Rhubarb

60810+It is not easy to get a pretty picture of rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum. The big and sometimes flabby leaves are only impressive to those who know about the succulent petioles (leaf stalks) below. The petioles do not look like much either, until they are cooked into pies or garnet colored preserves. Shabby stalks of tiny flowers rarely bloom, and should get cut out to favor more foliar growth.

Traditional rhubarb stalks are mostly green with a red blush, and a distinctively tart flavor. Some modern varieties with richer red color are not quite as vigorous, and have milder flavor. Varieties with light green petioles are probably the most productive, but are not so richly colored when cooked. Tender young stalks are preferred to firmer mature stalks. Leaves are toxic, so they are not eaten.

Petioles can be harvested as soon as they are big enough in late spring, and as late as autumn. The outer leaves get plucked first, which leaves smaller inner leaves to continue growing. Plucking most of the leaves gets more of the tender inner stalks, but also slows growth so that new stalks may not be ready for a few months. Rhubarb likes rich soil, sunny exposure, and plenty of water.

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Vegetables Change With The Seasons

90814thumbRight smack in the middle of the warm part of summer, it is already time to be getting ready for autumn gardening. This involves more than just ordering our autumn planted spring bulbs while the selection is still optimal. Most of us purchase bulbs from what is available in nurseries when they are in season anyway. Seed that gets sown in the next few weeks is a more immediate concern.

The majority of cool season vegetables will get planted later, when the seasons actually start to change to become . . . well, cool. Seed for beets and carrots gets sown directly in about a month, followed by pea seed even a bit later. At about that same time, many of us will plant small seedlings of other cool season vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, spinach and kale.

For many of us though, it is not that simple. If we want varieties of these cool season vegetables that are not likely to be available as seedlings in nurseries later, we must grow our own from seed. Whether they get sown directly into the garden, or into flats to be grown as seedlings to be planted later, broccoli seed should be sown about now. By the time it gets to growing, it will be autumn.

Seed purchased online or from mail order catalog should be ordered by now. It is not too late for broccoli if the seed arrives and gets sown soon. Cauliflower and cabbage seed gets sown within a month or so, as late August becomes early September. Lettuce and spinach seed should wait half way through September, like beet and carrot seed. Kale seed can wait until after September.

Seed for secondary phases of most of these cool season vegetables can be sown early next year.

In the meantime, warm season vegetables must continue to be harvested very regularly. If they stay in the garden long enough to get tough and bland, they also interfere with continued production. Foliar herbs can be harvested for drying just about any time they are fresh and not blooming. Regular harvesting inhibits bloom, and therefore promotes more of the desirable foliar herbal growth.

Good Weeds

P90714We don’t put much effort into our compost piles. In the first pile, we dump horse manure, green waste from two cafeteria type kitchens, and a bit of the finer textured green waste from the landscapes. It eventually gets turned over into the second pile. By the time the second pile gets turned over into the third pile, it is almost ready for use. The third pile really does not last long. Neighbors take it as fast as we can.
We turn the piles when it is convenient for us and the tractor. There is no schedule. We incorporate the material as it becomes available. There is no recipe. Somehow, we get remarkably good compost from the process.
Besides the usual weeds that grow around the compost piles, there are all sort of vegetable plants that grow in the compost, from vegetable scraps and seed that were in the green waste from the kitchens. There are onions, potatoes, carrot tops and celery bottoms. For a while, there was even a pineapple top. Melons, cucumbers, peppers and squash sometimes grow from seed. Tomatoes are the most common vegetable plants out there.
All this random mix of vegetable plants started growing like weeds after all the rain last winter, but then slowed down after the rain stopped. That is why the tomatoes have not been ripening for long. Of course, we get no tomatoes. The raccoons an whatever other wildlife wants them tends to get them first. I am not so sure that I want tomatoes that seem to grow directly from horse manure anyway.
They sure look impressive though. It would be nice if tomato plants that were intentionally planted into vegetable gardens looked this good. There are actually a few just like this one scattered about where the compost gets turned. They sprawl over the ground, but are able to stand up enough to hold their developing fruit above the compost.

