Thursday, June 26, 2014

Succession planting in practice

All of our GIEI friends contributing to the Grow100 Challenge know what it's like to try to fit your gardening dreams into a limited space (and so does Joe Yonan, who had a nice article about his front-yard garden in the Washington Post today), but even those of us with a bit more square-footage have to plan and improvise to grow everything we'd like to.

I have 400 square feet of growing space at the South Germantown Community Garden - well, 400 square feet minus paths, because I do have to be able to reach my plants. Therefore, succession planting - the art of using the same space for multiple crops during the course of the year - is very important to me. I divide the succession planting concept into several plans of attack:

  • Plant one crop, remove it when it's past its best, and plant another crop in its place.
  • Plant one crop, and then plant another in the same general area before the first crop is done.
  • Plant several things in the same place from the very beginning.
  • Instead of planting all the seeds of a crop at once, sow some every couple of weeks.
  • Sow additional seeds once a crop's established, because I know it may have a limited lifespan.
In all cases it is a good idea to add compost to the beds when starting new crops.

The last month or so, as we've been moving from spring into summer, has been a flurry of succession planting. I let a spring crop of radishes, which didn't all produce good roots before bolting, go to flower because beneficial insects like them and because I like to collect the seedpods and flower buds for eating, but then I pulled them out and replaced them with a short row of bush beans. Bush beans tend to squeeze into my garden in small groups, where there's room, rather than in long rows. I also pulled out my little patch of snow peas before they were quite done (but they had only a few flowers left and it was getting hot), because they were shading a fish pepper plant. It's now shot up with the increased sun exposure.

I planned some space-sharing from the beginning this year. When I put in my lettuce (note to self: DO NOT PLANT SO MUCH LETTUCE NEXT YEAR) I knew I'd plant tomatoes in the same row. The tomatoes have now begun to shade the lettuce, which means it may go a bit longer before bolting.

Last year I planted sweet potatoes under my tomatoes, which worked reasonably well, but this year I put in a row of brassica plants like cauliflower, kale and mustard (under a floating row cover) and then fit in my sweet potato slips among them when they arrived in late May. I've now taken out most of the greens:

and the sweet potatoes have plenty of room to sprawl. The lettuce there is accidental, by the way, produced by a stray seed, and the row cover to the left is protecting some kale that's still growing. There's also a volunteer squash in that bed, which I am keeping my eye on to make sure it doesn't take over completely.

Speaking of squash, I have planted some winter squash among my beets:

The beets should all be harvested before the squash takes over - if it does, and doesn't succumb to pests or disease. Look at the photo carefully and you will spot a cucumber beetle, who I'm sure is happily spreading bacterial wilt to my young cucumber plants. I've put in extra cucumber seeds next to the first ones so I'll get a second crop.

If the squash does take over, it can spread into the space just beyond the beets where the garlic is coming out this week. Though I may also buy some additional peppers or eggplants and stick them there. Or plant some bush beans.

In all your planning, remember to spare some room for flowering plants that will attract pollinators and other beneficial insects to your garden. I've had both calendulas and cosmos come back in a big way, and have let some of the plants grow. I've also got a half dozen lavender plants on the edges of the plot, growing happily despite the soil not being really ideal for them (too much clay).

I wish I'd been able to catch in the photo one of the many bees buzzing around the plant, but believe me, they love it. I may have limited planting space, but I yield it happily to herbs and flowers.

And summer may have only just begun, but it's time to think about where the fall plants are going to fit in. Hmm…

Friday, June 20, 2014

Grow100 Check-in Period 1 Winner and Highlights

Here they are!  The results from the first Grow100 update period!  We were impressed with the amount of participation from Marylanders (and a few out of state folks as well!).  In total, 28 gardeners sent in info to the first update period, with a pretty even split across the three competition categories, 4-Rs, Max Production, and New to Gardening.  We received a lot of great photos and information about your gardens and are excited to pick one we thought stood out above the rest in Update period 1, plus share a few other little highlights.

There are two more check in periods to go.  Period 2 starts NOW and goes until August 15th.  Submit your check in photos and info anytime between now and then.  Click this link to go to the Check in Period 2 form.  Make sure you check in during all three periods to be considered for the grand prize in your category at the end of the Grow100 contest!

We are happy to announce that Alison Rolen of Anne Arundel County is our winner for Period 1 of the contest! She wins a $25 Gift Certificate to High Mowing Seeds.

