Friday, June 22, 2012
I have some friends that wanted to grow some corn. Now, corn is easy to grow from seed (more about that below), but they were seduced by a couple of little six-packs of plants in the garden department of a local big-box store. They brought them home and carefully set them out in a nice little line at the back of their garden. The stalks grew tall and soon the tassel on top emerged, grew taller, and spread out into graceful fronds. Below, clusters of corn silk were seen at a couple of the junctions of leaf and stalk. My friends watched anxiously as the the growing cob pushed the silk out farther and farther, until at last it withered and turned brown. Time to pick their corn! But when they shucked the fresh ears, they were disappointed to find only a few kernels on otherwise bare cobs. What happened?
Corn "birds and the bees" time: ordinarily, corn is pollinated by the wind. The top tassel forms the pollen. If you rub your hands over a fresh tassel, they'll be covered with a tan dust; if you shake the tassel, you can see that dust falling and blowing in the wind. Down below, each strand of silk links to one kernel on an ear of corn. One speck of the pollen dust has to land on one silk strand to form one kernel. On a single line of plants, only the downwind ears might get pollinated, or depending on which way the wind blows, maybe none of them will completely.
I'll usually steer clear of corn seeds offered at seed swaps. Even though the corn might have been tasty on the plants those seeds came from, it's no guarantee that the seeds gathered last year will taste the same this year. A lot of sweet corn grown now is from hybrid seed, so those won't necessarily bear true the following year. And since corn is wind-pollinated, it's hard to keep the pollen from sweet, field, or popcorn separated when grown in a small garden space. If you want to save your own corn seeds, you'll have to either separate the varieties, or pick only one open-pollinated (not hybrid) variety to grow.
click here - but I am intrigued and think the old guy doing the short video is such a cutie - check it out). Some hybrid varieties will now hold on the plant longer, but still, the sugars in corn turn to starch the longer you wait.
I like to stretch my fresh corn eating time into 6 - 8 weeks. One way to do that is to succession-plant your corn seeds - moving downwind, plant another row each week for a month or two. I find that difficult in my climate. The later planted seeds, germinating in warmer weather, catch up to the earlier ones that started out in colder soil. The latest ones, trying to get started in summer's withering heat, often suffer and don't do as well.
So, I plant all my corn at the optimum planting time for my climate - early to mid-June when the soil has finally warmed up. I dig little ditches and plant the seeds down in the bottom of those, and then run a length of chicken wire over the top - the ditches are deep enough to keep birds from pulling up the new sprouts. I hand-water into those ditches to make sure I get a good, fast germination rate, and once the corn is growing up through the chicken wire I take that off and fill the ditches back in (the soaker hose is already in place at the level the double-row wide-bed ends up being). The corn is now rooted deep enough that the birds can't bother it. Corn puts out extra feeder roots at the base of the stalk, so burying that gives them something to grow into - making them stronger against the wind.
Friday, April 13, 2012
Looking down towards my garden, this photo taken today shows the form April Showers usually take around here. Getting a harvest from any of my fruit trees is always an iffy-proposition. A storm came through and nailed the apricot blossoms a few weeks ago; another one was just in time to get the plums. The flower buds on the peaches and cherries are ready to pop any day now - if this storm blows through quickly enough, maybe they'll make it.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
ale is the new black it seems in the vegetable gardening world. Not just for garnishing the salad bar anymore, kale has found its way into many dishes and can be a stand alone side dish.
I like it for its hardiness in the garden too; in our climate kale survives throughout the winter, and can become perennialized if you have the space to leave it be. From tender leaves for salad, to hardy braising greens, and finally raab in the spring for a broccoli-like treat. A vegetable that produces many meals from one tiny seed is pretty amazing!
Urban gardeners take heart, the beautiful colors and shapes of the various types of kale make it a great decorative plant for fitting in beds amongst non-edibles too.
Easier to grow and more productive than spinach, the recipe possibilities are endless from lasagna florentine to kale chips, you choose.
For a good selection of kale seeds of all shapes and colors my go-to seed company is Wild Garden Seeds. You can select specific types or the Wild Garden Kale mix for a grab bag effect in the garden.
Plant kale - you can't go wrong!
Friday, March 2, 2012
My yellow crocus buds are starting to show some color, the tips of the earliest daffodils and tulips are breaking through the surface, and a few robins have shown up to glean the last of the Russian olives still clinging to the bare branches. Spring is on the way!
