It’s garden planning time around our house. Just so you get a feel for what it’s like around our house right now, our coffee table is stacked high with gardening books, seed catalogs and graph paper. Robert and I are both obsessed and our poor children have to either scream for our attention or physically remove the book from our hands. I like to think that I am the master gardener in the house but he seems to think that he is. This leads to many arguments over where to plant things and what to plant. Our latest argument is about how much to plant. I always want to plant less, he always wants to plant more. Since he usually wins the how much to plant argument, we need to figure out where it all goes.
Since reading Four-Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman, which I highly recommend, Robert recommended that we use a technique talked about in the book and that is make all beds the same size and all the foot paths the same size. Why didn’t I think of that? As I sketch out the garden I am constantly consulting Johnny’s Selected Seed catalog to find out plant spacing and row width, etc. I get a little carried away, as is my habit, and the plans end of being somewhat complicated. So to simplify, this year we are making all our beds 30 inches wide and all our foot paths 12 inches. Done.
If you want to learn more or how to plant different veggies in those sized beds, you’d better check the book out of the library or order it on amazon. It’s a good one. I have consulted it at least a few hundred times in the last week alone.
Wish me luck on my upcoming battles with self proclaimed master gardener, Robert.
It’s that time of year, when the world falls in love…with seed catalogs.
Go ahead, buy way more than you need, we did. We already placed our order with Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
Here’s what we ordered:
5 lbs Kennebec seed potatoes
5 lbs Adirondack Red seed potatoes
1 lb Russian banana seed potatoes
Belgium endive, Totem
Asparagus, Jersey Knight
Here’s what I forgot to order: shallots, popcorn corn and cantaloupe. Oops.
What are you planting this year? Anything new?
In searching for more books written by Eliot Coleman and Steve Solomon, I came across this link to a copy of the book on Scribd. I wanted to share the link with you and offer a few thoughts.
Plant spacing has always been a problem for me in my gardening. I have this problem with always wanting to maximize value or return, and so I squeeze in as many plants as I can into a given space. Not only is that bad for the plants, but it is also water intensive. In order to reduce or eliminate water usage, plant spacing is paramount. One big idea learned in this book is that capillary action within the soil will draw the water in from much further than I thought possible.
Another idea discussed is mulching. Steve Solomon is a big proponent of dust mulching. I’ve been a big mulcher in the past, mostly with grass clippings, though. I’m not sure I’m sold on the idea of dust mulching, because we live in an area that can get pretty windy and I don’t want my valuable topsoil blowing away. As for me, jury’s still out on this one. I would love to hear from other’s experience with dust mulching, though. I’m still intrigued and open minded on this matter.
Posted in Gardening
Tagged capillary action, desert gardening, drip tape, dryland farming, dust mulch, Eliot Coleman, garden, gardening, Gardening When It Counts, Gardening Without Irrigation, mulching, Steve Solomon, water
I was skeptical of Gardening When It Counts by Steve Solomon. Robert had talked about this book for quite a while, urging me to check it out from the library. He had seen several people reference it on Survival Blog, touting it as the cure to watering your garden. That’s right, not watering your garden. You can see where my skepticism is coming from. Now I come from Southern California were rain doesn’t fall on our soil, we steal it from other states, like Colorado. So the idea of not watering your garden seemed like something that could only be plausible if you lived in a rainforest, aka the East Coast or Washington state. I admit I only picked up the book to put to rest these rumors that dry weather gardening was possible.
After reading the book I realized that how to water your garden only accounts for one chapter of this book. Which is why I broke this book review into 2 parts, first the watering issue and then all the rest. And for those of you who like to flip to the end of the book, yes growing a garden without irrigation is possible, even outside of those states that look like overgrown jungles. But…it’s not the one size fits all approach that some have made it out to be.
How is this all done? Plant spacing. Simple as that. The further apart they are the less competition for ground water. The exact spacing between plants depends on several factors including summer rainfall. Solomon provides a handy table that lists 4 types of plant spacing possibilities for lots of different vegetables. In column 1 he has Intensive raised beds (not his recommendation but used for comparison), in column 2 he has Semi-intensive raised beds (his own garden set up), column 3 is Extensive; good rainfall; raised beds, raised rows on the flat and finally column 4 is Extensive; little rain or fertigation; everything on the flat. Obviously he gives explanations and criteria for each of these different growing conditions so you can figure out which area you fall into. We find ourselves in column 4 whereas someone in New York or Georgia might be in column3 and someone who has plenty of irrigation water is in column 2.
