GROW: Garden Report - July 2018
This year’s garden is off to a slow start. I shared in my recent newsletters (sign up for monthly interesting newsletters at the subscribe section to the right-->) my health issues and then unusual spring weather that got the best of me not once but twice. But each year, I learn new lessons and I will share two of those in my first garden report of the season.
In my garden, July is all about garlic harvesting, weeding, watering and planning for a fall garden. Each year in October, I plant about 100 cloves of four different varieties of garlic in three of my nine gopher-proofed beds (gophers LOVE garlic...don’t ask me how I know...it’s still a sore subject for me). A thick layer of straw mulch is placed on top to keep the soil from freeze/thaw cycles that could cause the garlic to be pushed out of the soil. November rains keep them watered, producing a growth spurt of leaves and roots and then they settle in (like this gardener) for a winter’s rest. In April, as the soil begins to warm, the garlic resumes growing, pushing straight, skinny leaves through the straw mulch. Watering resumes and in July, harvest and curing of garlic begins.
WAITING ON ASPARAGUS
Last year, I was gifted ten asparagus crowns and planted them in three smaller beds that are not gopher-proofed. I thought gophers didn’t eat woody plant parts. I was wrong. They devoured three of the crowns and then apparently moved on in search of softer plants. Asparagus is a perennial so it takes three years to grow into its mature size so there was no harvest this year. Each crown pushed up 2-4 stems, and I am letting them go to seed.
One of the beds ended up becoming a hodgepodge of food and herb plants leftover from last year’s garden: missed potatoes shot up some shy leaves, dill plants aplenty & last year's cover crop red clover popped up here and there, a lonely poppy plant is currently in bloom. I planted peas and fava beans in April in this bed and it is now a bit of a jungle. I just now harvested the peas! Celery starts were planted along the less jungly side. I have not had much success with celery in the past but this year they are looking promising.
In early spring, I planted one bed with oats (Avena sativa) to serve three purposes: first, I wanted fresh milky oats for a tincture; second, harvest the remaining milky oats and stems (known as oatstraw) and dry for nourishing infusions and third, as a cover crop which adds biomass and returns nutrients to the soil after being turned over in the bed. I have relied on aged horse manure for adding organic matter to my soil but decided to use more cover crops in both the spring and fall. They do take up vegetable growing space but two of the common cover crops (oats and clover) offer medicinal and nutritive uses so it’s a win-win for this gardener/home herbalist.
BIENNIALS: YEAR ONE - ROOTS;
YEAR TWO - FLOWERS & SEEDS
Last fall, I left a short row of carrots to overwinter, hoping I might be able to pull fresh carrots from under the snow in January. But I forgot about them! As biennials, carrots take two years to complete a life cycle though we eat their tasty root in the first year. They are in full flower now and bringing in gobs of beneficial insects. I will be saving their seeds to plant next year. The root will be too woody to eat in the second year.
WHY DO I GROW ONIONS?
Every year I decide that I am not going to bother growing onions because I can get big bags of organic sweet Walla Wallas and storage yellow onions grown in my region. And yet, each year I have a bed or two of onions! This year, I have three rows of ‘Walla-Wallas’ which don’t store well so I may make some sweet onion relish and at least a couple of meals will include the sinfully delicious Walla Walla Flowers. I have two rows of leeks which I’ll mulch with straw in October and leave them in the ground until the snow begins piling up in January. I use leeks for soup making and one of my favorite soups on a cold & rainy November Sunday is potato-leek. I did plant the wonderful green onions I discovered last year. Pulled four for today’s Summer Veggie Risotto with Creamy Basil-Walnut Pesto.
