Archive for the ‘gardening’ Category

Garlic Still Life

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

Garlic Bulb

The truth be told, I have little patience for doing still lives, but I took one of my favorite photographs in a makeshift studio in my backyard in 2011.

The garlic growing experiment turned out to be a great success, providing dozens of medium-sized garlic plants without any significant interference from deer or woodchuck.  The idea of photographing the garlics started with my admiration of the scapes, the elegant gooseneck shape at the top of the stem. Harvesting the bulbs, I found that the underground part of the plant was even more interesting than the top.

Borrowing a very heavy slate that was sitting unused in a neighbor’s yard, I set it on the ground as a natural backdrop for my vegetable portraits.  With indirect sun coming from one side, a white poster board against the fence on the other side provided some fill light.  I set up a tripod, with the arm extending horizontally, to hold my camera still. I’ve got a lovely old Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 close up lens that I found in mint shape on eBay, which is where I also bought a Nikon lens adaptor for my Canon 50D.

Some photographers have been surprised to learn that this is a High Dynamic Range Image (HDR), or more precisely, it is a TIF that was tonemapped from an HDR image created by combining 3 exposures.  HDR techniques can emphasize the mid-range contrast, greatly enhancing texture, which really enhances the roots in this image.  After processing the image in Photomatix, I removed some spots from the slate in Photoshop.  The conversion to black & white was done in Lightroom.

It clearly works better on matte paper than glossy. I experimented with half a dozen different fine art papers and finally settled on Canson’s Montval Aquarelle, a cold press paper without any optical brighteners. That 310 gsm watercolour paper really makes it pop, giving it some life and dimension.  I like the way the picture comes out on the screen, but I love the way it prints.

Onion sauce, onion sauce!

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

Growing up in Northern Ohio, garlic is about the spiciest thing I’m prepared to deal with.

Last Fall, I planted one 4×4 plot, half with softneck garlic, and half with hardneck garlic (above).  I covered the planting with a thick mulch of grass clippings, and in the spring, the stalks started appearing.  Because of the thick mulch, I never needed to do much  in the way of weeding, and by mid-June, I was rewarded with a nice crop of medium-sized garlic bulbs, each composed of a nice set of cloves. 

After doing a photo session in an outdoor studio, I left them in the basement to cure, and other than a few that rotted, the rest of them turned out OK. If anybody had wanted to braid them, which nobody did, the softnecks would have been suitable.

 I also experimented with Egyptian Walking Onions this year. Like the garlic, instead of a flower, the top of the stalk grows bulblets, which can be planted to grow more onions.  The fun thing about walking onions is that the bulblets, which are shallot-sized and formed, and can be eaten like shallots, sprout new stalks, which get their own set of smaller bulblets. Eventually, the weight becomes too great for the stalk, and it falls over, usually setting root and forming a new plant. Around mid-Summer, I planted a set of the larger bulbs, and we’ve been treating their sprouts, which are still in good shape, as a sort of green onion. I picked a couple hand fulls of stalks last week, chopped them up, and froze them.  The original bulbs, planted this time last year, have multiplied and need to be separated.  This isn’t considered the most flavorful of onions, but its super easy to grow, reproducing itself year after year with minimal attention from the gardner.

My chives are doing well, also, setting bunches of big purple flowers.  There are two nice big clumps in the garden right now, and they might benefit from separation.  If I get ambitious, I’ll pick and freeze some before winter.

There were two other representatives of the allium family in the veg patch this year.  First were a set of disappointingly small bulbs that I planted from seed.  I thought that they were a variety that would provide green onions, but what I ended up with were a set of tiny little shallot-sized bulbs that might have best served humanity if somebody had taken the trouble of pickling them. I would take the trouble of making gin martinis to use them up.  Elizabeth enjoys anything small enough to be legitimately referred to as ‘cute’, and she took on the task of peeling and using them for kabobs or something.  The biggest onion was a single large bulb type.  A lonely onion in a petunia patch, it was either a volunteer, or one that escaped a previous and less successful planting the previous year.  It grew a huge and complex white flower at the top of a 3′ tall stalk. I cut the flower and spent a week marvelling at it and trying to capture it photographically. We ate the onion.

Thanksgiving week is the traditional time for fall planting of onion bulbs and I took advantage of a lovely Sunday afternoon today, that peaked at 70 degrees, and planted 5 different varieties: Elephant Garlic, Romanian Red (porcelain-type Rocambole garlic), Italian (artichoke type softneck garlic), French Red Shallots (multiplier type), and Yellow Potato Onions (multiplier type).  All of those are on the small side, and I don’t know what I’ll do with them, other than have fun watching them grow.

 Having lucked into one large bulb type onion this year, I’m ready to plant some more. The guy who runs the organic market in Vienna told me last summer that he can get me some onion sets if I contact him in December, so I’ll give him a call soon.

Now What?

Thursday, August 12th, 2010


Big Max pumpkin, 62 pounds.

How does my garden grow?

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Jay's Garden July 29, 2009
For the most part, I’m pleased with the way the garden has turned out. While it isn’t exactly providing a significant percentage of our family’s calories, most of it is doing alright.

