Sunday, November 27, 2011

More Garden-talk with Grandpa Bill

Grandpa Bill kept the peppers coming through central Oklahoma's blistering-hot summer by erecting a little shade directly over each plant.

He had put a "cage" around each plant, just like he does each year, for support of the heavy branches. As the temperatures climbed and then stayed high, he put an upside-down saucer, the kind that go underneath potted plants, on top of each cage. Since his pepper plants continued to produce, the strategy seems to have been a good one. (If anyone is curious, he mostly grew Big Bertha bell peppers.)

As the weather gets weirder and weirder, it's good to have ideas already in mind, and I thought that one was worth sharing.

He also said that this was the first year he's grown cantaloupes in a long time. The weather should have been great for melons - all that heat and drought should have made them extra-sweet. He said, though, that the melons didn't taste like anything at all. We've had that problem before with melons at the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden, and I am beginning to see that bland melons are a more widespread problem than just here in the Southeast. Luckily, we found Schoon's Hardshell, which has worked out well for us.

As the seed catalogues began to arrive, he also pointed out that, back in the old days, you just went to the store and bought whatever seeds were there, and they always worked out just fine. Now that there are so many varieties to choose from, gardeners are more likely to end up with at least some seeds that aren't ideally suited to their yards.

As the catalogues pour in - mostly from the Northeastern U.S. and the Northwestern U.S. - it's easy to see how lack-of-garden-success could become a problem for new gardeners. For instance, I am guessing that the "bland melon" problem and prevalence of far-away seed sources that contain many tantalizingly-described varieties are somehow related.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving conversations

My Mom and Step-dad (aka Grammy & Grandpa Bill) are visiting from Oklahoma for the holiday. We've had some gardening conversations along with all the great food, and it turns out that gardening in Oklahoma was pretty tough last summer.

Their area had 60+ days over 100 degrees F, which meant that they didn't ever get a tomato crop. They did get some tomatoes early on, from flowers that were pollinated before the high temperatures set in, but that was it. The peppers did OK, but tomatoes usually are abundant in the summer garden, and they were missed.

They also said that Christmas trees are a big crop in Oklahoma (and in Texas). Between the drought and the heat, a lot of those just are not going to make it to market this year.

Bill says that the fall is too short and the temperatures too extreme for a good fall garden where they are, but Mom started looking at my old seed catalogues for some of the varieties that I've had good luck with in the early spring. She plans to buy some Capitan lettuce seeds (variety that has been on our turkey sandwiches) and seeds for other leafy greens for the early spring.

Amazingly, the first seed catalogues for 2012 arrived today: Vermont Bean and Totally Tomatoes. I guess the next gardening year really is right around the corner!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Autumn Productivity

Over the long summer and early fall, the kitchens of gardeners all across the Southeast are covered up in tomatoes, peppers, okra, and all kinds of beans. Those plants just keep on producing small mountains of food, week after week. There really isn't an equivalent crop, in terms of productivity, for the cooler seasons.

Part of that is just the nature of plants in cool weather; growth slows way down. But part of that is due to what we harvest. Mostly, in the cooler weather crops, we aren't after the fruits. We are after the leaves, the roots, the entire flowering stem.

The closest crops in terms of constant productivity that I can think of, really, are some of the greens. Collards, mustards, and kale, for example, keep on coming, but it takes a lot of greens to fill a pot for supper. From my garden, I can harvest enough greens each week for maybe one meal, right now, but as the temperature drops even more and the growth rate slows, the harvests will slow, too.

Most of us prefer to plant more cool-weather crops than just greens, though. For example, I planted six broccoli plants. If all goes as planned, I will harvest six big heads of broccoli and then some smaller side-shoots, but that will make, at best, enough of the vegetable for eight or nine meals.

The same goes for cauliflower, except that I don't expect any bonus side shoots after harvesting the heads. To be honest, I've never even grown cauliflower before, so I am pleased way-out-of-proportion to what I'm going to get from the six-pack of plants that I bought and planted back in August.

For radishes, one seed makes one small root. Of course, these are delicious, and you can cram quite a lot of them into a fairly small space. The red ones pictured here are "regular" radishes, with a listed 35-days-to-maturity. The white one is a Muncheiner Beer radish, a winter-radish type with a much longer time-to-maturity. The winter radishes can stay in the ground through some very cold weather, so I don't have to worry about bringing them inside as the winter progresses.

