Garden Update

[NOTE:  I drafted this about a month ago, and have just managed to find some time to edit and post it.  Some updates are included as you read along...]

So we're nearing the end of summer, at least as measured by the calendar. Ironically, after a summer filled with overcast skies and cool weather, it's actually hot (90's) today. That's important for peppers and tomatoes, which really crave the warm weather.

This was the year of the expanding plan, to obtusely reference Steely Dan (who are themselves rather obtuse). It's time to step back and look at what went well and not so well.

The Good

The new beds worked swimmingly. They added about 200+ square feet of garden to work, which meant that I didn't feel compelled to jam as much stuff into the beds as possible. It allowed me to grow a lot more tomato plants than I did last year, and still be able to space them three feet apart (which they definitely need).

I was able to grow a number of vegetables I hadn't grown before: kohlrabi, carrots, radishes, Asian greens, red onions, shallots and pak choi.

And for some of the "returning favorites", I was able to grow more than I could handle. We have so much Swiss Chard that it's basically feeding the chickens (and whatever animal continues to dine on its succulent leaves). We've got plenty of corn, and it's certainly a pleasure to pick it and be eating it half an hour later. The potatoes did quite well, as did the red onions.

I was successful in getting tomatoes to grow from seed. All of the heirloom varieties still come from Love Apple Farm, but I started a number of Super Marzano's that have survived into adulthood.

I've been (so far) able to keep some green tomato varieties going. The plants developed fusarium wilt early on, and I managed to dust them with sulfur and isolate them so that they and the entire group of seedlings were able to survive. You know you're a dirt farmer when you go to Orchard Supply and ask them for powdered sulfur.

Upgrading the watering system really helped. I was able to run additional lines in each of the beds, expanding my production. And adding a shutoff valve for each bed means I've been able to shut down beds without cutting water off to others.

The Bad

The headline in this category has been the peppers and tomatoes. Cool weather early in the Spring meant that the peppers I started from seeds never really got off to a good start. I tried planting them anyway but the shock of planting killed most of them. Then, the cool weather since they were planted has delayed any pepper growth. I've had a few survive, along with the two I bought from OSH out of desperation. And they've responded to a couple days of heat by really gaining ground and showing some fruit. So I'm crossing my fingers that we'll have enough warm weather in September and October to get some peppers to harvestable size. (Update: it's now late September and we're on our third or fourth day of 90+ degree heat.)

The other heat lover, tomatoes, has also suffered in the cool weather. The plants adapted to the cool weather and have fruited up quite nicely. But without a run of hot weather, nothing is ripening. I joke that even the ground squirrels have given up waiting for the tomatoes to ripen. I've harvested a few Sungella's (kind of a golf-ball sized Sun Gold) and some Yellow Pears. Beyond that, everything is in "green" stage. And, now wilt is spreading among the plants. I got a few Rosalita's before the plant shut down, and I can see wilting leaves on other plants now.

Ironically, its' the plants I quarantined, putting them in wine barrels in the back yard, that have done better. I've harvested a few Super Marzano's and some wonderful Amazon Chocolates.

I really should have hilled up the potatoes. They went from too small to too large before I could get out and do anything about it. I thought it wouldn't matter much, but a number of the potatoes got exposed to the sun, which turns them (and other vegetables, like carrots) green. Plus, hilling them would have made it harder for the ground squirrels to feast on them.

The Asian greens grew really well; very prolific and easy to grow (along with the Pak Choi). The only problem was that they apparently weren't the dim sum veggies I had in mind when I bought the seeds. The stalks were about as tender as eating a twig. At first I thought that I had let them get too big. But even the small greens were tough. So it's back to the drawing board on that front.

The flea beetles, once they found the Asian greens and Pak Choi, really went to town eating the plants. As I learned with the arugula in the next bed, the best approach is to put a row cover on the bed when I plant the seeds, and then leave it there. I'll have to do that next year.

Another disappointment has been lettuce, spinach, and related greens. These grew great last year, but hardly grew at all this year. It's too bad, because they're one vegetable that appreciates the cooler weather. I blame the seeds, but it could be a case of over-watering. (Update: confirmed. When I moved the planter box recently, I figured out that the soil under the planter wasn't draining, so the dirt in the bed was waterlogged.)

