Articles by Mark Boyd

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spinach1

Deck planter full of spinach. Also, notice the drip irrigation I’ve installed over it?

Wow, what a difference a month makes!

I’m back from out of town, and wow, a lot has happened!  My garden has started producing like crazy.  There’s actually too much to take in all at once, so I’ll make this a couple of posts.

First, the spinach… I got two harvests out of the spinach.  I cut the spinach like grass, just “mowing” it a little down to size.  The spinach leaves are just a little bigger than baby spinach leaves, and very firm and full of juice.

So of course I used them in two different recipes that removed that juice!

spinach2

First harvest of spinach

Okay, I know that seems weird, but from what I can tell, my deck planter is going to be producing a LOT of spinach over the summer, and I’ve got to find ways to use it all, and to store it for later.

My first idea was to store the spinach… by dehydrating it.  So I washed it clean, and loaded up my dehydrator with spinach leaves.

spinach3

Spinach on the dehydrator tray

It dehydrated very quickly, in about 3 hours it was mostly dry.  Some things I learned from this is that the fan in the dehydrator is strong enough to blow the dry spinach around… so I need to do something about that.  (Perhaps put another dehydrator grill over the top?  hmmm..)  The next thing I learned is that I should pick the leaves so that they leave the stems behind.

What I got was a lot of very brittle dried spinach leaves that crumbled almost as soon as I touched them.  Just using my hands I crumbled them to powder in a bowl.

spinach4

No officer, that’s not an unlawful herb!

A lot of spinach turned into something very small.  I tossed it all into a ziploc bag, and tossed that into my freezer.  The next time I make a soup or stew, I’ll just toss it in there.  I’ll bet it would go great with ramen!

spinach-side-dish-1

This is what it is supposed to look like!

And speaking of ramen, I used the next batch of spinach to make a Korean dish called, “Sigeumchi-namul” (시금치나물).  It’s a traditional Korean side dish (banchan) that uses blanched spinach.  It is a dish I fell in love with the first time I had it while stationed in Uijeongbu.  I’ve used the recipe from the Maangchi Korean recipe website.

blanched

Blanched for 63 seconds. TOO LONG!

Basically you blanch the spinach, rinse it and squeeze the water out of it.  Then you add garlic and chopped onions.  You add soy sauce and sesame oil in equal portions.  And you sprinkle it with sesame seeds.  It is delicious!

But I haven’t made this recipe in almost ten years.  I forgot that you should only blanch the spinach briefly.  The recipe calls for 30 seconds to one minute… I would recommend 30 seconds and no more!  Otherwise it stops being crisp and starts being mushy.  Bleh.

Oh well, there’s plenty more spinach.  I’ll try again.  Until then, I’ll be adding spinach to every sandwich I eat

Pico the cat

Shh! “Pico” is asleep.

It’s that time of year where you just wait.

Everything is planted, nothing is sprouted.  Not just yet.

I will be out of town later this month for vacation and other things, so I’ve been preparing for that.  As for the garden, I’m just keeping it all watered.

April, and even the first week of May, was too cool for any serious growing to happen, but we seem to have tipped the scales now and are hitting 80° F this week – up to 94° F for today!  So I expect the garden to kick into high gear now.

I’ve even had to cut the grass… which means that it has come out of its dormancy.  Pico the cat loves chilling out in the grass.

Pico is pretty special.  We rescued him when his previous owner moved out of their home and left him behind.  He’s very laid back.  According to the neighborhood legend, he was hit by a car while in the care of his previous owner, and got his foot / leg broken.  The previous owner took him to the vet, and now he walks funny.  It doesn’t seem to bother him.  Nothing really bothers him.  I’ve seen him sleep on the lawn while ignoring an attacking scrub jay.  He likes to be petted.  He also likes to mark his territory by spraying it – which is why he’s not an inside-the-house cat.

I’ll do a little weeding tomorrow, and then it’s off to the beach for me and the missus.

Persimmon flowers

Persimmon in bloom

Just a quick update…

The persimmon trees are doing well!

So one persimmon tree is under the privet tree.  It isn’t under the bird feeders I keep in the privet tree, but apparently some of the birds like to hang out above it.  I’m a little concerned about the bird poop on the persimmon leaves, but I don’t think it is a big enough deal to worry about.