This chart was probably the most interesting part of the book. It was stunning to see how little water is needed when the plants are spaced far apart. It was also stunning to see just how far apart the plants need to spaced. Some veggies need lots of room while others can handle closer spacing. Robert and I studied the chart and were able to figure out which vegetables that we would plant with irrigation and which plants we would allow extra space to grow without irrigation. For our climate it seemed that to grow all we needed without irrigation we would have to have a massive amount of land, and really water is not that scarce so we thought a compromise was best. We can’t wait to try it when we own some land.
There are other very interesting chapter to this book that I will get to later, hopefully. Overall I would say this is a great book to check out of the library. We probably won’t buy this one because the other chapters are pretty basic gardening tips but I guess good for the beginning gardener.
Growing cucumbers has never been easy for us. This is only our second year, though, but a second discouraging year.
Last year we read in John Seymour’s “The Self Sufficient Life and How to Live it” that you should make mounds for your cucumbers just as you would for squash and zucchini. Under those mounds, you should put about a coffee can’s worth of compost. We did just that. The plants came up and vined all over the place. We were very happy. Several two inch long cucumbers began to form. And then everything died. We couldn’t figure out why. The watering was consistent. No obvious bug or disease. Everything just turned brown and shriveled up and died.
This year we were going to take it a step farther. Our container garden employing the 55 gal poly drums was based on two year old rotted dairy manure from a friend. It appears as though there was too much acidity, though. Most of the plants grew to six inches high and then began dying.
We began researching and found that they like the soil to be limed, which seemed counter intuitive to me, the beginner. Anyways, I sprinkled some hydrated lime around each plant just as I did with the beans a week earlier. The plants that survived seem much better now.
By the way – the staff at our local Ace Hardware is incredibly helpful. They told me that I could find the lime I’m looking for in the garden section. However, the same exact thing is sold in the livestock section under a different label and is much cheaper. It is used for putting down in horse stalls, etc between cleanings and before new bedding is laid down.
I’m not getting all vegan, raw food crazy here but I am starting to think about an idea I read about in Four Season Harvest. And that is eating fresh food, not embalmed food. You’ve probably seen my review of the book but now I keep revisiting the idea of eating fresh food all year.
A quote from the introduction of the book sums it all up. “We adore fresh food, what we call “real food,” the fresher the better. We have never considered the many-month-old embalmed remains of last summer’s harvest, whether canned or frozen, to be real food.”
Yikes, that seems radical and somewhat offensive to us canners doesn’t it? But I have to admit that I agree. This is an idea that has popped up in my conversations with Robert over the last year or so. Should we be using our time and resources to can our food or should we be choosing crops that store better in their natural state, potatoes, carrots, squash, parsnips, wheat, etc. Robert has shared examples with me from blogs he follows about those who never can their summer harvest. In fact they avoid growing tomatoes, scandalous I know. It always seemed impossible but now that I have read Four Season harvest I am beginning to think again. Instead of growing 27 tomato plants, yes we did that, use the ground to plant more sweet potatoes and devote some space to the winter garden or cold frames. Don’t worry I could never give up tomatoes and I find they are the most used and rewarding canned vegetable. But I am considering altering how we plant our garden, which foods we grow and how we store them.
Here’s what I am thinking (I always think in bullet points so bear with me, right brainers):
- Summer crops stored in the field – carrots, parsnips, brussel sprouts, plus so many more
- Summer crops stored in the root cellar – potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, onions, wheat, oats, sunflower seeds, plus so many more
- Summer crops canned – tomatoes, pickled this or that, jams galore
- Winter crops eaten fresh – mache, scallions, endive, spinach, baby lettuce, plus so many more
This would be a pretty radical shift from almost all of our summer crops getting canned or pickled and only a small holding of potatoes and sweet potatoes in the root cellar. But oh how freeing this new plan is. Don’t get me wrong I love to can as much as the next sweaty, exhausted gal but I could use a break. Plus I am not all that fond of pressure canning, it scares me. Now all we need is a place to grow the food and we are set. No more dead, embalmed food for us. What do you think?
The garden is looking great these days. Here are a few pics.