Wild Radish

P90623This is why I do not bother growing greens in the garden just yet. Wild radish grows here wild; and there is way too much of it. Most but not all of it gets mown in meadows or cut down with weed whackers on the edges of roadways. There is no need to cut down that which is out of the way. Besides, we could not cut it all even if we wanted to. There is wild turnip and mustard too. All are prolifically naturalized and invasive exotic species.
These radishes do not make the distended roots that garden varieties of radishes are grown for. Nor to the wild turnips make distended turnip roots. They, as well as the mustard, do make good greens though. They may not be quite as good as fancier garden varieties, but I can’t beat the price, or get any other type of vegetable for such minimal effort. I only need to go grab what I want when I want it. There really is no cultivation involved.
Even though their seed is not sown in phases to extend their season, they remain productive for a long time, and only stop producing if they get too dry in summer. If I were to grow a garden variety of turnip green, I would sow a few phases a few weeks apart so that, as an earlier phase finishes, a later phase begins producing. Unlike other types of greens that must be gathered prior to bloom, wild greens can be taken from blooming plants.
Wild greens can be canned like collards, but are better if simply frozen. Unbloomed floral trusses are like tiny bits of broccoli. If gathered while still young and tender, thicker stems can be chopped and cooked like broccoli stalks, and can even be pickled.

Tomato

60406Actually, it is a fruit. It contains seeds. Tomato, Solanum lycopersicum, is one of the most popular vegetables in American gardens. Most are red. Some are yellow or orange. A few weird varieties are pink, green, dark purple, brownish or creamy white. The largest tomatoes can get more than four inches wide. Tiny clustered ‘grape’ tomatoes are less than a quarter inch wide. There are literally thousands of varieties!

Most garden varieties are ‘indeterminate’, which means that they are productive throughout the season until frost. ‘Determinate’ agricultural varieties produce all their fruit within a limited season to facilitate harvest. This also works nicely for home canning. (Determinate varieties seem to be more productive only because all the fruit ripens at once.) Although technically perennial, plants are grown as annuals. They get about three to six feet tall. Most garden varieties need support.

Spring Fashions For Vegetable Gardens

60406thumbCompared to replacing cool season annuals with warm season annuals, the replacement of cool season or ‘winter’ vegetables with warm season or ‘summer’ vegetables is not quite as traumatic. Most of the cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower plants finish in time to make room for new vegetable plants anyway. Unlike flowering annuals, they make it obvious that they are done for the season.

If left too late into warming spring weather, the juvenile floral buds of broccoli and cauliflower will bloom, and become tougher and somewhat bitter. Cabbage does the same, but only after bolting first. (‘Bolting’ is the emergence of tall floral stalks from formerly basal foliage.) By the time beet, carrot, turnip and radish bolt, their plump roots are more like fibrous wood than tender vegetables.

Once space is relinquished, tomato, eggplant and pepper plants might be the first vegetable plants to go back into the garden. Even if the weather gets cool for a while, it will not get cool enough for frost. Roots disperse as soon as they get into the ground. Warming weather accelerates growth above ground. Fruit develops through summer. (Fruits contain seed. True vegetables do not.)

Tomato, eggplant and pepper are popularly planted as seedlings because only a few plants of each are needed. Each plant probably costs more than a single package of seed (which contains enough seed to grow many more plants than are necessary), but are still not too expensive collectively. Seedlings get established and start growing more efficiently than germinating seed does.

Various melons and squash, including zucchini, can either be planted as seedlings or sown as seed. Their seeds germinate and grow so efficiently that seedlings probably do not have much advantage. However, their seedlings are relatively fragile to handle, so might be at a disadvantage. Seedlings might be practical for one or two plants; but seed might be best for several plants.

Bean and cucumber grow most efficiently from seed mainly because several or many of each plants are grown, and also because seedlings are somewhat sensitive to transplant. Onion and potato are popularly grown from onion or potato ‘sets’, or ‘seed’ onions or potatoes, which are merely juvenile vegetables that grow into productive plants. Onion can also be grown from seed.

Pole Beans

90327The main difference between pole beans and bush beans should be obvious. Pole beans climb poles. Bush beans are bushy. To complicate things, bush beans are more common in commercial agriculture because they are more adaptable to harvesting machinery, and they are most productive in a brief season, so are more efficiently harvested all at once rather than throughout summer.

Pole beans are generally more popular in home gardens for the opposite reason. They will not produce all at once, but will instead produce enough somewhat continually until the end of summer. Some varieties can climb past second story eaves, so should be confined to reachable trellises or other supports. They are annual, so the tangled thicket of vines that forms on top is no problem.

