Date: Tuesday, November 3, 2015

I know ya'll were at the edge of your seats waiting for my next update... well here it is! The summer is over and the plants are dead or dying. Now that I don't have to spend time maintaining the garden, I can use it to recap all the goings on the past few months.

The weather this year was relatively mild until late August and September where it got blisteringly hot. I planted in the beginning of June, but I really should have planted around late April. Maintenance was straightforward except for some bug stuff. I really didn't need to do much after the seeds were planted, just some weeding and spraying. This year was successful in many ways it has never been before. I implemented many new things and the efforts have shown, for the most part. Every time I get closer to the perfect garden, but I'm not quite there yet.

Starting from the end of last year's summer season I decided I had enough of poor soil. I spent many weekends leading up to plant time digging, mixing, and filling large chunks of the backyard with enriched soil by using countless bags of compost taken from LA's free mulch dump sites. I dimensioned and dug out blocks of soil, mixed in about 50% new compost by volume, and further enriched it with rock dust at 1/4 lb per square foot and slow release fertilizer pellets.

The idea was to improve the soil texture and aeration with the compost, add back depleted minerals with the rock dust, and provide some macronutrients (N-P-K) with the pellets. After barely finishing the soil part, I repaired and realigned the irrigation system. Was all the effort worth it? I probably shouldn't think about it.

The garden around its peak time. There is always one plant that refuses to grow and this year it was soy beans. Soy bean seeds expire fast, but fortunately a single plant sprouted from which I will replenish my legacy seed bank. Other than that, everything else grew quite well.

I tried my hand at making compost tea this year. It is not technically a fertilizer, but is still used to benefit and improve plant health. Essentially, compost tea is supposed to be an extremely high concentration of beneficial bacteria suspended in liquid, the same bacteria that resides in compost. The process of making tea involves inoculating water with the bacteria and catalyzing their growth using sugar and oxygenation. Once the tea is ready it can be poured into the root zone or sprayed on the leaves.

The first step is to dechlorinate the water. The first time I made it I left the water out for a week, but after that I started using aquarium dechlorinator.

Once the water is ready compost is added, along with a few tablespoons of unsulfered molasses. The type of compost I used is worm castings, ie worm poop.

The water is oxygenated using an aquarium pump for 2-3 days, after which the tea should be ready. The worm castings can be bought at a garden store, the dechlorinator, pump, and molasses I got at Walmart. Making tea is not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.

After the tea is made you are supposed to dilute it to the color of a light tea. Mine seemed like it was already that color so I used it straight. I poured a few cups directly onto the roots and used the rest as a foliar spray. Hardcore gardeners are always raving about compost tea, but to be perfectly honest I'm not sure if I noticed anything at all. Perhaps I didn't make it right. The bucket and aeration tubes were covered in an algae-like film so I knew that at least something was growing in there.

Compost tea or not, the dragonfruit had their best year thus far, to a point where it was difficult to keep up with its production. I pulled 50-60 fruits this season, which is much better than last year's 25 and the single fruit the year before that.

Dragonfruit flowers only bloom for a single night, after which they wilt and dry. For one brief moment it is actually very pretty.

The taste is pretty mild, but every now and then you get a really sweet one. I find them quite refreshing.

This year was a great year for melons. I was finally able to grow the Japanese Shizuoka melon and Yubari melon that have so eluded me all this time, not to mention a few watermelons.

The melons were soft and very sweet. They may not have looked as nice, but they tasted just as good as anything I had in Japan. This time around I made sure to manage the watering and to regularly spray the leaves with diluted milk to stave off powdery mildew. The extra effort paid off well.

My watermelons experienced a bit of bad luck. I opened my single orangeglo to find that it was rotten inside, the source of which was a hole I had thought healed over. It looks as though bacteria was able to get through and infect the rest of the fruit. Luckily, this wasn't the only watermelon I had.

One of the pickings I had. I think this one shows a good range of what I grew this year. Not everything came in at the same time.

I grew okra this year and it turned out to be one of my best plants. The fruits need to be picked at around 4" otherwise they start to get hard and woody. The plants grow up to 6', so have room if you ever decide to grow them.

