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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!

Updated Garden Plans!

49813022538_4a9e22a359It has been quite the ride since I posted our first look at garden plans for this year, hasn’t it? So many things have changed, and likely many others will before it is all said and done. Because our face-to-face programming is suspended for the time being, we have been thinking about how to adjust our garden for the summer to accommodate the safety of our staff, volunteers, and the public. At the same time, we know that many new gardeners are seeking information on how to start and maintain a successful vegetable garden, and that access to fresh, healthy food is more important now than ever. (And it has always been important!)

Because most of our early spring planting was eliminated, with the exception of plants that we already had ready to go, we have re-planned chunks of the garden to change those plans. We also had several parts of the garden that were planned to be more novelties, ornamental, or trials of things that we didn’t know quite how they were going to perform. In order to best fulfill our educational mission and serve our broader community, we have eliminated the majority of those types of plantings from the garden, and will instead replace them with the following:

  • Extra tomato and pepper plants that we had started already.
  • Beans, squash, and other common, generally productive vegetables that we had available.
  • Additional plantings of varieties we have grown in the past, had leftover seed in stock, and knew were going to be productive to replace trial varieties that were less likely to perform well.

Some of the things that we have maintained include:

  • Planting the square beds (8, 9, and 10) to perennial fruit plants. If you look at the pic above, you can see the dwarf apple in the front and the blackberries and raspberries growing in bed 9.
  • Vertical gardening / trellises to grow lots of cucumbers, melons, and other things throughout the garden.
  • The tomato trials of recent All America Selections winners.
  • Lots of different colors of veggies!

An additional change, along with planting varieties that emphasize productivity, is that we will be donating significantly more of the produce to those in need. Most years, a large portion of our produce is used for educational programming – for our Master Gardeners or others in the community, and extra produce has been donated. This year the primary focus of our garden will be to donate to those in need as a food bank garden.

As always, we look forward to growing and learning along with you! You might also be interested in joining our new, Victory Garden 101 Facebook Group to engage in more conversations and learning about vegetable gardening. What changes have you made to your garden plans due to the pandemic?

FINALLY, Spring.

There’s no question about it, spring was reluctant to come and stay this year. While we have tried to stay on schedule with our planting, we ended up delaying a few things until it got a bit warmer. Thankfully, the warm weather coincided with tomato planting time, so we are pretty much back on track!

41567684981_0383065076 This is the garden in mid-April. You can see from the wooden stakes that things had been planted…but not much green was showing up!

41843273812_28b7977459Jumping ahead three weeks to today…there’s a lot more green to be seen, and you can also see that we have been adding trellises and tomato cages!

41169157274_a7ee443ed4Of our early spring planting, these plants are probably the most spectacular right now. These Chinese cabbages were transplanted the third week of March and have survived multiple nights below freezing with NO protection, snow, cold rain, and wind. The light green is ‘Tokyo Bekana,’ a loose leaf cabbage. The red and dark green are both heading types of Chinese cabbages that are just barely starting to form their heads.

41843272742_28e2656566Also beginning to look good is our SNAP-Ed garden. The radishes, spinach, and lettuce are all finally growing well, and we inter-planted the peppers, tomatoes, and herbs this week. Look for more about this garden to come next week!

41169154634_c1eea26f5fOf the lettuces we have in the garden this spring, this one is by far the most interesting. This is a variety called ‘Italienischer.’ It is very upright and dark green. At maturity it is supposed to be 18″ tall and heat tolerant. It also has the unique oakleaf leaf shape. It almost looks like an overzealous dandelion!

40078997300_5c3f9f8f87While not as beautiful, I also had to share this heirloom lettuce variety – mostly because of the name! The lightly red-tinged leaf lettuce has the name ‘Drunken Woman Frizzy Headed.” I don’t know who came up with that, but…it’s quite the name.

In addition to tomatoes, we planted most of our herbs (except the basil) and all of the various beans this week. Next week we hope to get the peppers planted as well as the cucumbers, squash, and melons.

Hope to see you at Herb Day tomorrow!

Garden Cleanup & Spring Planting

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.

32929204433_3da4bdaab1As 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!

33742353865_00d3d30728Here’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.

33742337345_7d221b99e1The 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.

33613084431_28699f536cThe 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.

33742361035_ea89ed1edfOne 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!

33357398180_178b3ba755The ‘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!