Author Archives: Rebecca

A Closer Look: Bed 1 Plans

I am cautiously optimistic that I will be able to go through each bed we have planned and go into more details about the varieties we have chosen and what we will be doing with each raised bed. So let’s kick that off with a closer look at Bed 1!

As we discussed in the general garden plan post, this bed is all about herbs (and some edible flowers)! Very generically, we could say that the green end is culinary, the red end is tea, and the blue is some of each. However, there are obviously some things that can cross over from culinary to tea and back. I’m not going to cover every last detail of each plant, because that would make this post ridiculously long. However, I do want to call out a few specific things.

First, the nematode situation. This bed had root vegetables in it last year, with variable levels of nematodes. The two central square tiers had parsnips all year long, and the parsnips were DISGUSTING on an epic level with their nematode infestations.

As you can see – disgusting – and not very edible. The longer end sections had evidence of nematodes, but weren’t nearly this bad, particularly on the radishes. We spend a long time looking for research papers and articles discussing nematode resistance in herb plants. One thing we found that was interesting was that some herbs – like mint and basil – had just as much root damage from the nematodes, but it didn’t impact their top growth. We found mixed results on things like marigolds, nasturtiums, oregano, marjoram, and salad burnet. So we are going to try all of those directly planted in the soil. The mint will be in pots because, mint.

The lemongrass and the Hibiscus sabdariffa (aka Roselle) will also be grown in very large pots. We will be procuring lemongrass stalks from a grocery store and rooting them to get the best culinary type. And the Roselle is the type of hibiscus that is commonly used for teas.

In the center of each end of this bed we will have some type of trellis, one with a jasmine plant and the other with blue butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea). These are both vining plants with flowers used for teas.

Another plant of interest is the ‘Zloty Lan’ Chamomile – a variety that is supposed to have larger flowers and more robust plants.

Most everything else listed should be fairly straightforward, and we won’t know specific varieties until we are able to purchase the plants from one of our local vendors. I think it is safe to say that we should have a very fragrant and tasty garden in Bed 1 this year!

2022 Demo Garden Plans

Our garden plans for this year are both a return to a greater diversity of plants and the start of a multi-year effort to combat the increasing levels of root knot nematode that we have been experiencing in our beds. With the exception of Bed 2, all of the plants we removed or harvest last fall had some amount of root knot nematode damage, so we will be doing a wide range of things to work to improve that. (For more information on what root knot nematodes are, go here: https://hnr.k-state.edu/extension/info-center/common-pest-problems/common-pest-problem-new/Nematodes.pdf)

As you can see from the list on the right, we have quite a range of different things planned for the garden, including some things we haven’t done in many years and others that are brand new to us! We haven’t had a large area dedicated to culinary and tea herbs for many years. the herbs have mostly been in containers and smaller beds since we renovated the garden in 2012, so having the entirety of Bed 1 dedicated to herbs is a change for us.

You will also notice that we have “N-Resistant tomatoes” in both Beds 2 and 5. This means that we have chosen nematode resistant cultivars for our planting plans, with the exception of one variety that is our “control” variety as a comparison. In Bed 6, we have plans for a lettuce quilt (more below), and will be doing some soil solarization and cover crops after the spring harvest is complete in hopes of significantly reducing the nematode populations in that bed.

We have gone all out in filling our herb bed with a plethora of diversity! Very roughly, the green end are more culinary herbs (with some crossovers) and the red end is more tea herbs (again with some crossovers/dual purpose plants). The blue center is pretty much a mixture. Because the blue center sections of the bed had really terrible nematodes last year, we will be planting the majority of the plants will be in large containers, except for the marigolds, oregano, marjoram, salad burnet, and nasturtiums which are “supposed” to have some resistance to the nematodes.

Bed 2 was the only bed that didn’t have nematodes visible on the plant roots when we cleaned up the garden last fall. Whether that was because of the hot peppers populating most of the bed or other factors, it is hard to say. But with that in mind, we are using half of the bed as our “control” for our nematode resistant tomato cultivars. We chose 5 cultivars that are known to have resistance to nematodes, and one variety, ‘Chef’s Choice Orange,’ that is not identified as having nematode resistance, but that we have grown successfully here in the past. We will have the same cultivars planted in Bed 5, which had very high levels of nematodes last year so that we can compare the performance of the varieties in each bed. In the other half of the bed we will have red, white, and blue potato varieties in the spring and some cool season leafy greens in the fall.

