Monday, April 26, 2010

Busy!

Trying to get everything planted in between work (job 1 and job 2) and the weather has been interesting. Some plants are going out a little too soon, while others will be out a little later than I would prefer, but it is all getting done.

We are eating asparagus, the spring lettuces, and spinach from the garden. Over the weekend I brought in the last of the overwintered Swiss chard and chicory from the garden, partly because it was starting to bolt but mostly because I needed the space for spring planting. We ate some as palak paneer (that Joe made, with a mix of chard and spinach), but there is still more in the fridge.

Many more small plants are now out in the garden, but I still have seedlings in pots. Some of the seedlings still in pots are melons, sunflowers, and cucumbers. These like warmer weather than we are having now, so they are good ones to leave for last.

I am going to visit my Mom in Oklahoma for a few days later in the week, and my family has plans for the lettuce and spinach while I am gone, so I have been outside admiring the patch this morning, in case it is gone when I get back. This is about half of the patch, the part that includes the spinach (which doesn't look this good every year).



The dwarf peas ('Wando') aren't flowering yet, but they should be soon. We never get a lot of peas, but that's fine. I enjoy them anyway. When they are done, another kind of squash will go in their spot.



This is one "hill" of the Raven zucchini. There is another 2-plant patch in a bed closer to the house. That patch looks a lot like this one, still just little, but as the weather warms again later in the week, the plants should start to really grow, especially since we got two inches of rain over the weekend.



Elsewhere in the yard, the comfrey is looking glorious. I love those flowers.



And, the earliest of the thornless blackberries is blooming. These canes were planted just two years ago. Last year, I think we got five berries. It is possible that we will get more this year, because I am seeing hundreds more flowers than I saw last year.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Henderson Bush Limas

When I was a kid, I really did not like lima beans, and I am not sure I like them even now, but I have planted a small patch of Henderson bush lima beans anyway. I have found that other vegetables that I thought I didn't like are actually quite good when they are fresh from the garden, so this year I am giving lima beans a chance.

I chose this variety without doing any research at all. They came from a bin at Ladd's Farm Supply up in Euharlee (outside of Cartersville). When I looked at all the different kinds of limas, Henderson appealed to me because it sounded like it came from someone in particular.

Since then, I've found some recipes in a Greek cookbook (from the library) that use lima beans. I just put the seeds in the ground yesterday, so it will be a while, but I am ready for them, whenever they are ready to be harvested.

I've also spent just a couple of minutes looking for the history of Henderson bush limas. The first bit of information I read is from Victory Seeds:

Henderson's Bush Lima Bean 70 days — It is also known as 'Henderson's Dwarf', 'Henderson's Baby Lima', and 'Earliest Bush Lima'.

It was found by chance along a Lynchburg, Virginia roadside in about 1883. It was grown by a local market gardener and passed along to T. W. Woods & Sons. They grew it for two years and then sold the whole stock to Peter Henderson & Company in 1887. Henderson increased and improved the stock and released it to the public in the spring of 1889.

An old-time favorite used for canning, freezing and dry. The seeds dry to a creamy white. The erect, bushy plants are reliable and set pods until frost. About 75 seeds per ounce.


That sounded good when I read it the first time, and I had no real reason for looking at additional sites listed on the Google search results list, but I did, and this is what I found next, from the April 7, 1947 issue of Life:


[Henderson's] last and biggest introduction was the bush lima, which came out in 1889. Previously all limas were pole beans. They grew up long vines that had to be trained up tall poles which made them a nuisance to farmers. Henderson got the bush-lima seed from a Richmond seedsman who in turn got them from a Negro who had seen a freak Lima-bean plant, only a foot or two high, growing in a field of normal pole beans. Henderson bred a true strain of the bush-Lima seed and completely revolutionized lima-bean growing. Today most limas are bush varieties and the Henderson bush lima is a standard by which competitors still measure their beans. (page 55)


I think it's interesting that neither of the short histories is really complete. Also, the collective story shows that gardeners who notice and save seeds from any unusual plants in the garden can have a big influence on the development of new varieties. It also reminds me that, in 1947, the achievement of Civil Rights still was a long way off. That Negro in the Life story was, most likely, the market gardener who supplied seeds to T. Woods & sons.

Of course, it's possible that there is still more to the story, and that these two pieces of the puzzle aren't quite right. Obviously, I will have to do more research.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Lots of Work, Barely Visible



The view from the front porch shows a mostly bare-looking garden. The spring peas, lettuces, and spinach show up, and so do the onions and garlic, but not much else, even though I transplanted out quite a few plants today. The transplants looked big in their little pots, plenty big enough to put in the ground, but they are actually kind of small--too small see easily from the porch.

Two tomato plants were already in the ground before today. They started looking ridiculously large in their pots last week, so I didn't wait to plant those two. But today I planted out six more tomatoes, one pepper (the largest of the lot), one eggplant, three zucchini, two parsley, two fennel, two marjorum, and a patch of Henderson Bush Limas/butterbeans.

