Thursday, June 23, 2011

June is still spring in the PNW

Radishes, Collards, Chard, Purple Peacock Broccoli/Kale
While it is now officially summer according to the calendar, we continue to have temperatures in the 50s and 60s here in the Pacific Northwest. But with a nice tall cloche in place, my garden is flourishing.
I have updated my irrigation system to accomodate the taller, leafier plants of a June garden, and I have already rotated a few crops out of the garden.
Irrigation system with central tubing and several barbs

As you will see, the new irrigation system features one central 1/2" pipe or hose, with 1/4" tubing running into the beds with an assortment of different sprinkler and drip heads on the ends. This system is surprisingly inexpensive, endlessly customizable and can be changed throughout the season to suit the needs of different stages of growth for the garden. One of the beds also has a soaker hose pinned in a zig-zag along the whole length of the bed and it will provide good soil saturation when there are too many leaves to let much sprinkler-water down to the surface.
I got my system from Home Depot (DIG system), but I have picked up additional parts from Lowe's (Mister Landscaper system) and have found that they are interchangeable.

In the last month or so I have harvested bolting spinach, kale and beets, as well as cycling through several crops of radishes and lettuces. I am now picking salad greens on an almost daily basis and have broccoli, collards, radishes, baby fennel, kales and ridiculous amounts of chard ready to go. You may recall that I planted peas in the area formerly known as the corn plot, and they have remained uncloched and subject to the less-than-ideal weather we have had, so they are just now blooming with flowers and still have a few weeks to go before they will be ready to eat.

cedar trellises
At the suggestion of my friend and fellow-gardener, Christi, I decided to try and grow my summer-squashes as vertically as possible this year to save space. Those plants can sprawl so much that they take up precious ground space that could be used for other crops. Since summer-squashes aren't as viney as their wintery cousins, the trellis I built needed to be more or less a 'ramp' for them to grow up. I decided on an a-frame construction with an open back so that I could easily reach short rows of radishes, lettuces and carrots planted underneath the trellises. I shopped around at garden stores a little, but it seemed like buying a ready-made trellis would be much more expensive and far less fun than building my own. I found an amazing deal on cedar 1x1s at Limback Lumber in Ballard (25 6-foot pieces for $10!) and once they trimmed them for me, all I had to do was nail them together and install bolts and wingnuts for the braces.
Trellises in action

lettuces, tomatoes, fennel and chard

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

April Showers Bring May Showers

Well, it hasn't stopped raining here in the PNW and we haven't seen 70 degrees since November, but under my cloche the plants don't know the difference.

I have been harvesting radishes for a few weeks now and this past weekend my mom helped me get mountains of spinach and Red Russian kale into the house.
Last week I had my first all-garden salad and it was a revelation! I plucked some of the larger lettuce leaves and mixed in some very small kale, bok-choy, beet and chard leaves as well as a few Italian parsley leaves and some thinly sliced French breakfast radishes. A light dijon vinaigrette and a sprinkle of blue cheese really took it to the next level. Yum...

I ended up addressing the slug problem 2 ways:
1. Slug pellets. They really are the easiest, most maintenance-free way of dealing with slugs in a large area. It was the best option for the lettuces and other densely-planted areas.
2. Copper. I bought a spool of copper pipe-hanging strap stuff for about $4 and fashioned little collars for the affected plants (kale, chard, broccoli).

I started planting in the second raised a few weeks ago. It is partly covered in plastic and is now home to lettuces, fennel, beans, corn and some brussels sprouts that overwintered. I am trying to be mindful of succession planting so that I don't end up with the same kind of glut of those things as I did with the spinach, so I am planting one row at a time and leaving space to fill in with more of the same in about 10 days.
I discovered several volunteer (sprouts from the fruits that fell to the ground last year) tomatoes growing in the cloched bed and I decided it might be a good idea to foster them, so I picked the hardiest ones, dug them up, planted them in small pots and put them inside of a plastic tote (aka portable greenhouse), which I put in the sunniest window in the house. Within 2 weeks they had grown tremendously and I ended up moving them back to the coldframe so that I could start some cucumbers, basil and other warm-weather plants in the tote.

I started squash and corn in the cold frame a couple of weeks ago and they now all have decent-sized second leaves, so this weekend I transplanted them to bigger pots. It is still not quite warm enough for them to be out but I didn't want to stunt their growth by keeping them in tiny pots, so they will continue to live in the cold-frame for a few more weeks and hopefully they will be very strong by the time I get them into the ground.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Slug Update

What I am trying to avoid
 In desperation, after discovering slimy slug trails on the soil-blocks I had planted in the cold-frame, I decided to try some new slug-deterrent methods. I am really not a fan of beer traps because they need to be tended to on a daily(ish) basis, and you have to deal with a lot of gross slug carcasses. I had been using pellets, a product that eventually kills off the slug population, but is not an immediate protectant. This is not good enough when it comes to tiny baby seedlings. Every night counts! So I decided to pull out all the stops. I sprinkled the whole tray with a mixture of coffee grounds and crushed eggshells to form a physical barrier and keep my seed-babies completely slug-free.
First, I will tell you that this seems to have worked! Second, I will tell you why. Caffeine is a neurotoxin to the slugs, and the eggshells are sharp and dangerous for soft slimy slug bodies--plus they take a long time to degrade, so they work as long as. What I discovered in my collection of this material, however, was that you really have to remove the membrane from the inside of the eggshell before you crush it up, otherwise the whole thing just kind of sticks together. Luckily I (evidently) use a lot of eggs, so this wasn't a huge challenge, but it was kind of annoying and mildly gross to peel the membranes out from all of the eggshells.

In conclusion, the verdict is that this is an excellent (and FREE!) method of keeping slugs off of baby plants. I will continue to use it and will update again if I discover otherwise.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Back in the Saddle

March 15th, 2010
Well, I thought I was going to be accomplishing a lot in February this year. By this time last year (see photo at right), I had radishes and green-leafies well on their way to harvest.
But we got a serious February cold snap this year and it threw me off a little.
On the 13th I had planted a whole bunch of radishes, beets, lettuces and spinach in my cloched bed, and they are just now starting to germinate, nearly 3 weeks later. In ideal conditions, the radishes would be ready to eat 30 days from planting, but that is obviously not going to be the case this month. So I am being patient, trying to keep the moisture levels in the cloche just right, and waiting.

Meanwhile, I actually put some seeds into "the corn plot" last night after work.
First I worked in 1.25 cubic feet of Cedar Grove compost and a good helping of steer manure as well as about a cup full of all-purpose organic vegetable fertilizer. Working with the loose sifted soil was a dream and it was quick work. Since I am going to start the plot with peas, I rigged a trellis for them to grow on first, made of pipes and netting. I planted an 18" swath of sugar snap peas and 18" of shelling peas, separated bu about 12" of radishes. I sowed a row of compact lettuce seeds in front (why waste space?!) and threw some bright lights chard seeds into the corner beyond the trellis. Hopefully I will get some photos up soon!

I'm ready for Spring!

My wonderful husband bought me a pair of coveralls for Valentines Day!
The idea was that during these days of meager evening sunlight I could rush home, throw the coveralls on over my work clothes and dash outside to squeeze in a little gardening. And once the sun stays up later, I will still have an outfit I can put on without having to think about it and can leave hanging by the back door when I'm done outside.