Saturday, August 9, 2008

Our "Experiemental" Garden (photos)

I’ve mentioned before that vegetable gardening is new to us. Happily it is working fairly well. We didn’t plant the garden to feed us all year, we had no illusions that we would be so self-sufficient. We planted it to get our hands dirty, so to speak, and start doing something we thought we would find rewarding and interesting. All along I’ve been calling this my experimental garden because I’ve tried some unconventional methods and am focusing on the methodology and learning from experience as much as on reaping a harvest (although I hope to do that too, of course).

The raised beds continue to be the easiest area of the garden to maintain, with the fewest weeds and highest yields. We have had a steady supply of green beans and cucumbers over the past few weeks as well as beets, lettuces, and chard. I have also harvested a few tomatoes, some broccoli, and zucchini from one of our ground-level patches.

The corn looks like we may not see much of it. It was growing tall, over seven feet, and each stalk had two ears that had exposed their silks and seemed to be getting pollinated by bees and other insects, in fact, I pulled one ear just to look inside and at the end of each string of silk was a plump, ripening kernel (which were still immature, of course and the silks were still attached but it was fascinating to study). A week later I noticed that one of the lower ears had been pulled down, exposing the immature kernels from their sheath of husk. I decided it must have been the work of raccoons. Soon after, I noticed more of the same but the upper ears seemed unaffected. Then last weekend a few stalks fell to some shrub trimming that caused branches to knock them over. I stood a few back up and propped them with tomato cages, a pretty funny sight). On Monday night we had some wind with the storms that came through (not nearly the wind they got in the Chicago area) and full one-fourth of the stalks blew over. I’ve left them to see if anything will come of them but I don’t have great expectations for their survival.

I have also noticed that the blasted Japanese beetles seem to like to feast on the silks. As with the one I opened prematurely, the silks were largely severed but the kernels had been pollinated prior to that so I suspect they would be OK. Still, I’m not relying on this garden to be our sole source of food so I purchased six dozen ears of corn from the Murphys who run Murphy’s Market from their house on Meridian Rd (first house north of Latham on the west side of the street). They have some lovely produce including onions, cucumbers, squash, Italian beans, sweet corn, and (soon) tomatoes. Their stand is set up along their drive and is self-service. A sandwich board at the road lists what they have to sell that day. Their prices are very reasonable and they are a very friendly couple!

The cabbages are growing slowly and showing some signs of cabbage moths (last year I had a few cabbages and we just ate them holey). In the other ground-level bed the popcorn is still only about two feet high (it has had a lot of competition from crab grass which I haven’t fully weeded out yet, perhaps this weekend). The zucchini has started to yield but it also was quite overgrown with weeds. The sugar pumpkins are looking happy, with beautiful big blooms but I haven’t lifted aside the leaves to see if they’ve set much fruit yet. The moon and stars watermelon have set fruit, as have the cantaloupe but the cantaloupe fruit looks suspiciously like watermelon (do they start out like that?). The asparagus and strawberries are not producing, of course, but they are doing their things and developing strong root systems.

In addition to experimenting with gardening, I also experimented with storage techniques over winter. I kept one green cabbage, one bag of beets, and one bag of parsnips in the crisper drawer for over six months – just to see how they would fare.

The cabbage paled as we neared spring but did not rot or otherwise look bad. The outer leaves dried a bit but, when peeled away, bared crisp, moist inner ones. Eventually, the cut end of the cabbage sprouted leaves which were also pale yellow and several inches long. I decided at that point to pull the cabbage out of the fridge and set it out at room temperature to see what would happen. Within two days the sprouts tripled in length and turned green. I kept the cabbage on the counter for the better part of a week as the sprouts grew exponentially and soon started to flower. I admit that I wondered if I could plant these shoots but I observed that they were long and narrow and didn’t seem at all like they could produce the typical closed cabbage head. Kevin was reading Four-Season Harvest at the time and happened upon a page that talked about forcing cabbage roots for their small but tasty leaves over winter… this is apparently what I had done. I then harvested the stalks and leaves and chopped them in to some other greens I was sautéing. They were great – we plan to pull all of our cabbage out this fall with roots intact and store them in the root cellar for forcing over winter – I’ll let you know how that works out.

I was happy to see that the beets and parsnips all made it through their long storage and were fully edible come spring (I waited until we had a steady supply of other fresh foods to best replicate what I thought I would need to do this year). I am pulling the rest of our beets from the garden now as they are quite large, but plan to plant another set (hopefully this weekend) for a late season harvest. Of course I don't have room in my refrigerator to store the quantities of root vegetables we will need but we have identified a crawlspace area below our garage addition to use as a root cellar. I have also been freezing copious amounts of local produce... more on that in another post.

1 comment:

The Mom said...

We grew cantaloupe last year ... by mistake. It was supossed to be watermelon. It looked a lot like watermelon until while still green, it grew the rough surface that cantaloupe has. We didn't get much off of it, but what we did, we enjoyed... even if it wasn't watermelon!