2023 Demo Garden Bed Plans

Since we just started planting the Demonstration Garden this week, it seemed like it was time to actually share our garden plans for the year! We continue to battle root knot nematodes in the soil of our beds, so many of our garden plans are with those management plans in mind.

If you came out to the garden at all last year, you probably noticed our rebuilt entry beds. We went simple with them last year, but this year we plan to take full advantage of the trellis/pergola to grow some Cypress Vine and Blue Butterfly Pea Vine. We have also located our herbs and pollinator plants out there as well. We are hoping for an attractive and welcoming display in the parking lot!

Our Bed 1 theme this year is “Stir Fry Garden,” so we went with a range of vegetables that you might look for to do some sort of stir fry dish – some more traditional than others! We have some cabbage, Chinese stem broccoli, and bok choy, as well as carrots, onions, radishes, and spinach. In the center tiers we will have green snow peas and purple sugar snap peas, as well as parsley and cilantro.

This bed is also slated for nematode management, so once all these crops are harvested in June, we will be solarizing this bed to reduce the nematode populations for the remainder of the summer, followed by a late summer/fall cover crop of sunn hemp. (No, it isn’t that kind of hemp – it is a nematode-suppressing, nitrogen-fixing legume!)

I’m going to jump to Bed 5 – which rounds out our Stir-Fry theme with some spring Brassicas. We have red and green cabbage, purple and green broccoli, and purple and white cauliflower. I sense a pattern…! The Burgundy Broccoli is actually a sprouting broccoli that will have lots of smaller side shoots rather than a large head. Because the insect pressures have been so awful the last few years, we are trying out a full covering of insect netting to keep the cabbageworms and loopers off the plants. This bed will also be finished for the year in June to allow for the solarization and cover crops as explained above.

Bed 2 continues to be our only bed without any nematodes that we know of, so we are using the other half of it as our tomato “control” again this year. We will discuss tomatoes in more detail when we get to Bed 6. The other half of the bed will be Edible Flowers (with also some peas and birdhouse gourds). We have a mix of spring flowers, herbs, and a few later summer flowers that will be featured in this garden.

While we do some sort of trellising or vertical gardening each year, it has been several years since we have had a dedicated vertical garden bed. We are getting a little more creative with our trellising this year, using two of the cattle panel trellises in the traditional way, one that is arched over the walkway between beds 2 and 3, and two that are on their sides to create flat trellises for shorter vining crops. We are also getting a little more creative with our planting times – rather than planting all the warm season vines in May, some of them will be planted a bit later as the peas finish, which will hopefully spread out our harvests a bit more. And to squeeze a few more things in, we are planting lettuce and onions under, around, and between the trellises!

Continuing with our nematode management theme, Bed 4 is a selection of different crops that have some amount of nematode resistance. The lettuce and spinach aren’t specifically resistant, but early spring crops don’t typically see as much damage. Leeks and sweet corn, as monocots, tend not to be host plants for nematodes as readily as broadleaf plants. We are doing a little bit of “plant partnering” with interplanting some vining southern peas that have nematode resistance. The last part of the planting is the three sweet potato varieties, that all have nematode resistance. The spring crops will go through mid-May or mid-June, before being followed with the second planting.

As we saw earlier with Bed 2, we are splitting our tomato plantings again this year. We are also continuing with the nematode-resistant theme for the garden. Since we solarized this bed last year, we are hoping that the nematode population is minimal or gone, but we are still playing it safer. We have two varieties – Green Zebra and Genuwine – that do not have nematode resistance. These will be our “control” varieties to see if we get nematode activity after the treatment last year. The other four varieties have nematode resistance. This will help keep the population (if any) of nematodes in that garden low. We are also reprising the two basils we had last year, simply because they were pretty amazing varieties and we thought we might as well keep them going.