Most pole beans, which are also known as green beans, string beans, snap beans, French beans and haricot vert (French for ‘green beans’) are varieties of Phaseolus vulgaris. Some heirloom varieties of the original string beans produce beans with annoying ‘strings’ along one side of each bean. Dried beans are different varieties. Regular harvesting promotes continuous production.

Crop Rotation Improves Vegetable Production

90327thumbA south or west facing fence is a perfect place to grow pole beans. Twine can be strung in a zig-zag pattern between single rows of partly protruding nails along the top and bottom. The spacing of the nails should match that of the pole bean plants. Bean seed sown at the base of the fence germinate and grow quickly. Vines are happy to cling to the string and climb to the top of the fence.

Alas, it is temporary. Pole beans are annuals. They start to grow now, produce all summer, and then yellow and ultimately die by autumn, leaving the fence bare again. If the technique is repeated in the same spot with the same sort of pole beans the following spring and summer, the plants could be noticeably less vigorous. Repeating if for a third season could be downright disappointing.

It is best to grow beans in a different location every year if possible. After a few years, they can return to the same fence. Until then, tall plants, like caged tomatoes or corn, can be cycled through the area in front of the fence. Tomatoes and corn also perform better if not grown in the same spots for more than one season at a time. This process of cycling crops is known as ‘crop rotation’.

Soil borne pathogens proliferate along with the host plants that sustain them. Such pathogens may not be a noticeable problem in the first year while they get established. However, they are likely to be established and ready to infest the same sorts of host plants more aggressively in a subsequent season. Crop rotation of the host plants to cleaner locations annually interrupts this process.

In local soils, crop rotation is likely more important to compensate for nutrient depletion. Tomatoes are greedy with particular nutrients that other vegetable plants may not need in such quantities. The same applies to other vegetable plants. Tomatoes planted where other tomatoes grew last year may notice a lack of the nutrients that they crave the most of. However, zucchini may not miss what the tomatoes of last year took. Conversely, tomatoes may not notice what may be lacking where zucchini or other vegetables grew last year.

Summer Vegetables Replace Winter Vegetables

90320thumbEvery year at about this time, there is the same concern that it is too early to put summer or warm season vegetables into the garden. When the time comes, replacing warm season vegetables with winter or cool season vegetables will also seem to be too early. Nonetheless, it is best to start the transition early so the garden will be ready for production as the weather warms into spring.

Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage that are in the garden now should have time to finish before warmer weather makes them bitter. If the warm season vegetable plants that will be planted in their place are adaptable to it, and if the spacing is correct, they can be planted in amongst the cool season vegetables so that they will be ready to go when the the outgoing vegetables get harvested.

Unlike most of the cool season vegetables, which are truly ‘vegetative’ vegetables, most of the warm season vegetables are actually fruits, which is why they start to develop in spring, and mature through summer. Tomato, pepper, cucumber, eggplant, corn, bean and both summer and winter squash are the most popular here. Most produce from spring to autumn. Some produce only once.

Corn and other vegetable plants that produce only once can be planted in phases every two weeks or so to prolong production. By the time one phase finishes, the next should be starting. Corn is more efficiently pollinated, and therefore more productive, if grown in square blocks rather than in narrow rows. Corn and many warm season vegetables should be grown from seed sown directly.

However, tomato, pepper, eggplant and maybe zucchini and other squash can be planted as small plants from cell packs, because only a few of each type are needed. A cell pack of six or eight cost about the same as a packet of seed, but all the seed in the packet are not really necessary. Besides, the small plants are less likely to be eaten by snails than newly germinating seedlings.

Avocado

60217Avocado trees, Persea americana, grown from seed need to be about five years old to produce fruit that can be considerably different from the fruit from which the seed was taken, although such fruit is almost always quite good. Some trees need to be twice as old to produce. Grafted trees from nurseries are specific varieties that can start to produce their specific fruit immediately.

Fruit production is notoriously variable. Some healthy trees may be unproductive for a few years, and then suddenly produce more fruit than the limbs can support. Trees that are very reliable and productive may sometimes be unproductive or significantly less productive for a season. It is nearly impossible to determine which environmental factors inhibited bloom and fruit development.

Mature trees can be more than forty feet tall, with awkward branch structure. The lush dark green leaves are about four to eight inches long. The tiny yellowish green flowers barely get noticed until they deteriorate and fall to the ground like corn meal. The dark green and pear shaped fruit is quite heavy. It develops on the tree, but then ripens after it falls or gets picked and brought inside.