Spring evaluation

When the lettuce is bolting and the cucumbers start appearing, that means summer is officially here. Pictured below is the latest harvest consisting of Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage, Dragon Carrots, and a Boothby’s Blonde Cucumber:

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The spring has provided a good bounty so far. Listed here are the total yields from each set of plants and recommended adjustments for next spring:

  • Beets (Detroit Dark Red) – Devoured by mice before I could harvest them. Gopher baskets offered no protection. Will try planting in containers.
  • Bok Choy – 11.90 lb from 9 plants, seeds started in February, last harvest in mid June. 9 plants provided a continuous harvest, will try staggering plantings to 3 at a time. Wire mesh box provided good protection from pests. Great steamed and in stir fry.
  • Cabbage (Mammoth Red Rock) – 2.13 lb from 1 plant, seeds started in February, harvested late June, 1 plant left to harvest. 2 plants that were transplanted later were destroyed by rabbits since the cabbage plants were out in the open. 4 plants may be a good number, will keep the plants protected by wire boxes.
  • Carrots (Dragon) – 0.94 lb from 5 plants, seeds started in March, harvested late June. Leaves were partially eaten by pests, gopher baskets provided OK protection, except for the few carrots that had portions of the root nibbled on. Will try planting in containers.
  • Cauliflower (Early Snowball) – Devoured by mice before the cauliflower heads had a chance to form. Wire mesh box provided no protection. May need to try container planting.
  • Kale (Red Russian) – 15.75 lb from 6 plants, seeds started in February, still heavily producing. Wire mesh box provided good protection from rabbits, but leaves started being inhabited by aphids near the beginning of June. Suggestions for next season: reduce number of plants to 4, use row cover for additional pest protection. Kale chips from this variety were OK.
  • Lettuce (Speckled) – 2.1 lb from 6 plants, seeds started in February, last harvest in mid June. 6 plants at once provided a continuous but short harvest due to bolting. Will keep lettuce north or east of taller plants to give them shade. Wire mesh box provided good protection from pests. Great in sandwiches and for lettuce wraps.

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  • Peas (Golden Sweet) – Devoured before they could grow taller than ~6 in regardless of what protective devices I used. Currently attempting to grow peas in a container at home.
  • Radish – Harvested too late and ended up growing too big and tough for eating. Next time harvest after just a month.
  • Spinach (America) – Encountered difficulties raising the seedlings. Some seedlings already started bolting, even with just a couple sets of true leaves, and got infested with some small insects. Next time will grow seedlings in shade and protected by row cover.
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Absence makes the plants grow greener

I had to take a hiatus from gardening due to travel and, I must admit, sheer heartache from seeing some of my plants undergo transplant shock. Turns out this break did us all some good (it also helped that the community garden has automatic sprinklers, which allowed me to leave the garden unattended). The leafy green plants that appeared to be suffering without protection had bounced back.

Bok choy and Speckled Lettuce
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Another view of the bok choy
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Russian Red Kale
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Other crops that appeared unresponsive to any previous TLC have flourished.

Early Snowball Cauliflower
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Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage
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Some root crops look ready for harvest.

Radishes
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I should thin out the greens of these Detroit Dark Red Beets soon.
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And finally, my peppers, eggplants, and large tomatoes have sprouted. This required coaxing via the combined warmth and humidity from both the heating mat and grow lights. I sowed the rest of the summer seeds: beans, corn, cucumbers, melons, and squash. I heard from some fellow gardeners that peas can still be started at this time, so I figured I’d give these another go.

Mission Impossible?

Growing a spring vegetable garden is uncharted territory for me, even more so in the desert wasteland of eastern Washington. There must be a reason this is the desert…nothing is naturally meant to grow here. Yes, there is a hint of bitterness in my tone. A premature unveiling of the cloches in conjunction with recent days of winds and fluctuating weather are making my spring transplants turn a complete 180. They appeared to have survived throughout the weekend and looked completely fine on Monday morning, but by the end of the day some of the bok choy, kale, and peas were wilting. Even a thorough watering didn’t help. Today, I found half of my peas chomped in half by some parasitic creature, the rest of the unsheltered leafy plants shriveled like raisins and faded in color.

Double-yew-tee-eff?!?!?

I couldn’t find any useful or detailed information on spring vegetable gardening in the desert online, particularly THIS desert. I made the mistake of removing the plant protection too early, but I also faced the dilemma of the plants growing too big to fit within the plastic drink bottles (some of the leaves that were being pushed up against the walls of the bottles appeared to be yellowing/browning at the edges). So what alternative did I have? It’s too late now to restart these plants. Maybe my best bet would have been to construct hoop houses for the spring garden (however, this is something I don’t think I should invest in yet given that my residence here is temporary). Or, I should just swallow my pride and admit that I can’t grow spring plants in this climate, give it a rest, and just focus on the heat-loving vegetables for the intense summers here. C’est la vie. At least I still have my root crops.

Spring transplants and summer seed starts (part 2)

Some of the spring starts have begun to look a bit claustrophobic within their cloches. An unveiling was in order.

