Saturday, May 12, 2012

Veggie Garden 2.0

If you wait long enough, maybe everything will happen—for instance, my 2 and a half year old broccoli finally headed out this spring! Near the end of March I used a tripod of bamboo poles to lift the stalks up off the ground so it wouldn't be quite so easy for the slugs to get the new growth.

A couple weeks later the flowers were ripe and ready to eat, so I cut most of the little heads off. I got one nice big serving off the two stalks, and it was great! I haven't eaten anything but frozen broccoli for so long that I was surprised how much flavor this had. There is a nice big clump of sprouts from the bottom of one of the stalks that I'm going to thin out and let grow. I suspect they started because the stalks had lain horizontal on the ground from the first big windstorm last fall until I picked them up off the ground this spring. Maybe this is just a really long-lived broccoli.

I left a few bits to flower because they were really too small to bother with, and the companion plant book says they'll attract good bugs. They're almost ready to bloom now. I let the rhubarb flower for the same reason, plus I wanted to see what it looked like.

By that time, the garlic and onions that got left in the ground last year because their tops disappeared had sprouted again, so I pulled up the garlic, divided each one into single cloves, and replanted them. I hope they'll get a little bigger this year; the biggest one I had was only 6 cloves. And I hope I can manage to harvest most of them this year! With a little luck, I'll get them replanted in October this year, when they're supposed to be planted.

I planted several different companion flowers in with the veggies this year—calendulas, gaillardias, alyssum, and cosmos. Even if they don't attract enough good bugs to make a difference, I really like having them just because they make my garden look better—and I love flowers. I just put them in a few weeks ago, so they haven't done much yet, but they are growing.

I made two other changes to the garden as a whole. I stapled up some 3-mil plastic along the fenceline to do three things: To stop me from watering the weeds in the pasture next to the garden; to keep the weeds from leaning into my garden and dropping seed; and to create a small, possibly slightly warmer microclimate. It will also partially block the really hot dry chinooks we get in the summer. The second change is my new permanent paths. The previous owners left me a pile of short cedar fence pieces and strips of plywood that I had never gotten around to getting rid of, and they make somewhat satisfactory pathways. This was another recommendation in the companion plant book, to reduce soil compaction from walking and to reduce the amount of mulch you need.

The peas, broccoli and kale that went in first are doing great! After the weather really started to warm up I thinned them, although I see from this picture that I didn't get all the extra broccolis. I hate thinning—it seems like I'm wasting plants—but some of the sprouts were so close in the packs that I couldn't divide them as I was planting.

The peas are growing great guns now, and the biggest of the little brocs are almost a foot tall.

The kale is bushier than it is tall, but it's looking really good. I've had to keep putting out snail bait, and I almost lost one of the little plants. Those are calendulas in front of them.

I really wanted to grow parsley this year because I love cooking with it and it seems so silly to buy it when you can grow it. I think I'm really getting into growing herbs. I'm not that much of a cook. Period. But so far they're easy to grow, and it's really nice to have fresh spices when you do want them. Parsley is so good with potatoes or on garlic bread. So when it warmed up a bit I put a 6-pak in next to the garlic, except for one I put in a patio pot in case the slugs got the garden ones. It's taking them a little while to settle in, but now that we're getting some warm weather I think they're getting happier.

I did make one purchasing error this year when I was buying spices. I grabbed a tarragon that looked lovely but when I got it home I found out it had no aroma at all, and I couldn't understand why not until I came across Russian tarragon on the web yesterday. It's a different species that is described as having little or no flavor (!) but growers sell it because it makes viable seed and is easier to propogate than French tarragon which can only be propogated asexually. So now I have to try and find the good stuff and keep it alive through the winter. Nominally I'm in zone 8b, but the strong winds, heavy rains and heavy clay combine to make some parts of my garden the equivalent of zone 6.

I turned out to have more potatoes this year than I planned on. I was only going to plant All Blues this year, because they were soooooo good last year. But as it got closer to  planting time, none of the stores were getting them in, so in desperation I bought some Purple Majesty, then Cherry Reds and Russian Banana fingerlings. After I had bought all of these, a farm supply ten miles away advertised on CraigsList that they had All Blues. I drove over there on a particularly cold, wet day, and they did have them, nice big fat sets, in fact bigger than any of my blues got last year. I couldn't help buying 5 sets, so at that point I had enough potatoes to fill up half the fenced area, twice as many as I had intended to grow. I resolved to start eating them sooner this year, so I won't have so many at the end of the season. I presprouted them again this year, and planted them the first week in April, the same as last year. I wasn't going down to the garden much during the two or three weeks of almost continuous rain we had, and when it finally stopped and I looked again, they had all popped up and were growing like crazy.

I have gotten one big surprise as the soil has warmed up the last few weeks—I missed harvesting at least a dozen potatoes! I've had potato sprouts all over where I planted them last year—and some of them were good-sized! And I thought I was so thorough.... I pulled all of them up except for some of the Rose Finn Apple fingerlings, which are where some of my herbs are growing this year. I didn't want them to mess up my rotation scheme, and honestly, I think I'll have enough potatoes. But this harvest, I'm going to have to be a lot better at digging them!

I haven't put any new hay down yet—there was still enough stuff down to keep weeds from sprouting, and I wanted to give the sun a chance to warm the soil as much as possible. I think it will be going down soon, though, just to keep the soil from drying out.

I think the biggest improvement for this year is that when it was time to plant, I had everything ready and the weather cooperated fully, so things got planted on time this year. So even though last year was a limited success, it was a great learning experience and I'm seeing the benefit of that now. Hope I can keep the momentum going.