Friday, May 29, 2009

Brussel Sprouts

My favorite vegetables are in the ground. I planted 10 brussel sprouts in the sun garden and 2 in the sq foot gardens. I transplanted a couple zukes and cukes to fill in blank spots in the sq foot gardens. I also harvested a 7.5 inch carrot, 20 strawberries, and 10 peas. Two of the peas were from the first planting in the sq. foot garden. We now have two succession plantings of peas that are producing. We have had about 5 days of straight rain and it is cool, so today was a good day to plant and harvest.

Harvest weight is at 22.5 pounds after 35 harvests. The green onions are finally looking tall and strong like good green onions should.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Spinach Blog - 2009 edition

Replacing my typical all over the place/what did I do today blog entries, I am going try something a little deeper today. This blog is all about spinach.

My 2008 garden notes mention spinach a few times. Here are the Highlights...
  • "You can never, never, never plant enough spinach. Next year we need to buy spinach seed by the truckload and plant it in every single early spring garden spot."
  • "It doesn't transplant worth a darn - don't you dare try to start spinach indoors next year."
The 2009 spinach season began on 12/30 with a one ounce order of Tyee Hybrid spinach seeds from RH Shumway. The description from the catalog: "An improved type with the earliest maturity and best disease resistance we offer. High tolerance to Downy Mildew. A semi-savory type that grows fast and is slow to bolt. Only 37 days to maturity."

Well I followed my 2008 advice on the first point (you can never plant enough), but ignored the second point (never start indoors) - and I'm glad I did on both counts. I started some spinach indoors in mid January and even nibbled on a few pre-salads made of alphalpa sprouts and spinach seedlings in early February. On the last day of February I transplanted 18 spinach seedlings outside in a cold frame. These seedlings held up fairly well, and did much better than the seeds I started directly in the cold frames. I began stealing leaves from these transplants for late winter salads as early as March 22nd. As for the quantity of spinach - We did much better in this area than we have ever done in the past. The key was an April 4th heavy spinach planting. Prior to this planting I had done small mini plantings in various square foot sections and mini-rows. The April 4th planting was big. I put approx 400 seeds in 1 1/2 of my sun garden raised beds. This planting yielded 4 large harvests of spinach for the freezer - on top of our various cut and come again succession plantings. On May 22nd I harvested the last major spinach crop. There remain just a couple odd spinach plants in our garden now. We ended up with 4 pounds (six one gallon freezer bags) of frozen spinach from the spring planting.

Other comments/lessons learned:
  1. Remember how the RH Shumway said that this Tyee Hybrid variety was resistant to downy mildew? Well - not resistant enough. Ours got it - it wasn't awful, but that was part of the reason I went ahead and harvested the full crop as early as I did.
  2. The spring spinach season is so darn short. I would have guessed my final harvest would have been late June not late May.
  3. I think Fall is the "true" season for spinach. I am really looking forward to a fall crop and harvesting some protected cold frame spinach all winter long. I bet that downy mildew and early bolt won't be problems in November.
  4. Will we eat 4 pounds of spinach this winter? If so how?

recent activity

Recent plantings:
  • In the lower wall garden, I did some transplanting and re-seeding in the corn fence area. The vision here is a natural fence of 9 foot tall corn planted 3 rows thick and very tight. There is a pretty shady section of this fence where the low wall and the sun wall intersect. The seeds in this section did not take very well, so I thinned some seedlings from the other section and moved them over. I also re-seeded where things were sparse.
  • Started 4 mini-rows of bush bean seeds in the sun garden. Three of the rows are planted with "early bird garden beans" from Shumway. The remaining row is planted with a bean called a slenderette.
  • Started one large pot with carrots and leeks. Hoping for one leek in the center and carrots all around. The carrots that I have planted in the main garden have done poorly, but the ones in the pot have done very well. Today's pot planting was my attempt to not give up on garden carrots. Ditto for the beets below...
  • Started on large pot of beets - mix of cylindra and detroit supreme
Recent Harvest Activity:
  • Asparagus is done. I picked the last of the thick stalks about 3 days ago. I am letting the rest go to fern. Our first harvest was 4/1 and our last 5/19. Not bad for year two of a closely spaced bed.
  • Spinach is going to seed. I did another one pound harvest of spinach recently. Most of the early succession plantings of spinach were starting to go to seed. Basically all the spinach planted in the cold frame or sq foot gardens were removed. The main spinach crop in the sun garden is still doing well. I now have 4 one gallon freezer bags full of spinach in the freezer.
  • Pak Choi is done. It flowered super fast and the leaves never got very large. I was not impressed with pak choi, although it did add some variety to our salads and spring rolls. Perhaps a fall cold frame planting to harvest over the winter would be better for this.
  • I harvested 4 tasty 5 inch long carrots from our January pot and one beet from the same. The beet could have used a few more weeks of growth, but was tasty.
  • It hasn't rained in a while and the rain barrels are drying out.
Harvest weight is at 17.1 with 31 harvests

Friday, May 15, 2009

Pea blossoms

The weather has been wonderful and we have been busy planting, expanding and harvesting.

