Category Archives: Washington

Beans , Beans Good for Your Heart…

Bean Trellis

Bean Trellis

This has been an odd year for beans, at least in my garden.  The first planting of pole beans evaporated into the ether.  Planting number 2 just sat there during our extended cool spring weather.  They have started growing now but are so far behind other bean plantings at Rock Farm I’m feeling a tad bit jealous.  This past weekend they were finally tall enough for me to string the trellis.  Last year I used some netting that I purchased.  It worked well enough but at the end of the season trying to salvage it was an exercise in futility.  I ended up cutting it out of the dead vines and pitching it.  Not wanting to waste money this year I opted to do the same thing I did with the peas, wrap jute around an upper and lower cross bar, which seems to be working wonderfully in the pea row.  I already had the three vertical poles in the ground, a sturdy bamboo pole flanked by 2 t-bar posts.  I used two 1″ pvc elbows and a t to attach two bamboo poles across the top, end to end.  I ended up driving a short piece of rebar into the end of one and pounding the other onto it.  Its pretty sturdy and has works as a single unit all last year and looks just fine for this year.  Not wanting to buy anything else, I tied two remaining 6′ t-posts to the bottom of the three vertical posts about 2″ off of the ground.  I wrapped jute around the top and bottom posts at about 6″ intervals.  Should work fine and will be so much easier to deal with come fall.

Bush Beans

In other bean news, 1 row Contender, 2 rows Topcrop & 1 row Roma II went in after the garlic, arugula and lettuce came out.  The garlic wasn’t as large this year, possibly due to the extended cool spring even though the number of days in the ground was the same as last year.  Last spring seemed a lot warmer.  The tops were dying back and I needed the space so out they went.  The Inchelium was spectacularly unimpressive.  Half of them didn’t make it to spring and the other half were very small. I know they are typically smaller but these seemed reeeally small.  The Lorz Italian had respectable sized heads and all made it through the winter.  I have no experience with either of these varieties so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The Silverwhite and Turkish Giant, were a decent size but smaller than last year save one or two heads most, if not all made it through.

Garden in late June

Lettuce

Speaking of lettuce, I finally emptied the bed of Renee’s cutting lettuce blend.  Can’t remember the exact name right now but it lasted much long than I thought it would.  Even as the stems were elongating to form seed the lettuce wasn’t bitter. I ended up removing a lovage transplant that was taking up way too much room.  I also beat back the arugula and reclaimed the area for a row of the beans.

Potatoes

The potatoes are taking over the county. I’m really hoping there are actual potatoes under all of that green. I ended up having to run some stakes and jute to corral them, they were headed for the neighboring plot. I ended up having to snip back a couple of stems as the beets were complaining.

Garden Flowers

The ‘Persian Carpet’ zinnias are blooming and I clipped a few for the little multi-holed ceramic vase we picked up from a pottery shop during a recent trip to Orcas Is. The reds, yellows and oranges against the blue of the vase is striking. The dahlia’s I planted in the garden next to the potatoes are going to bloom any day now.

Balcony Garden

The parsley was sending up a flower stalk so it was time to harvest. My haul was pretty respectable given that it was growing in a 6″ clay pot. The oregano was staring to outgrow its clay pot so I cut it back too. It is on my replant list. I cut back a lemon verbena a week or two ago. I had read that lemon verbena can be used to make a lemony pesto. WRONG! While it is physically possible to do so, the result was nothing that I would ever eat voluntarily. Now I just have to decide whether or not I want to take up previous real estate and keep the plant or let it go. I’m leaning toward the latter.

In the spirit of spiffying up the balcony, I attempted to transplant one of the volunteer nasturtiums from the garden into one of the long planters that sit on the railing. It had been filled with pansies but they were looking pretty sad. The transplanting was a baaad idea. I ended up having to take so much off of the top to compensate for the pitiful roots that I was left with a bunch of empty stems. The good news is that it does seem to be sending out new shoots at some of the leaf nodes so all is not lost.

Visitors

Slug - Arion rufus
I ran across an ‘Arion rufus’ or Red Slug under the nasturtiums. This one isn’t native and is quite destructive in the garden. I found the darker Arion a couple of times in the past but this was the first time I’ve seen one this color. Googling it was at first unclear if this was actually a red form of ‘Arion ater’ but further reading led me to believe it was more likely A. rufus. In either case its time in the garden is past.

