Thursday, April 28, 2011

Vegetable Tourism

On May 7, the day before Mother's Day, I will be out at a big garden/small farm on Dallas Highway, playing docent. The Garden (of Mr. Kastner and Mr. Hankerson) is on the Master Gardeners' tour of gardens this year, and I signed on to help. I've been going, and hauling my family with me, for the last few Saturdays to help get things planted and to learn more about The Garden so I can do a good job.

I've learned quite a bit about what is being planted, why those crops were chosen, and how the soil is prepared. Since I usually work with much smaller plots of veggies, this has been a real learning experience. The good news is that I'm ready for questions!

Every year, the Master Gardeners send around a request for volunteers to help out at all the gardens on the tour. Different gardens are on the tour each year, but it's been awhile since a food garden was featured. One of the great things about this garden is that a lot of food it produces is given away to people who really need it (going to pantries and shelters, for example).

Making sure everyone has access to good food is important!

When I was visiting the Energy Bulletin website this afternoon, I saw a link to a video about a much larger project that's dedicated to providing good food to as many people as possible. The project is called Incredible Edible, and it started in a town called Todmorden in the UK. It takes watching five YouTube videos to hear the whole talk, but it's worthwhile. The whole town of 17,000 people has much better access to fresh produce than before, partly because it's growing all over the place. The group also has put effort into making sure people know how to prepare the food that's being grown. It turns out that this is a very important piece of the local, fresh food puzzle. Video five brings up the topic of Vegetable Tourism, which made me laugh, but then I remembered what I'm doing a week from Saturday . . .



I hope that The Garden gets some good vegetable tourism next weekend!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Plenty to See

There's a lot of action right now, plantwise, both in the wooded backyard and in the garden. It's a great time of year to walk around and see what's going on in the plant world!

Taking up the whole right side of this photo is some cilantro that seems to be in competition with Jack's beanstalk. I don't think I've ever seen cilantro get to four feet high before! On the left are the potatoes, and in the back, starting up the trellis, are sugar snap peas.



Elsewhere, last fall's chard is bolting, and the spring lettuces and spinach are making enough progress that they will soon land in the salad bowl, along with some of the radishes that are getting close to the right size for eating.



The herbs are greening up and looking lush, especially the comfrey, which is in glorious bloom. The bees are very happy!



The backyard has smelled like apples for a couple of weeks now, because the sweetshrub (aka: Carolina allspice) is in bloom.



The woodland flowers are coming along, too. In addition to the goldenseal, which is already setting fruit, and the Solomon's seal, the trillium are putting on the best show they can.



And the Jack-in-the-pulpit have burst forth with their weird little blooms, too.



The crossvine blooms way up in the trees. I wouldn't know they were in bloom if they didn't drop their flowers all over the place. The flowers resemble somewhat the flowers of trumpet creeper, but the crossvine flowers smell like Mexican food.



I hope Spring is progressing as wonderfully for other gardeners!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Keeping Pace

Tonight, after work and after supper, there was still enough daylight to putz in the garden. Actually, there was enough to get the zucchini seeds in the ground. Since I am hoping for only five plants, this wasn't a monumental endeavor.

Seeds for the dwarf runner bean with big red flowers that I've enjoyed for the past couple of years also got planted. These are technically edible, but I have planted them mostly just to admire. I put in ten big seeds.

About six days ago, I was able to plant seeds for the slicing cucumbers (the variety Straight Nine), and these have poked their seed leaves (cotyledons) out of the soil. I am very happy to see them! So far, there are five seedlings. That might be all I planted.

Later this week, I'll probably plant bush beans and pickling cucumbers. Then the pole beans and popcorn will go in. After another week or so, I'll think about getting the tomatoes into the ground. Then it will be time for melons and okra (as seeds), and eggplants and peppers (as plants).

As long as I get a few things into the ground each week, I know that it will all get done. That doesn't mean I don't sometimes wonder how I'm ever going to get the whole thing planted; I do! But every year, it gets done. My planting gets done the same way eating an elephant does: one bite at a time, and I'm guessing that my garden isn't the only one that gets planted this way.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Choices

We've had a beautiful warm day today, and a warmer one is forecast for tomorrow, but there was a frost here just a few days ago, on Wednesday morning. I'm glad that my plant babies are still in their flats and pots, rather than in the ground.

I've worked some in the yard today but still have a little more to do before the beds are all ready for summer crops. Since the "last frost date" is still a few days away, this is just as well.

The map of what will be planted in each section of the gardens has been drawn, but it isn't really set until the plants are all in the ground, and I've been thinking more about what I've chosen to plant and the reasons for my choices.

I tend to plant many different kinds of crops, but just a little bit of each--except for tomatoes and peppers, which I plant enough of for a little canning/freezing/dehydrating. We eat a lot of tomatoes and peppers.

For the other crops, though, there are different reasons for the choices. Some plants, like lettuces, don't keep especially well, so I try to grow enough for us to use fresh, with a little to share, but with not too much that might "go bad" before we can use it.

Some crops I grow just a little of because we won't eat much of it (chicory and kale, for example) but we do like to have a bit.

Other crops we grow just a little of because I'm not sure yet whether I like them. This is how I started with beets, but I plant more of those now as we like them and their greens more and more.

Other gardeners make other choices. I've known some to grow just tomatoes. I would hesitate to put all my effort into that one crop, though, because some years are not so great for tomatoes. It would be sad to put a lot of effort into a garden that keeled over from, say, late blight! Diversification means that, even if one crop doesn't make it, there will still be food from the yard.

Mr. Hankerson and Mr. Kastner, who have a big garden out on Dallas Highway, are growing more peppers this year than in the past, and I was told that choice was partly because they have a great new recipe for green tomato and pepper relish. They plan to make lots!

At the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden, we plant crops that don't have an immediate and pressing need for refrigeration, because the food pantry that gets our harvest doesn't have a huge fridge.

My friend who grows all her veggies in containers on her driveway looks for varieties that are just a little different than standard grocery-store produce, so people who walk by won't harvest all her food before she can. It turns out that white eggplants are less likely to "walk away" than the standard purpley-black ones.

What a miracle it is that there are so many kinds of good food from which to choose, so that we all can grow gardens that work for us!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Helping the Plant Babies Grow

My seedlings out in the front yard are still pretty small, and I'm thinking that they are slow partly as a direct result of cool weather but also as an indirect effect. The indirect part would be that the nitrogen from the organic fertilizers is not yet available. It needs to be "set free" through a decomposition process, and the cool soil may be slowing that down. That's my current theory, anyway.

The nitrogen in that soil right now is in the form of some cottonseed meal and a couple of bags of "humus & manure" from a store. Given some more warm weather and a bit more time, that nitrogen will become available for use by my plant babies, but I am impatient. I will probably water that bed with some fish-emulsion in a dilute solution tomorrow. That form is more readily available to plants, but when mixed according to package directions won't harm my little lettuce, chard, spinach, mustard, carrot, beet, and scallion babies.

My garden doesn't usually have this problem, but it has happened before, and the fix was liquid fertilizer, so the fishy plan is likely to work. Gardeners who rely more on bags of conventional fertilizers will not be so constrained by the weather, which is certainly something to consider when planning a garden, but I'm sticking with my stinky organic amendments.
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