And that means it's time to start thinking about starting some garden seeds - inside for the tomatoes and peppers, and maybe a few lettuces and hardy greens outside. I have quite a few of my own seeds, gathered from last year's plants. Over time, it means many of the vegetables I grow are now perfectly adapted to my own local climate. Other gardeners in my area do the same.
By trading seeds, we can insure that the time and effort we've put into saving and perpetuating our locally-adapted seeds isn't lost should disease or animals ravage our own garden. With luck, someone else's plot survived.
A local greenhouse hosts an annual seed swap each Spring. Everyone is welcome to come and get seeds. There's an optional donation jar for those that don't have any seeds to trade, but no one is turned away or denied the chance to grow their own garden.
The greenhouse provides long tables, protected from the wind, little envelopes, and plenty of pencils to label your choices. Some folks show up just long enough to drop off their contributions, others spend an hour or more there, answering questions about the things they brought, trading advice about their best growing or harvesting methods. Cool season crops, such as the brassicas, greens, and peas fill one table, tomatoes and peppers another. Flowers have their own area, and assorted vegetables line the last table.
Caveat emptor - let the buyer beware (except it's all free). Sometimes, especially with the corns, pumpkins and squashes, you're taking your chances on what you'll actually end up with in this year's garden. So many of those seeds cross-pollinate so easily, and while it wouldn't affect the appearance of last year's crop, the seeds harvested then and planted this year might turn out completely different.
But it's a great way to build community, meet with like-minded folks, share tips and learn, and get more people interested in growing their own food. Why not start a seed swap in your community?
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Two years ago I was given two pink Oca (Oxalis tuberosa) tubers. I was told that they tasted like lemony potatoes and were quite good boiled, but my friend was more concerned with their pest resistance and yield than culinary applications. I had been given two tubers and planted them out in a small pot on the patio. Triffid like foliage ensued and died back in late summer. They are attractive, branching plants with trefoil like foliage and beautiful flowers if they reach stage, which unfortunately they didn't. I tipped out the pot in September to find a few handfuls of grape sized tubers, certainly nothing to be enthused about.
I kept the tubers to have one last go this year, this time in the open ground of our allotment, placing them about 40 cm apart and 10 cm deep. They were very slow to spring up, shoots finally appeared at the beginning of June. Once the foliage does appear they spread quickly and need to be earthed up like potatoes. They need a long growing season and ours never flowered. Tuber formation is apparently dependent upon day length - when I lifted one of the plants in October after the foliage had died back, there were a handful of small tubers and I thought they had failed. One month of shortening days later, we brought home several pounds of pretty pink tubers varying in size from a walnut to a small egg!
They are keeping well in the salad drawer the fridge. Small Oca roasted whole become squishy and extra lemony...and slightly insect grub like if I am to be completely honest. This may put you off, or you may want to use it as a selling point to young children who like to pretend that spaghetti is worms and tapioca is frogspawn. Larger roasted Oca resemble lemony waxy potatoes. I have added them to stews with other roots vegetables and they retain the delicate lemon flavour. Their crunchy waxy texture is similar to water chestnuts when sliced and added to a stir fry. They are delicious and very versatile.
This year we will be planting a whole bed of them in place of potatoes. Being native to the Andes, they are relatively resistant to UK pests and diseases, only a handful of them were damaged by worms last year compared with our decimated potato crop.The tubers can be left in the ground over winter, or stored at home in cool conditions and replanted in spring. I am a lazy gardener, or at least time constrained; and Oca look after themselves and were one of our few successes this year. If you can source the tubers I recommend giving them a go.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
While everyone is poring over their seed catalogs and dreaming of warmer weather, (at least us here in the Northern Hemisphere) planning for seed saving needs to be part of the scheme too.
I always say the work of gardening and farming is half observation. And this is especially important if you're going to save seeds. Paying attention all year round from seed storage during the off season, how the plant behaves during the growing season, and finally at harvest time all have a bearing on the success or failure of your endeavor.
Good seedling vigor is important, and can be an indicator of your seed selection from the year before. Or a big one, seed storage. No matter how good your seed was, if you don't take care of it during the off-season you risk poor germination. Dark, cool, and dry are the best and easiest to pull off for the home gardener. If you have room in your freezer (I don't) that would be the ideal situation. I store my seeds in a cabinet in a cool room in our house, and I don't have any trouble with the viability of my seeds.
