Strawberries from the Garden

Strawberries from the Garden

Feb 27, 2011

Spring is Near!

I am so excited to see that the last of the snow in the garden has melted and now the garden can begin to wake up! A quick tour of the garden and I see that there is a lot of work to do before my beds are ready for the earliest of spring plantings such as peas.

In the fall I covered all of my beds with the leaves we raked and the leaves will be worked into the soil as I add extra soil and hummus to get my beds ready. The leaves always add a wonderful natural compost to my beds and I always have a lot of great earthworms to keep the soil looking great.

I checked the cold frame again, now that it is not covered in snow. I still have a fair amount of scarlet nantes carrots to pull. They have been great during the winter and I love how sweet they are after being in the cold frame through the fall and winter. In November I planted some oak leaf lettuce to see what would happen and I noticed today that we have oak leaf seedlings that look pretty good for late February! I highly recommend some type of cold frame to add to the length of your growing season.

Now, I just have to wait for the soil to dry out a little so I can start preparing my raised beds. With all of the snow everything is just too wet. As tempting as it is, you never want to work your soil when it is too wet. In the long run, it's not worth the damage it causes to the soil. So, I'll be patient and go back to working with my seed starting indoors for a week or two more. 

Feb 24, 2011

Potatoes or Border Collie?

If you're wondering why there is a choice between potatoes and a border collie, it's a funny story. (until harvest time!) We have a young border collie named Luna, she's about 14 months old. I don't know if she's outgrown her puppy ways, I'm not ready to find out!

Last year Luna discovered she loved raw potato, especially if she dug it up out of my garden! She managed to rearrange all planted potatoes, dig up a lot, and dig endlessly in search of more. No surprise, harvest was almost equal to the amount planted. So in the interest of precious garden space and an otherwise very good puppy, I choose the border collie over the potatoes!

If you do decide to plant potatoes, I find the perfect companion plant to be beans. You can plant rows of beans in between the rows of potatoes or plant a couple of teepees of pole beans at either end of your potato bed.

So, Luna and I will enjoy the garden a little more this year. Now if I can just keep her out of the fresh peas.

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Feb 22, 2011

Response to howgardengrow. . .

I'm glad it helped! I have been experimenting with different varieties for several years and I am starting to put together 'all-time' favorites! But I must confess, I can't resist trying something new each year! This year I'm going to try the heirloom black krim tomato. It might be a new favorite!

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Tomatoes, Peppers, and Eggplant

I don't think I can ever plant enough tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant! We love Italian and Mexican food and these three ingredients are a staple in our house!

I plant a lot of different types of tomatoes. I like to plant tomatoes that are good for sauce, salsa, canning whole, and eating fresh. I have found the heirloom yellow and red pear tomatoes will produce more tomatoes than you can ever eat! My grape tomatoes always look more like the size of small plums, and the Cherokee purple tomatoes are amazing anyway you eat them! For sauce to can, I prefer the meaty San Marzano tomato.

My favorites are; yellow and red pear tomato, grape tomato, Cherokee purple tomato, San Marzano tomato

In terms of peppers, I plant all different colors of sweet belle peppers in order to make my homemade salsa a real visual treat as well as delicious! I enjoy the fish pepper, Italian pepperoncini pepper, patio red marconi pepper, and the serrano pepper. I use them fresh, in canning, and some of them I dry, crush and use in cooking throughout the winter.

I love to grow eggplant and I especially enjoy the smaller ones such as Ichaban, Long Purple, and I like the Black Opal. The trick is to give them plenty of space and treat them like a tomato plant.

I interplant carrots, lettuce and basil around my tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.

In early spring, when it is not warm enough yet for this bed, I plant peas and lettuce and then clear everything out in time for the 'warm weather crew'.

The Squash and Legume Neighborhood

I have two beds set aside for squash and legumes. I will start the season with peas and then as the peas are finishing up, I will have my beans planted and ready to roll. I also plant beans on my two trellises that are at the edges of some of my raised beds. Vertical is a great way to go for beans.

In the squash and legume neighborhoods, I will be using bamboo teepees for the pole beans and the area around the teepees will be interplanted with bush bean varieties and yellow squash and zucchini. I also interplant small size sunflowers and I plant nasturtiums in and around the squash.

If more space is needed for beans, I will use the extra space I have in planting areas 10 and 13. They are not part of a raised bed, but they seem to work fine for bush beans.

I will plant my beans about 3 different times during a growing season in order to take advantage of a continuous supply so I will have plenty for eating fresh and plenty for freezing.

I will plant peas again in the late summer for a fall harvest.

Roots & Greens; What do I plant?

I follow the guidelines outlined in Sally Jean Cunningham's book Great Garden Companions; A Companion-Planting System for a Beautiful, Chemical-Free Vegetable Garden. I have made adjustments to fit our needs and the growing conditions of our area.

So, in my two beds I have designated for Roots and Greens I will plant the following;
Swiss chard, kale, lettuce that does not bolt, carrots, parsnips, turnips, onions, beets, garlic, shallots, celery, spinach, and then greens that will do well in the fall such as Kale and Swiss Chard.

Interplanted with my roots and greens will be bachelor buttons, cosmos, and marigolds. I like to tuck nasturtiums around the edges of my raised beds of roots and greens.

Planning for Companion Gardening

Baby it's cold outside!
When it is too cold to do anything outside in the garden, I stay inside and layout my plan for this year's garden. I plan by neighborhoods, or families of plants. I also do a lot of successive planting which means there is always something to plant, something growing, and something ready to harvest. As I mentioned earlier, my garden notebook keeps me organized.

