Thursday, November 13, 2014

Onion-Family is Planted; Cold is on the Way

On the way home from work one day last week, I stopped at a garden center and picked up a little bag of onion sets -- dry, tiny bulbs -- and I was able to get about half of them into the ground last weekend.

The bed they were destined for also was planted with garlic, shallots, and multiplier onions. By the time I had all my saved bulbs in the ground, there wasn't room for all of the little onions in the space that had been set aside. I'm thinking, though, that when I pull out the last of the zombie pepper plants that still are holding onto some darkened, ragged leaves out in the garden, I will be able to plant the remainder of the little white bulbs in the newly emptied space.

An alternative is to plant them around the edges of a bed that will be covered with mulch for the winter, so that spring planting can be done without too much trouble in trying to not disturb their roots. Regardless of which option I choose, planting the rest of those little onions will have to wait for next weekend, which is expected to be quite cold.

All the more tender plants need to be either safely under cover or, if potted, indoors, because it's supposed to be pretty cold tonight, and a very cold snap is forecast for next week. This weekend we are looking at low temperatures in the mid-20s, but at least one day next week is expected to be down around 22 degrees F. For Georgia, in any month, that's cold.

I hope all the gardeners out there are keeping warm as they tend to their plants!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Lost Varieties - Wheat, Corn

The phone call ended up being about corn, but it started with wheat. The old-timer who called the office today asked whether it was too late to plant wheat as a cover crop for his half-acre garden. He wanted to plant the wheat to keep out the henbit that would take over if he left the soil bare. The birds could have any seeds that the wheat might produce.

According to UGA's 2012-13 Wheat Production Guide, "The optimum window for wheat planting in Georgia is typically one week before the average first frost date for a given area and one week after." In other words, this week is perfect for planting, since our first frost is usually around November 1.

I asked about his seeds, and he said they were just an ordinary winter wheat, and he didn't know the variety, but it wasn't like the one his daddy had grown on the family farm many years ago. That wheat had a bluish-purple tint to it, and the grain was very hard. Apparently, the guys at the mill didn't like it because it was hard on their roller-equipment. I was told, though, by  my old-timer, that the blue wheat made great biscuits.

When I asked if he still had any seed for that variety, he said no, it had been lost, like his daddy's corn.

Then, I had to ask about the corn.

His daddy had crossed Hickory King, which has very wide kernels and is a good corn for hominy, with Tennessee Gourdseed, because he had liked the look of the tall kernels on that gourdseed corn. The resulting corn, even after carefully selecting the best ears to save, still wasn't quite perfect, so his daddy had taken the best of new corn and planted it intermixed with Hastings' Prolific (a Georgia variety). The planting was two rows of the first cross and then one row of the Hastings corn, alternated across the field.

The resulting corn had been good for both cornmeal and feed corn, and the ears had been pretty enough to win many ribbons at the fair. Seed from that corn was saved and replanted for many years.

It's unlikely that my old-timer's daddy had had formal training in horticulture when he created his own corn, and yet he was successful in breeding a variety of corn that met his own needs.

This story is a good reminder to keep working to save seeds for old family garden crops that come my way, like the Hogseds' Sweet Potatoes and my friend Becky's Joanie Beans.

Also, the next time I have a zany garden experiment in mind, I'm going to remind myself that there's always a chance that something will go exactly right!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Colorado, and Cooler Weather on the Way

I've had several days of not thinking too much about the garden, because I've been in Colorado visiting my oldest son and his wife (and their dog).
Joe, Jake, and Kerrie, with Fox the Dog

When Jake and Kerrie were busy with work and classes, Joe and I enjoyed some amazing views while walking trails along Boulder Creek, and in Settlers Park and Chautauqua Park.

On Saturday, when we all had the whole day to spend together, we walked in the James Peak Wilderness area, mostly uphill (seemed Escher-like to me, anyway!), at an elevation above 9000 feet.

The scenery was glorious, and we had a great visit! We also got to see a train disappear into the mountain, via the Moffat Train Tunnel. Very cool.

Me, Kerrie, Jake, and Fox.
On our very first day of walking the Boulder Creek trail, Joe and I scrambled around on some rocky areas, and I learned that duct tape does a pretty good job of getting small cactus spines out of bluejeans.