Cucurbita maxima, and Cucurbita pepo
While you're planning your garden layout, plan for seed saving too. Some plants freely cross, so you have to do your homework for isolation, and how plants are pollinated. Wind, insect, self? Do I need only one plant or do I need a large number to insure the plant variety doesn't run down? Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe and Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth are good books on the subject.
I save seeds from winter squash and naked seed pumpkins, who will not cross, so they can be planted near each other. Summer squash will cross with my naked seed pumpkins so I have to plant my zucchini in a different garden.
I have found that growing the Naked Seed pumpkins are a good fill-in in my food pantry for nuts. They are delicious in pesto, and take the place of more exotic and expensive nuts. There is no competition from squirrels for these seeds, and they are ready within one growing season. Planting nut trees is always a good idea, but these pumpkins can help you weather the gap between nut tree planting and bearing age.
They are easy to harvest, and will keep in storage for a few months while other pressing garden and preserving duties take place.
It's been nice to peck away at this job. I store these in the barn, so I can throw open the doors on a sunny day and get to work. My limitations on harvesting these seeds are getting it done before they rot, since C. pepo's aren't know for keeping, and being able to dry these properly for storage without any molding.
Styrian Naked Seed pumpkin.
My method is pretty simple, I just cut or break open the pumpkins, pull out the seeds with my fingers until I have a colander full of seeds. That is about the quantity that I can dry in my kitchen without taking up too much space. Mileage may vary. While I'm doing this, I am observing or asking questions. Do larger pumpkins have more seeds? Do I see any variation in seeds in correlation to size of pumpkins? Do some have less stringy flesh? Are some rotten and others not? Any evidence of cross pollination? Do they taste good or bitter? All these questions get answered and go along with any observations I have made during the growing season, and are important if I am to save the seeds best acclimated to my garden.
After harvesting the seeds, I wash the seeds in the colander and pick out the remaining bits of flesh. The water seems to break the bond between the two and makes it much easier to separate the seeds. After washing, spread the seeds on screens if you have them or baking sheets, no more than a layer deep. Air circulation is the key to proper drying. For seed saving I only air dry, but for the pantry, I may occasionally put a tray in the warming oven of the cookstove, or in the electric stove oven after baking something. Note to self: Check oven for seeds before turning on to bake again. Don't ask how I know that...
The flesh is pretty stringy compared to my winter squash, so I feed the pumpkin leftovers to our cattle or chickens. They get a treat, and I can get rid of the mess. And if you're cramped for space in your garden, I think these would be perfectly edible.
I like to think that observing the plant through all the stages, makes gardening that much more interesting. The joy of gardening is not just the eating.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
The humble potato. It is one of the most versatile vegetables on the planet and the 3rd largest crop grown around the world.
This is my second year of growing potatoes, with the first year being successful enough, so I thought that I would expand my spud growing operation this year. This is my patch from about the same time last year.
Anyway, this year I thought a bit bigger. After watching Gardening Australia last Saturday, and getting a better understanding on how to plant potatoes, I made my bed much bigger and higher.
It is 2.4 x 1.2 metres and should be large enough to get a good crop. I used a garden fork and dug down about 25 cm into the soil, and then built it up with the compost that I had laying all over the area in two smaller beds. I sprinkled liberally with pelletised chicken manure, added a few handfuls of blood and bone and some sheep manure, turned it over again and gave it a good soaking with the hose. Then I dug three trenches and mounded up the sides.
Then I collected the potatoes that I have been chitting for the last week.
I kept them out of direct sunlight and the eyes grew so that I could tell which way was up when I planted them out.
The trenches in the spud bed were about 75 cm apart and about the same in depth. Then I placed the potatoes in each trench with the eyes facing upwards.
Then I covered each row (5cm) with compost from the Aerobin, which was more like worm castings, then some more compost from the other bin that had been sitting for 6 months. The next layer was about 5cm of soil which I then watered in well.
As the growing tips poke their heads through the soil, I will cover them up again until the trench becomes a mound. The soil is very friable, which is just how potatoes love their environment. All things being well, we will have a bumper harvest this year. More on this beds progress as the season moves along.
We just love our roast, mash, salad, and jacket potatoes! A.A. Milne said it best with, "What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow."
So in closing I would just like to share this tribute to the potato. May everyones spud harvest meet their expectations!