Harvests

  • Beets – Red Baron Dutch (6/20)
  • Chard (ongoing)
  • Garlic (6/21 thru 6/25)
  • Lettuce (6/25 final)
  • Kale (ongoing)
  • Oregano (ongoing)
  • Parsley (6/25 final)
  • Snow Peas (ongoing)
  • Zinnias (6/25)

Plantings

  • Beets – Cylindrical (6/25)
  • Beans, Bush – Contender, Roma II & Topcrop (6/25)

Cool and Wet Weeks

It has been a cool and wet couple of weeks. Not OMG will the rain ever stop kind of wet but wet enough that I rarely have to water and cool enough that the beans are sitting there staring back at me refusing to budge.

Potatoes

Russian Banana Fingerling Potato FlowersA few of the Russian Banana fingerling potatoes have started to bloom. The lavender flowers are really quite pretty. The tops are so lush. I didn’t use any nitrogen on them but they are really putting out the top growth. I hope they save some energy for the potatoes.

Oca

This spring I learned about oca, the South American staple that has leaves that look like clover and tubers that range from sweet to tart. It prefers summers much like what we have here in the PNW. I looked for it in the grocer store where I found the Jerusalem artichokes to no avail. I happened to be at a BG and they had 2 of them on clearance. I picked up one 4″ pot each of Hopin and Twilight. For now they are in 1 gallon pots on the balcony. It is probably too late to get any kind of harvest this year (they tend to be a long season plant) but I can get to know them and hopefully get enough of a harvest for a taste. Then I can decide if I want to attempt them next year.

Broccoli

I had originally understood that we weren’t doing brassicas this year. I saw a few new kale and broccoli plants and decided what the heck. I’ll give it a try. I put in a 4 pack of Bay Meadows I picked up at BH&F At first sign of clubroot they will come out though. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Olla

The two olla (or is it ollas?) I purchased at Home Depot came in the mail. They were in a huge well padded box and came through shipping marvelously. I planted one of them next to the zucchini. I decided to make it the only water for my zucchini once it has matured enough to send roots over to the vessle about 10″ away. Till then I’m only watering between the olla and the plant so as to draw the roots in that direction. Of course with all the rain we’ve had…Medium Sized Olla from GrowOya
Olla buried up to within an inch of its top.

Parsnips

I decided to try my hand at parsnips this year. I had a relatively hard time finding seed locally but did manage to find a pack of Gladiators. We shall see. The rust fly I had so much trouble with does like them so if I have any hopes of any kind of harvest I’ll have to cover them.

Nasturtiums

Yellow Volunteer NasturtiumThis year there, in addition to the orange volunteer there is a yellow variety. Both are very pretty but I have a suspicion they have eyes on taking over my 200′ ft space. I’ve pulled out a number of seedlings and have left several. I may have to do something with them too as they are growing quite long and bushy.

Harvests

  • Chard (ongoing)
  • Kale (ongoing)
  • Snow Peas (ongoing)

Plantings

  • Parsnips – Gladiator (6/12)
  • Radish – French Breakfast (6/18)

Olla, Beans 2.0 and a New Container Raspberry

The Olla

GrowOya's 3L Olla
GrowOya’s 3L Olla

In my internet wanderings I came across a post somewhere about ollas. An olla is a low fired unglazed clay pot with a narrow opening that is ‘planted’ in the ground and filled with water. Its narrow opening sits an inch or so above ground and is often covered with a lid. The porous clay slowly waters the plants situated next to it using a fraction of the water a normal watering would use. In arid regions ollas have been used for millennia and do work quite well from what I’m reading. Some might wonder what use an olla would be in the rainy PNW. Actually the summer months can be quite dry. Last summer there were weeks at a time where I was watering daily. It got so bad we were wondering if the well we used would run dry. If an olla could put a dent in that it would be awesome.

In the quest to ‘do-it-myself’ I found some YouTube videos that dealt with making your own olla with a couple of terra cotta pots, some silicone and gorilla glue. I may end up trying that but once I put together how much it would cost, time required and the ‘would it even work’ factor I chickened out and decided to purchase an olla (two actually). Home Depot had a sale going on and I was able to pick up two for what I would have paid for one at the garden outlets. The company that makes them, GrowOya has three sizes, I opted for the medium 3L size. I would have loved the larger one but not sure my raised bed (that pretty much sits on bedrock) is deep enough to accept it. I’m sure it depends on soil structure and number of plants but the site says the medium size will accommodate about a 3′ sq area. My plan is to use the two ollas as the sole source of water to water the squash I planted today (once it is established). If it turns out to be a success I may have to revisit those YouTube videos.

