Posts Tagged ‘rhubarb’

The Garden in July (pictures)

July 23, 2008

I’m not yet familiar with my new digital camera, and I’ve never been particularly spatially competent, but I’ve got a few shots of my garden.  This is on a regular lot in a rather large city, so I’ve had to tuck some food crops into the landscape outside of the vegetable garden.  For example, I’m using two rhubarb plants to frame the entrance to the back yard:

It’s a new plant (put in last fall), but it should fill out in time.  I’ve also lined the front walk with strawberry plants:

The white flowers are allysum, which re-seeds itself every year.  This planting looks moderately presentable from the street, but still provides strawberries on a daily basis:

They are day-neutral strawberries, which means they produce throughout the summer, rather than only cropping in the early summer.  Here is a typical day’s harvest:

That’s just enough for two people to eat out of hand, on cereal, or with ice cream in a day.  A few days after a good rain, there’s a bumper crop, so I have managed to freeze a quart or two of these for the winter, but for the most part, output is small and steady.  I could probably do better with more active watering and fertilizing, but I haven’t felt compelled.

I keep most of the vegetable production in the back yard.  I have some basil growing in the foundation border, and some onions coming up in a flower bed, but other than that, this is the vegetable garden:

The front 10 feet (covered in straw) started the summer as turf.  Next year, it will be vegetables.  In the interim, it’s a layer of cardboard covered with woodchips, compost, rotted leaves, and straw.  I poked a few plants in to make it look (slightly) more presentable, but this area won’t really be put to work until next year.  Here’s a close-up of the cardboard, etc., where it butts up to the garden proper:

For the past 3 years, I’ve expanded the garden with this method.  Counting the just-converted area at the front, the garden measures 24′ by 30′.  Next year, if I can gather enough cardboard, I’ll expand a final 10 feet, leaving me with a 24′ x 40′ space.  This method of converting lawn to garden is far easier than rototilling or digging, if you have the time to spare.  The cardboard smothers the grass, and the compost, leaves, and straw decompose over the year, and you’re left with a fairly fertile area and a one-year head start on weeds.

Here’s a close-up of the pole bean set-up, which can be seen in the picture above on either side of the garden, near the front:

My wife inherited about a half-dozen wrought-iron shepherd’s crook basket hangers, as pictured.  I spaced two of them about 4′ apart, hung a stick between them, and ran twine from the stick down to another stick, laid parallel on the ground.  Beans planted between the crooks climb up the twine, which allows for easy harvesting.  The traditional “teepee” setup for pole beans makes it harder to see beans that are ready to be picked.  I think my method also uses space more efficiently.

I’m very excited about this year’s garlic.  I planted it along the path down the middle of the garden in two 6′ by 1′ strips, allowing room for 48 plants, spaced 6″ from each other.  My household goes through about that much garlic in a year, but I’m at least a year away from garlic independence.  I’ll need several heads to replant this fall for next year’s harvest, and I’m giving a bit away to friends who are establishing their own garlic patches.  Here’s a shot of garlic, ready to be pulled:

In the North, I’m required to grow “hard-neck” garlic, which is different from the garlic typically sold in area grocery stores.  Two falls ago, I purchased two heads of locally-grown hardneck garlic, broke them up, and planted them.  Last summer, I pulled them, gave some away, used some for pesto, and saved all of the largest cloves to replant them as pictured above.  I’ll harvest this garlic as soon as the kale seedlings I’ve started are ready to fill the spot. 

Growing one’s own potatoes is viewed as a mark of a hard-core self-sufficiency nut.  I’m not yet at the level of devotion needed to give a huge portion of my vegetable garden to a food I can get for pennies a pound at the grocery store.  Further, it’s very easy to find Michigan-grown potatoes, so even local-food arguments are a stretch.  That said, I made a little room for potatoes in my garden this year.  Pictured below is one of two 2′ by 2′ structures I build to keep them contained:

This is a “two-story” potato tower.  I’ve got two 6″ deep, bottomless wooden frames stacked up to support the sprawling plants.  Typical potato culture requires digging a deep trench, putting the potatoes in the bottom, and back-filling the trench as the sprouts grow.  The tower method involves a bit less digging, and less square footage filled with dirt waiting to be shovelled back into a hole.  In each 2′ x 2′ area, I dug four holes, one shovel-head deep, put a potato in the bottom, and refilled the hole.  As the plants grew, I put the frames over them and filled them with rotting leaves, straw, compost, or whatever else I had on hand.  I had a bunch of used potting soil sitting around after a spring container planting went bad, so that went into the frame.  The potates were contained within their two-by-two area, and went about producing little baby potatoes underground.

