Friday, June 12, 2009

Detailed Asparagus Post

The second in a series of detailed posts about a single garden vegetable...

Our asparagus patch was planted in early spring 2008. It was started from 50 one year old roots ordered from RH Shumway. They were planted on 4/6/08. Read any book about the proper way to plant asparagus and they tell you to space the rows of roots 4 to 5 feet apart. Well you know I didn't do that. I can't afford that amount of valuable garden space. So I planted all 50 of my roots in a 5 x 7 foot (35 sq foot) raised garden bed in the "chimney garden". That is one serious snub of the garden literature (even for me). In the late fall I clipped the ferns and buried the asparagus bed in about 4 inches of mushroom manure.

So how is my little plot doing? I think is is doing fine. We broke another tried and true asparagus rule and did a small harvest in 2008 (year one). Maybe we harvested a total of 20 spears - just to get a flavor of the veggie. In 2009 (year 2), we harvested a bunch. Our first harvest was 4/1 and our last major harvest was 5/22, so almost two months of harvesting. We got a modest quantity of spears of varying thicknesses. Our typical harvest was once every two or three days garnering between 5 and 7 spears a harvest. Our typical use was to sprinkle some asparagus in our salads, soups or egg dishes. We only did a few "asparagus only" side dishes. In order to have enough asparagus for a side dish, we needed to save up a few days of harvests by putting the cut end in about an inch of water in a cup in the fridge. Once the spears started coming up pencil thin, we stopped harvesting and let them go to fern.

The taste of the asparagus was wonderful. Fresh and uncooked they almost taste like snap peas. It is a nice treat to just snap one off and nibble at it while gardening. They are great cooked also. I got into a habit of putting a little olive oil on them and a spice mixure called emerils essence and cooking them in the broiler for a couple of minutes. They make a nice spicy snack.

Lessons Learned/Planning ahead:
  • We want more asparagus - 7 spears every other day isn't enough for our family of 6. I think I'll buy some more roots next spring and take over the whole chimney garden.
  • The Chimney garden is the perfect asparagus spot because it gets good light in March and April before the leaves break out in the trees. But once the leaves are in this plot gets very little direct light.
  • Do I regret this intense planting? It's hard to say. I guess a little bit. My typical mindset when I do an intense planting like this is that no planting is permanent - I can always transplant for proper spacing at a later date, although this rarely happens.
  • I read once about a harvesting technique that gives you both a spring and a fall harvest. If I want to try this. The way it works is you plant a double plot of asparagus - harvest one half in the spring letting the other plot go directly to fern. Then, late in the summer you cut the ferns off in the unharvested plot. That plot is supposed to send up new spears in the fall, which are quite delicious because of the cooler temps. If I am able to increase my asparagus planting next year, I think I'll give this technique a try.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Detailed Compost post

When I first started reading about compost theory (yes there are whole books on the topic), I was amused by this piece of advice often given... "It is best to build your compost pile all at once so that proper layering may be achieved." I thought this was just plain silly talk. How exactly is this "all at once" layering to be achieved. Do you only weed your garden once a year? Or mow your grass once a season? The ingredients for a compost pile are being collected daily - how is it possible to properly layer your if you don't work in the Rodale Press test garden?

Well I think I have it figured now. The multiple bin system and a commitment to periodically turning your compost allows for the all at once approach with proper layering - within the reality of daily garden work. Here is a detailed post about how I build and manage my compost along with some pictures.

I have a two bin system. In order to talk about the whole process, lets assume we are starting with two empty bins (#1&#2). As garden season gets underway and I begin to accumulate compost ingredients, I toss them in bin #1 - I call this the green manure bin. During this early accumulation phase, I don't really bother with layering (unless it gets smelly - then I toss some dirt on top). In the heart of garden season it takes me about a month or two to fill up this green pile.

Once the green pile is full - that is when the real compost theory is put into action. I prepare to turn, aerate, and layer the green pile from bin #1 into the adjacent empty bin #2. This is a good 3 hour project, but very enjoyable. I begin by placing a 4 inch diameter black pipe with 1/2inch holes drilled in it vertically in the center of bin #2. This pipe will act as a chimney to help aerate the new pile that I am about to create. Another aeration step, and a good way to break down large debris is to layer large sticks as a foundation layer at the bottom of the bin. The purpose of these sticks is to allow for some shifting and air flow into the pile as it begins to break down, so don't lay these babies like sardines in the bottom of the pile. The more catywompus this stick layer is - the better. See photo #1 for pipe and stick layer.

