It is once again the time of year where we plan what will be featured in our Demonstration Garden for the season. As always, we have a great mix of tried-and-true vegetables and some new and interesting things. When it is cold and snowy, it is a lot of fun to think about what will be growing in the garden in just a few short weeks. We will be starting the first of our seeds next week and it is all downhill from there!
Below you will find maps for each of our raised garden beds. The maps show the overall theme or focus for each bed as well as the specific varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers we will have growing.
Our tomatoes are in Bed 1 this year. Because of how this raised bed is structured, we will have roma tomatoes in one end, early maturing varieties on the other end, and some more common “comparison” varieties in the middle. The roma tomato varieties are a mixture of hybrids and heirlooms, with different colors, sizes, and shapes. We chose the “early maturing” theme because everyone always likes to have the first tomatoes! The six varieties we chose also are a mix of hybrid and heirlooms, with maturity dates ranging from 54 to 65 days from transplanting.
Bed 2 will feature a mix of cool season vegetables that are planted both in spring and fall. The spring plantings feature leafy greens, peas, carrots, radishes, and kohlrabi. The fall plantings feature two new cauliflower varieties, beets, daikon radishes, lettuce, spinach, and carrots. Our plan is to put row covers over at least part of the fall plantings to extend the growing season and overwinter them.
The theme for Bed 3 is the “Kansas Backyard Garden.” The idea is to feature common vegetables grown in Kansas. Most of the varieties are not too far out there either. A couple things that I’m excited about though are the bush-type vine crops. We are trying both a new bush watermelon variety, ‘Cal Sweet Bush’ that has only 18″ long vines, and ‘Cherokee Bush’ pumpkin that has about a 4′ spread.
On the other hand, Bed 5 is a long way from Kansas! We are featuring vegetables that are indigenous to Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa. Researching this garden was an education, because we discovered that some of our common ornamentals were originally edible vegetables in Africa! Vegetables that you may be familiar with are eggplant, okra, kale, and peanuts. You may be less familiar with cowpeas, long beans (a type of cowpea), amaranth, cleome, celosia, and bambara beans.
You probably do know amaranth – but as pigweed. There are colored leaf varieties and varieties that have been cultivated for edible greens. Other varieties are grown for flowers and seeds. Cleome is a ornamental flower we know, but most of us haven’t eaten the foliage as a vegetable! Celosia is another common flower that you may have grown for color. But the leaves and young flowers can also be eaten as a vegetable.
Cowpeas, long beans, and bambara beans are all from the genus Vigna. Cowpeas you may recognize. The long beans are vining beans that produce 18″ long edible pods. Bambara beans are kind of like cowpeas…the peas look a lot like the cowpeas. But they are kind of like peanuts…the pods grow underground.
One of the best things about this garden theme is that these are all vegetables that thrive in hot climates, so we are excited to see how they do in Kansas!
For a second year, we have a bed that we are calling our “SNAP-Ed” bed. This bed is a demonstration of how to garden on a very small budget, using only seeds and plants that can be purchased from a store where it is possible to use the SNAP EBT (food stamp) benefits.
Also a reprise from last year is Bed 6. Agastache is the Herb of the Year featured at our Herb Day event on May 4th, so we kept this bed in the same location with several overwintering agastache varieties. The flowers and herbs are chosen for the attractiveness to butterflies and other pollinators.
Beds 8, 9, and 10 are all 4′ x 4′ beds. Bed 8 will feature ornamental gourds on a trellis. Bed 9 will feature sunflowers. Bed 10 will feature a popcorn variety called ‘Glass Gem.’
In the accessible garden area, we are featuring a “Salsa Garden” theme. In the tiered raised bed will be a roma tomato, herbs, and peppers. In the barrel planters will be a trailing tomato variety, more herbs, and some green onions.
Our containers around the garden will feature flowers this year, especially some new varieties of Pentas. We are excited for spring! What are you planning to plant this year?
We have hit the main harvest season for summer vegetables, even though the spider mites are a severe trial to most of our plants. This seems to be a horrendous year for spider mites, and in a lot of respects, the best we can do is to just wait for cooler weather.
From the surface, everything looks green and healthy yet, which is nice. You can also see that the Grocery Garden is half empty currently – after harvesting the remaining root vegetables, it is awaiting fall plantings, soon to come!
I harvested about 35 tomatoes today, in large part because so many are cracking that we are trying to harvest before they get very ripe. These are nine different Cherokee Purple tomatoes at a range of stages of ripeness. The lower left tomato had fallen off the plant and is hopefully at mature green – meaning it will ripen off the vine eventually. I prefer to wait for color. The other two bottom tomatoes had also fallen off, but have just a tinge of pink. It’s hard to see in the picture due to the light, but they do have small pink streaks at the blossom end. The rest you can see the color change more easily.
The ‘Legend’ tomatoes had the most fruit today (17) off of only 3 plants (one plant has a weird virus or mutation and isn’t productive). They are mostly cracked, so still not great from that standpoint.
We are still seeing some rotting tomatoes too. This one is really frustrating, because one tomato started rotting, but we didn’t catch it and remove it. It then infected two more not-yet-ripe tomatoes that might have otherwise been okay. Ugh! Rotting tomatoes are the worst!
We also harvested our ‘Himrod’ grapes this week. For the second year in a row, our vine has yielded very well, and the grapes taste great, even if they are much smaller than we are used to seeing in the grocery store.
