And the Race is On

And the Race is On

It’s hard to believe it is already spring. I’m actually late on that for the garden, but close enough. Last weekend was the weekend we launched the 2015 garden. My helpers were down for a visit during spring break so we took the opportunity to plant the dinosaur kale and the onions and leeks.

Last year we purchased two different varieties of onions from the local garden center. Wanting a larger selection and leeks, I ordered sets of Texas Sweet, Texas Early White, and Red Creole onions, and Lancelot Leeks. In total, that comes to over 150 – 175 onions and leeks. That number is on top of the onions we planted last fall to see what would happen. Luckily, the leeks can stay in the ground until late next fall. I am not sure how we will use that many onions yet. Maybe a lot of onion soup will be in the making.

Newly Planted Onions

The other crop we planted was the kale. I started the plants last fall intending to plant them at my house. When that didn’t materialize, I figured I would wait a bit and just plant them in the garden. I am sure the kale will be big enough to harvest a little next time I am at the garden. For now, I have to hope the netting I put over the top will protect the plants from the local deer population, which seems to grow every year.

Tomatoes Started

Tomatoes Started

As I have mentioned, I have to stagger starting different plants due to space limitations. The sweet peppers were previously started and they are growing great. They have grown well enough to be moved outside. This past weekend it was the tomatoes’ turn to get planted.

A Package of Seeds
I paid a dime for a package of seeds and the clerk tossed them out with a flip. “We’ve got ‘em assorted for every man’s needs,” he said with a smile on his lip. “Pansies and poppies and asters and peas! Ten cents a package and pick as you please!”
Now seeds are just dimes to the man in the store and dimes are the things he needs; And I’ve been to buy them in seasons before, but have thought of them merely as seeds. But it flashed through my mind as I took them this time “You have purchased a miracle here for a dime!”
“You’ve a dime’s worth of power no man can create, you’ve a dime’s worth of life in your hand! You’ve a dime’s worth of mystery, destiny, fate, which the wisest cannot understand. In this bright little package, now isn’t it odd? You’ve a dime’s worth of something known only to God.

Edgar A. Guest

I am not grafting the tomatoes this year like I have the last few. I just don’t start enough plants to be able to stagger various start times and to be able to plant extra of everything. I did select two new hybrid varieties to grow this year that claim they have increased disease resistance. We will see how they fair.

In addition to not grafting this year, I have modified the soil I start the plants in from last year. Last year I used a mixture heavy with peat moss. I had no end of trouble. I think my primary issues were lack of nutrients and an inability to keep the soil moist. This year I used a heavily composted soil from the nursery. To that I added a little peat and a little perlite. I also added an inoculant typically used for legumes (beans, peas, peanuts). I remember hearing about a science fair project a few high-school students, I think from Ireland, conducted involving something similar and that they had good results with various crops. Since I had extra inoculant lying around, I figured, why not use it up here. I had also added some to the peppers when I started them and they seem to be doing well.

The table below shows the tomato varieties we are growing this year. I think it is good that I don’t have a large space for a garden. Narrowing down what tomato varieties is an agonizing experience. There are so many varieties that look and sound so good. Without a space limit I think I would be growing a small farm’s worth of tomatoes. Hopefully these will grow well and should provide a nice assortment for slicing, cooking, and salsa.

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Winter Born

Winter Born

Last year, March 2014, we planted some winterbor kale plants we bought at the nursery. That was our first attempt at growing kale. We did not have any real idea of how the kale would grow and thought we would give it a try. We planted it in March because we had a couple of helpers and I thought, well, if it gets hit hard by frost, we aren’t out much; if it didn’t get damaged by frost, we would be way ahead for summer. I had read that kale is frost tolerant, but, really, it doesn’t seem that hardy when you look at little plants, so I only partly believed what I read.

Within about two months we were busy harvesting kale. A couple of the plants got munched, likely by deer, but they came back fine. As we came into summer, I started thinking that, surely the hot, dry month of June will cause the kale to bolt and become bitter. That never happened. We never stopped weekly harvests of kale until early winter – just a few months ago. The photo above was taken last weekend, the middle of February 2015 – 11 months after we first put the little plants in the ground.

Next month the kale will be one year old. That will also represent the last harvest from those plants. At that time my helpers will be back for a visit and I have new kale plants ready to take the place of the existing kale. Last year we had winterbor kale and it grew great. This year I have dinosaur kale, also known as Lacinato kale. Dinosaur kale is a Tuscan heirloom variety. I am hoping that the new variety grows well and thrives in what should be a similar climate to its homeland. According to everything I read about kale, dinosaur kale is the preferred tasting variety, so the taste should be good. If the kale is as productive as last year, I am sure we will have kale year round again. Lucky me, as a lot of the soup we made with the kale has been great tasting. It is actually one of my favorite breakfasts.

