Garden log, 2.8.15

Hurrah! Mother Nature says it’s time to plant the peas.

plant your peas copy

It’s important to wait until your soil is adequately warm to plant seeds or transplants. If it’s too cold and damp, the seeds will rot, or germination will be delayed. Don’t ask me how I learned these facts.

I planted ‘Oregon Sugar Pod II’ and ‘Cascadia.’ It’s always dicey, planting peas, because our springs can go from cool to blazing hot in just a couple of weeks. Fall crops tend to perform better, but I try every year for a good spring batch.

Planted some ‘Bloomsdale’ spinach, flat-leaf Italian parsley, and bok choi as well. Hope that harvest looks as good as this one.

Left to right: Arugula, lettuce ('Freckles') and bok choi.

Left to right: Arugula, lettuce (‘Freckles’) and bok choi.

A quick garden postcard: fresh January salad (and recipe)

Lettuce 'Freckles'

Lettuce ‘Freckles’

I peeked under my row cover yesterday to see how the greens are doing. What could be better than a fresh salad from the garden in January?

Lettuce grows quickly. This variety, ‘Freckles,’ can be harvested in 55 days from seed. The critical thing is to ensure it has steady moisture. With our unending rain, that hasn’t been a problem.

I’m going to toss this with a tablespoon each of dried cranberries and pecan pieces. I’ll top it off with some parmesan cheese, and dress it with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. I may throw in a few leaves of fresh thyme.

Try it. You’ll like it.

Zone 7 Gardeners, Start Your Seeds!

If you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 7 or warmer, it’s time to sow seeds (indoors) of

  • Onions
  • Hot peppers
  • Artichokes
  • Celery

If your onion seed is left over from last year, pitch it out. Onion and leek seed seldom remains viable longer than one year.

How to sow vegetable seeds:

  1. Fill a clean, sterile flat with a soilless mix. Ideally, choose one made for seed starting.
  2. Moisten the mix and tamp it down firmly.
  3. Sow the seed according to package directions.
  4. Cover lightly (if indicated) with sand, perlite, or grit to thwart damping off.
  5. Water lightly again.
  6. Cover with clear plastic and place in a warm, well-lit location.
  7. Monitor every day or so to maintain good moisture levels. When seedlings emerge, remove the plastic covering.

If you’re looking for good varieties to try, consult Cornell’s Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners website. This citizen-science database includes reviews of thousands of vegetable varieties by gardeners across the country. You can filter results by your state, frost-free season, or soil texture.

A simple search of recommended tomato varieties for my state.

A simple search of recommended tomato varieties for my state.

You won’t transplant these outside for some time yet, but these crops need an extra-long head start. Aren’t you glad you have some indoor gardening to do when it’s so cold and nasty outside?

Crop experiment: Growing shallots

Have you ever grown shallots? I haven’t, but I’ve just ordered my first sets to plant this fall. I love the way they taste, so I’m excited to try them.

Shallots (Allium cepa var. aggregatum) are botanically related to onions and garlic. They are native to Central Asia and have a very mild, delicate onion flavor that is wonderful in salads and egg dishes. They grow like garlic, forming clusters of offsets (small bulbs that form off the main bulb). Inside the bulb, shallots are layered like onions.

I’m growing French gray shallots (Allium oschaninii), which some consider to be the “true” shallot, and French red shallots, the ones most often found in grocery stores and markets. The red shallots are supposed to be easier to grow, but the gray ones allegedly have better flavor. The red shallots grow larger; the grey produce prolifically.

Like other root crops, they like well draining soil amended with lots of organic matter. My raised beds should suit them very well, as they contain equal parts composted manure, decomposed bark, and washed sand. I’ll perform a soil test before planting to make sure the pH is appropriate. I cannot plant them until mid-October, but if I wait until then to order them, they won’t be available. I made that mistake last year.

What crops are you trying out in your fall garden this year?

Dear Friend and Gardener: August 15, 2014

Dear Friend and Gardener,

Looking out the window this week at all the mud and mess in the garden, I fell into a bit of a funk. But a little something came in the mail today:

seed packet delivery

 

And now I’m feeling a little brighter.

Are you planning your fall garden? Planting your fall garden? What will you be growing?

