Fingers Crossed

Over-wintered Broccoli
Over-wintered Broccoli

The broccoli is going like gang busters. There are three plants remaining and all three are between two and three feet high. Given their height and the fact that the more they grow the more top-heavy they will be, I decided¬† to stake them. All three are a purple sprouting type so while there won’t be any large heavy heads to weight them down they will probably appreciate the added support. That being said a good wind might still knock them over.

On the 2015 gardening calendar I had set aside this weekend to plant peas and spinach. Given the amount of rain we tend to have this time of year most gardeners advise against seeding anything for at least another month. When I was plotting out the calendar I decided to live dangerously tho and go ahead and try getting some things in early. If they rot I can replant later but if the weather cooperates I will have an early crop. It seemed like a win-win.

While I was there I decided to use some short sticks to mark out the planting areas based on my map. I was happy to see that my guestimation of where the overwintering items were located was spot on.

Overwintered Kale 2015-02-21
Overwintered Kale 2015-02-21

I found that I had lost a kale plant since my last visit. The space appeared as tho someone had weeded it. One of the drawbacks of a community garden is that the powers that be sometimes get to things before I have a chance too. I appreciate the effort but would have liked to have seen what the issue was with the plant if it was still there at weeding time. It could be that it had been eaten or died down to nothing by then. I’ll never know. In any case I am glad that the three that are left are in line with each other. This gives me an extra space to plant something else. Of the three that remain, one has very few roots. It came out of the ground very easy when I tugged on it. I could see new root growth and didn’t see any larvae but at this point I am not sure it is going to live and not sure what the problem is. I fertilized around all three and tucked them in snugly and am hoping for the best.

2015 Garden Map
2015 Garden Map

The seeds I planted in the container a week or two ago are mostly up.¬† I’ve thinned them once to two individuals per cell.¬† They are enjoying all of the sunshine we have been having.

Aaaaaand We’re Off

After some false starts I was finally able to get a garden map created for 2015. The garden is 10’x20′ with a narrow walkway situated in the middle that is about 3/4 of the length of both plots. This effectively gives me two 4 1/2′ x 15′ beds and one 10′ x 5′ bed. I’ve broken these into smaller sections and have come up with a plan I think will work. It includes multiple plantings in each space, hopefully giving each the time they need. I tried to pad several weeks on either end of each crop to cover weather delays, elongated harvests etc. I took the information and plugged it into a chart to tell me when each crop needed to be started from seed, direct seeded or transplanted. I could be way off the mark with my expectations but as this is an experiment in learning, whatever happens is knowledge to help make next year’s garden plan more on the mark.

Several of the early season crops like lettuce, broccoli-rabb, pak choy, chives and kale can be started early and planted out when the incessant rains stops. The ground is entirely too wet to get into now but there are some things that could be planted now, given our avg last frost date of the third week in March. These I decided to start in little paper cups on the balcony and plant them out when the weather is more cooperative. I saw a ‘tool’ for making the planting cups in a gardening magazine several years back. It was basically a small round piece of wood in the shape of a small bottle and another small piece of wood with a depressions. The idea was to wrap paper around the larger piece of wood and use the smaller to create the ‘cup’. At $15 it seemed a bit steep and just something else to have to keep track of. I decided I could make due with a small pill bottle and the cup of my hand. I made these paper cups last year after and they worked wonderfully.

Paper Transplanting Cups on the Cheap.

Since these are made of paper you will need something to hold them. I used a plastic container that held some mandarin oranges that we recently picked up at the local grocery. It already had ventilation holes, was on the tallish side and had a tight fitting lid. A large container used to hold ‘greens’ would work fine too as would anything that will hold your cups fairly tightly, allow drainage and possibly some protection from rain, birds etc.

Step 1. Cut paper strips
Step 1. Paper strips should have a length approx 2x the circumference of your container and the width should be a little longer than the height + the diameter

Step 1. Cut Paper Strips

I am using a small pill bottle. It is possible to use a larger bottle but my plan is to start these in a small sized cup and transplant to a larger cup only if I absolutely have to. I hope to get these in the ground rather than have to plant them up. It is important to use newspaper rather than glossy paper from ads or magazines. The former uses soy ink whereas there is question as to what the latter contains. Cut the strips so that the length is roughly 2x the circumference of your container and the width about the height + the diameter.

Step 2. Roll paper around container and fold bottom to create a paper cup.
Step 2. Roll paper around container and fold bottom to create a paper cup.

Step 2. Create the cup

Wrap the paper tightly around the container and fold over the bottom. It is important the wrap is tight, if it is loose, the soil will get between the layers of paper and make the cup weaker. Be careful when you fold the bottom over. I’ve had it tear at the corner which makes the cup pretty much useless for holding the soil in while I am trying to position it in the container.

