Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Full Worm Moon

March's Full Moon is called the Worm Moon, which is a bit better fit here than the snow moon last month. It's got a nice garden theme, named after the earthworms that should be active in the warming soil by this time. I have seen some, so I decided that's a good moon name.

I think from now on I'm going to do a general garden update each full moon. That will give me a nice, easy to remember, regular interval to keep track of my garden's progress. I haven't done a general overview of my garden since early February, and by now a lot has changed. The days are getting noticeably warmer, for one thing. It's 83 degrees F right now. I'm really looking forward to the summer produce like tomatoes and squash. Not so much the summer heat.

Speaking of tomatoes, I've now got all of them planted except the Yellow Pears, which will be planted soon. I'm planting them in the two foot border around the garden. I like the idea of looking out the bedroom window to a wall of tomatoes. I'm going to end up with about 30 tomato plants. I hope that's enough! It seems like ages since I've tasted a home-grown tomato, and I plan on preserving lots of salsa, pasta sauce, dried tomatoes, and maybe try something new like ketchup. Considering all the tomato products I eat, I figure it's not possible to grow too many tomatoes.
Two sides of my garden are against the chain link fence, so I am planting vining crops along it. These are scarlet runner beans I got in a seed swap on Garden Web this past winter. I've never grown scarlet runner beans before, but they're supposed to be pretty amazing. They're in the same genus but a different species (Phaseolus coccineus) than the bean most people around here think of when they think of beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). The seeds were large, the size of lima beans, and strikingly colored, black with purple markings. They're supposed to grow long vines with beautiful scarlet flowers and the beans are edible in both the green and shelled stage just like common beans. One problem is they supposedly don't like excessive heat, which may be bad news for me. I'm hoping I'll at least get a decent crop before it really heats up, and maybe if I can keep the vines alive through the summer, I'll get another crop when it cools down in the fall. To cover my bases, I'm also going to grow the other members of the genus Phaseolus, the common bean (I've got several varieties both pole and bush), lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus), and the tepary bean (Phaseolus acutifolius). Lima beans and tepary beans are supposed to be more heat tolerant than either common beans or runner beans.

What can I say? I like growing beans. They're an instant gratification crop, as far as gardening goes (if you can call anything in gardening "instant gratification"). The seeds are large and easy to sprout, the plants grow quickly, and they come in an endless variety.

In the above picture, you can also see that the Bermuda grass has come out of dormancy and is trying to grow from the next door neighbor's yard into the garden here. Have I mentioned Bermuda grass is evil? I sense a big problem coming in a month or two, even though I'm doing my best to pull this stuff up and zap it with my vinegar and orange oil organic weedkiller stuff. I'm really tempted to resort to Round-Up.

I've got some more seeds planted that haven't sprouted yet (probably because it hasn't rained since I planted them). The plot in the foreground has Bowling Red Okra. Behind that, along the fence, the lima beans are planted. The lima beans are a pole variety, King of the Garden, left over from when I last had a garden years ago. I'm not sure if the seeds are still good, but I'm giving them a chance.

I'm trying a strategy with my seeds where I don't water them when I first plant and leave Nature to do that. It's hard for me to keep newly planted seeds well-watered artificially in dry weather (guess I'm not patient enough to water them enough to keep them evenly moist), so I'm trying just letting the seeds sit and wait in the soil until it rains and gives them a really good soaking. The worst thing that can happen to a new planting is to have the seeds just start to sprout, and then dry out before they've gotten a deep enough root. Dry seeds are durable, and mature plants have some water reserves, it's the little newborn sprouts that are the most delicate. I'm trying to get used to watering as little as possible in anticipation of another drought year, trying not to "pamper" my plants too much. The soonest rain forecast is this Friday. The seeds should be able to hold out until then. I have been watering the newly planted tomatoes and other young plants that look like they need it with water from the rain barrel. So far I haven't used any city water for irrigation, but I don't know how long we can hold out.

To the right on this plot we have my lettuce, which is much bigger since the last picture I took of them. Aren't they beautiful? Good enough for a flower bed. They've completely filled in the space between them, which is what I wanted. I try to plant things closely so they form a complete canopy over the soil, which shades it and conserves water (this principle is used in square-foot gardening and other intensive planting methods). I've been hand picking lettuce, but even this small patch is too much for me to eat, and Daniel is not much into lettuce, or other vegetables for that matter. Actually, I'm not that much into lettuce either. Salads have never been my favorite vegetable serving option, though having something more interesting than the iceberg lettuce, carrot, and thousand island dressing salad of my childhood does help. I've also been putting lettuce on any sandwiches I make, but my lettuce patch is still getting by relatively un-grazed. Maybe I should start giving it away to people.

