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Archive for the ‘Extending the harvest’ Category

The mini greenhouse worked!!

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Owing to the fact that I love planning my garden way more than doing lab work, I have created a planting calendar for Seattle veggie garden growers.  It’s based off of multiple sources that are Pacific Northwest-specific but not Seattle-specific, including Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, The Four Season Harvest, The New Organic Grower, The Westside Gardener blog, and various planting charts from places like Territorial Seed Company and West Coast Seeds; and the Seattle-specific Maritime Northwest Garden Guide produced by Seattle Tilth- which is fantastic but does not have a handy planting chart.  So, after quite a bit of tinkering, I believe I’m finally finished enough to post this for your benefit (if you happen to live in Seattle).

Now, the planting calendar is just that- a planting calendar.  There is no indication of when your veggies will be ready to eat and the plants ready to replace with your next round of transplants- after three years I still have no idea how that works.  Anyway, there’s a range of dates you can sow most veggies- the harvest date will be roughly the number of days to maturity from your planting date, plus a few weeks that it will take you to harvest and eat everything.  (I don’t know if this has ever been true in my garden- things are just ready when they’re ready.  This might be because our soil was so crappy the first couple of years…)

I’m posting the whole Excel workbook instead of a PDF so that you can add in weird and unusual veggies and herbs that you like to grow, or so you can change the dates a bit (if you don’t live in Seattle, or if you discover i’m totally and embarrassingly wrong about something.)  If you want to play it safe, plant in the middle of the range of dates, not toward the outside edges.  If you have the ability to protect your garden with plastic cloches and such, or are just brave, you can venture toward the very early and very late planting dates.

Ta Daaaa!!!  Seattle planting calendar

If you don’t like it, don’t tell me because I worked real hard on it!  But i will accept suggestions on how to improve it.

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Look what David made for me!!! I mean, for the garden!!! From the used windows we got at the Ballard Re-Store and some lumber, we have fashioned a ginormous mini-greenhouse that fits over the 4-foot-wide raised beds in the garden.  It’s heavy and unwieldy, but it’s made from mostly recycled material that cost us, oh… maybe 50 bucks?  The windows are way cheaper than the wood, heh.

In any case, it’s fantastic and i can’t wait to get some planties in there.  It’s currently squatting over the section of the 2012 brassica bed that will grow kale (pictured below growing in the apocalypse room).  I’m hoping it will warm up and dry out the soil enough in the next week that i can transplant the kale seedlings out there, but we’ll see.  (The kale seedlings that Kate and i transplanted into the front yard a while back got obliterated by slugs- i forget that while fallen leaves shelter the soil, they also provide good slug habitat, and little seedlings can’t out grow them in the cold weather.)  Before transplanting this time, i will rake up what’s left of the leaf covering and give it to the chickens; it’s likely FULL of bugs.

We have plans and materials for another 4ft-wide by 3ft-long by 1.5-2ft-tall mini greenhouse, and three cold frames of various sizes that will be just tall enough for lettuce and other greens.  Between all of them, we should be able to start everything waaaay early this year- but we’ll see how things work out.  The tall mini green house will eventually be used to protect a few early tomato plants, and then we’ll likely shift it over to the cucumber/squash/melon bed.  Eliot Coleman, whose book Four Season Harvest i have, describes a neat system of movable greenhouses that protect cold-hardy plants over the winter, then move to less hardy plants, then tomatoes, then squash as each plant needs protection and the previous one will be ok uncovered.  The most interesting part is that he does this backwards also- the greenhouse goes back over the squash near the end of summer, when the squash are done the greenhouse moves to the tomatoes (which would be great in Seattle, since it’s the sogginess that gets them as much as the cold), and in November or so when the tomatoes are done, the greenhouse moves back to protect the overwintering veggies.  He manages all this in Maine, so i imagine it will work alright in Seattle too.  Although, his theory is that it’s the amount of sunlight that counts (as long as you can protect your plants from the cold), and so while he’s at the same parallel in Maine as Southern France (which is much warmer), both of those places are at lower latitudes and get more sun than we do here.

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Last winter i vowed to keep the garden going strong over this winter with cold frames and plastic hoop houses and over-wintering crops like purple sprouting broccoli.  With my exam and post-exam scramble to catch up on research, i have not made good on the cold frames and hoop houses (yet), but the broccoli, chard, rutabaga, and beets are going strong! I think dumping some not-quite-finished chicken poop compost on the broccoli bed (quick source of nitrogen) really helped the fall and winter broccoli get going- i don’t think anything has grown so big and green so quickly in our garden!

I had big plans for a winter kale garden too… but the kale seems to have entered sit-tight-and-wait-out-the-winter mode.  Half of the kale is planted near a black walnut tree, which, turns out, releases a chemical called juglone that inhibits the growth of other plants.  Solanums (tomato family) and brassicas (cabbage/broccoli/kale family) are particularly sensitive to this chemical, so that may be why these plants grew a foot tall and then… just… stopped.  The other half of the kale is planted in much better dirt, but i sowed them too late to allow them to grow big before the cold weather came in.  If i had taken the time to put up a plastic cover over them, they’d probably be pretty big by now, and we could pick leaves throughout the winter and the plants would come back to life in the spring.  Sigh… school keeps getting in the way of my garden!  I now have little plastic cloches over the small kale plants (liter soda pop bottles (from Smalls) and square baby salad green tubs (from Kate and Dave)), but i think it may be too cold for these to provide good protection.  Hopefully i can get my butt in gear and put a real hoop house over them before we leave for the holidays.

