Saturday, May 31, 2008

Adventures in my parent's garden

I visit my parents every weekend, and something very interesting happened today. I happened to be telling them about my vegetable garden at Cam's house, and they suggested that I grow some vegetables in their garden.

Below: My father and me in his garden

Above: My sister and father after hoeing the land. He hates pictures. Look at his funny smirk.

My parents are expert gardeners. When we lived in Vietnam (I was born there), they grew various vegetables, herbs, and fruit to sell at the open-air marketplace. My mom used to sit outside on the street each morning and afternoon trying to sell their harvest. We lived in a small village called Binh Canh, just outside of the city of Nha Trang in South Vietnam. In our village, the women gathered on the streets of the village to sell their product. You could find everything you needed for the day's meals--meat, vegetables, fruits, salt, pepper, other condiments, etc. And because we didn't have refrigeration back then, everything had to be fresh every day.

Anyway, the point is that my parents really know how to grow vegetables. When we moved to the United States, they continued to garden. Although they no longer grow vegetables, they grow Asian mints to sell to the oriental markets. Their mint garden is always successful and very beautiful.

For some reason, they've slowed down their mint production this year. They're still growing tons of mint, but I guess its not a priority anymore. Instead, their garden has blossomed--literally. They've planted rose bushes... or some type of flower. Because I'm not a flower person, I'm not really sure what type of flowers they are. But they are very pretty.

Above: My 21-year-old sister, Bicky, in the garden.

In addition to the mint and very pretty flowers, my parents also have a fruit orchard. That's what I call it anyway. When I was in 8th grade, they planted two apple trees, two pear trees, and one plum tree. Today, the trees are huge and bear fruit every year. This year, they're fruiting like crazy. I don't know what we are going to do with all the fruit. I'll probably make apple and pear pies. And the plums, we'll just eat.

One year, the family did make plum wine, and it was interesting. But we're best at making wine with grapes. When my dad makes red wine, it's so delicious! Mmm!

Below: The apple trees.

Below: A close-up of a growing pear.

Below: The plum tree.

One good thing about the plentiful plums: the birds tend to eat half of our crop right when it turns red... so we don't have all the extra fruit. Extra crop is a problem with the apples and pears. The birds only eat a few, but the rest just sit on the tree until we pick it.

The apply tree below has a very cool history. My parents didn't buy this apple tree. My dad devoured a delicious apple from the supermarket, and he enjoyed it so much that he saved the seeds. Today, the seeds of that delicious apple have grown to become the tree below.

Unfortunately, the apple was probably a hybrid, so the tree is sterile. The fruit on the tree is tiny and will never grow to a full size. We can't enjoy the fruit, but it does provide nice shade.

Below: My parents also grow Asian persimmons (Diospyros kaki) in the yard. They have several persimmon trees, and each tree always bears fruit. Because it's early in the summer, there isn't any fruit yet. These trees are still very pretty to look at.

If you are unfamiliar with persimmons, you should definitely look it up. It's a really cool looking fruit. In my opinion, the Asian persimmon looks like a tomato plant, only it's orange and the skin is very tough and fibrous.

Below: A photograph of the American persimmon plant from Park Seed.
It's similar to the Asian, except the Asian has a more square-like shape. I'll have to snap a photo of my parents' fruit when it comes in, so you can all see.

Now to something really neat. My parents live near the railroads (it's the price to pay to get an extra large lot). And near the railroad track, there's a very tall plant that grows. From far away, all you see are these beautiful purple flowers. On closer inspection, you notice that there are little peas that grow on the plant.

My sister calls it "the wild pea plant," and my dad says "I don't eat anything I didn't plant myself." But it's still really COOL that it grows out there in the wild. And it does look like pea pods. I slit open a pod, and little peas came out. I almost want to eat it, but I'm not in the mood to have my stomach pumped, in case its a poisonous plant.

Photo 1: The purple flowers that give birth to the peas

Photo 2: The actual pea pods. Cool, isn't it?

In my parents' garden, they also have an overgrown asparagus plant. My dad said he planted it, but then never got around to harvesting it. So it's REALLY grown tall, and sadly it's inedible. (After I took the photograph, he did cut it down).

Below: Overgrown asparagus

Now onto the vegetable garden that my sister and I started in my parents' backyard. We went to Home Depot and bought two tomato plants, two eggplants, one cantaloupe plant, one red bell pepper, two watermelon, one package of cucumber seedlings, one cabbage plant, and a bunch of seeds.

My parents have a raised bed that they plant everything in, and it's seemed to work wonderfully for them for many, many years. I let my dad do the teaching because I trust him as the expert. Everything that he plants always thrives. He really has a green thumb. I hope that after this summer, I can consider myself as a baby expert gardener. :-)

Below: Cucumber seedlings near a mint bed. Look at how tiny they are compared to the garden tools!