Our melons are also starting to reach ripe stages too. When I checked the tendrils for browning on Tuesday, there were several that looked ready. We tried the ‘New Queen’ (orange), ‘Mini Love’ (red), and ‘Musketeer’ honeydew (white in the background). The orange melon was a tiny bit over-ripe. The red was perfect. The honeydew wasn’t very close to ready. I will say it was a bit of a shock to the system to have a seeded melon for a change! Yesterday I came across a ‘Maverick’ cantaloupe and one of the ‘Gold Crown’ watermelons (yellow rind, red flesh) that was ripe. We tried them too. The cantaloupe was okay but not spectacular. The watermelon was very good.
Have a great weekend! If you don’t have your own, go find some seasonal, local produce!
Like many local gardens, our Demonstration Garden is seeing the onset of a wide range of insects, diseases, and weather-related challenges. On the surface though, it is beginning to look like a rather overgrown jungle of green.
With the tomatoes and vine crops throughout the garden, everything is starting to look a little crazy, and I’m afraid it will only get worse before it gets much better. Of course, on the surface, everything looks beautiful. But at closer inspection, it’s not quite as pretty.
While the cracked tomatoes are by no means an uncommon sight for the Kansas gardener, it can be downright frustrating when they are cracked to the point of mushy rottenness before they are remotely close to ripe. Not to mention disgusting when you stick your finger into a rotten spot while trying to pick what looks like a good tomato. That is what happened with these two Cherokee Purple tomatoes. The combination of watering, rain, heat, and variety has made these tomatoes mush before their time. Normally we recommend harvesting before full maturity to prevent the worst cracks, but that doesn’t work in this instance.
The beans are well on their way to being crispy due to spider mites. The mites seem to have gotten started a couple weeks ago, and the progression has been such that nothing seems to help. Normally we would recommend either a hard stream of water, neem oil, or horticultural oil as a treatment. However, with the heat and high population, it will probably be time to pull these plants out in the near future.
A couple of the melon varieties have a few disease lesions on the leaves. It isn’t very severe at this point, probably because it has been relatively dry until last night. We haven’t opted to treat yet, partly because the plants are so large, but it is important to keep an eye on things like this, because it can spread quickly. In hindsight, it would have been smart to treat before last night’s rain.
What sad looking onions, you say? Well, yes. But not really. The onions flopped over at the necks is an indication that the plants are done growing and the onions can be harvested. We pulled all the onions this week, some from the Grocery Garden and the rest from the Peruvian Garden.
Just so you don’t think that all is death & destruction in our garden this week, here are some of the cucumbers we harvested. The dark green variety is Tyria, and English cucumber that had very small seeds and relatively thin skin. The white one is Lime Crisp, which was supposed to be more of a lime green color, but looks almost white. It was sweet, but had larger seeds.
Finally, the watermelons! We have several melons set and growing well. We bagged / nyloned all of them this week to ensure they can stay on the vine and keep growing well. Since we selected larger melons this year, they likely still have a few weeks of growing to do before harvest.
Have a great weekend!
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.
Our Vertical Garden area was much smaller this year than the past couple years, but it still yielded some very interesting results. We focused mostly on melons and for the first time found a melon that seems to not adapt to the trellising.
We tried two watermelons, the ‘Little Baby Flower’ red, seeded watermelon and the ‘Yellow Mini Tiger’ seedless watermelon. The ‘Little Baby Flower’ did very well, with lots of melons set that grew well and tasted great. They did crack when we had the rainy spell mid-summer, but that isn’t abnormal. The melons were okay on the trellis, although it was better to tie them up somewhat. It was also easy to identify ripe melons by looking at the nearest tendrils.
The ‘Yellow Mini Tiger’ had problems from the outset. As a seedless variety, we needed to plant the variety seeds and the pollinator seed. The pollinator grew readily, but we had to plant all 10 of the variety seeds to get a single plant growing. That wasn’t an auspicious start! We finally had one plant growing, after a few weeks. As the summer wore on, we had melons set on both the pollinator and the variety vines. Unfortunately, the melons were just large enough and the vines just brittle enough that they kept falling off the vine before they were completely ripe. Maybe we waited too long to try tying them up, but we lost a number of melons to breakage. The vine didn’t set nearly as many melons as the ‘Little Baby Flower’ and we never got a fully ripe melon. So…not so much a winner, at least on the trellis!
The other melon trellis was some more specialty melons, with the ‘Sun Jewel’ Asian melon and the ‘Snow Leopard’ honeydew melon. Both of these melons did relatively well. The honeydew was fairly productive, especially once we got the hang of knowing when they were ripe. It wasn’t as productive as some of the cantaloupe varieties we’ve grown in other years, but was still good. (The ‘Snow Leopard’ honeydew was a white fleshed melon.) The ‘Sun Jewel’ Asian melon was very productive, although it cracked in the rain and then slowed down a lot later in the summer. The thing with the ‘Sun Jewel’ melon is that it is different from what we expect of a melon. I was telling everyone that if you thought of it as a melon, you would be disappointed in the flavor, but that if you expected it to taste like a sweet cucumber it would be enjoyable.
The last part of the Vertical Garden is the vegetable arbor. I’m only going to talk about the two varieties that were on the Vertical Garden side in this post. I’ll save the other two varieties for my discussion of the Kids’ Snack Garden. The ‘Golden Honey Bunch’ cherry tomato and the cucumber were on the Vertical Garden side of the trellis. The cucumber – well, I doubt it was the fault of the individual variety. We just didn’t get it up and growing in a timely fashion. We ended up trying a couple different varieties and still struggled with germination. Not that it mattered…the tomato completely filled the trellis all on its own! The ‘Golden Honey Bunch’ was a real star in the garden this year! The tomatoes tasted great and the production was spectacular.