Step 3. Fill cup with potting mix.
Step 3. Fill the cup with potting mix tamping down as you go.

Step 3. Fill with soil

Holding the cup in your hand and supporting the bottom with your little finger, fill the cups with a good, light seed starting mix. Don’t use soil from the garden for this, spring for the light airy stuff, it is worth the few dollars. As you fill tamp down the soil. Don’t overdo this step. You aren’t looking for a little brick here but something that won’t shrink to half it’s size when you water it later. I found that dry mix is much easier and less messy to work with than premoisted soil.

Step 4. Place soil fillled cups in container and water.
Step 4. Once the filled cups are placed in the container, water and let sit to allow the soil to thoroughly moisten.

Step 4. Place in container and water gently.

Getting the little cups to stand up in a large container as you fill it can be an exercise in patience and dexterity. I found that by creating little sections that have room for 4 cups works well. Any cardboard will do. Tho it isn’t removed, the cardboard is only needed for support until the continer is full. Had I had another large plastic container I would have cut it up and used the pieces to create my dividers so it could be washed and reused next time. Since I didn’t have one I used some cardboard from a soda box that I fished out of the recycling bin.

Once your continer is full, water gently. The soil will settle a bit, this is good within reason as it will provide room for the soil that will be added after seeding. I give several light waterings rather than one hard watering. The latter tends to liberate the soil from the cups and makes a general mess of things. Let the container sit and absorb the water, I generally give it about 10 or 15 mintues.

Step 5. Plant and wait.
Step 5. Plant seeds, cover and wait.

Step 5. Plant and Wait

Once the soil in the cups has moistened sufficiently, you can begin planting. It is important that you either create little labels or create a map of your container (I take a picture of it with my phone so I’m not frantically looking for it later when everything starts sprouting). If you do create labels keep in mind the height of your container when it is closed. Depending on what I am planting, I generally sow 2 or 3 seeds to a cup then thin out the smaller seedlings. If I am feeling particularly generous I’ll transplant those into another container, if not they go in my salad assuming they are edible. This time around I left some empty cups to recieve the extras later on. Cover the seeds with some potting mix at the depth suggested on the seed packet and lightly press into the cup. It is important to follow the depth recommendation for each type of seed. Some seeds need no covering while most others do.

I generally keep my container closed until the seedlings are up unless it is going to be a very sunny and warm day. If your container doesn’t have adequate ventilation, it is easy to cook your seedlings. Once they are up and almost tall enough to touch the cover I remove the top. If the nights are going to be on the cool side I might place the entire container in a larger clear plastic bag and place it up against the house for the night. Not typically an issue here but it was often required where I lived in KY.

As the seedlings grow you may need to separate them if you can’t get them in the ground while they are still small. Depending on what you plant, some of the slower growing plants may be shadowed by their faster growing neighbors. For this reason it is a good idea to have a couple of smaller containers on hand so that as they grow you can (carefully) move them to a new home if necessary. Once the cups are wet they tend to be very fragile. I usually leave mine where they are unless there is a compelling reason not to. If you are starting a number of different types of seeds it isn’t a bad practice to use several containers, planting the ones that have roughly the same growth rate and watering needs together in the same container.

Planning for 2015

I picked up a Territorial Seed catalog during yesterday’s trop to the local garden center. Based out of the Eugene, Oregon area, Territorial is often one of the main goto companies for varieties that do well in the PNW. I spent some time this afternoon going through the catalog and putting my order together. Each year I like to try a couple of new things, either new varieites or something I’ve never grown before. This year I am trying several.

Helda Bean
Historically I have grown bush beans as my main goal has been preserving them either by canning or freezing. I decided to try some pole beans this year. They generally produce over a longer season so there isn’t as much to deal with at once. This is good for spreading out the harvest to have fresh beans over a longer period but not necessarily good if you want to can a ‘mess’ of beans. I will also put in a row or two of bush beans so I can make a batch of dilly beans but the bulk of our beans will be pole beans this year.

I chose Helda (OP, BMV resistant) due to their short season (60 days), stringless nature and the fact that they are a romano bean. The vines get about 6-8′. Any higher would be a pain imo.

New Zealand Spinach
I’ve always been curious about New Zealand spinach. Related to the ubiquitous ice plant in CA, New Zealand spinach has been seen in Europe since the late 1700s. Some list it as a perennial that can be grown as an annual. I had always seen it as a heat loving spinach. Not sure we have enough of the heat it loves here but it is worth a try if it tastes like anything and won’t bolt as soon as the days start getting longer.