I’ve got both dent corn and field corn tassling right now. They were planted at different times, but pollination has coincided to a greater degree than I’d hoped. I don’t know if my small blocks will be adequate for complete pollination or not–I’ll find out soon. I’ve got two more later plantings that are a bit thicker.

The beans on the right side of the picture, Genuine Cornfield, has turned on 8′ trellis into a vertical jungle. There must be 200 pounds of plant matter, but until this week, nothing looked like a flower bud. The Christmas Limas, behind the sunflowers, set a few seedpods, but nothing much came of it. Willowleaf Lima is not very lush, and still has no blossoms.
Last night, I picked enough hybrid bush Limas for several servings, serving them in olive oil with kosher salt and fresh sage. Elizabeth and Kirk are out of town, so that means another couple meals for me.

My attempts at planting onion didn’t work out very well. I harvested two very small bulbs this week. The smallest is just barely large enough for a double martini.

I’d saved a little more than half of my seed potatoes to plant for a fall crop, and I put them into the ground today. I’d left them in the basement, which was the coolest and darkest place I could find, but the potatoes had put a lot of energy into long stems and were looking more than pathetic. I wonder if they’ll grow.

Walled Flowers

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

I had visions of some sort of lush field of lovely yellow sunflowers, visible from my office window. I probably should have planted more than 6 of them.

Sunflowers, at least this variety, are considered a delicacy by just about everything that crawls, walks, or flies.  Half of my darling babies managed to survive a gauntlet of ground hogs, deer, and a bewildering variety of bugs, most of which are stink bugs, but at least one of which looked like a small scarab beetle.

Anticipating the benefits of heliotropism, I just assumed that the flowers would all sort of wave at me in my office window as the sun went over my head at noon.  Imagine my disappointment when the first two blossoms are pointed in almost opposite directions.  The seem to have issues with each other.

These are supposed to be MAMMOTH sunflowers.  One of them is about 5 foot tall, the other twice that (over 2 meters), with the third, which hasn’t yet bloomed, stuck in the middle. I expected a flower like a manhole cover on the biggest of these, if not on all of them.  What I got was a pinheaded sort of thing that barely unfolded today.

As it turns out, only the buds are heliotropic. Once they’ve flowered, they stay fixed, usually pointing east.  I’ve got one more yet to bloom, but at this point, the closest I can come to an entire girasol field, each facing the same direction in military discipline, will be for this one to split the compass difference, just as it split the height difference.  I wonder if it will bloom before the first flower (immediately above) is finished.

State of the ‘mater

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

I didn’t quite make my goal of a May tomato, but we’ve been in pretty good shape for the last 6 weeks, and there are still some varieties that haven’t contributed to the salad bowl. The photo above shows Early Girl, Glacier, Dr Carolyn, Grape and the big one on the right is my first Brandywine.

I started my seeds indoors during the first week of March. I planted half my seedlings, including a purchased Big Girl, about April 10, and then planted the rest a couple of weeks later. There continues to be a significant size difference between the ones that were transplanted so early, and the ones planted later.  As it turned out, the last frost date was very early this year, and I could have planted them earlier. The unseasonably hot weather over the last 6 weeks slowed down product, resulting in some fruit drop long before some plants were close to having ripe tomatoes.

Early Girl: To get fruit as soon as possible, Elizabeth brought me a very solid and healthy seedling from Merrifield Garden Center.  It has been a solid producer of tasty fruit since early June. I’m guessing that the seedling was planted in February, because it was significantly bigger than my seedlings.

Dr. Carolyn: This lemony-tasting (and looking) cherry tomato has consistently provided handfuls of tasty tomatoes since mid June.

Grape: I bought this one from a local nursery as a replacement for my only fatality. Pickings were slim, and this plant was much too leggy when I bought it. It has provided a small amount of fruit, but looks to be almost tapped out at this point.

Glacier: This is the earliest-fruiting of the heritage tomatoes that I started from seed. It was the 2nd plant to provide ripe fruit, but the small and solid fruit are not as tasty as the Early Girls.  The first fruit were quite watery, although taste and texture has improved. Lately, it has suffered from a lot of split fruit.  It doesn’t seem really comfortable with the hot weather.

Brandywine: Reputedly one of the tastiest varieties, this heritage tomato hasn’t impressed me, yet. The first seedling I planted is the only plant in the garden to suffer from blossom end rot.  I mulched all the early fruit from this one because they were obviously not turning out well. The plant is doing better, but I had to throw away another very large fruit today.  The 2nd plant, which has a lot more sunlight, is ahead in fruit production, with no sign of end rot.  I think Sheryl harvested 1-2 during the second week of July, but I didn’t get one until July 18. It was tasty, but not noteworthy.

Mortgage Lifter VFN: I didn’t get one of these planted in the first batch.  A huge tomato is almost ripe, but it is so close to the ground that I’m concerned about rodents.  Looks like there is more to come.

Long Keeper: I planted two of these with the idea that we’d be able to store some of them in the Fall.   There are a few fruit, and I expect them to ripen over the next couple of weeks.

Old German: Hello?  What are you waiting for?