We planted some more today, and checked on a lot of our little plants. Here’s what’s growing around here…
We planted some more today, and checked on a lot of our little plants. Here’s what’s growing around here…
This week we transplanted our two cabbage varieties from their pans and into the ground. The great thing about cabbages is that they are cold hardy, which means that during the early spring when there is still a risk of frosty weather they generally do just fine. A true freeze can harm them, of course, but cabbages usually do really well starting their growing journey in the early spring!
In addition to transplanting the cabbages (we chose the best 50 or 60 plants to put in the beds), we also started some other seeds, like:
This year we haven’t yet gotten behind with planting (like we did last year because of all the wedding planning), which is encouraging news for us. For now, we await the cabbages and the delicious and nutritious sauerkraut this will result!
Last year we grew 9 different varieties of Irish Potatoes in our garden. We also grew sunchokes and sweet potatoes, and while there’s nothing quite like a fried potato, this year we decided to focus less on Irish potatoes, and more on other tuber crops.
Still, we figured we would try a low risk garden experiment this season by planting our seed potatoes in raised straw beds. Some advantages to this approach are that as the potatoes grow, instead of hilling them up with soil, we simply add more and more straw to cover the stems and encourage more tuber development. Because the potatoes grow in straw instead of soil, harvesting is easier and the tubers come out cleaner.
Last fall, after our homestead wedding, where we used straw bales benches, we strategically stacked the leftover bales in our garden area along the same contour layout of our raised beds. The thought was to simultaneously kill off the weeds and grasses underneath the bales and prepare the soil for new beds while conditioning the bales for planting.
We ended up going in a different direction though when spring came around, deciding to instead raise potatoes above the ground, and constantly add layers of straw to the growing stems.
First, I had to move the strawbales into a big pile next to the planting area. This exposed the nicely prepared and weed free “bed”. Hopefully this new pile will smother any weeds under it and allow us to expand this experiment in a few weeks. I then added a sprinkling of organic fertilizers and compost. I used a mixture of bone, blood, alfalfa, kelp and greensand, and then covered it with a nice layer of decomposing straw.
This is when I added the seed potatoes. I laid them out in multiple staggered rows, about 1 foot apart. I then went through and liberally gave each seed potato a handful of compost, and another pinch of fertilizer.
On top of this went a big layer of straw, probably 4-6 inches high, and then another light dusting of compost of fertilizer.
I am fertilizing this patch heavier than I would normally because the straw is high in carbon, and will require some extra nitrogen to fully breakdown. The end result should be a beautifully composted soil, and a nice harvest of potatoes as a bonus.
This kind of planting will need a little extra attention in the beginning, especially during dry spells, because the upper layers of straw have a tendency to dry out. Once the straw is 18 or so inches high I don’t think it will be problem anymore. If the potatoes seem to do okay, we may just try some sweet potatoes this way as well. I can’t believe that it’s almost time to start sweet potatoes slips again!
As Christmas and New Year’s pass and the days start to get longer as we get further and further away from the winter solstice, slowly, Spring is coming.
One of the things that particularly reminds me of this is the sudden, and almost incessant arrival of seed, plant, and gardening supply catalogs.Starting around Mid December, seed companies large and small start to send out their beautiful and eloquent descriptions of cultivars and varieties.
From vegetables to fruit trees, the catalogs pour in with old heirloom favorites like Cherokee Purple Tomatoes, to newly rediscovered varieties from across the ocean like anchote. Anchote, or Coccinia abyssinica, caught my eye the other day as I perused J.l. Hudson’s new availability. Its an ancient tuber crop from Ethiopia related to cucumbers. Pretty cool, and supposedly tasty too.
These catalogs are full of interesting varieties like that, and make for great winter reading by the fire as we contemplate Spring, a new Year, and the taste of those first vegetables from the garden. There’s a lot that still needs to be done before then, but for me at least, these catalogs are the first sign that Spring is coming.
a sure sign that fall is here and winter is coming… frost! we had our first frost of the year on november 1st, which was close in date to first frosts of other years. luckily, we were proactive; we watched the weather and were poised to harvest the crops before the frost came in. among the things that we harvested:
sweet potatoes (these we harvested after the frost because jason cut off all of the greenery and covered them up with sheets to protect the tubers for a little while longer)
and a good thing we did, too! check out how frosted (and killed and blackened) the peppers became…
some crops do well with a light frost, though. kale is one of them, and the frost even makes the leaves sweeter. our kale is still going strong and we ca’t wait to eat some!
jason also just put some garlic in the ground, which withstands even the coldest winters like a champ. our oca tubers are still in the ground, too, and they won’t get harvested until after winter is winding down.
i’ve also noticed the lovely trees and leaves on the ground (and since we don’t rake or leaf-blow them around, i get to enjoy their crunch for a while to come (even though they’ve piled up in the carport too!)!
In preparation for our first frost the other night we cut off the tops off of the sweet potato plants because frost damage enters the tubers from the vine part, and by cutting off the top and leaving the potatoes in the warm ground, we can delay the harvest a few days until it’s more convenient.To add a little bit of extra protection, I covered the sweet potato beds with old bed sheets to keep in a little extra warmth. It definitely worked, and there are no signs of any frost damage.