1 gallon pot of BrazelBerry Raspberry Shortcake, miniature raspberries.
This arrived in the mail yesterday. A little rough but in great shape overall and even has raspberries!

Beans

My first attempt at pole beans this year was a total flop. I wanted till the end of a warm spell to plant the beans which essentially disappeared (rotted?). I waited for the next warm spell and planted again. This time there was germination but it was spotty at best. Rather than try for beans 3.0 I’ve decided to offer the end of the trellis to a couple of cucumbers I started from seed. That’ll show em.

Raspberries

Park seed had a sale on the new BrazelBerry ‘Raspberry Shortcake’. This miniature little raspberry grows 2-3′ tall and is reported to do great in a container. The sale was half off the normal price so I picked one up. I was pleasantly surprised when it was delivered. There were half a dozen leafy canes in a 1 gallon pot. There were even a couple of raspberries!

Jerusalem Artichokes

A couple of weeks ago we tried roasted jerusalem artichokes for the first time. The taste was great but the gastric aftereffects were…interesting. I’m game for trying them again, so decided to plant the couple of small tubers that were in the batch I purchased at the local grocery. They’ve been in 6″ pots since then and all are about half an inch out of the ground. Today I potted all three in a 30L pot. No way I was planting them in the garden. Once you do you have them forever. I opted to grow them even if we don’t end up eating them. They have pretty little yellow flowers and would make a nice color addition to the garden.

Balcony Garden

In addition to a number of pots on the floor of the 50’ft balcony I have three long and two small round railing planters. I had started pansies in the three larger planters early this spring. One was replanted with the tomatoes and nasturtiums several weeks ago. Another was replanted today with a couple of mini dahlias, some allysum and a couple of lobelia. It will be gorgeous if I can keep enough water on it.

Potato flowers.
The potatoes are in bloom. It won’t be long now.

Other Garden Happenings

My garden is a 10’x20′ space that takes up two plots in the Rock Farm Community Garden. In order to be able to access the entire space, I placed some stepping stones down most of the bed in the middle effectively creating two 4.5’x17′ beds and one large 3’x10′ bed. A fellow gardener planted sweet allysum (Lobularia maritima aka Alyssum maritimum) between the stones in her garden and I loved the look so much I purchased a couple of 4 packs for my garden. My grandmother always grew and loved white allysum so I like to grow some every year. She’s been gone over 30 years but seeing the flowers always makes her feel close.

In addition to the allysum I planted out the zucchini and some zinnias I started from seed. Historically I’ve kept the veggie garden ‘pure’ but I’m finding that I really enjoy a few flowers sprinkled here and there too.

a handful of snow peas and three cylinder beets
First harvest of cylinder beets and snow peas.

The last of the spinach came out last weekend. It had pretty much all bolted and there wasn’t’ very much of it left. This was a small patch of Bloomsdale I planted very early in the season.

This past week saw the beginning of the snow peas and the first harvest of beets for the year. I planted a couple of varieties and this was an early planting of cylinder beets. They are roasting in the oven with some parsnips as I type. Speaking of parsnips, I may try growing some this year. They would be a brand new crop for me, tried salsify once in KY but never parsnips. A gardening calendar for the area recommended a June planting. If the weather holds tomorrow I may have to make a trip to the garden center to pick up some seed. They are a fairly long season crop that can overwinter in the ground here and are actually reported to get sweeter with the onset of cold weather.

All in all it was a good week gardening wise. It has rained on and off today so I was only able to get my hands in the soil this morning. Hoping for some more dirt time tomorrow.

The Lowly Weed: Friend, Foe or Just Plant out of Place?

Like most folks, I had always thought of weeds as the bad guys. Can’t have a garden without having to spend some sweat equity on your knees, ridding the garden of unwanted occupants. A college horticulture class changed the way I looked at weeds when the professor uttered a simple sentence. “Weeds are just plants out of place.” He went on to say that in the right environment, corn or tomatoes can be weeds. I had never thought of it that way but yes of course, anything that is growing in a place we didn’t intend for it to can be regarded as a weed.

