Sunday, February 27, 2011

UGA and Sources of Gardening Information

When looking for reliable sources of information about gardening, one place to start is at the land grant college in your state. Here in Georgia, that's UGA. It offers a search function on its publications website that can be used to find all sorts of great information.

Publications span a wide range of topics and include a booklet-length text on Growing Vegetables Organically. We handed these out at yesterday's talk on raised bed gardening, but we didn't have enough for everyone. (To get an electronic copy from the linked page, choose which version you want, either html or pdf, and it will appear!) UGA offers publications on individual veggies and fruits, on composting and many other relevant topics.

The good news is that most County Extension offices will send, through the mail, paper copies of their publications if a citizen in the county requests the information. Later in the week, when I get to the Cobb County Extension office, I will be putting together a couple of envelopes full of information for people who came to the talk but missed out on the handouts.

Other sources of information include experienced gardeners, some of whom will have published information in magazines and newspapers. Yesterday, someone asked about growing vegetables in the shade. Amazingly enough, when I opened my email this morning, the most recent note from Mother Earth News included an article on growing veggies in shade.

The article, Best Vegetables to Grow in the Shade, includes a link to a handy table of veggies and their minimum sunlight requirements along with the general discussion on maximizing availability of sunlight to a shaded garden.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

This Morning's Talk

This morning's talk on raised bed gardening was a lot of fun. It is great to be in a room full of people who are all interested in gardening!

One thing we didn't get to, though, was listing specific varieties of veggies that do well here. I promised to put together a such a list for my own yard. For anyone interested in a more detailed list of tomato varieties I've tried, there is a post from last April with that information.

The list is not complete, but it is a start. I hope it is helpful!

Plants that do well in Amy’s yard:

Okra—any okra will do well (okra loves the summer heat and has few pest/disease problems). I grow Cajun Jewel because it is a dwarf variety. Plant okra seeds directly in the garden.

Lettuces—Red Sails, Tom Thumb, Marvel of Four Seasons, assorted Oak Leaf varieties, Capitan, and more have all done just fine in cool spring and fall weather. I have been growing Slobolt (less tender and tasty than most lettuces) as a later planting because it lasts longer into the warm weather. All of these are grown to pretty much full size. Susan, who gave the second part of the presentation, plants a salad mix every few weeks through the entire growing season to use as baby greens (cutting them as they get to about three inches tall). Lettuces get bitter as they mature in warmer weather; the “baby greens” strategy means she gets gourmet salad ingredients all summer long.

Peppers—bell peppers suffer from the good years/bad years syndrome. Some years they do really well and some years they don’t. As far as I can tell, all bell pepper varieties have the same problem. I still grow some bell-type peppers each year (one or two plants, usually California), just in case we have a good year. Banana peppers are very productive every year, as are jalepenos, Jimmy Nardello peppers, and ancho/poblano peppers. One I grew for the first time last year, Feherezon, did well, but I won’t know for sure that it is a reliable variety for a couple more years. I’ve grown a hybrid called Spanish Spice that has been productive and good for grilling, stuffed with that Mexican crumbling cheese.

Radishes—all radishes I’ve tried work well now (French Breakfast is my favorite), but they didn’t when I first started gardening here. It took a lot of work on the soil to get it in good enough shape. I also grow winter radishes (Muncheiner Beer is one) in the fall.

Spinach—Bloomsdale, Space, Tyee all have worked.

Cucumbers—Staight Eight, Straight Nine, Marketmore, Burpee’s Picklebush. A friend grows Lemon Cucumbers and loves them.

Broccoli—Packman is one I’ve grown, but we’ve tried others at the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden (whatever varieties were being offered as plants at HomeDepot/Lowes/Pikes/Walmart) and they all did about the same. If growing from seed, I would choose one with a relatively short time-to-maturity (the weather goes from cool to HOT pretty fast some years).

Collards—any will do well. I usually grow one called Georgia.

Melons—this is something I’ve been working on. A whole lot of melons have been a big disappointment. Two that have been successful are Schoon’s Hardshell (cantaloupe type) and Sugar Nut (canary melon). Right now, seeds for Sugar Nut, a hybrid, are hard to find. I am in the middle of a project to de-hybridize it. When I get the line stabilized, there will be plenty of seed locally for lots of gardens.

Eggplants—any should do well. I like Casper White.

Peas—I grow dwarf types. I’ve tried a few, but so far Wando is the one that does best for me. A taller pea that is eaten in the shell, Sugar Snap, also does well. It also gives more food per foot of trellis than English peas that are eaten shelled out.