We planted 3 different varieties; 1 red porto rican sweet potato (I know, it should be Puerto Rican, but that’s what they call it), 1 yellow porto rican, and 1 korean purple. The porto ricans we grew last year with great success, and the purples were started from tubers from Super G, and international grocery store in Greensboro. They were planted in 4 different locations in the garden. About 1/4 went into one of our new hugelkulture beds, where they were inter-planted with sorghum and cowpeas as a southern style 3 sisters garden. These did the best.
Overall, the yields were not as great as last year, but still okay. We planted them much later than last year, and the fertility in many of the plots were on the low side. Still, we should have plenty of sweet potatoes to last us through the winter and into next year. This means plenty of sweet potato ginger soup! Yes!!
When is the best time to harvest chia (salvia hispanica) seed?
After the flowers have dropped, and the seed pods have turned brown. You can pinch a few of the pods and smush them between your fingers to see if the seeds are black and fully ripe.
Last year we snipped off individual stalks of seed pods, there are anywhere from 1-20 on a plant depending on vigor, but this took a bit of time. Because the seeds seem to stay in the pods fairly well and not shatter and fall off when the plant is disturbed, I think this year we will just snip the chia off at the base with pruners and then shake the seeds out in one go.
These plants are all volunteers form last year and have done fairly well. Chia, which is related to sage, is an ancient crop from central Mexico, with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and other micro-nutrients. It is said that 1 tablespoon of chia seeds could supply a long distance Aztec runner with all the nutrition he needed for a days journey. We add the seeds to water, where the germinate into gooey globs of goodness that take the edge off of an empty stomach and just make the water taste better. Chia!
As the leaves start to turn and the acorns start to drop, the summer garden is ready to be put to bed. This is a time for mulching and cover-cropping, but it’s also a great time to grow a fall/winter garden. In reality, fall garden planning starts in the summer, but our homestead wedding took most of our energy and attention during that period of time. Still, we will not be going without fresh garden produce entirely. We can thank kale for this. The wonderful, green, nutritious, and delicious superstar of the fall and winter garden.
We planted a whole bunch about 2 weekends ago, in the empty garden spots vacated by our potatoes, and it has germinated and is off to the races. Our mild weather is helping it to establish itself before it truly gets cold, but even then, kale loves a frost, which just makes the leaves sweeter.
We have 3 varieties in the ground, Vates (heat /cold resistant and tasty too), Lacinato (Italian heirloom from Tuscany also known as Dinosaur Kale), and our Siberian Kale seeds that we saved from last year. This should keep us well stocked with kale, and give us plenty of chances to make our famous kale soup with Neese’s sausage and homegrown potatoes!
One surefire way to improve soil health, life and fertility is with compost. Compost is essentially human created humus, decomposed organic matter teeming with beneficial microbial activity. The recipe for compost involves acquiring enough organic material to start a heap, maintaining a good moisture content, and then turning it to add air to the equation. Compost not only provides nutrients like Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphate, but it also provides a healthy dose of the bacteria and fungi that help plants utilize and acquire what they need from the soil.
I started a compost pile the other day when I had a surplus of bagged plant material laying around from work,in addition to fresh grass clippings from our wedding preparations.These count as greens in the composting world, or things that are high in nitrogen. Other greens would be animal manures, legume hay, blood meal, and food scraps. The ratio I was shooting for was 1/3 greens to 2/3 browns. Browns are anything high in carbon, like paper, wood, sawdust, straw, or bagged leaves from fall cleanups. The key to good composting is waiting until you have enough material to make a pile that is at least 1 cubic yard in volume. This insulates the pile, helping to maintain the high temperatures needed to break down your organic material while minimizing losses to off gassing.
I layered my browns and greens, and added water after each layer. I wanted to have the pile wet, but not dripping or soaked. Roughly around the moisture content of a sponge you just squeezed the water out of. This aids the microbial breakdown, while keeping the pile from getting too anaerobic. After I had a pile that was up to my shoulders, I let it sit for 4 days. After 4 days,it was time for the first turn, and I grabbed my pitch fork and fluffed layers from the pile to an open space right next to it, adding water if it seemed too dry. It was nice and steamy, which let me know that the process was working!
Today, 3 days later, I turned it once more and added some leftover stale beer to feed the microbes a little more. From this point on I’ll turn it every 2 days, and after 2-3 weeks, we should have roughly a cubic yard of black gold,ready for the garden or for a wonderfully complex brew of compost tea!
In my post about some of the differences between living in the country vs the city (which include thinking that anywhere other than rural Stokes county = the city), I mentioned that it took us a whole year before we found a pizza place that would deliver to our house. While delivery pizza is great for nights you just don’t feel like cooking, nothing beats a homemade pie crisp and fresh from the oven.While we haven’t yet made our own pizza dough, we do use either frozen pizza doughs from the store, or more often, tortillas.
But the best part about homemade pizza is that you get complete control over your toppings. No having to split, or compromise with friends or significant others about meat lovers vs. veggie supreme. This especially holds true with tortilla, “personal pan” pizzas, where each person gets their own pizza to create and eat.
Some of our favorite toppings are the ones we pick fresh from the garden. Tomatoes, basil, bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, and jalepenos all make great pizza toppings. Add some sausage, or chorizo, and some garlic olive oil, and your in for a fun night.
We use thick slices of homegrown cherokee purple tomatoes instead of tomato sauce, and a light sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. A little salt, and a drizzle of oil really brings it all together, and makes it all but impossible for any leftovers to survive.