Wow. I can’t believe it’s been almost two months since I last gave you guys a garden update. A lot has changed since March out in our growing space, so let me give you a little rundown of what’s up.
When we left off last time, I told you we had just planted all of our spring crops. Most of them are doing wonderfully, and we’ve been harvesting asparagus, spinach, kale, lettuce, green onions, kohlrabi, and broccoli for a few weeks now. I never get sick of harvesting my own food. In my opinion, there are few things cooler than being able to walk out to your back yard and pick lunch. We’re particularly loving asparagus right now. We’ll have to stop harvesting soon to let it grow stalks and store energy for next season, but it’s been a wonderful few weeks!
Our cabbage are growing nicely, as are our kohlrabi and broccoli. Cauliflower is a finicky veggie and isn’t doing much but producing beautiful, dark, green leaves (too much nitrogen?), but we’re not too worried about it. We’ll get another shot to do cauliflower again in the Fall.
Most of our Spring crops are producing so well that I think our first charity donation of the season will be happening sooner rather than later. Yay! I’m so excited to start dropping off food at our county’s food bank. They are always so appreciative.
There are a few plants that have struggled, and it’s got us rethinking our three-season approach to the garden. For a few years now, we’ve been trying to fit three seasons of crops (Spring, Summer, and Fall) into what really amounts to 2 1/2 growing seasons’ worth of time. Our spring weather doesn’t last very long here—it basically goes from winter to summer overnight—so it can be hard to grow a lot of the cool weather crops in Spring. It works okay for crops that grow quickly (radishes and greens, mostly), but isn’t so ideal for varieties that take a little longer to get going. Take beets, for example. By the time beets have germinated and started to grow, our weather is already soaring into the upper 80s—not ideal conditions for root veggie growing.
We’ve always had awesome luck growing cool weather crops in the fall here—our fall seems to last forever—so I think we’re going to shift our focus to growing most of those varieties in the later season. Next spring, we’ll probably just focus on growing the crops that can grow quickly in our short spring season. And hey, that gives us a little more time to focus on getting the garden ready for summer crops!
Last update, I told you how we were planning on using biodegradable paper mulch to prevent weeds in our rows, and it’s been a struggle, to say the least. Keeping the paper mulch from blowing around and tearing during our strong thunderstorms has been tricky. And where it has stayed down, we’ve had issues with our voracious earthworms eating right through the paper, and weeds popping up in those spots. That all being said, where the paper has stayed down (and the earthworms haven’t eaten too much of it), it has worked like a charm. I am loving the reduced weeding! I don’t think the issues we are having are issues with the paper itself; I think it’s all user error. We’re already getting better at working with it, and it’s staying down no problem in recent rows we’ve planted.
We also didn’t think the paper thing through so well, because while it is easy to plant in when you have seedlings, it doesn’t work so well with direct sow crops like corn, cucumbers, and squash. We have whole rows that don’t have the paper mulch down because it would be silly to cut 400 holes in it to plant each corn seed, you know? Our hope is that we can keep on top of the weeds in these rows until the plants are big enough to be mulched in other ways (wet newspaper and straw, probably).
We’ve been very, very happy with our decision to put heavy duty landscape fabric in each of the aisles between our rows. So happy, in fact, that we actually ordered another roll to go along the perimeter of the garden. It’s holding up amazingly well, and weeds aren’t even thinking about popping up in the aisles.
On the bug front, we’ve picked off our first few cabbage worms from the cabbages just the other day. Cabbage worms have been a huge issue for us in the past here, but we didn’t see many of the moths earlier this Spring, so we’re hoping they aren’t out in large numbers this year. We can’t wait to get the chickens out in the garden to help fight nasty bugs!
Of course, because the cabbage worms aren’t around as much, there had to be something snacking on our cabbage, and this year, for the first time, we’re seeing red cabbage beetles. They are beautiful! And thankfully, they aren’t doing too much damage to the brassicas right now. Our general philosophy with gardening is to plant enough for both us and nature to enjoy, so we often choose to let bugs just run their course. These beetles didn’t show up until after our brassicas were large enough to handle a few nibbles, so we’re just keeping a close eye on them, and letting them enjoy a snack for now. We personally believe that organic gardening goes beyond just using organic products in the garden, it’s a way of looking at the whole ecosystem of the garden—and to us, that means letting some bugs eat our cabbage sometimes. There is enough to go around (most of the time)!