Compost theory says to build your pile with alternating layers of brown ingredients (carbon) and green ingredients (nitrogen). My stick layer is certainly brown, so now it is time to add some green. I am lucky enough to own over 200 linear feet of privite surrounding my property, which needs to be clipped at least twice a year. In order to get my hands on a sufficient quantity of green materials on compost turning day, I can always clip my hedges. The green layer in photo #2 is approx 4 inches of privite hedge clippings.

Next I spread my favorite compost additive (mushroom manure) with it's high nitrogen content on top of that. You can do without the mushroom manure by adding garden dirt or previously decomposed compost. I just happen to live down the street from a mushroom manure supplier and for $14 for a truck load, I splurge. After the first couple of layers I hit the pile with a couple gallons of water. A good compost pile is a slightly moist compost pile. See photo #3.

Next, I start to bring over the partially decomposed stuff from bin #1 - I consider this stuff a brown (carbon) ingredient although who knows exactly. I am always amazed at how much the "green pile" in bin #1 has broken down in a fairly short period of time. The pile I moved over last week had lots of heat and no discernable kitchen scraps and it was only a month old. I move the bin #1 ingredients to bin #2 in approx 4 inch layers - starting at the top and working my way down. As I bring the stuff over, I chop it and mix it break it up. Then I layer it with more nitrogen. Once my pile in bin #2 is about 1/2 full I stop using "fresh green" ingredients like hedge clippings for my nitrogen layer. Instead I just use mushroom manure. Why? Because the compost that you are now moving over from bin #1 to bin #2 is pretty mature and well decomposed. It just needs a couple more weeks of burn to be ready to use in the garden. The mushroom manure is the perfect ingredient to get this stuff fired up one last time without introducing new large clumpy ingredients. See final photo.

That's my compost process. And it works pretty well. I now have about 10 cubic feet of finished compost on the top of my black gold pile in bin #2. I also have a completely empty bin #1 which I can begin to fill with my daily garden clippings. As I use the black gold and work my way down this pile, I will periodically toss various harder to decompose ingredients such as sticks, cardboard, etc over from the black side to the green side. Almost 90% of this pile will be fine to use. Once I reach the large stick layer at the bottom, it is time to start again.

I LOVE Compost!

Long time no post

Recent Activity -
  • Sowed three mini rows of slenderette beans in the sun garden (sun garden now completely planted)
  • Sowed eggplants and peppers (11 total) in both sq foot gardens. These were transplants from the cold frame. They replaced various empty lettuce and spinach spots that had previously been harvested by either human or groundhog.
  • Sowed one grape tomato in a 10 inch pot
  • Sowed 4 - 3 foot rows of carrots in the cold frame. I have had germination problems with my carrots this year. My theory is that I planted them too deep because I feared the cold weather from the early plantings. With this batch I just barely scratched a line in the soil and covered the seeds with 1/8 inch or peat moss. I am hoping for better germination. These rows replaced spinach and lettuce from prior harvests.
  • Sowed one 10 inch pot of carrots. This pot replaced my highly successful January planting of carrots. I am guestimating this pot gave us approx 20 carrots - some as long as 8 inches.
  • Covered lettuce in cold frame with burlap to provide some shade and groundhog protection (this is working well).
  • Attempted to propogate the following Privite, Hydrandgea, rhododendren, impatiens, and holly. I snipped about 6 inches of new growth off each, cut off the lower leaves and planted them in seed starter mix.
  • Thinned the tomatoes planted in the sun garden down to 4 total. They were too tight. There is now approx 18 inches between plants. I caged the two large ones. Unfortunately I am not exactly sure which variety I thinned out. I think I thinned the grape tomatoes - hence the pot planting above.
  • Worked the compost piles - See detailed post to follow. I love the compost piles!
Harvest has been both exciting and dissappointing. The peas have dissapointed. Despite significant growth, three plots and lots of blossoms, I am only harvesting approx 10 peas a day. That is just silly. How many flipping peas do I need to plant for a decent daily harvest? The exciting recent harvest has been the brocoli. We have harvested 4 heads so far. They were each approx 4 inches in diameter and very tasty. I attempted to leave the side shoots and am hoping for significant follow-up harvests. Our total harvest weight now exceeds 24 pounds. Carter is getting a little tired of salads despite my best efforts to change things up with different lettuces and dressings.