Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A Gardening Tangent

Per request of Johnny who wants to see how his seedlings are doing, I thought I'd take a break from talking about our kids and talk about our other project we've been working on this year, gardening! Hopefully this will also serve as a useful resource for me in years to come to look back and see what worked and what didn't.

In an effort to learn some actual useful skills and to provide fresh veggies to my vegetarian wife, I decided to learn how to grow some veggies from seed and to use as organic of growing methods as I could. Early in March I bought a bunch of pots and seeds and started to strategize about what I could grow in this containers on my porch and small backyard of my townhome.

I bought some bags of standard Miracle Gro Potting Soil and planted the following:

  • Long Standing Bloomsdale Spinach

  • Sweet Spanish Yellow Utah Jumbo Onions

  • Tall Top Early Wonder Beet

  • Danvers #126 Carrot

  • Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce

  • Melting Sugar (Snow Peas)

  • Evergreen Bunching Onions

Of that original planting, only the snow peas and green onions made it as I wasn't consistent enough with my watering. That and squirrels kept digging up my seeds.

I also started several seeds indoors with the thoughts of transplanting outdoors. This included the following:

  • Early Snowball A Cauliflower

  • Green Sprouting Calabrese Broccoli

  • California Wonder Peppers

  • Early Long Purple Eggplant

  • Emerald Artichoke

  • Red Cherry Large Fruited Tomato

  • Beefsteak Tomato

  • Roma Tomato

My best friend Johnny (who started his gardening adventure last year) came over and noticed that my cauliflower and broccoli seedlings were way too leggy (long and thin). He thought I was either overwatering on underexposing them to light. I decided to replant those seedlings and installed fluorescent lights above them to give them better light. This time, they started looking a lot better. Sadly, Sarah and I went out of town for the weekend without putting a timer on the light and the broccoli and cauliflower got too leggy and wilty. I decided to just cheat and went over to Kmart and bought some broccoli and cauliflower seedlings that were more grown.

About this time we ended up buying a house and moving to a single family home. We actually have a yard here which meant I could consider putting things in the ground. I did some research and came across a book called Square Foot Gardening. This book focused on intensive gardening techniques in small areas by breaking planting areas into 1 foot squares and determining how many of each plant you can plant in each square. For example, 1 broccoli plant takes a whole square foot while 9 bean plants can be planted per square foot. I also decided to invest some money in building some raised beds and filling with soil. The theory here is that the soil would be better quality (since I was buying it), it would drain better, and it wouldn't get walked on as often and compact the soil so much.

I ordered some untreated cedar wood since it was supposed to last longer and by being untreated removed the possibility of chemicals leeching into the soil. I built 2 3x10 raised beds and 1 4x10 raised beds. I filled them with a mix of 1/6 composted cow manure, 1/6 leaf humus, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 vermiculite. The idea is to allow room for the plants to grow, while maintain moisture and having enough nutrients to avoid using fertilizer. So far so good. I did start a compost pile so next planting I'm hoping to have some nice organic compost to use for that.

This is our backyard. There was a preexisting grapevine that you can see just on the very right of this picture. In those giant containers I planted a 3 Gallon Bluecrop, Sunshine Blue, and Tifblue Blueberries. The Bluecrop have come and gone now, either by us eating them or squirrels being smart enough to push my netting down so they can get at them. I see some rigid wire cages in my future blueberry growing efforts.

This is where we planted the broccoli, cauliflower, and tomato plants. Besides the Roma, Beefsteak, and Red Cherry that I grew from seedlings, I also planted a Roma, a Brandywine, an Orange, a Golden Girl, and a Mini Yellow from leftover seedlings that Johnny had. They're the closest 5 tomato plants in this picture.

In this 4x10 raised bed I directly seeded Blue Lake 274 Bush Garden Beans, Jubilee Watermelon, Hearts of Gold Cantaloupe, Moon & Stars Watermelon, Straight Eight Cucumber, and Georgia Jet Sweet Potatoes. I wish I had taken a picture of the Sweet Potato seedlings as they basically arrived in the mail looking dead. They said plant them and they'll recover and they sure did. I also planted an onion set, some Romaine Lettuce, and some Spinach I got from Nalls as well as a Brussel Sprout seedling I got from Johnny. The spinach wilter faster than I would have liked and I think I planted the Brussel Sprouts too late. I also think that where I planted the watermelon and canteloupe was too shaded and I didn't take enough protective measures from local fauna as the leaves look pretty eaten. So I don't think I'll get any melons this year. I also recently planted another crop of beet, lettuce, and carrots from seed, and they seem to be doing much better this time.

