Sunday, August 21, 2011

planting update and garden map as of August 13

The attached map highlights changes that we have made in the last few weeks.

  1. We have had to pull almost all of the kale and collards because of a flea beetle infestation.  The only kale from the first planting that was unaffected was a small patch in Bed 22. We left a few collards in the north end of Bed 11 and some kale in Bed 9; however, we'll probably pull all but the plants in Bed 22 next week.
  2. We also pulled up almost all of the plants that had gone to seed, including radishes in Beds 12 and 14.
  3. We recently harvested all of the beets in the western half of Bed 14 and half of the potatoes from Bed 10.
  4. We pulled the pea plants from Bed 19 and resowed the bed half with New Zealand Spinach (a heat-tolerant variety) and half with broccoli. None of the broccoli seeds germinated, so the eastern half of the bed is free.

  1. We planted a lot of cabbage. In Bed 9, we planted Copenhagen Market in the southern third and Red Acre in the northern third. In the middle of Bed 14, we planted a few Early Wakefields.
  2. We also planted varieties of carrots. In Bed 12 (our traditional carrot bed), we planted Royal Chatenay in the southern third and Asian Kurota in the northern third. In the eastern end of Bed 14, we planted Tonda di Parigi, a variety that produces stubby, round carrots.
Circling the airport

  1. Because nothing else really seems to grow in the shady end of Bed 19 but lettuce, we plan to plant lettuce there in the next couple of weeks.
  2. We want to try to grow broccoli this year. We plan to replant Bed 10, and maybe Bed 11, with broccoli sometime near the beginning of September.
  3. We'll need to plant fall crops soon to replace crops currently in Bed 17 (pole beans), 22 (blue potato), and 20 (summer squash and cucumber). 
  4. Because we'll lose access to municipal water in late October or early November, we'll also need to plan for the green manure crops that will grow as ground cover in the winter.

    Thursday, August 18, 2011

    beta vulgaris

    This year was a truly satisfying year for beets. While our kale and collards were munched into unappetizing doilies by flea beetles and our tomatoes and peppers struggled to raise themselves above knee height, our bed of densely planted Detroit Reds and Cylindras clamored for space into which to extend their lush foliage.

    According to the seed packages, we could plant beets two inches apart if we were interested primarily in greens; three inches apart if we wanted to harvest our beets in summer; and four inches apart if we planned to store beets over winter. We opted for a closer planting, because we thought that the greens would go over just as well as the roots, and because none of us owns a root cellar.

    The seed packages also recommended that we soak our seeds at least a day before planting them to encourage their germination. Immersed in a mason jar filled with rainwater, the seeds plumped up to resemble Grape Nuts, and clung stubbornly to our fingers as we fished them out and drizzled them along rows of freshly forked soil.

    In the following weeks, the beet plants grew vigorously, beating out all but the hardiest weeds in the quest for space in the bed. After their initial coddling, our beets required little from us other than occasional watering.

    In 1610, the gentlemen farmers who wrote “A True Declaration of the State of the Colonie of Virginia” were happily eating potatoes—along with the parsnips, carrots, cucumbers, and turnips that they had brought from home—and praising them as food “which our gardens yeelded with little art and labour.” –Jane Mayer, “Down Under”, The New Yorker, November 22, 2010

    In late July, we began to harvest our beets, pulling entire plants intermittently from the rows. The roots were small, but well formed; and the greens were darkly vibrant. Our beets radiated vitality.

    A year or so ago, when we asked for recommendations of what crops to grow,  dietitians at Vital Bridges specifically requested beets. Beets are acclaimed for their abilities to cleanse the liver: just Google “beets liver cleansing” for a host of links to claims of varying degrees of believability. Because many victims of HIV suffer simultaneously from Hepatitis C (talk about salt in the wound), foods that cleanse the liver would, on first reflection, be welcome to the pantry’s clientele.