Bush Beans—my family likes Burpee Tenderpod, but it isn’t available every year. At the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden we grow Blue Lake, and it is very productive for us. This year, I am trying Provider. I’ll be posting on my blog how it works out for me.

Beets—Detroit Dark Red

Carrots—I’m still having trouble with this crop. So far, Scarlet Nantes is at the head of the list.

Tomatoes—Rutgers (determinate), Arkansas Traveler, Better Boy, Park’s Whopper (bred for the South) have all done well for me as main-crop tomatoes. Some years, Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter has done well, but it died in my yard for the first time a couple of years back. It had been a very wet spring. I’ve also had pretty good luck with Costoluto Genovese. For paste tomatoes, Roma and Wuhib both have been good producers. Of the two, Wuhib is my favorite. For cherry tomatoes, Sweet 100 and its variations (are they up to Sweet Million yet?) have been good. Twice now, I’ve grown a yellow pear-shaped cherry type (is that an oxymoron?) called Olivette Jaune that has been outstanding. For a “keeping” tomato (to plant at the end of June), Burpee’s Winter Red Hybrid is my favorite so far.

Swiss Chard—I grow one called Perpetual Spinach. It is more “spinach-like” than most chards. However, if you can’t find it, growing any of the others and harvesting while the leaves are still fairly small is another way to get chard leaves tender enough to eat as salad.

Squash—I usually grow Raven zucchini as my summer squash. At the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden we grow straight-neck yellow squash. These both, as with all summer squashes, usually die from attacks by the squash vine borers in mid-summer. For winter squash, Seminole pumpkin squash is good, but it sprawls alarmingly. For a tidier winter squash, a bush butternut (which is resistant to the squash vine borers) is a good choice.

Sweet potatoes—for gardeners who don’t mind the sprawl, any will do well in Georgia. I grow Beauregard and Porto Rican. I hope to add a new variety this year.

When choosing seeds for each year’s garden, I make sure that I have enough “old reliables” to get through the season with good-enough production, but I also add some experimental varieties. Last year I grew ground cherries (another tomato-family plant, so they were in a container). They did just fine. Most years, I grow chicory of one sort or another for greens, but this year’s variety (Pan di Zucchero) is one that should head-up rather than forming a dandelion-like cluster of leaves. I have ordered a couple of new peppers and a new eggplant, too.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

It's Time!

The trout lilies are blooming! That is my cue to plant peas. It is too late this evening, of course, but I have hopes for tomorrow. Of course, on NOAA's website, the map of Georgia has a big red patch over the northern half of the state with the words "Isolated severe thunderstorms possible. Damaging winds. Large hail." I am hoping that "scattered" means my yard has a good chance of not being soggy in the morning.

It's time to begin the indoor seed-starting, too. My seed orders haven't arrived, but I plan to set up a tray with some of the seeds I already have. The cooler-weather veggies will get started first, along with peppers and eggplants. Those two summer veggies seem to need a long head-start.

The cooler weather veggies that will get started include spinach, the lettuces that are less heat tolerant, mustard greens, maybe some more chard (it's hard to have too much), beets, and carrots. Some herbs will get started, too. Maybe some of the older seed packets will finally be empty. When the new seeds get here, if some of the older packets aren't removed, there won't be enough room in my storage boxes for the new ones!

With the talk on raised bed gardens on Saturday morning and the seed starting in my own yard, I have a great garden weekend to look forward to.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Talking and Doing

This is a week for both of the activities in the title of the post. This coming Saturday, the leader of the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry (PAR) Garden and I will be giving a talk on raised bed gardening. The talk will be at the Smith Gilbert Garden in Kennesaw, which is also the home to our PAR garden.

A couple of weeks ago we worked out a list of subtopics and divided those up for the presentation. I still need to make a handout for my part, so people who show up will have a handy little sheet to follow along and to take home as a reminder, in case I say something that is helpful to them.

Before then, some of the PAR gardeners will be making the Third Annual Pilgrimage to Ladd's Farm Supply up in Euharlee, for seed potatoes, onion sets and assorted seeds. Previous trips to the store have been both fun and educational, and I am looking forward to this one.

Over this last weekend, though, we had such beautiful weather that I spent as much time outside as I could. The hoe and I did a number on the winter weeds, and I dug in some compost to begin getting this year's potato patch ready.

I also jumped the gun a little bit on the onions: mine got planted. My big excuse for putting them in the ground so early is that the forecast is for still more warm weather ahead. I am hoping that the stretch of warm weather will help the little onions get settled in before the cold returns.

The trout lilies still aren't blooming, so the peas are still in their packet instead of in the ground. Maybe next weekend . . .