The tomato bed looks gorgeous but it's several weeks behind. One of the lessons this year involves frost and seemingly dead plants: the last frost date for my area is May 15 so I planted twelve tomato starts before I left for a ten day vacation. On May 31, a hard frost happened and I came home to dead tomato plants. Fortunately, I had many additional starts in the greenhouse (cleaned out my older seeds and there was healthy germination) so I replaced the dead plants with the last of my starts. The weather goddesses had a bit more fun with me and rolled in another cold night with frost! I begged for tomato starts from several of my gardening friends and when I went to plant them, I discovered that many of my own tomato plants had green leaves at the base of the plant. I had put straw mulch around the starts and that protected the lower leaves. You only need one leaf to make plant food so I clipped off the damaged part and left these scrappy-looking tomato starts with their developed and intact root systems and their one or two bottom leaves. All of them survived and are filled with leaves and just beginning to get blossoms. Meanwhile, I planted the generously donated tomato plants and they are producing fruit so my hope is to have tomatoes from early August through October...maybe November if I use lots of Remay cloth to protect from frost. Sadly, the nine starts of summer squash did not survive and so I am buying zucchini in July.
Hugelkultur (means mound or hill culture) is an idea from permaculture and is simply a method of making a bed using the sheet mulch method of building layers of soil, straw, compost and aged manure with exception of one key difference: the base layer is made with a layer of logs. The benefit is a warmer bed because of the slow decay of the wood. Another benefit for me is that the bed is gopher-proof. BTW - if it sounds like I am obsessed with gophers, I am. I spent three growing seasons watching my plants get sucked through the tunnels these burrowing rodents created and finally had to dig out all of my raised beds to gopher-proof them. Pretty sure they are in cahoots with yellow jackets to test my gardening will...
CAN I GROW ORNAMENTAL FLOWERS?
This year, I wanted more flowers in my garden and fell in love with dahlias last year while tending a winery’s garden. Deer love them too, so I had to plant them inside the fenced vegetable garden. I bought two bags of mixed colors at Costco, planted them in my first hugelkutur bed (made with a base of cut firewood). They shot up immediately ...much to the grasshoppers and their insect friends’ delight. The leaves are shredded and in some cases, missing but the dahlias appear to be troopers - they just keep growing and producing leaves. I am looking forward to having more flowers in the garden and house.
My second hugelkultur bed was an experiment: Instead of logs as the base, I used a large pile of bark and wood debris leftover from cutting wood for the winter. I planted my pumpkin starts in this bed and they, too, suffered from the two late frosts. Little leaves survived under the straw mulch and are growing into beautiful plants. Alas, the gophers have apparently busted their way through the woody debris base and have killed two of my pumpkin plants and one of my sunflowers. I suspect I will lose the rest. Second lesson learned; logs not layers of bark are necessary.
The raspberries love their new home but the ever bearing strawberries that I moved last year (which produced a big crop) are on their final year and there is not much fruit. Strawberry plants should be replaced about every three - five years and mine are on year six. The raspberries are creeping into the strawberry beds, and I am ok with that... I like raspberries far more than strawberries. If you are going to grow one fruit, I suggest raspberries. They are easy to grow, reproduce (almost too much) and are expensive to buy. Those that actually make it to the kitchen instead of my mouth are frozen and I use them in smoothies and yogurt throughout the winter.
YELLOW JACKETS FOR PEACE
As the temps rose this month, the yellow jackets began to congregate in my small greenhouse. Dodging them was a form of modern dance and after being stung twice, I went on a murderous spree with a can of yellow jacket killer. I found nests everywhere: at least 15 of them under my potting table, another ten under my shelving, more in unused pots, and the more brazen members simply built in the corners of the greenhouse. I experienced a bit more glee and satisfaction while killing them than I probably should admit to, but I have taken back control of my greenhouse - for now! They are tenacious and it seems impossible to eliminate them so I am thinking we should draft them and make them our army. I am confident their reputation would be enough to deter wars.
This year I am prepping for an abundant fall garden: I have seeded cauliflower, broccoli, kale, fennel, and chard in the greenhouse and have direct sown carrots, turnips and daikon radish. Lettuce, Asian greens and salad radishes go in this weekend.
My beloved milkweed patch is blooming, topped with pollen-collecting bees and wasps, brown and yellow swallowtail butterflies flit about ever-so-lightly, the unique flowers are sending out evocative scents and the rhizomes are gradually spreading. Everyone needs a milkweed patch.
I hope your garden is growing and if it's not...let's talk.