    The theoretical appreciation of the health benefits of beets, unfortunately, does not manifest in a mad rush for our rooty produce when we make our deliveries to the pantry. Beets may radiate vitality, and even glow with virtue; however, they do not suggest summer fun. Our beet greens, in particular, often languish in their market baskets. Other garden products attract the attention of visitors to the pantry: our tomatoes are like models in Daisy Dukes handing out Jell-O shots; our beets, on the other hand, wear cargo shorts and carry clipboards, asking whether you have a second for the environment.

    Many of us may have been dissuaded from beets by early experiences with institutional cuisine—the canned, pickled beets, which, along with canned spinach and stewed prunes, filled the compartments of our school lunch platters with unappetizing vegetable matter that we often only ate on a dare. We carried our childhood abhorrence of the purplish and vinegary juice of beets with us into adulthood.

    This is unfortunate, because lovingly prepared beets can be wonderful. Beets are not just good for you—they can often be just good. My wife converted to beet love last winter after ordering a salad featuring roasted beets at Karyn’s on Green. She recently made a risotto of beets and greens, using a recipe from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which resulted in leftovers that I ate without hesitation for three days in a row.

    We harvested the final beets from our garden last weekend. The beet bed will now, if all goes well, host rows of dinosaur kale and cabbage.

    If you think that beets are a hard sell at the pantry, imagine how dinosaur kale goes over.

    Friday, August 12, 2011


    June 25, 2011
    We have struggled over the last couple of seasons with attacks of powdery mildew on our squash plants. Last year, we made the drastic step of pulling the entire contents of the “dodecahedron” bed early so that we could amend the bed in an attempt to strengthen the next year’s crop against disease.

    This year, we planted the dodecahedron bed with Waltham Butternut squash, sunflowers, and tomatoes. After a slow start, the bed exploded with growth. Aided by good weather, assiduous tending, and (we think) the soil amendments, the bed is now a small jungle of plants. Wandering vines strain against the chicken wire fence. The soil is obscured by lush, green leaves that are a foot wide. Enormous squash flowers hide among the leaves. Sunflower plants tower over everything.

    July 2, 2011
    July 16, 2011

    August 6, 2011

    pole beans

    We planted three varieties of pole beans this spring, using seeds purchased from Seed Saver’s Exchange.
    We arranged our seeds in circles around tripods fashioned from aluminum tubes lashed with gardening twine. We planted Green Sultan at the west end of the bed; Bountiful in the middle; and Cherokee Trail of Tears* at the east end.

    Within a fortnight, young bean plants emerged from the dirt, some with their originating seeds still clasping a leaf.

    As the season progressed, the growing vines eventually found the poles of the aluminum trellises, and the tripods soon turned into leafy teepees. I strung clothesline rope between the tripods and added bamboo seats from salvaged papasan chairs. The vines soon covered everything, forming a boat-shaped mass of leaves.
    The vine of a pole bean is a marvel of plant engineering, optimized for finding and using support. The surface of the vine is slightly sticky. If you gently wrap the tendril of a vine around a finger and then release it, the vine will often remain curled, as if prehensile. Vines will even use other vines for support, extending into space curled around themselves like gymnasts or modern dancers.

    Along the intertwined tendrils’s balletic trajectories bloom tiny-petaled flowers in white or pink. If all goes as expected, bean pods will later emerge from the flowers.

    Harvesting beans is a bit like looking for 3-D images in stereoscopic photos. If you look too intently into the masses of vines, you will probably miss many pods that are right in front of you. If you instead slightly relax your focus and wait, pods will pop into your peripheral vision. Many times, I have told people heading to a bean trellis that I’ve already gone over it, only to see them return with handfuls of beans that had escaped me.

    We have harvested only a few pounds of beans so far: as with almost everything this year, the bean plants appear to have been delayed in their growth by the cold spring. If the number of flowers is any indication of future yield, though, we may be in for a good crop.


    *At first, I was appalled that a bean variety would be named Cherokee Trail of Tears. Why would anyone name a vegetable after an atrocity? I later read that John Wyche, the Seed Savers Exchange member who donated the original seeds, descended from people who carried the beans with them along the march during the winter of 1837. So the name of a bean commemorates the victims of genocide, and I will not regard a simple bean pod in the same way again.