Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day Update 2014

I post an update of the garden every Memorial Day.  At this point all the garden structures have been set up and all of the first plantings are in the ground.  Mostly this was covered in the last post, so I'll just show a panorama of the beds.

I checked last years Memorial Day update.  I was thinking that this year's garden was a bit behind last year's, but they are actually about the same.  The brassica bed in the foreground and the potato bed have the most foliage.  The two apple trees are larger, and it's a real pleasure to see the asparagus developing foliage and the perennial herbs growing with them in a bed for perennials.  I expect the garden will look quite a bit different in a few weeks as the squash comes up and the tomatoes and peppers come into their own.

Something other than leafy greens was harvested this week.  That's always a plus.  First there was a small head of broccoli, variety Belstar.  In the past I've gone on about the qualities of Major Broccoli, so of course Pinetree discontinued it this year.  I bought Belstar as a replacement, both being early varieties.  With a few seeds of Major left over from last year I did a comparison.  Here's the Belstar before I picked it.
It was a small head, only 6 ounces, but it's the first.  Now here's the Major, seeded at the same time.

That head should be of size in about a week.  And I'm certain it will be larger.  In my opinion cole crops are useful to fill in the gap in spring and early summer before the summer varieties mature.  I don't want to wait until the squash are ready to pick a cabbage or broccoli.  That's why I like quick maturing brassicas. 

This is the first kohlrabi, Grand Duke.  There's more that are just about ready. 

And there's a new addition to the food supply, rabbits.  I built a rabbit tractor last fall so the bunnies could supplement their diet with fresh grass.  They really like their new home, chasing each other around and running up and down the ramp.  But eventually they go into the stew pot. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Opening day

For the garden, spring training is now over.  All of the first plantings are now in the ground, the structures are in place, every bed has been worked up with compost, tilled and smoothed.  The last few days marked the last big push to establish the garden for the season.

This bed was seeded in winter squash - Butternut, Teksukabotu and Honey Bear Acorn.  The bed was prepared last fall and is the only bed that has no structured edging.  After the compost and fertilizer were added the soil was spaded over and tilled.  Six foot fence posts were set in on two sides and two 4'x8' sections of remesh were attached to the posts.

Before last autumn a large tree stump was in the middle of this bed.  I cut the tree down in 2008.  Last fall I pushed the stump over by hand, then dug as many roots out as possible.  The tree had created a large mound around it.  I removed several wheelbarrow loads of soil to level the bed and covered it with leaf mold over the winter.  It really needs more compost and there are still some large roots in the bed, but with sufficient fertilizer it should be fine for growing squash.  Once the soil is improved I'll bring root crops into the rotation for this bed.

Here's a closeup of how the remesh attaches to the posts.  The bottom loops on the post point downward.  Once the remesh is hooked over the bottom loop it is held in place quite securely. 

The remaining bed was planted in pole beans, sweet potatoes and summer squash.  I used a hybrid structure for the pole beans, a combination of fence posts and wood.  It's not the most eye-pleasing structure but I'm more concerned with making a support that won't blow over than the aesthetics of the thing.  Most of the storms around here come out of the west, which is sheltered by the woods, but a storm coming from the north has no obstruction and can flatten things. 

The sticks, which are tree limbs, were screwed to the fence posts then the crossbars were screwed to the sticks.  I drilled holes in the top crossbar and stretched jute twine from top to bottom.  The beans?  Fortex.  I've heard good things about them and decided to give them a try.

With a favorable weather forecast the eggplant, okra and cucumber seedlings were set into the garden.  The cucumber seedlings were set in against the trellis that was discussed in the last post.  They look a little crowded against the onions but I'm sure they will work something out.  I set out one Diva, a slicing cuke that is a Beit Alpha type, all female and does not require polllination.   Also planted were two Calypso cukes, a pickling cuke.  The Diva's are very vigorous so I gave it half of the trellis.

I'm done starting seeds indoors for the season.   The few remaining plants under the lights were put into the mobile greenhouse.  The tomato seedlings are extras and are getting a bit leggy.  Today they found their way into the compost bin.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Putting up garden structures

In a few more days all of the beds will be planted.  But not yet.  There's a cool patch of weather that will persist through the weekend, and I'll wait for that to pass.  Early next week the weather will be sliding into summer, and I'll plant okra, squash, sweet potatoes and eggplant.  Today I set up some structures for the potatoes and cucumbers. 

I've given the potatoes some sort of support every year.  Without support the stems will get spindly and with the first good storm get flattened.  I don't like flattened potato plants.  If the plants are not standing then air cannot circulate through them.  They get diseases.  They'll get molds and mildews eventually, but I'm convinced that if the plants are supported they will stay healthy longer and produce more potoatoes. 

Last year I put stakes in the 4 corners of the potato bed and strung string around the perimeter.  This did nothing for the middle of the bed, it just kept the plants out of the pathways.  So I decided that this year a string would go between each row.  To do that a six foot fencepost was pounded into each corner and wood crossbars were screwed to the posts (this is where a battery powered drill is very handy).

The posts have convenient holes for the screws.

Holes were drilled into the crossbars for the string.  I decided to go with two levels of string.  Because of the odd shape of this bed one of the posts was set outside of the bed. And of course I ran out of string.  Now if only that last potato plant would come up.

The cucumbers definitely need support.  Again 6 foot fenceposts were used, this time with a 4' x 8' piece of concrete remash as the netting.  The spacing between the wires is exactly the same as the spacing between the hooks on the posts - very convenient.  The remesh was suspended about 1 and 1/2 feet above the soil.  After the cukes are planted I'll have to set some wires from the net to the ground to give the cucumbers a path up. 

