Thursday, March 31, 2011

I am a slow learner

       Back at Thanksgiving 2010 I told you about the visit from the deer with an appetite for chicories.  They ate the radicchio and red stem dandelions and nothing else!  Having been grazed to the ground, the radicchio was staging a remarkable comeback.

Radicchio, third column from left, 3/11/11

Radicchio, protected by glass panel, 3/22/11

     I had even progressed to trying to out think the deer, leaving that one panel on to protect the radicchio.  It was developing into a beautiful head, and I was starting to plan a lovely spring salad display for the family Easter get together.  Yesterday was the first day in a five day forecast with lows above freezing.  Well of course I was smart and removed ALL of the glass panels.  And, yep, this morning the radicchio was ravaged.  Only the radicchio.  When will I learn?  I will go over to the park now to cover it again.  One more time.  Maybe I will get another recovery.  But then again, maybe I should give up on radicchio.

Ravaged radicchio, 3/30/11

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Gardening with Wood Chips

      "My Grand Mother once had five wood chips dropped into her garden when a tree was cut down.  She couldn't use that bed for years.  Was the chips robbing the nitrogen.  Yep, can't use them wood chips."  Such are the comments I hear all of the time.  Not grounded from one's own experience or scientific evidence, but from urban legend.  Please check out this link for positive comments:        

Bellevue free wood chip pile

      I have been using wood chips for garden paths for thirty years.  And have never experienced a negative side effect.  To the contrary, I swear to the benefits of greatly reduced weed populations, great moisture control, and on location soil improvement.  After about three years, you can rake off the thinned layer of chips, and use a shovel to harvest the layer of black gold soil that has formed under the wood chips.  After stripping out one or two inches of this loam, just start building up your chips again.  I am always amazed at how quickly the garden eats wood chips, and how often I need to find more.  Luckily, the park maintenance folks drop piles of free chips by the gardens, and tree services are often happy to drop chips at your home in order to avoid the tipping charges to drop them at the landfill.  If using a tree service, ask them to drop only clean loads without branches or brush.

Wood chips surround a garden bed
      This early spring season delivers lots of rain to gardens in this area.  Muddy swamps appear like mushrooms after a rain.  Yet a thick layer of wood chips makes a path walkable instantly.  The amount of water sponged up and retained by the chips is also amazing.  I have pulled up tomato plants at the end of the season that have ten foot root systems that have run under the chip paths.  Sought out the chips, not killed by them!

Bellevue, my plot, number 84

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tomatoes, in March?

     This experiment with storing tomatoes was totally unplanned, a result of sloppiness and laziness.  I had pulled all of the last of the Chocolate Cherry tomatoes off of the plants in the fall, and put them on the porch to see if the green tomatoes would ripen.  Well they did, into November, and into December, and even later.  They don't look great now, but what can be expected for March?

Chocolate Cherry tomatoes, 3/27/11

     I have actually snitched many, and I live to write this blog.  The one a couple of days ago actually tasted pretty darn good for a March tomato.  I got to thinking about the shriveled up tomatoes, and figure they are just like tomatoes that drop from the plants in the garden and then sprout as volunteers.  Maybe these raisin tomatoes have viable seed without going through the soaking and fermenting process usually suggested to keep tomato seeds.

Chocolate Cherry tomato seeds, 3/27/11

      The above picture is of four shriveled tomatoes, the bottom one of which has been picked apart for the seeds shown in the picture.  The seeds were planted on 3/27, and I figure within a week I should know whether dried tomatoes make viable seed.  Will report back.
      In any case, I have found the Chocolate Cherry to be an absolutely delicious tomato.  It produces early in the season, but also produces wonderfully throughout the summer.  The tomatoes keep extremely well when summer and fall have left for the year.  This fall I will actually try to store the late fruit under more favorable conditions.  My starter seeds were from Territorial Seed Co. for the year 2008.  Those seeds are still viable.
      Most of my many different varieties of tomato seeds started 3/20 are up about an inch.  Another flat was planted 3/27, but those have not yet broken ground.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Survivors, Too

     On March 9th, I did a blog on survivors, those plants in this area that wintered over on their own.  Tough customers they are.  Here are a few more additions that have been spotted in the meantime.

