The summer garden’s winners and losers

The veggie garden is fading a little sooner than I was hoping this year, thanks in large part to a prolonged period of humid and rainy weather that caused prolific mildew and rot on the squash plants and some of the tomato plants. Then mother nature reversed course abruptly and brought hot and dry weather that caused some of the watermelons to split open before they could mature. But it’s just as well…we’ve had so much produce coming in, between our own garden and what my father-in-law gives us from his (much, much larger) garden, that we’ve had to can, freeze, and dehydrate like preppers bracing for the end times!

So, with the summer crop drawing to a close, this seems to be a good time to rate and review the varieties I planted this year.

Tomatoes:

  • Big Boy
    Rating:
    StarStarStarStar
    Superb flavor, good size fruits on healthy, vigorous vines; unfortunately, some of the fruits succumbed to rot and fungi during a spell of high humidity

  • Yellow Pear
    Rating: StarStarStar
    The flavor and productivity lived up to the hype! My plants were loaded with juicy, very sweet tomatoes; unfortunately, it seems this variety is prone to wilt and blight

Squash:

  • Dark Star zucchini
    Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
    The best zucchini variety I’ve tried thus far! Compact plants were very tolerant of heat and dry conditions; yield was heavy and continued for a longer period of time than most other varieties; excellent flavor!

Okra:

  • Perkins Long Pod
    Rating:
    StarStar
    Didn’t much care for this particular variety; the plants never showed much vigor and were slow to set pods; lackluster flavor and texture

Cucumber:

  • Arkansas Little Leaf
    Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
    My new favorite cuke! Planting just one vine gave us more cukes than we could handle, and we ended up pickling quite a few. The plants are extremely resistant to disease and pests (at least from my observation), without a trace of bitterness in spite of dry conditions at times. Very crisp and juicy with a superior flavor to most others I’ve tried.
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A royal pain in the (gr)ass

Have I said how much I HATE Bermuda grass? I did? Oh, well I still hate it. Nothing makes more more ragey in the garden then spending hours and hours stooped over and pulling up seemingly miles of roots, only to have it crawl back in around my veggie and ornamental plants just days later. You can see in the photo below where it’s already returning where I had tilled up the soil. Round-Up is out of the question, since preserving a bee-friendly habitat is the idea. It seems the best I can do is just keep pulling up what I can, and otherwise learn to live with some weediness around the plants. But despite its omnipresence, the perennials I planted there seem to be doing well, and the coreopsis has been flowering nicely (2nd pic).

overview

coreopsis

I’ve had better fortune keeping the Bermuda grass away from the herbs and veggies I planted around the perimeter of the deck. I planted big leaf basil, rosemary, Dark Star™ zucchini, and Perkins long pod okra and are coming along quite nicely.

veggies

The salad garden is looking great as well, been collecting a nice harvest of spinach, lettuce, arugula, and kale, though the kale has been infested with cabbage worms (yuck!). Otherwise, I’ve been enjoying fresh greens just outside our back door!

saladgarden

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Garden update, video tour

Thought I’d share a more visual update of how my garden is progressing (part of it, anyway) now that I have a good tiller to help speed up the process!

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Spring has sprung!

Spring is in full force now in Richmond, Virginia. The flowering cherries are at their peak, as are forsythias, with deciduous magnolias and redbuds not far behind. I snapped these pics yesterday before the first lawn mowing of the year. The first is flowering quince, the second I believe is a species of Spirea but am not certain (post a comment if you know what it is!). In any case, a welcome sight after a long, cold, snowy winter.

 

As far as veggies, my first round of seedlings I started indoors (broccoli, kale, lettuce, and spinach) germinated well enough but then just pooped out so I’m having to scrap that batch and start again (outside in a raised bed this time now that the weather is warm enough) with those, while I start the warm season crops inside. I guess certain crops don’t actually like to be pampered with grow lights. The winter rye cover crop I planted last October is really coming along well. When it reaches flowering stage in May, I’ll cut it down at ground level, let it lay, and use it as a mulch to plant the warm season crops into.

