I wrote this diary off the top of my head with the help of a bottle of crisp Reisling. Did not edit or spell-check it -- hope this helps someone.
This diary is a down-and-dirty description of our garden. It's a long diary, heavy on the physical side of gardening. In a day or so I'll post a diary about the spiritual aspect of the backyard garden.
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Here at Old Redneck acres – we retired to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, moving to Bay Saint Louis in January 2005. We purchased two lots and were building two houses – one for us (Old Redneck and Sweet Thing) and one for Old Redneck’s parents. Then came 29 August 2005 and Hurricane Katrina.
We now live on the Virginia Northern Neck where the Potomac River joins the Chesapeake Bay, though our hearts are still in Bay Saint Louis.
But – that’s water under the bridge – let’s talk about gardening.
We built our Northern Neck house during the summer of 2008. While building the house, we put in several raised beds for our garden. The raised beds each use four 12-foot-long 2 X 12’s with 4 X 4 sections at each corner to secure the 2X 12’s; we built four of these beds. Then, we got fancy and made a hexagonal 12 X 12 bed for our herb garden. Also, we built three 2’ X 12’ beds for asparagus.
We then ordered two dump truck loads each of topsoil and compost.
After the topsoil and compost were delivered, we realized we had 16 tons of stuff to be moved from where it was dumped into the beds. With a shovel and wheelbarrow, we moved it; took a week and a couple of cases of beer.
We filled each bed half-and-half with topsoil and compost. Then, we ran our tiller over each bed, thoroughly stirring the topsoil and compost together. We purchased 500 earthworm eggs and spread them out throughout the raised beds. Finally, we covered all this with a few inches of straw and waited for the spring. The earthworm eggs hatched and the worms made themselves at home. The straw kept the soil damp while it rotted.
In early spring 2009 we erected 6-foot-tall 2 X 2 posts around each raised bed and strung chicken wire around each raised bed to keep out the groundhogs, rabbits, possums, raccoons, and deer. Each year we grow yellow crookneck squash, hybrid cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, okra, beans, squash, cucumbers and asparagus. We also tilled a 12 ft X 24 ft section of the yard where we plant okra and cotton. (The Old Redneck is a Mississippi native, great-great-grandson of a cotton plantation owner and I plant a couple of rows of cotton wherever I am – Egyptian long-staple.)
This year we planted the usual; I’d like to share some thoughts with you gardeners and would-be gardeners out there.
Tomatoes. We put in 12 – 20 tomato plants each year. I tried one year growing my tomatoes from seeds. While that was successful, it was a lot of work. I now purchase tomato seedlings from the local co-op and let someone else worry about growing the plants from seeds.
Most of our tomatoes are heirloom varieties – this year we planted: Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter; Cherokee Red; Mr. Stripey; German Pink; Goldie; Green Zebra; Rutgers; Red Brandywine. We also plant some hybrids: Beefsteak, Big Boy, Roma. We always plant six Roma plants and freeze them in quart bags, using the frozen Romas to make tomato sauce in the winter.
While we eat the tomatoes fresh off the vine and give away a few, we mostly can the tomatoes. We pick tomatoes every day. Every third day, what we have not eaten or given away, we can – or, “put up” as Grandma used to say. We put them up on plastic freezer bags. More later about how we freeze produce.
Okra. We make lots of gumbo and soups and okra is a great thickener. We plant seeds, Clemson Spineless. You MUST pick okra daily. Don’t let the pods get much bigger than a big thumb – if you let ‘em go, the pods get huge, thick, tough, and inedible. At the end of the season, we always let a few stalks go without picking. We then cut the whole stalk and hang them in the garage to dry and use the dried okra stalks in dried flower arrangements.
We eat some okra fresh – fried, or, in gumbo.
Beans. We have struggled with green beans for several years. While we love fresh green beans, removing the strings is a chore we can do without. Last winter, a friend suggested we plant CONTENDER variety – it’s a bush bean, does not need stakes or strings on which to climb, and, it’s stringless.
