Six on Saturday: Blank Slate (& Asphalt)

 

While unable to work at my second most time consuming job, I developed a bit of unused space into a vegetable garden. I would not have done so if I had known how much work it would be, or how much of what seemed to be usable space was just trash, brambles and a shallow bit of soil on top of pavement. Alternatively, I should have had the main unpaved area bulldozed first.

Now that it is halfway through spring, this new vegetable garden is finally started!

1. Four decades of junk mixed with wicked brambles was removed to expose less than four hundred square feet of cruddy slope. Rain draining from the deck eroded a gully in the middle.P00425-1

2. To the right, disfigured juniper should be temporarily obscured by cucumber vines expected to grow from seed sown just above a ditch. Indeterminate tomato vines will be added soon.P00425-2

3. Across the road, more junk, weeds and brambles were removed from between a curb and fence, only to find that the area is paved to the fence! Pole beans will be pleased with the fence.P00425-3

4. Posts supporting the deck had too much potential to ignore. Dragon fruit plants can climb them to the top and cascade downward. The posts are pressure treated, so will be painted first.P00425-4

5. ‘Kadota’ fig can grow as a hedge where the outer surface gets sunlight under the downhill edge of the deck. The area behind it is too shaded to be useful. The area in front is for vegetables.P00425-5

6. There are plenty of radish greens growing wild outside of the garden; but a few radish roots would be nice too. These are developing splendidly, and should be ready before anything else.P00425-6

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

When It Rains, It Pours

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Mudslide!

The only reason we developed a small vegetable garden here this year is that we have been unable to go to work for about a month. Without my second most time consuming employment, I had time to clear a small unused space (which was not nearly as simple as that sounds) and sow seed for vegetables. It was a late start a month ago, but not too late.

In fact, there was still time to do it before the last storm to go through. I know that sounds trivial, but as a Californian who is accustomed to gardening in a chaparral climate, and sometimes where there is no water available, planting prior to a storm ‘seems’ to be rather important. I know it is not. Water is available here. Otherwise, I would not grow vegetables.

Not only was there a storm, but there was a second storm later! Of course, it is not really that simple. The first light duty storm was nice, and soaked things sufficiently. Then the weather stayed strangely cool for this time of year. Nothing germinated. Then the second storm was brief but torrential enough to erode all of the recently sown seed right out of the new garden!

It was too comical for me to be too annoyed by it. I only needed to see what survived the erosion so that I could replace what did not. I almost replaced everything anyway, just because I was that certain that nothing survived.

Well, as it turned out, not much was missing! The garden got a slow start, and was delayed again by cool weather, but somehow seems to be recovering nicely. Even some of the very old seed that I did not expect to be viable has germinated.

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A late batch of radish somehow survived.

Now, I must go work in the garden.

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Late but ready to go.

Poppy And Periwinkle

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Even though I know they are slightly purplish, periwinkle look blue to me.

Clearing space for a new small vegetable garden is more work than it will be worth. It took more than a day to remove the thicket of bramble from a triangular area that is only about forty feet from front to back, and not much more than twenty feet wide. After so many years of getting trash dumped on top of them, the brambles were unusually prolific with gnarly root burls.

There is still significant work to do. I still need to condition the soil and groom the adjacent junipers before sowing seed for the warm season vegetables for this summer. Now that I can see that the junipers that were formerly concealed by brambles are worthy of salvage and grooming, I will need to clear a bit more garden space across the road, and cut back a few trees above.

When finished and producing, the garden will not produce enough. The four hundred or so square feet in the main part of the garden should supply enough for two people; but realistically, it would more likely produce enough for me alone, with a bit extra to can for when it is not producing much. There are about a dozen on our crew. They all have families. I need a quarter acre!

The math of it all is frustrating. So is all the work to get it started. It all seems so futile. I know we will appreciate the little bit that we get. I will still get plenty from the weeds that grow wild around the baseball field, so will not take much from the garden.

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As simple as they are, poppies are still my favorite native wildflower.

For now, I try to visualize what the small vegetable garden will look like in production this summer, even if all that I see blooming are the poppies and periwinkle on the outskirts.

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My illustrations are more technical than artistic. It looks like someone else took this one. Ignore the pickup in the background.

Six on Saturday: New Vegetable Garden

 

There is more time for a late start on a new vegetable garden now. I had planed to take this and next week off from most of my work, to tend to other neglected obligations. However, under the circumstances, I am still unable to tend to many of those obligations! Well, the crew wants a new vegetable garden.