And on that topic, I discovered the lesson about too much of a good thing. In the lettuce and some other beds, I ran four irrigation lines with emitters spaced every six inches. I had dreams of harvesting dozens of baby lettuces. For the longest time, I couldn't understand why the ground around these beds was so squishy; I was sure there must be a leak. Eventually I had a "duh!" moment and realized that putting that many lines with that many emitters in one space was causing the soil to get saturated. I think it's time to go to the stick-type sprayers for my lettuce.

My obsessive-compulsive attempts to start everything from seed saw its limits, especially with herbs. Basil started out nicely but promptly died when transplanted. Marjoram and tarragon never really made it out of the plant nursery. I think this is a category where buying starter plants make a lot of sense. And the flowers (yes, things you don't eat) that I started were a mixed bag. Lavender did the best, but it took FOREVER to get those suckers to grow.

The Ugly

Remember last year, and Navy Dry Beans? These plants completely overwhelmed the eco-friendly bamboo tripods I made for them, and continued on to use the corn as their personal trellis. We got a pound or so of cranberry colored beans that cooked up deliciously. So I was eager to plant a bunch more of these guys, and went for industrial-strength trellis materials (think galvanized).

Perhaps it wasn't fair to plant half the row with Navy Dry Beans and the other half with Green Beans. But where the Green Beans shot up and took over the whole trellis, the Navy Dry Beans just weakly went along, barely getting to the bottom of the trellis before the ground squirrels ate through the roots and put them out of their suffering. Maybe inoculation is the answer, or maybe the seeds were too old.

And about those Green Beans. Technically, they're haricots verts, those lovely, thin French green beans that everyone loves (like those lovely, thin French women, but I digress). I quickly decided that it's just too much work to hunt through the foliage looking for skinny, fairly short, green beans on a regular basis. So the beans I harvest tend to be the overweight, overly lanky American cousins of the French varieties. They're not as tender, but taste great all the same.

And then there are the ground squirrels. They (or some other rodent) have strip-mined the Swiss Chard, leaving me with stalks that have almost no leaves. They ate the Kohlrabi, then moved on to both melon plants before the plants could create any fruit. They helped themselves to potatoes, and ate all three cucumber plants and two of the three artichoke plants… so far. We'd be talking chemical warfare at this point except I don't want Wiley's inquiring nose to get him in trouble. Maybe it's time to take Tom up on his sharpshooting offer.

Late September Update

As part of moving (more on that soon), I've shut down most of the original garden. I moved two of the planter boxes. I left the asparagus beds, figuring the casualty rate from trying to move the asparagus plants outweighed the benefits. So someone is going to be surprised next Spring when asparagus plants start popping up! I harvested the last of the corn (yum) and all of the green beans. I've left the tomatoes, hoping that this run of hot weather might actually cause some of the fruit to ripen. I happened to transplant the peppers, basil, thyme and tarragon into some wine barrel planters and took them with me; they're quite happy with our current hot weather. I left the winter squash, to give it a chance to produce some fruit.

With a new house comes a new garden. The new challenges will be keeping deer, wild turkey (the bird) and other wild animals out of the garden. It should be a fun challenge!

Garden Goings-On

Now that the weather has warmed up (to say the least), here's an update on the garden...

Below is a shot of the potato/onion bed.  You can see that the potatoes have really caught up!


I had read that you should plant carrots after radishes, because the radishes push up the ground as they grow.  Well, here's evidence of that!


Here's a view of the initial tomato planting.  They've had a rough time, being battered by the wind, rain and cold.  Now that it's getting warmer they're beginning to grow, and I've seen the first tomato fruit!  The middle bed is now also planted with tomatoes, and there's corn, kohlrabi and beets in the far bed.  BTW, the bushy stuff is asparagus, which has one more season before we can begin harvesting it.

May 10 001

Now Growing in the Garden

So now that Spring seems to have beaten back the last of the rain (so far), it's been time for more planting, thinning, seed-starting, weeding, scheming, and dreaming about fantastic veggies.

Yesterday I planted the first round of tomatoes, following Cynthia's advice on planting, right down to the fish heads I put in the bottom of the hole.  Here's the result.

May 10 001 

BTW, that's Doc tracking down a ground squirrel.  And the orange netting surrounds the asparagus, whose fronds get blown around quite a bit in the wind.