I planted Contender green beans in rotation. Planted three 12-foot rows. Then, two weeks later, planted another three rows, waited two weeks and planted three more rows. Now, the first planting is just about finished producing beans while the second planting is producing almost one pound per bush, and the third planting is blooming, ready to produce. This week I’ll pull up the first planting and put in a fourth planting.
We eat some of the beans fresh and the rest we freeze in quart freezer bags.
My Contender beans are producing almost one pound of beans per week and are producing 3 – 4 pickings before the bushes give out.
Peppers. We plant jalapenos, green bell peppers, and poblano.
We pick the jalapenos when ripe but always leave a few on the plant to get red. Then, we pick the red ones. While we eat a few jalapenos, we use most of them to make green pepper jelly. Jalapeno jelly and Philly cream cheese makes a great snack, spread on crackers, during the winter!!
We pick the poblano and bell peppers and either eat them fresh, or, slice and freeze them for use in soups and stews. We really like stuffed peppers. Chop 2 or 3 chicken livers, brown in olive oil with a little garlic and onion. Mix the fried chicken livers, garlic, and onion with rice, stuff the peppers with the rice mixture, bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, serve with a crisp Reisling.
Asparagus. Buy asparagus crowns and plant them in the spring, about 10 inches deep, 12 inches apart. They’ll sprout but you won’t get any asparagus the first year – just let ‘em grow, cut ‘em down at ground level after a few frosts have killed the plants. The second year you’ll get a few servings. The third year you’ll be overrun with asparagus. Pick it every day, don’t let the spears get more than about six inches long.
Squash. We plant yellow crookneck from seed. We plant four plants as soon as the weather is warm enough. Two weeks later we plant four more, then, two weeks later, plant four more. That way when the first plants stop producing the second then third plantings are producing.
Cucumbers. We plant Burpee Hybrids. We plant three plantings, same as with squash and beans.
Herbs. Our herb garden consists of rosemary, purple sage, Italian oregano, Greek oregano, thyme, tarragon, marjoram, dill, fennel, and flat-leaf parsley. We also plant several rows of garlic in the early fall, harvest in July. We gave up on cilantro.
Freezing produce. We freeze most of what we grow and eat it all through the winter. We blanch our produce and freeze it in quart-size plastic freezer bags.
Beans, okra, tomatoes, and the like all have growth enzymes that must be de-activated before you freeze the produce. You do that by blanching the produce – here’s how we do it.
You will need two big pots – really big pots. You’ll also need some sort of dipper that can be used to put stuff into boiling water and dip it out of the boiling water – we use a wire strainer with a long handle.
One of your pots will be your boiling pot, the other your chilling pot. Fill the boiling pot about 2/3 and put it on to boil. When it’s about to boil, fill the chilling pot about 2/3 with ice cubes then fill 2/3 with water.
Wash your produce. Remove stems and leaves.
Beans. You can freeze your beans whole, or, cut into bite-sized pieces then blanch.
Okra. Blanch the okra then cut into round pieces.
Tomatoes. Blanch them whole. When you stick them in the cold water, the skins will come loose, peel off the skins then freeze them whole.
Pepper. Blanch then cut into strips or into tiny chunks and freeze.
Squash. Blanch then cut into pieces and freeze.
Cucumbers. Make pickles.
To blanch the produce. Bring the boiling pot to a rolling boil. Drop in enough produce – beans, okra, peppers, tomatoes, whatever – to fill a quart bag. Let boil for THREE MINUTES.
Dip the produce out of the boiling water and plunge into the ice water, leave it in the ice water for THREE MINUTES.
Remove the produce from the ice water, shake dry, then cut or peel, put into plastic quart freezer bags. Gently press the air out of the bag then seal the bag except for a tiny opening in one end of the zipper – stick a soda straw into the bag, suck out the air, quickly withdraw the straw, and seal the bag.
And that, folks, is about it.
In my next gardening diary, I’ll address the spiritual side of the backyard garden.