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Friday PhotoEssay – May 30th

We have a big change to show off in the garden this week!

Yes, we have mulch! Doesn’t it look great? It always gives the garden an entirely different look and feel once we get everything mulched. We mulched everything except the areas where there are still seeds working on germinating. We even mulched between the rows of beans, chickpeas, and carrots. Any bare soil we covered with straw, as much as possible.

Many of our tomato plants are starting to bloom, and it seems like the weather (so far) is working in our favor to have great fruit set. It could be a bumper tomato crop at the rate we’re going! This is one of the ‘Opalka’ plants, and it doesn’t show up very well in this picture, but I’m pretty sure that this is one of the varieties that typically exhibits the “wilty” gene. I have an ‘Opalka’ plant at home that shows it a little bit better. The “wilty” gene is found in some varieties of heirloom tomatoes, and it causes the plants to have slightly wilted appearance to the leaves. I think it is typically most visible at about this stage of growth. There isn’t anything to be concerned about or do differently. The most important part is to not just assume that the plant needs more water! On these wilty plants, you want to be sure to check the soil moisture level rather than watering indiscriminately when the plant looks wilted.

The kale we have planted in the Italian garden is looking really good. It is ‘Nero de Toscano’ or Black Tuscan kale. You might also see it called Lacinato kale or Dinosaur kale. Some kale connoisseurs will say that this type of kale has the best flavor, sweetest, mildest, whatever of any type of kale. I don’t know about that, but to be totally fair to it, I would imagine those descriptors are best applied in the spring or fall when the weather is nice and cool. Kale in Kansas at this time of year is going to be pretty strongly flavored! I still really like this African Sweet Potato & Kale Stirfry (on the second page).

All of the vine crop seedlings are doing well, including our Indian gourds. This is one of the Bittermelon/Bitter gourd seedlings. The leaves look a tiny bit exotic – if by exotic I mean slightly different from other vining vegetables.

 The potatoes are flowering! They sure took their time coming up this year, but they have grown so fast since then. Potato flowers don’t necessarily mean a whole lot, although growing up we always figured that we could start “stealing” a few potatoes from under the plant once they started flowering.

Have a great weekend!

Friday PhotoEssay

Have you survived the first bout of heat this week? It is definitely a change for this year!

Here’s the view of the whole garden for the week. I took the picture Thursday afternoon, hence the full sun! Plants are getting bigger, especially the tomatoes, which seem to have doubled in size over the week. You can also see that the garlic and shallots are getting progressively more grey in color as they get closer to harvest. I am still taking the “whole garden” pictures from the other angles too, I just don’t want to spend the space looking at them here. I created a set on Flickr for them, and I’ll get them all added to the set eventually. That set is here.

Our sweet potato slips are here! I’ll have more about those next week, so stay tuned!

This Red Large Lettuce Leaf Basil is living up to its name in that it is purple/red and the leaves are getting huge. Whether it looks like lettuce leaves I will leave up to you. It does have a very funky appearance though, especially compared to your typical basils.

I cooked up something tasty this week using garlic scapes, fresh Maiskij garlic, shallot scapes, and some of the lemongrass I froze last fall. You’ll have to check back next week to see what I made! (Sorry, I know…so many future blog posts, so little time this week.)

As per usual, a couple weeks after putting out the wheat straw mulch, we have wheat seedlings growing! This really isn’t a big concern. It is easy to pull out and either let it dry on top of the mulch or add it to your compost bins. If you are more on top of things than we are, you would have watered your straw bale a couple weeks before mulching, let it sprout, then spread the mulch afterwards.

These are the tomatoes from the ‘Taxi’ plant. They sized up quickly over the weekend, although they still aren’t at full size. Unless one of the grape or cherry tomatoes comes on strong (a real possibility), my money is on this plant for having the first ripe tomato of the year.

Have a great weekend!

Mulching & Other Garden Tasks

After the three day weekend, you might expect we would have lots of projects around the garden. Not necessarily the case! We really had only one larger project to complete, since everything is planted and we aren’t ready to start harvesting anything. That big project was spreading mulch.

