Monthly Archives: March 2017
We have kicked off our planting season in the Demonstration Garden with work days the last two weeks. We went from a garden that was full of volunteer wheat and cheat to a garden that had the beginnings of our plans implemented for the season.
As you can see, the weeds/grass and leftover plants from last year were having a field day. This picture actually looks better than it would have a day previously, as the Compost Committee graciously pulled the weeds and spread compost in Bed 4!
Here’s the “After” shot from yesterday. We removed the old hops vines, most of the other dead plants and all the weeds. We added a whole bunch of compost to the beds that needed it, and got started with planting.
The Colonial Garden is probably the farthest ahead in the planting game, as the vast majority of the plants in this garden are spring/fall (cool season) veggies. We transplanted three types of lettuce that Thomas Jefferson had records of planting, as well as two heirloom cabbage varieties and an heirloom, vining pea. We also planted both parsnip and salsify seeds.
The Accessible planters are largely planted already with spring crops. These planters will have a mixture of kale, chard, sprouting broccoli, spinach, lettuces, radishes, and peas for the spring. We will have a couple tomatoes later on, but again, lots of spring/fall crops.
One of the most interesting things in the early spring planting is this kale mix. It is called Kale Storm Mix, and we planted it in several of the containers. This is a multi-seed pellet, sometimes called a “fuseable.” They’ve been around the flower industry for a few years, but this is the first time I’ve seen them for veggies. The seed company took 3 kale varieties and mixed the seeds in a uniform ratio and put them into these larger “seed pellets.” The result is supposed to be an evenly mixed, visually attractive blend of kale. We’ll see how it turns out!
The ‘Cascade’ Hops is also an interesting experience. Last year I was afraid it wasn’t going to do much for the longest time. Then it did finally take off and grow. This year it is already half way up the cage before April 1st! Yikes! Another fun factoid: hops shoots are edible like asparagus. We tried nibbling on them, and they do taste like asparagus at first. But then there is a really nasty bitter aftertaste. Ugh! There’s a reason hops are not grown for spring edible shoots!
This has been a busy week, because we also got all our tomato and pepper seeds started inside. I don’t have any pictures of the plants yet, but I’m sure you can go back into the blog archives if you want to get the idea!
And just in case you were curious, I’m not planning on planting my tomatoes any earlier than usual – at this point. It’s cold today, and there’s a lot of weather to come before it is tomato planting time!
Several years ago, when tomato grafting was a relatively new technique, we did try out the grafting method in the demo garden. However, that turned out to be 2011, when it got hot so early and stayed hot for so long that pretty much no one had any tomatoes to speak of for the whole year. Needless to say, all we really learned was that the grafted plants were healthier.
This year, because of our rotations, we needed to put the tomatoes in the shorter beds, beds 5 and 6. Since we have the two smaller beds, we thought it would be a good opportunity to try a comparison of Grafted vs Non-Grafted tomatoes again.
What is tomato grafting? This is a process where the variety you want is grafted (fused) to a root system of a variety that has other characteristics you may want, such as disease resistance. This is one way to be able to grow heirloom tomatoes without the necessity of lots of rotation. Grafting has also been shown to increase the vigor and yield potential of most varieties.
We are trying 3 different varieties – ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Momotaro,’ and ‘Legend.’ We will have 2 grafted plants of each variety in one bed and 2 non-grafted plants of each variety in the other bed. In one bed, we had a little bit more space, so we opted to try a plant that is grafted to have 2 varieties on the same plant. This plan will be half ‘San Marzano’ and half ‘Cuore di Bue.’
‘Cherokee Purple’ is probably one of the most common and popular heirloom varieties. It is a purple skinned and fleshed variety with excellent flavor and decent yield.
‘Momotaro’ is a Japanese variety with dark pink skin and flesh. It is a hybrid slicer variety that has a reputation for excellent flavor.
‘Legend’ is a determinate red slicer that has late blight resistance. Not that we ever have an issue with late blight. It is also early producing and is also reputed to have great flavor.
‘San Marzano’ and ‘Cuore di Bue’ are both heirloom paste tomatoes. The ‘San Marzano’ is a more traditional Roma and the ‘Cuore di Bue’ is a no heart type.
We had the Peruvian Aji Limon pepper in the Pepper Garden last year, so I had the idea to do a whole garden growing traditional Peruvian vegetables. A couple of our Master Gardeners have really gotten into the theme and even went to a local Peruvian restaurant to learn from the owner about what they eat.
