As I observe more and more of the subtle hints of seasonal change, I’m starting to find dates on the calendar where changes become permanent transition points. Halloween has become my new marker on the calendar for the absolute end to warm season crops, and the transition point to the cool season.
I’ve made a conscious effort to extend my growing season by incorporating new plants which can tolerate cool and downright cold weather. The most cold hardy plant I’ve got in my arsenal thus far is Swiss Chard. These colorful leaves are willing to grow straight through our harsh winter months if given a simple plastic cover to keep the snow from burying the leaves.
I was surprised to see some lettuce also growing through the snow. The lettuce above is from my sister’s garden, as my lettuce is not very photogenic due to a recent pass through the garden with the finish mower. Even thought the tops of the plants were chopped off, the base began to grow new leaves pretty quickly.
I wasn’t sure how long this collection of greens would last, so I decided to pick a good deal of the lettuce, chard and endive and enjoy a cool season salad before these greens turn to brown.
While I was looking around, I noticed that one of the cauliflower plants had grown a very large white head, so I made an attempt to pick it. I tried using scissors without much luck, then I moved onto some hand pruning sheers, also without luck. I finally decided to pull the whole plant out of the ground, and found that a hammer was needed to break the stalk. I then cut off all of the leaves, and brought it indoors.
Cauliflower has never been my favorite vegetable, but I decided that since I grew it, I might as well give it a try. The process of cooking it was very easy. Start by cutting the large head into many smaller pieces, then place them into a microwave safe bowl, with water nearly covering them. The total cooking time is around 15 minutes, but they will need to be stirred every few minutes in order to cook evenly. When they were done, this single plant provided a cheese covered snack for about 10 people. I actually liked it !
Later that same day the kids decided it was time to carve their pumpkins. I should note these were not grown in my garden, as I decided not to plant them this year.
Maybe next year I’ll plant a few pumpkins from the seeds I gathered while carving. Either way, I know I will see a few, as the pumpkin guts harvested while cutting found their way to the compost pile.
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The warm season is almost over, and I decided to mow down all of the nearly lifeless plants that remained. I used the 8N tractor and the finish mower to chop up all of the remaining plants so that they will begin rotting back into soil sooner. If I hadn’t chopped up the stalks, they would not begin rotting until the plant matter met up with the soil in the spring, so I’m really giving the worms, and everything else that feeds on this matter a jump start on the spring. If the garden was flat I would have it rototilled in the fall, but the slope is steep enough that I worry the soil will wash away.
When I was finished, I found it hard to believe that dozens of pounds of tomatoes, potatoes, and arm fulls of celery had grown in this space. If not for the black weed blocker that remains spread out along the ground, it would be easy to believe this was simply the back yard that I was mowing. I’m now left with a more traditionally sized garden which contains the winter crops I’ve begun to experiment with. I have an approximately 20 by 20 foot space very close to my house where Chard, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and Garlic are growing.
I decided not to mow over the pepper plants because they still looked very healthy, and continued to grow new peppers. It takes these plants a long time to get started producing peppers, but once they grow to full size, the plants sets peppers fairly quickly. I figured that if we didn’t get a frost for a few more weeks, I could potentially get several extra shopping bags full of peppers in that short amount of time.
The weatherman called for frost and I wanted to learn all I could while I had the opportunity. I’ve rarely tried to extend the growing season in the fall, so I thought I would find out just how effective covering plants to protect them from frost would be. We already have plenty of frozen peppers to last many months, so I’m doing this more for the sake of knowing if it will work, rather then trying to grow extra peppers. I only covered one section of plants, and I left the others as they were.
I found out the next morning that a simple sheet will protect the plants. You can see just how bad the unprotected plants were harmed by the frost. The protected plants have upright leaves, whereas the unprotected plants look terrible with dropping leaves.
Now, I’ll keep an eye on the protected pepper production, and see if it’s worth the effort in the future.
The Yukon Gold potatoes have been turning brown, which was my cue to dig up a few plants and see what would be found. Once I got digging, I became more and more focused on pulling up as many as possible, to see just how many had grown.
I separated the potatoes into two areas, one with uncut seed spuds, and the other with potatoes cut into approximately one inch slices. I wanted to determine how much of an impact slicing the spuds would have on the yields they would deliver. While this was not a scientific method, as I didn’t count the number of spuds planted in each row, I did find out that the results were comparable.
I’ve found that if I invest one seed potato into the ground, I’ll get about 3 to 5 large potatoes or up to 10 smaller potatoes in return. If I had to guess a percentage of return, I’d say it’s over a 3X return on the original investment – Just try and pick stocks with those kind of results !
When the rain threatened to wash off my potatoes, I decided to move them inside. Potatoes that are washed after being dug up will rot, whereas unwashed spuds will last well into the next spring. When I saw the rain clouds threatening, I piled all of the drying spuds into this laundry basket and lugged them into the house. I was quite happy to being trudging along with so many pounds of weight, and I still have three whole rows of potatoes to dig up (7 rows planted).
If last year was an indication, these spuds should last well beyond February. Now, I need to find a way to store the apples that are beginning to ripen.
I’ve been trying to expand my gardening skills to include cooler weather crops, or in other words the items that I didn’t like to eat as a child. I’ve had to adjust my thinking about the growing season to get the plants going, but I think I’m on the right track. I planted my broccoli weeks before the garden was roto-tilled, using a pick axe to turn over and smash up the soil. The plants were tiny then, and after a few visits from some ravenous critters, I wasn’t sure if they would make it, but here they are, growing quite well.