1. Before, the area was overwhelmed with a dense thicket of Himalayan blackberry brambles, that had grown up into the joists of the deck above, and over the adjacent junipers to the right.P00321-1

2. After, it is not much better. This initial phase took me half a day!! I intended to remove most or all of the junipers, but as they become exposed, it is evident that they are worth salvaging.P00321-2

3. I already know I will be sowing seed for the warm season vegetables a bit late; but this wild cucumber feels compelled to remind me. It is already past the top of this seven foot high fence.P00321-3

4. This is just some of the debris that I removed. For comparison, the animal to the lower left is a buffalo. Okay, it is really just Rhody. The dumpster is as high as the cargo container though.P00321-4

5. Okay, so that was a bit of an exaggeration. The pile really is this big, but only the small portion outlined in yellow to the upper right is from the new garden, and is only about two feet high.P00321-5

6. While up on the bridge over the debris pile, I got this picture of most of the work trucks that are not at work where they belong. Everyone else writes about it; but I have not mentioned it.P00321-6

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Onion

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Onions are weirdly bulbous foliar vegetables.

Although it is the most cultivated species of its genus, no one knows the origins of domestic onion, Allium cepa. Leek, shallot, garlic, chive, and a few other species are also popular vegetables. Most common bulbing onions produce familiar distended bulbs that are ready for harvest after defoliating and initiating dormancy in autumn. Green onions are leaves and attached juvenile bulbs.

Onions are probably easiest to grow locally from small juvenile onions known as ‘sets’, that grew from seed during the previous summer. Alternatively, seed sown during summer grows into small plants that go dormant to overwinter, and then resume growth the following spring. Mature onions should go completely dormant in autumn before storage, but are usable directly from the garden.

Yellow or brown onions are the most popular for cooking. Red or purple onions are milder and more colorful for fresh use, and are also popular for stir fry. White onions, whether fresh or cooked, are even milder, and are the traditional onions for salsa. All onions produce distinctively bluish foliage that stands about a foot high. The hollow leaves flop over and shrivel for dormancy in autumn.

Cool Vegetable Gardening Goes Warm

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Warm season vegetables enjoy warming weather.

The weather agrees with the calendar this year. It is time to start replacing remaining cool season vegetable plants with fresh warm season vegetable plants. In fact, according to how the weather has been through February, the process could have begun quite some time ago. Frost, which is the limiting factor for warm season vegetables, is very unlikely this late, even if wintry rain resumes.

The past month of springy weather makes it easier to replace aging cool season vegetable plants with those that are now in season. Cool season vegetable plants obviously perform best through the cool weather of autumn and winter. They perform into spring where winters are cooler. Unseasonable warmth here accelerated their maturation. They deteriorate if not harvested soon enough.

Most of the the cool season vegetable plants produce vegetables that truly are vegetative. Most individual plants produce only once. For example, one cabbage plant produces only one cabbage. Conversely, most warm season vegetable plants actually produce fruit. Some produce many fruits through their season. Even some warm season vegetative leafy greens can produce repeatedly.

Tomato, pepper, eggplant pole beans and the various summer squash can get planted early to produce until they succumb to frost at the end of the season. Cucumber and pea do not produce for such an extensive season, so might be grown only in spring or the end of summer. Corn and root vegetables produce only once, so their seed get sown in multiple phases to prolong their season.

Corn, root vegetables and most greens grow best from seed sown directly into a garden. There is no need to start them inside here. Confinement can disfigure root vegetables anyway. Because so many individual plants are grown, it is impractical to purchase seedlings.

However, purchasing a few seedlings of tomato, pepper, zucchini and most other warm season vegetable plants is not as impractical. If only a few are desired, they are not much more expensive than seed. They are conducive to transplant, and will continue to produce through the season.

Squash For Autumn And Winter

91030thumbWinter squash are not exactly the sort of cool season vegetables that their designation implies. They grow through the summer just like summer squash do. Both winter and summer squash are warm season vegetables that get planted early in spring. The difference is that summer squash get harvested regularly through summer, and winter squash get harvested only once after summer.

Zucchini, crookneck, pattypan and other summer squash are very productive as long as the weather is warm, and their fruit gets harvested. Fruit that stays too long and continues to mature gets big and tough, and consumes resources that would otherwise be diverted to newly developing fruit. Therefore, regular harvesting of the more desirable juvenile fruit actually promotes production.

Pumpkin, acorn, butternut and other winter squash grow all summer, but each plant should be allowed to produce only a few fruits each. Some pumpkin vines produce only one fruit each. Once the desired number of fruits are developing, fruits that start to develop later should be culled to concentrate resources into the primary fruits. These fruits mature all summer to get harvested after frost.

So, by the time that summer squash stops producing, winter squash is about ready for harvest. Where autumn weather is cooler, the tender foliage shrivels after frost, exposing the richly colored but formerly obscured ripe fruit. Winter squash is supposedly best if slightly frosted prior to harvest, which might take a bit longer here. After harvest, they should be left to cure for two weeks or so.

