Week 15 – Garden Update

My wife and I have been getting our sweat-on with all that needs doing in this garden that has suddenly been shoved into full-swing with the fantastic (but cold) weather we’ve been having. Our road-side stand is being emptied of everything we put up there, and our greenhouse is….well….green with all the quickly growing plants waiting their turn to head out. While I wasn’t lucky enough for a long weekend, I did manage to spend most of the last two weekends getting tanned and dirty. The kids even helped…for one or two moments here and there.

So here’s what’s growing:

Bed 1: Perennial: Blueberries.

I’ve tried other companion plants, but the blueberries have struggled. This year I’ll likely put nothing else in there. I always have the spring bulbs just to “bring the bed alive” in the spring but also to promote pollinators ahead of the blueberry flowers. So, this bed might be boring this year with a heavy mulch to cool and retain moisture. The good news is the flowers are just about to open.

Bed 2: Perennial: Raspberries.

This soil is actually surprisingly good. It is almost exclusively filled with what was dug up. It’s heavy, and thick clay, but there had been old bonfires, so old charcoal and what look like bits of old brick. I did add some old horse manure I was given, and other than the hard-packed nature, things tend to enjoy it. Now that the raspberries are well established I can’t add too many annuals in there, but I’ve decided to put parsley in the south side (for lack of space elsewhere) and alyssum on the north end to help with pollination and add a living mulch later.

Bed 3: Perennial: Strawberries.

Not much change here: check out Garden Update – Week 11 for what was done there. However, I’ll mention that I have lots of bulbs in this bed. Not flowering on the North side are allium flowers. This flower later, so I don’t want them to shade the strawberries by being in the middle or south side of the bed. The reason for flowering bulbs is again for pollination but also because bulbs root deep, and strawberries root shallow, so they are compatible based on depth.

Bed 4: Perennial: Asparagus and mixed.

I’ve never fully decided on this bed. The eastern third is asparagus…but from seed. This is the first year harvestable spears are appearing. I’m a bit concerned why so few of the plants have come up, but I’ll give it a few more weeks before I panic. In the near third I now have Rhubarb. This is not ideal, but they were struggling in a spot elsewhere, so I’ve dug them up in hopes of giving them new life (and us a harvest.) It’s a big plant, and it’ll take up a lot of walk way space, so it might not be the best location. However, if it does well it can help shade and cool the bed. This is our hottest bed so I’m hoping it helps. The middle of the bed will be borage that is starting to sprout up from last year’s seeds. In the meantime I’ve placed rows of lettuce, spinach and arugula for salads. I also added a row of mixed Amaranth just to add some colour and division between the sections.

Bed 5: Annual: Onion and carrot family

I like to mix these two families. Most of the members of these families, that I’ll be growing, either have a bulb or a long tap root. All can be packed tightly because they don’t take up much lateral space. The only one that poses a problem to that theory is Celery, which sends thick roots (similar to tap roots) horizontally. However, I haven’t found they interfere. In this bed I have garlic rows dividing it into thirds. In the middle and eastern third are two onions, Redwing and Patterson. The western third will likely be carrots.

Bed 6: Annual: Solanacea

This is the first of two beds dedicated to this family. This will host primarily determinate tomatoes (ones that produce at the same time.) I love San Marzano, so it’ll make up most of it. But we’re also trying “tasti lee” from West Coast Seeds, which is described as delicious, and semi-determinate…whatever that means. All around the outside are potatoes. The potatoes grow quick and leafy and will help produce a living mulch for the roots of the tomatoes. What is not pictured is the massive structure I need to build for the tomatoes. In the past I’ve used the common cage or bamboo stakes, but neither is good enough for me. My goal is to get them nice and high, reduce the number of branches and try to extend the growing season which is usually limited by blight. Once the tomatoes are off the ground I might plant some peppers, otherwise, I’ll try marigolds and alyssum. Alyssum attracts parasitic wasps to keep pests down and marigolds deter pathogenic nematodes which threaten the potatoes. Of course, this bed will also get a dose of Stratiolaelaps Scimitus to protect the roots. The tomatoes (already quite big) have been given the brown lacewing to rid them of aphids. The lacewings will end up in the garden, so all I’ll need is some encarsia formosa if whitefly show up. In the meantime, poppy seeds were spread with some sand on this bed. They are just popping up.

Bed 7: Annual: Beet family.

I have more plants I want to grow in this family than I have room for. The beet family is long tap roots (some, like beets, can reach 9 feet deep). I won’t be inter-planting because these, when grown for leaves, are a short, cold season crop. Then, if you’re growing for flowers, or seeds, this will occur later in the year. So, my tall flowering plants (amaranth) will grow alongside the leafy greens (arugula, spinach, chard) and then shade them when it gets hot. So this bed is divided into sixths. From west to east is: Chard; purple amaranth; beets; “tofino” amaranth; spinach; mixed amaranth. I also have spinach and arugula growing as rows to divide the sections, last year’s chard on the north side as well as mixed amaranth around the boarders. It’ll be colourful! You’ll see lots of cups. Those contain beer yeast to trap slugs. Early on I figured I’d try putting out spinach since they had survived freezing temps in my cold frame. I knew, if they survived the cold, they greatest threat would be slugs. However, there they are! We’ve already had a few spinach salads despite the spinach not usually being in the garden yet.