Palco Spinach Organic
Bloomsdale has been my go to spinach since I can remember. As I was browsing the catalog, I ran across Palco. It’s 38 days to maturity was a draw for me. It is listed as being slower to bolt and mildew resistant. Two issues I saw last year later on in the season. We shall see.

Kosmic Kale

Kosmic Kale
Kosmic Kale

The picture drew me to Kosmic Kale. The leaves are somewhat frilly, small and outlined in white. They are reminiscent of something we called ‘Bishop’s Weed’ in the Midwest at the leaf level. Unlike Bishop’s Weed, this perennial, bicolered kale boasts ‘cut-and-come-again’ harvests from this ‘highly-edible’ ornamental. “Highly-edible”…tastes good? Hmmm. Worth a try in either case. If it does turn out to taste good and hang out for an extended period of time I will be pleased and more than a little surprised. Aparently this one is propagated by root cuttings (hoping that doesn’t mean it can take over) I had to order a small seedling. The expected delivery is early April.

Sorrento Broccoli Raab
Again, a short time to harvest was the draw for me here. 40 days seems too good to be true. I was thinking that this abbreviated time to maturity might give me a Fall harvest that I didn’t end up getting with the broccoli I put in the ground last Summer. Broccoli-Raab is said to have a bit more bite than traditional broccoli which may or may not be a deal breaker when all is said and done.

Now that I have made my last seed order, my plan is to spend the next few days researching and putting together my garden chart. It won’t be too long before I’ll be planing some early Spring veggies and I want to be more organized this year. Since it appears that most of the kale I planted last Summer has overwintered I won’t be putting in any Spring kale. I’ll will end up starting some for next Fall come Summer like I did last year.

Overwintering

Seed haul from Bainbridge Gardens
Seed haul from Bainbridge Gardens

I hadn’t been to the garden since right before Christmas so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was getting the ‘bug’ to get some seeds and plan out this year’s garden so I decided to stop by Bainbridge Gardens to see what they had available. I was also hoping they might have a small Desert King fig tree. Those are supposed to do well here. I did bring some cuttings with me and 3 have rooted but am not sure if those are Brown Turkey or Petite Nigra. Unfortuantely BG only had a couple of beautiful 6 footers. The smaller ones won’t be in for another month or so. I’m hoping to keep mine in a pot so the 6 footer would be overkill.

Perennial onions aka 'potato' onions, garlic in the background.
Perennial onions aka ‘potato’ onions, garlic in the background.

I did end up picking up some seed. I decided to try some flowers this time. I picked up a packet of Persian Violet Nigella and Persian Carpet Butterfly Zinnias. I also picked up some ‘Cut and Come Again’ baby mesclun lettuce, baby pak choi, edible pod peas, bush zucchini along with some Japanese Spinach, green onions, garlic chives (for a pot on the deck) and Litt’l Bites Cherry Windowbox Tomatoes (also for the deck). The trick in all of this will be to figure out how I am going to start the tomatoes.

Purple sprouting type of broccoli?
Purple sprouting type of broccoli?

Last fall, some time in October, I planted some Silverwhite garlic I picked up at the farmer’s market along with some Turkish Giant garlic and yellow multiplier onions (we used to call these ‘potato’ onions) from a Territorial Seed order. As I drove to the garden this morning, I wondered if the garlic and onions were up and was quite pleased with what I found. The garlic are about 3 inches tall and the onions are up about 5 or 6 inches. I didn’t expect them not to make it through but it is still nice to see them starting their journey.

One of the broccoli plants didn't make it through the Winter.
Winter fatality.

Last July or August I picked up some purple sprouting type broccoli and possibly another variety from Bainbridge Gardens, a local garden center. The end of the garden I planted these in became shady too early and I didn’t get any harvest from this planting last year. I decided to leave them in the ground to see if they could make it through the Winter and possibly reward me with something this Spring. It looks like all but one has made it through the coldest part of the year and is looking lanky but healthy. I may cut one or two back and see how they fare. Probably something I should have done last year but what he heck.

Overwintered Russian Kale
Overwintered Russian Kale

At the same time I planted the purple broccoli I put in some kale. The idea was to have it ready for this Spring. I had seen that other gardeners here had done this last year and I wanted to give it a shot. Tho the plants were fairly small, most overwintered fine.

Overwintered beets
Overwintered beets

Early last Spring I planted beets. There are probably half a dozen or so still in the ground. One or two are little piles of mush, the one on the left of this pic looks like a mouse or slug may have had a small meal.

I am amazed at how quickly moss can cover anything standing still long enough. This stone was fairly clean last Fall.