Friday, February 18, 2011

When to Begin . . .

Several years ago I spent some serious time working out a veggie-garden planting calendar for my yard. I have since discovered that the Old Farmers Almanac website has a feature that will create a planting schedule using US frost dates for gardens all over the US. A gardener just has to specify a location, and a schedule will appear!

The schedule includes dates for gardeners who also like to consider phases of the moon in their planting. I have checked the Old Farmers Almanac schedule for Kennesaw, and it is not too far off from the one I created for myself for most crops.

It shows later planting dates for potatoes (old-timers around here get their potatoes into the ground in March), and it has a very small window-of-opportunity for planting radishes. Some years I start sooner and others I end later. It also is only for the spring/early summer garden. However, a new gardener could do worse than to consider the planting dates suggested in the schedule.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

PAR Planning

The group that volunteers at the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry (PAR) garden met today to talk about where to plant which crops in the garden this year. It was great to see everybody, both the old friends and some new friends, too. We had fun, but we also worked. There is a lot to think about in planning the garden!

The needs of the food pantry where we donate the harvested food have a huge effect on our choices of what to grow. One consideration is that the garden needs to produce a lot of good food, since the pantry works hard to feed a whole lot of people. The pantry also can't take any kind of greens because it isn't equipped (refrigerator-wise) to keep greens fresh and un-wilted. The food we grow for donation needs to "keep" pretty well without much pampering.

Once the choices are worked out, there is the step of figuring out where in the garden each crop should be planted. The garden had its first year at the current location in 2006. This means that the crop rotation is beginning to be a bit tricky.

We didn't make any final decisions (our fearless leader has that honor!), but we had copies of drawn layouts from the past several years to look at (so we would know the history of each patch of the garden) and we had blank maps to doodle on.

This drawing shows some of our thoughts:

The yellow writing represents one possible layout and the pink another. We discussed going back to the 2006 layout for this year, but we aren't growing exactly the same crops at this point. For example, back in 2006 we grew corn, but the resulting harvest didn't provide enough food to justify its inclusion in the garden. We also have more trellised area now (but still not enough!), which means the spaces are going to work out a little differently.

Part of the group discussion was about crop rotation: trying to keep plants from any one family from being planted in the same spot within three (or more) years. This is one goal that we just aren't going to be able to meet every year. Some years, the tomato/pepper/potato/eggplant group is going to be planted in a patch too soon, and so is the cucumber/squash/melon group. It's a good thing that we aren't too hung up on perfection!

Another part of the discussion centered around the desire to try some different crops, and maybe some different varieties (to "trial" them without risking a whole harvest). We may save one of the wedges to use as an experimental plot. One of the crops for that might be carrots. I promise this wasn't my idea, even though I have been dissatisfied with my current carrots. We may get together in a couple of weeks to make seed tapes for carrots, and possibly for some other crops (radishes? beets?). The suggestions for things to try were flying!

We briefly discussed the idea of succession planting, but a fuller discussion for that will have to wait for later. The main ideas were that some kind of Southern peas will probably follow the potatoes & onions, and that we might want to have two separate plantings for the tomatoes. I do at my house, and so does Fred (long-time gardener who moved here from Alabama). The later crop sometimes is what makes the tomato-year a success.

In a week or two we will make our pilgrimage to the farm supply store up in Euharlee for seed potatoes, onion sets, and seeds. I already ordered enough Schoon's Hardshell melon seed for the PAR garden, and our fearless leader has stored leftover seeds from last year. Soon, it will be time to turn under the cover crop of Austrian winter peas and to get busy in the garden. Looking forward to it!

Monday, February 14, 2011

For Love of Vegetables

When Joe and I were preparing tonight's supper (a pasta dish known at our house as "oogli ogli"), I realized that we are almost out of the 2010 crop of garlic. Oogli ogli takes a lot of garlic. If the need for it hadn't sent me down to the garage to raid the basket in which the garlic is stored, I might not have noticed.

Since most of the little heads of garlic are beginning to sprout, its being nearly gone might not be a disaster, but if I want enough garlic to last an entire year, I will have to plant more than I did in October 2009.

This kind of planning isn't 100% simple. It requires careful record-keeping (how much do we really use each month?), and it requires calculations of the space required to grow enough to last until the next harvest. It might also require that the last several months of the crop be dehydrated and then ground for use as powdered or granulated garlic, since the heads tend to sprout in late winter/early spring. That all sounds as though it could be work.

Except, for people who love to grow food, the "work" isn't really a chore. It's just part of the whole process. The composting, the digging, planting, spreading mulch --it's all good.