In Bed 3, we have chosen a “Latin America” theme. We have jalapeno, Guajillo, anaheim, and chile de arbol peppers, all common in Latin America. We will have three different varieties of tomatillos: one green, one purple, and one sweet yellow. Tomatillos produce best when there are at least two different varieties for pollination. We chose two paste tomatoes (nematode resistant!) for this garden, as well as two Mexican/Latin American herbs: epazote and papalo. On the left end of the bed, we will have a round Mexican squash that is supposed to be resistant to squash vine borer, as well as Chayote squash. We aren’t sure that the Chayote will produce this far north, but you have to try things, right? Under the trellis we will be growing a whole bunch of cilantro in the spring and then let it flower and go to seed for coriander in the summer.

In yet another big change from past tradition, we are going to be planting the Milpa Cover Crop mix from Green Cover Seed as a partnership with our Sedgwick County Soil Conservation District. Not content to leave it alone, we are going to try it at two different planting times, and then add some additional pole beans and a green striped cushaw squash in the center of each half, with some of our trellises providing additional support. The mix isn’t really at its best in a raised bed situation, so we are going to have to judiciously thin out plants as we go to make sure that it isn’t a complete mess of things that will get into the walkways and such. That is also why we are adding in the trellises – just to give the vines a bit more room to roam vertically.

Bed 5 is the other half of our nematode resistant tomato variety demonstration, so the same things as in Bed 2. As you may have noticed, we are also trying out lots of the Emerald Towers and Thai Towers basils – new cultivars that are highly resistant to downy mildew and that are also much later to bolt (flower and seed) than other basils. We really want to see how they perform here!

Bed 6 is a little bit of a throwback to something we did several years ago – a quilt block lettuce garden. We are doing a basic nine-patch pattern with lettuce transplants on one end, plain rows of some root vegetables in the middle, and then a direct-seeded star pattern of lettuce and Brassica leafy greens on the other end. Once the spring crops are harvested, this bed will be covered with plastic for soil solarization, as this is our worst bed for nematodes. After several weeks of solarization, we will end the year with a cover crop that is also nematode-resistant/non-host.

In our accessible garden areas, in the tiered raised bed we will be reprising some cucumbers and melons that we attempted in 2020 but that didn’t quite get a fair trial with full attention.

Finally, in our salad table, we will have some mustard greens, radishes, and lettuce planted for the spring. The small barrel planter will continue to house our chives for another season. Not pictured is our new-last-year Tower Garden, which will have a mixture of leafy greens, herbs, flowers, vegetables, etc. I went through my old seeds to find some goodies, and with 53 planting holes to fill, we should have lots of options!

If all goes well, you should check back soon for more updates and details – although it didn’t happen last year. If nothing else, be sure to come out and visit the garden in person!

2021 Demo Garden Plans and Updates

Our Demo Garden plantings are well underway for this year, and we already have some exciting things to showcase. But first – here’s a quick overview of what we are planning to grow this year!

Overview of our garden plans for 2021 by raised bed.

We chose to continue to focus our garden efforts on productivity and yield over diversity for this year. We are planning to continue donating our harvests to the Common Ground Producers & Growers Mobile Market for their Seniors First food box program, which provides free food boxes to low income seniors.

With that in mind, we are keeping each garden bed to only a couple different types of produce, although we still have more diversity of varieties than you might otherwise see. We are also focusing on interplanting and succession planting to use our space well. For example, in bed 1, we have radishes planted between rows of beets and carrots and IN the row with the parsnips to use every square inch of space. In Bed 2, we are filling the space with lettuce and spinach now, and then the peppers for the remainder of the season will be planted into the leafy greens while they finish their spring season. In Beds 4 and 5, we have planted broccoli, cauliflower, and peas under the trellises that will hold the cucumbers and squash later in the summer to get an additional crop out of those spaces.

The Master Gardeners have been hard at work getting the garden into shape for the spring, and almost all the beds have either seeds or transplants already growing. We had covered most of the beds with straw last fall, so that is both good and bad now – the soil stays moist with the straw, but we have lots of wheat seedlings growing. We also needed to move quite a bit of the straw around to facilitate seed planting.

The other thing I’m excited to show off a little bit are a couple of the school garden templates that I developed last year and planted last fall.

