Sunday, April 14, 2013

New year, new starts

Broccoli in front, snow peas on the trellis
The garden is awake and growing! The winter months are gone (yay!) and everyone in the garden is back in business. Last month I got my broccoli and snow pea starts and got them in. They didn't get snowed on this year, but did get their quota of overnight freezes. Now we're just two weeks away from our guaranteed frost-free date, and the garden is almost all ready to grow. I still have to buy more companion plants! And my now three-year old purple-sprouting broccoli is still alive, still three feet tall, and fell over again this winter. I need to put up something really sturdy to hold it up. I'll be happy for it to keep staying alive as long as it can, as long as it keeps producing.

I had to do a few maintenance things this year. I had to cut back the hardy oregano planted around the outside and pull out the bits that were invading the garden space. I may be rethinking having them right on the edge, but they really do keep weeds down, and I imagine that they repel critters, being quite unappetizing themselves. Maybe a root barrier is all I need, but that's a lot of barrier and a lot of digging. I might achieve the same aim by just moving them further away. Another nice thing they do is produce a healthy pile of harvestable mulch at the end of the year. They like being sheared down to the ground in late winter when the new shoots get started. One of my friends mows hers a couple times a year, but the good bugs like the flowers, so I let them come in the fall.

Again, there were very few weeds—many fewer than last year—and the winter leaf mulch is in great shape. I used maybe a quarter more leaves than I did last year, to make sure I got better cover. The hay beneath them, from last year's mulching, is half-rotted by now, and I know that's exactly what it's supposed do: feed the soil organisms that feed my plants. As the leaves start to decay and the potatoes start to grow, I'll be piling on more hay and straw. After two years with this garden, I don't see any reason to change the basic approach: lots of mulch means less work, less water, and better soil.

Parsley survivor & garlic
I was surprised to find one of the parsleys I had last year is still alive and looking really healthy. I still have most of the half-quart I froze last year, so I won't buy any more this year. Last year was the first year I actually got my new garlic set out in October, as you're supposed to, and they're looking great already. I'm having one regret now—that I didn't plant any ornamental kale again last fall. Not only are they pretty over the winter, they're blooming now, and when I saw them around town, I realized I'd missed  a great opportunity to attract good bugs to the garden early in the year. So this year, I will plant ornamental kale! I promise! Whenever I say "I will" like that, I think of Whoopi Goldberg in "Ghost", saying it through clenched teeth.

Tuscan kale babies
I decided to try some Tuscan kale this year. I got a six-pak and planted it further down than last year's kale, where it'll get more sun. With all that leaf pigment—and being from Tuscany—I'm guessing it'll want sun, and sun, with more sun on the side. It bothers me that the plants aren't black and lumpy now. I hope they really are Tuscan kale.

Seascape everbearing strawberries
There are new babies this year, and I added a whole new room for them, in the sunniest possible corner of the good dirt—where the artichokes and dying melon plants were last year. I've given up on melons—for now. More technology is required for them. Two dozen new Seascape everbearing strawberries have their own 7'x2.5' raised bed now. I drove 25 miles each way to get cheap cedar 2x8"s and filled it with half my red clay and half mint compost. I had a set of metal corners I got literally ten years ago, so the bed went together easily. I lined the bottom with fiberglass quarter-inch mesh I got at a barn sale a couple years ago, to keep moles and voles out, and stole the garden fencing from one of my compost piles, so the mint compost and the lumber were the only things I had to pay for this year. Nice. I got enough lumber for two beds, but don't have any more corners, so I haven't put the second bed together yet. Maybe next winter when I can get more cheap Seascapes. I bought the plants as soon as the store got them, and planted them the week I got them, so they could get as early a start as possible. Really looking forward to getting lots of strawberries this year.

And last but not least—the potatoes went in the ground on April 2nd, four days earlier than last year. Twenty Purple Majesty starts. I gave up on finding All Blues this year, and I was really happy with the PM's last year. Again, I planted them in exactly the same place I put the last ones. Next year I'll move them around. I did a much more thorough job of harvesting last fall, and have had fewer leftover re-starts this year, at least so far. I've thrown most of those out, but did keep a couple blue ones and one that looks like a fingerling from year before last.

So there it is—Ruth Stout garden 3.0—and it feels pretty good. Soon I'll have pictures of my little orchard in bloom. The Asian pears are blooming now and the apple buds are pink. The Chinese apricot bloomed this year, but just a few flowers. Anyway, that's for next time.