Gardening Up A Wall

These succulent tapestries exemplify artistic vertical gardening.

Like so many fads often do, the vertical gardening fad has become trendier than it really should be. It certainly has practical applications, and is very appealing in the right situations. However, in the wrong situations, it can be more problematic than it is worth.

Vertical gardens can shade and insulate exposed walls, but really do little more than strategically placed shade trees, large shrubbery or even trellised vines can do in that regard. The disadvantage of vertical gardening is that it can hold moisture against the affected walls, and can promote rot if the planters are not installed properly. Planters over windows or decks drip just like any other planters do, staining or dirtying whatever is below. Only free standing vertical gardens (that are not attached to a wall) or those on concrete walls that are not susceptible to rot will not cause such problems.

Water borne pathogens (diseases that disperse in water) can proliferate more in vertical gardens because they get carried with the natural flow of water from top to bottom. Wherever any such disease gets established on a vertical garden, it will likely get carried to everything below. In the ground, such diseases spread slower since they only travel as far as water flows or gets splashed.

The obvious advantage to vertical gardening is that it makes it possible to grow many more plants in very limited space, which is excellent if there is no open ground for vegetable gardening. It can also be a great way to display plants like orchids and certain bromeliads that are more appealing if they hang from above. Staghorn ferns cling to walls naturally.

Another advantage is that vertical gardening can be so aesthetically appealing and unique. Vertical gardens of small, densely foliated succulents hung like tapestries to adorn exterior walls are so much more interesting than simple vines or shrubbery used to obscure such walls. Northern exposures that are too dark for most plants can be adorned with ferns.

Vegetable gardening is still cool.

If leafy lettuces are running out, there is still a bit of time to sow some more seed before spring.

Last autumn, it was unpleasant to remove warm season vegetable plants to relinquish space for cool season vegetables, particularly since some still seemed to be productive. Now the cool weather that the cool season vegetables crave will soon be getting warmer. It is still too early for warm season vegetables, but it is time to get ready for them.

If space allows, seed for a quick last phase of certain fast growing cool season vegetables can be sown. Radishes, carrots and beets still have time to mature before the weather gets too warm, although the beets will be the small tender sort. There probably is not enough time to grow big beets for canning. Leafy lettuces can still be sown to replace what might be running out early. Large vegetable plants like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage grow too slowly to mature before spring weather gets too warm, so will need to wait until next autumn.

Peas are odd vegetables that like to grow in autumn and spring, in between warm and cool (or cool and warm) season vegetables. The first phase of peas can be sown now, and followed by subsequent phases every two weeks or so until the weather gets too warm for them.

Even though it will soon be getting too warm for cool season vegetables, it is not yet warm enough to sow seed for warm season vegetables directly into the garden. Fast growing vegetable plants that get sown directly, such as beans, corn and most squash, will need to wait until the weather is warm enough for them to grow efficiently, and the cool season vegetables finish and get out of their way. However, seed for vegetable plants that can get planted as seedlings, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, can be sown into flats or cell packs in greenhouses or cold frames.

Tomato, pepper and eggplant seed sown directly into the garden when the weather gets warmer will be more likely to get eaten by snails or succumb to rot as they germinate than seedlings that got an early start in a greenhouse or cold frame (although snails and rot are not problems in every garden). For those who do not want to start growing seedlings at home now, seedlings will certainly be available in nurseries when it is time to put them out into the garden. However, the advantage to growing them at home is that there are many more varieties of seed available from catalogs and online than any nursery could stock with seedlings.

Vegetables Can Grow All Year

Cucumbers fill in between warm and season vegetables and cool season vegetables, so will finish prior to frost.

Tropical plants are clueless. They do not understand that autumn is just prior to winter, when the weather may get uncomfortably cool. Philodendron selloum continues to develop fresh new leaves that mature slowly in cool autumn weather, and may consequently lack resiliency to frost in winter. Vegetable plants and flowering annuals are not so ignorant, which is why so many that were productive through summer are nearly finished, and some are ready to relinquish their space to cool season counterparts.