With this in mind I decided to do an inventory of the ‘weeds’ in my garden and see if I could find value in them or if they were simply unwanted visitors that needed to go. As a general rule I don’t leave enough open space for weeds to be an issue. I tend to weed early in the season and sparingly after the growing season gets in full swing. I plant tightly and in clumps rather than rows for many things so weeds don’t have much of a chance. Two unwanted weeds I saw this morning were the wild strawberries that never grow any kind of berry worth eating and clover. I found others though that I wasn’t so quick to dismiss and even look forward to.

Weed #1 Nasturtium
Nasturtium

Weed #1: Saucer Nasturtium

I don’t know the exact variety name for this nasturtium as it has been in my garden spot longer than I have. I first noticed it in a neighboring plot and envied it’s beautiful leaves and flowers.  It wasn’t long before I noticed a couple of seedlings emerging between a couple of rows of whatever was growing there at the time. It comes back every year and every year I look forward to its arrival. The leaves have gotten twice the size you see in the picture, the largest nasturtium leaves I’ve ever seen. The flowers are a lovely orange and fairly prolific. I love the way it drapes over the side of the border by the end of summer.

Uses for Nasturtiums

Besides the beauty of the flowers and the interesting leaves, nasturtium flowers are a great addition to salads. They add a splash of color and have a bold peppery flavor so a little goes a long way.

Weed #2 Lamb's Quarters
Lamb’s Quarters

Weed #2: Lamb’s Quarter

Lamb’s quarters goes by a handful of names and is closely related to quinoa. Apparently early European settlers introduced this plant and it has made itself at home. I don’t see nearly as much of it in my current garden as I used to in Kentucky. In the hot summers of Kentucky it wasn’t unusual to see them get over 6′ in height if left undisturbed. This is one plant that you don’t want to let go to seed as it can easily take over an area. Not all seeds sprout the first year so once established you have it for It is hard to cultivate intentionally though as it thrives on neglect.  You can find it growing in gardens, roadside ditches and pretty much everywhere a spot of bare ground exists.

Uses for Lamb’s Quarter

When my daughter was young she preferred steamed lamb’s quarter to any other green. It has been used as a food source forever and is high in a number of nutrients. It does contain oxalic acid so one wouldn’t want a steady diet of LQ. In moderation it is a great addition to a meal and makes pulling them less like weeding and more like harvesting. The tender young leaves are best and can be steamed, added to soups etc. There is a white powdery like substance on the underside of the leaves that disappears with cooking.

Weed #3 Purslane
Purslane

Weed #3: Purslane

Purslane is VERY common plant at Rock Farm. It’s ability to root from just a leaf means that if you want to get rid of it you have to get ALL of it. It is a Portulaca and is closely related to common flowering Portulaca that you can find at many garden centers. The fleshy succulent leaves and stems of this low growing plant make it an easy one to identify. Purslane isn’t very particular in its surroundings. It can be found thriving in anything from a dry undisturbed area to a well tended garden.

Uses for Purslane

Many people love the young leaves and plants in salads and in sandwiches in place of pickles. I find purslane crunchy with a slight lemony taste. It can be a bit slimy which some folks don’t like. For me purslane is a little bit goes a long way kind of edible. I haven’t tried all the purslane recipes I’ve found though so perhaps something will peak my interest. For now this is one I pull and dispose of.

 

Nigella
Nigella

Weed #4: Nigella

This pretty little flower occurs in a couple of spots in and next to my garden spot. I planted Nigella last year and didn’t get the flowers dead headed in time to prevent it reseeding itself. The leaves are reminiscent of dill so I make sure not to plant my dill anywhere near it. I don’t know if the leaves of nigella are toxic but I’m not taking any chances.

Uses for Nigella

Some sources list medicinal uses of some forms of Nigella. I haven’t done a lot of research on the subject and am not inclined to at this point. Others may feel differently. I appreciate it for the beautiful white – blue flowers both in the garden and out.

 

Weed #5: Arugula

This is another one I am totally responsible for. I planted half a dozen arugula plants last year and allowed the last two to flower. BIIIIIG mistake. I now have arugula growing in a 3′ diameter space. Fortunately it comes out easily and does have its uses. I’ve shared much with fellow gardeners and use the pulled plants to shade the soil between a couple of rows of garlic.

