Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Garden's Progress

A couple of broccoli plants that had been set out in July. 
In one of my several garden-experiments this year, I set out some broccoli and cabbage transplants Very Early.  I had started the plants from seeds in June to use as "visual aids" in a class I would be teaching in July.

After the class, it seemed a shame to waste the little plants (and the time/attention it took to grow them), so I went ahead and planted them in the garden, even though we had plenty of hot weather ahead. It turns out that the broccoli that was set out to grow through the hottest months of summer  got really tall and then produced quite-small heads of florets.
Broccoli and cauliflower under netting.   
Pasilla bajio pepper plant.  

Considering that I didn't really expect them to produce at all, this is sort of a success story. However, I am hoping that the tall plants will start producing side-shoots of florets for us to harvest, so the little broccoli heads won't be all that we get from these plants.

The cabbages from that same batch of transplants are beginning to head up, and I am waiting to see whether those will stay small, like the heads of the broccoli, or put on some size.

The most-recently planted broccoli and cauliflower plants have settled in nicely, and should begin to pour on the steam (in terms of growth) pretty soon. Until we get some colder weather, the plants will stay under netting, to keep the butterflies and moths that are the parents of cabbage worms and cabbage loopers from laying eggs on them.

Meanwhile, the peppers still are coming into the kitchen. The Pasillo bajio peppers only just started to "make" a few weeks ago, but they are worth the wait for gardeners who also do a lot of cooking.  Those skinny peppers have full-sized flavor!

Some of the peanuts from our garden. 

In the kitchen, we've been enjoying the beginnings of the winter greens: kale and collards. We've also brought in plenty of radishes. We eat the radish part, and I feed the leaves to my pet bunnies.

The cilantro is flourishing; some baby parsley plants look as though they will help make great tabbouleh in spring; beets and carrots are growing well; the parsnips finally got beyond the seedling stage (it's a slow crop); the earliest-planted lettuces are nearly full-size; the spinach patch is darkly green with leaves that are about half the size I expect to see at maturity; bok choy will be ready for harvest in a few weeks; and it won't be long before I will need to plant the garlic, shallots, and multiplying onions. This is a great season for gardeners!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sweet Work

Do you remember the commercial in which a nicely dressed woman sips a cup of tea while chatting with friends and says, "I'm cleaning my oven!" I feel a little like that when I say, "I'm curing my sweet potatoes!"

For the past few days, they have been kept in the back of my car, first out in the sunny parking lot at work, and now on the driveway, taking advantage of the greenhouse-effect to provide the warmth that will help them convert starch to sugar and toughen that thin skin. In a week or two, they will be fully cured and ready to fill a basket on the kitchen floor, where they will be easily accessible for meals.
Chipmunks like sweet potatoes.

I dug up the sweet potato patch on Wednesday evening, and in spite of "sharing" with the chipmunks I ended up with 41.5 pounds of tubers. That isn't as much as it should have been, but the chipmunks were hungry.

The weight doesn't include the ABC (Already Been Chewed) tubers, and there may still be a few good tubers left in the ground that will turn up in the next couple of weeks as I prepare that space for garlic, shallots, and onions.

Meanwhile, we are beginning to bring radishes and little bits of kale and lettuce into the kitchen. As the seasons change, our meals change, too, to reflect the different harvests that our garden provides. It's always a little sad to have to let go of the fresh tomatoes and peppers, but we have plenty of those dehydrated, stored in jars, and more in the freezer, for when we need them.

I hope that other gardeners are enjoying the change to cooler-season crops!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Family Wants More Broccoli

I never manage to grow anything like the amount of broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower that my family would like for me to, because our garden really isn't very big. Allowing for things like crop rotation, succession planting, and cover crops can mean that, some years, there is room for even less.

In theory, this was going to be one of those "less" years, but somehow, while we were out on our errand-run over the weekend, we ended up with two additional packs of transplants -- nine broccoli and nine cauliflower -- to add to what's already in the garden. As a result, for the past couple of evenings I've been working on making space for those 18 plants in the garden.

Luckily, I've collected enough mature Joanie Beans for next year's seed and harvested enough Pigott Family Cowpeas to make me happy. That meant I could pull all the bush bean and cowpea plants, creating a space large enough for about two-thirds of those transplants. Where the rest will go, I do not yet know, but I will think of something.

If the pH of the soil in my lawn were higher, I'd follow the example of UGA's Center for Urban Agriculture and just plunk those plants into the lawn. I saw the experiment that showed this was possible at a Turfgrass Field Day down in Griffin, GA, and it was just wonderful.

Cool-season garden vegetables had been planted in strips cut into a Bermudagrass lawn. In the experiment, strip width and plot sizes varied, to check the effect on both the veggies and the recovery in spring of the lawn. While the lettuce, cabbage, and collards did not produce well in the narrower (13 cm) strips or when direct-planted in the lawn, broccoli produced a crop (though some were small) in every treatment.