Below: One cucumber plant after transplantation.

I watched my dad plant the cucumbers in the raised bed. Unlike me, he dug deep and buried much of the stem. He didn't pay attention to the carton instructions, and it definitely seems much healthier than the cucumbers I tried to plant at Cam's house.

Below: Take a look at the SFG cucumbers.

It's been two weeks since I transplanted them, and they won't stand up straight. I think my father's method is best. But I am a first time gardener, and I'm continuing to learn better ways to garden.

Now onto cabbage. I'm not a big cabbage eater, but I saw the plant at Home Depot, and I decided to give it a try. After being transplanted, it looks healthy. The package said it was a 50-lb green cabbage and that it would take 80-some days before it would be ready to harvest. I guess it will only form one cabbage head. I'm excited. One cabbage is enough for me and my family.

Above: The cabbage after it was watered. It's neat how the water drops just roll off the cabbage leaves!

And being the tomato freak that I am, I had to buy two tomato plants for my new garden. This time, I stayed away from the tiny tomatoes. I went for Roma tomatoes and the Bonnie Traditional. I don't have these varieties at Cam's house.

I'm very anxious to see how it will turn out. I bought plants that already had flowers on them. I figured they would fruit quicker.

Above: My Roma tomato plant.

Home Depot also had different varieties of eggplant. We chose two different types: (1) the classical eggplant you see at the grocery (2) a longer, thinner variety. I can't remember the exact names, but once it starts producing fruit, I'll write it down and announce it!

Below: One of the eggplants. Isn't it a beaut?

I applaud my dad for making the plants look so healthy after transplantation. It was really fun to watch him. A real family learning experience. For me, gardening is a hobby. For my dad, it's his life. He used to do garden to support the family, and I guess it'll always be a part of him. For as long as I can remember, he and my mom have always had a garden of some kind.

Below: A watermelon plant.

I hope you enjoyed this tour of my parents' garden. As my veggies grow in both Cam and my parents' garden, I'll document their journey from seedlings to delicious food that I nourish my body with. :-)

Happy June 2008!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Carrots and Squash in SFG Backyard

I was running out of the SFG boxes a while back, so I decided to plant a few carrot seeds near the corn seedling in Box # 1.

The top portion of the carrots (the green leaves) are doing very well. They seem to be growing larger and taller every day. I'm wondering how fast the actual carrot is growing underneath the soil! I guess I'll have to wait to find out.

Unfortunately for us, this corn plant probably won't get any taller. We didn't realize that corn needs to cross-pollinate, and it'll be unsuccessful unless there are several stalks planted next to each other. Oh well. Another gardening lesson learned.

Another view of the same SFG square:

Next to the corn and carrots, we planted squash seedlings. Out of all the squash we're growing, it seems to be doing the best. It's not growing as fast as I'd like, but it is slowly getting taller and its leaves are getting wider. It will probably be a while before I see any inkling of baby squash.

In SFG Box # 2, we have a squash plant that doesn't seem to be doing that well. It's still pretty small, and some of its leaves are yellowing. I'm not sure why it's so tiny. Perhaps it's getting more sunlight than it really needs. The squash (above) might be doing better because it's shaded a bit by the foliage of the concord grapes.

Finally, here is another squash plant that we planted a while ago. This is its baby picture. We've planted 5-6 squares with squash. They are all growing at a slow, but steady pace.

To get the seedlings, we planted the squash seeds in one of those seed starter dome kits. We actually planted a bunch of different vegetable seeds--corn, squash, bell pepper, beans--but the squash and corn were the only seeds that actually worked.

The squash seedlings were planted in the SFG, and I wish they were doing better. But I guess it's just going to take them more time.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bell Peppers and A Kitty

Cam and I have 4 bell pepper plants. I think these are the varieties that we have: (1) Red Bell Pepper (2) Chocolate Bell Pepper (3) Purple Bell Pepper (4)Yellow Bell.

When we were looking for another red bell pepper to plant, we couldn't find any healthy looking ones, so we settled on the other bell pepper varieties. We chose plants that were flowering, and they happened to be hybrid varieties.

We've never eaten a Chocolate Bell or Purple Bell, but I read that they are sweet and edible (the most important aspect!). I believe that both varieties are green before they turn colorful, but it'll take 70-80 days before they mature. But they are off to a great start.

Below: SFG Box #3: This bell pepper plant should be flowering soon. Its leaves look a little unhealthy, so I'm going to have to observe it and figure out what to do.