Volunteer Arugula
Volunteer Arugula

Uses for Arugula

Arugula is known for being a great addition to salads. It has a taste that borders on peppery – bitter so a little bit goes a long way. The flowers are yellow and pretty but don’t be fooled. This isn’t one you want to go to flower unless you really like arugula or have a large circle of family and friends that like it.

Mini Greenhouse: Using Roofing Panels to Warm the Soil

Using Fiberglass Roofing Panels to Create a Mini Greenhouse, Extend the Season or Warm the Soil

A few weeks back we had a spell of warmer weather and I waited till the end of it to attempt a sowing of pole beans. A couple weeks after the fact I decided to look for the seed as nothing was coming up. I dug around and found…nothing. The soil didn’t look disturbed so I’m not thinking it was birds. I’m guessing it was just too cool and wet and the seed rotted. When the weather gods predicted another bout of warm weather I was on it. It occurred to me that I could possibly get a jump on sowing if I could warm the soil. Remembering a mini greenhouse I used in gardens past I made a trip to the lumber yard and came home with an 8′ long roofing panel. Once upon a time these used to be made out of fiberglass and perhaps you can still find them but any I’ve found locally have been PVC or ‘polycarbonate’. I’m hoping they will work as well (and last as long) as the fiberglass panels used to. I’ve used them to extend either end of the growing season when just a few degrees can make all the difference. My hope in using them this time is that they will help to warm the soil a few degrees so that the bush beans I plan to plant there will have a better shot at germinating should the weather cool again (a very real possibility around here).

Shopping List

  • 1 clear or semi clear roofing panel. 26″ wide and the length of your choice. Mine was 8′ long
  • 4 1″x2″x16″ stakes per panel
  • length of wire or twine to secure the panel

Preparation and Installation

  1. Cut a 1/4″ notch into each of the stakes, a few inches from the top. This will insure that the wire or twine stays put. I cut my panel into 2 4′ sections but they can also be left whole.
  2. Once you decide where you want your panel to sit, drive two of the stakes into the ground approximately 6-12″ in from each end of one side of the panel.
    Drive two more stakes in 12″ from the first two. If two panels are being installed next to each other you can use 2 less stakes as the middle stakes can secure both panels (see image).
  3. Gently fold the panel into an upside down U shape and set it between the two stakes.
  4. Tie string or wire, crossing over the panels. Thats all there is to it!

Garden Happenings

Harvest

2 large bags filled with lettuce, kale and spinach
The Palco spinach is showing signs that it is about to bolt which necessitated harvesting that 1′ wide bed. Since I wanted the space on either side of it I decided to harvest one of the beds of the Mild Mesclun mix that was ready. I also harvested the rest of the red and butter lettuce from the bed next to the peas. I ended up with two large bags of green goodness, one filled with lettuce and the other with spinach and kale. Way more than we will ever eat I decided to fill some 1 gallon bags for the local food bank. I ended up getting 8 1 gallon bags in total. 3 spinach, 2 kale and 4 lettuce. 8 to go to Helpline and 1 bag of spinach for us.

Sowing

It may be too warm but I sowed two short rows of Renee’s Farmer’s Market Blend lettuce in the shade of the peas.

On the balcony I started a pot of SMR-58 cukes, Astia zucchini and another attempt at “Italian Pesto basil. ALL of the batch I started inside this spring ended up dying. Not sure if it was a rot or ? Need to investigate that.

Two Tiny Tomatoes Perfect for a Tiny Space

For the past couple of years I’ve kept my tomato growing to the balcony. The 50sq foot space gets almost all day sun in which tomatoes thrive. In addition to the one large salad tomato planted in a half barrel, our balcony supports a dozen or so different herbs in pots, several fig trees I started from cuttings brought out from KY and several pots of geraniums and pansies. I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied with a single tomato plant so I set out to find something small that wouldn’t take up much of our little remaining space. This year I opted for an old favorite and a new variety I had never grown. Both were started inside under lights in the early part of April. A couple of weeks ago I transplanted them to their final containers.

