Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Brassicas interplanted with red sail and buttercrunch lettuce

    What a beautiful rain we have had for the last two days.  It has given me a welcome reprieve from all of the weeding that needs to be done in the garden.  It's also given me time to post a few blogs on the progress of the garden.  On April 4, I planted my brassica and lettuce seedlings that had been growing under lights since mid February and hardened off in my cold frames for 10 days prior to planting.

    In order to maximize the yield out of my garden I plant my brassicas about 30 inches apart in my four foot wide raised beds.  In between each of the brassicas, I plant a lettuce seedling which will be ready to harvest about 30 days after planting. After planting my lettuce and brassica seedlings, I water the seedlings in with a half strength solution of water soluble fertilizer.  You can use either an inorganic or organic fertilizer, but if you use an organic fertilizer, make sure that most of the nitrogen is in a water soluble form.  For example, fish emulsion generally has an NPK of 5-1-1.  According to the label on the back of my bottle, most of the 5% N in the bottle is in the form of water soluble nitrogen and will be immediately available for uptake by the plants roots.

     This method of interplanting brassicas and lettuce has served me well over the years, since any lettuce not harvested will be shaded by the larger brassica. In most years, I just pick the outer leaves of the lettuce, letting the center of the plant grow until the summer turns it bitter.  This diagram shows my planting method.
B      L      B
L      B      L
B      L      B

This photo show the planting as of April 4. 

The row cover on the left of the photo is placed over the bed with the wire hoops making a mini hoop house.  My row cover is really insect barrier protecting my brassicas from the imported cabbage worm or the little white butterflies with black spots on their wings.  (see http://extension.umd.edu/growit/insects/imported-cabbageworm.  On April 28, I thought I would open the row cover and remove any weeds that had sprouted over the last month.  There were plenty of weeds, but as you can see from the photo below, the brassicas and lettuce have made great growth.  I'm definitely ready to add some fresh buttercrunch lettuce to my spring spinach salads.

One final word on brassicas.  These are cool weather plants and need to be grown quickly in the spring.  For that reason, I grow varieties that have the shortest "days to maturity" from time of transplanting.  The broccoli I grow is "Packman" which reaches maturity in 55 days.  My cauliflower is "Snow Crown" which is 60 days to maturity and my early cabbage is "Golden Acre", also 60 days to maturity.  I also transplanted some "Early White Vienna" kohlrabi which yields nice swollen stem by mid May.  My fall brassica tend to have longer maturity times and the broccoli produces many side shoots.  Once again this fall I'll be growing romanesco cauliflower called "Veronica" (it has a great nutty flavor).  It takes 78 days to reach maturity and I usually plant it in the first week of August.  This gives me a green cauliflower for the table about the end of October (78 days plus the short day factor of 14 days).

Onions and Leeks

    Well, my onion order finally arrived last week and while I'm getting a late start on planting my onions, I'm sure I'll have a good crop.  I ordered three different long day varieties, red zeppelin, yellow sweet Spanish and copra.  I chose long day onions because Howard County Maryland is on the border line between the intermediate and long day growing areas.  Long day onions start bulbing when day lengths reach 14-16 hours.

    Knowing the approximate date of there arrival, I had prepare my raised bed with 10-10-10, adding about .2 pounds on nitrogen per 100 square feet of bed.  Since my beds are approximately four feet wide and my onion and leek patch is about 30 feet long (120 square feet),  I worked about two and a quarter pounds of fertilizer into the bed (.2 divided by .10 times 120 sq. ft. divided by 100 sq. ft.)  The supplier of my onion plants recommended using a fertilizer with a higher phosphorus number then nitrogen and potassium (eg. 5-10-5 or 10-20-10), but I chose 10-10-10 because my soil test shows that I have very high levels of phosphorus in my soil.

    I started planting the onions as soon as they arrived.  Since my raised beds are very high in organic material and drip irrigated, I planted my onions in a grid pattern with onion plants being space about six inches apart or six plants across my four foot wide raised bed.