Like the many warm season vegetables, most of the cool season vegetables should be grown from seed sown directly into the garden. Only those that produce efficiently from fewer but substantial plants, like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprout and some of the heading lettuces, can be grown practically from seedlings purchased in cell packs. Because individual plants produce only once, more can be added to the garden in phases every two to four weeks through the season to prolong production.

Chard, kale and collard greens can likewise be grown from cell pack seedlings if only a few plants to harvest as intact heads or large leaf greens are desired. However, a package of seed costs about as much as a single cell pack of only six seedlings, but contains enough seed for many more mature heads, as well as for abundant production of ‘baby’ greens plucked from many juvenile plants through the entire season. Those to be harvested as heads should be planted in phases with enough space to mature. Those that will get plucked through the season can be sown or planted once early in the season, and perhaps followed by a second phase if productions starts to diminish.

Root vegetables, such as beet, carrot, turnip and radish, really do not recover well from transplanting from cell packs. Individual cells are sometimes crowded with too many seedlings that must push away from each other as they mature. Otherwise, if not crowded, each cell contains only a few seedlings that are not nearly as practical as simply sown seed would be.

Although each individual root vegetable plant produces only once, they all mature at different rates, so most types can be sown in only one or two phases instead of several phases every two to four weeks. If the biggest get pulled first, the smaller ones continue to mature. They are less perishable than other vegetables, so any abundance is not likely to be wasted.

There are three practical ways to grow onions. They are most popularly grown from seed or from ‘baby’ onions known as onion sets. The third and sneakier way to grow them is from separated cell pack seedlings. Cell packs typically contain too many onion seedlings that would develop into crowded clumps anyway. There are often as many seedlings as could be grown from a package of seed!

Peas get sown as seed early in autumn to grow and produce before winter gets too cold. Another phase can be sown as winter ends for spring production.

Late Summer Merges Closer To Autumn

Late summer flowers are still blooming.

It always seems that by the time the garden gets as productive as it can, it is already time to get ready for the next season. Pretty soon, cool season annuals will be arriving in nurseries to replace warm season annuals that had been so colorful all summer. If seeds are to be collected from summer flowers for next year, this would be a good time to do it.

Seed for certain cool season vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale, can be sown in flats or cell packs now to have seedlings ready to put out into the garden as warm season vegetables finish in autumn. If there is space available in the garden, turnips, turnip greens and beets can be sown directly. Carrots should probably wait a few weeks or so to get sown directly.

Although corn of a single variety sown in a single phase tends to ripen at the same time, different varieties planted in different phases can extend the season significantly. Those that continue to produce until autumn are greedy for nutrients and water. Squash and tomatoes likewise appreciate a bit of fertilizer and regular watering, even as the weather starts to fluctuate this late in summer. However, fertilizer does not need to be applied in the last month of expected production.

Zucchini should be harvested when they get about six inches long, not only because they are best when immature, but also because the plants are more productive if regularly deprived of their fruit. If plants have the choice, they prefer to concentrate resources into fewer large fruit instead of more small fruit. The problem is that the larger fruit is tough and lacks flavor.

Hubbard, butternut, acorn and other winter squash get the opposite treatment. Each vine should produce only a few fruits. Those that produce smaller fruits can sustain more than those that produce larger fruits. Yet, excessive fruit exhausts resources, which compromises fruit quality. The fruit that will continue to grow and ripen through autumn should already be somewhat developed. The smallest of excessive fruit, or underdeveloped fruit should be removed.

Garden Rotation Shares The Goodies

Beans produce better in new territory.

Certain parts of the vegetable garden are ideal for certain types of vegetables. Wire fences are perfect for pole beans to climb. Corn belongs at the northern edge where it will not shade lower plants. Vegetable gardening would be simpler if it were like permanent landscaping. Instead, vegetable plants are seasonal and very consumptive. They prefer fresh resources. Garden rotation gives them more of what they crave.

Garden rotation, or crop rotation, is growing vegetables where they have not grown recently. For the most efficiently planned gardens, it happens seasonally. Alternatively, some types of vegetables might be happy to grow repeatedly in the same soil for a few years. Some vegetable plants are more consumptive than others. Some soils are more susceptible to nutrient depletion than others. A few variables are involved.

