Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Gardening Notes

This has been our second year gardening in our new home. I'm still figuring out what will work here and what won't. This year we cleared and planted the largest garden bed I have ever worked. And consequently, we've eaten much more homegrown produce than we ever have before. Some things have worked out great, and others not so much. Mostly this is due to my own mistakes, inexperience, and inattention. I overstocked the garden with too many plants; I didn't know exactly how many hours of sunlight each part of our new garden bed would get; and I definitely didn't do enough proactive weed control.

I keep telling myself that I need to sit down and make some garden records so that I'll have them handy in mid-winter when it's time to plan next year's garden. But summer is such a busy time for a gardener in my part of the world that I keep putting it off with the best of intentions. So I'll take a stab at outlining some notes right here:

Onions. We need to plant them next year. A lot of them. Onions are one of the very few fresh foods we're still buying from the farmers' market and the grocery store. We use them constantly in our cooking. I need them to prepare my tomato sauce for canning. If we had our own supply, I'm not sure we'd go to the store more than once a month. I've resisted onions until now because I've had mysteriously poor results with root crops. Everyone tells me they're easy to grow. It just seems like I have no natural affinity for things that grow under the earth. I need to work on that.

Tomatoes. I overplanted this year. Our tomato plants were like overgrown, surly teenagers with in-your-face attitudes. They're obstructionist. They took over the neighborhoods of other plants, and they didn't take the hint from all the pruning I've done. Next year, I really need to rein it in on the number I plant. I'm going to say 4-5 paste tomatoes for sauce; 4-5 beefsteaks for eating and sauce supplementation; and two cherry tomato plants. They also need to be moved into a more central part of the garden to give them more sun. Most importantly, I'll space them all at least five feet apart in every direction.

Squash and melons. These suckers just take up an enormous amount of real estate in the garden. We're enjoying the sugar pumpkins, but given that they don't keep as well as most winter squash, we've really got too many of them. Also, I need to start them later so that they mature when the weather is starting to turn cool. Summer temperatures shorten their keeping time. So a late May or even June planting for next year. The jack-o-lantern pumpkins did just fine. But we could do more with the amount of space they hogged up. The melons produced very little and should probably get the ax, even though we're fond of them. Next year I'll probably cut it back to two sugar pumpkin plants and leave it at that. I'll be strongly tempted to plant a few watermelons though, so that's something I'll have to struggle with.

Beans. Yes, these were remarkably easy to grow, even if they did take some insect damage. I don't care for green beans, so we grew Cherokee Trail of Tears beans for soup. I plan to save some of the harvest to re-plant next year. Unless we hate the beans when we turn them into soup, of course. But how could a bean be bad? Also, I'm going to add another heirloom bean to the line up: the Hutterite Soup bean, which is plump and white. Both varieties will be given taller supports to grow up so they get all the sun and space they want. It's nice to be able to allot more space to a plant that doesn't mean a bigger footprint in the garden. The beans will get more vertical space, and provide a light sunscreen to the lettuces.

Lettuce. I allotted too many square feet to lettuce and really didn't do anything at all about planting a late summer/early fall crop this year. Next year, I will try to summon the will to plant a fall crop. And the only space I'll give the lettuces will be under the bean poles. It should be enough. I'll probably stick with the many seed varieties I already have. I like a very diverse bowl of greens, and the darker the better, for my tastes.

Potatoes. I've been very happy with this year's potato crop, my first ever. Now I just need to figure out how exactly I should store my seed potatoes for next year. (Any hints, readers?) I'm going to try the suggestion of planting my potatoes in buckets next year. I'm collecting 5-gallon buckets when we dumpster dive, though we aren't finding as many as last year. And I've also asked friends and family that keep indoor cats to save me the buckets that their kitty litter comes in. The upside of this will be that the potatoes will be much, much easier to mound so that they produce better - just add more dirt to the bucket. And their greens won't trail all over the garden quite so much. Harvesting will also be a cinch: simply dump out the bucket. The downside is more watering than this year, since the potatoes won't be able to sink roots into the earth.

Kale & Chard. We sure do loves us some kale. And we like our chard too. But next year some refinements are definitely in order. First off, the two plants will be well separated, so that I can liberally dose the kale with my homemade bug spray. This year it's been a struggle to keep the spray off the interplanted kale, which just shrivels up whenever it gets hit with this spray. Also, I've found it very much a hassle to clean the chard. It really takes quite a bit of doing. The kale takes a lot less work to clean, and we prefer it to chard. So probably less chard will be planted next year.