  • Started 10 musk mellon seeds and 10 pumpkin seeds indoors
  • succession planting of 5 small spinach rows in the high wall garden- between romas (more on spinach below)
  • succession planting of approx 10 seed saver lettuce seedlings in low wall garden (between romas)
  • transplanting of various lettuce from sq foot garden to sun garden to get away from the critter that has been feasting on them
  • We created a large new flower border - approx 25 X 4 ft, and expanded another. These plots border our back yard walls and had previously held a smattering of bulbs and annuals at the base of the wall. We like flowers more than grass, so we expanded. We filled these new plots with various perennials that we transplanted from our other perennial gardens. We planted bamboo, hosta, rhodadendron, black eyed susan, daisy, mountain blewett, calencho, sweet woodruff, mini irises, large irises, ferns, lillies, and mums. We also bordered these plots with impatien seedlings that we started indoors. This new garden gets very little sun.
  • Spinach - We did our second large spinach harvest of the season. We now have over 2 pounds (3 one gallon freezer bags) of spinach in the freezer just waiting for our winter soups and pizzas. While I am excited about the quantity of spinach that we have harvested so far, I am concerned about the remaining crop. It might have a blight. Many of the leaves are turning a whitish color and drooping. The harvest yesterday took just about all the large leaves, so we'll know for sure in a week or two if this little blight is going to take the rest of our crop. I planted 4 new rows of spinach in a totally different garden plot this morning in an effort to keep us in some spinach even if the current crop doesn't make it. The beet leaves are suffering from a similar problem.
  • Asparagus - still coming in at a rate of about 3-5 stalks a day. I have been roasting it in the oven with Emerril's Essense for a nice late night snack while I watch the Penguins - Yummy!
  • Harvest weight is @14 lbs and 26 harvests
  • I did something goofy to the compost piles today. I had some 4 inch black drain pipe laying around. I drilled a bunch of holes in it and buried one 4 foot section (standing tall) in the center of each pile. All I have read says that proper pile aeration is one of the keys to quick compost. Most recommend frequent turning (which I do), but I have seen the smokestack approach recommended a few times as well. The idea here is that this pipe allows the gasses to escape from the pile and introduces fresh air allowing the various bacteria to do their thing.
  • The other photo is a mid-May update of our main sun garden.
  • Note: We saw our first pea blossoms last year on 5/26. So we are 12 days earlier this year. I planted an "early bird garden" short pea this year on 2/28. Very few actually germinated, so I filled in with snow peas a couple weeks later. I also had this section covered with a mini-cold frame through the late winter. Anyway - It was a lot of work for 12 days of extra pea harvest, but I bet we'll be enjoying the fruits of that labor very soon. We have also been harvesting pea leaves for salads and spring rolls for a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

cold frame work

I planted all the remaining pepper seedlings in the cold frame today. They are still pretty skimpy. I'm hoping a little nice soil and cold frame love will get them going. It will likely be another couple weeks to a month before I plant them in their permanent location in the sun garden.

22 harvests and 11.75 pounds cumulative ytd. Today's harvest included 3 carrots and one beet. The carrots were respectable at about 5 inches each. The beet was still a little young - although all tasted great roasted with asparagus and thrown on top of a salad. The beets and carrots were planted indoors in January in large pots.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Romas are in

The high and low wall garden are now the proud home to 30 black plum roma tomatoes. The low wall garden has 13 and the high wall garden 17. These romas were started indoors from seed on 3/11. Given two months of indoor growth, I am amazed at just how small they are. I started them in 6 packs in store bought seed starter mix. The seedlings were no taller than 4 inches with just a couple leaves at the very top of the plant. I expected the roots to be tightly wound inside the six pack, and even those were a little disappointing. Comparing these black plums to the sheboygans that I planted just two days earlier, was really no comparison. The sheboygans are 8-10 inches tall with thick stems and lots of leaves. So perhaps it is just the type of tomato. But anyway - I think I need will start these seeds in larger pots next year, and perhaps a little earlier to accommodate a couple of weeks in the cold frame.