Winter squash vines are more rampant and somewhat shabbier than those of summer squash. Those that produce smaller fruit might be able to climb trellises or onto firewood piles that are not in use through summer anyway. Female flowers tend to shrivel sooner than male flowers, but all flowers that are big and turgid enough to bother with are edible. Bloom continues through summer.

If properly stored, even without canning or freezing, intact winter squash can last for months, until summer squash start producing the following season.

Carrot

91002Bugs Bunny was an expert. He was always chewing on a carrot, Daucus carota, and rudely talking with his mouth full. Because carrots can be stored in refrigeration for a few months, Bugs Bunny could get one whenever he wanted to. However, in home gardens, they are cool season vegetables that are grown through spring and autumn, but not through summer or the middle part of winter.

Carrots are biennial. They complete their life cycle in two seasons. They are vegetative during their first season, as they produce their edible and elongated conical taproot. If not harvested, they bloom and go to seed in their second season. By then, their fat roots are tough and useless. Carrots are ready for harvest in three to four months after their seed are sown, depending on variety.

Carrots are famously bright orange. Yellow, white, red, purple and black varieties have been gaining popularity in the past many years. The longest carrots might be a foot and a half long, but most are less than half as long. Many are only about four inches long, or less. They may be as narrow as half an inch, or wider than two inches! Some carrots are more uniformly cylindrical than conical.

Get Cool Season Vegetables Going

91002thumbThe difficult part will be removing the aging warm season vegetable plants while they are still trying to produce. That is one of the disadvantages of gardening in such an excellently mild climate. It would be easier if frost or cooling weather caused them to start deteriorating by now. Perhaps some are already getting tired. Regardless, their space is needed for new cool season vegetables.

Some of us like to amend the soil in between some of the lingering warm season vegetable plants, and add seedlings of cool season vegetable plants. Then, there is less of a rush to remove the warm season vegetables as they succumb to autumn weather. Some of us just wait for the warm season vegetables to finish, which is a delaying compromise for the new cool season vegetables.

Whatever the preferred technique is, it is now getting to be time to plug in seedlings of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. Kale seedlings may be added as much as a month later. Seedlings can be purchased from nurseries. Those of us who want particular varieties that are unavailable in nurseries might have sown preferred seed in flats a month or so ago, to be ready for planting now.

Beets, carrots and turnips, like all root vegetables, should be grown from seed sown directly into the garden. Roots get disfigured if grown in flats or cell packs, and then transplanted. Besides, so many individual plants are needed, that such quantities of cell packs would be expensive. Seed for turnip greens, although not grown for their roots, likewise gets sown out directly, and about now.

Seed for leafy lettuces, spinach and peas should have been sown already, but it is not too late. Kale can alternatively be grown from seed sown directly now, rather than from seedlings plugged in later. If preferred, larger heading lettuces can be grown from seedlings plugged within the next month or so. Cucumbers can be risky. If seed has not yet been sown, seedlings can still be plugged.

Whether grown from seedlings or seed, this is only the first phase of cool season vegetables. For some, later phases will prolong harvest.

Vegetables Get Harvested At Their Prime

90327’Zucchini’ is Italian for ‘little squash.’ They certainly can grow to become big squash, but by then, they do not taste so good. They are best before they get to about six inches long. As they mature, they get bitter and tough, and the seedy pulp within develop an unappealing texture. Maturing zucchini also waste resources that would otherwise go to the development of more younger zucchini.

Other summer squash, as well as cucumbers, should likewise be harvested while young and tender, not only because the juvenile fruits are best, but also because the plants are more productive if regularly deprived of developing fruit. Patty pan squash should be only about three inches wide. Except for lemon cucumbers, most cucumbers should be uniformly deep green, before yellowing.

Green beans, even if they are purple or yellow or some other unnaturally weird color, should be harvested while still lean and smooth, before they get lumpy from the developing seeds within. Lumpy beans, although preferred for some types of cuisine, are a bit starchier, and a bit firmer. Just like squash and cucumber, bean vines are more productive if the fruits are harvested regularly.

Shelling beans that remain on the vines until they mature completely are of course completely different. They should probably be harvested faster than birds and rodents take them, but need not be rushed otherwise. The same applies to black-eyed peas, sunflower seeds and popcorn, or any other dried corn. However, these sorts of vegetables are uncommon in local vegetable gardens.

Fresh corn is ready when the formerly light green silk protruding from the end of each ear is brownish tan. By the time the silk dries out, or the husks start to yellow, the corn within will be starchy. Blunt ears are better developed than more tapered ears. Because it wants so much water, fertilizer and space, corn should not be as popular as it is; but some of us like it fresh from the garden.

Although, it last a good while, corn really should be eaten as soon as possible after harvest. Flavor and texture start to deteriorate as soon as the ears are separated from the stalks. Likewise, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are best straight from the garden as soon as they ripen and get to their best color. Refrigeration slows decay, but accelerates deterioration of flavor and texture.60824+