Simpler Living

September 05, 2011

Gardening / Season in Review

This was a bad year for the garden.  The heat killed most of my plants, and also prevented me from going outside and weeding.

Here are the results:

Failures:

  • Tomato (may get a few in the fall - we'll see)
  • Squash
  • Cucumber
  • Rosemary (one potted Rosemary is left, and it doesn't look like it is growing)
  • Worms - I had a nice worm bin going, but the heat killed them, too!

Almost Failures:

  • Canteloupe (had 3 good ones, ants took the rest)
  • Carrots (never got long)
  • Oregano - have some growing in pots and should do something with it

Successes:

  • Peas (early in the season)
  • Green Beans (early in the season)
  • Sweet Potatoes (I think - haven't dug any up yet)
  • Lettuce (3 varieties - Romaine, Webb's Wonderful, and Simpson Elite) - had several cuts from each, and now saving the seeds!
  • Leeks (saved seeds)
  • Garlic
  • Mustard Greens
  • Radishes (though seed-saving was a failure)

Now it's time for fall planting.  Planning to plant:

  • Replanting lettuce from gathered seeds
  • Kale (Red Winter and Siberian)
  • Swiss Chard (white and red)
  • Broccoli (Early Fall Rapini)

I noticed that Amazon sells seeds really cheap ($8/lb for most seeds!)  It amazes me that anyone can make money at that price!  Seed production simply takes a *lot* of garden time.  I wish I had a bigger plot of land to do this on!

I'm also trying growing wheatgrasss without special equipment *or* soil.  We'll see how that works.

By the way - my favorite lettuce so far is the first cutting of Simpson Elite.  The lettuce seems to get more bitter with each cutting.

Interesting web articles about fall planting:

May 14, 2011

Gardening / Notes from the Garden - 2011/05/14

JB

I learned several things this year.  First, the "days to harvest" on a seed packet seems to be *after* sprouting, but it never explicitly says that.  Second, at least in my garden, I need to give the plants another week or two or three after that.  Apparently seed packet writers are optimists.

Very little of the tomatoes that I intentionally planted have done anything, except the Silvery Fir Tree tomatoes.  A few of them are doing well.  We went ahead and bought some tomatoes from The Tomato Man's Daughter.  We also have lots of volunteer tomatoes, though I have no idea what variety they are.

The Mizuna lettuce has *already* bolted and gone to flower.  It did not get nearly as thick as the package indicated.  The package made it look like it might somewhat make a head, but before any major leaf growth we got flowers.

We also got bok choi flowers already.  I think that's because the bok choi is supposed to be in a cooler zone.  I harvested the non-flowering ones and left the flowering ones for seeds, and planted our purchased tomato plants around them.

The turnips that we planted in the late fall and kept covered with milk jugs through winter are flowering.  This might be an easy way to get turnip seeds, and I'm not sure I even need the coverings.  This is my first year harvesting turnip seeds (and it was an accident at that), so I'm not quite sure how long I should wait until I harvest the seed pods.

The peas are doing well.  They did well unstaked, except that in a high-wind situation, they fell over.  I might just add a single stake or two next year so they can grab onto that instead of getting blown over.  It doesn't seem to be hindering production, but who knows.

The beans are doing very little.

The leeks from the winter garden look good.  I can probably harvest them anytime as I have need for them.  I also tasted one of the leaves - yummy! 

I pulled up one of our last four garlics from the winter planting.  I think they are ready.

The lettuce has been going gangbuster this year.  We are eating very well from a variety of lettuces.  I have Simpson Elite, which is doing well, a green Romaine lettuce that is doing well, and a mixed Romaine that is doing well.  It seems to only take a few days from when you cut the lettuce to when it grows back!

The lettuce I ate over winter has bolted and is about to flower.  Yay!  Not the best-tasting lettuce, but if you can harvest lettuce three times over the winter, I'd say that the lettuce is worth keeping, no matter what it takes.

I have several sweet potatoes in the ground, and they seem to be doing well, and several more that I need to get in the ground.

I want to do some guerilla-gardening this year, but need to figure out what to plant.  Maybe my sweet potatoes would be a good way to guerilla garden.