I’ve already dug up the other potato tower.  I didn’t weigh the harvest, but out of a two-by-two area, planted with 4 little potatoes this spring, I had enough potatoes to nearly fill my 2.5 quart Pyrex bowl (the biggest in my set) with 1-inch diced red new potatoes.  They were young enough to scrub the skins right off, and they made for a lovely German potato salad with some fresh green beans and dill.  The area previously occupied by this potato tower is now devoted to fall turnips and carrots, and I’ll be knocking over the second tower next week, when we have guests over and I’ll need more potato salad.  I’m not at the point that I’m growing my year’s supply of potatoes and keeping them in the basement all winter, but this year’s experiment worked out well, and I’ll be digging more potatoes in next spring.

First Signs of Spring

March 6, 2008

We’ve melted off a huge amount of the nearly two feet of snow that has accumulated since our mid-70s days in January, and I’m seeing traces of edibles coming up in the yard. Normally, around this time, I would be putting lettuce, spinach, and bok choy into a cold-frame greenhouse, but a terrifically windy storm has sidelined that structure. I’ll need a good, long weekend to reassemble it, and it may be warm enough to open-seed by the time one of those come along.

Last fall, I put in three patches of rhubarb around the house. I found a woman online who was thinning her patch, and I picked up a few plastic shopping bags full of trimmed roots off her porch. One of my three spots is still covered in snow, but the other two have apparently survived both a very wild winter and my incompetent transplanting technique. This is the first time I’ve seen rhubarb sprouting, and it looks weird–like bright red button mushrooms. I’m not sure how long I’m going to have to wait to eat some, but I’m eagerly anticipating some rhubarb cobbler.

Also last year, I found some artichoke seeds at a farm supply store. Of the four seeds in the packet, one sprouted. Artichoke is not winter hardy in my area, so I planted it up against the house’s foundation in the hope that that would be warm enough to keep it alive through the winter. I upended a bucket filled with dry leaves over it as further insulation, and piled snow on top of it through the winter. I peeked during a warm day, and there doesn’t appear to be any growth yet. Time will tell if it returns or not. An eternal optimist, I’ve already purchased another packet of artichoke seeds this year. Fresh, homegrown artichokes are an enticing enough return to justify significant risk.

Asparagus is entering it’s second year, at which point the very impatient are allowed to do some very light harvesting. However, there is no sign of asapargus in the garden, yet.

Garlic, on the other hand, is looking beautiful. Last october, about the time I was putting in tulips and daffodils, I broke up some of last year’s garlic, harvested that July. I put the biggest cloves a few inches into the ground about 6 inches apart. They put up a little growth last year, and are back at it this spring. Planting them early gives them a month or two to build a root structure before winter’s freeze, at which point they go dormant. As spring arrives, the garlic is well established and ready to begin the growing season. It’s hard to do garlic wrong.

I can finally find last fall’s kale, which I’ll need to use before it starts growing again. The same goes for parsley. It won’t be long before the first of the wild greens start growing. I’m making a point this year of trying a few of them, which is slightly terrifying–most of them become unfit for human consuption at some point in their growing season, some to the point of being lethally poisonous. Should this weblog suddenly go dark, blame pokeweed.

Worm Update

Seeing as my worm post was far and away my most visited, I’ll give a brief update on my livestock. I continued to have problems with the worms congregating along the rim of the containter, although it was never as bad as the first day. I tried a number of solutions–adding water to increase moisture, adding dry bedding to decrease moisture, “fluffing” the bedding to add oxygen, and relocating the bin to adjust the temperature. I’ve settled on removing the lid and covering the bedding with a black plastic garbage bag, and it seems to be working. The lid, apparently, was a bit too airtight for the worms’ comfort, and the plastic bag fixes that without letting moisture out or light in.