In the next few weeks, our spring harvesting will start to wrap up, and our focus will turn entirely on the massive summer garden we’re currently in the process of planting. Our goal usually is to get the entire garden in the ground by the first weekend of May, but with the yard sale, we just got a bit behind. It’s not a huge deal though – like I mentioned above, we have a long growing season (we’ll be harvesting well into October and November), so planting a few weeks late won’t ruin everything.
And we are getting close to having everything planted! Over the winter, my Dad mentioned he’d like to chip in and help us with our goals to donate 500 pounds of food to our local food pantry, and we’ve been taking him up on his offer over the past few weeks. He’s been spending mornings out in the garden helping us plant everything from tomatoes to chamomile to squash and corn. It’s been so helpful to have an extra set of hands to plant (or to wrangle the JuneBug).
Of our 30 beds, we only have about a half dozen left to get planted. And the ones that are left are hot weather crops like okra and melons, so they could stand to wait a touch longer before going in the ground. Right now, those beds are tucked under some black plastic to warm up the soil and nix weeds, but our hope to have everything in the ground by the end of the week.
Our potatoes went in a few weeks back, and they are taking off like gangbusters. We did three rows in the traditional trenches, and they are rocking it.
We had some extra seed potatoes, and an extra empty spot in the garden, so we’re also trying out some potato towers. I’ve heard mixed reviews of potato towers, but figured we didn’t have anything to lose by trying them out. We’ll see!
Have I mentioned the scale of our summer garden? I mean, I know I’ve told you size-wise how large our garden is (80′ x 60′), but I’m talking actual plant numbers. It’s a little insane. We’ve got 72 tomato plants in the ground of 22 different varieties. Nearly 300 onions are in the ground (a handful of fresh eating, but mostly storage onions). We’re growing eight different kinds of winter squash (spaghetti, acorn, delicata, two kinds of pie pumpkins, three kinds of butternut squash). I’m so excited about the variety we’re growing!
If you think this all sounds like overkill (72 tomato plants? c’mon, now.), it definitely is. But keep in mind that we’re trying to grow enough for fresh eating, preserving, donating, and, like I mentioned above, a little bit of a buffer to “donate” to the bugs and critters that allow us to grow and live on their land. Remind me of this when I have to spend an entire day in 90° heat picking 400 bushels of roma tomatoes, k?
Speaking of tomatoes, we’re trying out red plastic mulch on one of our tomato beds this year. It’s supposed to reflect a certain wavelength of sunlight that makes for bigger yields. We’ll see! It looks a bit odd out there in the garden!
Most of the tomatoes we planted were our starts, but we also picked up a handful of “cheater” tomatoes from a local vocational school’s plant sale. We just couldn’t resist the possibility of having tomatoes soon! For $2 a plant, it’d be worth it if we could just get one or two tomatoes a few weeks early. They are so big and full of fruit already, that Craig had to stake them (with a sleeping Juniper on his back).
Our garlic bed is doing really well, and we’re starting to see some of the leaves die back, which is a good sign—it means it’s almost ready! I’d say we probably have another month or so before we’ll be pulling up all of our garlic, curing it, and then storing it for eating all year long.
Oh, and I wanted to mention the garden tools we’re using this year! My friends at OXO sent me a few garden tools to try out, and they are literally the best hand tools I’ve ever used. When the box of tools showed up, I didn’t even bring it inside. I ripped it open and then went to work using them immediately! I am murder on trowels, but the OXO trowel is so strong and amazing—I think it’ll last me years. Even my Dad couldn’t stop commenting on how great the OXO trowel was while we were planting tomatoes! And the pruners are the best pruners we’ve ever used. I am in love!
I think that brings you up to speed on where we currently are. Once the garden is planted, our focus turns entirely on garden maintenance—keeping up with the pruning, weeding, and mowing. We still have a few grass aisles in the garden, and unfortunately, we have to keep those well-mowed and trimmed to avoid getting weed seeds in our bed. One of our big garden projects for this winter is killing those grass aisles and putting in gravel in the garden (I’m SO excited to not have to mow in the garden anymore).
Food Harvest Tally
Before I end this post, I thought I’d give you an update on our food tally. For some silly reason, I originally had these garden update posts separate from the food tally posts. But I’ve decided to combine them! It just makes sense to do all the garden updating all in one place. Plus, that way, I don’t have to include as much information in the food tally—you’ve already heard all the garden updates! I’ll think I’ll just stick to periodically updating you with the total amount of food harvested and total donated. Expect a serious increase in these numbers in the next garden update!
Total Harvested in 2015
Total Donated in 2015