I've finally learned to not get greedy and space my tomatoes out properly--three feet apart.  It seems excessive now, but in a month or so there won't be any space between the plants.

One of my new experiments this year has been artichokes, which also need lots of room.  I may have planted these early, but they don't seem to be getting bigger in the seed pots, so what the heck.

May 10 002 

That little thing next to the brick should grow into a three-foot high plant; we'll see! 

Yukon Gold potatoes were a big hit last year, so I've planted another crop of those.  And, to make use of the bed space, I've run another drip line down the middle and planted red onions and shallots.  The onions and shallots are already sprouting, and the potatoes are beginning to poke through as well.

May 10 005 

I had Asian Greens at a dim sum restaurant the other day, which got me excited again about our greens.  They've survived attacks by the flea beetles, and (along with the bak choi) are getting close to harvest-size.

May 10 006

Finally, I've gone back to first principles with the lettuce and spinach (those noticeably empty spots below), re-tilling the soil and replanting.  The arugula is doing well, which suits me just fine!

May 10 007

I tried growing radishes and carrots last year, without much success.  This year, the radishes are looking good, and with all the rain the carrots are just beginning to sprout.  I'm thinking I should feed the first carrots to the horses--kind of completes the circle, if you know what I mean!

May 10 008

Garden Update

Spring is here (at least, according to the calendar) and that means I get to move my obsessive-compulsive gardening addiction beyond pulling weeds and turning compost into the soil.

Here's a picture of my "nursery".  For a number of reasons, I found myself starting more vegetables from seeds this year, vs. buying plants.  In addition, I expanded my vision to include flowers (those things you can't eat) as well as vegetables.

Mar10 008 

I won't detail all of the plants here, but there are tomatoes (some I've grown from seeds, many bought from Love Apple Farms), peppers (sprouted today, yeah!), artichokes, lavender for the front yard, and other flowers and herbs.  It's going to get crowded when I have to replant some of these veggies and flowers into larger pots!

I've also been busy upgrading the garden.  I reconfigured two of the raised beds, installing drip irrigation with emitters spaced every six inches (vs. eighteen).  That means I can plant more greens than last year, since they don't need as much spacing as plants like tomatoes.

Mar10 009
After just a few days, I'm already seeing sprouts in the beds--lettuce, spinach, bak choi (pak choi east of the Rockies, as they say), Asian greens.  And those two spots of green? Last year, I had potatoes in these beds.  Apparently I failed to harvest a couple of potatoes, and they've re-sprouted.

So you may want to show up in early May with some vinaigrette dressing and a bottle of white wine :)

Garden Update

I've posted some additional photos to the "Expanding Our Garden" photo library.  

We now have everything planted:  various salad greens (the arugula is already coming up--yum!), radishes, carrots, cucumbers (for Danielle), beets, beans, corn, swiss chard, a load of peppers (from mild to mouth-scorching), asparagus, potatoes, muskmelons (for Crystal) and (queen of the garden) an abundance of tomatoes.  To top it off, we've added in some herbs at ends of the beds--oregano and dill--both because we love to cook with fresh herbs and because they should attract beneficial insects.

Last year, I hacked up the ground, added some compost, and chucked in the plants.  They did well, but when you're an OCD farmer more and bigger is always better.  So as I've already noted, I put a lot of work into amending the soil in the beds, and it's already showing great results.  We've added row covers (not shown in the photos) and some bird netting to keep the little birds from munching on the miniature carrot tops and other shoots.  We followed the full Grow Better Veggies recipe for planting the tomatoes, including use of fresh fish heads.  OK, they were from farm-raised trout bought at Costco, but I was proud of being able to put expediency ahead of rigorous adherence to a preconceived plan of going to Morgan Hill (Poppy's) for fresh-off-the-boat fish heads.  I've also taken to visiting the garden in the evening, picking off the bugs and tossing them into the chickens' area for immediate "recycling".

The asparagus is already starting to flower.  We have to let it flower this year, then cut it back and we can begin to harvest next year.  I had a bite from one of the stems the peacocks bit off, and it was very tasty.  

So things are just starting to pop up out of the ground, but we can't wait to begin harvesting and enjoying our crop.  We've got a variety of peppers and tomatoes (no tomatillos this year), so just add onions and tortilla chips and salsa by the pool is in our future!