Bed 8: Annual: Onion and carrot family

Similar to bed 5, this is a mix. The outer thirds of the bed are garlic, planted last October. The middle is rows of celery and cilantro. I decided to put some out now since last year’s celery is still going. It seems the freezing temperatures destroy the stalks (the part we eat) but doesn’t kill the plant. Because of that, I thought I’d put a few out and see what happens. So far, so good. There is also some amaranth for colour and to divide the sections. I may add parsley or carrots to this bed if I need the space.

Bed 9: Annual: Onion and carrot family.

This is a lot of onion and carrot, I know. Next year it’ll likely be down to two beds, but we’re trying some things out and readjusting our bed rotation. We don’t want beds of the same plant families in consecutive years, so this bed 8 and 9 will have to change. In the meantime you’ll see the garlic rows dividing the thirds (can’t have too much garlic). At least two of the thirds (which currently have some over-winter fava beans) will be parsnips. Parsnips have done very well for us, but this will be the first time they’ll be in a bed that is more clay than compost. They tend to get huge and take up a lot of space, so the whole bed may need to be dedicated to them. But I’m also hoping to do more onions (I guess I didn’t start enough)

Bed 10: Annual: Flowers

As in previous years, the two middle beds (which are 10 feet long instead of 15 to accommodate the pond) will be for cut flowers. We don’t have a plan yet, but we do have a greenhouse full of starts that’ll be looking for a home.

Bed 11: Annual: Flowers

Same as above.

Bed 12: Annual: Grass

The grass family have deep, dense root masses and they are heavy feeders. There are three beds dedicated to grasses this year. This one was fall-seeded with winter wheat. Germination was poor (and it hasn’t been weeded). Two thirds of that will be dug out and replaced by Yellow corn and rye.

Bed 13: Annual: Grass

Again, this back-to-back rotation is temporary. This bed was seeded with barley and oats and one third was left for ornamental corn. However, birds flocked to this bed, and not a single seed sprouted. I’ll reseed the grasses again.

Bed 14: Annual: Brassica

Brassicas need a helping hand. They have lots of pests so they need flowers to attract and keep predators, as well as to shade the ground to keep the beds cool. This bed has one third flax. The other two will be brassicas. Some of these were overwintered ones I transplanted to try and let them flower while we wait for new ones. And some I started cold in the glass house. They looked great and have been put out, but they got too cold and are now bolting thinking they were over-wintered. So, a lesson for next year: Don’t start them too early outside or in the cold frame. However, I have sown new brassicas over the last two weeks, and I feel that they are a little late. Were they bigger, I’d likely put them out in a week or two. At this rate, they won’t be out for another month at least. Brassicas this year: Brussels, mixed kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages.

Bed 15: Annual: mustards

Mustards are closely related to brassicas, so this rotation is also not ideal. They are a cold crop, so I seeded this bed in thirds in early march. From the west I sowed, “Kate’s Mustard;” white mustard; mixed mustard. Something ate all of them except some of the white mustard in the middle. So, I started a mix, just in case and they are now out. Mustards are loved by slugs and I have lost a few plants already. But they grow fast, so I keep resowing. Most of this is for eating the greens. However, the white mustard is to be left to flower, attracting all sorts of bugs, and then collecting the seeds for homemade mustard. When they finish I will plant rutabaga or turnip, which is also closely related. Also, because mustards are bit of an irritant (for some soil pests like nematodes too) I figured this was the safest place to try Stinging Nettle – the super food of all super foods. However, I’m quite aware that with kids, this is not an ideal crop, and because it has rhizomes, it is better suited for a perennial bed. But I hope that in the annual bed, it will force me to dig up the rhizomes and move them. That, combined with removing the flowers, should prevent unwanted spread. Nettles are early and delicious. I even make a Stinging Nettle beer.

Bed 16: Annual: Solanaceae

Right now you’ll see the fava beans that were the winter cover crop. There are also two rows of potatoes: Yukon gold and a purple finger potato. Those will occupy the south side, leaving the North side and middle for my indeterminate tomatoes (ones that continually produce fruit and tend to vine). In the past I’ve used bamboo stakes to support them, but I’m hoping for something tidier this year. If there is space, peppers may be added to this garden, otherwise, a flowering tobacco or marigolds.