I was also concerned that the privet tree would be keeping the persimmon in the shade, but the shade is only there through the midday.  The persimmon is getting morning and afternoon sunlight.

Still, the days the privet tree has left are definitely numbered!

The blossoms on the persimmon are smaller than I thought they would be.

Soap!

One of the more popular soaps

The whole point of Backyard Harvest is for me to learn the tools of permaculture and sustainability, and to tell you how I’m doing while I do this.

Well, I want to point out that I’m not in this alone.  My wife is also very interested in do-it-yourself crafting with the idea of learning how it is done.

Wendy is currently into making soap, and is having a great deal of fun doing it.  Making soap isn’t something that interests me, but I am more than happy to support her in this.  And I have to admit, I love the results!

Creating soap!

Creating soap!

So if you’re interested in home made soap, I’ll invite you to look at Wendy’s Facebook page.  Be sure to “Like” the page, and if you see any up-and-coming soaps that you must have, send her a note, and she’ll make sure you get a couple bars.

You can check out Wendy’s Facebook page, which also has a link to her Etsy page, by clicking on her website URL: www.gypsycrafts.com.

In the past when I’ve planted beans or corn, my crops have failed.  So I’m always looking for something new to try, something that will provide calories and be good to use and store.

Eggplant & blackberry

Two eggplants in the foreground, the blackberry canes are tied to a wood support in the corner.

Last year I tried eggplant.  Just one, to see what it would do.  What it did was get much bigger than I expected it to get!  It was huge, and it took over part of my garden.  And from that I got one single perfect eggplant.  That was a disappointment.

But it was a hardy plant.  The ants left it alone, and it didn’t seem to have many other predators.  So after my reading, I decided that the problem was that it produces better when there is another eggplant nearby.  Going from this theory, I got two eggplants and planted them in the North garden.

I fully expect these two eggplants to take over in that area of the garden, so I’ve not planted anything else there.

But there was still an empty spot in the Northwest corner of the north garden… and I decided that was the perfect spot to move my blackberry plant into.

The blackberry plant had disappointing results.  It failed to thrive, and it failed to produce.  That’s mostly due to my fault since I had placed it in a pot with an automatic drip watering system applied, and then failed to notice when the drip was dislodged by cats, and the blackberry stopped getting water during the heat of the summer.

No wonder it failed to thrive!

So I replanted it in the unused corner of my garden, and have reused the pot for pups off of my aloe vera plants.  Aloe is much more forgiving of missing a watering period during the summer.

There are only two blackberry canes, and I tied them to a wood support.  We will see what happens next.

Fruittrees

White Peach in the front, White Nectarine in the middle, and the Pluot in the back

The fruit trees on the north side of the yard are doing well.  They’ve all lost their blossoms, and are now in full foliage.  This is the first I’ve seen of how they really look.  In the last two years these trees were basically just sticks, and I couldn’t get a good idea of what they would turn out to look like.

Now I know that the pluot is tall, with a strong trunk.  The white nectarine is almost like a willow tree in how it droops.  I will have to prop up some of its branches with additional supports.  The white peach is reaching out in all directions like some sort of crazy tree made out of pipe cleaners.  I’m constantly “pinch pruning” new growth from it, and for a lesser extend from the white nectarine, in order to discourage growth over my fence and over the sidewalk.

At the end of the season, when these trees go dormant, I’ll be very aggressive in pruning them into an espalier pattern.

Oranges

New oranges

The orange tree is doing well, as always.  The oranges are already starting to get bigger than a grape.  It’s nice to see.

I spent some time giving the orange tree fertilizer.  Instead of using Jobe’s fruit tree spikes, this year I went with a liquid fertilizer from Jobe’s.  I like Jobe’s.

grapes_peppers

The Jasmine is in bloom. The grapes are too, but you can’t see that here.

I planted 6 different pepper plants this year.  Three of them are Anaheim chili – because they go so well with everything.  I can’t wait to start adding fresh Anaheim’s to my food.

