Garden Metamorphosis

Minette – World’s Premier Garden Cat and Mole Predator!

I’m an old farm kid, having spent my years 4 to 10 on a chicken farm in New Jersey.  And although we certainly weren’t self-sufficient, I do know I got a good dose of good old American agrilife.  We had a huge garden, and my mother was not one to let anything rot in the field if it could somehow be preserved.  It was here that I got my grounding in the idea that autumn on the farm is in fact the most labor intensive season of the year!

This is true because harvest time not only means most crops must be picked and stored, or in some way preserved, but there is a major effort involved in getting the garden ready for its winter rest, and readiness for the spring planting – the transition from one season to another in the garden requires preparation – one does not simply turn their back on the garden in autumn lest one is willing to correct this mistake with extra effort in the spring.  And in the case of my own garden, if I were to ignore autumnal garden preparation, the wetness of the soil would keep me from being able to till until maybe as late as June, thereby losing up to two months of springtime growing time.

Any gardener knows about the changing character of the seasonal garden – and any farm kid knows that this changing seasonal character also sets the tone of life on the farm.  And when autumn rolls around, activity on the farm shifts into high gear.

But I have been imposing even more autumnal work on myself this year by my efforts to ready my garden for fall and winter productivity – I’ve tried some of this in the past, and most of that was more a learning experience than anything – this year I’m ready for my most extensive winter garden ever.  Let me show you my plans by sharing a gallery of garden pics.

Ready?

Believe it or not, this is perhaps the stalwart member of my winter garden – leeks.  I have mixed success with the onion family – I think I’ve mastered green onions (show you in a minute), but with bulbing onions, I’ve struck out!  So I’ve substituted leeks, which cooking wise can do a good stand-in for onions.  Trick with leeks hereabouts is to start them mid-summer, get them properly placed in the garden by mid-autumn, and then just let them over-winter – come spring, they should burst into full glory.  The schedule is much the same as for garlic, but I refuse to grow garlic since I can’t seem to get it to give me nice large cloves – and of course, the garden guides all tell you that the larger the cloves you plant, the larger the cloves you get back.  Oh yeah!  My experience says otherwise.  From now on -until I learn the secret- I think I’ll just use the big cloves for cooking, and buy my garlic at the farmer’s market.

By the way, those leeks are mulched with 5 year old compost – which should not only keep most weeds out of the leek bed (very important!), but will also give them some nutrition during their winter rest.  This is my No Effort compost pile – created from a bi-annual free load of chips dropped off here by a local tree trimming service.  I use the chips for mulch in the yard, and leave the rest to rest – after 4 or 5 years, I dig down into the pile to discover that it has magically transformed itself into dark, rich garden compost!  Amazing – and extremely useful.

Here’s another key piece of the winter garden this year – in the foreground are some Asian greens, which have marvelous resistance to low temperatures and a good tolerance to wet conditions – however, lettuce tends to ‘drown’ in our winter rains, so I’ll be trying this simple covering of clear poly to see if that makes a difference – I think its growth will slow down significantly, but I think it will continue to grow.  A bold experiment.

Here’s an Asian green that I’m expecting big things from – The Japanese are especially good at crossing various strains of mustards and cabbages, of which this one -Choho Mustard- is an example.  It’s a wonderful ‘cut and come again’ vegetable, which means it will simply grow back after you cut it – kinda like getting a haircut.  For those of you who avoid mustards because of their pungent hot character, this one has none of that – in fact, it reminds me more of spinach than any of its parents – I really love it.  And when it’s young like this, you don’t even have to cut out the stalks for cooking – they cook up just as tender as the leaf itself – a great winter green!

This one should be a real winner – it’s Tuscan Kale, but goes by many other names (Cavolo Nero, Lacinato Kale, Black Kale, and Dinosaur Kale).  I don’t include kale in general among my favored veggies, but this one is different – to me it has a much richer and interesting taste than other kales I’ve eaten – and it’s another of the ‘cut and come again’ vegetables.  I tried this stuff several years ago, and I started it too late, so it never grew much during the winter – but this one is well on its way and we’re expecting big -and delicious- things from it all winter long.

These are my green onions, which I mentioned previously – these are called, ‘Flagpoles’, I assume because they grow so tall – and they do!  But what I like best is that they also grow very deep into the ground – next year I’ll get more of these and bury the seedlings half way up the green stalk and see if we can get even more of the white root.