I've been trying my hand at propagation techniques.  I tried to propagate a whole bunch of bush/tree type plants using a rooting hormone.  The only ones that successfully rooted were the Rosemary bushes. 

My carrots seem to be doing okay, though they are growing very slowly.

When I harvested my radishes, they were kind of small - I think I need to give them a few more weeks.  I left three out for seeds, and they got *huge*.  We'll see what next year's stuff looks like.

My beets were beautiful in the backyard, so I transplanted them to the front yard.  Now they are ugly.  Go figure.

My cabbage has started to actually do some growing.  It was basically dormant for a while.

I need to get some pepper seeds and see if germinating them late will give me a decent crop at the proper time.

It's looking like I'll need to plant a bunch of stuff in three weeks - I should have my peas and beans in, my lettuce will probably have run its course, and my turnip seeds should be harvested.  That will open up more than half the garden for new planting.  And, I might have gotten my Leeks harvested, too.

May 02, 2011

Gardening / What your weeds are trying to tell you

JB

I found this link and thought it interesting.  The idea is that you can tell what your soil is like based one the weeds growing in it:

What Your Garden's Weeds are Trying to Tell You

February 27, 2011

Gardening / Winter Gardening Review

JB

Okay, since spring is arriving, I will do my winter gardening review and my plans for next year.  Check here for my winter garden setup.

I planted several things for winter: lettuce, spinach, garlic, leeks, swiss chard, bok choy, turnips, and beets.

What Worked

The lettuce worked great.  I planted Webb's Wonderful Lettuce.  My wife doesn't like the taste (it is bitter), but as a plant, it worked perfectly.  I had at least three harvests from it over the winter.  I certainly will grow it next year, but probably try out other lettuce varieties and see how they work.

The garlic appears to be doing well.  It has a long growing season, and letting it grow over winter seems to be helpful.  However, I haven't grown it at any other time to compare.

What Failed

The turnips and beets were total failures.  The turnip plants grew, but did not produce any bulbs at all.  The beets didn't grow at all.  I may have had more success if I seeded them earlier, but I doubt it.  I think that, if you want, you can leave beets and turnips in the ground over winter to store, but you shouldn't expect them to grow.

What Didn't Worked As Well As I Hoped

Everything else produced *something* but nothing quite what I wanted.

The spinach is only just now getting ready to eat.  So, that means there was no real benefit of winter gardening - it was just sitting there dormant waiting until the weather got warmer to continue its growing.

I planted the bok choy and swiss chard when it was about to freeze, so I shouldn't be surprised that I haven't gotten much from it.  The few bok choy plants that sprouted are almost ready to harvest, but the swiss chard is still in its infant state.  Hopefully we'll get a growth spurt soon.

I don't know what I should expect from leeks.  They are taking a long time, but doing okay otherwise.  I think they have a long growth season anyway, so we may have saved time.  I'll leave them in the ground and see how long it takes to get a full leek.

What I'm Trying Next Year

I think next year I will try:

  • Celery - I've actually heard that December is the optimum planting time for celery
  • More lettuces - I'll keep Webb's lettuce, and add in a few others
  • Garlic - if the garlic matures soon, I'll certainly add mroe in next year
  • I might try growing a "January King" cabbage
  • Kale and Collards
  • Just read about Mache which looks interesting
  • I might try producing a few crops of radishes
Anyway, it's been a fun experiment.  Right now I'm waiting for my lettuce to bolt so I can collect some seeds.  Hopefully it still has enough umph in it to produce some seeds for me :)

November 25, 2010

Gardening / Cheap Year-Round Gardening

JB

This year, I'm trying to garden year-round.  It's a first attempt, and it may not turn out well, but I thought I'd share my experience so-far.  I am, first and foremost, extremely cheap.  So the idea of spending a lot of money so that I could garden in the winter just didn't appeal to me.

But it turns out it doesn't cost as much as you might suppose.

