Saturday, August 27, 2016

Farm Report: Seeding for Winter


The summer garden is summering. Beans. Armenian cucumbers. Tomatoes. Pumpkins and corn ripening. All that stuff. We eat stuff. We give stuff away. Yay.

But my focus is now on the fall and winter garden. Yay!

Why is the future garden so often more fascinating than the present? I don't know, but I'm going to write about it anyway.

The overwintering cauliflower and broccoli and sprouting broccoli plants, planted as ittybitty soil blocks, are now nice big seedlings. So far, they're staying well ahead of insect damage; we'll see if that keeps up or if this will be a Lesson Learned about insect netting. I've been wanting to taste overwintering sprouting broccoli since I heard of it; I hope it works this time.

Meanwhile, I presprouted some butterhead lettuce seed and planted it in the space that the broccoli and cauiflower don't yet need, next to lines of quarter-inch soaker hose (programmed to water five minutes every day in addition to the longer less frequent watering) and it grew--in 105 degree highs!  Lots of little inch-high lettuce plants. Yay for presprouting. And for soaker hose.

The mini-soaker scheme also worked for the beets--I planted Merlin beets a little over a week ago right next to soakers, and they came up so well that I had to do a whole lot of thinning just to get them to half an inch apart. I'll go back soon to get them to the recommended interim spacing of three inches apart. (From my reading, the three inch spacing gives you enough space for baby beets, and at some point you remove (and eat) every other baby beet to give you a six inch spacing for bigger beets.)

I just finished prepping the "salad garden"--beds A through D of Row 8, four 4 X 6 beds in a row, so a total space of 4 X 24. (A handy space for a very short low tunnel later.) I'm cutting three slits down each bed, six feet long and eighteen inches apart, and putting a soaker hose along the slit.  This gives me a total of twelve six-foot "rows". A little more tweaking, and they'll be all ready for seeding.

Ooh, seeding.

What to grow? I've got plenty of options in the seed box. Four different kinds of scallions. Two kinds of carrots. Two big packets of green butterhead lettuce (Tom Thumb is presprouting as we speak). Mache. Kale. Peas that I could grow for peas or pea sprouts. Little cabbages. I'm about to send of for golden beets and Fordhook chard and a red lettuce.

Let's make up a plan:

  • 1: Evergreen Hardy White Bunching Onions
  • 2: Tom Thumb butterhead lettuce.
  • 3: Red Kitten spinach, grown for small salad leaves.
  • 4: Russian Hunger Gap kale, grown for small salad leaves. I'm wasting the potential of this kale; its claim to fame is bolting late to produce kale raab. But I've got the seeds, packed for 2015, so I'd better plant them soon or never.
  • 5: Guardsman scallions
  • 6: Oxheart carrots
  • 7: Golden beets
  • 8: Fordhook chard, grown for small salad leaves.
  • 9: Summer Island scallions
  • 10: Tom Thumb butterhead lettuce.
  • 11: Soloist hybrid Chinese cabbage
  • 12: Red Baron scallions
How's that look? A lot of scallions, but I want to taste all four of those scallion types. Only one kind of lettuce, but salad leaves will also be coming from the spinach, kale, chard, and beet greens. And as things come out, I might be able to replace them with lettuce. (I say "might" because when the temperature gets too low I can plant lettuce all I want, but it won't actually grow.)

I like it. We'll see if I actually plant it that way.

That is all. For now.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Farm Report: Growing For Volume

Back in April, I posted about maybe-possibly-perhaps growing food to donate to the food bank. I finally got around to hauling the first of it over today--a bunch of Armenian cucumbers, three or four gallon bags of snap beans, and a few stray tomatoes and summer squash.

The harvest so far hasn't been as plentiful as I imagined.  Not that I had a lot of crop failures. I just didn't plant a spring garden, and I forgot how long it takes for the summer garden to start bearing. Most of the tomatoes are still green. And I felt vaguely silly going over just to donate zucchini. I still can't quite believe that people really like zucchini. Zucchini feel like a prank. Even the name.

But there are a lot of those green tomatoes. Looming. Like The Birds. Hopefully there will be a bunch to donate soon. Just the dribs and drabs of two or three per plant gave me a couple of dozen to haul home.

