Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The best part about growing garlic.

I actually have green stuff in the garden!  In mid January!  In Pittsburgh!  This is the first year we've overwintered garlic (or grown garlic at all for that matter) so it's fun to see signs of life in my otherwise dead front yard.  In late fall I picked up several varieties of organic hard-neck garlic from Enon Valley Garlic and planted one of our 5.5" square beds with it.  I'm sure I could mulch a little deeper, but considering the weather has been unusually warm I think we're OK.  

My Fall-Planted Garlic
If you're in Western PA (or Eastern OH) and want to try a fantastically wide variety of hard and soft-neck garlic, stop by the Enon Valley Garlic booth at one of the farmers markets listed on their home page.  They're a family run organic garlic farm and will even give you pointers on growing your own gourmet garlic at home.  Check out their website for an excellent primer on how to grow garlic.  They also have a photo guide to the different types of garlic they grow.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Year in Review: 2011

It might not be obvious, but this is actually only the third year we have had any type of garden.  In 2009 we had a single 4 x 4 bed that we filled with way too many plants from a big box store, almost all of which died from the blight that swept through that year.   In 2010 we dug up the first few areas in the front yard and had a decent harvest, but we were able to nearly quadruple our output for 2011 by learning from the previous year's mistakes.

Here are the hits, misses, and things I've learned that will hopefully make 2012's garden even better:

1)  Screw indoor seed starting.  Eggplant, tomatoes, peppers and tomatillos will all be bought as seedlings from the fantastic organic city farm Garden Dreams.  There are just too many factors working against having tiny little plants inside my house that waste my money.  On top of that, I was able to get the kids interested in veggies that they would NEVER eat from the store by choosing all sorts of weird varieties.  When I have room for 6 eggplants, buying 6 different seed packets and the dirt and supplies to grow them indoors is more costly than just buying the plants from people who know what they're doing.

2)  Rabbits are no longer welcome.  In 2010 we had barely any rabbit damage, but now they seem to know where the garden is and visit it daily.  Hopefully some short fencing will suffice since my options are limited.

3)  Fruit!  We have a fenced off sunny area in the back yard that will now be completely dedicated to fruit!  I'm hoping to have ground cherries, strawberries, grapes, raspberries, blackberries and possibly melons growing there.  In the fall we cluster-planted 3 dwarf pear, 2 dwarf plum, and 3 dwarf peach trees after taking down the old half-dead apple trees and may even plant some blueberry bushes along the side of the house in an area that otherwise fills up with weeds.

4)  Moar carrots!  Carrots in buckets were a HUGE success!  Radishes, by contrast, were a total failure AGAIN.  I hope to add a few more buckets of carrots (right now I have 4) to the front yard and will only grow short-season carrots to allow for multiple harvests.  We'll try radishes again in the ground but only because they won't waste much time if they fail.

5)  Cull the herd.  There are some vegetables that are just not worth the space to grow.  We go through 10 to 20 pounds of onions a month, for example, and there is just no where to grow that many.  By contrast, we could easily stock the freezer if we took the 5 x 5 bed that was used for onions and grew multiple crops of bush beans and trellised peas.  Onions (even organic) are so inexpensive compared to peas and beans that eliminating onions from the garden just seems like a no brainer.

6)  Better short season brassicas.  Many of our brassicas did pretty well this year, and we will buy the same variety of broccoli and red cabbage that we did last year.  I will be trying new varieties of green cabbage and kohlrabi while adding some cauliflower. We do much better with short season veggies because there is less time for bad things to happen.

7)  Disease resistant squash.  Our summer squash and zucchini was attacked by every single thing that can possibly harm it.  Since I do not have the luxury of planting too far from the diseased ground of last season, I will be looking for varieties that are specifically resistant to as many mildews and pests as possible.  This will come at the expense of being able to plant compact varieties, but since they will now have the larger hillside that was previously occupied by melons, it shouldn't be a problem.

8)  Screw straw mulch.  My garden was a weedy lawn not 2 years ago and the weed varieties tend to be the type that send out horrible strong vines that are impossible to follow through straw.  I'll probably just rent a chipper and make mulch out of the giant pile of sticks we have in the fruit garden area.

9)  No peppers in containers.  They are just too finicky when it comes to wet weather, and things are so screwy that we can't bank on the sky cooperating.  Peppers produced so fantastically in the ground this year that it just made the ones in containers look that much more pathetic.

10)  No volunteers.  I let about 10 tomato volunteers grow this year, and had an amazing harvest of red grape tomatoes and some big meaty types from them.  Unfortunately, several plants produced complete duds due to uncontrolled cross-breeding.  I had three plants that never produced a single fruit without blossom end rot (even when growing right next to a plant producing healthy fruit) and another few that produced bland, boring tomatoes that were probably descendants of something store-bought.  I'd much rather pick up some yummy clearance heirloom varieties late in the season and plant them in any spot large enough for volunteers.

There is also the issue of being better at using and preserving the harvest, and timing my plantings, but those are issues that will probably just get better each year.   I planted some hard neck garlic this past fall and will be starting some early veggies this year, so hopefully it won't be too hard to watch everyone else start seeds indoors. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

End of the Season Garden Pictures You May Have Missed Since I Didn't Post Them.

Here are the end-of-season harvests and garden pictures taken during my blogger hiatus:

Six types of eggplant!

It's hard to see what happened here, but this is my row of huge bushy tomatoes after it fell over.  The welds on my tomato cages just gave out and collapsed into a mess of metal stakes and hoops.  Clearly I need to use something else next year.

Harvesting in the rain gives everything a nice glossy look.

This was definitely the year of the pepper.

Carrots in buckets were a complete success!

The kids were very excited about the different colors.

They would BEG to go harvest carrots.

I really don't remember what type these are, but they tasted good and were 4-6 inches long.

I will buy another packet of these rainbow carrots to keep the kids interested, but they honestly didn't taste much different than the orange carrots.

This year's pitiful onion harvest.

The broccoli is actually still sending off shoots that we pick now and then.  The weather here in Pittsburgh has been unseasonably warm.

One of the last harvests.  There were a ton of baby peppers on the vines when the first killing frost hit.

My Turkish Orange eggplant took FOREVER to ripen anything.

The harvest when we pulled most of the pepper and tomato plants.

Heirloom tomatoes in various stages of ripening.

A small, late garden harvest.

This is the final "harvest" from mid-November.  Beet greens, a few peas and carrots (even ball shaped ones) that I missed earlier, a handful of mostly-ripe Turkish Orange Eggplants and some peppers that somehow survived multiple killing frosts.   I'm not sure those broccoli plants will ever die.

I know I missed quite a few harvests, but this is a good overview of those last few months.  The weather that was so uncooperative this past spring really seems to have worked out well in terms of garden production this fall.  We could have planted several things that I just didn't think we'd have time for....oh well.