OK, now I’m not being completely truthful here. I’ve only taken pictures of the things we’ve done well. The baby bok choi that we planted has all gone to seed. We’ve never grown it before and never eaten it either, just the regular bok choi. We kept waiting for it to grow larger, but before we knew it they were sending up shoots for seed heads and it was too late!
But the broccoli we ate the other night for dinner and it was fantastic. I thought it might be really bitter but it was great. It really likes this cool weather. We should also be able to harvest cauliflower in a few weeks. The heads are growing nicely.
These are a lot of firsts for us so it is nice to be able to do it on such a small scale and find out what we like and don’t like.
A review of a catalog, is this really necessary? Well if you have never seen Johnny’s it is. Everyone has their favorite catalog so here’s mine. I have mentioned these guys in my previous post and I thought I would expand a little on their wonderfulness. The catalog is not just a catalog of seeds but a handbook of the best of the best. In fact an organic CSA farmer we know only has one copy of this catalog, he has his name written on the cover and it is expected that if you borrowed it you will return it in a timely manner.
Here are some of the things I love about it:
- They have description for each plant type that specifies tons of useful information. The pepper section for instance details millions of useful stats to help you achieve success. Here’s the link to their virtual catalog so you can see for yourself. I have considered tossing out all my other gardening books and just carrying around their catalog.
- Detailed descriptions of each plant. Yes, this is pretty standard in all catalogs but still helpful.
- The best of the best. They only include plants varieties that make their cut. Unlike other catalogs that bombard you will choices, they decide for you.
- They highlight “easy choice” plants. This is as if to say “Beginner: you can’t mess this plant up”
- There is a germination guide with an optimal temperature chart. Handy, not that I temp the soil but you never know.
- Large selection of organic. Now you can brag that your carrots are descended from a long line of organic carrots.
- Lots of exciting tools. I’ve got my eye on a soil block making system for a mere $500. I’ll never own it but it’s nice to know it’s there.
- They call if they can’t fill an order. It’s the personal touch that made the soreness of not getting my sweet potato slips a little easier to handle.
- Their website has a seed starting calculator. This isn’t technically in the catalog but oh boy does it look exciting, I can’t want to give it a try.
So go order your own catalog it will take a few weeks to get to you so hurry.
Now to prove to you that my cheapness knows no bounds, I will share with you my latest experiment. While at the hardware store with my husband, painful I know, I starting browsing the seeds. Robert gave me “the eye” because he knows how dangerous I can be at a seed display. I can’t seem to buy just one packet I come home with dozens. Well this time he was pleased. I noticed immediately that the seeds were expired. If you flip your current seed packet over you will notice that it usually expires in either October or November. I asked if they would still be willing to sell them, at a discounted rate of course. They had to get a manager but they accepted my offer. $0.25 a packet!!! Game on. I started grabbing seeds like they were going out of style. Other customers were looking at me like I was crazy. As you know a full price seed packet can be anywhere from $1.50 to $2.95. So this was a deep discount. In total I bought 31 vegetable seed packets and 36 flower seed packets for a total of $16.75!!
Here’s my rationale for buying every packet in sight. If only 50% of the seeds came up I was still getting a really good deal. Realistically I think I can expect 75% germination if not more depending on the type of seed. I have read that most seeds last more than one year, in fact most last 3 to 4 years. And besides how many partial seed packets do you have at home? I know I have some seeds remaining from every packet I bought last year. Which means that even if I have to plant to whole packet it’s no big deal. It would be just my luck that none of the tomatoes would germinate and all of the zucchini. I don’t know if I could handle another bumper crop of zucchini. That was exhausting.
Needless to say I was bitten by the seed bargain bug. I went to all the other hardware stores in town. There was one other store that still displayed their expired seeds and I was able to talk the manager down to $0.38 a packet. Still pretty good and I was able to fill in the holes from what the other store didn’t offer.
I found that the smaller hardware stores were the ones with the expired seeds. The big guys Home Depot and Lowes had already started displaying new inventory. You better believe that next year I am going to go earlier and give it a try. One of my favorite nurserys in town said they donate to the local high school FFA, how sweet. I bought some full price seeds from them just to give my support, plus I couldn’t find broccoli raab or parsnips anywhere else.
I am so excited to see how my seeds do. I will try to keep a tally of how many germinate and give you some results at the end of the season. It’s probably not too late though to run out and snatch up some yourselves.
I am ashamed to admit that I even put some seeds in my mom’s stocking and Robert’s stocking.
I’ll post pictures later when my camera batteries are charged.