Most of the strips were somewhat weedy in spring (crabgrass liked that bare soil), and in some strips the ground had become uneven, but there was broccoli, making a crop in the Bermudagrass. Even just thinking about it makes me smile.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

So Close, and Yet So Far

I keep saying that the fall garden is nearly all planted, and that gets closer to the truth every time I say it, but summer peanuts are still maturing in the garden, and a patch of oats (part cover crop, part bunny food) is scheduled to go in their place; the sweet potatoes are yet to be harvested, and the garlic and shallots will be planted in that space.
Almost time to start eating kale and radishes.

Also, there are some bare stretches to fill in along the rows of carrots and in patches of other crops. A gardener's excuses to be outside are nearly endless! More good news: the weather is cooling enough that spending time outside is even easier.

Rain has been mostly nonexistent lately, so all the cool-season crops have needed to be watered to help the seeds and seedlings make a good start and to encourage transplants to mingle their roots with the garden soil. Otherwise, the cool season weeds are growing slowly enough to keep them from taking over, and
we are still bringing in little bunches of green beans, cowpeas, and small tomatoes. The peppers continue their steady stream into the kitchen, as well, and it looks as though we will finally get some eggplants.
Glacial vines from the sweet potato patch, slowly consuming the yard.

I had planted the eggplants too close to the tomatoes, and they were so overshadowed that it was all they could do to hang on through the summer. The tomato plants are gone, and the eggplants look very happy! If we are lucky, the first frost will hold off long enough for all the flowers and little fruits now on the plants to reach maturity.

I'm expecting to harvest the sweet potatoes this weekend, and that is always fun, assuming the chipmunks have left something for me to harvest.

I hope that everyone else is out enjoying their gardens, too, and that all is growing well.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Growing (and Eating) What's Good for the Garden

I tell new gardeners who are looking for information and advice that they should grow foods that they and their families like to eat. If no one in the family likes tomatoes, then their garden doesn't need to give any space to tomatoes, regardless of how much other gardeners rave about the amazing flavor of homegrown tomatoes. I don't, though, practice what I preach in choosing crops for my own garden.

One reason for straying from this really good advice is to improve my crop rotations. Several years ago, I decided that expanding my spinach/amaranth family plantings could help the garden, and one way to do that was to start growing beets, even though I didn't like them.

I could just have grown more spinach, but the phosphorus levels tend to be a little high in my garden-soil, and root-crops can use up some of that extra phosphorus. Over time, as a result of this decision, I've learned to prepare beets in ways that we like, and beets have become just one more good food that we look forward to bringing in from the garden.

I've been working on collard greens in about the same way. Collards are grown and eaten in my home-state of Oklahoma, too, but my Mom didn't serve them (she still doesn't like them), so I've had to work on this vegetable. It's taken a lot longer than the beets.

A good reason to grow collards, though, is that the whole Brassica family -- which includes collard greens -- helps suppress the root-knot nematodes that are a huge problem here in the South. The guys on whose garden/farm I volunteer on the weekends call the winter, mixed-greens crop (collards, kale, mustards, radishes) a "fumigant" crop for the good work it does in cleaning up pests in the soil.

We could all be growing broccoli and cabbage (also Brassicas) instead, but those crops tend to not stay as long in the ground. After the flowering head has been harvested, or a hard freeze come along and turned the plant to mush, it's all over -- but collards and other greens in the family can be harvested leaf-by-leaf, and it takes a heck of a freeze to take them out of the garden. The greens keep working on the soil all winter long, and tilling in the roots and any remaining leaves at the end of the season just frosts that cake of beneficial effects.

I'm writing about this today because last week, I came across a Yale Environment 360 interview with Dan Barber, a chef who has written about the importance of eating all that the farm offers as a way to support sustainable agriculture. The central example discussed in the interview was a farm that was growing emmer wheat, an ancient variety that Barber was excited about using in recipes.

This is the relevant bit of the interview:

"...I was standing in the middle of a field and all of a sudden discovered that he was growing very little wheat, and that instead he was growing a whole suite of lowly grains like millet and buckwheat and barley, and leguminous crops like Austrian winter peas and kidney beans. He was growing a lot of cover crops like vetch and clover. And they were all very meticulously timed and spread out among the 2,000 acres that I was standing in the middle of. And that’s when I sort if had this agricultural epiphany. But it led to this gastronomic epiphany, which was that here I was as a farm-to-table chef waving the flag of sustainability and realizing that I wasn’t supporting most of the farm. In the case of Klaas, he needed these lowly crops and cover crops and leguminous crops because his soil health needed it to grow wheat. You couldn’t get the wheat unless you grew all these other crops. And you had to time it in this way that brought the fertility to the soil to give you this incredible tasting wheat."

Most of us are not going to develop elaborate rotations for the production of emmer wheat, but reading the interview made me feel like less of a loon for growing -- and learning to prepare and eat -- crops that are not my favorites, all because I thought they'd be good for the garden.