Spring has Sprung

Spring has Sprung

The long, cold, dark days of winter are gone. The warm days of spring are here. Actually, winter only last about 10 days, which is typical in Phoenix. Today it will be around 80; that, in and of itself, makes it hard to fathom most of the northern parts of the country are actually still in winter. The seed and set orders I place a few weeks ago have mostly arrived.

It is hard to believe I have already started seeds for summer. It seems like we just stopped harvesting everything from last summer. Because I only have limited space to start plants I have to stagger when I initially start the seeds. So far I have planted the various sweet peppers – a shishito, the carmen, and cupid, and an eggplant variety. The eggplant was a last-minute addition after great success making a capanota. None of these should get too large to transport up to the garden in May and I can move them outside for a few months until then after they get large enough to handle large intra-day temperature swings and not be as susceptible to predation. I have a number of hot peppers already outside.

The hot pepper plants I have been over-wintering are mostly doing well. A few are blossoming, which is an occurrence I will likely have to put a stop to soon. I think I am only waiting on one tomato seed packet to arrive, then everything I ordered will be here. Because of issues with grafting last year, mainly getting the various plants a similar size at the same time, I decided not to graft any tomatoes this year. I did branch out into a few hybrid tomato varieties to, hopefully, help production. As a non-conscience part of that decision, two of the varieties are determinant tomato varieties, meaning they grow to a certain size, then produce a batch of fruit. I am also reducing the number of cherry tomato varieties. They grew entirely too tall last year. Another reason for a partial switch to determinant varieties.

Onion sets

One of the crops we had great success with last year was onions. We grew the onions from sets – little onion plants, instead of seeds. We have three varieties of onion sets to plant. We have a sweet Texas, an early Texas, and a red onion. We also have a set of leeks we are excited about. Although they arrived a month earlier than expected, they are doing well. Two helpers are coming down next month so we will be able to plant the onions, leeks, and the kale I have started. I also ordered a large variety of flowers for containers this summer. Some will be edible so they will add nice color and flavor to dishes this summer and fall.

Fig tree cutting

Last year I planted a fig tree cutting in a container at my house. A few weeks ago I took two cutting from that tree to start two more trees. They seem to be doing very well. One of the cuttings has opened little leaves and the other looks close. This success is in contrast to multiple cuttings I have taken to try to clone the ghost pepper. None of those have survived to date, even though I have tried starting them in water and in a loose seed starting soil mixture.

Well, I’m back and things are launched for 2015.

It’s That Time of Year

Horseradish

It’s that time of year again. No, no, not the holidays, though  it is that too; it’s time to evaluate what worked and what didn’t work in the garden this past year. To the extent I can, I like to try to determine why somethings worked and somethings didn’t. Overall, the garden was a success this year. We had some surprises, both in what worked and what didn’t. The photo above is some of the horseradish we harvested over Thanksgiving, and that is taking over the garden.

2014 Harvests by Week
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Happy Halloween

Pumpkins, gourds, and winter squash come in so many shapes and sizes. These are some of our smaller gourds and squash and a couple of the pumpkins, the larger gourds are being used for an event so a better photo will have to wait. Although they are grown next to each other, with the same soil and water, the swan and dipper gourds far out grew our pumpkins and butternut squash this year. We still have enough pie pumpkins for a few batches of pumpkin bars and now that Thanksgiving is so close it won’t be long before the next tray is made.

Fun gourd fact: Gourds were domesticated in South America before edible squash.

Happy Halloween everyone!

What If . . .?

As we harvest the last of this season’s tomatoes, I can’t help but wonder if we would even have a garden if grocery store tomatoes were any good. When we first started a few plants in planters years ago, the first things we tried were tomatoes and cucumbers. I don’t think I am alone with that. After marginal success, and a few great tasting tomatoes, the garden expanded. And expanded again, a few times. We now grow a number of varieties, none of which are available in a store by me. The same is true for most plants we grow. One of the big revelations for us was chocolate tomatoes. I had never even seen them before, but oh the taste, the taste was like no tomato I had had. Sweet, low in acid, meaty.

Gardening can readily become an obsession as one experiences vegetables that taste like something. Even home-grown carrots taste much better than any I have had from a store. Sure, part of the taste is the psychological benefit that I grew it, but, the varieties of vegetables sold at stores were not selected for taste; mine are.

This coming weekend the tomato plants and most others will be pulled up. Water will be disconnected to areas no longer growing anything. And only a few hearty plants like kale, Brussels sprouts, and some winter squash and gourds will be left to grow. The second half of the great plant migration is largely over, but that is a subject for another time.

Enjoy the end of the season harvests. Try to remember what vegetables can, and should, taste like through the winter.