2017 Harvest

Friday, August 26, 2016

My garden is always full of life

My garden is always a place full of life. Birds singing, little bugs and butterflies flying, even an occasional unwanted visit from a deer or two. My dogs are also an everyday sight in my garden.
Srećko usually goes in the evening to dig the holes around the garden and roll around my bean beds.

Nero on the other hand doesn't like to be in the garden too long. He usually goes back to the house after 10 minutes, but sometimes he turns into a playful puppy. Only problem is he usually decides to play in my carrot bed.

There are also some visitors in my garden that only come to feed on the nuts. Like a family of squirrels that lives in the woods nearby. They jump around from tree to tree but their favourite tree is my walnut tree. So far I've noticed 3 of them jumping around but they are hard to catch with a camera. I managed to catch one while it was stealing cherries.

From time to time during the night I also get visits from few frogs. They like to go to my garage, I don't know why. It seems they have something to eat there.

But the most noisy visitor in my garden is actually the most quiet one. In the woods there is a hedgehog that likes to walk around my front yard. This wouldn't be a problem if Nero wouldn't get a nervous break each time he sees one. Nero likes all animals, birds eat his food, mice run in front of his nose and he doesn't react, but as soon as he sees a hedgehog he flips. Last week he ruined my whole front yard flower bed trying to get the hedgehog to play with him. Poor hedgehog didn't like his game so I had to put him in the basket and take him back to the woods. He got back the next night so we repeated the chase game again.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Cyclanthera pedata

kaywa, achocha, pepino de rellenar

Achocha, a herbaceous vigorous vine is one of the very rarely sown vegetables in Europe. To Croatia it was brought only few years back and it still doesn't even have a name, although some call it "wild cucumber".
Originated from Andes it has spread to whole central America and it is slowly spreading through the rest of the world.
Probably the biggest obstacle for more rapid spreading of the plant is the fact that it is very sensitive to frost(hardy zone 9 to 11) and with it's long growth season in some parts of the world it can't be grown unless it is cultivated in greenhouses.

Cultivation of Achocha can be started from seeds or cuttings. Seeds are irregular shaped, black and pretty big. They fill the inside of the fruit as soon as the fruit starts growing. At first they are soft and can be eaten but as soon as the cucumber reaches few centimetres in size they become hard and have to be removed before consummating the fruit.

unripe seeds

ripe seeds

Sowing should be done indoors in small pots at the same time as the tomato season starts(early spring). The time can not be too early because the plant takes very long to start forming flowers. but it starts growing climbing tendrils that need support from the start so it is good to have in mind that a plant will need a climbing twig even before the transplanting it outside.

When transplanting achocha gardener should have in mind that it likes a moist but well drained soil. It can grow in any type of soil as long as it has enough water because the roots are fairly close to the surface and don't grow too long. From my experience it prefers shade rather than sunny places.
If planted to grow on poles they need a distance of 1 meter because of the leaf mass. Also if grown on poles The pole should have some string or some kind of climbing help because the whole leaf mass can slip down the pole from the weight. If grown on the net plant it directly under the net, then it doesn't need any additional help, still it will form big leaf mass on top of the net.

Flowers on Achocha are monoceus but both male and female flowers are on the same plant and are pollinated by insects. Flowering season starts in August and continues till first frost. Flowers are very tiny and white.

Fruits are very small at the beginning and get bigger with time. usually they are ready withing a week. If left too long they will get shrunken and the skin will become hard.
There are few varieties of the Cyclanthera each have different fruits. Some are dark green and smooth, some have pale green fruits, while others have little spikes on their fruits.

One plant can produce from 0.5 to 3kg of fruits.

Achocha is the plant that has edible leaves and fruits, leaves can be eaten as young greens while fruits can be cooked, baked, stuffed like marrows, or used as pickled cucumbers. Fruits taste like mils cucumbers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Testing: HomeOGarden organic soil part 2 - results

Catch up on part one here

On June, 15th I decided to make a first comparison of medium quality soil and HomeOgarden organic soil. The difference was visible from the start. In most of my HomeOgarden soil pot there were no germinated seeds. Flowers and corn mostly germinated in medium quality soil with total of 2 empty corn pots, 2 empty hollyhock pots and 1 empty digitalis pot. HomeOgarden nothing. Not a single pot germinated.

Left pots mix of flowers and sunflowers in medium soil, Right HomeOgarden pots

Upper row normal soil, lower row HomeOgarden

The onion and soil containers filled up nicely in both cases.

HomeOgarden lettuce container
Rhubarb was holding good although I did notice 2 older leaf rotting from excess of water  even though I haven't been watering the containers in shady part of the garden due to the constant rain we were getting.

HomeOgarden rhubarb and part of HOG onions visible

Onions continued good and I've used them since then as young green onions.

On July,5th I had to make another comparison because the situation changed drastically and not for good. All my plants that were kept in shade started rotting. I couldn't understand why because I didn't water them at all, there was huge amount of rain but all my pots have holes on the bottom, even the foil I placed inside containers had huge holes for drainage. Excess of water should have drained out of the pots.

 Even my rhubarb was in bad shape. One was dead and the other was still alive but in bad shape. The rhubarb in my front garden was doing good and didn't seem affected.