I also planted my leeks in the same pattern.  This year, I'm growing a leek called Tadorna.  I've had great success with this leek and plant a sufficient number so that I can winter them over and harvest one whenever a recipe calls for a leek.  The seedlings shown in the picture were started February 4, so they have been growing for about 12 weeks, both under lights in my basement and in my cold frame.

    My onion supplier notes that onions like lots of nitrogen (they are heavy feeders) and recommends fertilizing the onions every two to three weeks with a nitrogen only fertilizer (eg. ammonium sulfate 21-0-0 in alkaline soils like mine or calcium nitrate in acidic soils).  Their recommendation is to fertilize with a half a cup of fertilizer for every 10 feet of onion row.  This agrees with the plant profiles for onions found on the University of Maryland's Grow It Eat It website.
    So, with my onions and leeks planted, all I need to do is water, weed and wait.  I'll update this blog as my onions start to grow.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Grow it! indoors

Grow it ! Eat it! is a wonderful trend. I am glad that I am part of it. And the best part of it you can grow vegetables anywhere even if you have limited space. Pictures of some really great products that you can use in your sunny indoor space.  The one on top is called sky planter. These containers can be a little pricey and I do not own any but it is well worth it if you can afford it.  Hopefully, they will mass market these products using recycle materials with lower prices.  
unknown source
photo by www.thegreenhead.com

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Spring at the Derwood Demo Garden

We're a few weeks into the 2013 season at the Montgomery County MG Derwood Demo Garden, and here's what we've been up to:

  • Starting new projects
  • Moving things around
  • Dealing with spring's crazy temperature shifts
Oh, and weeding, and sifting and hauling compost, and other stuff too.  Let me start with the weather, though: there's been one workday I wore shorts, and a couple more (before and after) when I shivered the whole morning.  And the plants don't have clothing choices, so who knows what they think of it.  Well, I know what my summer seedlings at home think: brr, boo, hiss.  Everything we've already dared to plant is doing fine, but I don't anticipate getting huge harvests of these greens:

We've got a whole leafy greens bed under one tunnel made with bent metal conduit (thanks to the Baltimore County MGs for the loan of the pipe bender!) and Enviromesh:

which is a lovely material we acquired last year from the UK (I have been unable to find an American source, so please tell me if you know of one, and encourage retailers to carry it).  It's more durable than floating row cover and lets more light in (it's also, naturally, more expensive).

This year we're planting two salad tables:

one of which has salad greens and the other small root crops (radishes, round Parisian carrots, cipollini onions, and small turnips).  A bit of a late start here, but I'm hoping everything will grow for us.

We've also planted plenty of root crops elsewhere in the garden; more on those along the way!

A group is working on an intensively planted 100-square-foot garden as a trial to see how much can be grown in a small space.  You'll be seeing lots more pictures of this; here's how it starts out:

And we've been moving things around!  Our poor blueberries have been through several moves already, but we moved them again, to a bed on the edge of the vegetable garden where we can easily acidify the soil, and where they get full sun; they already look happier.  To accommodate the blueberries, we had to move the strawberries already in that space; they went into an area cleared of Jerusalem artichokes last fall.  (Well, we thought we'd cleared it.  You would not believe how many tubers our indefatigable workers have dug up this spring already.  Bucketfuls.  What amazing plants, she said gritting her teeth.)  We also divided the rhubarb and put some in the same area, so now we can make strawberry-rhubarb pie out of one section of the garden.  (And we now have rhubarb in three places.  I think we need more recipes.)

We've also moved a few structures and will be building some new ones next week.  It's all starting to come together!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What happened to my corn and bean seeds?

I was hoping to get around to planting snap beans last weekend. It didn't happen. A co-worker planted a few rows last week and they are up and growing nicely despite the cool nights. Even with sufficiently warm soil (>55 degrees F.) beans that germinate must contend with erratic spring weather and birds that pluck sprouts from the ground. And I'm sure some gardeners will be dealing with the seedcorn maggot.