One thing that we have totally rocked at this fall/winter is collecting fallen leaves to cover the bare soil in the garden beds.  We raked up our leaves, the neighbors’ leaves, raided the park up the street after dark (mind you, it was only 8pm, but since it gets dark at 4:30, we felt real sneaky), and traded some eggs for several bins of leaves from our neighbor Jill who had already raked hers up.  I’d feel bad, but she has an electric leaf blower.  Now all of the bare garden beds that aren’t growing cover crop are buried under 4-6 inches of leaves, and the chard, beets, and kale have leaves stuffed all around them to protect the ground from freezing.  The leaves decompose slowly and provide food for earthworms and soil bacteria, etc, leaving the beds in much better shape than if they had been left bare under the rain all winter.  The difference is amazing- almost fluffy dirt vs. a packed down gravel bed with some soil underneath- i think that’s why the beets i planted in the spring (in an bed that had been left bare) are still waiting to grow big in November/December.

Also, the chickens looooove fallen leaves.  In total, i think we put 4 or 5 garbage bins full of leaves in their run.  They go nuts digging through them at first, then as the leaves settle down they provide a source of entertainment now that the chickens are not allowed on the lawn very often (it’s too wet nowadays and they destroy it faster than ever.)  I hear that worms and other bugs will make themselves at home in the leaves of the chicken run (until they get eaten), and the scratched up and pooped on leaves make great compost at the end of the winter.

Pictures and actual building of cold frames and hoop houses coming soon!

 

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Kate and I planted these pea and kale seedlings out in the garden today…oh, how I missed gardening in the rain.  Hopefully these 32 kale plants will survive and produce incredible amounts of proteinaceous vitamin-filled leafy greens for our chickenlets.  About 4 days after planting them out in the garden bed, 75% of them are still alive, 20% are chewed down to the stems, and 5% are just…gone.  I’ll be happy if half of them turn into real grown up plants.  When David and i come back from our Idaho visit, we’ll put up a protective cloche over these guys to keep them alive and a bit more productive through the rain and cold.

The tomatoes are finally slowing down… but we still can’t keep up.  After two long weekends out of town, we have bowls of uneaten tomatoes, and i worry that most of the plants outside will be rotted.  Still hoping that we’ll get back in time to either put a cover over them to keep most of the rain off, or pull up the plants and hang them upside down to let the green tomatoes ripen- a trick learned from Kate and Dave.  Apparently the ripeness flows out of the vines and into the tomatoes without causing them to rot, and you have ripe tomatoes through the winter.

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So this weekend David and i went window shopping… literally- we bought windows to build a mini-green house for the garden.  There’s a store down the hill from us in Ballard called RE-store that takes stuff from old houses, buildings, schools and sells it second hand to people who are building or remodeling their own houses.  They’ve got everything from lumber to doors and windows to cabinets to bathtubs and toilets to light fixtures.  They currently have a set of three confessional booths from a Catholic church, several walls of lockers from a junior high school, and a super nice kitchen counter/sink/cabinets that i totally would have bought if we owned our house.  They have an amazing collection of windows- newer double-paned, metal framed ones and old, craftsman style lead or wood-paned ones and huge sets of bay windows and sliding glass doors.  When we own a house and have our own yard, we will definitely assemble a real green house with windows from RE-store.  But for now, a transportable mini-greenhouse made from $24-worth of windows will do.

The mini green house will sit just inside our 4ft wide beds and will be 4ft wide by 3ft long (that’s the size of the big, single paned window i found for the lid), 1.5ft tall in the front sloping up to 2ft in the back.  I brought my tape measure to RE-store and found matching windows to make the four walls; these will be arranged in a box on the ground with an open floor so that the lid will be sloping southward for maximum sunlight and heat absorption.  The lid will be set on a hinge so that it can be opened and propped up with a stick during planting and harvesting times.  There will be little triangle gaps between the side walls and the sloped lid that i will cover with some sort of hard plastic from home depot or a couple layers of plastic cloche cover or autoclave bags, which are quite durable.  I may caulk or weather seal the seams, and i may weatherize the windows with that thin plastic you can stretch across your windows and blow try smooth to keep heat in your house during winter.  If i do those things, this green house will be pretty toasty inside and will allow me to protect a 4×3 section of garden bed during one of Seattle’s biennial harsh freezes, or to start tomatoes or peppers or squash waaaaay earlier than normal.  But- lesson learned from forgetting to open the plastic cloche on hot days and frying the pepper plants this summer- we’ll have to watch the temperature and vent the green house appropriately.