I love spuds!
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Harvest time is still in full swing in our garden, and while we are busy, it is still a good time to assess the garden and think of next years garden. Consider growing staples. Staples in the garden are usually easy to grow, and easy to store for long periods. Many take no processing, just harvesting and proper storage. And many don't require any energy to store, just proper attention to the particular vegetable and its storage requirements which may vary. Cool, dry, room temperature, and high humidity are the factors you need to consider when choosing a staple crop to grow and store.
Crops that I consider staples in my garden are potatoes, winter squash, dry beans and storage onions in addition to root crops like carrots, beets, rutabagas, and parsnips. Your list of staples may be different due to climate and growing conditions. Sweet potatoes are a marginal, fussy crop in my area and Irish potatoes are not. The path of least resistance is the most energy conscious footprint for the garden. Grow what suits your area.
The downside to growing staples is that to be a staple, that implies that you need a large amount to last into winter and maybe spring until the garden gets going again. Large amounts of vegetables require space to grow. Growing staples just may become a community building exercise. Garden too small? Ask a neighbor to allow you to expand your garden, or collaborate with a friend and instead of growing all your crops in one place, trade off. Grow up too, the sky is the limit, many plants take well to trellising, and can be trained on various types of trellis materials.
I'm just tossing ideas out there for more pantry building gardens. Soon the garden will be put to bed and seed catalogs will start appearing in our mailboxes. Winter is a good time to rest, rejuvenate and plan for next year. Bring the new seed catalogs on!
Friday, September 30, 2011
In a foot-wide bed along one side of my garden grows a line of sturdy plants, six to seven feet tall.
The leaves and stalks look a bit like sunflowers, an impression reinforced in fall when the plants are topped with sparse clumps of bright yellow daisy-like flowers.
They're pretty enough to be just a decorative garden backdrop. They grow tall enough, even in a small space, to make an excellent privacy screen, and grow thick enough to make a decent wind-break for the garden beyond. They don't set seed, so no worry about volunteer seedlings turning into weeds all over the place the next year. Plus they're drought- and cold-tolerant perennials, and easily divided. I like self-sustaining plants.
The leaves will withstand the first light frosts, but die when the winter temperatures drop to a hard freeze. The stalks wither, but if left in place will harden and stand firm throughout the winter, continuing to break the wind, catching and holding the snow.
All in all, by mere appearance and hardiness these plants have earned their place in my garden. But they're not just pretty. These plants are sunchokes, sometimes called Jerusalem artichokes, and they produce food too. Easily dug and pulled, the plants produce tasty tubers at the base. The thin-skinned tubers look a bit like ginger root, and don't need to be peeled. Raw, they have a mildly sweet and nutty flavor, a texture a bit like jicama. Boiled or steamed, they can serve as a starchy substitute for potatoes or turnips, and cook in much less time (bonus - their sugars break down into fructose instead of glucose during digestion, thus making them a good starch for diabetics). I like them sliced across in thick slices and tossed into stir-frys at the last minute as a substitute for water chestnuts, or chopped and toasted and sprinkled atop curries instead of almonds.
The tubers will keep in a bag in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, and maybe a month in a cool cellar or pantry. But it's even easier to just leave them out in the garden all winter. Freezing weather doesn't bother the tubers. I just pull up plants as needed. I cut the withered stalks down to a few feet after they freeze, to tidy up the garden, then use the shortened stalks to see where to harvest, throughout the winter and spring, and on into early summer.
You might be able to find the tubers in your local supermarket, or they're available through many seed and plant catalogs. Though maybe expensive, you only have to buy them once. There are always a few tubers left in the ground to start growing again in the spring, so plant them in their own permanent bed. Perhaps in richer soil or milder climates they could become invasive, but I haven't had any problems in my dry sandy soils. I'm happy to have found another reliable, hardy, self-sustaining food crop.
Friday, September 2, 2011
When I first started gardening, I thought I'd grow vegetables just like the ones I'd seen in the grocery store - big, perfect produce. But then reality set in. Those veggies were most likely so perfect because they'd been liberally covered with -cides: pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides. I wasn't going to do that. I preferred to live with imperfection - bits I could cut away, as opposed to chemicals I wasn't sure would wash off.