Radicchio by my compost pile, 3-24-11  
Mild tasting mustard, my Bellevue plot, 3/24/11  

Curly leaf kale, my Bellevue plot, 3/25/11
Garlic, my Bellevue plot, 3/25/11
Self seeded carrots, my Bellevue plot, 3/25/11
Leeks, John V's plot at Bellevue, 3/25/11
Spinach, John V's plot at Bellevue, 3/25/11
Tango Lettuce, my back yard, 3/25/11
Parsley, my back yard, 3/25/11
 Leek, a volunteer from my back yard, 3/25/11

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why is she so lucky?

         These two paragraphs were lifted from a previous post on 2/21/11.  Read on for an update:

Straw Bale Frame 2/20/11
     Emily and husband Mike host a Halloween party for friends and family in the fall.  Mike has access to a full size tractor and trailer, the beginnings of a top notch hay ride.  All the kids, maybe twelve or more, fill the space in the trailer.  Adults have to trek around while the little candy grabbers ride in luxury.  Still, a good time is had by all.  Lonely straw bales at the end of the day.  A golden opportunity for Pop to get rid of the nasty old storm windows stored in the garage for decades.  Mom thanks you Em.
     Last fall, Emily and I put the bales around some existing plants in her garden, and moved some others.  An instant cold frame.  Unlike her Pop who worries and coddles and tries to insulate his veggies, Emily ignored her charges over the cold winter.  She was shocked and pleasantly rewarded to see beautiful Swiss Chard and various lettuces happily growing through the hard winter.  Em, as I suggested yesterday, things could use a little water.

       Update:  Emily and family just got back from a week's vacation on this past Sunday.  While they were away, the weather hit 70 something, so I made sure to visit to take the glass off of her cold frame.  But  then it was forecast to be in the twenties on Saturday night, so I asked my wife to put the glass back on Friday with some gaps for ventilation.  I asked Emily on Tuesday about the frame, and her answer was: "Gee Dad I don't know, I haven't had the time to check".  When I get back from vacation, the garden is the first thing I check on after I have determined that the house hasn't burned down.  Different priorities.
     Emily sent me a picture today.  Blew me away.

Emily's Straw Bale Frame, 3/24/11

     Monster lettuce, absolutely beautiful!  The arugula on the right side we planted just a month ago when we took the upper foto on February 20th.  An outstanding crop of swiss chard near the top, with frilly dill just below that.  There is some pretty lush chick weed in there as well, but it too is delicious on a salad.
     So I ask, why is she so lucky?  She told me today that she didn't even water per my February suggestion.  On top of that, the frame runs absolutely perpendicular to the way I would have made it if not for the existing plants we boxed around.  It would seem that the plants love the insulation of the straw bales.  There also may be a fertilizer effect from rain and snow percolating down through the straw bales.  In any event, I am pretty sure that Emily will be repeating the process this year.
     Enjoy your salads Em.  I wish my greens were that big!

Not quite spring weather

     Ok, so I have been pushing it.  A two day stretch of 60's and 70's last week started the juices flowing.  Some pea starts and onion seedlings went in the ground, as well as eight small cabbage that were a gift.  All cold hardy plants.  But yuck, the forecast lows for the next five nights are 22, 22, 27, 23, and 25 degrees.  The cabbage has already suffered from weather not as bad.  So, it is back to the cold protection bag of tricks.

Homemade cloche

      Using a safety razor, I made a starter cut along the label from a two liter bottle.  Then the little scissors were used to cut off the bottom.

Six done quickly
     Six cloches were made pretty quickly.  The bottoms can be used to plant some seeds, plus the bottoms stack, a huge space savings.