The soil in these two garden sections could not have been more different. The low wall garden soil was absolutely fantastic. Sarah and I brainstormed this a little last evening. In 2007 this section of yard held about a million lillies of various varieties, a rose, a large evergreen bush, some small ornamental grasses, some pansys, and several large decorative rocks. In the winter 2007/2008, I chopped down the evergreen bush and composted it. In spring 2008, Sarah worked on the soil. She pulled out all the plants except the rose and added mushroom manure to the soil. In 2008 she planted various garden veggies including brussel sprouts, shallots, onions and cabbage in this plot. None of the veggies in this plot did very well. We had maybe two heads of cabbage and three passable brussel sprout plants. She recollects the soil being very poor. In fall 2008 I added another thick layer of mushroom manure - 2 inches or more. In spring 2009 I sowed white clover as a thick layer of green manure. This weekend in preparation for the roma planting, Quinn and I removed the green manure. In the process of removing the clover, much of the top layer of mushroom manure also went to compost. The remaining soil looks wonderful. It is very light and airy, and deep black. We found millions of worms and rolly pollys. It was so nice, I didn't even bother adding any compost. I tried to space the plants approx 18-24 inches apart and built a thin sunken path out of rocks for access.

The soil in the high wall garden on the other hand is just plain nasty. In 2007 this plot despite being one of our sunniest locations, held two large nasty overgrown evergreen trees, a large plot of iris, and a bunch of pachysandra. We spent 2008 chopping down the trees, but not the stumps, transplanting the pachysandra and iris, and tearing out the black plastic and small round river rocks that made up the base layer. Toward the middle of the 2008 planting season, I tossed in some cucumbers and mellons and actually got a very nice crop of both. I didn't even bother prepping the soil prior to that planting, instead I used a "hill planting" approach. I made nine mini-hills out of a 5 gallon bucket of sandy creek soil and dropped three seeds in each bucket full. These crops spread so quickly to cover the entire plot that weeds and the poor soil condition never really were a factor. In the fall 2008 I planted a rye green manure and in the spring 2009 I added some mushroom manure and planted a white clover cover crop. This weekend I tore out and composted the cover crops and chopped out the evergreen stumps. I added approx 10 large rainbarrel buckets of course compost to this soil and raked it in with my 8 inch fork. I dug a sunken path and used this ground to raise the beds for the tomatoes. The final soil consistency is very, very course. Sticks and stones are everywhere. The compost I used still has some breaking down to do. Evergreen roots remain and are fairly close to the surface. I am very curious to compare the health and production of the tomatoes in this soil compared to the well-prepared plot below. But seeing how well the soil improved in one year in the lower wall garden has me very excited to see this soil next year.

I read about undersowing green manures yesterday. Most folks recommend undersowing in late July after the main crop is plenty big and far along. They describe most of the benefit hitting the following year rather than the current year, and stress not to plant a cover crop too quickly as it will compete for nutrients with the tomatoes.

I gave Sarah's great grandparents a tour of our garden for Mother's day. Sarah's great grandfather is a farmer at heart and we shared lots of fun garden stories. I also passed along my sheboygans, a six pack of california wonder peppers, and one eggplant to him.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

heavy planting day

According to my PA master gardener guide, May 10th is the last day of average frost in Pittsburgh. I checked the 5 day forecast and the predicted low next week is 38 degrees. So I figured what the heck - lets get the remaining stuff in the ground this weekend.

This morning I planted...
  1. 3 squares of pickling cucumbers. These replaced some of my earliest cabbage and brocoli plantings which were killed by the critter.
  2. 2 squares of zucchini. These replaced a leek, which never took and seed saver lettuce, which also never took.
  3. 1 square of butternut squash - replaced a nibbled broccoli.
  4. 1 square of replacement carrots. The original 16 seeds had only germinated 6 carrots, so I added replacement seeds. I planted these replacements pretty thick, thinking I'll thin later. The single seed approach for carrots has certainly not worked well, as germination is a real issue.
  5. I finished the sun garden raised bed pea planting. I put in about 50 innoculated goliath edible podded snow peas.
  6. Like the carrots, the golden bantam corn has not germinated well so far. I planted the rest of these seeds with many of them filling in blank spots in my original planting. I bet the germination rate on this 4/13 planting was less than 20%. I'm hoping the cold had something to do with that and today's planting comes in nice and thick. I ran out of seeds and was only able to plant about 2/3 of this raised bed in corn.
  7. In the remaining space of the corn bed, I planted approx 17 Fin de Bagnol bush beans. These were from a seed savers seed exchange. Beans and Corn are supposed to do well together. I interplanted pole beans with my corn last year and it was really cute.
  8. I also tossed in three mini rows of green onions
  9. I completed the root crop raised bed. I put in 4 rows of beets. 2 rows of cylindra and two rows of early wonders. I didn't bother with the deep trench and screened compost approach that I used for the first two plantings. I just decided to plant traditional rows with pretty tight spacing for future thinning. It will be a nice experiment to see if the additional effort of the first two plantings results in better beets. I also reseeded some carrots due to the bad germination rate of prior plantings.
I found a couple interesting volunteers this morning. One I believe was an avocado core, which had sprouted in the sq foot garden. The other was a stick from a tree, which was growing and new tree. The kids were excited about the tree, so I replanted it in a pot.