Several years ago I wrote a poem about early spring work in the garden. Here it is:

Preparing the Way

Steam of my breath
and steam off the compost heap
mingle. The slant sun of early spring
leaves us cool but for our own internal
heat; the small controlled combustions
signifying life.

I fork black compost into the rusted
wheelbarrow, wrestle it to the front
garden, ready for planting. I work

without gloves, digging to bring
the smothered to air, breaking lumps
between fingers.

Most lumps are solid,
but some hold, as a geode, amethyst
worms that drop and then sink
back into soil. A fine, tangled wire
rolls from my hand, unknots
to a spider that staggers away
like Lazarus surprised.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Oxheart Carrots

When I read the descriptions of Oxheart carrots last year, they all sounded about like what I had been looking for: short, broad shouldered, does well in clay soils. What the descriptions didn't do was translate all that into a picture. Here are a few that I pulled up today:

If I had known that the mature, ready-to-eat carrots were so short that they were nearly spherical, I would have ordered a different variety. This is one of those little lessons about doing more research before devoting time/space/$ to planting seeds. You'd think that by now I would have learned that lesson very well, but, based on this particular carrot experience, that would seem to not be the case . . .

There are, however, two bits of good news here. The first is that these little carrots are good to eat. The second is that there are lots of them, which helps make up for how little "carrot" is actually in each one.

Also, their very shortness may make these carrots a good variety for people who grow most of their veggies in containers.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Seed Decisions

My friend Cheryl and I usually put in an order to Fedco together, so we can meet the minimum order size for free shipping. Separately, we never have big enough orders to qualify. One of my activities for the day was to work out my final order for that seed company. Cheryl is taking a turn filling out the form, which is a little more complicated than most seed-order forms. Thank you, Cheryl!

One of my seed packets from Fedco will be filled with seeds of Jericho lettuce. I am planning to grow Jericho next to Slobolt so I can compare the two varieties. They both do well into the warmer weather of early summer, but I want to know which will be best in my yard, and for more qualities than just the slowed down development of bolting and bitterness. Growing them together in the same bed at the same time should help me figure that out.

My other seed order is to Sand Hill Preservation. One packet from that source will be filled with Tennessee Greasy pole beans. They are supposed to be good to dry for leather britches, and that is a food preservation/preparation method that I want to try on a larger scale than in the past.

I've dried other green beans from the yard in small quantities, but I haven't been impressed with the outcome. I've also dried small amounts of overly-mature white mountain half runner beans from the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden. These were beans I've taken home because they were too far gone (turning tan, tough) to take to the food pantry. I am hoping to work with beans at a more tasty stage of development; hence the need to "grow my own."

Wanting to try this old-timey method of food preservation/preparation may seem weird, but canning, which I do a little of every year, takes some time. With all the other responsibilities in my life right now (as with so many other gardeners!), I am hoping for a few more crops that require minimal effort to keep for the winter. Right now, sweet potatoes are the champs in that regard. Although there are a lot fewer now than there were in November, the sweets that remain are keeping just fine in a basket in the kitchen.

In addition to these little goals/experiments, I will be growing a few tomato plants from seed I saved last summer, and I will be working on my melon de-hybridization project. This will be the second generation of melons, and the first crop for which "choosing wisely" becomes important.

In other news, we adopted a special needs kitty this weekend. His name is Louisiana; he has a heart problem, he sneezes, and he has no teeth. He is about eight years old, and, as cats go, he is fairly small. My youngest son volunteers at the shelter (Good Mews) that had been housing Louisiana, and he has been nervous after every "adoption day" that Louisiana might be gone the next time he went to clean the shelter and feed cats.

In the good news/bad news department, Louisiana has enough health problems that he is designated a Halo Kitty. This means that the shelter will help with his medical expenses, covering everything related to his heart problem. When his prescriptions need to be refilled, we can pick up his meds at the shelter, for free.

Here is Louisiana:

He is such a sweet little cat when it comes to humans, that his reaction to our dogs was a bit surprising. Here he is with Zack. Just looking at the picture, you can almost hear the hiss and the doggy-toenails scrabbling on the wood floor as Belle (barely visible on the right) backs away.

Even funnier, Louisiana actually stalked Moksha and scared her enough that she climbed up onto my chair and tried to worm her way around behind me.

I had been working on my little laptop (with assorted papers all around me) and had to shift everything else off the chair in a big hurry to make room for 65 pounds of quivering dog. Right now, she is tucked behind my chair on the floor.

In a week or two, the animals will all work out a truce, but until then, and for several weeks afterward (just in case . . .) Louisiana will stay in Zack's room when the humans are all out of the house.
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