Bok choy:
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Speckled lettuce:
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Golden Sweet peas:
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Progress of the Music and Samarkand Persian Star garlic:
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A week of spring warmth, sunshine, and compost tea served them well so far. I started the second batch of summer starts (beans, corn, cucumber, melons, and squash) since the weather has stayed quite warm lately. The eggplant, hot peppers, and big tomatoes haven’t germinated yet, so I started another set of these seeds.

Spring transplants and summer seed starts (part 1)

It’s easy to fall behind when tending to a big garden. Several spring starts already grew rootbound and were overdue for potting up.

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Note to self: check the bottoms of the seed trays more frequently. I was able to re-pot the rootbound plants without tearing too much of the overgrown roots in the process. Within a week the plants grew reestablished in their new containers with the help of vermicompost.

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After the spring starts were re-potted and hardened off, they were finally transplanted into the garden. The cloches have been working well for the first set of spring transplants thus far (see previous post), so I acquired bags full of two-liter soda bottles through the local Freecycle group and used these (with the bottoms cut out) to shelter the new transplants.

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I wouldn’t recommend this recycling center look for a front lawn. This setup would probably provide more visual appeal with row covers or hoop tunnels, but I’ll save that purchase for a future growing season. Anyway, I digress. Hopefully the next batch of peas will survive this time around:

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Now that I’ve cleared space in the seed trays, I sowed the first set of summer seeds (herbs, flowers, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes) to raise indoors. The fun continues!

Practice safe planting. Use protection

Sunny days are here, but the nighttime temperatures are still below the 40s. Without some protection from the elements, transplants won’t make it to the next week. Take my peas, for example:

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The trellis has withstood the winds, but these little guys didn’t. At least I learned my lesson to not leave transplants out in the open just yet. Thanks for taking one for the team, guys. May you rest in peas. On the contrary, the plants sheltered by the gatorade bottle cloches are surviving.

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These were made simply by cutting out the bottoms of 1 L gatorade bottles that I scavenged from the recycling bins. They also serve as humidity domes and as protection from slugs and such. I pressed them into the ground a bit so they wouldn’t just blow away or get knocked over by the slightest breeze. The onions transplanted fine and it seems like they’ll make it through (fingers crossed).

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Seeds of other roots crops, such as carrots, radishes, and beets, were sown outdoors under these cloches. Their sprouts have provided hope for more life in the garden at this time.

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A carrot sprout

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A radish sprout

(Note: it’s best to direct seed these plants…I once transplanted carrot sprouts after starting them inside, and the majority of them grew forked, looking like fingers on a hand. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just makes peeling them less convenient.)

To end on a higher note, here’s an update on the garlic that I showed last week:

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Such a sight equals happiness!

Pre-spring cleaning

The succession of temperate days here is a blessing I haven’t taken for granted. The weekend was both warm and sunny, cool and cloudy. This was a ripe time for some pre-spring cleaning to prepare my garden for planting. But first, a nice surprise welcomed me after being estranged from the garden all winter:

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The garlic that I planted last November made it through the winter and has sprouted! Holler! After admiring the garlic shoots, I proceeded with the necessary business:

1. Uproot the remaining dead weeds from the winter

I’ve incorporated no-till gardening practices into my routine to alleviate the cleaning duties. At the end of last year’s growing season (5 months ago), I collected cardboard from work and used it as an organic weed mat on my garden plot. For something that was free, it did an excellent job. Most of last year’s weeds and plants had decomposed underneath the cardboard sheets, so all I had to do was pull out roots here and there. This method also gave the added bonus of providing compost for the soil.

2. Amend the soil with compost, chicken manure, blood meal, and bone meal

This is the organic fertilizer formula that a friend taught me to use years ago in San Diego. It has continued to serve my gardens well since then.

3. Mulch with grass clippings

In my humble opinion, grass clippings are the preferred vegetable garden mulch. It stays put despite strong winds (unlike leaves), it provides nitrogen to the soil, and in my current situation, it’s available in large mounds for free next to the community garden. Before I discovered this boon, I made the mistake last year of applying bark mulch. I was afterwards informed to avoid using bark mulch in the vegetable garden because it would leach acid into the soil. Thankfully, I was able to rake the bark mulch off before I planted anything. This page on vegetable garden maintenance provides a good breakdown of the different types of garden mulch.

4. Build trellis for peas

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The stakes were reinforced with 3 ft U-posts, which will hopefully withstand the occasional 20-30 mph winds here. Welded wire was secured to the stakes/posts with velcro tape.

5. Put pest controls into place

I don’t believe in pesticides. I also don’t care for traps, which would force me to deal with pest carcasses. Mice, rabbits, and gophers do roam freely within the community garden, unfortunately. The prevention methods I’m trying this season are gopher baskets for root crops and boxes for leafy vegetables.

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I purchased 10 of these 5 gallon gopher baskets from Peaceful Valley ($4 each). These require some shaping and it’s tedious work to have to dig them into the ground, but I’ll do almost anything to protect my precious plants.

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I constructed a few boxes (2′ x 4′ x 1′) from 1/4″ mesh hardware cloth to guard against mice and rabbits. The boxes are held in place at each corner with 2 ft rebar stakes.

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And now the garden is ready, bring it on!

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