Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Growing Edibles - Winter & Early Spring

A picture of my raised beds so you get an idea of what I explained yesterday

I am going to do two types of posts for my garden guide - ones that tell & show you what I am doing right now in my garden, and ones that delve into specific topics, like what to grow & when to grow it, exactly how to fertilize, etc. So don't despair if all the details you want are not here.


First, I'm going to back track and start our growing season calendar in October, (or November...or even December when I am super late) with the first (and some in my family might say most important) task of the year - planting garlic.

Each fall, I clean out the tomato bed (they die early) and stick garlic cloves in an entire bed. They poke their tips out of the ground during the winter and as soon as it starts to warm up, they are off and running.

I don't touch my garden again until about February. In February, on one of those lovely rare warm days, I spend an hour cleaning out anything left that is dead and picking out weed seedlings. The kids then help me spread "all purpose organic Whitney Farms fertilizer" (found at Fred Meyers) over all the beds. (they list how much to use & instructions on the back of the box). We sprinkle it around and then rake it in. I spray it with some water if we're not expecting rain.

I like to do this early so the fertilizer gets a chance to start breaking down & releasing nutrients as soon as it gets warm. Organic fertilizers take longer to start releasing nutrients compared to chemical ones. This provides a nice even base of nutrients for anything I plant in March.

In March, as soon as we get a few warm days, I go buy some veggie seedlings from Joe's Gardens. My seedlings might not grow very fast until it warms up, but they are there, waiting, growing nice roots and are ready to go at the first sign of sun.

For early spring this year, I chose snap peas, kale, romaine lettuce and broccoli. For about $6, I was able to almost fill two beds with seedlings.

Pea seeds are notorious for rotting instead of sprouting. This is about 1/10th of the pot I bought.

Spacing your plants can be hard until you get to know how big your plants will get. I screw it up all the time, especially if I buy more than what I have space for. The nice part is that if things get too crowded, you can just eat a head of baby lettuce so there is more room for the others. In fact, I often squeeze them purposefully so I don't feel bad harvesting a few things early. Baby veggies are delightful.

I also have quite a few things in my beds that either live there full time (chives) or self seeded from the year before (parsley, cilantro, sorrel, chervil).

There is one plant I grow from seed that does extremely well in the cold spring - Mizuna. You may not have heard of it, but it is common in baby salad mixes. It is actually a type of mustard, but if you harvest it young, it is mild, delicious, prolific, easy to harvest (clean) and I didn't see a single bug on it last year. Much easier for salads than mud splattered lettuces that get plagued by slugs & aphids.

Here is my first bed that I planted yesterday:

First, notice that I put the tall snap peas in the back. (the north side of the bed) They are actually a "bush" variety which means they will be shorter and don't need tall poles to grow up. Always plant tall things in the back (north) so they won't shade short things. Kale gets quite large, but I harvest mine as baby leaves for salads, they will get covered in aphids by the time they get huge. I just rip them out when that happens.

The garlic on the right was just planted in February and is densely packed. It will be for a spring treat called "green garlic". You harvest it before it bulbs and treat it just like green onions. I generally throw mine on the grill whole or chop up some leaves and toss them in a salad like chives. We can most likely start eating it by mid April.

In this bed there are more self seeded herbs and another patch of snap peas. I always plant my leftover pea plants in a special spot and harvest the tender pea shoot tips & tendrils to toss in salads. They are so yummy! You just pinch off the softest new growth, leaves, tendrils & all. Even blossoms sometimes! Generally they will never grow big enough to produce peas if I keep on top of harvesting the shoots. This little patch should give me enough sprouts to toss into salads for weeks and are soooo easy.

I am not sure if I should have planted that broccoli. It gets covered in aphids so easily, but I grew some last fall once it cooled off and had a couple delicious bug free heads. So it is an experiment to see if I can get heads before the bugs go crazy. I will let you know how it goes.

I planted red romaine and have some more lettuce varieties I will plant seeds for in a couple weeks. The seeds are leftover from last year, but I think from now on I will just buy starts and not mess with seeds.

The sorrel is sort of a silly thing I grow - each spring I make a batch of sorrel soup, just for fun. I also toss a few leaves in salads, but they are quite lemony flavored and strong. Chervil is a french herb that I also like to toss in salads. I let some go to seed last year and a ton of it sprouted and survived the winter. The flowers are also pretty & delicious in salads.

I told you, I adore my spring salads, and what I really love is having all sorts of wonderful, unique things to throw in them. Herbs, flowers, lettuces, other greens....I just pick a few leaves of each thing and toss them all together. This way, I slow the growth of my lettuces by plucking baby leaves and then still get a head at the end when it gets really warm and they get huge quickly.
Lastly, my huge bed of garlic. We are still eating last years harvest. The chive plant is a perennial which means it doesn't die. It dies back each winter, but re-sprouts in spring and lives in that corner permanently. I love chives & chive flowers in my spring salads.

I should also be planting potatoes right now, but I sort of forgot and then realized my beds were full. I am supposed to be getting another bed (or 3) this spring, but we can't agree on where to put it (or them).

These are my favorite gardening gloves. They are so soft, its like you are not even wearing gloves at all. They are only $8 or so (find them at Garden Spot and lots of other places) and keep your hands clean. I love getting my bare hands in the dirt, but when your kids come running up with a poopy diaper, it is nice to not have to scrub your hands before you touch them.

For leafy crops like kale, broccoli and lettuce, I sprinkle around a high nitrogen fertilizer. Yes, it is made from blood and no, my plants don't turn into vampires. It sort of stinks if it blows on your clothes and animals sometimes dig in my beds after I use it. Once my dog ate a bunch. But it works great. I will go more into fertilizers in another post.

While I got all this done (about 40 minutes of work) Saben built a swimming pool and beach for ants. (really. that is what he told me it was)

1 comment:

Shauna said...

LOVE these posts. I need to get on the gardening thing and get my seedlings! Maybe tomorrow morning I'll go. I just fluffed/mixed my dirt up and I bought chicken poop for my garden last weekend. What to plant.... I wish I had a bunch of raised beds with deer and rabbit protection out there...but alas, I will have to work with my little deck garden.