You can see that the bed is planted in onions.  I have found that the cucumbers and onions are good neighbors. 

The greens bed has a nice supply of lettuce.  It's been a good spring for lettuce, not too hot or cold.  The bed has a cage over it to keep out the bunnies, who like lettuce as much as I do.  There's also some spinach and cabbage in there.

The lettuce in the Earthbox is going strong.  I had to pull out two seedlings to make room for the first of the Florence fennel.  This lettuce is younger than the lettuce in the bed but has already caught up. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Monday May 12

There's not much new to talk about this week - it's that time of year.  Most of the beds have been planted.  Last week the tomato and pepper seedlings were put in the ground.  I seeded small patches of bunching onion, beets, the first set of bush beans, probably the last patch of spinach as the beds fill in.  Potatoes have sent up shoots, parsnip has germinated, onions are looking good.

Still I haven't set out the okra, eggplant, sweet potato and cucumber seedlings.  There's going to be a cool spell for a few days.  No frost expected  but cool enough to give the seedlings a shiver.  Eggplant especially doesn't like a cool night, especially when young and tender.  So I'll wait until next weekend.

The cole crops are getting there.  I can see small heads of broccoli forming.  The kohlrabi has developed small bulbs. 

Of the six asparagus crowns that were set in, all but one has sent up shoots. 

I dug around with my hands were the straggler should be and found a bud, just next to that piece of leaf.  Now if it will just hurry up and shoot up, then I can bring in the remaining topsoil which is sitting on the squash/sweet potato bed for now.

The remaining overwintered spinach was about to bolt so I pulled it up. And I picked a pound of lettuce.

Monday, May 5, 2014


I picked a little spinach this morning, 4 oz.  This is the overwintered spinach.  It looks like it's ready to bolt, and when the weather warms later this week it probably will, so I'll pick some more tonight.  Spinach is not great this year, the weather went from cold to warm with no in-between.

After Sunday and today I can say that things are seriously underway.  The compost is not quite finished but two beds could not wait.  But first I had to do a lot of moving.  This is a new bed this year.  There was a medium sized tree here that I cut down 5 years ago.  Last year it had rotted to the point that I could remove the stump and most of the roots.  The tree had left a mound of soil around it which was removed to level the ground.  Last fall I covered the bed with leaf mold and put landscape fabric over it.  The leaves had not decomposed as much as I hoped.  They were gathered up into the cart.

The leaves were hauled to the compost bin.  The top module of the stack was set to the side and the leaves were shoveled into it.

When this box was filled the next module was brought over and the remaining leaves shoveled into it.

Then compost was collected in the cart and hauled to the beds.  Pieces of leaves are still visible in the compost but it was deemed good enough to go into the soil.  Interestingly, there is no trace of the dead fish, probably 10 to 15 pounds, that were put into the compost in mid March.  Head, skeletons, completely gone, but they provide plenty of nutrients.

The compost was spread on two beds and some fertilizer was added.  The soil was turned over with a shovel, hoed to break up any clods, then tilled with a little gas powered cultivator.   Someday I hope this clay soil will have enough organic matter in it that it can just be top dressed with compost, but for now it still tends to clod up and needs to be mixed.

Then the tomato cages were installed.  This year I'm growing a cage of slicing tomatoes (Crimson Carmello) and two cages of sauce tomatoes (Pompeii), from Renee's.  The posts are driven into the ground and the cages are suspended on the posts.  That provides almost 6 feet of vertical space.

With a favorable weather report it was time to set out the tomatoes and peppers this morning.  The peppers were laid out first.  This year I'm planning to make more chili powder and for that there are 2 Joe Parker, 2 Ancho and a Holy Mole pepper.  For salsa there's a Serrano and a Jalapeno.  Sweet peppers are represented by Marconi, Bullhorn, and Round of Hungary.

And here's the bed planted.  The empty spaces in front of the cage will be planted with two eggplants, but they aren't ready yet and I've found it's best not to rush eggplant, they don't like a shiver.

To top things off, two rows of Provider beans were seeded and a row of beet seedlings were set into the other bed.  The train has left the station. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014


That's Self-Watering Containers.  The most well known SWC that you can buy is the Earthbox.  My opinions of SWC's are mixed.  They work well for some plants, others I'd just as soon put in the earth.  Last year I built two of them from Rubbermaid containers and planted them both with a small okra (Millionaire).  The okra grew and produced well for a while but later in the summer the leaves began to fall off until nothing but a bare stem was left.

There is one crop that seems to do very well in a SWC - lettuce.  For the last two years I've put my one Earthbox in the mobile coldframe and planted it with lettuce.  This grows large and clean bunches of lettuce.  This is what the Earthbox looked like a month ago.
I got 2.2 pounds of lettuce from the first planting.  Not bad.  New lettuce seedlings were set in for another harvest.  As this lettuce comes out I'll replace it with florence fennel, a new plant for me.

Meanwhile the seedlings in the coldframe are biding their time.  The Marconi and Serrano pepper seedlings are getting quite large.  The forecast calls for a warmer temperatures starting early next week, high time to set out the peppers and tomatoes. 

There's more lettuce and spinach in the green's bed.  The most recent planting of spinach is Tyee, which is supposed to be very bolt resistant in warm weather.  We'll see.
And the cole crops are coming along nicely now (The white stuff is shredded paper mulch).  The garlic and onions in the background are also doing well.

So it looks like spring actually is here.  I'm declaring winter officially over.   This is a hosta unfurling and a helleboros sending up shoots.

Andl this is a Britt Marie Crawford ligularia.  Planted it three years ago and this is the first year it has looked this good.  Absolutely beautiful plant with leaves purple underneath, small yellow flowers.