really good jelly.  The semisweet nature of the tangerines gave the jelly a marmalade tangerine flavor which I have never encountered before.  Very very good.

 

lots of jelly

lots of jelly

So here is the deal.   If you live close to the garden (Beaufort, SC) and want to pick free semisweet, seedy tangerines for jelly making, please come.  Email me at seaislandman@islc.net and I will tell you how to get here and help you pick.    Really!  Come help me save the tangerines.

CHRISTMAS DAY IN THE GARDEN

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Posted by Gordon | Posted in News | Posted on 25-12-2015

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Waiting for Spring

Waiting for Spring

 

I can hardly call our vegetable garden a garden this Christmas.  We have been taught that Mother Nature has her way when it is set by El Nino.  Our late summer plantings were all beat down by the overwhelming rains.  After three re-plantings,  I quit.

Green house under construction

Green house under construction

I am building a green house which will be attached to the ground level of my home and I plan to start the spring seedlings as soon as my son and I finish building it.  In the meantime,   I will have to be content with my memories  from the past and those wonderful blooms that exist in this warm weather we are enjoying.  Last winter was very cold again and as the year before, we got very few citrus  —  except for the tangerines that were produced by the root stock trees that had come up around the original tangerine tree.

Root stock tangerines

Root stock tangerines

Tangerines - thousands of Tangerines

Tangerines – thousands of Tangerines

They are a smaller fruit and very seedy and certainly not as sweet as the original tree but as the winter comes on, they sweeten a little so as to be eatable.  In fact, I have developed a preference for them over the sweeter originals.  The trees are bending over and hugging the ground with their burden of fruit.  There is no way I will be able to eat, give away or convert to marmalade and jelly the volume that these little gems have presented.  I will hate to see them fall to the ground in march but there is little I can do.   If they were apples I could give some to the horses but they will have nothing to do with them.  I can only hope that I will have this problem with the other varieties that the garden grows next year.

Our warm weather has also allowed many of the flowering plants to give a great winter display.  My Jean-Pierre (or Jean-Phillip or whatever) rose is in full bloom again for the 4th time this year.

Old world French rose

Old world French rose

The camellias are starting and promise to really show well this winter

Camillia

Camillia

The bloom to come.

The bloom to come.

Camillia

Camillia

and I have the ever-spreading seedless morning glory blooming and invading every corner of my English garden.  Word of warning, Don’t allow the beauty of this flower convince you to plant it.

Enjoy this flower online and not in your garden.

Enjoy this flower online and not in your garden.

I guarantee that you will regret that you did.  I was warned but disregarded the advice and can only advance it to you as it is too late for my garden (I am at war).

 

Christmas turkey needs carving so I will stop.

 

Merry Christmas to you all.

 

Gordon

 

Horses eating their Christmas dinner.

Horses eating their Christmas dinner.