I’m not going to go into all the details on the tomatoes, but just a quick summary:

  • Green Zebra – an open-pollinated “heirloom-type” tomato that is green with dark green stripes and a yellow blush at maturity. Not nematode resistant.
  • Genuwine – another “heirloom-type” that is a cross between Brandywine and Costoluto Genovese. Not nematode resistant.
  • Edox – a red, cluster-type cherry tomato that has nematode resistance.
  • Tough Boy Gold – a relatively new yellow hybrid that has nematode resistance.
  • Goliath Original – as is says, the original of the Goliath series, large red slicer type, with nematode resistance.
  • Granadero – a roma/paste tomato with nematode resistance. We had this one in our Latin American garden last year, and it performed well, so we thought it deserved a full try to see if it performed as well a second time.

In the accessible garden spaces, we are leaving the chocolate mint in place for another season. The center section will have a spring planting of kohlrabi, followed by some short ‘Short Stuff’ sunflowers for the summer. The right section currently has spinach that was overwintered, and will be replanted with some snack pepper plants come May.

The remainder of the accessible garden beds – the salad table will have lettuce and radishes this spring. We are replacing it with a deeper table, so maybe there will be a home for some leftover peppers this summer. The barrel planter still has chives, and the tower garden will once again have a mixture of leafy greens, herbs, and flowers.

The containers around the garden will have a mixture of vegetables and flowers. We have chosen a few pepper varieties to go in some of the larger containers: Habanada, Slovana, Sweet Nibbler Red, Sweet Nibbler Yellow, Mocha Swirl, Born-to-be-Mild Jalapeno, and Pot-a-peno Jalapeno. We will have to compact tomato varieties in a couple of the largest pots: Bush Champion II and Little Bing. And in the large smart pot in the shade we will have some ginger plants.

Other News: If you made it all the way to the bottom of this lengthy post, I have some other news to share. I have been writing this block as part of my position here at the Sedgwick County Extension office for 13 years now – although much less frequently the last several years. I have accepted a new position with K-State Extension, and will be leaving this job and hence this blog behind. I don’t know if the new agent hired in will be interested in continuing the blog or even maintaining its existence – that will be for them to decide. I’m going to guess that I may get around to at least one more post before I’m gone, but I won’t guarantee it. A big thank you to everyone that is still hanging around and following this blog. I have enjoyed learning and sharing with you!

A Closer Look: Bed 6 Plans & More

This is the last of our detailed bed plan posts, and because it took so long to finish this series, we even have pictures to share of what the garden looks like all planted and grown!

In this garden we are reprising something we did about 5 years ago – a “quilt block” lettuce garden. We have two quilt blocks and then some root vegetables in the center of the garden.

Nine patch quilt block – This quilt block is just squares mimicking the traditional “nine patch” quilt block pattern. We chose a dark red romaine, ‘Thurinus,’ for the center. This is a beautiful, upright variety that has performed well in the past. Then we chose a frilly green leaf lettuce, ‘Ilema,’ and a lighter red butterhead, ‘Marciano,’ for the outside squares. We started all of these lettuces indoors and then transplanted out 5 plants per square to get the pattern we wanted. They were planted a month ago, on March 29th, so it is looking spectacular right now!

The other quilt block is a star pattern, which seemed like a good idea at the time, but ended up being much more tricky to implement. We chose 4 different brassica leafy salad greens that we expected to germinate and grow at much the same rate. We opted to direct seed on the theory that it would be easier to get the right shape with the direct seeding. I also used a complicated stake and string arrangement to mark off the lines for the planting areas.

I haven’t removed the stakes and string yet, so you can kind of see the layout. The lines aren’t quite as sharp as I was hoping for with the planting, but You can get the general idea. I think that we are about ready to start thinning out the plants as they get bigger. The light green is the Tokyo Bekana. The dark green is a bok choy. The rounder purple leaves are a purple bok choy, and the frillier purple leaves are a purple mizuna. You can probably tell that the mizuna has lagged behind the others as far as growth rate, which makes the visual slighly lopsided. We also direct seeded a the same red butterhead lettuce from the other quilt block as the outer edge of the space. As you can also see, while it is growing, it really hasn’t grown at the same pace and also didn’t germinate quite as well. I do have a few extra seedlings from starting indoors that we may transplant in next week, just to round out the visual look.