Blellevue, 3/24/11

     So I tromped over to the park this morning where it was not even 34 degrees yet.  Cold, damp, and gray.  The little cloches fit nicely over the cabbage starts that had new growth emerging from the previous frost damage.  The green plants between the plastic bottles are fava beans.  I am gambling that they will stand up to the cold, as supposedly they can be planted in the fall to overwinter.

English podded peas and tango lettuce, 3/24/11

     The next worry was the newly planted snap peas, the English podded peas, and the Tango lettuce.  The plastic sleave used as one of the first instant cold frames for the 2010 winter season was pressed back into temporary service.

Bellevue, 3/24/11

     Instant protection, to be left on for a few days.  The bed of onions that wintered over without protection can be seen in front of the new plastic tunnels.  I have been snitching the scallions already.  The newly planted Walla Walla onion starts will just have to survive on their own.
     Hopefully this is just a short delay before better growing weather.  Garden on,  George

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Early Pickins

Bellevue early pickins, 3/23/11
Top row, left to right: senposai, champion collards, Beedy's kale
Middle row: Chinese thick stem mustard (tangy!), arugula, Mizuna mustard
Bottom: Red russian kale

     These plants were all started 8/28/10 or later, and wintered over in the single layer cold frames.  I picked these greens because they were too tall for the tops to go back on.  We are supposed to have a couple of nights with lows of 25 degrees.  Why chance it?  Say good bye to the greens, my daughters are coming over for dinner!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Snap peas and onions

     A step backward for the weather.  We may get snow mid week, and see lows of 27 degrees.  So much for trying to push the garden forward this week.  My feet are still chilled from the visit to the park garden this morning.  I am running out of flats and room to keep new veggie starts, so something had to be done.  Looking at my current starts and the weather forecast, I figured peas and onions could most easily transition to the garden.

Onions from seed, 3-22-11
      I had started a flat of Walla Walla onion seed on 1/15/11, and a flat of Red Burgundy onions on 1/16/11.  The germination rates of both were disappointing, especially the Red Burgundy.  Both seed packets were for use in 2010, and that may have been a problem as I have since read that onion seed does not keep very well.  So maybe it would make sense on the next try to fork over for current seed rather than trying for the 1/2 off sales for prior year seed.  I would also think the seed could be planted in December, as a little more size to the seedlings would be great.  The flat of Walla Walla seedlings was transplanted this morning, with plants on about 4 inch centers.  The volunteer tatsoi in the picture went right into the new onion bed.

Walla Walla onion starts, 3-22-11

Bush snap peas, 3-22-11

     The plants above are Sugar Ann Snap Peas, my first attempt at bush snap peas.  The seeds, planted on February 23rd, were part of that free treasure trove of Heirloom Seeds mentioned in an earlier post.  They are planted where they can easily be trellised if they need help.  An internet article says the plants are quite spindly and can be planted closely together.  I love the pole variety of snap peas, and will be planting lots of those.

Sugar snaps, 3-22-11

Monday, March 21, 2011

First Mint

Bellevue Seedlings, 3-21-11

     The picture above is of a cold frame at the park currently being used to grow out and harden some of my veggie starts.  That's just some.  What have I done?  There are more on the porch.  I can imagine hours upon my knees trying to get all of these in the ground at some future date.  I have asked for takers without great response.  Hint, hint.
     The cold frames are empty bottomed, so things from last year can and will pop up to regrow or start from seed.  In the bottom right hand corner above, you can see the mint starting to grow from under the seed packs.  Now some of you probably consider mint to be a nasty invasive weed.  And you would be right.  But it does mightily improve a cup of tea in my opinion.  And on a cold cloudy day in March like today, oh what a beautiful weed.  As a bonus, the tiny little beneficial wasps love the dainty mint flowers.