The first time I grew a field of muskmelon I watched about 20% of my transplants mysteriously decline and die within weeks of planting. An Extension Specialist dug up a few of the affected transplants, cut the lower stems open with his pocketknife and showed me the culprit- seedcorn maggot. I was surrounded by fields in continuous corn and had spread manure the previous fall- two conditions favoring this common spring pest.

The maggot burrows in and feeds on large seeds like bean and corn (lots of nutrients), potato pieces, seedlings and transplants. If they are present you will see spotty germination and stunted or dying plants. Seeds and plants need to be closely examined to determine if seedcorn maggot is at play. I suspect this pest is a more significant garden pest in rural areas. The Home and Garden Information Center gets more reports during cool, wet springs when bean and corn seeds are slow to germinate.

Soil-borne insect pests can be difficult to manage (there are few insecticides available to home gardeners). For more photos and details on preventing problems go to the GIEI website.
 Seedcorn maggot (left) and damaged seed. Photo courtesy of Mariusz Sobieski, Bugwood.org

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Pak Choi in The Pan

This time last year, we had been eating pak choi and kale out of the garden for several weeks. I had started it in little cells in the greenhouse and planted it in the garden in early-mid March. This is one of the beauties of blogging; I’ve got records and pictures so I know I’m not exaggerating.

Plastic trough planters with pak choi, kle and lettuce
This year, there was no way. I tried. I planted a bunch of the pak choi seedlings I had started from last year’s seed* in one of the few garden beds I have so far managed to prep this chilly grey spring. The soil thermometer registered 50 degrees when they went in and has since gone up to 60+, but it’s been very slow growing. Meanwhile, seeing the meteorological writing on the wall, I had stuck some of those same seedlings with about ten kale seedlings in a long plastic trough planter that I’ve been hauling in and out of the greenhouse on bright days. It’s been living outside for the past week or more. The stuff in the trough is about two and a half times the size of what’s in the garden. Last night, I cut the first batch of planter pak choi.
Clipped pak choi on cutting board

I clipped them from their roots, sliced them, and washed the sliced pieces in a bowl of water -- even in the confines of a planter soil works itself between their leaves.

Slicing up those crisp green leaves and juicy stalks was very satisfying. Knowing it’s possible to grow something we can eat, that’s good for you AND tastes good, is – I hesitate to use the word because it’s SO cliché but will anyway – empowering. A container, some organic soil and compost, seeds, water, sunlight and –very important – love, will do it. Like money in the bank. (Also a great learning experience for kids).

Soaking soil from chopped pak choi leaves and stems
I sautéed the chopped stalks (thick bottoms for a few minutes then chucked in the leaves) with three cloves of last year’s garlic, fresh-grated ginger, a little soy sauce, a tin of sliced water chestnuts and a splash of chicken bullion.  The garlic, Music hardneck that I grew last year, dug and hung in bunches on the porch in early July, is now sprouting again, which changes the flavor some (though it’s still really nice roasted whole). Once the cloves sprout this time of year, I slice them in half lengthwise and pull out the green shoot, which tends to be a bit bitter, then mince.

Sauteed pak choi,water chestnuts, garlic and ginger
We ate the sautéed pak choi along with sautéed onions and red peppers. Together, the two side dishes beautifully complimented the broiled New York steak, part of the half of a grass-fed Jersey that I buy from Rock Hall farmer, Owen McCoy, who also raises pigs, ducks, figs, and who-knows-what-all.  Dinner only took about fifteen minutes to make from start to finish. Today, I’m going to cut the kale for soup. I'll quick-sauté the chopped leaves with a shallot and some berbere spice, then fling it all into a little beef stock I’ve pulled out of the freezer. The growing-and-eating season has begun!

*Pak choi seed remains viable and germinates well for several years if kept dry.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Plague of locusts, anyone?

Well, not really, but tell me, are these or are these not baby grasshoppers on my indoor seedlings?  (If not, inform me what they are!)

Since I'm still battling the aphids (after trying soap and water and then the sadly outdated pyethrum spray from my shed, I've been reduced to rinsing off individual plants under running water, and even that has failed to eliminate the problem) and now these critters showed up today, I'm beginning to feel a mite cursed.