Unprotected lettuces keep making new leaves until the first very hard freeze. Around here, that might be as late as mid-December. By mid-January, though, most lettuces left uncovered will have dissolved into a mushy puddle in the garden. This is one of the big, loose heads of Capitan lettuce that I have growing right now:

I have a little cold-frame to fit over the place where the lettuces are planted, but some of these are planted a little too close to the edge of the bed. As colder weather moves in, I'll cut those to the ground to make enough room to fit the cold frame over the lettuces that are more in the middle of the bed.

The garlic that was planted a couple of weeks ago, to grow through the winter and spring, has come up. I love having a crop that overlaps the seasons - when February comes and most of the fall veggies are gone, that promise of good food to come is heartening.

Friday, November 11, 2011


On Wednesday, at the new garden site for the Plant-a-row-for-the-hungry garden, there was a charrette for the whole property. Essentially, a charrette is a big-group brainstorming session for design, and we were putting together potential designs for the whole property at Fountain Gate, which will be the host for our garden plus a community garden plus demonstration garden for Kennesaw State University.

The landscape designer, Sean Murphy, did a great job of walking us all through "what to do," and people from the city of Kennesaw showed up to tell us about the future road-widening that will affect the plans.

The whole group was divided into three smaller groups for the brainstorming. We all had big maps of the property, tracing paper to lay over the maps to write on, and a few colors of Sharpies for drawing. In the end, it was great to see the variety of plans that the three groups came up with. We were all trying to place the KSU garden, the PAR garden, the community garden plots, a meditation/contemplation area, picnic/play areas, paths and access routes and other features on the ~3 acre site.

One group did an especially nice job of keeping artistry in mind. My group was thinking much more in terms of function.

The good news is that Sean Murphy is very good at what he does, and however he sets up the site will be fine. (He is in a design competition right now for an urban farm in Atlanta, and there is a good chance he will win. He brought a copy of the plan to our meeting, and what I saw was pretty impressive.)

I did meet a retired friend over at the property this morning for some advice. This guy is a long-time farmer and retired developer-of-subdivisions, and he had some useful comments with regard to drainage on the site. He pointed out where the water was going to run across the property and where the slope was going to be too steep for an in-ground garden. First, he recommended that the drainage corridor be left as lawn.

Then he pointed out that if the PAR space ends up on ground that is too sloped, we will need to put in raised beds. I would probably have figured that out eventually, but it's helpful to be prepared.

He also said that the best garden site was right behind the Grambling House (historic house on the property). None of the designs put the PAR garden there, and I'm a little chagrined that I didn't see it as a possibility.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

New Garden Site!

The Plant-a-row-for-the-hungry (PAR) project for which I am a volunteer seems to have found a new home. The Fountain Gate counseling center in Kennesaw is planning a big community garden on its property on Cherokee Street, and there is enough room for us, too.

The official website for the new garden is still pretty spare, but it gets the idea across. A garden is going in!

Anyone who wants to be able to voice an opinion about the layout and other aspects of the plan can sign up for the newsletter online (through the website, linked above) or send an email to the listed address and get signed up for the design meetings. The first design "charrette" (discussion/planning) meeting is scheduled for next week, on Wed., Nov. 9, at 2 p.m. at the "brown house" - which is actually beige - that is also on the property.

My understanding is that people who show up for the meeting - and everyone who is interested in the garden at any level is invited - will separate into small groups to talk about what would be great in terms of garden design. The property is three or more acres, so this is large-scale design - where garden beds should be located, how big they might be, where paths and sheds might go, where greenspace and benches might be nice, where our PAR garden might be situated, and more.

I expect to be there.

Me and My Bok Choy

One of the bok choy plants finally did make it into the kitchen.

I don't know what it is about bok choy, but I always cut the whole plant to bring in, whereas for most other greens I tend to just bring in the leaves that I will need for the meal I have in mind. It could be the thickness/succulence of the petioles that causes me to reach right past them, to the base of the plant.

There are still three bok choy plants out in the yard, and I may experiment with one of them, cutting off just the leaves I need, to see how that goes. Does anyone else harvest bok choy one leaf at a time?
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