Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wrapping up for the year

The lettuce in the greens bed was ready for a thinning  and I picked 6 oz of fresh lettuce. There’s two spinach plants in the bed that will overwinter.  There should be a lot more since I planted two rows but only two plants germinated.  Another case of seed no longer viable.  I should test my seed the second year but never get around to it.  Why?  The reason is simple – I’m a lazy arse.  The parsley has gone crazy since Labor Day.

I still haven’t picked any leeks or parsnip, preferring to see a few more hard frosts.  The parsnip still looks like it’s doing some photosynthesis.  

Friday and Saturday was unseasonably warm.  Saturday looked like the last chance to get the outdoor work finished.  I raked the remaining leaves in the yard and shredded them.  The early leaves were mowed with the mulching mower.  Then the oaks let go.  This year many of the leaves blew off the cut grass.  There were still a lot of leaves that collected in corners and such.   The pin oak in front never drops its leaves until midwinter, usually after a good snowfall, so it’s mess will have to wait until next spring.  I don’t know why this tree has to be different, but it is. 

Last year the weather turned nasty before I could shred the leaves and they stayed on the ground all winter.   They were shredded in the spring and put into the compost bin but there wasn’t enough time to get fully finished compost for the beds. 

I filled the cart nearly full with shredded leaves then pulled it over to the compost bin.  I added the leaves in layers about 3” thick.  Each layer got a handful of blood meal then was watered (lasagna compost?), then the next layer of leaves was added.  The ideal carbon/nitrogen ratio for compost is 30:1.  Leaves are about 50:1, a little short of nitrogen but not as deficient as sawdust or straw.  That’s why I added the blood meal, to get the nitrogen level where it should be.  I just guessed at the amount of blood meal to add.   I’m hoping for finished compost next spring, ready to go into the beds.

Now I’ve got a bin full of shredded leaves ready to turn into compost.  I’m hoping they will start decomposing right away.  Even with cold weather on the way the leaves should do a good job of holding any heat generated by the decomposition.  A bottom layer of decent compost was already built up over the summer.  There’s about a dozen fish heads and entrails in there too.  It should be a rich mix next spring when it’s ready to go into the garden.   
Next post:  Bed plans for 2011 and 2012 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Year in review - best and also rans

I got nothing this week.  Their will be some lettuce to pick soon, and still lots of parsnip and leeks underground, but just about everything else is out of the beds now.  I planted some sugar snap peas before Labor Day as an experiment.  The seedlings started off very slowly in September when we had about two weeks of continuous cloud cover, then put on a growth spurt in October.  They’re chest high and set flowers but there’s a small problem – no bees this time of year – so no edible peas.  (My vegetables are pollinated by the native bumblebees).   A novelty item. 

It’s a good time to highlight some vegetable varieties that performed really well here, and some of the ones that did not.  Keep in mind that a variety that performs well in this climate and soil may not do as well in another garden.  But I think that some varieties are just plain better than others.  Here’s a few that have worked well for me.

Broccoli:  Major (F1) is a variety of broccoli that I grew for the first time this year.  And yes I’ve gone on about this variety in earlier post.  It’s early, about 10 days earlier than Gypsy, and appears to tolerate heat and cold well.  It does not get tall, only about one foot high, so it won’t shade adjacent brassicas.  It produces a nice-size firm head on a compact plant and the flavor is the best of any variety I’ve tried.   This picture was taken in mid-June

Kohlrabi:  For comparison I grew two varieties side by side in four plantings.  One variety, Early White Vienna, is an old standby often seen in the seed racks at hardware stores.  The other variety is Grand Duke, an F1 hybrid from Pinetree seeds.  Both are supposed to mature in 50 days.  I found that Grand Duke was consistenly 7 to 9 days earlier, formed a larger bulb, and was less woody.  No contest, Grand Duke was the clear winner.
Early Cabbage:  Normally I plant Gonzales cabbage, but the two year old seeds did not germinate this year.  So I had to go to Lowe’s and buy a Burpee’s variety called Earliana.  The size and maturity times were similar for the two varieties, but for flavor there’s no comparison.  The Gonzalez cabbage is by far the better tasting cabbage.   I’ll order more seeds this winter.
Snap beans:  I grew several  varieties of bush beans this year:  Dragon Langerie, a purple striped heirloom wax bean; Bush Roma;  Provider; and a half bush/half pole variety called State ½ Runner.  The State ½ Runner just wasn’t very good.  The beans went very quickly from a tender young bean to a tough woody bean which is not what you want in a snap bean.  Of the other beans I liked Provider the best – great beanie flavor and productive for a long time.   The other bush beans were also very good.
Tomatoes:  There’s room for two tomato cages in the beds and this year I planted heirlooms in both cages:  Brandywine and German Queen.  The Brandywine does have a superb flavor.  Neither variety lasted into the fall, succumbing to diseases.  Both varieties had lots of blemishes and cracking, with a lot of wasted fruit.  Next year I’m going back to a modern F1 variety that works for me – Supersonic.  I buy the seedlings at a greenhouse in Bloomington and it’s a variety that has produced really well for me with no disease problems.  It also has a very good flavor, not as good as the Brandywine but close.  I may try Cherokee purple in the remaining cage since I know the Supersonic will produce enough to supply me with tomatoes.
Cucurbits:  The cucumbers succumbed to bacterial wilt this summer, as well as the Acorn and summer squash.  I’ve grown Diva cucumbers the last three years and they produce an excellent cuke.  They are parthenocarpic all-female plants.  I’m not going to grow the Sunburst pattypan squash again.  It’s striking in appearance, but it tends to produce a glut of squash all at once and then has to recover.  That may be a good trait for a commercial grower but not for a home gardener.  I’m still looking for a compact summer squash with good flavor.  Sure the seed catalogues claim a squash is compact, bur then it grows to six feet across and makes enough squash for an army.  This year I’m ordering Cocozelle from Pinetree, an older Italian variety that they claim can be put in a planter, which probably means it may only reach five feet in diameter.
The Pinetree catalogue showed up a few days ago.  I’m working on next years order already.  And Blogger still changes fonts on a whim.   

Monday, November 7, 2011

Winding down

Things are winding down as we ease, or regress, toward winter.   The oak trees are still holding their leaves, while all the other trees have lost theirs.  I’ve got two pin oaks that flank the front porch, and they always hold some of their leaves until we get some real winter weather.  I’d like to see the rest of the leaves drop, then I can shred the leaves and put them in the compost bin for compost next spring.  So far I’ve run the mulching mower over them and left the leaf pieces for the lawn.

Most everything is out of the beds.  The peppers were killed by the last frost.  A shame, since there were a bunch of green cubanelles and others that were ruined.  It was a good year for peppers.  I got almost 17 pounds from six plants.  There’s some sugar snap peas that I planted around Labor Day that are four feet high with some flowers.  I may get a snack from those.  Sunday I pulled up one of the Chinese cabbages (Soloist).  It was a really dense cabbage – 2 lbs, 10 oz.  That’s it.