Bed 17: Annual: Lettuce family

This is our worst bed. Under the big fir tree it gets less light, and less rain. It is not ideal for lettuce, but this is our last try with this bed. If we can’t get a decent looking crop, it will turn into a perennial bed to house Salal. In the meantime, I put some healthy looking lettuces in there already. One night they got eaten from the leaf-in. I put a net over to rule out big things like rabbits, but more were eaten. I have to guess slugs again (maybe woodlouse, though). I guess the lettuce is tastier than the beer yeast. I also decided to use these trellises to divide the bed into halves. On the eastern one is sweet peas and the central one was a shelling pea….they were also totally eaten. Again, I’m puzzled by the culprit since the leaves were eaten…not the stems, which seems to be what slugs do best. Anyways, I’ll wait for the rain and then add some more lettuces. (This was close to the driest March we’ve ever had). Also in the lettuce family are sunflowers. I’ll plant these along the south side in order to give the lettuce some shade to extend (hopefully) their growing season. In the sun-baked summer, they’ll do nothing but bolt.

What’s eating the lettuce?

Bed 18: Annual: Brassicas

One third (or a little more) is last year’s rutabagas. Most of these were odd shaped and heavily eaten by wireworms, so they remained. I have left them because nothing else is going in yet and the flowers will be nice for pollinators. This is a problem since those pests will transfer to the brassicas. So, hopefully a solid dosage of stratiolaelaps or gaeolaelaps will knock them back. Otherwise, expect this to change in rotation next time. For this and the other brassica bed, compost was added and mixed in to a depth of 12-18 inches in order to condition the soil. This bed is heavy clay and hasn’t done well for most plants.

Bed 19: Annual: Peas

The trellises support sweet peas, shelling peas and snap peas. The spaces between will house chick peas. And that reminds me: for the grass beds that will have corn, I will grow black beans and kidney beans between the corn. This has worked well for a few years. But we eat a lot of chick peas, so most space will be allowed for them. We’re pretty close to warm enough soil temp for chick peas. The others will need to wait until late May.

Bed 20: Annual: Grass

Once more, we have another grass bed. Some winter wheat and some corn. The other space might be rye or I’ll leave it for flowers. This is evidence of the celery that “over wintered”. You’ll see it died back, but is alive and well. For soups, you can harvest its leaves for the same flavour.

Glass house: Cold frame

Looks like a slug found it’s way in. The damage isn’t bad, but I’ve found a couple casualties. I also found other casualties and found woodlouse in the tray below.. could it have been them? The case of the cheap greenhouse nearly punished me again when I found the racks from those cheap greenhouses nearly collapsed under the weight (and uneven ground) of the plants. Luckily I saw them and tied it off before they fell. My goal for this summer, when there will likely be nothing in the house (or just a few things) will be to re-level the floor, then build permanent shelves. The key is light. The north side should have high shelves and whatever ends up on the south should allow lots of light through to the north side and floor. Essentially I need to figure out how to max out this space. Tomatoes and Peppers and tomatillos are taking up most of the space right now. And as mentioned before, there are lots of flowers that need to go out after risk of frost, which for us is still a few weeks away.

Hot house:

Right now, two weeks of brassica plantings and some of the squash. Up next Corn and basil!

Around the yard:

We got rid of a struggling “Black Lace” Elderberry. Instead we planted a mimosa (and a hop) and laid rock to tidy-up the space. When the mimosa gets big we’ll have some nice shade on the deck. Fruit trees have come alive. Peaches are in bloom, and the nectarine is nearly finished. The cherry and pears are about to bloom. The side gardens are mostly weeded and showing signs of spring. We had our last bonfire of yard waste. So my son and I cleaned up the space and planted some alyssum. I’ll likely add sunflowers and pumpkins to the space. One bed was neglected and it is hard-packed clay which makes weeding difficult. I pulled the trigger on some action and covered it with roofing material and cardboard to suppress the weeds. When we can get large loads of compost, I’ll remove this cover, lay the compost then (probably) recover some areas and plant our squash family in the rest of it. This will be the space for cucumbers, zucchini an a bunch of winter squash and gourds. I’m hoping they leaf-out and suppress weeds while keeping the soil cooler for the fruit trees. It’s ugly…I know.

On the Bug Front:

Aphids I placed against a rose failed to establish. I’ve seen robins feeding on the aphids, so maybe they are just cleaning up the ones that moved to the rose. It’s about this time last year a green aphid appeared on the rose. Let’s see if this early inoculation has helped. The aphids established on my peppers are still going strong in the glass house despite inoculation with lacewing. However, I am still finding the lacewing on plants as I set them out. My cucumeris sachets are still being placed regularly on the pears. Some of them looked to have “burnt” edges a few weeks ago and those buds still look sickly. I’m still hoping we get some sort of control of the pear leaf blister mite. Even a bit should help these trees survive. Otherwise, there are no aphids on the oregano, although it’s not looking so hot this year. Last year the green aphid (a tiny one) infested the oregano but our hoverflies took care of it. That year the hop adjacent to it did not get any aphids. So let’s hope for a repeat (although the hoverflies and lacewing cleaned up the hop anyways).

Brown Lacewing Micromus variegatus continues aphid predation from greenhouse out into the yard.

See you all next time. Lots to do:

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