Sunday, February 7, 2010

More Prep

I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but suddenly I'm busy. Life on Cape Cod in the winter is rather slow and quiet- dare I say boring. Generally this affords me plenty of time to read, bird, and loaf around. But now I'm taking a class, working, playing tennis, and I've watched my countless hours of leisure time slip away. Long story short, I haven't written in a little while because somehow I actually have things to do.

In between all that I have managed to get a few projects started: I purchased some of my seeds, such as beets and a few types of peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. I started work on a potting table, something I desperately wanted last season. I've made the table top, (pictured below,), and have been looking at plans for different versions to figure out exactly what I want. And I also got an incredible deal on two enormous pots, (also pictured below,), marked down 90% and costing me only twenty bucks each. They are almost big enough to bathe in, and I'm looking forward to finding sunny spots for them. One my Mom is going to use and I think I will do a mini-garden in the other, with a tomato plant, pepper plant and some herbs.

I've also been debating whether or not to make a pvc-pipe greenhouse again this year. Last year I made one out of thin pvc and plastic paint-drops, and I learned the hard way that I am no engineer! It was a b**ch to put together, but ended up being a priceless tool- we had a very wet and cold summer, so being able to move the greenhouse over any area of the garden really helped keep the plants that were most in need warm and dry. In the end I think I will be making another, but I'm dreading getting that started.

Hopefully by the next time I write I will have ordered all of my seeds, set up my grow lights and have gotten started planting. Early germination time is fast approaching!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Winter Prep

A few days before Christmas I received my first seed catalog of the year from Johnny's Seeds. Just like I did years ago when JC Penny sent out their holiday bible, I tore through the thing with zeal, reading up on the products and creating a mighty wish list that I know my little plot can't support. Since then I've also received catalogs from Pinetree Garden Seeds and Park Seed Co. , and am anxiously awaiting more. Last year I relied heavily on Seeds of Change, Johnny's, and Botanical Interests, and overall was more than pleased with my results.

Although I do appreciate an organic seed, I'm willing to forgo the label for an uncommon or heirloom variety. I'd rather not send my money to Seminis, less because of GMO's and more because I know there are other, less wealthy people who are equally if not more deserving of my money. Similarly, Seeds of Change is owned by Mars Inc., not exactly the people who's mansions I want to help maintain. However until I get organized enough to save my owns seeds, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

Here's a list of what I grew last year:

Arugula- Italian Rustic
Beets- Golden, Chioggia, Detroit Dark Red
Broccoli- De Cicco
Bush Bean- Stringless Snap
Cucumber- Spacemaster, Marketmore 76, Lemon
Eggplant- Rosa Bianca
Kale- Red Winter
Lettuce- Bibb, Black Eyed Simpson, Ruben's Red Romaine, Salad Bowl
Mesclun- Sweet and Spicy Mixes
Mustard Greens- Mazuna
Nasturtium- (Edible flower=crop!)
Peas- Sugar Snap
Pepper- Red, Yellow, Chocolate, Jalapeno, Chilean Purple
Potato- Pontiac Red
Radicchio- Leonardo
Radish- Watermelon, Spanish Black
Spinach- Bloomsdale
Squash- Black Beauty, Cocozelle
Tomatillo- Purple de Milpa
Tomato- Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Cherry, Yellow Pear, Amana Orange
Wild Raspberries (They just grow, all I do is keep them weed free)

Here's a list of vegetables I want to try next year:

Brussel Sprouts
Corn- Popcorn
Garlic (In the ground already)
Sunchokes (In the ground)
Sweet Potato

Though I'm planning on expanding my overall garden size this coming Spring, I know I won't be able to grow everything listed above. Though tantalizing, Melons and Popcorn will probably be the first to be cut due to space and light constraints. If time permits I may take a plot at our local Service Center and try them out there.