I left out a lot of things but these are the highlights from this year's crop. In the meantime, I plan to cut down on the winter gardening quite a bit and only plant a few lettuces. I do not have the time to maintain it and also I want to cut the seasonal memory of all the harmful bugs that come my way. Hopefully laying the dirt fallow will disrupt the cycle of bugs that have built up in my yard. What this means is I may not update in a long time, but I'm sure you'll manage somehow. Until then, happy gardening!

Date: Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hello! My last post was over half a year ago but I haven't forgotten about this place, nor have I stopped gardening. Studying for the engineering license test ate up a significant amount of time and I've been backlogged ever since. A lot has happened in the past seven months and I am already well into the summer crop, however before I get into that I should first conclude the tale of the winter garden.

Only remnants remain of the past season. This year was decent, but as always there were some obstacles to contend with. The weather was strangely warm even during large parts of Winter. Also my plants experienced an influx of bugs unlike anything I've seen before. More on that later.

The pictures above were taken in the middle of February, three and a half months after planting. The problem with starting in November is that the plants spend their most important growth stages in the middle of Winter, which has the coldest temperatures and shortest days. This slows growth substantially, and I have a feeling it also acclimates them to the colder weather, causing premature bolting when Spring rolls around. The ideal planting time would be September, where the warmer weather and longer days promote much faster growth. By the time Winter comes the plants are mature enough to start seeding or forming florets, but the cold temperatures slow or inhibit the bolting process. This is all, of course, speculation.

Just after half a month later the plants are noticeably bigger. Larger plants are able to withstand colder temperatures better and around this time Spring was just starting to peak its head, thus the plants grew much faster. The size and symmetry of this part of the garden is due in big part to the little caps that were placed around the plants when they were seedlings. Not allowing bugs to eat the leaves makes a huge difference.

The peas were simultaneously a failure and a success. The plants got so large and so tall that they collapsed under their own weight. You know you're great at growing peas when you get no peas at all.

Despite the setback, I was still able to scrounge up a few pods. This year I was able to pull more sugar snaps than snow peas, which is unusual.

The daikon were the most vigorous plants in the garden. They got so big they started pushing themselves out of the soil. I underestimated just how much room they take up, but that didn't seem to stop them. Daikon can be pickled to make takuan, boiled in soups and stews, or grated as a condiment.

Maribor hybrid kale. I planted a few new varieties this year but this one was the most striking. It is also the slowest growing and smallest of the kales. Go figure.

Romanesco, which was a very successful floret crop. Tastes what it looks like, a cross between cauliflower and broccoli. Luckily, they weren't so infested with bugs as these types of plants are prone to be.

Sadly, this is the biggest broccoli I was able to pull. Every year I try to grow broccoli but it never pans out. The plants tend to grow too tall and fall over, or bolt before the heads get any larger. I used to think it didn't matter where the seeds I used came from, but I'm beginning to suspect I would have more success with seeds from a boutique company like I did with the Romanesco rather than places like Home Depot.

This was the season of bugs. Visible is a swiss cheese array of holes in the Asian cabbages, with the cole cabbages faring little better. As mentioned in the previous post, a big chunk of my sprouts were thoroughly chewed through almost the day I planted them. Every year the bugs come earlier, in greater numbers, and with seemingly more aggressive tendencies. Growing things yourself, you begin to see the importance of pesticides and GMOs. I don't think they deserve the reputation they have.

This year I planted Purple Haze carrots. They have really interesting coloration and were very sweet, almost addicting to eat raw. The one mistake I made was planting them too close to the daikon, whose large leaves blocked most of the sun. Spacing plants has always been an issue with me. They just look so far away from each other when they're sprouts!

Some new lettuce varieties I'm trying, Mottistone and Merlot. Lettuce is the easiest plant to grow, which is why they get the part of the garden with the least amount of sunlight. Bugs tend to avoid them and they reproduce like crazy, making lettuce one of the best beginner plants. I always have to shake my head when I see $10 salads. They're just leaves, people.

A tomato plant growing out of the cracks of the tumbler. Super cool, but unfortunately I had to pull the plant, lest it get too large and pry the panels apart.

There you have it, the winter garden in a nutshell. Currently I am busy maintaining the summer crop, of which I have a lot to say. Things are going well so far and I'll try to post again soon. I hope this blog is somewhat inspiring and just slightly informative. Winter crops are hard. I am constantly amazed at how stores so effortlessly stock pristine, bugless, uniform, consistent produce day after day and at such great value! It's a miracle, actually. It constantly puts my stuff to shame but I try. Oh, how I try.