We had some really nice wheat straw to use. It makes the plants look even greener! We try to put about 3 inches of straw around most of our plants. We mulched the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant today.

Here’s the mulched Pizza Garden. The garlic and shallots still have a little bit of straw left from last fall, so there was no reason to try to replenish their mulch. Things like beans and herbs we didn’t mulch, although we probably could have. The basil we left unmulched because it is still pretty small and it could use some more heat in the soil.

One of the effects of using straw mulch (or any organic material like leaves or paper) is that it cools the soil a few degrees. You don’t want to put straw mulch down too early, before the soil is nice and warm. We also left the vine crops unmulched for the time being, although we’ll put straw down in the vertical garden in a few more weeks. (On the other hand, that cooling effect will come in handy in a few weeks!)

The three biggest benefits of mulching are:

  • Weed suppression (who doesn’t want to have fewer weeds to pull?)
  • Moisture retention/even soil moisture (and we are VERY concerned about watering as little as possible here in Wichita!)
  • Disease minimization (many of the leaf spot diseases are caused by splashing soil onto lower leaves)

So go out and find yourself some mulch (if you haven’t already)!

Friday PhotoEssay

Hopefully this is the first of a full season of Friday PhotoEssays! There’s just a few things up right now, but the garden is going to start changing quickly.

I don’t know why, but I’m loving watching the shallots grow. Maybe it’s because I know there was only one bulb planted in each spot originally, and there is now a clump of stems coming up from each spot. I love watching the multiplication! So much more fun than regular onions, or even garlic.

Speaking of garlic, this is the ‘Maiskij’ variety. It is huge already! Those stems are about the same diameter as a quarter! This variety is either going to be VERY early maturing or the bulbs will be huge by late June.

To put it in context, the variety in the background is ‘Maiskij’ (no, I have no idea how to pronounce it), and the one in the front is ‘Siberian.’ It is healthy, but not nearly as big as ‘Maiskij.’ There are some varieties that are currently even smaller than ‘Siberian.’

This radicchio is unfurling a little bit in the warmth and sun from earlier this week. I’m not quite sure what it’s doing, but I’m afraid it is going to bolt. I noticed today that it was curled back up a little more, so we’ll have to keep an eye on it.

Yes, it’s a handful of dirt. No, make that soil, folks. One more picture, and then I’ll explain.

Yes, I know. Another handful. Can you tell which handful of soil is moist and which one is dry? Maybe? It’s a little hard with our current soil to get a really good differentiation in the pictures, but the first picture is moist and the second is quite dry. I was wracking my brain trying to figure out how to take pictures of differences in soil moisture and temperature (because, you know, warm soil looks so much different than cold?!?). I finally decided just to take a couple pictures and explain.

Because we’ve had (and still have) straw mulch over a good portion of the garden this winter, you can really tell the difference it makes in both soil temperature and moisture. The mulched areas have nicely moist soil, while the bare areas are dry. However, the mulched areas are much cooler. You can easily distinguish the difference in soil temperature by touch, because the mulched areas feel almost cold to the touch, especially after you have touched the unmulched soil. There are definitely some pros and cons to mulching through the winter!

Have a great week!

Mulching, Mulching, and More Mulching

Today was “Mulch Day” in more ways than one. We put fresh wood chip mulch down on the paths, which was much needed. We had some holes that were definitely taking on water every time it rained. The mulch should help keep the mud down in the garden.

We also put straw mulch down around our tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. We used about a bale and a half of wheat straw mulch, so yes, we will have some wheat growing out of the straw later on. But the mulch does so many good things for us, that it is worth it.

Good reasons to use mulch:

  1. It keeps the soil more evenly moist, which is important if we go through a less-rainy-than-the-rest-of-this-spring period.
  2. When it gets boiling hot, it helps keep the soil cooler.
  3. It helps smother all the pesky weeds.
  4. It helps prevent common tomato diseases that overwinter in the soil (Early Blight & Septoria Leaf Spot) from splashing onto the leaves when it rains and the weather conditions are ideal for those diseases. (Warm & rainy)
  5. It provides some extra organic matter to the soil, especially if you mix it in in the fall. (Or you can put it in the compost bin.)