Here you can see the start of a cucumber fruit where the yellow flower has fallen off the tip. I have a trellis in place to support it growing up for now, but I need to get on the more permanent pipe and netting support system.

Of the 10 broccoli and 10 cauliflower seedlings I planted, this is the only one that sprouted. I think I made two mistakes here. The first was that I had a cabbage worm infestation that I went a couple of days without noticing. Those little green worms were hiding everywhere and it took a week of squishing them to get it under control. I had three straight days of pulling 20 worms off these 10 plants. The second problem I had was waiting to long to start them. They prefer cold weather and are hard to grow in the summer. I'll try again for the fall where they can benefit from the hot weather for initial sprouting and then cold weather for budding.

You can see the main head here and a side sprout that I'm pointing too. We actually cut this head off and ate it tonight as some of it started looking yellowish, which is a sign that it could go to seed soon. It's just pretty late in the summer for broccoli.

Here you can see Vanessa planting our corn in May. I planted 4 Golden Cross Bantam Hybrid Sweet Corn per square foot, 2 Black Beauty Zucchini Squash per 3x3 foot area, and 1 Early Prolific Straightneck Yellow Squash at this end of the raised bed. I also planted 2 Aztec Gold Hybrid Sunflowers at the other end.

You can see how big they got within a month as this was taken in the middle of June. Once the corn plants were six inches tall, I planted some pole green beans within 2 inches of them. This is referred to the three sisters combination of corn, beans, and squash grow in the same space. It has been used for hundreds of years by Native Americans as a way to be more efficient in their planting. The beans use the corn as support while they fix nitrogen into the soil for the corn and squash. The squash keep the bottom of the corn stalks cool and the spikiness of them discourages critters from roaming. Right next to them on the patio is my set of Red Alpine and Tristar Everbearing strawberries that I planted in containers.

Here I am showing Vanessa how big her seeds have gotten. We'll see how it goes. Some people think the corn is too closely bunched, but the Square Foot Gardening book says that even though the individual production of each plant will be less, the overall production of the space will be better (4 cobs in a square foot vs. 2-3 for one stalk in a square foot).

Here are some grapes growing on the vine. I've cut down some of the old dead vines, but I really needed to be more proactive about this. I also should put up some netting or paper bags around the fruit as I'm sure the birds, squirrels, and chipmunks will be calling soon.

Here is an interesting grape critter we found today. I guess this is called a Gall and is a corruption of the leaf caused by a gestating insect. Needless to say this was removed from the rest of the plants. Pretty gruesome looking!

Here are the green onions that are flopping everywhere. I probably should thin them, both to eat and to encourage better growth.

Here are what some of the Snap Peas look like after they've grown out of their flower. We've gotten in the habit of just eating them off the plant they're so good. Vanessa likes to eat the seed part and Mommy and Daddy will eat the rest.

You can see the pea container here next to the containers for the peppers and eggplant.

I thought the peppers and eggplants were dying, but they've seemed to have come on strong as of late.
Here you can just make out the pepper buds starting to form.

I also planted some seed potatoes from a catalog online. I planted Yukon Gold and Redskin Potato. Basically you get a bag of "certified disease-free potatoes" cut them up so that each piece has an eye to two, and bury them under soil. Every time you see a sprout, you cover it up with more dirt. I was feeling good about this picture here as I had just covered up the last of the sprouts.

Within a week they looked like this. I guess now I'm supposed to wait until I see white flowers, that lets me know there are potatoes underneath.

I finally got an older tree cut down the other day that was shading part of my yard. Not having time to go get more materials to make more raised beds, I just directly planted some Big Max pumpkin and Table King (Bush Acorn Squash) seeds in the ground.

Finally I thought I'd show you some of the Orange tomatoes that have already fruited. Several of the tomato plants now have fruit on them. I suspect I'll need to do some netting here too in order to keep the birds away.

The next step while waiting for our harvest is to get ready for the fall planting. I installed my fluorescent lights downstairs in the basement and I need to start seedlings for broccoli and cauliflower. I believe I can also do a fall planting of lettuce, spinach, peas, carrots, and beets. I also need to start thinking about more raised beds for next year and start thinking about crop rotation to help the pests and diseases balance out over time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi! I chanced upon your blog by accident and saw your picture about the grape leaf with the galls on it. My family also has a grape plant and our leaves have those same red and green spikes on them. We just wanted a little more information about these "galls" and what you did to get rid of them. Your blog, by the way, was the only place on the internet I could find this information! Thanks!