The other three peppers are bell peppers (yellow and green) and gypsy.  The gypsy pepper is a more mild pepper that goes through several colors as it ripens, yellow to orange to red.  All stages are edible, and the spiciness is related to plant stress.  (In general, peppers get spicier if you allow them to wilt a little before picking them.)

I chose the gypsy pepper because I liked its looks, and my wife will enjoy eating something that is only slightly spicy.

I didn’t plant Serrano peppers this year because I’ve already harvested a LOT of Serrano peppers, and have almost a full quart of Serrano ground chili pepper to use as seasoning!  Maybe next year.  Actually, I think I’ll be investigating the peppers offered by the Chile Pepper Institute of New Mexico State University.  I’ll be looking for flavor, heat, and how well they store.

As you can see from the image, I’ve also got Star Jasmine planted, along with my grape vine.  The grape vine has taken off again this year…  and I’m giving it extra water to see if I can keep up with its demands.  Its in flower right now, and I expect there to be a LOT of grapes.

Next up is the plants in containers.

spinach

Kitty proofed deck planter filled with spinach!

This year I moved my deck planter off of my porch, and just in front of the southeast corner of my house.  It gets full sun here until about 1pm every day.  I’ve added a little fertilizer and planted spinach here.  Nothing but spinach!

The first day after planting, I stepped out of my house and found one of my cats lounging on the planter’s soil, in the sun.  She was clearly enjoying herself, and happy with her new “bed”.  Luckily for me, she didn’t dig anywhere, or leave anything behind.

This has taught me that I can’t leave a planter unprotected, so I used a little chicken wire and some stakes to cat-proof the planter.

No worse for wear, the spinach started poking out.  I’ve planted it VERY dense, and will be looking for ways to use up a lot of spinach very quickly.  I’m also looking for ways to store spinach.

As a reminder, you can download plans for this deck planter here.

Last, I’m taking a look at my “potted forest” from the back yard.

The honey tangerine trees DID actually produce last year, but they have not flourished.  They’re weak and wimpy.  The cherry tree didn’t get enough water last year and the main trunk died.  There are some suckers that are living quite happily, but I think I will just let the whole tree go.

honeytangerine

Honey Tangerine

But I still want to try to save the tangerine trees.  So after doing some reading, I have come to the idea that the pots are too small, and the soil is incorrect.  Citrus trees need soil that is more sandy.  They need something more like what I use for my aloe plants.

So I made a quick trip to the home improvement store, and after some consideration purchased a bag of soil designed for potting citrus and succulents.  I then re-potted one of the tangerine trees to a 28 gallon planter made out of half of a 55 gallon barrel.  There are drainage holes on the bottom of the barrel, and it is sitting on paving stones in the SE corner of the garden.

It looked pretty bleak just like that, so I added a mix of flower seeds around it.  The mix is to attract butterflies.  I hope it works out.

I may replant the second honey tangerine, but I’m not sure if I’ll do that just yet.  I may wait to see if there are any improvements on this guy first.

 

 

Orange Tree

The oranges have been harvested. You can see the northern privacy fence in this photo, behind the pluot and white peach trees.

There is still a possibility of a freeze, so I haven’t gone all out in planting as yet.  Right now, I’m doing clean-up.

However, this is the right time of the year to plant new trees, so I’ll be doing that too.

First, the orange tree.

At this time of the year I’ve harvested all of the oranges off of the tree.  The next step is to haul out the ladder and trim the tree back into shape.  I like the tree to stay somewhat compact, and I don’t allow suckers to grow any lower than about 6 feet.  The idea for me is that the tree won’t block my view… so no foliage lower than about 6 feet.

Also, the longer, newer growth from the top of the tree gets frostbitten and wilts or dies.  Together with being shaggy looking, I’m happy to trim it back.

While trimming, I can see that the orange tree is getting ready to bloom.  (sigh)  I have a love/hate relationship with orange blossoms.  They smell soooo good.  And I’m allergic to them.  Worse, since I’m in an area that has orange orchards everywhere in the valley, the whole season is just miserable for me.  Time to break out the anti-allergy meds!

After I trimmed the tree, I broke out the Tanglefoot.  This is an insect barrier that is proof against the Argentine Ant.  I’ve written before how this ant has decimated my crops in the past.  They will also swarm my orange tree, causing it unnecessary stress.  A border of Tanglefoot around the base of the tree keeps them out of my tree entirely.