Furthermore, the various vegetable plants deplete distinct sets of nutrients. Conversely, they allow other nutrients to replenish. That is why garden rotation is so effective. For example, if beans grow in the same location for too long, they deplete their favorite nutrients. The nutrients that they use less of secretly replenish. Tomatoes or corn might appreciate the replenishment, without craving so much of what is deficient.

Eventually, vegetable plants can return to a location where they grew a few years earlier. Again, a few variables are involved. Some might return after an absence of only a single year. Consumptive plants, such as tomatoes and beans, should avoid a previously used location for three or more years. So should related vegetables. Peppers and eggplants are related to tomatoes, so should avoid the same used locations.

Garden rotation can also inhibit proliferation of some soil borne pathogens. In other regions, this is a more serious concern. Soil borne pathogens that infest mildly during their first year might flourish with the same host material during a second year. Garden rotation deprives them of that.

Lettuce

Lettuce grows through cool spring weather.

On the coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco, lettuce, Lactuca sativa, seems to grow throughout the year. None of it actually grows in every season. Some varieties merely produce late enough for varieties that produce earliest to replace them. Slightly farther inland, lettuce is really only a cool season vegetable of early spring and autumn. The last new plants should finish by May.

There are many varieties of lettuce. Some are more tolerant of warmth than others. They perform well both late in their early season, and early in their late season. Others are more tolerant of cool weather. They can start early in their early season, and continue late in their late season. No variety produces through the coldest part of winter. Warmth initiates bolting (bloom), which ruins flavor.

The three types of lettuce that are most popular here are leaf, head and romaine. Leaf lettuce is the most variable. It can be blotched, bronzed or reddish, with variably ruffly texture. Some types of leaf lettuce mature in about a month. Some of the more substantial varieties of head and romaine lettuce start early, and can take nearly four months to mature. They can get to a foot wide and tall.

This Is No Food Blog

Well, since writing this three years ago, and mentioning that I would not likely grow this squash again, . . . I grew it again. It is in the garden right now.

Tony Tomeo

P71129There are not many things that will grow in my zone that I will not at least try to grow if I have the space and resources to do so. I really like to grow fruits and vegetables, particularly those that I am familiar with from when I was young. They are just as productive now as they were then. The only problem is that I do not know how to cook. I can freeze, can or pickle large quantities of produce, but cooking is something that I leave to experts.

I notice that almost all garden columns or blogs include recipes for the produce grown in home gardens. Mine does not. Except for a few recipes for pickles, jams and jellies, I just do not have any recipes that I would share.

When I get big winter squash, I really do not know what to do with them. I…

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Pumpkins Exemplify Ripening Winter Squash

Winter squash are replacing summer squash.

Zucchini is probably the most reliable of warm season vegetable through summer, even when tomatoes are having a bad year. A single zucchini plant produces enough for a household. Two plants produce enough to share with neighbors. Pattypan, crookneck and other varieties of summer squash may not be quite as reliably productive individually, but can be assembled as a delightfully variable team that produces early in summer, and is just now finishing.

The fruit of summer squash is best when immature and tender. It gets tougher and loses flavor as it matures. Because development of seed within maturing fruit exhausts resources, plants are actually more productive if the fruit gets harvested while immature. In other words, they can either make many small fruits, or a few large fruits. The plants have coarse foliage on big but relatively confined annual plants.

Winter squash is very closely related to summer squash. The shabby annual vines sprawl over much larger areas, and can even climb fences and shrubbery. The main difference though, is that each plant produces only a single fruit or only a few individual fruits that are allowed to mature completely through summer. Their ripening fruit is just now becoming available as summer squash are running out. The fruit is supposed to be best after frost has killed the foliage, which could take a while here.

Hubbard, acorn, turban, spaghetti, kabocha and butternut squash, as well as the many varieties of pumpkin, are the more popular types of winter squash. Unlike summer squash, winter squash can be stored for quite a while, and need to be cooked to be eaten. While winter squash do not produce as many fruiting female flowers as summer squash produce, they seem to make at least as many male flowers that can be harvested while still fresh.

