Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Parking Strip Redo

So if you've been by our house lately, you might be wondering WTF is up with our parking strip garden.  Well... apparently we can't leave well enough alone.  The raised beds edged with repurposed sod served us well for the past three years, but we are tired of trimming the grass both on the bed edges and between the beds.  Also, because the sod had rhizomatous grasses and weeds in it, the good garden soil was slowly being invaded creating more weeding work for us.  So, Terry insisted that we rid ourselves of the sod.  The plan is to remove the sod bed edges, spread the sod out, sheet mulch over the sod with cardboard, enlarge the beds with more soil, and mulch everything else with wood chips.

We started off by measuring the parking strip and sketching out the new bed configuration.  Then, we edged the sidewalk because the grass had grown over it.  Next, we measured and marked out the new beds corners with pin flags.  Then we started to pick away the current sod bed edges.  This is perhaps the most labor intensive part of the project.  It's pretty clear that things are going to look horrible until we complete this project.  We need to collect a ton of cardboard, order 12 yards of soil, and find an arborist to drop a load of wood chips.  Also we need to do all this soon, we can getting planting.

I'd like to note that, beds edged with sod isn't necessarily a bad way to go, if you only have a small area to manage.  I had suggested that we cover the sod beds with black plastic during Winter to weaken the grass and warm the soils before each growing season.  However, Terry had already made up his mind that the sod had to go.  Plus, he wanted more planting space.  So that explains the mess and the pin flags...

If you are interested in growing a garden in your parking strip, the city of Tacoma has some guidelines.  You can find information on this at Gardensphere in Proctor.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Starting Seeds Indoors 2012

For St. Patrick's Day we decided to go green by starting some seeds indoors.  Early March is a great time to start Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplants, and other warm weather crops that you want to have good-sized when the warm weather arrives in late May/June.  This ensures that you will have enough ripe tomatoes by the time fall comes around.  (Eek- I don't want to think about fall already!)

In 2011, we started our indoor seeds February 21st.  While we got great tomatoes, the starts got leggy and overwhelmed our dining room and we had to build some temporary greenhouses to move them out into and it was all a major annoyance.  So, we're hoping that by starting a few weeks later, the starts will be less leggy, but still far enough along to produce well this summer.  A warm and sunny spring wouldn't hurt either.

Another thing we did differently this year is use smaller pots to start our seeds.  In the past we've used old Starbucks cups.  This year we're trying egg cartons and yogurt cups.  I've found that the starts quickly get leggy and I need to bury them deeper in soil.  So, the plan is to let the seeds germinate and grow until the first true leaves after the cotyledons open.  Then, I'll transplant them into the larger Starbucks cups.  After they outgrow the Starbucks cups, they'll get transplanted into 1 gallon pots and hopefully into a temporary greenhouse outside.

Next year, I want to have a grow light system in the basement to get the starts out of the dining room.  I also hope to build a permanent greenhouse.  We'll make do for this year.

Seed List:
Tomato- Martino's Roma, Stupice, Heirloom Rainbow Blend, Legend, Gold Nugget, Oregon Spring, Saucey
Pepper- Pizza Pepper, Cal Wonder Bell, Hungarian Wax, Poblano-Ancho
Eggplant- Twilight Hybrid
Artichoke- Green Globe (new for us this year- so excited)
Herbs- Sweet Basil, Oregano, Cilantro
Flowers- Zinnias, Celosia, Lupine, Statice, Lavender, Larkspur

GROWING TIPS:  When starting your seeds a little later than recommended, it is key to make sure your seeds germinate quickly and the seedlings grow steadily.  Use a good potting mix and make sure your seedlings have a warm space with direct sunlight (or a grow light).  Keep the soil moist, but not too wet.  Be sure to add a liquid fertilizer to the water once the seedings get growing well.  Note:  Too much fertilizer and not enough sun will cause weak leggy stems.  Too little fertilizer will stunt your seedlings and they'll turn yellow.  Once your starts outgrow their pot, move them up into a larger pot with more soil space.  If the roots get too constricted, it'll stunt the plants and it'll be difficult to keep them watered.  Observation, patience, and persistence are good skills in this endeavor.  You'll learn quickly if you have a green thumb.