Tiny Tim Tomatoes

Tiny Tim Cherry Tomatoes
Tiny Tim is an old favorite of mine. An upright heirloom variety that grows just about a foot tall, this open pollinated tomato was introduced in the 1940s and does really well in containers. I’ve had luck planting 3-4 plants in a 3 gallon container. They are a little crowded which means a little more work keeping up on the watering and feeding but I find it worth the extra effort and the yield is great for the amount of space required. I trellis the plants by cutting the bottom ring off of a 3 ring tomato cage and using the two two rings to contain the plants. They end up looking like little green bushes full of small red fruit. The taste is tangy sweet.

Litt’l Bites Tomatoes

Renee’s Litt’l Bites is a new variety for me. An English tomato that also grows to about 12 inches in height but tends to spread sideways more than TT. The two I planted should be spilling over the side of the railing planter they are sharing with some trailing nasturtiums and pansies before too long. Since this is a new variety for me I can’t attest to their taste but The plants are very sturdy and already sport a number of blossoms and a few small tomaotoes despite the 50-60f temps we have been having recently. Our weather here in the Seattle area is a lot like some parts of England so I have high hopes that this will become another favorite of mine. I’ll update this post once I actually get to taste them.

Growing Tomatoes Using the Post and Twine Method

Newly planted tomatoesOne of the great things about gardening is that most of us are always open to trying something new.  How else can you see what works and what doesn’t if you don’t experiment?  Of course what works and what doesn’t is a moving target depending on the year, variety or general mood of the cosmos.  Today while working with Anita at the Rock Farm Community Garden she and I had a discussion on different ways to grow tomatoes.  I shared with her the way we used to do it in Kentucky, the post and twine method also known as the ‘Florida Weave’.  PnT involves driving posts between every second or third plant and criss crossing twine around the plants and posts at about 12″ intervals up the posts as the plants grow.  I learned this method from a friend who grew tomatoes commercially.  It uses very little in the way of equipment and time, a must for a farmer. My friend tobacco sticks which were about 6′ long and 1″ square.  I used 6-7′ t-posts, more expensive but longer lasting AND I was in short supply of tobacco sticks.  In PnT we never pruned or pinched the tomatoes.  Anita shared a method she has found works well, tying the toms to netting stretched between posts.  Anita says that she always pinches and prunes and that it has worked well for her here in the PNW.  In hot and humid Kentucky, the leaves were retained in order to protect the fruit from the summer sun.  I could see how in the cooler summers we have here the fruit might appreciate being able to ‘see’ the sun rather than be shaded under the leaves.  Anita was open to trying the post and twine method with a couple of short rows.  I’d be interested to see how pruning worked on one of those short rows of PnT.

Tomatoes after the first round of tying.I decided to dig out some old photos from my Kentucky garden describing this method.  I had a fairly large garden in KY, about 40’x60′ so lots of space to play with.  I spaced rows 5′ apart and plants 18″ apart.  Depending on the variety I might put two or three plants between posts, three if they were determinate and two if they were indeterminate.  I usually planted VERY deep, stripping off the lower leaves leaving only one or two leaves above ground.  This encouraged the roots to grow down in the more moist soil which would help to protect them from the bone dry hot days of summer.  I almost always mixed a couple tablespoons of Epsom salt and a 10-10-10 fertilizer with the soil that I dug out of the 8-10″ wide hole.  After the plants grew another 6-12″ I would do the first tying.  The twine, (think thin jute) was strung in a figure 8 fashion.  Starting on one end of a row, the twine is tied to the first post, criss crossed around the  two or three plants, (left side of first plant, right side of second etc) wrapped around each post down the line before coming back on the other side and meeting back at the first post.  In the end the plants are surrounded by twine.

Tomatoes ready for the second round of tying. Throughout the season the tying happened about once a foot or so.  The first tying was always very narrow as there was only a small stem to encircle.  As the plants grew and had multiple stems the twine would be tied tight enough to pull the plants up off the ground and loose enough to leave them enough space to grow.  The occasional stem that would sneak out could be tucked in behind the twine as necessary.

Harvesting was easy and the fruit was clean as it was held up off of the ground.  The expense was minimal, if you already had the sticks, just some twine.  At my friend’s farm, workers in the field made short work of tying the tomatoes using a piece of pvc pipe.  The ball of twine would be hung from their belt and the end of the string would be passed through a 3′ section of pvc pipe.  After tying the twine to the first post, they were able to hold the pipe and direct it around the plants, around the pole and around more plants all while standing and walking beside the row.  It was much easier than stooping at every plant and post.