How does my garden keep growing? 
What am I planning for this year? First of all, as I look at my notes and look outside, I realize I lost track of how many 'planting' areas I have. (oops!) I have 8 raised beds for veggies, 1 coldframe, 2 half size raised beds for strawberries and blueberries, and 4 other planting areas around the raised beds where I manage to squeeze plants in as needed.

What neighborhoods am I planning?
Beds #1 and #6 are Roots & Greens
Beds #2 and # 7 are Cabbage
Beds #3 and #5 are Squash & Legume
Beds #4 and #8 are Tomato
#9 = cold frame (currently, carrots and lettuce)
#10 = open for now
#11= Blueberries
#12 = Strawberries
#13 = open for now
#14 = Asparagus
#15 = Herbs

Feb 21, 2011

Snow? 4-8 inches?

Here I am watching the current forecast in disbelief! It's snowing and we're supposed to see 4-8 inches by morning. I think I'll go tend to my seedlings under their grow lights and I'll keep positive thoughts of spring! If we do get all of this snow, I'll be able to make a more detailed post tomorrow. I want to take a few minutes to explain how I set up all of my beds which can help with placing seed orders. Time will tell!

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Feb 20, 2011

Decisions, Decisions!

Starting around the winter holiday season, I began getting seed catalogues from anyone and everyone. Some are tried and true, some I've never even heard of before now. All of them together make any gardener excited about the possibilities!

How do you decide what to grow? First, only grow things you like to eat or anything new you'd like to try. Next, I like to stick with as many heirloom seeds as possible. I like to save seeds from year to year and I want to know that the seed I have saved will hold true and not break down into a vegetable plant that is not quite what I had in mind.

In terms of seed catalogues, I order from John Scheeper's Kitchen Garden Seeds, Henry Fields, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Henry Fields is good for basics, and Baker Creek and Scheeper's are good for more unique varieties of seeds.

One of my favorite places to purchase seeds is from Bowman's Home and Garden in Westminster, Maryland. It's one of those wonderful places where you can go up to a seed counter where the seeds are stored in bins and glass canning jars. The seeds are weighed and packed in a small seed packet or small brown paper bag depending upon the quantity.  By far, seed purchased from Bowman's is always a better value. I also love the fact that I can purchase my peat pots in bulk and receive a quantity discount.

At this point, I think I have purchased just about everything I need in terms of seed. Now it's just a matter of keeping up with my seed starting so everything will be ready to set out when it is time.

Feb 16, 2011

What do you plant in the Cabbage Neighborhood?

What I have learned about companion gardening is the importance of your 'neighborhoods' being little planned communities. Everyone in the neighborhood has to get along and they should all work together to make one big happy section of your garden. One of the first neighborhoods you should address is the Cabbage Neighborhood because of the need to plant your cole crops first.

What do you plant in the cabbage neighborhood?
Broccoli, bok choy,  cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collards, kale, radishes, turnips, parsnips, carrots and brussels sprouts. Now I plant everything listed except brussels sprouts because no one in our family likes them. Whatever you do, don't waste precious garden space planting things that no one will eat!

I do not plant a lot of broccoli and cauliflower in the spring. I find those plants do better in the fall. I also will plant the Chinese Cabbage and collards in the fall.

Now in the early spring I will plant, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, radishes, turnips, parsnips and carrots. I will also include onions, beets, lettuce (all varieties) and swiss chard. As soon as it warms up a little I will work in calendulas, cosmos, and marigolds. You can also add in some herbs such as rosemary and thyme.

Basically, you want your flowers and herbs that complement and help the growth of your vegetables, and you want to keep pests confused. Sometimes I find it is not just the pests that get confused! Companion gardening is what drove me to keeping a notebook so I could keep up with what to plant where. When I'm in the garden, my notebook is right there in my gardening bucket for quick access if I get confused.

Think of the vegetables as the family and the flowers and herbs as the friends. In terms of space, I always allow plenty of room for the cabbages and bok choy. I use two 4'x8' beds because I figure if you have too much, make kimchee or sauerkraut. Besides, the cabbage neighborhood always looks great from spring until about October.

Feb 14, 2011

Garden Neighborhoods

So, before I ever order one pack of seeds or go to my favorite local store, I plan where I am going to plant my 'neighborhoods'. This is where the book Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham is MY constant companion! This is the book that introduced me to the benefits of beneficials, companion planting, and crop rotation.

My backyard is not very large and space is at a premium. My husband came up with a great design for building raised beds and now I have 'grown' to have 7 full size beds that are 4' x 8' and 2 half size beds that are 4'x4' square. My husband was also able to help me with space by building 2 trellis' that work like arbors straddling 2 beds each. This provides great vertical space for things like peas and beans.

Here is a sketch from my garden notebook of the layout and how I am going to plant my Neighborhoods this year.
Layout of Neighborhoods for this year's garden

Feb 13, 2011

New Year, New Garden

This is something new for me. I have been keeping a detailed notebook of all of the planning, preparation,and day to day garden activities for me to keep track of my small kitchen garden for years now. Starting today, I will be sharing those notes in a blog. Here goes . . .

Today is Sunday, February 13, 2011, I have started seeds inside for my cole crops in hopes of having everything I need when it's time to set out transplants. I started my first seeds on Jan. 17th and they look pretty good. I have found that starting seeds indoors is much easier with the help of aquarium hoods outfitted with grow lights. Last year was the first year for this set-up and I think it worked very well.

As the weeks go by and warm weather gets closer, I will be starting seeds, planning my 'neighborhoods', and preparing my raised beds,for this year's kitchen garden.