Dear Friend and Gardener: August 8, 2014

Dear Friend and Gardener,

I’m trying a technique often used in the vegetable garden in my landscape: cover cropping. I’m sowing buckwheat in bare areas in my landscape in hopes of suppressing weeds in the areas I’ve cleared. I just recently learned that buckwheat is not a grass, but is related to sorrel, which I grow and love. I’m hopeful that its long taproots will help break up my thick clay and bring some nutrients up from the subsoil. I have no idea if I’ll be able to harvest any buckwheat seed or not–that will be a little adventure to look forward to as the weather cools.

Wet processing seeds decanting tomato seedsMy vegetable seed-saving is in full swing. It’s a great way to make use of those Principe Borghese tomatoes whose skins split wide open before I can harvest and process them. I’ve also got a fine batch saved from my ‘Contender’ bush beans, and I know I’ll have more ‘Cossack Pineapple’ ground cherries than I’ll know what to do with. I’m donating packets to the Digging Durham Seed Library. I’m still refining my pickle recipe, and hoping to score a second-hand boiling water bath canner from my in-laws’ house so I can take my food processing adventures even further.

My landscape looks tired, but the promises of fall are already visible. The berries on my ‘Issei’ callicarpa are beginning to turn, and buds are forming on the chrysanthemums I cut back in June. My crinums started blooming today–such elegant things. Crinums are supposed to be wonderful passalong plants, but I have to wonder how that passing gets accomplished. From all I’ve read, they, like the amaryllis to which they are related, like to pull their bulbs down into the soil for a few years before they bloom, and don’t care to be moved after that. And we know that the bulbs grow to be the size of basketballs. Who could share one without use of a backhoe?

chrysanthemum budsI’m thinking about building another raised bed before the fall, where I can grow some veg that will be harvested through the winter. I’m planning to order shallots and garlic–I missed the shallots last fall–and I’ve got a long list of spring-blooming bulbs that will need to be ordered soon. The gardening to-do list never ends! What a shame it would be if it did.

Best,

Amy

What to plant next?

It’s counterintuitive, to me, to think about planting new vegetables in August, when heat and humidity typically overpower even the most enthusiastic gardeners.

But one of the blessings of gardening in Zone 7b is that it seldom gets so cold (polar vortices notwithstanding), that we can’t work the soil. We don’t get much snow. And root crops and greens can be harvested all winter long, assuming the gardener gets them started and into the ground at the right time.

seed packets of winter vegGreens like lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, collards, mustard greens, and Asian greens can be started now. It’s a bit early for spinach–I expect temperatures to zoom back over 90 at any time, so I’ll wait until after Labor Day to start that crop. Transplants of broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage can be set out. Root crops like carrots, turnips, radishes, and beets can be sown as well. Planting those at the feet of taller crops like tomatoes or beans makes good use of restricted space.

And speaking of tomatoes and beans, I still have time to get a final crop of those in, if I have a variety that matures in under 80 days. My average first frost is around October 20.

An important tip I’ve learned in recent years is that after the midway point of the season, it’s critical to add extra days to the time-to-maturity of a given crop, to allow for the increasingly shorter day lengths. The amount of time is a matter of trial and error and observation, but you might start with a week or ten days at this point and make notes from there. So, for example, if I’m looking to get a crop of tomatoes before October 20, I should count back the days-to-maturity from October 10 or 13. Fortunately, my ‘Sophie’s Choice’ tomatoes mature in 55 days, which should be plenty of time. Many varieties of bush beans and cucumbers also mature in under 80 days.

There are many online calendars that can help gardeners find what to plant when.

  • If you’re not sure of your USDA hardiness zone, The Vegetable Garden’s site will help you and then point you to a calendar suited to your area. The site also has links to all US Cooperative Extension websites, where you can further narrow your search and find resources tailor-made for your area.
  • Almanac.com’s planning calendar is a good general guide, but you’ll need to know your first and last average frost dates and be able to take your soil temperature.
  • Extension.org gathers research and best practices from US land-grant colleges via their cooperative extension services.
  • A simple internet search of “month by month” planting calendars may yield additional results, but bear in mind that they may not be appropriate to your gardening area.

For a successful harvest, use guidelines published by your local extension office. The resources are free and extension master gardeners are available to help you.