To the left in this plot you can see little red plants. Those are Bull's Blood Beets. I hope they do all right. Like most root crops, beets are cool weather plants, so I hope I haven't planted them too late. Years ago I got a summer job at the Austin Farmer's Market, and I was able to take home a bunch of extra produce. One week it was a CRATE of beets! I made enough pickled beets to last me a couple of years and also discovered that beets are really good roasted. Bull's Blood is a variety of beet that has red tops instead of green like most beets. You can supposedly dye Easter eggs pink by boiling them with these red beet tops (and probably dye other things as well, like fabrics), but I don't think my beets will be big enough for that in time.

WHEN is my garlic going to be ready?! I got the garlic sampler from Seed Saver's Exchange last fall. It came with 10 varieties of heirloom garlics. They seem to be growing great. This variety here, Chet's Italian Red, is HUGE. I've noticed that the softnecks are a bit bigger than the hardnecks (at least above ground where I can see). I have heard that softnecks do better in warmer climates than hardnecks, but the variety pack came with both, and who knows what they look like underground right now. I'm getting impatient because the garlic at the grocery store SUCKS. I have to pick though it carefully to find any heads that don't have black mold or soft (and therefore, rotten) spots, and even then sometimes I get home and open up a head of garlic to find mushy, rotten cloves inside.

I eat a lot of garlic, so I can't wait until I can harvest my own. I'm also very curious to find out which of my 10 varieties do the best in my climate and make the cut to be grown next year. I read that I'm supposed to wait until the leaves are 75% dead. If you pull it too early (like my CSA farmer does often), the cloves haven't fully developed yet and you'll get a solid bulb more like an onion (which is still usable but doesn't store well once you open it up). If you leave it in too late, the cloves will fall apart getting ready to grow into separate plants (I guess this is how garlic reproduces "in the wild"). You want to pick it so the bulb has individual cloves, but they're still held tightly together.

So I've got to wait, because my garlic leaves hardly look dead at all, maybe the two at the bottom are a little on the yellow side, but that's about it. Patience!

My spring planted peas are still small, and my fall planted peas are flowering, but no pea pods found yet. I'm also getting impatient with these, because peas don't like hot weather, so I need a crop before then. The variety is Tall Telephone. I've never grown this variety before, so maybe it's just not a good one for my area. The pea variety I've grown before was Dwarf Grey Sugar, a type of "snow pea" (flat, edible podded peas you see in Chinese food), and they always did great. Definitely have them on the list to plant next year. Tall Telephone still has a chance to impress me, but I keep thinking if I had planted DGS, I would have had pods by now.

I'm disappointed in my carrots so far. In fall I planted a variety called Tonda di Parigi from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I can't remember why I got that variety, besides it being a round carrot, which is better for heavy soil than long, skinny carrots. Anyway, I planted them in fall and ended up getting two or three decent carrots, and a lot more split, rotten, or partially chewed up carrots. At least, they looked chewed up. Not sure what critter eats carrots underground. I really like carrots, and would love to be able to grow them, but I've never been very successful at it.

I got a few more varieties of carrots in the winter seed exchange, and these pictured are some Chantenay carrots I planted earlier this year. They aren't round, but are still supposed to be short and stubby. I hope I get some before it gets too hot.

I also planted some Harris Model Parsnips with the carrots. That was another pack of seeds I got from the seed exchange, but I wasn't sent very many seeds, and a lot of them didn't germinate, so I ended up with only four or five plants. In the picture the carrots are the ones with the feathery leaves, and the parsnips are the ones with the broader leaves. If these parsnips do make it up to a decent size, I might just save them for seed instead of eating them, so I'll have a good supply of fresh seed to plant this fall. Besides, they're best when grown in cold weather, so these may end up bitter anyway. I think parsnips are an under appreciated vegetable in this country. They're a sweet root vegetable (at least when grown in cold weather) that can be cooked in similar ways to carrots or sweet potatoes, though they don't taste exactly like either of those. I think they're really good roasted. Maybe by next winter I'll be able to harvest some to eat. No more collard greens for me, because they're bolting. Good, because I'm sick of winter greens. I've been getting collard greens, lettuce, and chard from my garden, plus more collards, chard, mustard greens, kale, lettuce, spinach, and arugula from my CSA. Yes, greens are good for you, but every stir fry I've had for months has had mustard greens in it, I just used up all that Italian green and bean soup I made and froze, and I've been making side dishes of Southern style braised collards or Italian style sauteed garlicky greens (depending on what would go with the meal) every chance I get. Oh, and last night for dinner we had chard, mushroom, and artichoke heart lasagna for dinner. I made two and froze one.