Alison, who became a Master Gardener intern soon after registering for the Grow100 competition, entered her garden into the 4-R's category.  In this category, we are looking for the use of techniques to reduce waste, energy, and water use; re-use materials; recycle nutrients; and re-think conventional gardens. Alison's approach is not only earth-friendly, but wallet-friendly.
Alison started most of her plants from seed and used cardboard egg cartons and saved greens containers to make the perfect greenhouse setup.  She recycled 9-cell packs inside of a solid base for tomatoes and peppers.  She obtains her pots by borrowing from friends and "free-cycling" online.  All of her garden beds are also made from salvaged and recycled materials as well.

On her way to being a Master Gardener, Alison has already become a Master Recycler, and we think that is cool.

Here is a sample of what's growing in Alison's garden:

4x4 raised bed – made from cedar salvaged from a commercial renovation project 
  • 2 Super Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes on permanent trellis 
  • row sugar snap peas growing on a removable trellis 
  • 3 rows rainbow chard 

4x12 raised bed – made at the same time as above with the same materials 
  • 4sqft – direct sowed spinach; 
  • 4sqft – direct sowed lettuce; 
  • 2sqft “overwintered” spinach; 
  • 6sqft purchased lettuce (producing currently) 
  • (4x4)- 2 “steak” tomatoes planted in recycled plant buckets buried in the bed. The pots are filled with fresh, bagged compost for nutrients and larger root zones, these are caged; and 2 bush-type cucumbers.
4x4 - raised bed
  • 12 sweet pepper plants 
  • 1 row pole beans to grow on permanent trellis
18”x 9’ raised brick planter – attached to the house
  • 1 cherry tomato on trellis,
  • 6 hot pepper plants 
  • 6 sweet potatoes
2x2 whiskey barrel – actual recycled whiskey barrel 
  • 1 early type tomato - caged
  • 2 ruby chard 
Harvested so far: several cuttings of chard, spinach, lettuce; snow peas.

For a Total: 84.5 sq feet 

Ruby chard and tomato in a whiskey barrel

Other Highlights

There were several other great instances of earth-friendly gardening that we were impressed by.
 Laura in Carroll County uses an efficient rain barrel system, and an awesome cold frame created from old windows and parts, plus recycled window screens used as supplemental fencing to keep hungry critters out.

Lisa Neuscheller from out of state recycled an old bike wheel to hang twine for beans to grow on.
Several gardeners were serious about there critter security.  We saw a lot of great enclosures and deer fences.
From left: The Blondells from Fairfax Co, VA, David in Baltimore County, Pam Leifer in Montgomery County.
Several gardeners made great use of limited space with salad tables and pots for some great urban gardening.

From left: Lisa from New England, Anna in Baltimore City, and the Germantown Library in Montgomery County.

There were a ton of great gardens sent in.  It was just too much to highlight everything, so don't be discouraged if your garden wasn't featured.  We are looking forward to the next two check-ins so we can see how your gardens progress!  Keep up the good work!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Aphids and beetles and flies, oh my!

The Derwood Demo Garden is not only a garden, but also a zoo! Or at least an insect zoo (though there are a few chipmunks and rabbits running around, unfortunately). Every week we discover some new critters, which are photographed by our esteemed co-leader, Darlene Nicholson. This week we found a whole little ecosystem on the cardoon plants.

First photo (by me) - the cardoons are forming buds already, but unfortunately they have attracted a multitude of aphids, along with the ants that feed on the aphids' honeydew secretions.

When this occurs, we have a few simple solutions: a soap-and-water spray that will take care of some of the aphids, a good blast of water to wash them away, and/or letting nature take its course in the form of lady beetles and other predators. One of which we spotted on another cardoon plant:

by Darlene Nicholson
This is the larva of a syrphid fly, which eats aphids and other soft-bodied insects. The adults resemble bees, and are valuable pollinators in the garden. You can attract them by planting a wide range of flowering plants, especially those with multiple tiny flowers (this includes many herbs).

The cardoons were also hosting the larvae of tortoise beetles:

by Darlene Nicholson
which do feed on leaves but cause only minor damage. The larvae have the interesting habit of holding a shield of their own excrement, which they raise overhead when threatened, perhaps for a disguise or to make themselves less appetizing. Here's an adult tortoise beetle:

by Darlene Nicholson
It's a very weird-looking but also strangely attractive creature.