Cold Frame Close-up, 3-21-11

     This is a closer shot of the top left corner of the previous picture.  I snipped off lots of those nice dark green tufts of fresh mint.  The first of the year!  Next it will be upstairs to brew a large mug of raspberry herbal tea, with several sprigs of mint floating around.  May even help my wife feel better about her nasty cold.  You can't see them in this picture, but there are dozens of little cole crop babies also sprouting in the frame.  The mint is only just breaking ground immediately outside the cold frame.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Garlic and Beedy's kale, 3-17-11

     I started growing garlic only two years ago, yet now I will never stop.  Garlic should be planted in November or early December by separating a head into the individual cloves.  Plant each clove about one inch deep on four to six inch centers.  The garlic will overwinter in some pretty serious winter areas, and grow to be ready for harvest in June.  You must dry the garlic properly to get good storage time.  My garlic from last year is now either sprouting or drying, so we will need to buy some garlic.  Gasp, grumble.  But those cloves that are not edible now, are certainly destined to go back in the ground for another try.
     The picture above is of some garlic and Beedy's kale that wintered over without protection.  Hard necked garlic puts up a flower stalk that eventually curls like a pig's tail.  The flower will mature to a seed head, that will have lots of mini garlic bulblets.  You can plant those bulblets, but they will take two to three years to mature to edible garlic.  The small plants at the top of the above picture are from bulblets started on my porch from last fall.  Their pictures have graced previous posts referenced to garlic.
     Finally, in an earlier post I had concluded that I had a couple of leek volunteers growing from some blown in seed.  Well I tasted a leaf on each plant, and they are garlic!  My palate will probably remember that they are garlic for a couple of more days.  You can use the stalks and leaves of garlic as "green Garlic".  Just google that and you will get lots of ideas and recipes.

Beans and peas

Fava beans, 3-17-11  

     I like to start all of my beans and peas in flats before planting out.  It allows me to see if the seeds germinated, and eliminates the stage of the birds or mice eating the seeds.  These plants are fava beans, a bean that gets to be much the size of a lima bean.  The plants actually like cool weather, and thus have already been put in the ground on March 17th.  If anyone has a clue as to how to eat them, please let me know.  I would continue to plant them now if only for their ability to fix nitrogen.  They have been planted with cabbage as seen below.  The cabbage and beans will have to fight over the space, a common occurrence in my gardens.  The cabbage plants were started by Willie, but given to me by Bob King.  If they attain only half the size that Bob's grow to be, they will be great.

Cabbage and Fava beans, 3-17-11

Little Marvel peas, 3-17-11

      The Little Marvel peas went in where they can be easily trellised.  I had sworn off growing English podded peas, as being too much trouble for too little yield.  I don't know what made me plant them last year.  But I did, and they were DELICIOUS.  Shelled to a bowl, eaten raw like peanuts.  Not a one ever made it to a pot of boiling water.  So English peas are back on the menu with their equally wonderful cousins the snap peas and snow peas.

Little Marvel peas, 3-17-11

A few planted

From porch, 3-18-11
        Some things in this flat were ready to plant.  The frilly Tango Lettuce is quite hardy, and was planted in front of Little Marvel peas that just went in.  The Pak Choi in the bottom right hand corner went to fill some holes in a cold frame bed at the park.  The top right hand corner section is Red Stem Dandelions which will go back home, as a patch is doing nicely at the park.
        The remaining four six packs on the left are two packs of Early White Vienna Kohlrabi and two packs of Pacman Broccoli.  They went unplanted into a holding cold frame to get some more size.  After a nice day of weather yesterday in the mid seventies, the weathermen are teasing us with the possibility of a snow storm mid week.  Most planting plans just hit a major slowdown till things settle down a bit.  With a low projected of 31 tonight, the glass will go back on the frames this afternoon.  Spring.  Fits and starts.   George

Friday, March 18, 2011

Harbingers, two

     More pictures of spring in the back yard.

