Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
Winter down-time from the garden can be depressing. This I am learning. It also can be a great time for planning next season’s garden. I want to be ready this spring by knowing what I am planting and when. I want to have Romanesco seeds started in containers by April and ready to transplant by May, the same time I want to plant bush beans in containers and carrots in the ground. Once June is here I want to have potatoes in the ground with pole beans and corn there too. And I can’t forget about Winter Luxury pumpkins.
Headed into our fourth season, we have 3, 8-by-4 foot beds established and crop rotation is in effect. One bed is for roots, such as potatoes and carrots. A second is for legumes, such as beans and peas. And our third is for brassicas, such as broccolis and rutabagas. We also have a fourth bed started where winter rye was planted last fall. We will continue with cover crops here through the summer to build soil fertility and then we will add an allium bed into our crop rotation, starting with garlic. Until then, now is the time to form a general plan and begin ordering seeds, or organizing seeds, so we can be ready in just a few weeks.
I love broccoli. My girlfriend does not. Broccoli is one of those foods I consider a gardener’s delight. I can come home, still dirty from work and walk right into the garden where I’ll lose myself. I’m usually hungry, and there is broccoli. I can pick it, eat it, be satisfied and lose myself some more. If it was up to me, the whole 8-by-4 foot brassica bed would be a random mix of broccoli. But it’s not.
Last year we attempted to grow one, 8-foot row of Romanesco and did not have much luck. I think we got greedy and did not follow spacing requirements. Maybe we didn’t start them early enough. But we did harvest one. This year we will try again with another row.
The 8-by-4 foot garden bed where the brassicas will go this season is not really 8-by-4 feet. It’s mapped out to that size, but it’s next to a falling-apart concrete bench that shades out between 2-to-3 feet of the garden bed during the sunniest part of the afternoon. This year I think I can part with broccoli and hope the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) provides a lot. My neighbor also likes broccoli as much as I do. Hopefully he will like Romanesco even more. I know I do. And so does my girlfriend.
Another thing we grew last season that is making its second appearance are rutabagas. Joan rutabagas to be exact. At the store they come covered in wax and the CSA does not grow them. More reason to grow them here. Last season we had a great harvest, then we improperly stored them and did not get to bring them to Thanksgiving dinner. This year we know to store them in the refrigerator.
Potatoes are my favorite food to eat and my favorite food to grow. They’re my girlfriend’s favorite too. Carrots come second after potatoes and finding a balance between how many carrots to plant versus how many potatoes to plant in one 8-by-4 foot bed is a difficult one.
Last year we saved 2-by-4 feet at the end of the bed for carrots, and grew one row of potatoes 6 feet long which were a mix of German Butterball and All Blue. The German Butterball potatoes were simply the best flavored potato these taste buds have experienced and they are a good storing, high yielding maincrop variety. Because of limited space I only want to plant main-crop potatoes, cancelling the second-early All Blues out of the equation this season.
Instead of planting carrots at one end of the bed with a 6 foot row of potatoes, I want to switch it up this year and plant one-half of the 8-by-4 foot bed with potatoes (one 8-foot long row) and use the other half for carrots. This way, I think we’ll see an increase when harvesting both crops. This will also allow us to plant half the row of carrots in mid-May, and the second half one month later. Planting even more carrots for winter harvest will be possible too, but not until the fall, along with cover crops.
The root bed gives us much motivation to continue digging in our yard until we have no more space to dig. Adding more potato varieties and never running out of carrots would make a great first step to living sustainably. At least we’re on our way.
I love legumes. (I know, I love vegetable plants, you probably get that by now.) This is the hardest 8-by-4 foot plot for me to decide what to grow. I mean there are so many amazing beans out there that every time I open a seed catalogue this is where I get stuck. In the end, everything is circled and each short description has a hand-written side note scribbled by me. I think I need help.
One bean we have grown since 2011 is the Midnight Black Turtle and the Hopi Red bean. They seem to like it here. Both are a bush bean variety with decent harvests and they’re easy to grow. Once they start, they finish on their own and I can wait until the black or the red bleeds through the dried shell to harvest. It’s difficult to mess it up. That appeals to me.
Last season we introduced Anasazi Cave and Cherokee Trail of Tears beans. Both of these are pole beans and the harvests were hard to keep up with. They too seemed to like it here. Some days I would find myself lost in their layers and heaps of vines and growing leaves, like a child lost in his imagination inside a fort, when I only intended to say hello and pick one bean. They wanted my attention and the more of it I gave, the more beans they made and the more I would find myself lost in my imagination inside the bean fort. Sometimes I would snap out of it, alarmed, hoping I looked normal to the neighbors. This season I want to add in corn to support the pole beans. (And build bigger forts for my imagination.)
A Few Last Notes
I never know where to grow winter luxury pumpkins. Last year one sprouted on its own and grew along the fence line and we grew a second one that was killed by squash borers. We started some from seed and passed them off to my Dad last year. That was a success. This season our neighbors are painting their fence so the fence line is off limits. Starting them from seed and passing them off to Dad just may be the best system here. We get the finished pumpkins to bake pumpkin pies at the end of the season. And we save the seeds.
Another success was joining the local CSA. Now we can plan our home garden by thinking of things we like and they do not provide, such as rutabaga and romanesco. Or we can save time by not planting things because the CSA provides a lot of it, such as kale and broccoli. This way we can plan to spend more time growing the things we love, such as potatoes and carrots. (Even if the CSA provides plenty). Or expanding our garden.
Plans never go as planned. But at least they can act as a guide for when spring makes it here. Being a landscaper, I go from sitting on my ass to steady overtime and the garden requires every spare ounce of energy. Then the summer comes, overtimes fades away and the garden begins to flourish. I have spare time and the garden takes it. Fall is the most social season and the garden becomes social at this time. Winter has become a period of hibernation almost. A time to sit back, re-energize, take inventory, and prepare to do it all over again. I’m almost ready.