Monday, March 28, 2011

Setting out some broccoli plants WAAAY to early

I don't know what I was thinking, exactly. I guess I was curious what would happen if a put a couple brassicas out under the hoop houses. After all, there's a ton of lettuce and kale in there that sprouted in January, during the coldest month of the winter! Well I put a couple of the smaller ones out there, and a couple days later (today) I went out and checked on them. They're completely dead! Wilted to the ground! We had some really cold nights the last couple nights, and chances are, it got up to almost 90 degrees in the hoop houses today because of the sun. Lesson learned - just be patient!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I love radishes! I love their crunch and their taste and their color. As I've learned more about genetic diversity in the garden, I've found that there really is a huge variety of radish seed available. One of my goals for 2011 in the garden is to grow a greater variety of plants. I'll be growing at least 5 different kinds of tomatoes, at least three different kinds of peppers, two kinds of cucumbers, several different types of greens, and three kinds of radishes!

Here are the radishes I've settled on for 2011:

Crimson Giant (big, standard red radish)
French Breakfast (pink and white, and elongated)
Cincinnati Market (long like a carrot! Crazy!)

Now, I've read that radish seed can be sown early, so the boys and I did just that. I decided on an eight-square-foot block in one of the garden boxes to be the radish patch. The Square Foot Gardening guidelines say to put them 16/foot. Mine are planted quite a bit closer than that, but I will likely thin them once I know how many are viable, and use the resulting extra greens for braising.

Snow is in the forecast for tomorrow. Boooo!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The little garden in the house

The seeds I started a few weeks ago are coming along well. Right now I have eight Romanesco plants that are getting big, eight Joe's Long Cayenne from SSE, six Sheepnose Pimento from SSE, six Broccoli from some packet I had, and a bunch of Rosemary. Almost everything has been transplanted into 4" peat pots, where they will stay until it's time to put them in the ground.

April 1 I plan to put in the tomato seeds. That's still going to be 6 weeks before they can go in the ground around here, so hopefully they don't get too big. In the meantime the Romanesco and Broccoli will go into the garden to make room for everything else. At some point I need to start squash and cucumber too. I just need to figure out how far in advance to do that.

Monday, March 21, 2011

First Day of Spring Update

Yesterday was the first day of Spring, and the garden is already taking shape. It's entirely probable I am taking things way too fast this year. It's only the third week in March, and the generally accepted last frost around here is in mid May. However, I do have two garden beds covered with plastic hoop houses. I'm not sure how much extra time that will give me in the spring, so I'm starting enough stuff indoors that I can experiment.

So yesterday I got back in the garden to check things out. Here's what I saw:

Here's the garden - looks pretty bleak
The two hoop houses seem to have made it through the winter okay. They did take a little bit of maintenance through wind storms but they held up to the snow and ice pretty well. Not bad for some PVC electrical conduit, landscape fabric and plastic drop cloths. And best of all, there's stuff growing in them!

The first one has the Mache, endive, black seeded Simpson lettuce, some darker lettuce that I'm not sure of, and kale at the back. The other house has some Swiss chard that seems to have made it through the winter, or has regrown, and some lettuce seedlings that I transplanted from the other hoop house. I also threw down some basil and arugula seed in this one. Daytime temps are around 85 on sunny days and about 10 degrees over the air temp on cloudy days.

Since the weather was nice and I couldn't stand it anymore, I decided to do some actual garden work. To my amazement, despite the amount of snow we got over the winter, and the rain we got over the last few weeks, the soil was amazingly workable, even in the beds that aren't covered. In general the soil in the beds is fairly decent. I created those boxes last year, and put quite a bit of work into working in some organic material with the clay and silt that makes up the soil here. This year I'm adding even more. One thing we have a lot of here is LEAVES!

This is my leaf pile - it's about 10 feet by 10 feet, and in the fall it's piled up about 8 feet high with leaves. Now, at its highest point, it's about 5 feet high. There are about 3 years of leaves in here. Once you get down past last year's leaves, there's some fairly good looking composted leaves there. From what I hear, they don't have a lot of nutrients, but they add organic material to the soil, so I'll use it!

There's the good stuff!
I added a bunch of it to one of the garden beds and it looks great:

That bed is going to hold mostly Broccoli and Romanesco, and probably some peppers since it had beans and peas last year (should be high in Nitrogen).