Moss

Summer

For my two Helpline rows I was assigned broccoli. I was given the seed and a planting date. Each section would have two rows on a hilled area about 18″ x 10′. I weeded, thinned and watched for pests.

Kale, Swiss Chard, Broccoli, Beans, Basil, Beets
Sept. 19, 2014

From what I had been reading, there is a fly (Delia radicum or D. brassicae) that lays its eggs at the base of cruciferous plants. There are 2 or more generations per year in the PNW according to PNW Insect Mgmt Handbook. I had lost 2 of my own broccoli plants kind of early on. As this was an organic garden I was limited in what I could do about it. I decided to make sure to plant more than I need and bag up any plants and surrounding soil that would succumb. Fortunately I only lost one of the helpline plants.

The garden was as lush and colorful as I’ve seen. The temps never seemed to get warm enough to go without a jacket through about June. I was amazed at how quickly and large the veggies grew. The days were very long in the Summer and the plants seemed to take that extra daylight and run with it. Nasturtium leaves in a neighboring plot were almost as big as dinner plates!

I planted bush beans in June. Two rows of Topcrop, my favorite. They performed wonderfully. Another two rows of beans, one of Roma and another row of Topcrop when in three weeks after the first. I had wanted to get a third planting done but it wasn’t going to happen.

Biiiig Nasturtiums
Biiiig Nasturtiums

The bean harvest went well. I canned some dilly beans and had a lot of beans to eat, give away and freeze. In 2015 I want to make sure I get that third planting in.

From everything I had read and been told tomatoes can be quite challenging in this part of the county. The Summer days are long but not typically hot like tomatoes like. The soil never really warms up till much too late for long season varieties. Early tomatoes and cherry tomatoes are about all that one can reliably grow in the garden here according to fellow gardeners unless there is a micro-climate to warm things up. I ended up trying three different varieties. Celebrity, a short season paste tomato and a short season grape tomato. I ended up getting maybe a dozen or so from each and it was a fairly decent tomato season from what people say. My plots are on the side of the garden that doesn’t get direct sun quite as long as some of the others, probably hurting my yield even more. It was hardly worth the effort. I did grow a Celebrity in a pot on the balcony and got the best yield I’ve ever had from a container grown tomato. It is the only way I will attempt it this year.

Good Guys and Bad Guys

Black Slug (Arion ater) on Tomato
Black Slug (Arion ater) on Tomato

As for pests, I was warned about slugs and diseases mostly. I had used some Sluggo early on but other than that didn’t treat with anything. Late in the Summer I did find a black slug on a tomato. I found a few more of the same species and an unknown species of a smaller slug throughout the year. I tried to keep the ground cleaned up to discourage them hanging out. Occasionally I would leave a broccoli leaf on the ground after a watering and come back the next day to remove the few slugs that had gathered under it to keep cool.

Yellow Fronted Bumble Bee (Bombus flavifrons) on lavender
Yellow Fronted Bumble Bee (Bombus flavifrons) on lavender

There were a few cabbage moths on my broccoli but a once ever each week kept them clean. I was struck by the lack of pests really. I only lost those few broccoli plants to the cabbage maggot early on and the kale had some powdery mildew but that was it.

I noticed a yellow bee on the lavender flowers that I had never come across before. A little digging told me it was a Yellow Fronted Bumble Bee. Their numbers were high which was encouraging. There were honey bees too, great for pollination.

Spotted Towhee - Rock Farm, Bainbridge Island, WA
Spotted Towhee – Rock Farm, Bainbridge Island, WA

The garden is surrounded by a very tall fence to keep the deer out. They can jump quite high so the fence has to be taller than they can jump or there is no point in having one. All of the fence posts have little bird houses on them. They aren’t active bird houses as wasps kept building nests in them which became problematic. They are just for decoration. The birds still love to sit up on top of them and sing their beautiful songs.

Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) on Lily
Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) on Lily

A Western Tiger Swallowtail stayed long enough for me to get some great shots on one Summer visit.

Pacific Tree Frog
Pacific Tree Frog

This little Pacific Tree Frog was on the Helpline broccoli. Probably one reason I rarely saw any pests there. He kept turning his back to me when I would try to take his picture. Apparently he is a bit camera shy.

The European Garden Spider featured on this post was fairly common too. I’m sure there were others but it was the only spider I saw in the garden.

Homade Birdbath Project

I was browsing the Net looking for a birdbath project and ran into this one. Basically you take a really large leaf (think elephant ears or something simliar), some sand and acrylic concrete patch and in the end you have a beautiful birdbath the shape of a leaf. I love this idea and do believe this is my next project.