All the seedlings that were inside this morning (cardoons, tomatoes, peppers, dahlias, mizuna, etc. etc.) are now outside enjoying the sunshine, beginning the hardening off process a little early, and hopefully encouraging the invading insects to scatter (I'm also hoping for some ladybugs to eat the aphids).  Most of the pitiful brassicas have been planted in two different gardens and are sitting under row cover that is hopefully not serving as convenient protection for any leftover aphids (I tried to knock them all off, really I did).

I would say "worst year for seedlings ever" but actually most of the remaining plants look pretty good; what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, I guess.  And now I need to start some more summer seedlings to go out in a few weeks - after I make sure there are NO grasshoppers left in my laundry room.

Friday, April 12, 2013

What ails our root vegetables?

Bugs, as much as I respect   them,   I also fear them .  They are the root of all evil that ails our plants especially if we have all the other conditions met.  For this dilemma, I will turn to my books as my resource ( “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” ~Charles William Eliot)

There they are the notorious foursome that seems to pop up everywhere in the references...

1.       Root Weevils

2.       Root Maggots

3.       Wireworms

4.       Voles

There are chemicals and natural remedies to get rid of them. But the best method is prevention.

From Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service,

Prevention includes rotating crops, encourage beneficial insects, scour for pests and symptoms of pest damages, improve the soil...

Other methods for prevention : Barriers and devices such as fences, traps, lights, row covers, and noisemakers are examples of mechanical exclusion methods used to keep pests away from garden plants and out of homes. For example, nuisance wildlife such as rabbits can be excluded from gardens and landscape plantings with fencing. Some insects can be kept away from vegetables by covering them with a row cover made from a special kind of fabric. Birds can be banished from fruit crops by covering trees, bushes, or vines with plastic netting.

Sounds good, I just need to put it into practice since I have no problems with these pests. But as the growing season continues hopefully, I will not have to encounter these fearsome fours… since I have placed preventive measures. :0


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Aversion to Yams

or should I say Sweet Potatoes. Both of these root vegetables taste similar but they are not the same. My mom occasionally makes sweet potato rice porridge. This is a dish that is very popular in China. And even more so during WWII when food source was scarce. But yams (Diosorea opposita syn, D.batatas) seems to grow very well in the rural area my parents and the future me lived. My parents along with the rest of the villagers ate yams for breakfast, lunch and dinner... the reason for the aversion. Needless to say, I also developed a dislike for yams (sweet potaotes sic). Now Sweet Potatoes and Yams are two different types of root vegetables. Yams are natives to China. Meanwhile, sweet potatoes are grown  here.
My little garden helper

Moving forward… I  found I actually like sweet potatoes and yams after trying it several times. I almost find myself feeling a little skeptical about liking it because I remember distinctly how bad it was.  I am not going to try growing it this season. But definitely will try in the near future.

How to grow:

Grow something new and enjoy.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Blanching The Leeks

Two pots of leeks, one blanched with straw the second waiting

 Well, looks like we finally have spring - or maybe early summer - so I’m hauling the cool weather greens that I started in the greenhouse in and out every day to both harden them and keep them from frying as the heat inside ramps up. (So far, the tomato seedlings are loving the heat).  Managed to get some pak choi, lettuce and kale into the ground over the weekend along with two packets of last year’s pea seeds, so I’ll be interested to see what their germination rates turn out to be.

Pak choi and kale (upper trough); lettuce and pak choi 
 The experimental kale and pak choi are going to be ready for harvest this week (can’t wait – looking up recipes for inspiration) and the leeks I planted in two pots are looking happy, unlike the poor guys I planted in the garden when the blankety-blank plant company sent them two solid weeks before I had specified on their site while ordering. The garden leeks look moribund, though I’m going to give them a chance to resurrect themselves. But the potted leeks have grown quite a bit in the past week-plus, and are now about 11 inches out of the soil with beautiful blue-green shoots. Time to start blanching them by shielding the stalks from the sun while keeping enough greenery exposed to gather rays so they can actually continue to grow. 