Yesterday I removed the green manure from the high wall garden and added it to the green compost. I also added 5 large buckets of black gold compost to this garden and used my 8 inch fork to till it in. This will be a roma tomato garden. The tomatoes are hardening off outside now. I am becoming a big fan of green manure. The rye was about 3 feet tall when I tore it out. It was a fall planting that wintered over. The clover had formed a lush, 6 inch green carpet. This was a spring planting. They added about 10 inches of good nitrogen to the compost. It felt like I was completing the cycle as I would run alternating trips of green compost and black gold to and from this garden.

I also hilled up potatoes for the third time yesterday. They are just darn huge. I am basically out of available dirt to keep hilling them up.

The harvest is up to 9.25 pounds for the season. I also started tracking the number of harvests (basically trying to count our home grown veggie meals). We are up to 18 harvests for the year. We are grabbing lettuce, spinach, beet leaves, and onion and shallot tops multiple times a day now. The asparagus gives us 5 stalks a day as well. The Pok Choi is being harvested, but is disappointing as it flowered very quickly and it's leaves are sparse and small.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Braccias, eggplants and peppers

Well - our baby was finally harvested this weekend, so we welcome a new gardener to the family.

In the days leading up to the birth, we kept active in the garden a little bit. Yesterday I transplanted 5 eggplant, and 6 peppers into the cold frame. These were started as seeds in a six packs on or around 3/11. They had gotten to be about 4 inches high and I was afraid that their roots were going to get too bunched up in those six packs if I kept them confined much longer. I don't plan to plant them unprotected in the garden until June, so that is still a long time to wait. I prepared a small section in the cold frame and covered them with one layer of plastic. I plan to keep these covered in the evenings and on cloudy days. On sunny days I will open it up for ventilation.

I also did some various transplanting this weekend. I moved the cabbage and broccoli out of the cold frame and into their permanent homes in the sun garden. For the most part these seedlings have done quite well. Throughout the early spring I noticed that a few broccoli leaves had begun to be eaten by critters. I very liberally plucked these seedlings and tossed them in the compost pile. So the remaining seedlings (both broc and cabbage) are very healthy and big. I'd say they are between 6 and 8 inches high. There are 14 total (6 cabbage and 8 broccoli). I spaced them approx 12 inches apart. I composted the bottom of the planting hole and also side-dressed the seedlings with compost. This sun garden plot also has some spinach and green onions growing in between the braccias. The groundhog has not found the sun garden yet, so I am hoping that these veggies are safe. He ate all the braccias in the sq foot garden.

I weeded, respaced, and composted the cold frame lettuce and spinach. I could not be happier with the health and vibrancy of these. Not a bug hole in site, and big thick spinach leaves. These are much, much better than any spinach I have ever grown before. The romaine lettuce is also top notch. Some of those heads are approaching 1/2 size. One head now will give us a full family salad.

I dropped a few radish seeds in the corn row of the sun garden in order to keep the succession planting moving along. My radishes took a hit from the groundhog last week.

I hilled up the potatoes for the first time. They look wonderful and seem to grow 6 inches a day.

I planted some foxglove, delphinium, and rhubarb inside in homemade seed starter mix. I had previously started all these seeds inside in January and it is looking like that was way too early. The seedlings started strong and were ready to transplant long before the outside temps were ready. Then they just got weak and leggy inside. I doubt any of the transplants that we tried will survive. So we are trying again.

The harvest is up to 6.5 pounds for the season. Asapargus, spinach, lettuce and onion tops are being harvested daily. As you can see in the photo, we are also harvesting cut flowers including iris, lilac, azelea, and bleading heart