Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Well we had our first frost of the year on Monday the 19th of October. That was right on schedule as our region's average first frost date is October 20th. It wasn't a really hard frost, but it did whack our remaining peas. The lettuce and greens are still doing ok. I still haven't set up the cold frame for the winter. This should put a spur in my side to complete that project and protect my remaining veggies.

I planted a garlic bed this week. We ordered a set of garlic from Seed Saver's Exchange. This was our first order from this organization, after enjoying a hand-me down catalog from another gardening friend. They have the most unique, organic, heirloom stuff you are ever going to see. Toss in the fact that they are a non-profit with a unique mission, and you know I am going to be a fan. We ordered a variety called Chrysalis Purple. It is a hardneck - dependable, excellent flavor, large heads, yada, yada - you know how those catalogs make everything sound perfect. Anyway we got 5 bulbs with about 8 cloves per bulb. This order cost us a pricey $24 - $15.50 plus $8.50 for fed-ex shipping. Yikes that is just too much.

I planted them with the help of Carter and Quinn in the High wall garden. This garden gets full sun in the spring and then the sun tapers a bit in the summer with some blockage from nearby trees. This bed held green manure in the spring followed by tomatoes in the summer in 2008. My tenative plan for next year is garlic and spinach early followed by heat loving summer veggies - cantaloupe perhaps.

To prepare for the planting me and the boys turned the soil, raking out the white clover that I had undersown along with the tomatoes. This soil was still very rough. Not too long ago it held evergreen trees and shrubs and black plastic covered with decorative stones. There are still many stones and tree roots competing for space in this plot. I added to the mess by throwing in 5 or 6 large buckets of not quite broken down compost. My planting instructions said garlic likes lots of organic matter. After planting the cloves about 8 inches apart, we spread a thick layer of straw on top.

This is our second attempt at planting garlic. We put some storebought (not seed variety) garlic in the ground last fall. We got some production, but nothing to write home about. What we ended up harvesting were essentially slightly larger versions of the cloves that we planted. None of the garlic produced full bulbs with multiple cloves. The taste was fine, but the quantity and quality was poor.

One note: You can buy garlic pretty cheap in the store already minced in a large jar. It is so easy and convenient to throw into food. I can't see us replacing that conveniance even if our garlic production is wonderful. I think these bulbs are destined for roasted garlic appetizers.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Garden Goals - Looking Back

At the beginning of the garden season, I made some goals. Now it is time to look back and see how I did at achieving those goals.

  1. Don't buy nursery stock. Start everything from seed this year. - Well I achieved this goal, but the results weren't perfect. As I reflect, there were two seed starting screw-ups this year. The first was with the peppers and eggplants. I had a lot of trouble getting them started and by the time they sprouted it was later than I wanted. That late start and the cool summer made for a much later and smaller pepper crop than last year. The other seed starting do-over was with some of my fall succession plantings. I tried to get spinach, beets and green beans started many times in July to no avail. I either need to start those fall plantings indoors in a controlled environment or try some outdoor planting tricks (board over row). Those fall planting mistakes are going hurt our four season harvest and early spring spinach production.
  2. Better variety - Last year was marked by too many romas, and hot peppers and not enough of everything else. I want Mellons, rhubarb, beans, zukes, onions, potatoes, brussel sprouts - and much much more this year. - This goal was partially achieved. We had a much larger variety this year than last, but as I revisit this list, there were several vegetables on it that we didn't harvest (zukes, mellons, brussel sprouts). The groundhog took the mellons. A fungus took both zuke plantings. And I planted the brussel sprouts too late and in the wrong spot. We won't be harvesting a single sprout this year. All that being said, I am pleased with our variety this year. We harvested 18 non-leafy, non-herb veggies this year. Add to that the lettuce varieties (approx 5), and you have quite the variety. The best proof of our variety was the fact that we really never go tired of eating any single vegetable. Each night was a different tast. Last year I didn't want to see another darn tomatoe.
  3. Extend the season - I hope to look back on this season and be able to point to some tangible evidence that I successfully extended the season. - Success. We had our first garden salad on a 20 degree day on March 22nd. That is early. Also - my cold frame was not fully functional until early in March, so it didn't have the benefit of a fall planting of spinach, carrots, and winter tolerant kales and lettuces. As of today, our cold frame is filled with just such veggies. I expect that we will be harvesting these for little salads and soup add-ins all winter long. Season extension was not just a modest success - it was a huge success.
  4. Crop rotation/succession planting - Success. The succession planting worked very well, but not in the way I envisioned. I pictured a steady, regular supply of beats all season long because of succession planting. And boy did I try. But once I got past the first spring crop of early veggies (beats, spinach, carrots), I had a hard time getting the second and third plantings to take. Where succession planting really thrived was planting different veggies in the vacated spot of an earlier veggie. The whole garden was producing something the entire year. And green beans and peppers are the perfect veggies for late planting. I'll defer a crop rotation discussion till next year. I need to see if I am able to stick to my rotation plan.
  5. Enough Compost - Super-Success. I can't say enough about compost. If you don't beleive me go back and look at the 17 posts where I mention the stuff. My compost operationg is darn near perfect. The stuff heats up, it doesn't smell, it looks good, and it breaks down fast. To top it all off, we have had enough.
  6. No Hose Watering - Success. Seven rain barrels did the trick. We only watered with the hose for a two week period in the midst of a big drought.
  7. Compost Tea - Not so good. I tried it, but didn't love the results. I didn't get fancy making my compost tea. All I did was put a burlap sack of finished compost in one of my rain barrels. Most experts recommend some sort of aeration technology. Well you know I wasn't going to do that! My tea got smelly and nasty looking after a couple of weeks. The compost worked its way out of the sack and gummed up the watering cans. After one barrel of tea, I abandoned this goal.
  8. Family - The whole family was certainly involved in the garden and in the yard, but a new infant and a flower/veggie segregation of duties meant that Sarah and I were rarely working side by side. This can always be better.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Brocoli Post