Happy Planting!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Planting March 2012

 We finally got into the mood to plant, which is considerably later than usual.  Last weekend, we cleaned out the beds, and topped them off with some fresh Tagro Potting Soil.  Keeping in mind crop rotation, we drew up a plan, organized our seeds and planted away.

Seed List:
Cauliflower- Early Snowball
Peas- Super Sugar Snap, Sugar Snap, Dakota, Oregon Sugar Pod
Cabbage- Early Jersey, Red Acre
Chinese Cabbage- Winter Elf
Beets- Chioggia, Cylindrical, Golden, Winterkeeper
Carrots- Scarlet Nantes
Radish- White Icicle, Easter Egg II, French Breakfast
Turnip- Purple Top
Rutabaga- American Purple Top
Parsley- Italian
Onion- Evergreen Bunching


Every year we like to try something new... this year I finally convinced my dear husband to dedicate part of a raised bed to Asparagus.  I've wanted to grow Asparagus to give us something fresh to pick during the late Winter/Early Spring period.  Neither of us have ever grown it before, so I'm super excited to see how it goes.  I purchased five 'Jersey Knight' crowns at Portland Avenue Nursery and they kindly had planting instructions to take home as well.  With luck, we'll be eating homegrown Asparagus in 2-3 years.  Gardening definitely teaches one patience.    

Asparagus Crowns

Mr. Slug is ready to feast on some Chard.

Next on our garden to do list is to start our indoor seeds and prepare beds for potatoes and onion sets.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mid-Winter Harvest

Over the years we learned a few lessons about overwintering crops...

1. Cold weather makes your brassicas very sweet.  This is a great reason to grow brassicas in the fall to pick during winter.  (However, some years it gets too cold (10 degrees or lower) and we lose some of the brassicas.)  This winter was mild and everything made it through without protection with row covers or poly-tunnels.

2. There are fewer pests to deal with in the fall and winter season.

3. Pick your overwintered leafy & root brassicas (kale, collards, brussel sprouts, turnips etc.)  before they bolt (go to flower).  Bolting happens before you know it and then all the plant's energy is sent into flower and seed production.  This is great if you want seeds, but we've learned that by the time seeds are produced, aphids are in full force and it's not fun to deal with.  If brassicas are already flowering, you can use the flowers and buds in cooking just like broccoli.
Kale flower bud forming

4. Sometimes overwintered vegetables don't grow like they should.  Maybe we planted too late in the season, didn't fertilize right, or there were too many temperature swings.  For example, our kohl rabi didn't fully form round bulbs, they are more elongated.  Now they are starting to bolt, so we know they are not going to get any bigger.  However, the stem tastes just as sweet as proper looking kohl rabi does, so we harvested it and ate it.

Kohl rabi that didn't fully form right

5. After harvesting your winter crops, process them in such a way to make them easy to use for cooking. I'm trying hard to get better at this.

Lots of curly Kale to process

To Process Kale:
  1. Clean
  2. De-stem and tear into 1 to 2 inch sized pieces
  3. Blanche Kale in boiling water for 2 minutes
  4. Ice Bath- move Kale to large bowl full of ice water to stop cooking process
  5. Drain
  6. Freeze in cooking-friendly sized portions.  I used muffin tins for an initial freeze, then packed the small portions in gallon freezer bags.

Another way to use a lot of Kale is to make Kale Chips.  Basically clean, de-stem, and dry the kale.  Coat in olive oil and any seasonings you like.  Bake on cookie sheets at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until kale is crispy.  I made some for the first time this weekend.  I think I used too much sea salt.  I added some garlic granules to the second batch and they tasted better.  

Other winter crops we cleared out this weekend were beets, kohl rabi, brussels sprouts, turnips, bok choy, and carrots.  The beets were small and covered in root hairs, but we cooked them up anyway.  The turnips were very large and cracked.  I thought they'd be woody and nasty, but they were super juicy and sweet.  The carrots were anemic, pretty sure I planted them too late, I cleaned and froze them for future soup stock.  The bok choy harbored snails and an earwig, but otherwise still looked edible.

The winter crops that are still left if the ground from fall are broccoli, young brussel sprouts, garlic, green onions, fava beans, lettuce, spinach, and chard.   

To summarize: process and enjoy those mature winter crops before they bolt and get attacked by all the bugs that are emerging from their winter slumber.  Plus now is a good time to clean out those garden beds to make way for spring crops.