I’ve found a few peas that are ready to be tossed in salad even though they were planted late. I’ve also found that the squash plants that have invaded my strawberry patch are quite good, although they don’t seem to taste like zucchini. They carry a nutty flavor, and light colored stripes. I’m going to assume they are a cross over mix of many of the squashes I grew last year. Either way these plants must have gotten a very good jump on the season, as the rest of my zucchini plants are shorter then the veggie shown.
I’m not the only gardener thinking about the late season possibilities. Over the Fourth of July weekend, while visiting the whole family and enjoying my birthday cake, my Mother and I began conspiring to plant cooler weather crops, and so we planted seeds for broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts and cauliflower. I hope to add cool season kohlrabi to the mix if I can locate seeds soon. We decided to leave the seedlings on the steps to allow them to grow up in full sun.
The peppers and tomatoes seem to be right on track now, after some heavy watering with my new water cannon. The peppers shown still need some help from the compost pile, but in due time they will be growing like the bean in the fabled jack in the bean stock story.
The honey berries that I planted in the field are doing really well. They have begun their vertical reach, and are nearly 8 inches tall. I wasn’t sure how well they would do in my neck of the woods, but daily trips out to the edge of my yard with a gallon of water have paid off very well.
I’ve finally taken the plunge and moved out my tiny goji berry plants. I’ve added a layer of safety just to be sure the sun would not cook them while they were taking root. I placed a green mesh over the plants to block out about half of the sun’s day time rays. I was mainly trying to block the hot rays the sun beams down during the middle of the day, as they seem to be the most damaging. I moved one of the plants out to the field last week using the same setup, and recently added the second. The shade will be in place for about a week just to be sure the plant gets a good grip on it’s new soil.
I’m still waiting for my paw-paw tree, which won’t be shipped until September or October. I find the timing of shipping to be odd, as most plants arrive in spring, but when it comes to paw-paw trees, I’m the still the amateur.
I finally got some Pak Choi to grow, and I’ve very excited to try it out. This Asian crop can be planted either in early spring or in the summer for a fall crop. Since I was quite busy with all the other spring work, I missed the early growth cycle, but I’m happy to see any seedlings at all. I’ve tried to plant this crop directly into the garden as seeds two years in a row, with no luck, so I thought I would try to get it started in some cups then transplant it once they got going.
I was not expecting the seeds to germinate, nor grow, so I placed about ten seeds in each cup. I’ll select the strongest plants when they get older, and transplant them into the garden. I’m planning to start some more seeds as I have a whole additional packet left. When I sow these seeds, I’ll try not to place more then three per cup, so I’m may just have a pile of Pak Choi on my hands in the fall.
I’m using rolls of weed blocking fabric to ease the work load, and also to speed the growth of these plants. The black color of the fabric tends to warm the soil, which in turn makes the plants grow faster. It also prevents the weeds from stealing vital nutrients from the soil. I started the planting with Amish Paste, then Cherokee Purple, Brandy-Wine, and eventually San Marzano Tomatoes. I kept at it till 9:30 at night, finishing with some rows of lettuce in the area behind me. I finally made my way to the TV by 10:30 after watering the rest of the plants in the greenhouse, the herbs in my rock garden, and washing off the layer of mud my skin had accumulated. When I got to the TV there was nothing good on anyway, I should have put in another hour of planting !
This year, I’ve started about a week later then past years, and so I’m trying to be maticulous in tracking my plants growth. I’m curious to see just how important the planting times are.
Above you can see my jungle of tomato plants which cover the center table in my greenhouse. With all of the rain, I’ve used some of the time I would normally spend mowing grass to arrange the plants by category. I have even separated the Roma type tomatoes from the slicing tomatoes….. I’m such a dork = )
It’s amazing to see the many different leaf patterns on tomatoes. Some of them have thin leaves, while others have very broad leaves like the San Marzano plants above, which are similar to Roma tomatoes.You can see some of the plants which were started fairly late in the background, they’re only inches tall.
Here are some of my shortest plants. Peppers and Eggplants seem to be very slow starters.
This is my first year for eggplants, and I’ve never tried one before, so it may be the last. In the very front of the photo my celery plants barely grow. I see now why they are started 11 weeks before being moved out of the greenhouse. I bet it would be safe to start them in February next year.
At planting time last year my tomatoes topped out at 16 inches tall. With about 2 weeks left in the greenhouse, they have about 7 inches to make up this year. The rain may have played a part in their shortness, but I think the extra week may have played a integral role last year. I’m really hoping the rain will slow down, the clouds will part, and these plants can get some sun. If you really break the whole process down, gardening is converting sunlight and chemicals into food. Without the sunlight, the chemical reactions needed cannot happen, and plants grow slow. This is why oil is so valuable…. It’s basically stored sunshine from only two periods in time millions of years ago.
My peppers are a little behind too, but I’m sure once they get some sun and side dressing, they will be popping out peppers. These are the one garden crop which I didn’t grow enough of last year, with about 60 plants. This year I planted about 200 seeds, and I’ve gotten around 110 plants. Once I counted the plants and realized my low germination problem, I planted about 100 more, in the small plastic planting cells. Most of the crops I grow leave plenty for everyone including storage in freezers for the winter. I’m hoping to get overwhelmed with peppers this year, like all of the other things I grow. It’s nice to grow enough that your happy to give a lot away.