Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Farewell, Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger is a personal hero of mine. I found out about him when I was a teenager, and always listened to him when I was feeling down. Something about his voice was so comforting.

He didn't write "The Garden Song", but I felt it was appropriate for this blog.

Out of the songs he did write, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?", "If I Had a Hammer," and "Turn, Turn, Turn" seem to be the most famous and popular, but I'm also quite fond of this one...

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Cedar Moon

When the "polar vortex" was visiting North America, we had a couple of nights with some good hard freezes (though in the daytime it always got back up above freezing, as usual). We thoroughly covered up the citrus trees, peppers, and some of the more tender herbs (pineapple sage, lemongrass, and lemon verbena), but I think everybody made it through.

We're now halfway through with the raised beds in the front garden. Two rows done, two more to go. I think they look very nice.

The garlic seems to be doing just fine. I just gave them a good watering, because we haven't had much rain in a while (all the cold fronts lately have been dry ones).

I put my first batch of homemade compost over the potatoes, and they're already poking up through it. The polar vortex hurt them a little bit, but they seem to have already recovered. Next time I mow the grass, I'm going to dump grass clippings on them.

Last year I planted some "multiplier leeks" my CSA farmer gave me, and I thought they died over the summer, but this winter they sprouted back up with several clumps of little leeks. They were in a bad spot, so I dug them up and transplanted them to the front garden. There were lots and lots of them, so hopefully at least a few will make it. Multiplier leeks and multiplier onions both seem to do much better here than their seed-grown cousins. They seem pretty tough and almost impossible to kill.

The two year old peppers got hurt some more by the polar vortex, so now they aren't much more than stumps. But they might make it. I thought they were dead last winter, and once it warmed up in spring, they started growing back. I have been covering them with a frost blanket during every freeze.

The Tall Telephone peas are still doing great, but still no blossoms. Now I'm sure I want to get an earlier variety of pea next winter to fill in the gap while I'm waiting for the Tall Telephone peas to mature. TT is a great variety, but it takes a lot of time growing big vines before it starts thinking about making peas.

The fava beans (on the left) also seem to be doing OK. They were just starting to make some blossoms when the polar vortex hit and knocked them back a bit, but they should recover soon. To the right you see the broccoli.

Meanwhile, the baby nightshades are doing well in their pots. It's almost time to start dividing them up into individual pots. Some of them are starting to get their first sets of true leaves.
Last I'd like to show you the ginger I harvested. I planted this nub of ginger in a pot when it sprouted in my kitchen last spring. It grew some long, grass-like leaves all summer, and we took it in when it froze, but recently the tops just died for no apparent reason. I finally realized maybe it was ready to harvest, like how the tops of potatoes die when they're ready. I dug it out of the pot, and got this nice handful of fresh ginger.
I used a little bit of it in some fried rice to see what it was like, and it's really good. The skin is so soft I can just rub it off with my fingers. It's very tender with hardly any fiber.
I'm going to break up the rest into pieces and plant them to try to get more ginger. I wonder if it would be possible to grow some in the ground. Even though we took it in the house when it froze, the tops died anyway. Maybe taking it in the house made no difference.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year 2014

Time to look at what I accomplished in the garden in 2013, and what my goals are for 2014.

One big accomplishment of 2013 was I finally got made full time at work (well, "full time temporary" at least, which means that could end any time, but at least for now I'm full time), which is good career-wise, but leaves less time for gardening and especially for blogging. I started this blog when I was unemployed and was gardening as a way to do something productive with my time, and then as I got a part time job and then a full time job, and you can see how the posting frequency has gone down. At the bare minimum, I've still been posting at least once a month, which I plan to continue, but I'd rather post at least once a week.

First I'm going to look back at the New Year's Resolutions I made in 2013 and see if I stuck to any of them.

We haven't built a new shed yet, and might not any time soon. Though it's probably not fair for me to resolve to do that, since honestly my husband would be doing most of the work. And he's busy with his own stuff, so it'll happen when it happens. Another more long-term goal would be getting big rainwater tanks and some kind of graywater system to water plants, but it's also probably not realistic to expect that in only one year.