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Let spring commence! Seed starting underway

After three consecutive weeks of record cold and multiple winter storms bringing at least 6” of snow, the weather is finally turning the corner and spring is in sight. Which of course means seed-starting time! First, I checked the dates on the seed packages to make sure they are still viable. I also referred to this handy chart in my Master Gardener handbook:

 

A few had to be tossed, but most were still relatively recent. Then I got my grow light setup re-assembled and planted spinach, lettuce, kale, broccoli, and beet seeds. Once those are up, I’ll get them acclimated to the outdoors via our recently-completed mini greenhouse:

hoophouse

Once those are hardened off and planted, the summer veggies are next: slicing tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, squash, cukes, eggplant and okra. This year, I really want to avoid watering by hand as much as possible (just about everything in pots died last summer as I didn’t have time to keep them constantly watered), so my wife and I are looking at some irrigation ideas. At the top of our list at the moment is this idea, which involves running drip line micro tubes from the main hose to the base of each plant, then hooking the main hose into a timer. Meanwhile, the winter rye cover crop I planted should be resuming growth soon as average temperatures start to climb.

That’s it for now, more to come as the new growing season sets in!

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Lawn = yawn. Grow veggies instead

One of my pet peeves as a gardener and former landscaper is seeing people pouring so much time, money, and energy in trying to have the most lush, green lawn in the neighborhood. A lawn that does nothing for pollinators (probably soaked in Round-Up) and contributes little practical good for the homeowner. So I was excited to read this blog post my brother found and emailed to me, that shows how one man transformed his drab lawn into quite an edible garden that produced so much, he had to start giving some away to neighbors.

http://growfood-notlawns.com/started-boxes-60-days-later-neighbors-not-believe-built/

Everybody wins: the homeowner saves money on groceries and gets healthy produce w/out added chemicals, the bees get a buffet of nectar, and surrounding property values go up thanks to the ornamental beauty of his lush garden.

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Veggies for tight spots

When I look out my back door and imagine the garden I hope to create this spring and summer, I count myself blessed and fortunate. Not everyone has even a half acre in which to plant almost everything they want to grow. Just do a Google search for “urban gardening” and you’ll find hundreds of articles on the topic, as interest in living self-sufficiently expands into cities where many people have only a small patio or even just a window sill in which to grow.

Thankfully, plant breeders are starting to catch up, offering dwarf varieties of vegetables like tomatoes and eggplant, that can be successfully grown without requiring a lot of space. I decided to scour the seed catalogs and list all these varieties in one place.

Tomatoes:

  • Minibel (determinate) – tops out at about 12″ without sacrificing fruit production
  • Patio Princess hybrid (determinate) – 1-2′, produces 4-5 oz. fruit
  • Tumbler hybrid (determinate) – a tomato for hanging baskets! Early harvest, up to 6lbs of 1 oz. tomatoes

Corn:

  • On Deck hybrid – maxes out at 4-5′, 2 to 3 bicolor ears per stalk
  • Blue Jade – open pollinated heirloom variety that tops out at 3′, producing interesting steel blue kernels that turn jade blue when boiled

Cukes:

  • Spacemaster – short, compact vines; still produces respectable 7″ long fruits; resists scab and cucumber mosaic virus
  • Salad Bush Hybrid – similar to Spacemaster but with slightly larger fruit (8″), higher disease resistance; an AAS winner
  • Picklebush – a compact pickling cucumber with 2′ vines and tolerance of downy mildew and cucumber mosaic virus

Eggplant:

  • Patio Baby – compact, dwarf variety that tops out at 24 inches; thornless and less bitter than other varieties and produces 2-3″ long egg-shaped black fruit

Okra:

  • Baby Bubba hybrid – stays about half the height of traditional okra plants
  • Gold Coast – open pollinated heirloom; compact, 5′ plants, resists root-knot nematodes

Squash:

  • Butterbush – a shorter-vined version of the classic butternut squash, only 3′ vines
  • Patio Star zucchini – half the size of most zucchini plants, full size fruit

Watermelon:

  • Sugar Pot – compact plants only get about 12 to 24″ in diameter yet still yielding 8-10lb fruit
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