Purple crocus, my back yard, 3-18-11    
White and yellow crocus, my back yard, 3-18-11
Wood hyacinth, my back yard, 3-18-11 
Miniature daffodils, my back yard, 3-18-11

Daffodils, still to bloom at the house, 3-18-11

Neat onions

Onion transplants 3-17-11
     Last year was a good onion year for me, having loads of white and yellow onions to keep.  The ones that were small, that is more trouble to cut, went back in the garden in the fall.  They are about to be picked as needed as scallions.  But some of the other onions in the park were beautiful monsters.  They had been started as transplanted onion slips by some of the pros at the park.  A couple of days ago, I was lucky in that Jeff had ordered more than he could handle, so he gave me two bunches!  Both long keeping onions, Red Zepellin and yellow Copra.  Both bunches contained around 75 slips.  I believe Jeff said that the onions were from Dixondale Farms in Texas, and when ordered in large quantities, the bunches were $2.50 apiece.  The two varieties are long day onions, a proper choice for Delaware.
     The only problem now is that I have already bought some white and red sets for this year.  They will be my experiment to see if they do OK in the more shaded home garden.  I also have purchased French shallots already.  They will have to go in over at the park.  They were delicious sauteed.
      Below is a shot of the slips newly planted in their bed.  The Red Zepellin near the top, and the Copra at the bottom.  In the middle, are some garlic and Beedy's Kale, both of which wintered over without protection.  I planted the onions on about four inch centers.  Yep, too close.  What's a guy to do when there is so much to plant and so little space?  Yep, the pros will still have bigger onions than yours truly.  Maybe that embarrassment will be my cure to over crowding.  Don't count on it.

Onion transplants 3-17-11

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Crocus and snowdrops, 3-12-11
Wood Hyacinths emerging, 3-12-11
Hellebores, battered but not beaten   3-12-11

Ah Spring
Oh how we wait
But at last some signs
That our spirits will now lift
Refreshed, renewed
Glad you're here
Ah Spring

Friday, March 11, 2011

Is it Time?

     Is it time?  I have nursed the veggies along in the cold frames for a long time now.  Some time I have to get brave, and let them have some real time in the world.  Many of the plants are tight up against the glass just bursting to get out.  But it is tough to let the kids go off on their own.  But then the forecast for the next few days is pretty good.  So....
3-11-11 Here we go!!
Salad veggies 3-11-11
     There.  I did it.  The unveiling.  More boring pictures to follow, but they are for my record keeping.  This blog has become my lifeline to remembering what is happening in my garden.  Hopefully to have records to make continual improvements.
Bellevue 3-11-11
     Left to right: Rouge d'Hivre lettuce, almost the color of the ground.  Seems quite hardy as its name implies, and certainly merits future plantings.  Territorial Seed's Tenderheart Chinese Cabbage, delicious mild small heads, have to order more seed of this one.  Though there is a seed stalk forming, yes, I will try to save seed. The round reddish heads next are radicchio from a mesclun mix planted in this bed last August.  Prime deer bait.  Maybe I better put a glass panel back over this part.  Next is oak leaf lettuce, from the batch that spent time in the plastic container on the porch.  Then Beedy's kale from Fedco.  Finally, a Cos lettuce given to me from a fellow gardener as she yanked things out last November.
Bellevue 3-11-11    
  Continuing across, Tenderleaf Hardy Greens from Fedco, certainly worth repeating.  Between the two larger rows was Ching Chang, a failure.  In the middle is Senposai, also from Fedco.  It grew very well at my home garden, and is probably a good shade candidate.  The three rows of Mizuna Mustard in this frame were pretty much a bust.  Unexplainable, as it did well elsewhere.  And finally tatsoi, a beautiful and tasty addition to any salad.
Bellevue Box 3-11-11
      This box is one of my original cold frames.  The three board height allows for plants to grow a little taller without hitting the glass.  A very good thing.  Most of the plants in this frame are volunteers, including a lot of carrots and celery.  I am particularly interested to see how those two progress during the summer.
Bellevue 3-11-11
     Well that was just the top row, but I am running out of gas, and if you have made it this far, you are probably bored.  Maybe I will come back to the second bed later.
Alien invaders!   3-11-11
      As if the deer are not enough, this flock of geese has discovered the gourmet gardens at the park.  This morning they seemed to be very happy trashing a neighbors garden of his green cover crop.  I hope I won't be able to tell you which salad greens they most prefer.  Maybe the glass should go back on?  The trials and tribulations of a gardener.