When we returned home, the weather was still fairly warm for fall, but the forecast for this coming weekend includes what may be our first frost.  Sometime in the next couple of days I will need to bring in the remaining peppers and eggplants, but those are the last warm-season crops still in the yard.

All the cool-season crops will be fine, even if the temperature drops below the predicted 34 degrees F.

The geraniums will need to be brought in, the dirt shook off and the bare plants tucked into brown paper bags to store in the cool garage. Once or twice through the winter I'll soak their roots in water for a couple of hours before dropping them back into their bags, then next spring, when it warms enough to set those plants outside again, I'll trim the tops back and replant them.

Me! This is the "walk" on which I encountered a cactus.
Fox, Kerrie, and Jake, well outside the Moffat Train Tunnel.
The lemon grass will also need to be brought in, and as I look around the yard over the next couple of days I'll probably spot one or two more plants that need special care (or bringing in), but that should be just about it.

Are all the other gardens ready for winter?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Garden's Progress

A couple of broccoli plants that had been set out in July. 
In one of my several garden-experiments this year, I set out some broccoli and cabbage transplants Very Early.  I had started the plants from seeds in June to use as "visual aids" in a class I would be teaching in July.

After the class, it seemed a shame to waste the little plants (and the time/attention it took to grow them), so I went ahead and planted them in the garden, even though we had plenty of hot weather ahead. It turns out that the broccoli that was set out to grow through the hottest months of summer  got really tall and then produced quite-small heads of florets.
Broccoli and cauliflower under netting.   
Pasilla bajio pepper plant.  

Considering that I didn't really expect them to produce at all, this is sort of a success story. However, I am hoping that the tall plants will start producing side-shoots of florets for us to harvest, so the little broccoli heads won't be all that we get from these plants.

The cabbages from that same batch of transplants are beginning to head up, and I am waiting to see whether those will stay small, like the heads of the broccoli, or put on some size.

The most-recently planted broccoli and cauliflower plants have settled in nicely, and should begin to pour on the steam (in terms of growth) pretty soon. Until we get some colder weather, the plants will stay under netting, to keep the butterflies and moths that are the parents of cabbage worms and cabbage loopers from laying eggs on them.

Meanwhile, the peppers still are coming into the kitchen. The Pasillo bajio peppers only just started to "make" a few weeks ago, but they are worth the wait for gardeners who also do a lot of cooking.  Those skinny peppers have full-sized flavor!

Some of the peanuts from our garden. 

In the kitchen, we've been enjoying the beginnings of the winter greens: kale and collards. We've also brought in plenty of radishes. We eat the radish part, and I feed the leaves to my pet bunnies.

The cilantro is flourishing; some baby parsley plants look as though they will help make great tabbouleh in spring; beets and carrots are growing well; the parsnips finally got beyond the seedling stage (it's a slow crop); the earliest-planted lettuces are nearly full-size; the spinach patch is darkly green with leaves that are about half the size I expect to see at maturity; bok choy will be ready for harvest in a few weeks; and it won't be long before I will need to plant the garlic, shallots, and multiplying onions. This is a great season for gardeners!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sweet Work

Do you remember the commercial in which a nicely dressed woman sips a cup of tea while chatting with friends and says, "I'm cleaning my oven!" I feel a little like that when I say, "I'm curing my sweet potatoes!"

For the past few days, they have been kept in the back of my car, first out in the sunny parking lot at work, and now on the driveway, taking advantage of the greenhouse-effect to provide the warmth that will help them convert starch to sugar and toughen that thin skin. In a week or two, they will be fully cured and ready to fill a basket on the kitchen floor, where they will be easily accessible for meals.
Chipmunks like sweet potatoes.

I dug up the sweet potato patch on Wednesday evening, and in spite of "sharing" with the chipmunks I ended up with 41.5 pounds of tubers. That isn't as much as it should have been, but the chipmunks were hungry.

The weight doesn't include the ABC (Already Been Chewed) tubers, and there may still be a few good tubers left in the ground that will turn up in the next couple of weeks as I prepare that space for garlic, shallots, and onions.

Meanwhile, we are beginning to bring radishes and little bits of kale and lettuce into the kitchen. As the seasons change, our meals change, too, to reflect the different harvests that our garden provides. It's always a little sad to have to let go of the fresh tomatoes and peppers, but we have plenty of those dehydrated, stored in jars, and more in the freezer, for when we need them.

I hope that other gardeners are enjoying the change to cooler-season crops!