Last but not least are the root veggies in the center of the bed. We chose a mini white Daikon radish, a red salad turnip, and red onions for this space.

As you can probably tell, these are all vegetables that will be completely harvested by late May or early June, depending on how quickly things get hot. So what happens next? Well, this bed has also had significant nematode challenges in past years, so once we have completed the harvest, we will be putting clear plastic over the entire bed to begin an 8-10 week solarization process. This will heat up the soil significantly and kill off the harmful nematodes. Once we have completed that, we will plant a cover crop (Sunn Hemp) that also helps to fix nitrogen and suppresses nematodes. We will probably let that grow for a few weeks and then follow up with a cool season cover crop for the fall and winter. Our hope is that this will significantly reduce nematode populations and pressure for the next growing season.

A Closer Look: Bed 5 Plans

We have finally made it to the bed plans that many of you have been waiting to learn more about – our tomatoes for the year!

As I have mentioned before, one of our themes this year is managing our root knot nematode problem. One of the most common management techniques is to select resistant varieties of affected plants. Now, that isn’t always the entire solution, but in the case of tomatoes can be an important option. Most tomatoes have “intermediate” resistance to root knot nematodes, which means that under high population pressure, they will still have some problems. We have one plant each of six varieties in this bed, which a duplicated planting in Bed 2, as we discussed a few weeks ago.

Chocolate Sprinkles: This is our cherry tomato for the year – a dark copper/red cherry tomato with dark green stripes. The fruit grow in trusses of 5-7. Different sources list the days to maturity as 50-55 or 70 – so that is a bit unclear. It is indeterminate and crack-resistant.

Damsel: This is a pink-fruited beefsteak tomato with a compact indeterminate growth habit. (In other words, indeterminate, but not a huge plant.) It is reputed to have an heirloom-like flavor and has a range of disease resistances, which makes it good for organic production methods.

Celebrity: You are probably familiar with this one already. Red, vigorous determinate, good disease resistance. We chose to add this to the mix as a basic red that is commonly grown, so we have some good comparisons with the less familiar varieties.

Marnouar: This is a purple-fruited beefsteak (10-16 oz fruit) with an indeterminate growth habit. It also combines the heirloom flavor with crack-resistance(!) and strong disease resistance.

Chef’s Choice Orange: This is our “control” variety. Chef’s Choice Orange we have grown multiple times before with good success, but it is also NOT resistant to nematodes. Because we know it performs well here, planting this variety will help us gauge the impacts of the nematodes on the varieties that are supposed to be resistant. This is an indeterminate, orange-fruited slicing type.

Big Beef Plus: This is an improved version of the popular Big Beef variety. It has been bread to have more range of disease resistance, sweeter flavor, and darker red color. This is a red, indeterminate beefsteak with fruit between 9 and 16 oz.

If all goes well, we should have a great crop of tomatoes this summer. If all doesn’t go well….well, that happens more often with Kansas weather than we often prefer!

A Closer Look: Bed 4 Plans

We have made it all the way to our Bed 4 plans for this week’s closer look. Bed 4 is the raised bed where we are planting our Milpa Cover Crop blend of seed. We are working with the Sedgwick County Conservation District, and using the seed from Green Cover Seed.

Because we are planting in a raised bed, we can’t quite let it go full on “chaos garden” like if we were planting in a larger field or garden space. The biggest changes we are making are to thin out the vine crops once they germinate to make sure that the bed isn’t overloaded with more than the space can handle. We are also using our cattle panel trellises – on their sides – to provide a little bit more vertical growing space. We will also be adding some pole beans and the Green Striped Cushaw to our planting area. The pole beans are leftover seed from last year. The cushaw we have grown before (it makes amazing pumpkin pie!), and it is highly resistant to squash vine borer.

The cattle panel trellises staked on their sides in the center of the Milpa garden.