Date: Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Hello, and Merry Christmas!
Have you see the sun today?
It lays too softly upon the ground
Reluctantly sending down its warmth
To feeble plants with tender leaves
And angel roots below the earth

Wood is pale in the afternoon
The lifeless tones of neutral light
A soundless song wafts through the air
Winter has come and brace yourselves
For the touch of dirt is now bitter work
And I cannot stay outside too long

Something about this little plant
That sits and fights the frost and rain
I gaze upon it from afar
Behind double insulated glass
A blast of warm air down my spine
Watching the plant grab at the sky

Hi there. So good to see you. The cold season is here and that means time for leafy plants, roots, bulbs, and tubers. Everything was planted at the beginning of November. I am now in the thinning stages just waiting for things to get bigger. Let us have a look.

The garden was planted using the planter configuration as last year. Most of the prepping time was spent mixing in bag after bag of compost. Seeing the amended soil made me realize just how poor it used to be, both in texture and nutrition. The soil is now light, moisture retentive, and dark. Before it used to be a light brown sand.

As stated before, most of the hard labor was dumping big piles of compost and tilling it in with a fork. I then groomed the soil with a garden rake and created the rows with a spade. Pictures demonstrating the process would have been helpful. I have received comments that this is the nicest looking preparation I have had so far. All this work comes at the cost of time. You can tell I had high hopes going into this.

The rows are dark because I filled it with a seed starter mix of peat moss, sifted compost, and some rock dust. I made it myself. It seems to work okay.

So far most of the plants are chugging along well enough. Every year I try new things and have to work out the bugs, not to mention dealing with natures fun little obstacles. The results thus far are below:

In the space to the left of the planter box are six varieties of lettuces and a row of arugula. In the box I have mizuna, red scallions, mitsuba, cilantro, parsley, dill, carrots, spinach mustard, and the existing rainbow chard. This is by far the most diverse box. The circular things are dome cup caps, which I am using to keep out the bugs. It has only been a week but they seem like they work. I don't need the caps everywhere because some plants the bugs leave alone.

In the back are some poor to do purple beauty bell peppers left from the summer season. In the middle are red and green Romaine lettuce varieties. In the front is red iceberg lettuce, which is surprisingly hard to sprout. Half of the plants never grew.

The spinach patch, or whatever is left of it. You are looking at the survivors of a sprout apocalypse. Almost all my spinach was eaten by something. I had replanted several times before running out of seeds.

Potato plants, which I started from spuds I bought from the grocery store. Potatoes are interesting because the tubers grow upwards. To get the highest yields requires occasionally mounding soil around the plant higher and higher as new potatoes grow towards the surface.

The root patch, with carrots, daikon, burdock, and celery. A newcomer, the daikon was the first to sprout and is the most vigorous plant in the garden. The burdock, on the other hand, had a hard time germinating. Easy, my ass. Half the celery was eaten. I wish the garden was less patchy but it is what it is.

The cole crops with a perimeter of bulb onions. Here I am growing cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, gai lan, and Brussels sprouts. Bugs love cole crops, so I capped all of them. I will remove the caps once the plants get bigger.

Peas in the back with Chinese cabbages in the front. My biggest mistake was not capping these plants. I had initially planted only the strongest cabbages I had started from trays, but literally overnight they were eaten up. After that I planted whatever leftovers I had. My expectations are pretty low for this area.

A funny thing about gardening is after a while it will grow whether you want it or not. Seeds tend to get everywhere, and I am constantly finding uninvited, but tasty, stragglers.

This sweet potato plant, sprouted from kitchen discards and left for compost. It obviously had other ideas in mind.

This tomato plant, which has its seasons confused. It will die soon.

This wild arugula, which is nice to have while the planted arugula matures.

And these wild watermelons. Back when it was warmer these were the healthiest plants I've ever seen, healthier than those I intentionally set. Now that its colder and the days are shorter, they aren't doing so well. I let them grow just to see how far they could go.

Whether these watermelons are any good is to be seen. Some of the daikon were pulled out during the thinning process. They look good enough to eat. I'm sure there's something you can do with them.

I'll try to post more updates, but it is getting tougher as the season gets colder. Happy holidays to all, and I shall see you next year!
The Mole Hole