I also tanglefoot my other trees, and any planters I might use.

Tanglefoot

Tanglefoot around the base of the orange tree.

Also, if you feed a pet outdoors, use Tanglefoot along the outside of the dish so that pests can’t crawl into the bowl.  I’ve placed a Tanglefoot barrier around the base of my pluot, white peach, and white nectarine trees to the north of the yard.

W.Nectarine

White Nectarine blossom

The other fruit trees are just starting to come into bloom now.  The blooms for the white peach and the white nectarine are very lovely, as you can see from these images.

On a side note, you can open each image by clicking on it to get a bigger image with better detail.  I’ve left the images of the fruit blossoms at the same resolution that I took them, so you can see them in their full glory.

wpeach

White Peach blossom

And finally, I’ve got to say that I was so happy with the way that the dried persimmons came out, that I decided that I would try to grow my own.  I’ve been buying persimmons from the local farmer’s market, and will probably continue to do so as my persimmon trees get established.

So from my research, a single persimmon tree does fairly well on its own, but the crop yield is greatly increased when there are two or more persimmon trees planted together.  Since my local home improvement center had some good persimmon trees available, I got two.

This leaves me with a problem… where do I plant them?

I’ve been learning that my potted trees are not doing very well.  I’m not completely sure why.  I’ll be exploring that this spring to figure it out.  So for now, I won’t be planting the persimmons in a pot.  I’ll plant them in my yard.  But where?

As you can see from my yard’s plan, the back yard is out of bounds for a new tree, as is the northern dog run.  I won’t plant a tree in the driveway either.  This leaves the front lawn, and the grassy strip between the sidewalk and the road.

My property does have a short privacy fence just to the north of the fruit trees, so kids and strangers are not encouraged to walk across my yard… this means that my fruit trees are relatively safe from poaching.  But I think that having fruit trees on the strip of grass would be putting too much temptation in front of people.  Not that I mind other people having some fruit, but I prefer to give it to them.  Also, I’m more cautious when I harvest, so I am less likely to damage the tree or harvest the fruit too early.

Persimmon

Persimmons from Lowes

I started looking speculatively at the privet tree (Ligustrum lucidum).  There it sits in the middle of my yard, producing nothing but shade, and a great spot to hang my bird feeders.  I do like this tree, but perhaps not that much.

I planted the persimmons on each side of the tree, one to the North, and one to the South.  My plan is that as the trees mature, I’ll slowly prune back the privet until it is nothing but a trunk.  The wood is good, so I’ll cure it and use it in my woodworking.

Right now the persimmons are just sticks, with an additional two pieces of wood used to support their trunks in case of wind.  I applied tanglefoot to their base so that the ants can’t get to them either.

And that’s all I have for this update.  See you again, later.
 

 

So the orange harvest has been going VERY well.

oranges.jpgI’ve been snacking on oranges almost every day since the first of the year.  It is so wonderful to walk out to the tree, grab an orange, and just peel and eat it while sitting on my front porch.  The weather has been cold and crisp, but not freezing, so the oranges are cold and refreshing.

We did have a short freeze, and the tips of the orange tree’s branches have died.  Just like they did last year.  It’s really no problem, since right after harvest is a perfect time to groom the tree – cutting off the shaggy and dead branches that have grown too long.

I harvested about 300 to 350 pounds of oranges this year (not counting those that we ate off the tree).  Last year I tried to dehydrate the oranges, with mixed results.  This year, I decided to plant a “neighborhood harvest”.  By that, I mean I gave away ten and twenty pound bags of oranges to my friends and neighbors.

I also donated over a hundred pounds of oranges to a church food drive.  I donated almost a hundred fifty pounds of oranges to the Fresno food bank.

And my neighborhood harvest has already born fruit – one family gave us a tray of danishes in thanks for the oranges, and another gave us a couple of HUGE jars of artichoke hearts.

How about that?  Plant oranges, harvest artichoke!

tangerine1I also picked my full harvest of honey tangerines.  Those two little trees had it rough last year, but still they gave me some nice, tasty fruit!