Here is my current setup:

IMG_0678

As you can see, I've just got two half-inch, 10-foot PVC pipes stretched over each other.  I tied them in the middle with some twine.  They aren't really anchored to anything, just pushed down into the dirt next to the raised bed frame.  It's then covered with 4mil plastic sheeting cut to 10x12 sheets, and then anchored down with bricks and logs and whatever I could find.

Anyway, hopefully this will allow enough protection to keep growing well into the winter.  Anyway, it was worth the cost.

Here's the total breakdown of costs of each raised bed and the winter protection:

  • Raised bed (6'x3' using 5/4"x6" boards) frame - $15
  • First load of dirt - $15
  • 2 PVC Pipes - $3
  • Plastic sheeting - $8
So, the beds themselves were $30, and the winter covering was $11.  

July 13, 2010

Gardening / The Tomato Experiment

JB

Today I embarked on a little experiment.  I noticed last year that if you let tomatoes sprawl out, they would grow roots along the stem.  I wondered if that meant they would easily re-root.

This year, after chopping down the pole beans (which didn't produce *anything*), I decided to devote the space to my tomato experiment.  What I did was trim a bunch of my tomato plants, and plant the trimmings in my new bed.  Having heard that honey can encourage rooting, I dipped many of them in honey.  I also took some longer cuttings and some shorter ones.  We'll see how well they all do. 

I'll try to post pictures as I go along.

June 13, 2010

Gardening / Wide-Row Planting - My New Favorite Gardening Technique

JB

Last year I had really bad output from my garden, as well as the year before that, with the small exception of some tomatoes that grew well.  This year, the garden is much more successful.  I attribute that to three factors:

  1. I started gardening much earlier this year.  I started growing things from seed in my garage in February, and planted mid-March.
  2. I used raised beds for several of my plots.  This keeps the weeds out, and keeps the plants from drowning in our sometimes torrential rains.
  3. I used wide-row planting.

What is wide-row planting?  Another, slightly more descriptive name for it could be "massively overplanted garden beds".  This year, I threw out most recommendations for plant and row spacing, and just flooded the garden beds with seeds.

The results have been phenomenal:

  1. Grow more in less space
  2. Don't have to stake pea plants
  3. Less bother with weeding

Less maintenance - more food!

Here's my wide-row planted pea plants:

100_1274

You might be saying, "but you do have stakes in there!"  That's true, only because I got scared at the last moment and said, "what if they all fall over!?!?  However, let me assure you, that the peas prefer to hang onto each other than the stakes - almost no pea plant is attached!  My pole beans are another story - they like the stakes, though I am curious how well they would do without them. 

In any case, these peas required no staking whatsoever - they just attach to each other and hold themselves up.  And they are producing tons of peas.  I actually think that I under-seeded it, as there are several spots where I didn't get a pea plant, and feel that the space is under-used.

Here is my massively overseeded lettuce:

100_1276

I didn't overseed my collards, but I think I should have.

Here are my overseeded beans.  On the left I have pole beans and on the right I have bush beans:

100_1273

Next year I'm just doing bush beans, and leaving the stakes in the garage.  The pole beans haven't produced anything, while the bush beans were wildly productive.

And then, here are two more beds:

100_1275

The bed on the right has peppers.  It is overseed but not massively so.  I'll have to correct that next year :)  The bed on the left is fairly well overseeded.  It is a 3'x3' bed, and has 6 tomato plants and 3 cucumber plants.  All of which are doing very well (I already got to make pickles from these guys, and the tomatoes are just about ripe).

I also overplanted my radishes, but I've already discussed those.

To get an idea about just how many seeds I planted, for the peas I used a single Burpee 4oz Value Pack for both beds (each 3'x3'), and for the beans I used one value pack for each bed.  I'll probably do two packs for the peas next year, or at least spread them out better.  From looking online, a 4oz packet of seeds will probably have about 300-400 seeds.

Anyway, why waste garden space?  Sprinkle your seeds liberally.  Using 3' rows with a decent walkway between rows will allow you to reach in anywhere you need, and give your plants plenty of companions while they grow.  Consider wide-row planting (i.e. massive overseeding) for your garden next year!