Leeks. We've barely harvested any leeks yet. They are a very long season crop and they've done very well. We may cut back slightly on the number we plant if we'll also have onions. But we'll definitely still plant them. They're fantastic in soups and they can stay in the ground a long time.

Garlic. I've already taken steps to plant more bulbs this fall (ack! just a couple weeks from now!) than I did last year, by setting aside a larger number of cloves from this year's harvest. We've been eating our garlic since early in the summer, and we have at least a few more months' supply laid in. But clearly we need more. The plan is to increase our yields and our re-planting stock over the next few years until we have as much as we can eat before it starts to sprout.

Ground Cherries. These plants volunteered so enthusiastically in our garden that we're strongly considering planting a few of them deliberately next year. Given how well they did with no help at all from me, I imagine they'd be very productive if we gave them their own bit of earth. I also like the fact that they are still producing in mid to late September.

Bush zucchini. Too many plants this year. Next year no more than three, and that's probably too many. And I now have a hot tip on fighting the powdery mildew that attacks the leaves of all my squash plants: well diluted milk, sprayed directly on the leaves, and reapplied after rains.

Asparagus, Rhubarb & Jerusalem Artichokes. I've procrastinated and procrastinated about starting an asparagus bed for so many years. Partly it was because we were never settled long enough in any one place for me to expect to see a return on my efforts. (Asparagus plants take three years to produce in good quantities.) Also, we had a cat who loved asparagus and would not take no for an answer.So I figured he'd devour any early asparagus shoots that came up the first or second year, thereby damaging the young plant. Sadly, he died at the age of seventeen earlier this year. (He's still alive in this picture, if you can't tell.) The silver lining of his death is that it may finally be time to start my long dreamt of bed. Rhubarb is another perennial vegetable, and I'm very much in the mode of work once, reap many times. I would need to make an effort to find ways of enjoying rhubarb, because thus far it has not been one of our favorites. But I'm willing to give any perennial vegetable a fair shake, given the potential returns. Jerusalem artichokes are another perennial vegetable that I'd like to try. I'm pretty sure I've eaten them before, and like them.

Peppers. We need a lot more poblano/ancho peppers. And we need to pick them earlier next year to encourage better production. The peppers, I'm afraid, got ignored for a while there simply because they could be. Other squeaky wheel garden residents demanded our attention. But we really like these peppers, especially when we smoke them with our apple wood chips, or roast them and stuff them, and we should have more than three plants next year.

Eggplant. Though we both like eggplant, we didn't grow any this year. My husband wants to grow some, and they should do well in our area, which features very hot summers. We plan to try a long, thin Asian variety and one of the Italian "graffiti" types as well, two plants of each sort so that we can see how they do.

Beets & Parsnips. We need more of both of these root vegetables, and I really want to work on two separate crops of the former. We love beets, in borsch, salads, and pyttipanna, and they are mostly trouble free crops. They'll store well too if we have an abundant fall crop. We enjoy parsnips, and I simply adore the fact that they can be ignored until the frost sets in, when everything else in the garden is done. Definitely we need more of both of these next year.

Culinary Herbs. I added a couple of perennial herbs to the garden this year: thyme and oregano. We already had sage, and I transplanted chunks of our chives to new locations. I would love to find a tasty variety of rosemary that is hardy for zone 6. We've had no luck at all with bringing rosemary inside and keeping it alive through the winter. Of course I will continue to grow basil next year, and I will plant more of the purple varieties which did so well for me this year.

Fruit Trees. Even though we eventually plan to build a home on a separate piece of land, we're looking ahead with serious jitters, given the economy these days. So we're considering hedging our bets and replacing some of the non-edible landscaping on our property with dwarf fruit trees. We have a black cherry tree (no edible fruit), an old white lilac, and a star magnolia that could all be cut down and replaced with cherry or pear trees. It would be a shame about the old white lilac, but it only flowers briefly each year and it occupies a prime location as far as sun exposure goes. The black cherry is tall, shades much of the yard, and if it comes down in a storm it'll damage the garage. So it's a prime candidate for cutting. The star magnolia gets only so-so sun in its location, but we could trim another tree to give it more exposure. I like the idea of having cherries and pears because the fruit will come in either before or after the bulk of the garden produce.

In general, I'm looking to spread the effort of harvesting out a little more in time. August was a bit too frantic for my taste, with trying to keep up with the harvest. I'd also like to get more serious about keeping a record of how much I harvest of each crop, which goes against my wing-it tendencies. Further, I would like to put more thought and effort into root cellaring or some other long term storage that requires little energy input. I would like to be able to feed ourselves with homegrown produce over the winter months so far as possible. A small hoop house may also be a consideration for next year. The ultimate goal is to grow what we eat and eat what we grow.