But one thing I did actually accomplish that wasn't on my list was tilling up that area in the front yard in February and starting a second garden there. Both my husband and I think that was a great idea. That area was just a big ugly patch of half-dead grass before, and since we turned it into another garden we've been getting nothing but compliments from neighbors. The soil also seems to be less rocky there.

In April we also planted a bunch of fruit trees in the front yard: Wonderful Pomegranate, Meyer Lemon, Satsuma Orange, Key Lime, and a fig. We ended up getting five lemons and one orange from them this year, and that should only get better as the trees get better established.

I grew potatoes from seed, but only got mini-tubers so far. This year I'll try growing those mini-tubers again and see if I get any full sized potatoes.

I also planted 3 pounds each of Red Pontiac and Purple Viking potatoes, but harvested them way too late. I was busy at the time and thought they could wait, but apparently not. Lesson learned. As soon as the potato tops start to die, those potatoes need to come out before they get chewed up by wireworms.

The sweet potatoes didn't do that great either. I got a few nice looking ones, but the key word here is few. I don't think I put them in a good spot or in good soil. I planted them in the very back of the back garden where the soil is very rocky and it's pretty shady. I'm trying again this year in the front garden with better soil and seeing if that helps.

I didn't bother with row covers on the squash again, but instead planted two varieties that are supposed to be borer-resistant: Tatume and Waltham Butternut. The butternuts were planted in the front and got eaten by deer, but the Tatume in the back did great. Planting resistant varieties may be the best way to deal with borers. This year I'm trying out a different variety of C. moschata called Black Futsu from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. I also might grow some more cushaws, because this fall I finally used up all the squash puree from the big cushaw squash harvest of 2010! That wheelbarrow full of squash gave us enough squash puree to last us for three years!

The beet trial did lousy, but I guess it showed Chioggia did the best. Next time I buy some beet seeds I'll get that variety again, but I'll probably give some of the other varieties a second chance.

The paste tomato trial yielded better results. Opalka did the best, and I still have one more gallon freezer bag full of tomatoes in the freezer waiting to be made into tomato soup. I've been meaning to post about that.

The Lemon Drop peppers that survived the winter had another good crop, once I put up wire to protect them from deer in the front garden. This winter I'm putting protective frost blankets on all my peppers to help them survive the winter again. I wonder how many years I can keep a pepper plant going if it doesn't die over the winter.

2014 Garden New Year's Resolutions:

1. Finish the raised beds in the front garden - After forming these lovely raised beds in the front garden with no sides, just soil hilled up, the neighbor's chickens went crazy tearing them apart. We put rocks around them at first, but I finally decided I wanted to make sides out of cedar. We're about halfway done right now, and they look great. I want to get done with them before it's time to plant spring crops.

2. After the raised beds are done, put a fence around the front garden - There are some good things about having a garden in the front yard, but the chickens and deer are not so good. The deer never go in the back yard (the neighbors' dogs probably help), but they sure love munching things in the front. And the neighbor's chickens from across the street occasionally go into the back yard, but mostly stay in the front and love digging up my garden beds. My husband thinks we could make an attractive fence out of hog panels to keep those critters out. Now, I know that technically you need a super high fence to keep deer out, like 8 feet or so, but it also depends on how motivated they are. Same thing with the chickens. Since they don't bother the back garden because it's inconvenient for them, I hope I can make the front garden inconvenient for them too.

3. Use inoculant on all the legumes - the peas have done OK, but all the other legumes have had really low yields here. Right now I'm growing Tall Telephone peas, Aquadulce fava beans, and Broad Windsor fava beans, and this time I treated them with inoculant. When it gets warm I'm planting Rattlesnake pole beans, Provider bush beans, Chinese Red Noodle yardlong beans, Calico limas, and Pinkeye Purple Hull cowpeas, and they're all getting inoculant too. I hope that does the trick, because I can't think of any other reason why almost all my legumes would be doing lousy here.

Other than that it's just the usual: trying some new varieties of various things, saving some more seed, improving the soil, and learning more and more.