I also bought 2 more big, single pane windows (slightly smaller than 4’x3′) that will become cold frames- essentially what i’ve just described above, but the side walls are made of wood.  This allows less light in but keeps more heat in, and with a southward slope these structures let in enough light to grow greens over the winter.

I’m stoked.  Must hurry up and pass general exam (November 9th!) so i can get back to gardening!

 

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Realized that i haven’t actually written any posts about my garden, though i intended this to be an “urban farm” blog.  Will have to remedy that.  To start, here is a tour of my garden this summer:

First, many of my veggies get started in the basement under the grow light. Here are some kale and squash seedlings.  Starting seeds indoors takes a bit of electricity, but helps delicate seedlings establish themselves, helps your garden get started earlier in the season, and gives the veggies currently in the garden a few more weeks to grow before they are replaced by new transplants.  Seeding indoors is a great garden time and space saver.

Our original garden consists of three 4×8′ raised beds and one 2×12′ strip along the fence in the corner of the lawn.  This spring we have peas along the fence, beets and chard in one raised bed, brassicas in the second, and peppers and basil in the third.

The peas (Cascadia snap peas from Territorial) are still pumping out delicious pods; hopefully i won’t have to cut them off early when it comes time to replace them with fall broccoli and cabbage transplants mid-August.

In bed one, i made the mistake of not replacing the over-wintered swiss chard plants with new transplants as soon as it was warm enough.  We harvested from the plants all through last fall and winter, and they did continue to produce this spring, but bolted soon after the weather warmed up.  I cut as much as i could before the plants could flower and their leaves turn bitter, and shared it with several neighbors.  But then i had no transplants to replace them with!  Now, in July, the new plants are finally big enough to take leaves from.  Whoops.  Lesson learned.

In bed two, I transplanted two successions of broccoli and cabbage seedlings: the first has been eaten (by us or the chickens, depending on the amount of slug damage), and the second is taking too long.  Early in the season, i sowed radishes between the bigger broccoli and cabbage plants (as per Steve Solomon) because they are so quick to mature they don’t bother their slow growing neighbors.  Now it is time to replant this bed with rutabaga and parsnip…  which i again seeded between the rows of nearly mature broccoli, hoping that the timing will work out.  One thing i am learning in this garden is patience and slow-down-itute.  Cramming too much into the garden plan results in disappointment.

Into bed three went my home-grown pepper seedlings, two extra tomato seedlings that i couldn’t bring myself to toss out, and several basil plants from the Seattle Tilth plant sale.  This bed was covered with a plastic cloche to keep it warm, but several hot days- and me forgetting to open the ends of the cloche- fried the peppers.  I feel i have failed David, the main eater of hot peppers, but next year i’ll get those whiny little biatches to perform by starting them earlier and protecting them with wall-o-waters when they are first transplanted.  This year i have all but given up on them and have filled the spaces in between with more basil seedlings from the apocalypse room.

When we first moved in, there were two flower beds along the west side of the house growing ginormous irises.  Those promptly became veggie garden space as well.  The smaller patch is growing kale this year, which will mostly be split between our housemate Kate and the chickens, both of whom love kale more than life itself.  In the larger bed, i’ve grown runner beans along the house for the last two years.  If you have never had runner beans, you MUST. GROW. RUNNER BEANS!  They are the most amazing thing ever- huge pods that are slightly fuzzy and oh-so-beany.  They don’t get tough and stringy as they get even more huge.  The vines can grow to 10 feet tall and have beautious cascades of red flowers.  If you try them, you will never grow bush beans again.  The rest of this bed is growing successions of lettuce and spinach, and we have a mojito patch under the hose faucet, because that’s where mint likes to grow.

One afternoon last spring i tore out a 4×12″ patch of grass to make another garden bed, much to David’s surprise.  I just couldn’t help myself!  Or as Daniel would say, “No one was there to stop me!”  Into that bed went squash, followed by crimson clover over the winter, which was eaten by the chickens this spring.  Now the bed is a teeming mass of tomato vines.  Intent on getting a boat-load of tomatoes this year, i started the transplants out in wall-o-waters (some home grown and some from the Seattle Tilth plant sale), and then when the plants were too big, covered the bed with a plastic cloche that was open at both ends.  The plants did not fry and the air was still warm enough under the tunnel to grow huge tomato plants.  Now i just need to fertilize them with some phosphorous to get them a-fruiting.  (Nitrogen fertilizer induces leafy growth; phosphorous fertilizer encourages fruit setting.)  We had one ripe tomato already- a good sized Oregon Spring.  We gave it to our neighbor Becky, as per the Murray-Munger tradition of racing your neighbors to produce the first ripe tomato and then giving it away.

This year we built one more 4×12′ bed out in the parking strip (gawd that’s crappy soil) and filled it with 8 zucchini, yellow squash, and green and lemon cucumber plants.  I started the seeds indoors in cow pots and protected the transplants with the wall-o-waters that had just come off the tomatoes.  I think we could start the plants a little earlier next year- some of our neighbors have giant squash plants already, and ours are kind of puny… but they have little baby squashlets on them!

And that’s what we’ve got in the garden this spring and summer.  Fall/cover crop update to come soon.

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