Onions don’t compete well with weeds, and I’m late getting these weeds out of here – these weeds are henbit, or dead nettle, or maybe ground ivy – they all look alike to me.  They’re not hard to get out, really – but they grow so fast that I’ve got to clean these beds every four or five weeks to stay ahead – this time, I’ll give them a good showering of compost for their winter sojourn – I’ve grown green onions all winter several times now, and they do beautifully in our wet, sunless winters.

And speaking of overgrown with weeds, witness here a bed of Broccoli Raab, if you can see them at all for the mass of aforementioned weeds.  But there is beauty in this mess – they can withstand the competition of the weeds better than the onions can, but I’ll be giving them a bit more room to themselves soon – and they’ll do even better.  Broccoli Raab won’t grow on into the winter, since it really goes to seed rather early in its life – but it’s such a delicious one just as it’s putting out little yellow flowers, that I usually make some room for it.

And this is the ‘wild’ winter garden.  This is where the Rutabagas and Turnips live – they’re pretty hardy plants and don’t seem to mind the weeds as neighbors – so I don’t spend much time pulling weeds in this section; they’ll do fine without my help.  And frankly, I like their attitude.  I also think Rutabaga is one of the garden’s most unappreciated veggies – I love ’em.

I’ll end my post today by telling you about a couple of garden ‘techniques’ which work well for me in the winter garden – the first only works with those seedlings which don’t mind being transplanted when young – such things as lettuce, cabbages, and Asian greens.  In mid-summer, I take a tiny piece of garden space and quickly and casually broadcast a small amount of seed in that space.  Since it’s nice and warm, that seed soon sprouts and quickly grows into nice seedlings – here are a few Komatsuna that I threw down in August.

Then a month or so later, when I’ve got a bigger space available for some serious winter garden residents, I dig up a few of the Komatsuna seedlings and transplant them into their new home.

These are planted fairly close together, so in a month or so, I’ll thin them out by pulling selected entire plants to use in salads, and thereby giving the remaining plants plenty of room to keep growing.  Komatsuna is great because it manages to resist both freezing temps (at least to 25F or so) and drenching rains too – and I appreciate it because it’s a good substitute for spinach, which doesn’t ever do well in my garden.  It’s a goodie.

I’ll end by telling you a tale of beets – do you love baby beets? (I sure do!) then let me tell you about a strange and purely experimental technique I used this spring, that continues to produce nice ‘baby’ beets, even now.  This technique is also good for really small gardens.

Way back in April of this year, as I was planning my garden layout, I realized that I had an overload of beet seed, some of which was more than 3 years old – well, there seemed little sense in taking a chance on the older seed, germination wise, especially since I had new seed on hand – but I sure do hate just throwing away seed, and I really wanted to see what 3+ year old beet seed would do.  So I took those old beet seeds and rather thickly broadcast them over a small area of the new spring garden, thinking that maybe less than half would germinate – but I think the germination rate must have been close to 90%!  I immediately thinned out some of the tiny sprouts, with a plan to let the remaining tightly crowded beet plants continue to grow, and to see if any bulbed out to baby beet size.

I must admit that those beets have grown very slowly over the summer – but every month, I’d stick my hand down through the foliage to see if any of the beets were beginning to swell – and it always was a pleasant surprise to find that, Yes, they were – I began to get a regular supply of baby beets.  July, August, September – and now, just a few days ago I again pulled some 8 – 10 small beets from that initial planting, and yet here’s what it looks like today:

As you can see, these beets have a problem – as best I can tell, they have a virus or a soil borne disease that has affected the leaves – actually, they’ve not been sprayed with anything to counter the problem, and yet, they still are slowly maturing.  In truth, they still could use some more thinning – and so they shall – for I’ll be leaving these in the winter garden as this bold experiment continues.  What fun!

You know what?  I think if I have any leftover beet seed this coming spring, I’ll try this one again!

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About drfugawe

I'm a guy with enough time to do as I please, and that my resources allow. The problem(s) are: I have 100s of interests; I have a short attention span; I have instant expectations; I'm lazy; and I'm broke. But I'm OK with all that, 'cause otherwise I'd be so busy, I'd be dead in a year.
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14 Responses to Garden Metamorphosis

  1. Doc, look at that kale!!! We have three Tuscan kales growing – they’re really wonderful, aren’t they? They make really healthy chips too – strip out the centre vein, then toss them in a tiny bit of olive oil and salt and bake them for about 15 minutes, until they go all crispy. Very moreish! Broccoli raab is new to us this year, but we’ve fallen desperately in love with it – we use it a couple of times a week, and I have a recipe scheduled to go up in a couple of days using it. Leeks are a staple here too – ours are perennial, so we ignore them and yet always seem to have them in the garden. Onions struggle here – they take too long to work into our rotation plan.