June 11, 2010

Gardening / Being Nice to the Bunnies

JB

Everyone I know who has the garden fences it off to keep the animals out.  That seems a little unneighborly to me.  Certainly, if some critters are decimating your garden, you should take some action.  But, so what if you have to make do without 10% of your garden?  Is it really worth the extra trouble?  And, perhaps, is nature doing something that you don't realize?

I've never spent too much time worrying about pests.  The neighborhood bunnies, last year, had their way with our tomatoes, so much so that I had to pick them while they were still green in order to get anything to eat.

However, a wonderful thing happened.  Because the bunnies had eaten so many tomatoes, they had also spread around hundreds of tomato seeds!  So, this year, all over my yard, tomato plants are springing up!  Now, a lot of these are weeds - they are growing in a spot being used for some other purpose.  But I'm going to let a lot of them go, and be thankful for the bunnies who ate last years tomatoes, but whose appetite actually multiplied my abundance of tomato plants this year.

This year, I've expanded my garden quite a bit, and added collards.  Well, so far, the bunnies have left everything else alone - even the lettuce - and focused on the collards.  I let them have them - if they take one crop and leave the others, why not live in peace?  And, I found in the last few days that the collards are now growing  strong.  The bunnies knew how to eat the collards so that they kept growing well!

So, the bunnies, rather than being a pest, are actually helping my gardening efforts.  Perhaps we would be wiser if, instead of trying to find ways to cage our plants away from the bunnies, we thought of ways to channel the bunny-power into spreading our seeds where we want them to.  Maybe we should teach ourselves to live with nature, not against it.

June 08, 2010

Gardening / The Amazing Radish

JB

This year, I decided to try growing radishes.  Why, you ask?  Because, as a computer programmer, I like things to happen instantly.  Unfortunately, gardens don't grow instantly.  However, radishes grow in 30 days, which, in gardening terms, is a blink of an eye.

So I decided to grow a garden bed of radishes.  Therefore, I decided to do some radish research, and found out several amazing things about radishes.  The first thing I learned was that you can eat every part of every radish in every stage of life!  You can eat the root, you can eat the seedlings, you can eat the leaves, you can eat the flowers, and you can eat the seed pods.  Not only that, you can use the remains of the plant as food for other plants.

Flowering Radishes
(Flowering Radishes)

So, here's what I did, and so far it's worked out really well:

  1. I overplanted my bed - way overplanted
  2. I thinned out the extra seedlings into a plastic dish (leaving plants about 2 inches apart), and used the seedlings as sandwich sprouts
  3. I then harvested 3/4 of my radishes at harvest time, and kept both the leaves and the roots
  4. I used the radish roots in salads and stir-frying, and I used the leaves in soups.  I'll post my recipe later, but it's really easy.  You could probably also use the leaves in a stir-fry, but wouldn't want to eat them raw.
  5. I let the rest of my radishes go to seed.  However, I found out that radish plants get really, really tall - about 4 feet tall.  I added some supports, but even then most of them fell over.
  6. I plucked the bean-looking pods from the radish plant, and - wow! - they had the texture of a green bean and the taste of a radish.  You can use them just about anywhere, and the radishes were absolutely loaded with these things.  I would guess that each plant had about 30 seed pods on them.  And, while it doesn't have quite as much taste, the root is still edible.
  7. I planted the radishes about March 16, and it's now June 8th, so it was about 84 days. 

Radish Seed Pods
(Radish Seed Pods)

I think next year what I will do is, rather that just keeping the back row to go to seed, I'll just thin the radishes at the root stage from being a few inches apart to being a few feet apart. 

But, that's not all.  It turns out that radishes have one more trick up their sleeves.  Because they have such a long root, they can actually pull nutrients from way down underground to the surface.  So, you can use radishes as a "green manure".  Plant them about 2-3 weeks before the first frost, and let the winter freeze kill them.  They will bring nutrition from the sun and from below the soil to the top of the soil, then the winter freeze will kill them off, and they will nourish your soil over winter.  

They actually have specialized radishes for this (fodder radishes), but really, for the small home gardener, any kind can be used.  I imagine that the deep radish root will also be useful in breaking up clay soils.