Friday, March 4, 2011

Getting a head start on the growing season

I've never started my garden plans inside before. Usually I get my tomato and pepper plants from my dad, who starts them indoors, and get the rest either from seed sown outdoors, or transplants picked up at a garden center. This year I decided to do things differently. I got seed catalogs, growing mix and some trays, and started some things early.

In designing my little seedling table, I tried to do everything that was necessary at the lowest cost possible. I built a frame for three shop lights and hung it from the ceiling. I found out warming mats are ridiculously expensive, so I built my own out of foil-backed foam insulation and several strands of Christmas lights. So far it seems to be working fine:

Here's the seed table so far. Do you like my ghetto heat mat?
Growing so far are:

  • Romanesco Broccoli (Seed Savers Exchange)
  • Joe's Long Cayenne (SSE)
  • Sheepnose Pimento (SSE)
  • Broccoli (Burpee hybrid)
  • Rosemary (SSE)

I think it's still actually early to be starting stuff, but I have hoop houses up over two of the raised beds in the garden, and I figure I should be able to put at least the brassicas in there pretty soon.

Some of the Romanesco has been moved to peat pots
I've never grown Romanesco before, but being a computer nerd, I have to appreciate any blatant existence of a fractal, especially in food. So I'm looking forward to giving it a try. The pepper plants just popped up a couple days ago, after 8 days:

This year I'll be growing a lot more herbs than in previous years. Rosemary is one of those herbs that I really love but I never get fresh. It doesn't grow wild in Ohio, and the house doesn't really have a lot of natural light to keep one happy in the house. So this year I started some under the lights. I'll put it out in the garden and see how it works:

Now if only Spring would come!

Let's get this thing started!

When I was a kid growing up in Eastern Ohio, we always had a garden. I grew up with my two brothers in a house about half a mile from my grandma's house, where my dad grew up. Grandma had two city lots: one with the house on it, and one that was about half covered with a garden and the other half with chestnut trees. Most of my childhood memories of Grandma's house were in the garden - planting carrot seed, bean seeds, playing a game with my brothers where we would chew on a rhubarb stalk and laugh as our faces turned inside out. As Grandma got older my dad took over most of the garden duties but when I would stop over in the summer, most times Grandma was fussing around amongst the veggie plants making sure they were all growing to her satisfaction.

As a child, the garden was always "work." As far back as I can remember, my family preserved vegetables through canning and freezing, but that process always started with an enormous amount of raw stuff from wherever my dad got it - the bushels of green beans, the pickup truck load (no kidding) of sweet corn. If you had asked me back then if I would have a garden when I grew up, I would have likely dismissed the idea in favor of buying vegetables already preserved and avoiding the work.

All of that changed for me in the summer of 1997. I was living in Italy as an exchange student between high school and college. My family came from Italy in the early 1920's and I always had a desire to check the place out. For the most part, the year I was there was about having fun, learning a language and making friends. After school let out for the summer and I was coming up on my return home, my host dad suggested I go find where my family came from. One very long train ride later, I was in Siderno, Calabria, a nice little place with a gray pebble beach on the toe of Italy. My relatives, distant as they were, welcomed me in with a show of affection that startled me, even after being in kiss-on-two-cheeks Northern Italy for almost a year. I spent a week wandering around this little town, looking at olive groves, lying on the beach, eating everything that was given to me.

My family's olive grove in Siderno
  So one day I was invited to dinner at a distant relative's house. His name was Domenico. As we ate dinner, which was polpettoni con sugo di pomodoro, I recall asking about what kind of tomatoes they buy. Domenico perked up, pulled me away from the table and into his garden. We spent the next hour or so wandering around, Domenico showing me everything he was growing. We went to other people's gardens too. It was then, in a little town in Southern Italy when something ignited in me, and I understood this connection I have with the soil and a desire to grow things.

Domenico in his garden. I wish I took better pictures!
After Italy, several years later, when I moved into an apartment with my girlfriend, who would become my wife, one of the first things I did was rip up a tiny little patch of ground and planted a measly garden. When we bought our house, I had scoped out the back corner of the lot. I ripped up the sod, mowed down the brush and put in the first iteration of Il Nostro Orto. I was in love with the dirt, the plants, the bees. Every year that love has grown. We have two boys now, who will be a big part of this blog, because they are in the garden all the time. Maybe, just maybe, they will think of it as work now, but someday will realize they actually love the dirt as much as I do.