In my efforts to be a more organized gardener, I'm also looking to take full advantage of two to three separate plantings each season. Last year I did get several things in the ground early, making room for a successive planting, but this year I want to ensure that I'm using every inch to its fullest extent all season long.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Last years garden

To get things started I thought I'd post some pics and review what I did last year. The first two pictures show the garden in May, and the last two are August.

One of the biggest challenges of gardening is working with what you've got. A south facing garden is ideal, but we don't all have that option- with little flat land and a forest on the south side of our house, I had two options: tear up the front lawn, (which I would love to someday do, but for now is off limits,), or use the land on the north side of our house. Because we are surrounded by woodlands, I had a few serious challenges to overcome. I felled a few choice trees in order to allow more sun, cleared massive amounts of brush, and set about removing decades worth of root systems from the ground. The soil, though tightly packed and infested with roots, is also essentially a thick mass of leaf compost, a great starting point for growing.

After clearing out a major portion of our side yard I chose a plot that was roughly 20 x 12 for the main garden, fenced it in, and amended the soil with compost. It's recommended to have your soil tested for ph and nutrient levels, which I declined to do. Considering there are no rules when it comes to creating your own garden, I figured that if things grew, great, and if not I could regroup and move forward from there.

With a central garden delineated I stepped back to consider what I wanted to do with the rest of the land I had cleared. I knew there were a couple of plants that I wanted to grow outside of the actual garden, so I planned smaller beds for each. Because any potatoes not harvested may grow the following year, and because I knew I would be rotating crops in the future, I didn't want to deal with the potential problem of undiscovered potatoes coming up where next years chard or cucumbers might lie, so I gave them a space all their own outside of the garden proper. And because I had several crops in mind that would vine or grow very tall, I chose to plant my peas and beans in a separate bed as well. In retrospect I probably should have put them in the garden, not only for their nitrogen fixating abilities, but also because I quickly lost all of my pea plants to an aggressive brigade of rabbits.

I next outlined two areas for flower beds and one area for a landscape experiment. I planted wildflowers atop the grave of an old family dog, and added a second bed next door for flowers and herbs to intermingle. In the third area I attempted my piece de resistance- a table and stools entirely covered in grass. Check out the picture below for an example of what I mean. And last, because I knew getting enough light was my biggest challenge I decided I would also do some container gardening. I went to my local nursery and got a good deal on the cheap plastic pots that trees and shrubs come in, chose areas throughout the property that receive the most light, and by the end of summer I had as many tomato and cucumber plants in pots as I did in the ground.

That is basically the beginning of a story of the seasons. If you've read this far, hopefully you realize how much work can go into making your vision a reality. Last year I bit off a lot and then had to chew chew chew in order to make it all happen. We had an unseasonably cold and wet northeast summer; there was blight, mildew, and an army of rabbits and insects waiting to dine on my harvests. In the end the blood, sweat and sunburns are well worth it, whether you end up with one measly cucumber or too many to harvest. That measly cucumber, though a salad it does not make, is still going to taste damn good!

Friday, January 8, 2010

I Have a Blog!

Alright, I finally broke down and did it- now I have a blog. Not so sure how this will go, but even if my Mom is the only one to read it,at least I now have a cyber-identity that is not defined by Facebook. Instead I'd like to define myself with food.

I've started this blog because I love to eat. I LOVE TO EAT. I'm assuming I'm not alone here, so I'm hoping I find an audience, (Hi Mom!). Not only do I love to eat, but I love to grow food. Over the past decade I've been able to work the earth in various ways, from being employed at a small organic farm, growing vegetables on my deck in Chicago, to working edibles into the small backyard of a San Francisco apartment, to starting a kitchen garden from scratch on Cape Cod.

This blog will hopefully become an avenue for me share the myriad ways that I enjoy food, from starting seeds in winter while living off imported produce, to enjoying the glut that summer and fall can provide. I hope in some small way to add to the dialogue about food and agriculture as we know it today. I'd love to hear from you too. But first, let's eat.