Greens just grow so well here all through the winter, you could eat them for every meal and still have extra. By late winter and early spring I'm sick of them, and would really like to have some eggplant or zucchini or bell peppers instead. Oh well, this is what eating seasonally is like.

I'm letting the collards go to seed and then I'll collect the seed to plant next time, since I'm out of seed now. One day I'd like to save most of my own seed for all my vegetables.

The potatoes are still doing well. They got frostbitten by an unusual late March freeze, but are growing back new leaves now so you can hardly tell. These are the Purple Vikings. It's probably about time to bury them in mulch again.

The onions are getting bigger, but I'm still worried they're too small for them to get to a decent size before hot weather. I'm also getting a lot of mortality of newly planted seedlings. I side-dressed them with some bat guano to give them a boost. I don't use much fertilizer (besides compost, if that counts), but I got the bat guano at a local garden center, and the bag said proceeds go to Bat Conservation International, which is a great organization. The bat guano was harvested from Bracken Cave, the largest bat colony in the world, which is found just outside San Antonio, about an hour's drive from here.

In the herb garden in the front yard, the cilantro is bolting, like it does. Cilantro is notorious for bolting early in the year, as soon as it starts to warm up. This is supposed to be the slow-bolting variety too. The annoying thing is that I need cilantro to make salsa, but the other ingredients, tomatoes and peppers, aren't ready until summer. This year I tried freezing a bunch of cilantro before it bolted to get around this problem. I hope it's still tasty by salsa making time. I know I could buy big bunches of cilantro at the grocery store for about a dollar all year round, but it would be neat to use the cilantro I grow myself.

I might as well let them go ahead and do their bolting thing and harvest the corriander seed when they're done.
Also in the front, my potted Meyer lemon tree is flowering. It's got a lot of flower buds on it that are just starting to open. They smell WONDERFUL, and alone would make buying this tree worth it. It gets two crops of lemons a year, and the last winter crop was five large lemons. Not too bad for such a small tree (it's about two or three feet tall). I also have a potted key lime tree, but I don't like it as much. So far I've only gotten one tiny lime off it, and the tree itself has some nasty thorns. I do use its leaves in Thai food as a substitute for Kaffir lime leaves. I have no idea if that's kosher, but I have a key lime, not a kaffir lime, so I use it.

I guess that's all the stuff that's happening in the garden. As you can see, I still have a lot of plants waiting on the porch to go in, including peppers, eggplants, fenugreek, those Yellow Pear tomatoes I mentioned, and I just started some pumpkin seeds in pots. I don't really need to start pumpkins in pots, but I haven't yet decided where I want my pumpkins, and I only got 8 seeds of this variety from the seed exchange, so I'm being extra careful. They're Lady Godiva pumpkins, which are a hulless-seeded variety. I plan on making them into Jack-o-Lanterns in addition to eating the seeds.
I also tried to start some basil seeds, but they were some really old seeds from years ago, so I'm afraid they might not be good anymore. I still have more squash, melon, bean, cowpea, and cucumber seeds to start as well. March through April is a busy gardening time!
I'm proud to announce that I'm almost done digging up my whole garden and laying out the beds and paths! I've only got this one corner left to go. It will still be a while before I've got all the paths covered in black landscape fabric, lined with rocks, and covered with mulch, but at least now anyone can just glance at the backyard and see what's garden and what's lawn. This is certainly the biggest garden I've ever had, so I really hope I can manage to keep up with it.

Lastly, we got ourselves a second rain barrel. It's another pickled jalapeno barrel, and this one needs to be cleaned out because a lot of the pickle juice was left in, with the barrel sitting around in the sun for months, and it smells kind of nasty. We've got a nice spot for it here on the other side of our porch opposite our first barrel. I'd like to have as many rain barrels as possible, but I'm not sure where we can put any more.

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