Carrot harvest – Spring 2017

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Carrot harvest: 4 lb (sown Nov. 25, 2016). These were ready to pick at least a month ago. They were still good, only a couple carrots had become too tough for consumption (their stalks were about to flower).

Cross section of a Dragon carrot:

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Roasted in butter, salt, pepper and cinnamon as part of our Easter feast:

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First harvest of 2017

Picked some lettuce and cilantro. The flavors, aromas and textures of homegrown produce sure can’t be beat. Fresh cilantro is so powerfully fragrant — an entire supply at the grocery store can’t even come close to the aroma coming from just a few stalks from the garden. And the taste! A little bit truly goes a long way. With just a few leaves, I could actually taste the herb contributing to the flavor of my soup.

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Even lettuce did not disappoint. The main quality I noticed was the texture and crispness of the fresh leaves. They were tender and had…I don’t know how to describe it…the substance of an actual leafy vegetable. It was lettuce that didn’t leave me feeling empty after eating it, unlike the kinds I’m used to in a typical salad or fast food burger. These sure made some good lettuce wraps.

Winter garden update

With rain coming almost every week, I haven’t had to do much in the garden except weed. Here’s a look at the winter veggie patch:

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  • Back: Cilantro and Samarkand garlic
  • Middle: Green onions and Dragon carrots
  • Front: Georgian Fire garlic and Speckled lettuce

The bare patches used to contain shallot, bok choy, pansy and calendula seedlings. Something ate their tiny leaves and left behind their stems. I’ve restarted bok choy seeds and have extra calendula seedlings that I didn’t plant out yet. I’ll transplant these after they’ve grown several sets of true leaves and hopefully they’ll be big enough to not get fully eaten by whatever took out their siblings.

Ironically, a week after my previous post (in which I declared I’d experiment raising starts without grow lights), the first of several rough storms passed through and I ended up using my indoor grow light setup. And I keep forgetting how cold some of the winter nights can get here in San Diego.  We don’t have frost dates, but it can get cold enough to harm summer seedlings.

And because of the storms and frequent rains, I haven’t had to water my garden or tap into my rain water supply since starting my water saver challenge almost three months ago.

Seedling experiments

In past growing seasons, I’ve raised my seedlings under a grow light. An advantage of this method is faster seedling growth. Looking back at a previous post, I was amazed at how big my seedlings got in just three weeks being raised indoors under a grow light.

But because the seedlings got so comfortable indoors, they had to be carefully hardened off to withstand the outdoors. And that’s something I don’t have time to do these days. It’d be convenient if I could just leave my plants outside the whole day starting from day one. Also, grow lights use extra electricity.

So this year, I’m trying something different. Instead of raising my seedling indoors under lights, I’m bringing them outside as soon as they sprout. That’s where my raised bed greenhouse comes in, as well as these humidity domes:

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I’m counting on these protection methods (and the moderate San Diego climate) to keep my seedlings surviving outside. While my seedlings are growing MUCH slower than they did under a grow light (due to cold night time temperatures and winter sunlight hours), I no longer need to bring them back indoors every day. They’re growing less leggy and I’m saving electricity, too.

Another experiment that I’m trying is insulating my germination tray with a solar blanket. I have a heat mat, but it doesn’t seem to get warm enough to germinate pepper seeds (in my experience, at least). So I reasoned that wrapping the heat mat and germination tray in a solar blanket would warm the setup more, hopefully for peppers to germinate. Time will tell.

I started my second batch of seeds to get a head start on the summer growing season:

  • Borage
  • Marigold
  • Thai basil
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Orange bell peppers
  • Thai chili peppers
  • America spinach (germinating via the paper towel method)
  • Isis Candy Cherry tomatoes (these are a peaceful crop, I assure you)

Raised bed greenhouse

Garlic and carrots have sprouted. Bok choy, cilantro, lettuce, onions, shallots and flower seedlings have been transplanted. Nighttime temperatures are in the low 50s, so it’s time for a greenhouse.

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I placed 6 rebar stakes (2 ft long, 1/2 in diameter) into the raised bed and slipped 10 ft long, 1/2 in diameter PVC pipes over them, creating arches to make the frame for the greenhouse. Pictured above are two of the three arches with the last two rebar stakes in the front. The PVC pipes were painted copper so they wouldn’t look so much like…well, PVC pipes.

Greenhouse plastic (purchased as a 10 ft x 100 ft roll from Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply) cut into a 10 ft x 13 ft rectangle was placed over the arches and secured with row cover snap clamps. The open sides were closed with velcro stickers.

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Raised bed greenhouse!

Spring/Summer 2016 container garden

I’ve started my garden this season with container-grown veggies. Here’s what everything looks like so far:

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I started seeds throughout March and April. Seeds that have yet to germinate and young seedlings are housed in the Gatorade bottle cloches (which act as mini greenhouses and protect seeds from the birds).

The plan is to eventually have raised beds, but this piece of land is currently an unlevel patch of tough lawn. So I’ve instituted a no-till gardening approach to make the ground more workable, which will make it easier to level out the dirt and install raised beds on top.

What I’ve done is sort of like lasagna gardening, just with way less layers. I first covered the grass with a layer of wet newspaper.

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Next, I layered wet cardboard on top of the newspaper.

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I finished the foundation with a layer of compost (which I got a nice free load of from Miramar Greenery).

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It looks like I have a freshly tilled garden plot. The layers of newspaper, cardboard and compost will block sunlight to the grass, which will gradually decompose underneath (along with the newspaper and cardboard). The decaying organic matter should attract some earthworms, which will help enrich the yard dirt and transform it into some nice garden soil.

This space, meanwhile, is home to various planters filled with a mixture of (free) compost, yard dirt, blood meal, bone meal, egg shells, coffee grounds and orange peels.

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This was the first iteration of the planter arrangement. It’s changed several times until I settled on the arrangement shown in the first picture. I’ll be adding more plants, so my setup is still evolving.

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.