Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pre sprouting and planting fava/broad beans and sugar snap peas

Earlier this week, I looked at the 7 day weather forecast and saw that temperatures were forecast to return to seasonal averages.  So, I decided to try a new way (at least for me) to plant some fava beans and sugar snap peas.  I usually just dampen my peas and beans, inoculate the with rhizobia  bacteria to allow the plants to set nitrogen nodules in the soil and plant them at the appropriate depth.  My germination using this method has always been pretty poor and in a number of years, both the favas and peas collapse as the temperature exceeds 75 degrees.

This year I decided to try something new by pre sprouting both the peas and beans.  I soaked them in water for 24 hours, drained them and placed them in a plastic bag on a very moist paper towel.  Then, I sat back and waited for the seeds to swell and send out their embryonic roots.  I started the process Sunday afternoon and today (Thursday) I saw the embryonic roots on the favas start to emerge.

The peas weren't quite at the same stage, but I could see that their roots were about to emerge.

So, out came the hoes and rake and I planted a 35 foot row of peas and 70 feet of fava beans. The favas were planted about an inch to inch and a half deep, in a V trench made with my Warren hoe.  The peas went into a flat bottom trench an inch deep made with a regular hoe.  Once the peas break the ground, I will set up my 7 foot pea trellis for the sugar snap peas to climb.

Fava beans end up being a 18 inch to 2 foot plant which may require support.  They have a fairly long days to maturity which makes them difficult to grow in the spring.  Some seed companies recommend pinching the tops out of the plant once they start to bloom.  This is suppose to encourage an earlier crop.  After the spring crop is harvested, supposedly, you can cut the plant back to several inches above ground, regrow the plant and get a fall harvest.  Stay tuned for updates.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Thank Goodness for Daylight Savings Time

I may have jumped the gun (warm weather) a little bit, but yesterday was so pleasant that I thought I would do some planting.  I've had broccoli, cabbage, choi, lettuce and tatsoi hardening off in my cold frames and they looked ready to go in the ground.  So about 3 pm I started to plant in a bed I had prepared late last fall. The bed is raised approximately 10 inches above ground level, drains well and warms up quickly.

First up were the tatsoi transpants, planted 8 inches apart.  Tatsoi is in the brassica family and is sometimes called spinach mustard or spoon mustard.  It forms a rosette of spoon shaped leaves, is very hardy and can be used in salads (my favorite) or stir fried.

Next I seeded four rows of arugula planted perpendicular to the length of my 4 foot wide beds.  My daughter loves the stuff.  After that were three rows of radish seed, these for my son-in-law.  I planted Cherry Bell and French Breakfast,  The French Breakfast matures a little later than the Cherry Bell.  Radishes will be planted a couple of rows a week.  Finally, 3 or 4 rows of Tokyo Cross turnip seed.  Not sure this will germinate, but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Next were 20 or so transplants of choi on 8 inch spacing.  First some Mei Qing choi which matures in 45 days and then some Win-Win choi which mature in 52 days, both of which are pretty hardy..  Great vegetable to grill, steam or stir fry.

Finally, planted the cabbage (Late Dutch Flat, Red Acre and Golden Acre), broccoli (Packman) and lettuce.  I like the Packman because it is very quick to mature (about 55 days), which is important, since our Junes are warm.  I plant my cabbage and broccoli pretty close (18 inches between plants in a 4 foot wide bed with one plant in the center, forming an X),  Between the broccoli and cabbage, I put transplants of lettuce either butter crunch or red sails.  The picture below is from a couple of years ago.

Finally, watered all of the transplants in with a 50% water soluble transplant solution, laid the drip irrigation tape, anchored it down with sod staples, spaced out my row cover hoops,and covered the whole shebang with row cover, anchoring the row cover with more sod staples.  Here's the final result, it takes up about 35 feet of my 70 foot raised bed.  Finished about sundown, tired but happy.

The rear of this row is reserved for Sugar snap peas and fava beans, but that is another blog.

btw:  check out the GIEI classes in your county.  We in Howard County are doing a couple of spring vegetable gardening classes, as well as classes on sustainable organic vegetable gardening and growing healthy brambles (raspberries and blackberries) in April. 

Grow100 2015 begins!

And we're back for another year of 100 square-foot gardens!