 Leeks take anywhere from 90-120 days or so to come to a size that you’d expect to pull and use them, so this will mean I need to feed these potted guys a little as I go along with organic fertilizer. I had planted them the same day I put their confreres in the garden in a combination of soil and compost. Their long growth rate, and my competitive longing for huge, fat stalks, compel additional feeding of the potted ones every four weeks or so.
Pak choi ready to be harvested this week

I love leeks. I often sauté them with shallots, poblanos and a few dried chopped tomatoes (and some chili, adobo and hot sauce) and bake them into a frittata, though last night I added them to the cod filets for supper. Yesterday evening,  I shaved some carrots and chopped leeks (bought) and a shallot, sautéed them for about five minutes in olive oil, added the cod and a splash of pinot grigio and simmered for another five minutes until they were barely done (they were thin). I added some capers and served it up with a dollop of sour cream. Quick, easy, delicious. Gotta love leeks.

p.s. I didin't think about photographing supper last night until I started writing this -- sorry. It looked pretty with carrot ribbons and spirals of leeks alongside a glass of white wine. Boring description will have to do.
Three Butterhead lettuces, potted a week ago from seeding cell

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Can of Worms

I started vermi composting last year. It was one of the first projects I did and it worked. You can find my simple project in my previous post.  I had the vermicompost I needed for last season. Unfortunately, I left my bin outside and subjected it to the outside elements.   Needless to say, the redworms did not have their happily ever after. 

As a gardener, worms are my best friends. Interestingly, there is another side to worms. Invasive species of earthworms (earthworms introduced into area where they did not exist) have created havoc to the delicate balance of nature. This is the case in the temperate or temperate-coniferous forests of North America.

For the same reason why we love worms as decomposers, many native species of plants in the temperate forests cannot survive due to the worm efficiency in redistributing nutrients throughout the soil... Sorry for opening up a can of worms...in the circle of life and the delicate balance of it.


Friday, April 5, 2013

Planting cool season transplants

    The somewhat unseasonable cool weather we have been having (29 degrees in Clarksville Thursday night) has made me postpone planting my spring broccoli and cauliflower.  While these plants will withstand cool weather, very cool weather causes them to form button heads rather than full size flower heads.  As a result, I have 16 flats of cool season vegetables waiting in my cold frames, some for my garden and some for a food bank garden where I volunteer.

    So with the warmer weather predicted for this weekend, I decided to plant some Packman broccoli, Snow Crown cauliflower, Golden Acre cabbage, Early White Vienna kohlrabi, Red Sails and Buttercrunch lettuce.  I plant Packman and Snow Crown in the spring because they have short "days to maturity" times (55 and 60 days, respectively), usually yielding beautiful heads of broccoli and cauliflower before the hot June weather arrives.

    I prepared my bed by adding .2 pound of nitrogen per 100 square feet and working it into the soil.  In the spring, I use a ntirogen source that has readily available nitrogen since the microbes in the soil aren't fully active in cool soil.  Next, I planted my broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage transplants in an X pattern.  The plants at the corners of the X are spaced at 3 feet apart, while the center transplant is 18 inches from the corners.  This pattern yields 5 plants in a 3 by 3 foot space.  In the space between the broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, I plant my lettuce, which will yield before the brassicas and ultimately be shaded by the larger plants.  My kohlrabi is planted on one foot centers which allows me to get 25 plants in a 3 foot section of my raised bed.

    Each transplant is watered in with a 50% solution of water soluble fetilizer to get them off to a great start.  Next, I laid out my drip irrigation tubes and placed my wire hoops over the beds to support my insect barrier row cover.  The wire hoops are made from 9 gauge galvanized wire and are 76 inches long.  The wire supports the row cover and protects the small transplants from the row cover.  Later, as the brassicas get larger, I'll remove the wire and let the brassicas support the insect barrier.

   Lastly, I place the row cover over the wire hoops and tack it to the ground using sod staples.  With the row cover and drip irrigation in place, I know that I'll have delicious broccoli and cauliflower in late May.  The lettuce and kohlrabi will be ready for the kitchen in early May.