Unfortunately I won’t be using this method on my own tomatoes.  I have one of the shadier spots of the garden and I’ve found that for me, tomatoes do much better on our balcony in pots than they do taking up space in my garden plot.  While I love green tomatoes, I’m not willing to give up the space for them.

Lettuce Alone

Last night when I stopped by the garden I decided to sample all of the different varieties and take some notes. Our temps in the 50s and 60s have been great for the lettuce. We had about a week or so of fairly warm weather, so much so that I was concerned the lettuce would become bitter. In my experience it doesn’t take much for lettuce to taste bitter. Apparently I have the gene for that. As much as I want to like it, I can’t do beer, all I taste is bitter. I’ve tried every variety that is supposed to be the ‘least bitter’ and really see no difference. Quite often lettuce and kale come across as bitter to me while others eating from the same picking don’t experience it as such.

There were two plantings of lettuce this year, I direct seeded a couple of 1′ wide beds in early March and transplanted some starts from the local garden center in early April. Into the beds went Renee’s “Baby Leaf Blend” and Territorial Seed’s “Mild Mesclun Blend”. The transplants were a of several varieties, unfortunately some not well labeled. I was Jones’n and it was what they had at the time so I gave it a shot. Once again I was reminded that I really gain nothing by planting lettuce transplants. The directed seeded lettuce almost always seems to catch up to the transplants by the time harvest comes around. This year was no exception. I think part of the reason I still do the transplants is that I am so longing to see SOMETHING growing in the early Spring that the transplants seem like an easy fix.

Lettuce Taste Test Results

Variety Transplant(T) or
Direct Seeded(S)
Planting Date Bitterness
Unk Oakleaf T 4/10/2016
Speckled Amish T 4/10/2016
Slobolt from Territorial’s Mild Mesclun Blend S 3/5/2016
Renee’s Baby Leaf Blend S 3/5/2016 – to +
Butter Bib T 4/10/2016 – to +
Grandpa Admires Heirloom Butterhead T 4/10/2016 +
Red Sails from Territorial’s Mild Mesclun Blend S 3/5/2016 ++
Unk Red Leaf T 4/10/2016 +++

The varieties are graded on level of bitterness to my taste with +++ being most bitter and – – – being the sweetest. Note that in this test, even the most bitter of the bunch is fine when mixed with other greens in a salad. It just doesn’t’ taste great to me by itself.

Lessons Learned

There is really no reason to start lettuce early or buy transplants. Other than the satisfaction of seeing something growing in the bare ground of early Spring, direct seeding lettuce results in a nearly equal first harvest date.

I tend to prefer the oakleaf varieties of the type I tried this year, one as a transplant of an unk variety and one in the Renee’s lettuce mix. Even though Renee’s ended up with a range of tastes from slightly bitter to not, the variety of tastes, shapes and colors made it my favorite overall. I was also very fond of Speckled Amish and Butter Bib. All in all this has been a great year for lettuce.

Long Division and the Great Potato Experiment of 2016

My garden is exactly 10’x20′ in size, 2 plots in the local community garden.  Each bed in  the garden is about 10’x50′-60′ (Can’t remember which it is now but you get the idea.) and contains 5 or 6 10′ long plots.  The long sides of most of the beds are walled in with 2″x12″ boards and the ends are open.  My 10×20 is a fraction of the approx 40’x60′ garden I left in Southern Kentucky but plenty for my wants, needs and amount of free time.  The small size means every square inch counts and that I have to be selective about who gets a spot to put down roots.  Each individual gardener has the ability to amend our spots to our hearts content and as such, some plots end up being taller than the plot next door. This means that 6-8″ on the end of the taller plot is pretty much unusable as water just runs off to the lower beds.  This happens again at the end of the bed where my plot is. This year some of the gardeners have added divider boards and end boards to their plots.  By capping it off on either end that last 6-8″ is usable.  Anita was nice enough to pick up a couple of boards for me as our car is too small to carry much of anything over 6′ long.  It was raining when I arrived at the garden this morning.  Not a hard rain but the gentle rain so common in our area.  Historically I would not garden in the rain but I only get two days off every week and I have to take the time I get.  It didn’t take long to trench out the area for the boards using the narrow hoe.  After all was said and done I figure I’ve gained about 10 square feet at 6″ x 10′ x 2 sides.   I pulled some of the volunteer nasturtiums that were growing in the walkway and tucked them in along the inside of the middle board.  They will look nice spilling over the board later this summer.