We're just seeing the first Colorado potato beetle larvae on the potatoes, but for the last few weeks we've also seen some flea beetle damage (not sufficient to harm growth). Interestingly, the flea beetles seem to have a distinct preference for the leaves of the Austrian Crescent potatoes. Comparison:

Yukon Gold

Austrian Crescent

And on the subject of non-insect beneficial creatures in the garden, here's a toad that we disturbed while picking lettuce:

Always good to see toads in the garden!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Vegetables on the "Powerhouse List" based on their ranking of the amount of 17 critical nutrients they contain.

While reading the Post this morning, I came across this article.  Of interest was the fact that Swiss chard, a member of the beet family, beet greens and spinach ranked so highly.  Give it a read and remember that variety is important not just for nutrition, but also for phytochemicals.

Almost time to sow seeds for fall, cool season vegetables

I know it's hard to believe since the summer solstice is still 11 days away and if like me, you are still harvesting spring broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and kohlrabi, but it's time to start planning for the fall garden.  Fall, cool season vegetable transplants broccoli, cauliflower, kale and collards will need to be sown indoors in the next few weeks in order to have transplants ready for the garden in the first weeks of August.  Brussels sprouts should be sown now, since they take longer to mature and should be transplanted in mid July

Referring to the Home and Garden Information Center's publication HG 16 and using broccoli as an example, broccoli transplants can be planted in the garden in late July through the first three weeks of August. Your actual transplanting date depends on the first frost date for your area.  First frost date for Maryland can be found by accessing this link.  I use October 15 as my first frost date for Clarksville Md.  I usually transplant my fall cool season vegetable the first week of August, since I'm usually at the beach during the second week.

Determining when to start your transplants is a fairly easy calculation.  First, pick a date when you want to start harvesting your fall broccoli or use the first frost date in your area, say you want to start harvesting on October 10 and continue to harvest side shoots throughout the fall. From October 10, subtract 14 days for so called short day factor (after the summer solstice, the period of daylight each day shortens so plants don't grow as fast). You also need to take into account the suggested number of days it takes to raise the broccoli from transplant to maturity. In the case of the Packman broccoli I'm growing this fall, it's 55 days from transplant to maturity. So that means the transplants should go in the ground 69 (14 + 55) days prior to my October 10 harvest date or about August 2. Since it takes five to six weeks to get broccoli from seed to transplantable size, subtract that number of days from the August 2 date (I'll use six weeks or 42 days in my example), so you should start your seeds on June 21. The formula is, harvest date minus short day factor (14 days) minus days to maturity minus days to grow from seed to transplantable size equals seed starting date.

On the top right hand side of the Grow It Eat It web page, there is a link to a useful Excel spreadsheet which can help with calculating seed starting dates for spring and fall gardens. 

For more information on starting vegetable seeds indoors, access this link.  This web page will also allow you to view videos on seed starting.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Freezing greens the smart way!

I started a lot of mustard plants this spring, because it grows really well in the demo garden (as long as we keep it under row cover), yields heavily, and is popular with the clients at Manna Food Center, where we donate produce. But I had more extra Red Giant and Purple Osaka plants than anticipated, which meant that a lot of them ended up in my own garden.

I like mustard, but I'm inclined to mix it with other greens, and it needs frequent harvesting, so I end up freezing a lot of it. When we eat commercial frozen greens, which we often do in the winter, it's easy to take as much as we need out of the bag, because each leaf (or cut piece of leaf) is separate from the rest. But when I put my steamed greens into a freezer bag, I ended up with a big lump that had to be thawed (and then used) all at once.

This time I got smart, and once I'd washed the mustard, cut it into strips, and steamed it, I used tongs to lay it out in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and then stuck the sheet into the freezer for about ten minutes. This resulted in nice crisp half-frozen leaves, which I then put into a bag - and I've just checked, a day later, and the leaves are not in a lump but easily separable and convenient for future use.

The bag's also marked with the contents and date of freezing, an obvious and intelligent action that I have been known to forget in the past.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Joe Yonan’s front-yard veggie garden

Joe is the Food and Travel editor of The Washington Post and is writing about his front-yard gardening experiences once a month in the weekend Travel & Leisure section. I visited his city garden this morning and was impressed by the great variety of herbs, flowers, and veggies growing in five raised beds and some containers. Joe is following the square foot method this year for ease of planning and planting. 

He told me he’s been harvesting and eating lots of leaf lettuce. The bed in the rear (left top photo) is mostly shaded and should be perfect for mid-summer lettuce crops. I think the garden’s location is the coolest thing about it. Joe told me that people walking and driving by are curious. Maybe this attractive garden and the harvests to come will inspire new gardens in his neighborhood!