-Well, there are my late summertime thoughts on next year's garden. We'll see where my head's at around the middle of February when cabin fever is at its worst.


Anonymous said...

The great thing about blogging for the blogger is she can look back on lists like this: they certainly do help jar your memory.

Regarding onions. I had a post this spring about what we do to keep us in onions. Here it is: if it gets cut off just go to my site and search for "Consider the Onion" and you should find it

The one thing I didn't note in that post is that I sow onion seeds indoors (these become my bigger storage onions) and outdoors, twice. First sowing outdoors is in April, second in July...these keep us going now, and therefore I don't raid the storage onions until the snow flies.

Otherwise, it looks like you've done well, Kate! There is always something I wish I grew more of...though maybe not this year as I am still buried. Argh.

It's me said...

Two questions:
1) So I can just go get any potatoes from the store and let them grow eyes and then plant them in the spring? How early? We normally plant after memorial day here (and that's usually a little early)

2) Care to send some beans this way? Do you think they would grow in zone 4? And all I would have to trade would be dill seed, and heaven knows nobody needs that!!!! :)

Ramavich said...

Great overview of all your work! I'm so sad, I had another bad producing tomato year. We moved 2 years ago and my old house had the perfect tomato-growing location! Though we are excited about the 3 pumpkins on our volunteer pumpkin plant taking over the backyard out of the compost pile :)

Would love to see a photo of your whole garden, to see it in context and just how big it is.

dont_tempt_me said...

After reading your notes, with my glass of red wine in hand, I have to admit I also had a horrible year in the garden. Mostly because I rushed off to FL for an emergency visit and then I came home to my in-laws (they were here for a month) from Germany.

Just before I went to FL my stalks of corn (with 4-5 ears of corn on each stalk) were almost ready for picking! I was so disappointed to miss that crop especially with all the water I put into it (LOL) but I instructed my husbgand to share it with our neighbors. I hear they it was the best corn they ever had. Needless to say, I have mixed emotions about that.

The tomatoes were just okay this year, I am also in a new home and unfamiliar with the grounds. I planted them too close together and they just took over here. I guess they liked the soil here. Note to self, plant 4-5ft apart next year.

All I have to say about the raddishes, horrible!

Leeks, still waiting to harvest and too close together.

Onions: I had a great crop of white and red although I would also plant more next year!

Tons of peppers but very small, I am not sure what went wrong here.

The cukes never really took off, they ripened and yellowed before I could even get them to a decent size (and shape).

Japanese Eggplants were okay but they never turned that great purple color.

I blame all my failure on my lack of attention to the garden this year, I had way too many distractions. Next year will be better as you know, I have decided to put in the green house (as opposed to the chicken coop). Crossing my fingers.

I wish I was nearly as good as you in writing but you get message, right?

I love your blog, Kate!

Best regards,

Dont_tempt_me (aka Michelle)

Kate said...

El, thanks for pointing me toward your onion survey. I'm going to have to read over it a few times, but thanks for adding your further notes here. From what I understand, you sow early indoors, transplant those, and then let those get really big, then those are the ones you store. Have I got that right?

Meadowlark, I'm really no expert on potatoes. This was my first year growing them. But I know some people who have planted store bought potatoes and gotten a crop. I've also heard that store potatoes are treated with something that discourages them from sprouting. As for the beans, I would be happy to send you a small number if you send me a self-addressed padded mailer. No offense meant, but I hate dill, so I'm not in the market for dill seed. Respond to this comment, and I'll send you an email with my mailing address if you're interested.

Ramavich, we had a volunteer jack-o-lantern pumpkin in the brush pile last year. I'll see if I can dig up a picture of the garden when it was in full swing. Right now it looks pretty bleak since so many things are over and done with.

Michelle, thanks for your kind words. Inattention is really a killer for the garden. I had to go away for three short trips this year, fortunately never during the height of the season. That's one reason I was so impressed with those ground cherries. They did their help with absolutely no help from me. Nice to hear another gardener's notes, even if you're disappointed with your turnout.

cheers to all,


It's me said...

Thanks Kate! I'll see what I have that I could send your way. That ISN'T dill!!! :)

I can be reached at meadowlarkgurl (always the word at!) gmail (dot) com

Anonymous said...

Yep, Kate, that's right. The second sowing of onions (first outdoors) lead to small-ish onions and the 3rd sowing are the tiny ones that I leave in place in the greenhouse to make onion sets for next year. (I don't thin those so they stay small.) Anyway it makes for a pretty varied palette of onions for the year of eating. Otherwise I would simply be bored with just storage onions.

Kate said...

Thanks again, El.