The chocolate bell pepper plant next to plant 1 (above) is already fruiting. Two more are on the way. When I look closely inside the flower bloom, I see a tiny hint of green. Its brothers and sisters will be born soon. :-)

Below: Photo # 1 & 2 were taken last weekend.
Photo # 3 was shot on Monday
Photo # 4 was snapped today

There is something neat about seeing the progression of the plants. You care and nurture for these plants with love, and to see them grow stronger each day, it's beautiful. I feel very parental in my garden.

I have lots of hope for the bell pepper plants in the square foot garden boxes in the backyard. I think I will have numerous ripe bell peppers to eat. If I decide to grow okra soon, I may make New Orleans style gumbo with these vegetables.

Now to the front yard: I planted the red bell pepper plant in the front vegetable bed. So far, it's only fruited one bell pepper. There are no additional flowers on the plant. I believe once this pepper turns red, this plant will have merely useless leaves. I'm not sure where I went wrong. Perhaps I should not have planted it in the shade.

When we planted it, we thought the front received full sun. Unfortunately, it only receives partial sun during the day. The lettuce and spinach did well, but I read that leafy vegetables do better in partial shade than other plants.

Oh well. Lesson learned.

Photo # 1: The red bell pepper in early May.
Photo # 2: The red bell pepper today.

The bell pepper has gotten larger, but not extremely large. This is possibly my impatience, but my garden is teaching me to be patient. There's something beautiful in the way God has designed the vegetation on this Earth. Each day brings something new for me to enjoy--a new flower blossom, a plant has hints of fruiting, a plant gets taller, a vine gets longer...

I'm in a contemplative mood tonight.

On a personal note, I may be getting a new kitty soon. If anyone watched Fox 17 News at 9:00 p.m. tonight, you may have seen Cam and my future (hopefully!) kitty.

Check out the news story:

The poor kitten crawled into the wheel well and then into the engine compartment. Here he/she is peeking out. (P.S. Cam is not shown on camera because he shot the entire thing. You can hear him laughing in the background!)

I'm on the top of the list for people to visit the kitten after it's been tested and is given the OK to be adopted. I'm very excited. I think she's a Bombay cat, which are known to be extremely playful and even leash-trainable!

She has nothing to do with the garden, but I'm very excited, so I'd thought I'd share!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Weed Eater Accident, Lettuce, and Fruitful Surprises

Today was certainly an exciting day in my garden. Even the cloudy day didn't dampen my mood. It was mostly good news... Unfortunately, my large and beautiful stevia plant is no longer. This is all that's left in the pot.

Now let me tell you the reason. Cam was weed eating the grass around the front vegetable bed, and the extension cord on the electric weed eater knocked the pot over and snapped the plant in two. We think the small plant that's left is another stevia plant, so we're going to continue to care for it and see what happens.

In the mean time, Cam and I are going to try to dry these leaves and turn them into a powder for sweetening. We still need to learn how to do this, but it'll be a fun experiment.

As for the plant, Cam picked off most of the stevia leaves to dry. He dunked the stem in water to see if it will sprout new roots. We tried this on a tomato stem, and it worked. And hopefully the stevia plant will sprout as well.

Onto happier news. I decided to "harvest" our largest lettuce head. It hadn't turned into a head yet, but it was large enough and I was getting impatient. (Cam says "you and patience are not friends." LoL. I am impatient). Well, we also have two other lettuce heads that are growing at a brisk pace, and we can't eat all of them at once.

Here are some pictures of the "harvest."

Picture 1: Getting ready to cut.
Picture 2: Separation
Picture 3: The happy gardener

And to think, this lettuce was a small seedling only a month ago. Here is its "baby" picture. Time sure flies. First, you're raising a cute, little baby, and the next thing you know, they've graduated and end up in your tummy.

Now onto more talk of my impatience. I found one red and one pink strawberry today from the strawberry plant that I put in the SFG box # 2.

It was only yesterday that it was barely showing any color. And today, it was red and delicious. Cam told me to wait to see if the strawberry would get bigger in size, but I couldn't wait. I compromised and told him that I'd wait for the other strawberry to get bigger.

Note: the strawberry looks much bigger than it actually is. My hand is tiny! Don't believe me? Here's a picture of my small hand in Cam's palm.

Below: picture of the strawberry pickin'

In other fruit news, my concord grape vine is finally producing hope of grapes. There are only two grape bunches, but I think the grapes are starting to come in. I can't wait until they get bigger and I can chomp down!

And in other berry news: my boysenberry bush is producing colorful fruit. We've had the bush for 3 weeks, and it's only fruited green berries so far. But today, I noticed some of the berries are ripening! I'm so excited. I can't wait to eat them. I think they end up being a very dark maroon when they are ripe. I want to eat them before the birds take a nibble!

By the way, does anyone know how to prune boysenberries? I've just let it grow out so far, and it seems to be doing well, but maybe I need to prune it.