We haven’t done corn at all in the garden because it’s difficult to have enough space to ensure good pollination. But we really wanted to try growing this giant Peruvian corn, so we decided to risk it. This garden is in our largest raised bed, and we have allotted about half of the bed to this corn. It has much larger than normal kernels, and I’ve seen some information that says it can get up to 14′ tall! Yikes!
The “normal” things in this garden – the purple fingerling potatoes and red onions are things that we’re relatively familiar with. Same with the cilantro.
The peppers. Aji Limon, Aji Red Rocoto, and Aji Amarillo. The Aji Limon we had last year. It’s small, yellow, and hot. It made an awesome salsa. The Aji Amarillo is the most popular Peruvian pepper that they make a sauce from and use in many dishes. It is a golden orange color at maturity. The Red Rocoto is a hot/sweet red bell-type pepper.
Then….the weird stuff. The Andes mountains are home to a lot of less common roots and tubers. Many of them are marginal for us in the U.S., so these may or may not work for us.
Yuca or Cassava is a starchy tuber that is an important food source in tropical climates. It is very tolerant of less than ideal conditions, so it should do okay for us.
Mashua is related to nasturtiums, but has edible tubers. Yacon is related to dahlia and also has an edible root. As both nasturtiums and dahlias prefer cooler temps, it will be interesting to see if these edible versions can grow well here. They will need to grow throughout the hot part of the season to produce, so it could be a challenge depending on our weather this summer.
We have a dedicated “Vertical” garden again this year, featuring the cattle panel trellises. We do try to change up what we’re growing, and this year we are featuring cantaloupe, watermelon, and cucumbers.
The cucumbers include a pickler, a slicer, and an English/European type. The ‘Arkansas Little Leaf’ is a pickler with smaller diameter leaves than a usual variety that is also heat and disease tolerant. The ‘Lime Crisp’ has bright green skin rather than darker green as is usual. ‘Tyria’ is a parthenocarpic (seedless) English variety. We had another variety selected, but it cost about $1.25 per seed, and we couldn’t buy less than 50 seeds…so that was a NO.
We have done cantaloupe in the past, but we have always stuck to the smaller fruited varieties. This year we have ‘Lilliput,’ which is a new personal size variety that is supposed to be very sweet. But then we chose two other varieties, ‘Maverick’ and ‘Sarah’s Choice’ that are larger. ‘Sarah’s Choice’ is a 3 pound melon, and ‘Maverick’ is a 4-5 pound melon. It will be fun to see how successful they are in the trellis system.
The watermelons are also a range of sizes and characteristics. We haven’t had great success with watermelons on the trellis, but we are still going to try them again! ‘Golden Crown’ is a yellow rind, red fleshed, seeded watermelon. It is an All America Selection from several years ago. It has 5-7 lb. fruit. ‘New Queen’ is an orange fleshed, seeded watermelon that is 5-6 lbs, also an All America Selection. ‘Mini Love’ is a new variety this year that is also an All America Selection. It is red fleshed, seeded, with 7-9 lb. fruit. This variety is supposed to have 3-4′ vines but still up to 6 fruit per plant. It seems like a lot of large fruit for not much vine. I’m excited to see how it performs. As an All America Selection, it should be a consistent producer.
Several years ago, we did a garden called the Family of 4 Garden. We always weighed the produce harvested and assigned it a dollar value based on grocery store prices. It’s been a few years since we did that, and we are bringing this back in a revised form as the “Grocery Garden.”
For spring, we have both a snow and a sugar snap pea on the trellis, as well as some high quality mixed greens under the trellis. We will have lettuces, spinach, arugula, and mesclun. The spring plantings will also feature purple and yellow carrots, cylindrical and gold beets, and red cippolini onions. We have also planned for a Romano (flat podded Italian) green bean.
Of course, any grocery garden wouldn’t be complete without tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. We opted to reprise the ‘Esterina’ cherry tomato from last year, as well as the ‘Escamillo’ and ‘Red Knight’ peppers. We are also including another Oriental eggplant, a lavender long skinny variety called ‘Bride.’
Once the peas are done in the late spring or early summer, we will replace them with a spaghetti squash and a butternut squash on the trellis. Other fall vegetables will include a mixture of the leafy greens, some leeks, cauliflower, and broccoli. The cauliflower is a green romanesco variety called ‘Veronica’ and the broccoli will be a purple sprouting broccoli, ‘Santee.’
We will be tracking the yield and dollar value of these vegetables throughout the season.