The engineering part of my brain points out that if my primary goal were to help the food bank, I could instead spend the gardening hours working some overtime, and donate the money. I'm gardening for the fun and sanity; the mildly useful side effects are just mildly useful side effects.

But, hey, useful is better than not-useful, yes?

Having the goal of donation changes some of my gardening strategies. For example, last year I didn't much care about the distinction between the full-day versus half-day-sun parts of the garden, because even a halfhearted crop was enough for our kitchen. Now, I'm trying to go to some trouble to give the productive sun-lovers what they want. And I'm keeping an eye on the productivity difference between an indeterminate tomato given its own bed, versus four of them in one bed. And I'm debating the productive crops that we don't eat at all--like chard.

And so on.

All of which is fun--it gives me the excuse of pretending to be a small grower. The engineer keeps shouting, "Just write a check!" while the gardener enthuses, "I could grow a lettuce bed like in the pictures, and it wouldn't go to waste!"

I choose to assume that purity of motive is overrated.

That is all.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Farm Report: Rambling and Carrot Plans

I'm not writing much lately. Or sewing. Or taking pictures. Lately, I'm all about the farm.

("Farm": 70 foot by 70 foot vegetable garden.)

Right now my brain looks at hobbies that involve flitting from topic to topic, putting in a lot of thought and creativity and not necessarily coming out with any satisfaction, making long-term plans that may or may not pan out, and says, "Nope."

Compare that to the farm. Dig a hole. Insert a tomato plant. Water occasionally--or not, for the dryfarm tomatoes. The sprawling vines covered in fruit are a whole lot of satisfaction for very little thought.

The farm supports thought, if I want it to. I could do more dryfarm experiments. I could breed plants. I could experiment with different seeds, different fertilizers, different care, all sorts of things. I could spend hours and hours on the layout of next year's farm. There's ample room for thought.

But I don't have to think if I don't wanna. I can go out to the farm, pick a bed that's ready to be replanted, freshen it by the standard recipe (two cups of my chosen fertilizer, half a cubic foot of my chosen compost, meditatively loosen the whole thing with a fork inserted and tilted roughly every two inches, break up the clods with the little hula hoe, pat it all down to a manicured finish, put the weed barrier back on it, and plug it in to the watering spine) and plant something.

I'm going to plant carrots next. I'll add rock phosphate to the standard recipe. Some sources tell me that's a waste of time, because the phosphorus won't become available in the time it takes for the carrots to grow. They suggest bone meal. I don't want to work with bone meal. So I'm not gonna. So there.

The carrots are an experiment--I've never grown them successfully before. They involved a little thought, because my usual method of punching holes in the landscape fabric at an 18-inch spacing isn't going to work for carrots. Instead, I'm going to cut slits about two inches wide and twenty inches long, four of them per bed, and run miniature soaker hose down them. Right now (I won't get to this for at least a week, so the plan may change) I'm thinking that I'll mix the carrot seeds with vermiculite, sprinkle the mixture down the slit, and sprinkle the smallest bit of peat moss over it. And I'll set the irrigation to run five minutes a day in addition to the usual big watering every three or so days, until they come up. Or until it's clear that they've failed. I might go with the traditional advice to add radish seed to "break ground."

There was some thought there, but it was thought I enjoyed thinking. And I didn't have to justify the vermiculite to anyone, or write a budget request for the soaker hose, or explain what happened to the original plan to plant beans in that bed, or...

Yeah. My brain is tired.

So. Carrots. Also, lettuce. I (well, we--I had help) did the slits-and-soaker-hose thing to another bed. I planted some cauliflower and broccoli seedlings in that bed, but I plan to presprout some heat-tolerant lettuce seed and plant it between the seedlings while they're sizing up. I don't actually know if the seedlings survived--I planted them a few days ago and haven't been able to get back. But if they failed, I won't have to explain the failure to anyone, or write a report, or get authorization to repurchase them or to buy netting to cover them with.

Tired. So tired.

Farming is good.

Image: American Gothic by Grant Wood. Public Domain.  Wikimedia Commons.