    Lovely read, thank you! x

  2. drfugawe says:

    Greetings Celia,
    I’ve heard of doing Kale chips but have never tried them – on your rec, I shall this year. I’ve been trying to do perennial leeks, but I keep losing them in the 2nd year – ??? So, I keep doing new ones.

    Thanks for your kind words, and suggestions too.

  3. nancy Jones says:

    Loved this one. Garden talk…the best. Wow, how about those beets? None for me this year, and I was so disappointed. Some very small critter nipped off the leaves as soon as they sprouted. your casting the seed sounds like it’s worth a try and I would love to skip the tedious process of inserting each seed into a little bed of vermiculite which I have used for several years. Just scatter on top of soil and see what happens?

    • drfugawe says:

      Hi Nancy – glad you enjoyed – I was a little too casual in my description of ‘broadcasting’ the beet seed – I fear if you simply leave them on the surface, the birds would have a field day snapping them up – actually, I scratch them into the top 1/4″ of the soil and push down those that I can still see – beet seed is so big, this is easy to do. Another trick I often use when ‘broadcasting’ seed is to mix it with a good amount of sterile sand (Builder’s Sand) so that the seed gets spread out better – that works well to avoid ‘clumps’ of plants. I’ve also discovered that beets are not worthy of their reputation of being poor transplanters – even bare root transplants of beets work well as long as the tap root is allowed to extend as far down in the transplant hole as possible.

      If you use this method, be ready to do some severe thinning – and early!

  4. Glenda says:

    Great post, Doc. I love updates on people’s vegie patches. I also love seeing what grows in one person’s garden and not in another. Do you end up with too much of certain things or have you planned your garden well? In Perth, people aways end up with zucchinis. In summer they can’t even give them away:) I tried not to plant too much of each item but no matter what you do you seem to get at least 10 little plants and 10 silver beet is just too much. Keep the updates coming!!

    • drfugawe says:

      I always plan my garden, Glenda – and then proceed to change the plans every week of the growing season – it’s part of the fun! Nowadays, I ‘try’ not to have more than 2 zucchinis in the garden (1 large hill with 2 zuchs and 2 yellow squash) – but this spring, it was so cold and wet that I had to replant those 3 times, and I wound up getting very few summer squash. Did the same thing with green beans this year! This year belonged to the greens and scallions, which is OK with me.

  5. Sandee says:

    You didn’t mention the wonderful lettuce we’ve been getting! I like your raincoat for them now that it’s rainy season! I love going out and getting fresh lettuce.
    The beets are terrific. I think everything grows better because Minnie on guard! I just wish she wouldn’t bring her moles inside to play with then go somewhere and just leave them in the house. You need to have a good father/daughter talk with her since you’re her favorite. :o)

    • drfugawe says:

      You don’t want to break her spirit, do you? I’ve noticed a lot less ‘mole hills’ out in the garden since she arrived – I ain’t doing nut’in to change that!

  6. Joanna says:

    You have been have been putting in some time here and it is looking so good! It must have stopped raining long enough for you take the photos at any rate. Very impressed with all the onions and the leeks and the greens look wonderful. I have sown some greens from my seedy penpal and the slugs or someone has taken a bit too keen an interest in them but I might plant them up and see if they will go a bit more. I love that dark kale so much, we grew it for several years and it looks so beautiful with the frost on it and was very hardy and good for us here. It is sold as a ‘gourmet’ veg in the shops. This year though half my veg bed is taken over with the flower sprouts, if I had known how big they would be I would have only grown three or four plants, hey ho, you learn something new all the time 🙂

    • drfugawe says:

      Yes, now that the winter garden is demanding even more effort, I find myself being pulled in all sorts of directions! Weeds are having a holiday. Our summer drought is over – rained 1.5″ yesterday – sun’s out right now, and the temp is summery – that kind of weather will make the chanterelles pop – so Friday is this year’s first mushroom day. Great fun, but the garden will suffer.

  7. We had a terrible drought this year so my gardening enthusiasm has been stifled. Reading and seeing your efforts though have me thinking about my own garden again. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • drfugawe says:

      I hear you! We traditionally have 90+ days of no rain every summer – I compensate with a drip irrigation system in the garden – works well, but increases the cost of gardening quite a bit. Que sera!

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