The potatoes I planted 41 days ago in 8″ deep trenches are looking AWESOME! The trenches have been filled as the plants grew and they are looking very lush. That being said, if I had it to do over I would have planted them in large containers like the guy over at the Allotment Diary in the UK.  I stumbled upon his video about growing potatoes in containers and will definitely go that route next year if I grow them again. The growing part isn’t what makes containers great, it is the harvesting part. From what I’ve read and been told, harvesting potatoes without cutting into some of them and/or leaving some behind to sprout next year is problematic.  Dan, Mr Allotment Gardener, plants potatoes deep in containers, the way I did in the trenches, filling with compost as they grow. The containers are partially buried in the garden early on so the roots can grow though into the soil below for nutrients and moisture leaving the potatoes to develop in the containers.  Harvesting consists of dumping the entire container onto a tarp and fishing out the little bundles of starchy goodness.  His most recent video shows him harvesting new potatoes from plants in small pots he started 2 months ago. A much easier task when they are grown in containers. If you have any interest in potato growing check him out. I think the environment in his part of the UK is similar to ours here in the PNW.

greens

In other happenings, The lettuce is LOVING the wet and cool weather we have been having. Today after getting the boards in, I harvested red, green and oak leaf lettuce as well as a mess of some mixed kale like greens. The Palco spinach is ready to go but my bag was full. Perhaps tomorrow. Again this year I was reminded that there is really not much to gain by using lettuce transplants. The beds I direct seeded have caught up to the bed with the transplants. I should save my money but I get so impatient in the early spring and want to se SOMETHING green. I had planned to seed some zucchini this weekend but not sure it will like the 50+ degree days we’ve been having. I suppose I could start it under lights inside. There isn’t much of a rush though as I’m not really sure where I’ll stick it yet. I had originally thought it would go where the kale was but I put the chard there. Decisions…decisions.

Rain, Rain Go Away

Mother  Nature must not have heard but I only get two days off every week.  Those two days are really the only days I can do anything in the garden.  Since Sunday morning is filled with church, Saturday is typically my gardening day.  WHAT was the weather thinking by raining all morning.  That was supposed to start tomorrow.  Alas, the weather forecasts can’t really be trusted rain-wise so I shouldn’t be surprised.   I made the mistake of soaking the been seeds overnight so I was pretty much committed to planting if I didn’t want to throw them away.   I could have waited for tomorrow but it is supposed to rain more then.  My todo list included a couple of 10′ boards for either end of my plot, building a pea trellis and planting pole beans.  I finished all except the boards.

Pea Trellis of jute string between two horizontal poles.Typically I use a net for the pea and bean supports.   I swear each year that I am going to reuse the net and every year I end up throwing it away after trying to get all of the plant material out of it.  I decided this year to do it a little different.  I picked up some green jute at the local hardware store and strung it between two rods at the top and bottom of two t-bars.  The string will end up stretching and probably get much looser than it is but I don’t think the plants will mind.  The pea trellis is finished and the poles are in place for the been trellis.

I tried a new variety of pole bean this year.  Last year I planted Helda and they did great but their flavor was a little intense for me.  A large Roma type bean I liked them but opted for a more traditional type bean this year.  I ran across Kentucky Blue Pole bean and thought I would give them a shot.  A cross between Ky Wonder and Blue Lake they are supposed to have the best of both worlds.  I sowed them fairly thickly as I had soaked to packets.  One would have been sufficient so I have a handful of left over swollen seeds.  I’ll end up potting those up in little containers and offering them up to a fellow gardener.  I had to pull some self seeded arugula before I could  add bag of compost and some blood meal to the bean patch.  I had planted the arugula last year and let it go to seed.  I now have enough arugula to feed half of the county.  We don’t eat much of it (a little too bitter for me) so a fellow gardener is going to liberate it from my patch.   I ended up washing the seedlings I pulled and they are in the fridge waiting to join some lettuce and spinach in the next salad.

I was able to offload some greens to a fellow gardener.  I begged her to take more but alas one can only eat so much Mesclun Mix.

All in all a productive morning and I got out of there without getting too wet.  The boards will have to wait for another day.