Historically - I have had two problems with brocoli. 1. I never am quite sure how to spell it? Is it two c's, two l's? Who knows? Internet be darned - I ain't looking it up. 2. Too little garden production. Well - I still don't know how to spell it, but after this year I am no longer complaining about brocoli's garden vigor.

The best I can tell from looking back at my brocoli posts, this year's crop was started from seed indoors on 2/24 and transplanted to the sun garden on 3/17. The brocoli and cabbage shared a row in the sun garden - "the bracias row". My original post mentions 15 brocoli seedlings, but I thinned this original planting down to about 10 mature plants. currently there are 5 plants out in the garden and they are still producing. We planted a variety called Green Goliath. It was from RH Shumway.

Our 2009 harvest chart has our brocoli haul at 12 pounds, but I am guessing that is a little light. Brocoli starts out with a huge head. My notes say that the first harvest yielded heads that weighed almost a pound. My chart says the first brocoli harvest was approx 6/5. That was approximately 2.5 months from garden transplant to first harvest. The follow-up side shoots are much smaller and lighter. We have been harvesting side shoots steadily since early July and they are still producing. I am estimating that we harvest sides shoots once per week at about 1 pound total. I didn't begin charting weight by vegetable until very late in the season, so I'm not sure exactly what the haul was this year. The bottom line: We have been harvesting brocoli steadily for 4 months already and I bet it will be one of the last veggies that we harvest this year. It is a long and steady producer.

Another great trait about brocoli is the fact that it starts so small, grows slow and ends up big. It is a perfect crop for early season companion planting. This year I interplanted lettuce and spinach with the brocoli. Therefore one brocoli row yields much more than just the broc harvest.

Well how does it taste? Delicious. Our primary use has been in salads, although we did get enough for quiches, side dishes, pizzas and some modest freezing.

What would I do differently?

  1. I would plant more. Why share a row with brocoli and cabbage? Brocoli needs it's own home. This year's 8-10 productive plants should double to 15-20 next year - assuming I can find the space. It is very popular with the kids and adults in our family and is also very versatile in the kitchen (unlike cabbage). It is also extremely healthy.
  2. Don't worry about succession planting brocoli. Just start the seeds indoors in mid February and plant outdoors in mid-March. It produces well all season, so why bother with succession planting. The only thing succession planting does is stagger the main shoot harvest a little. But if you hope to freeze some brocoli than this is not important.
  3. Don't be fooled by the July dry period. In the heat of the summer the brocoli production falls way off. I was fooled this year and I actually pulled and composted three plants in late July. I replaced these empty spots with broc transplants that I had in the cold frame, but these guys never reached maturity. No matter how bad the mid-summer brocoli looks, just keep weeding, composting and watering. It should rebound and be producing again soon.

Bottom Line: Brocoli was definately a Stacy Garden 2009 success story, and has earned a prominent place in our 2010 garden plans.