Now comes the fun part – the hard work.

I’ve been preparing the garden for new planting.  The fun part is deciding what to plant, and where to plant it.

I’ve been doing some research – and remembering some yummy treats.  I’m thinking that I’m going to add some persimmon trees to my garden!

Winter Comes!

Lemongrass It’s just after Thanksgiving, and the garden has mostly gone to sleep.

I never did harvest the Lemongrass.  It grew really big, but we just couldn’t figure out what to do with all of it.  I got some of it for a couple of soup dishes, but I just cut the rest of it back.  It was seriously huge and shaggy!

I picked the last of the peppers at the beginning of November, and then mulched the pepper plants.

bberryThe poor raspberry bush did NOT like the pot it was in.  I think in the spring I’ll replant it in the garden.  And the grape vine never did have a good harvest this year either – I blame the failure of my automatic drip water system at a critical point.  The grapes withered on the vine.  The grapevine itself seems like it will recover just fine.

HTMy Mandarin / Honey Tangerine trees in pots also had a hard year.  Like the raised bed planter, they have been having problems with yellowing and poor growth.  Even so, both managed to produce a few poor little tangerines that tasted pretty good.

I’ve been thinking about the complete failure I’ve had with the raised bed garden, and the failure to thrive problems I’ve had with my potted orchard.  I think that the “Mel’s Mix” that I’ve used for my square bed garden is too rich, and too easily holds water.

The plants in the raised bed garden yellowed, dropped leaves and then died.  The trees have yellowed and failed to thrive.  This is usually a sign of too much nutrients – like water or fertilizer.  The containers are probably too wet near the bottom, and the soil is probably way too rich.  I’ll do some experimenting in the Spring.

OTI’ve also been worried about the drought’s effect on my orange tree in the front yard.  The oranges are still not quite ripe, but I think they will turn out okay.  If they do, then I’ll pick them in late January and early February.

persimmonHere’s a good turn… the local persimmon crop is going well.  I’ve been purchasing persimmons at the local farmer’s market by 8-10 pounds at a time, and then dehydrating them.

You know how hard it is to get a persimmon that is just right?  Eat them too early and they are often bitter with tannin, eat them too late and they are a syrupy mush!

Well, dehydrating persimmons fixes that!  I first had dried persimmon in South Korea, where they are treated like candy.  There’s even a story that my late wife told me, long ago, about how dried persimmon’s frightened away a dangerous tiger because they were so delicious.

If you dehydrate a persimmon before it is completely ripe, it may not be as sweet, but it will completely lose the bitter flavor of tannin.  If you dehydrate an overripe persimmon you can do so the same way you would dehydrate fruit leather.  Either way you get something that stores well and tastes great.

But if it is just ripe, and seedless, then you can cut it into slices on a Mandolin slicer and dry them on the trays.  You can do so with skin on if you wish, but they taste better peeled.

NyssaOkay, that is all for this year.  I’ll write again in the New Year.  I’m still not sure if we will stay in this house, or move to follow whatever new employer I’m working for.  I’ve got some ideas about working freelance and contract which I think I’ll be exploring.

Until I know for sure, I’ll continue the garden, and make plans for an aquaponics system.

Stay warm out there!

Well, it’s been fun.  But I need to concentrate on other areas of my life right now.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was laid off of work in December of last year.  This didn’t panic me, because I had a nice bit of savings and I was really looking forward to spending time pursuing my hobbies, being with family, and just decompressing and brushing up my skills.

But all good things must come to an end.  So I’m starting some freelance work while I start job hunting.

What does this mean to Fresno Backyard Harvest?

As of right now, I’m putting my aquaponics plans on hold.  I may continue to build the electronics portion of my aquaponics system because that’s good practice and it keeps my electronics and firmware skills fresh.  But I won’t be breaking ground on the greenhouse until I am more sure of my income.

I’m also putting off upgrades to the woodshop.  This means no air conditioning!  Which means I’ll not be in there very much this summer.  I’ve still got to put together some bookshelves though, so I’ll probably brave the weather for that.

I’m also starting with a job placement program, and will be creating resumes and a plan to find a new job.  Of course this means much less time for garden upkeep and maintenance.  I expect I’ll run into some crop failures due to this, and am prepared for that.