I still thought the ideal was the super-sized fruit I saw in the market, though. I'd leave my harvest on the plants as long as possible, trying to let everything get as big as possible. But one year, an especially early freeze warning made me go out and pick all the tender crops - tomatoes, peppers, chiles, eggplant, and squashes. And then it didn't freeze, followed by a gloriously long, mellow autumn.
The real goal of any vegetable plant isn't really to produce food for me - all it really wants to do is produce mature seeds, to perpetuate the species. I think the plants I'd clear-picked realized they had no fruit, ergo no seeds, and almost immediately set another flush of blossoms. But where I'd picked maybe two or three of my big fruits per plant, this late flush created lots of fruits. Those same small plants now held a dozen chiles and eggplants each. And the long season that year let me harvest just about all of them, too.
The light bulb came on. If I did that earlier in my short season, maybe I'd get a bigger harvest even if the frosts came normally. The following year, I picked the first fruits as soon as I had something to pick. The plants responded with more blossoms, and a much bigger harvest overall. And I found it works not only with the fruiting plants, but with the vining crops as well.
If you grow zucchini, you've probably seen this in action. As long as you keep picking the zukes small, they keep coming. But miss one 'til it's club-sized, and the plant slows down. I use the same procedure with my winter squash. If I leave the first pink banana squash that sets on the plant, it will grow into a 20-pound monster. But if I pick the first one and give it to the chickens, the plant responds by producing 5 10-pounders instead. Pick early, pick often, harvest more.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Last night we had a 'weed' salad with our dinner!
|Our weed salad|
Weed.So really it is any plant not growing where you want it to be. After 5 years of gardening and growing heirloom vegetables that naturally propagate by self seeding, we have many friendly weeds around the garden. I did not plant them, nor did I interfere with their desire to grow where they chose to germinate.
1. any plant that grows wild and profusely, esp. among cultivated plants.
|Beetroot and rainbow chard self sown all over the place. I did not plant them in the pot!|
|Lambs tongue lettuce in my onion/carrot patch|
To cap it all off, I will leave you with the conversation around the dinner table last night. Ben was helping Kim gather the ingredients for the salad and he asked "Mum, why are you picking weeds?" Kim replied, "Ben, that is because nature left them here for us to eat". Now Ben must have thought long and hard about this statement, because at the table, after cooking Kim and I dinner that consisted of Tortellini and Basil Pesto, with said salad, he piped up and said, "Dad, we are eating weeds for dinner!" I laughed loudly because I knew exactly what he meant. Children tell it straight like it is, that's for sure.
So according to Ben, we eat weeds, and are proud of it!
Do you have any interesting 'weeds' growing in your veggie patch?
Friday, August 5, 2011
I just harvested my shallots, and now have them spread out on a screen in the shed to cure. Like my garlic, shallots are planted in the fall to overwinter, and grow through early spring into July. So expensive in the store, they're easy to grow and store, and make a great flavor addition to fall and winter dishes.
I started with a few supermarket shallots, purchased in late summer years ago. They're planted in the fall, one per square foot. By the following summer each shallot multiplies into a clump of 6-7 nice-sized bulbs. Each October, I re-plant around a dozen bulbs from this year's harvest, say two clumps worth, and then still have at least 60-70 to eat throughout the winter.
Curing and storing them is super-easy too. I'll leave this year's harvest out in the shed for a week or two - until the leaves and roots have dried, the necks have shrunken closed, and the brown skin toughened up. Rubbing away the dried dirt, leaves, and roots, I pile the shallots in a couple of net bags (actually, they're a couple of drawstring net stockings used to sell oranges at Christmas time - now reused for my shallot harvest year after year), and hang them from a hook in the ceiling of my kitchen pantry. They'll hold well until the following March or April before they start shriveling up a bit - still tasty though.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
by Francesca @ FuoriBorgo
Recently Sadge wrote a very informative post about how to make garlic braids for long-term storage (here). I used her tips, and made braids with some of the smaller onions that I harvested a couple of weeks ago. (I stored the larger onions, which would be too heavy to braid, in a crate in a cool spot of the house, after I'd removed the dirt, stems and dried roots - the method my neighbors have taught me to help delay sprouting.)
Braiding my small onions this way worked very well, creating a couple of beautifully decorative edible braids.
How do you store your onions or garlic? I'd love to hear, and if anyone has photos, please send them, and we'll share them with Co-op readers!
Please email your photos to me at: fuoriborgo at gmail dot com