The templates are 4×8 layouts designed with high diversity (and relatively low productivity) for better interest and learning experiences in a school garden setting. (You can see all the templates and supporting information here: Kansas School Garden Guide.) Both of the templates shown here were designed to be planted last fall and overwintered. These overwintered with NO additional protection from the elements. They include pansies, tulips, garlic, shallots, alpine strawberries, barley or wheat, and vegetables (kale, carrots, red-veined sorrel, spinach).

If you haven’t been out in awhile, our garden is always open to the public – best viewed during daylight hours! Things will be changing fast as it gets warmer, so don’t miss out on the opportunity to visit.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Broccoli is one of those vegetables that can be a little bit “hit or miss” in Kansas, especially in the spring. The cool parts of the growing season, spring and fall both, can sometimes be too short and too erratic to have great broccoli. Over the years we have tried several kinds of broccoli, some that performed well and others not so much.

This year, we chose to plant ‘Burgundy,’ a variety of purple sprouting broccoli. Sprouting broccoli is selected for high quality, uniform, and prolific side shoots. Many older “heading type” broccoli varieties would produce some side shoots, newer varieties not as much. Sprouting broccoli is designed to have the center “head” shoot pinched out at a small size to encourage more side shoots.

49948988198_0540ccf06fWe started these plants from seed in mid-February and transplanted them into the garden on March 17th. They are supposed to take about 37 days from transplant to maturity…but the weather was definitely not helpful on that front this year. About a week ago, the plants were showing the development of the center shoot. (About 60 days after transplanting – thanks, cold snaps!)

49949488156_135742dc9aI snipped out the center stalk, and you can already see the side shoots starting to grow.

49949016143_170feb2b8bThis is what the shoots are looking like now. I love the purple color! So often with purple vegetables, the color is disappointing, but this is beautiful. It is important to note that the color will fade to a beautiful dark green once it is cooked.

From a flavor standpoint, this broccoli is strong. The little bit that I have nibbled on, it has a very strong mustard flavor. Most homegrown broccoli is that way, and once it is cooked, it has great flavor – but it is not the mild and water flavor you maybe have come to expect from even fresh grocery store broccoli.

The idea with the side shoots is that they should continue to develop and be produced until it gets too hot, potentially having a higher yield for a single plant than with a heading type.

If you wanted to give this plant a try (and you can find the seeds available!), you should start the seeds indoors in mid- to late June, then transplant outside in late July. With some luck and decent weather, you should have some awesome broccoli sometime in September!

2020 Tomato Trials

Our tomato trials are looking very fortuitous at this point in the year. When we were planning this winter, we chose to try out some of the more recent All-America Selections tomato winners. These are varieties that have been tested all across the U.S. and have shown to perform reliably under a wide range of conditions.

We had already grown Chef’s Choice Orange a couple of times and found it to be a reliable producer with great flavor. (I have also grown it at home for a few more years and it has quickly become one that is an easy choice.) Chef's Choice Orange tomato

With that experience, we are interested to see if other, new varieties in the Chef’s Choice line will be just a promising for Kansas. We chose to grow the Chef’s Choice Orange again as our “known” trial variety. To that, we have added the following varieties. (Links to the All-America Selections pages, with more variety details.)

Chef’s Choice Red – 8 oz fruit, prolific

Chef’s Choice Green – Green and yellow at maturity and citrus-y flavor common to green-when-ripe tomatoes.

Chef’s Choice Yellow – 10 oz. somewhat sweet fruit

Chef’s Choice Pink – 12-14 oz beefsteak with pink skin and flesh

We also chose two non-Chef’s Choice varieties to test in order to have a broader comparison.

Galahad – Red fruit with high disease resistance and purported crack resistance. (Crack resistance is a hot commodity in Kansas, so we are hoping for great things!)

Mountain Rouge – From the “Mountain” series, a 12-14 oz. pink beefsteak with high disease resistance.

Some Cherry Tomatoes:

In other areas of the garden, we also have some cherry tomatoes planted, and these are a little further outside the normal varieties.

Moonbeam – A pale yellow or white grape tomato that is supposed to have high yields and exceptional flavor.

Brad’s Atomic Grape – This multi-colored tomato has been all over social media for a couple years, but we have heard from some locals that it cracks horribly. So…we’re going to give it a try!

Blush – A yellow oblong cherry with red stripes and interior blush. We have tried others in this series in the past, all with bad cracking problems, so it will be interesting to see how this one performs.

If all goes well, we hope to have a bounty of tomatoes this year, as well as some great new varieties to recommend in our area.