The herbs all went into the side yard, so those couldn't be seen from the porch even if they were huge, but it is a little annoying to work so hard and not really be able to tell by just a glance. The good news is that, in a few weeks, all that work will show up as the plants grow to fill their spaces.

One job for the day related to the potatoes I'm growing from seeds. Many of the seedlings have become sick with something that makes them pale and spotty, but a few (four!) look green and healthy. I am guessing that the cross that made the potatoes that produced my seeds included one parent that had good disease resistance and one that didn't. The non-resistance seems to have dominated in this generation.

Today, I pulled up all the sick-looking plants and left the healthy ones, but I didn't want to waste that now-empty space, so the Henderson Bush beans were planted in among the remaining potato plants.

I also added more mulch around the onions after pulling a lot of small weeds.

Other plants that are too small yet to see are the beets and carrots that have come up, and out of view to the left is the asparagus bed that has already provided veggies for a few suppers.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lettuces

The last of the seedling lettuces are ready to go out to the garden. For most varieties, this is way too late to be planting out lettuces in North Georgia, but these are the variety called Slobolt. It can take some serious heat before bolting to bitterness. However, it is not the most tender and delicious lettuce around.



I mentioned Slobolt on the "Gardening in the South East" group at Kitchen Gardeners International, and the organizer of the group (ejmac) said that the lettuce that lasts longest into June for him is Jericho, an Israeli introduction that can stand the heat here but that also has good flavor. Since seeds for that variety are carried by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, I will probably try it (in a trial next to Slobolt) next spring to see if I like it better.

The spring lettuces that were planted earlier include this one, Marvel of Four Seasons.



I haven't grown Marvel before, and I really like the color. It is supposed to stay fairly unbitter even as it begins to bolt, so I am interested to see whether that is true in my yard. We certainly are having a hot April, so this year makes a good test for the lettuces. Last year it was so rainy in April, then cool through most of May, that almost any lettuce would have done pretty well here.

The other spring lettuce that I'm growing this year is the variety Capitan.



It is classically green, and it is one of those tender and buttery bib lettuces. In another week or so I will begin using leaves from both Capitan and Marvel in salads, but I am still trying to use up the winter-grown oak leaf lettuces. An overabundance of lettuce is not exactly a problem, but the midribs of those are getting bitter, so we will be having huge salads with supper for the next few days.

I have always grown lettuces with the thought that I want to be able to harvest enough to make a whole salad right from the yard. One friend, though, takes a different approach that allows her to grow and use garden lettuces and other salad greens right through the summer.

She grows a whole bed of those "mesclun mixes" and harvests the leaves when they are no more than about two and a half inches long, then adds those to lettuce that she has bought. The baby leaves give more flavor (and probably vitamins and minerals) to the salad. This is an approach that I have not even considered trying before, but now I am going to think about it...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tomato Varieties

Seedlings I've started in the house are doing well so far. Nothing looks too leggy and I haven't seen any critters on them yet (some years there is a whitefly problem). The tomatoes are taller than everything else, but that is normal.





Someone asked me this week what tomato varieties I grow. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t simple, because I grow some different varieties every year. However, I do grow Rutgers and/or Better Boy (usually both) every year alongside other varieties because I know they will do well in my yard, regardless of the weather.

They are both disease resistant and productive, and should be equally successful in other gardens in this area. I can’t say how they would do in other parts of the country, though, in different climate and soil conditions and with different disease pressures.

Anyone in this area (North Georgia) who is new to gardening and planning to buy just a few plants to get started should look for varieties that are disease resistant. Those will have the letters “VFN” and possibly more letters and numbers somewhere on the label. The VFN tag is very important, because the problems they stand for (Verticillium Wilt, Fusarium Wilt, and Root Knot Nematode) are commonly present in soils across the whole region. Using disease resistant plants improves the odds of garden success.

I have grown a lot of different varieties over the years, almost all starting from seed, with varied results. Here’s the list:

Brandywine—the tomato that so many people love, dies in my yard.
Mr. Stripey—dies in my yard.
Glacier—dies in my yard.
Dad’s Sunset—dies in my yard.
Riesentraube—survived in my yard the one year I grew it, but the tomatoes tasted like sugar water (I won’t grow it again).
Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter “VFN”—did well in the drought years, but keeled over, from Verticillium Wilt I think, in last year’s spring deluge (I won’t grow it again).
Heatwave—I planted this one year as part of the later batch that goes in where and when the onions and garlic come out. The Rutgers that I planted at the same time were more productive and tasted a LOT better (I won’t grow it again).
Rutgers—the determinate, meaty canning tomato that I plant almost every year; it is productive and tasty, but most of the tomatoes come at once, so it needs to be accompanied by a longer-producing indeterminate type to make sure tomatoes keep coming in all season.
Roma—widely available paste-type tomato that does well in my yard; I’ve grown it in many different years, but last year replaced it with another paste variety.
Wuhib—paste variety that I grew for the first time last year. It did well in the crazy rains, and I will be growing it again this year. More productive than Roma.
Cherokee Purple—I grew this for the first time last year; it produced well in the crazy rains and was incredibly flavorful. I am growing it again this year. Indeterminate type.
Amish—I grew this for the first time last year. It was not especially productive, but it survived in my yard, the fruits were attractive (yellow with pink swirls), and the flavor was incredible. I am growing it again this year. Indeterminate type.
Gardener’s Delight—a cherry type. This lived in my yard, but the tomatoes all cracked before they were fully ripe (I won’t grow it again).
Sweet 100 and its even more productive relatives—cherry type that has done well in my yard in many different years. Productive and tasty.
Better Boy—widely available indeterminate big tomato that has done well in my yard in many different years. I usually just buy one or two of these at a store instead of growing my own from seed.
Costoluto Genovese—the first few years I grew these, they were from one seed packet from a source that went out of business before I could order more, but I had loved these tomatoes. A few years later, I ordered some from another source, but they were not the same; the fruits were less flattened, less lobed and less tasty. I am trying again this year, with seed from a different source. Indeterminate.
Arkansas Traveler—pink tomato that does well in my yard. Indeterminate. I will be growing this again, but not this year.
Winter Red Hybrid (Burpee)—a long-keeper type that I usually plant in late June. Does exactly what it’s supposed to do, and performs well in my yard. However, this year I am trying a different (non-hybrid) long-keeper called ‘Yellow Out, Red In. ‘
Matt’s Wild Cherry—cherry type that produces a whole lot of very small red tomatoes on a very indeterminate plant; the branches reach about ten feet long by the end of the summer, so it isn’t the ideal plant for a small space, but the flavor of the little fruits is excellent.
Yellow Marble—cherry type that I tried for the first time last year (the seed packet was given to me for free); the fruits were too tart, but the plant was in a container, which could have affected the flavor, so this year I am going to put one in the ground to see how it does, both in terms of survival and flavor.

I’ve probably grown more varieties than are on this list, but these are the varieties for which I have records.

Other varieties grown with great success by friends in this area: Early Girl, Celebrity, and Park’s Whopper.

Tomatoes I am growing this year: Rutgers, Cherokee Purple, Amish, Costoluto Genovese, Chinese, Yellow Marble, Olivette (cherry type), and Yellow Out Red In.

If there is space left after these are planted, I will add one or two Better Boy plants.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Soil Temperature

Joe and I went on a walk with the Mushroom Club of Georgia on Saturday. This should be prime morel time. However, people in the group who've been mushrooming for long enough to have "usual places" to check for morels have been checking, and not found any. We were lucky, though, and found a few White Morels (a new species for the group!) on our walk.



One woman in the group had brought a digital meat thermometer, the kind you can get at a grocery store, and stuck it in the ground to check the soil temperature. The thermometer showed a reading of 55 degrees F, which is near the lower end of the range for morel season (which come up in the range 53-60 degrees), but still should be a good temperature.

I had never thought of getting a regular food thermometer for checking soil temperatures, but it seemed to work just fine! This would be useful for gardeners, too. We've had a cold winter, with fewer than usual warm days between the cold ones, and many spring flowers have been slow to come up. I have thought that the soil was just too cool to trigger their emergence.

This year, soil temperature might be a more useful tool than the calendar in deciding when to plant seeds!

Arizona Cooperative Extension has published a chart showing ideal temperatures for germination of many garden crops. Although many will germinate below 55 degrees, the ideal temperature for germination of many crops is 75 to 85 degrees. I don't think, though, that I'm going to wait for the soil to get quite that warm.

The average date of our last frost is the 15th, but I usually wait to plant the summer crops until the 20th, when I am really sure that there is no more danger of frost. This year, I might also go get a thermometer and check the soil temperature, too, to make sure that it is absolutely a good time to plant, before putting the summer crops in the ground.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What's Up in the Yard

Today is beautifully warm and sunny, and I got home early from work, so I was able to start another tray of seedlings. Some of these are replacements for seedlings that were started once before but got lost/destroyed when the tray was knocked off (accidentally) the side of the deck. Others are marigolds, basil, zinnias, and Malabar spinach.



Some plants started earlier (tomatoes!) are doing just fine. When I picked up the little six-pack of pots, I could see little rootlets starting to poke out the holes at the bottom. I will, hopefully, get these moved into bigger pots tomorrow. That will be their last move into bigger pots--when they outgrow the next size of containers, they go into the ground!



Out in the yard, the lettuces from the fall still taste and look good. I think that's because they are oak leaf lettuces; they resist turning bitter for a pretty long time. I've had other over-wintered lettuces get too bitter, even when they looked great.



We've been using the cilantro for weeks. Earlier, in colder weather, it was somewhat inconvenient to lift the plastic cover off the cold frame that this was growing under, but now that it is warmer, getting to the cilantro is not a problem. Since this patch is getting old, and likely will to go to seed before too long, I've started some more.



The wildflowers are coming up, but they are late. The bloodroot are always beautiful when they finally do bloom.



The ground really is still much cooler than usual for the time of year. Just like the wildflowers, the asparagus is late. We should be eating it already, but I haven't seen even one shoot coming up.
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