We also planted the first half of the milpa mix last week, since a number of the things growing are cool season plants. We may have to go back in and plug in some of the warm season things if we don’t get any germination. It has definitely been colder than it sometimes is at this point in the year!

Seedlings from the Milpa mix starting to grow – it looks like mostly the brassicas at this point.

A Closer Look: Bed 3 Plans

Many years we attempt a garden bed that reflects the vegetables and herbs of a particular cuisine or culture. It has been a couple years since we did this, and more than a couple years since we did a Latin American themed garden.

While it would be easy to just plant tomatoes, peppers, and cilantro, and call it Latin American, there is actually a lot more to the varied cuisines of Latin America – and a lot more vegetable and herb diversity than most Americans appreciate. As you can see, we have a LOT going on in this bed.

Starting from the left, on the trellis, we will have two different squashes. One is Chayote, which is used like a squash but is a completely different species. It is slightly sweeter than most zucchinis, and the crazy thing about it is that the seed grows best fresh from the fruit – so most recommendations are to either plant a whole fruit or to harvest the seed and plant immediately. It is also very long season and day-length sensitive, so we may or may not get anything from the plant.

The ‘Tatume’ squash is round, heirloom squash that can be harvested either as a “zucchini” stage or hard squash stage vegetable. It is supposedly resistant to squash vine borer as well.

Under the trellis, we will have several cilantro plants, which are cool season herbs. We will let them flower and go to seed for coriander as well. And maybe let them reseed for a fall crop of cilantro.

Moving toward the center of the bed, we have a section dedicated to white-fleshed sweet potatoes, which are more common in Latin America than orange-fleshed types. We also have an heirloom black bean planned. This is a bush bean type.

That brings us to the “numbered” half of the garden. I’m going to work backwards numerically, starting with two herbs that you may not be particularly familiar with.

Epazote is an aromatic herb that is common in traditional Mexican cooking. It has a pretty strong scent and flavor, but most sources I have looked at recommend keeping it heavily trimmed so the tender leaves have a softer scent (and texture). Raw, it has almost a turpentine scent. Cooked, it is supposed to be similar to strong oregano, savory, or tarragon.

Papalo is a heat-tolerant herb that has a strong, cilantro-like flavor. The seed packet said that germination is naturally low, so I am going to be interested to see how it does – and if it would be a good choice for us as a cilantro replacement in the heat of summer.

That brings us to our two tomato varieties – ‘Plum Perfect’ and ‘Granadero.’ Both of these are roma varieties that were selected because they have root knot nematode resistance. ‘Plum Perfect’ is a determinate plant with 4 oz fruit that are supposed to have exceptional flavor paired with strong disease resistance. ‘Granadero’ is very similar in fruit size and disease resistance, but on an indeterminate plant.

Next are the three tomatillo varieties – two more traditional, the pineapple one less so. The purple and green tomatillos are going to have a more traditional flavor and texture. Tomatillos yield best when they have two different varieties for cross-pollination – hence planting 3 types. The last time we had tomatillos in the garden, they were leggy and not very productive, and what fruit we did get were utterly decimated by fruitworms. So – I may be a bit cynical about our likelihood for success. The Pineapple tomatillo is an heirloom that is small-fruited, with soft, very sweet fruit – almost like a cherry.

Last, but not least, are the peppers. The ‘Jalafuego’ and ‘Big Jim’ are both peppers that we have grown in the past and performed well. We also wanted to mix it up a bit. Chile de Arbol is a hot pepper with a slight smoky flavor. The plant can supposedly get up to 4′ tall in one season and looks like a tree. (Arbol is Spanish for tree.) The guajillo/mirasol pepper is traditional for making mole sauces, so we wanted to try it out. The actual variety is ‘El Eden’ Guajillo. This type is not very spicy, and is best used dried or in sauces due to the tough skin.

If all goes well, we should have quite a variety of new recipes to try using veggies from this particular garden bed. If things don’t go well….hm…we could have LOTS of insects that are really happy!