Enter the 2015 Grow It Eat It challenge and show us “What Can YOU Grow in 100 Square Feet?”
Keep it small: The growing space cannot exceed 100 square feet (but may be less). Examples:
  • one bed that is 4’x25’ or 10’x10’
  • three 4’x8’ beds and a 2’ diameter pot
  • Containers, salad boxes, or salad tables are all ok.
  • The 100 square feet may be your entire garden or just a small part of it. 
OPEN to all gardeners - city, suburban, country; experienced and first-time gardeners; backyard, community, or school garden. AND you don’t have to be a Maryland resident. We have lots of examples and resources to help you. Use your imagination- the sky’s the limit. 
During the growing season, tweet about your garden to the GIEI twitter, orHGIC/GIEI Instagram(link is external) and include the hashtag #grow100. Post your progress on the GIEI Facebook page wall!  We want to hear about and see your garden!
Take notes about your process, plan, and challenges during the season, and take photos!  At the end of the season, we will want you to send in a short synopsis of your garden and how your growing season went, plus up to 10 photos.
Just for fun - Unlike last year, this year's Grow100 is not a contest.  We just want to create some conversation about gardening and inspire people!  Participating has been simplified:
  1. (Optional) Sign up for our Grow100 email list.  We will periodically send out Grow100 info and ideas, plus reminders to send in your entry.
  2. ONE entry at the end of your growing season.  The submission form will be open from August 1st through October 15th.  You can submit at any time - whenever your garden is done and you have compiled your photos and summary. We'll give you instructions on how to submit - watch the blog or your email for details.
We will update the GIEI blog(link is external)Grow100 email list, and our social media with Grow100 tips, and highlight exceptional garden submissions.
As a suggestion, pick a goal for your garden:
  • 4-Rs Garden - Use techniques to reduce waste, energy, and water use; re-use materials; recycle nutrients; and re-think conventional gardens.
  • Maximum Production - we're looking for a garden with an impressively abundant harvest. The amount of food, crop diversity, and length of harvest are all factors that will impress us.
  • Or, a combination of the above, and/or your own particular goals.
Need some tools or help planning your garden strategy?  See our Resources page full of book suggestions, garden planning software, and tips.
Check out all the previous posts about Grow100(link is external) on the GIEI Blog.

Growing herbs in a cold frame

Well, we woke up to snow yet again this morning in Garrett County.  Will spring ever arrive in Mountain Maryland?  As we ponder that question, I thought I would share a trick that keeps a bit of green from our garden on our family’s table year round.  About fifteen years ago, we ordered a cold frame from a company in Vermont.  It was made in Austria, and the box that it was shipped in had pictures of cabbages growing happily inside the cold frame.  I decided that I would skip the cabbages and try growing perennial herbs in it.  

After lots of trial and error, I’ve found that I can harvest rosemary throughout the year (the picture is from this morning).   The cold frame also prolongs the growing season for sage, bay laurel, and oregano through early December and then protects those plants as they overwinter.  Chives magically reappear in the cold frame each year in the late spring, but I haven’t had any luck overwintering tarragon.  Likewise, thyme has never thrived in the cold frame—it does better in a pot on the patio from late spring through the early fall and then I bring it in during the colder months to live as a snowbird houseplant. 

Some technical details about the cold frame: it has twin-wall polycarbonate panels in a metal frame with four hinged windows on top that open as needed using solar-powered hinges.  The windows can be removed entirely in the warm months.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Jade: A mouth-watering green bean


Jade green beans

I long have had a love-hate relationship with green beans.

I love green beans.  I love to pick one in our garden and munch away.  I love the flavor of a green beans cooked just right—seven to eight minutes for us.

But most summers I have ended up hating green beans.  Over the years I’ve planted Variety A, Variety B, and then Variety C.  The beans often looked perfect, but they just weren’t mouth watering to munch on raw.  When cooked, well, they were just so-so—you know, sort of like those frozen ones that look so good on the package but with flavor not much more than the salt you’ve added. To be honest, many years I planted green beans, harvested a few handfuls, determined they were “blah,” and then ignored them until the bean beetles did them in.

Then two winters ago I was chatting with Howard County Master Gardener Kent Phillips, a great vegetable gardener, and said, “Hey, Kent.  I’m always disappointed in my green beans.  Can you recommend a variety worth growing and eating?”

“Jade,” Kent replied.  “I’ve grown it for years—the only one I grow.  It’s absolutely delicious.  I get seeds at Meyer Seed Co. in Baltimore when I make my annual trip to their store.”  I wasn’t about to drive 50 or 60 miles, roundtrip, to buy a packet of seeds, but I remembered our local hardware store, Kendall’s, sells Meyer Seeds, so I ordered a packet there.

This will be the third spring I’ve planted Jade green beans.  They grow beautifully.  Beans are five to seven inches long, straight as a, well, green bean, and dark green.  Last summer—a particularly good summer for growing any vegetable here in central Maryland—I picked Jades six times from one planting, surely a record for my garden.

Pop a Jade into your mouth in the garden and you’ll exclaim, “Now THAT is a green bean.”  Of course it is.  Cook a pot full, and you’ll almost weep at the flavor and wonder why anyone stoops to buy green beans at the supermarket.  Well, they buy tomatoes there too.

If you are hankering to grow a great green bean, I recommend you invest in a packet of Jade seeds.  SEARCH for them online, and you’ll find them available at several seed companies.  Fedco Seeds has a particularly helpful description:

"Jade Bush Green Bean (56 days) The original strain, favored by both market and home gardeners, producing great yields of tasty 5–7" straight slender round dark green beans that keep coming until late in the season, long after others have quit. Known for their holding quality, the tender pods with traditional bean flavor retain rich color longer than others, both on the vine and after picking. Jade’s strong upright bush habit holds pods above the ground, reducing curling and tip rot. PVP. Resistant to BBS, CBMV, NY15, CTV, tolerant to R. Caution: white-seeded Jade is a fussy germinator. Be sure your soil temperature is at least 60° and irrigate during dry spells."

Excuse me, please.  My mouth is watering just at the mere thought of  Jade green beans.  Grow them.  Eat them.

Still blooming afternoon before frost
November 2014