As I have said, I will be doing some freelance work, and if you need a Tech Writer or electronics engineer with an affinity toward embedded systems, then I ask you check me out at mdboyd.com or at my LinkedIn profile.

I’ll still be maintaining the Backyard Harvest, and will still keep you updated.  So keep coming back!

The drought is really hitting us hard.

20150628_173655I’ve cut way back to watering my lawn once a week, and have been relying on using my automatic drip watering system in my gardens instead of soaking.  This has some benefits and has caused some problems.

First problem is that a drip system for a garden is different than a drip system for landscape.  Landscape seems better able to tolerate failures.  When a drip fails, it takes out quite a lot of associated vegetables.

SerranoMy next problem is that I understand soaking much better than I do the drip systems.  How much water should I be giving each plant?  Do I water at the base, or further away so that it can grow strong roots.  The ground is so dry just a foot away from the plant, is this bad?

My grapes were growing very well with regular can watering and an occasional soaking.  So much so that they shaded out my onion drums, my raised bed planter, and my potatoes.  I’ve been trying to keep the grapes pruned back, but you can almost see them grow!  I’m thinking I will let them go completely next year, and give up the porch to very low light plants.

WNectarineAnd of course, the potatoes and onions have been over-watered.  That, along with shading from the grapes, has caused some die back.  I’m trying to recover from that now, but I am thinking they may be ruined for the season.

PluotWater has become very difficult for me to judge.  In the non-shaded areas of my garden a LOT of water is required, and that is what I’m used to providing.  In these areas that are just as hot, but somewhat shaded, I have discovered that I must use less water.  My vegetables are suffering from old-fashioned watering habits, they are getting either too much, or too little.  And since I’m quite new at using drip irrigation, my learning mistakes result in the death of little food-producing plants.

Drip irrigation is something that I want to be thankful about, and curse at the same time.  The neighborhood cats dislodge or block or otherwise mess up the irrigation lines, and I don’t catch it until the plant starts to wilt.  And in this heat, a plant can go from “wilted” to “withered and dead” in just hours.  Plant transpiration happens very quickly in 110 degree weather, and the plant can suck the ground dry in hours.

Water also seems to be a problem with the backyard raised grow bed – rather too much of it.  This is a more difficult thing for me to solve.  The grow bed is essentially a raised bathtub with holes in the bottom for it to drain.  My water meter shows a healthy amount of water… at the surface.  This means that lower there is too much water.  This has caused several pepper plants to shed leaves.

Also the composition of the bedding material may be wrong.  I used “Mel’s Mix”, but I may have loaded it with too much steer manure.  Next year, I’ll leave the mix mostly alone, and just add plant organic material to it.  I may have inadvertently over-fertilized the planter.  I’ve noticed that the worms I added have disappeared – although that may be a… mechanical… problem.  In that critters may have got to them.

The peppers in the South Garden are growing like gangbusters!  Holy cow!  I’ve been canning them, but really, I can’t keep up with the canning.  I don’t yet have a good pantry to keep the cans in.  I do have a butter cellar in this house, but the hot water heater was installed down there, and I’m concerned about temperatures.  I need to log the temperature down there and see what it is going to be.

I’ve taken to cutting and preparing peppers, and stuffing them into bags for freezing.  My initial experiments in this area have indicated that the peppers taste as good or better than any supermarket frozen vegetable.  We have many cubic feet of freezer space, so this may be another route for me to use.

I’ve also started dehydrating the Serrano chili peppers in my Excalibur dehydrator.  Once they are dry, I’ll grind them up and use them for chili powder.

The White Nectarine tree has produced a full crop, which we’ve harvested.  Almost 20 Nectarines – very tasty!

I’ve also harvested the last of the Pluots.  The White Peaches didn’t really produce.  There was one or two anemic peaches.

PicoThe Lemon Grass is growing very well, so much so that it is threatening to take over the sidewalk.  I’m reading up on how to harvest, prepare and store lemongrass.  It smells wonderful and is tasty.  I’ve already used a little of it in my breakfast scramble.

And finally, a “Cat Tax”.  This is Pico, enjoying the cool summer grass in the evening.

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