Male flowers can be stuffed, battered and fried, or simply fried. After they have been pollinated and set fruit, female flowers are typically too wilted to be eaten. All squash produce more male flowers than female flowers. Even the most fruitful of summer squash produce about three times as many male flowers as female flowers.

It Will Soon Be Autumn

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Cool season vegetables replace summer vegetables.

From the time they get planted in early spring, tomato plants are expected to perform a bit better than they did earlier in the season. They start out with only a few early tomatoes, but quickly become prolific. Production continues to increase as the plants grow all through summer . . . until now. Newer leaves on top are not staying so far ahead of fading leaves below.

While the weather is still warm, it is difficult to say how tomato plants know that autumn will soon replace summer. They do not seem to be intelligent enough to realize that every day is imperceptibly shorter than the one before. Nor do they seem to be sensitive enough to notice if the nights get slightly cooler. They just know, and they tell all their friends.

If zucchini plants have not started to fade and sag, they will soon. As weather cools, they no longer grow faster than the mildew that they tolerated all summer. Any fruits that are present now should have time to finish developing, but there probably will not be many more after that. (Zucchini fruits are eaten before mature anyway.) Other warm season vegetables are in a similar state.

Acorn, Hubbard, butternut and other winter squash grow through summer just like summer squash do, but are not harvested until the vines wither in autumn and winter. Unlike summer squash that continue to produce many tender juvenile fruit to replace what gets harvested through summer, winter squash plants put all their effort into one or two large ripe fruit.

Warm season vegetable plants still need to be watered as the foliage slowly deteriorates. They only begin to need less water as they lose foliage and the weather gets cooler. They may like to be fertilized one last time, but will not not need it again. Any last phases of corn will stay thirsty later than other vegetable plants because they deteriorate slower, and are rather thirsty anyway.

Seed for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and certain other cool season vegetables can be sown in flats or cell packs now so that their seedlings are ready to go when the warm season vegetables relinquish their space in the garden. If space allows, seed for beet, turnip and turnip greens can be sown directly into the garden. Carrot seed should still wait for cooler weather.

Jellin’ Like A Melon

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This is one way to make the fruits of summer last.

Jelly and jam made from garden grown fruit affords more prestigious bragging rights than merely growing the fruit. Using unusual or disregarded fruit makes it even more interesting. It is not too much work, but involves a different kind of creativity. So many of us who are proficient in the garden are not so proficient in the kitchen.

Apricot, peach, plum, grape, blackberry and raspberry are the most familiar choices for jelly and jam. Nectarine can substitute for peach. Prune works like plum. Strawberry is rare only because not many gardens produce enough for a batch of jam. Sweet cherry is not as tasty as tart types, but is sometimes made into jam because it is relatively common.

Apple and pear are not often made into jelly because they have such mild flavor. However, they are sometimes mixed with other fruit to blend flavors, and because they can provide pectin. Quince has a richer flavor, and makes a traditional jam known as membrillo. Crabapple likewise makes a classic jelly. Apple can be made into apple butter.

Pectin is what puts the jell in jelly. Many fruits are naturally equipped with it. Apricot, peach and cane berries do not have enough. Plum, prune and grape initially have enough, but it breaks down as the fruit ripens, which is why jelly recipes without added pectin often designate that fruit must be firm or just ripening. Otherwise, pectin must be added to get jelly or jam to jell.

With added pectin, pomegranate, fig and rhubarb (which is actually a vegetable) can be made into jelly and jam. Orange and lemon marmalades do not need to be cooked as much with extra pectin. Sweet oranges (which is what almost all oranges are) lose flavor with cooking. (Sour oranges for marmalade are very rare here.)

Pectin also makes it possible to make jelly and jam from some rather unconventional fruit that may not be useful for much else. Elderberry, hawthorn, thimbleberry, rose hips (some varieties), Hottentot fig (the larger fruited type of freeway iceplant) and even coffeeberry and manzanita are all worth trying. Indian hawthorn and Catalina cherry have enough pectin to jell on their own.