There had to be something wrong with the soil, I soon figured out what was the problem. Coconut fibres retain water, and a lot of it. Probably the reason why those articles said it should be mixed with other soil.
I decided to test my theory, I watered a box of soil and left it in warm and dry place for a week without watering. After a week I took a handful of soil and squeezed it. Week later and the water was pouring from the soil. I've never seen such a huge amount of water.

I decided I'd give the soil another chance since I could say this was my mistake not knowing it would retain so much water. Although if we're honest that would happen to anyone who'd use the soil in the weather conditions we had.
I've planted 2 tomato seedlings I found between my peppers to test the soil again. This seedlings wouldn't give fruits since it was too late for them but they would serve to know how the soil reacts.
I've planted one tomato in a pot and one in normal poor garden soil, I didn't use any fertilisers on any of the plants, haven't sprayed them with anything and didn't water them, I left nature to take care of the water since we got rain every 4 days.

Yesterday I went to check my plants.

HomeOgarden tomato was growing, it even had a small flower that was getting ready to flower. I was pleased with the result. My only concern was visible sulphur deficiency on lower leaves, but still if we consider that plants definitely need to be fed with fertilisers if grown in coconut fibre I think this is a good result.
Lower leaves, on photo a bit difficult to diagnose but live clear symptoms of sulphur deficiency  

I had trouble finding my other tomato seedling, my balsamina plants hide it from the sight. But when I found it I liked the sight. Plant was dark green, with no sign of any deficiency. It didn't make flowers yet but it had nicer green colour with more leaves.

Conclusion: HomeOgarden organic soil isn't a good solution for growing flower seedling so it probably wouldn't be a good solution for germinating delicate seeds such as tomato and peppers either, but it works with lettuce and onions very nicely. It retains huge amounts of water so plants should be kept in sheltered area or mixed with soil that provides good drainage.
When it comes to growing big seedlings or young plants if provided with a optimal amount of fertilisers plants grow good and make flowers.

If I'd used more soil when growing my tomato plant would probably get enough minerals. But this rises a question of price. If we have to use whole 50 litres for one plant and add fertilisers to keep it healthy it means that having 5 to 10 tomatoes makes the hobby really expensive experience and there are many less expensive solutions with medium quality soils that are available.
But if someone has a few hobby plants and doesn't have time to water them on regular bases this could be a good solution.

As for me I will not be buying it again, I'll stick to substrates and soils for professional gardeners.
And as for my rhubarbs 2 of my plants have survived the rot crisis, but past month they haven't been growing much. So soon they will be transplanted in a mix of coconut fibres and professional soil maybe that will help. But we've learned that rhubarb here prefer sun over shade so that's something.

Monday, August 22, 2016

testing: HomeOGarden organic soil

When a gardener manages to get a soil he likes and works in his environment he usually sticks to his favourite brand.
For me past couple of years that has been Klasmann Deilmann soil. Every summer I use their seedling substrate and for my flower pots I use their Florabella soil. They both work wonderfuly for me. Seedling substrates give my seedlings everything they need and the substrate is light enough not to suffocate my plants. Florabella soil is also good quality soil that doesn't retain too much water and my plants grow good in it. I mix it with medium quality soil that I buy in local supermarkets because all Klasmann soil is pretty expensive, but still even mixed with less quality soil it works good. Besides flowers I also plant my potted vegetables in it and with a good amount of soil there's no need for any extra fertilisers.

But this spring I started seeing many people carrying small cardboard boxes of soil and I was intrigued. This new brand called HomeOgarden started appearing more and more in our stores.
HomeOgarden, Slovenian company founded in 2012 makes homeopathic and organic solutions for hobby gardeners. Right now they offer homeopathic mixtures for plant health, fertilisers, help against rodents and soil.
I was interested in soil so past May I decided to buy a bag.


I bought a box of organic plus soil. Organic plus soil is coconut fibre soil, price is in range of medium quality potting soils. Box weights only 2kg and with adding water the content rises to full 50 litres of soil. I have to say that I liked the idea of dehydrated soil. It's much easier to carry home and doesn't take much space. With the practical handle on top soil can be brought home without any extra bag.

Preparing the soil for usage is also very easy. Instructions are to lift the bag inside the box, spread bag with fertiliser on top of the soil brick, add some water, wait for the brick to drink the water and then add some more water.

After buying the soil I started reading on coconut fibres and every article said the coco peat couldn't be used alone and had to be used mixed with normal soil. That confused me a bit because here instructions were very clear, pump the soil with water, plant your plant in soil and move the bag where you want it. There was no mention of mixing anything, so I had to test is as soon as possible. Since the seedling season was already over and I've planted most of my plants I decided to test the soil sowing some biannual flowers and lettuce I had to sow. I had at home some medium quality soil in the same price range bought in local supermarket so I decided to sow all my seeds both in supermarket soil and in HomeOgarden soil.

I tried to use same amount of soil in both boxes, same amount of seeds that came from same bags and same amount of water after the sowing.

In the end I've filled over 50 containers with soil planting corn, flowers like hollyhocks, digitalis, hesperis matronalis, 10 varieties of lettuce.

I have also sown 2 plastic cases of onions

and I decided to transplant my rhubarb seedlings

I left my lettuce and onions in shady part of the yard where sun would not kill them and I divided my rhubarb seedlings both to shade and to direct sun to see what they like more. The rest of the containers I left in the sunny place covered with protection fabric.

20 days later I made my first comparison of 2 soils. The results were not what I expected...

Results in part 2 tomorrow :)