Sunday, January 10, 2016

Garden Planning for 2016

The seed catalogs have arrived and garden planning for next year is under way here. The pretty photos in the catalogs are eye candy and I like to read through the catalogs and circle promising looking varieties. Another planning tool I use is my Garden Ideas List, where during the year I enter varieties I may want to try next year, and a source of seeds if I know it. If I don’t do that, I can’t possibly remember things that struck my fancy during the season, like the Calypso cucumber that Mike grew with such spectacular success. Eventually I will generate a planting list for the year, check my seed inventory, and prepare my seed orders.

But first you have to assess the year just past and decide what you want to do new or different this year. First of all, lets look at what my gardening philosophy was going to be for last year:
  • Purchase Onion Plants – Yep, did that. I purchased too many, however, but it was an experiment. The storage onions (Copra and Red Zeppelin) did fine. The Tropea onions were also fine but I did not need 60 plants. I usually just poke some plants in the corners of squares planted with something else and pull them for fresh onions. They do not store so I don’t want a large number of them. The intermediate day onions were a waste of space, except for a few Red Candy onions I pulled for fresh use. They also do not store and have to be used or processed after harvest. I will definitely purchase plants again but reign in my enthusiasm.
  • Total War on Cucumber (and Flea) Beetles – Well, I tried that. I did buy and apply Surround. It washes off after the first rain and you have to reapply with a sprayer. Boy, does that gunk up a perfectly good sprayer. I need one of those industrial sprayers designed to spray concrete (don’t ask me why you want to spray concrete) but those cost $100+.  I actually saw very few cucumber beetles this year and those were in the flowers on my squash and did no harm. The cucumbers, however, seemed to croak pretty well on their own without assistance from the beetles. Lousy year for cucumbers.
  • Cover Brassicas and Eggplants with Row Cover - I bought row cover and used plastic tubing for hoops to cover the brassica and squash beds. That worked pretty well but is a colossal nuisance. You have to remove the cover to water or weed, and things still get in under the edges. I will repeat this exercise again this year because what else are you going to do?
  • Grow Peas on a Trellis – I did that and plan to repeat. I was buried in snap and snow peas until the PM arrived. I think a large trellis is more likely to catch spores sailing by on the wind. What I will do differently is abandon the use of the expensive nylon trellis material and just string hemp twine back and forth. That way I can just snip it off and dump the whole rats nest in a trash bag.
  • Mineralization – I did purchase a bag of local rock dust, as well as a tub of crushed crab shells and a bag of kelp meal, and used those whenever I planted. I have no idea if they helped. Theoretically you don’t need these things in a SFG garden because the compost is supposed to supply everything. Certainly the other plot I gardened last year could have used the help because the soil is fairly poor. Anyway, I will continue because I have to use up these large, heavy bags of “stuff” the wife keeps asking me about, and I am sure they are doing a lot of good.
  • Tomato Choice – Avoid heirlooms. I mostly did that. I did plant a Prudens Purple as a last minute attempt to plug a hole, and I planted Jaune Flamme and Opalka, which are considered heirlooms. The Prudens Purple was more robust than Brandywine but not as productive. I got a couple of decent slicers but it is not worth the space. Opalka was a bust because of BER and they do not really taste that good. Jaune Flamme was a winner and will repeat.
Here is what I am thinking of doing different in 2016:
  • Beans – I am talking about fresh beans, I don’t grow shell beans. Last year I planted four varieties of pole beans and no bush beans (although I bought seed). Pole beans are attractive because I can grow large quantities of beans in just the four squares at the end of a bed, not to mention they are very tasty beans. The beans last year were affected by what I self-diagnosed as bean golden mosaic virus (BGMV). The Gold Marie beans were hit first, right out of the ground. Eventually it spread to the Musica beans. Fortex was less affected, but then I find it has some resistance. Looking at the Johnny’s catalog, most pole beans have no listed resistance to any bean diseases, while the bush bean varieties show much more disease resistance. Most pole beans seem to be heirloom varieties with no breeding done on them to produce disease resistance, unlike bush beans that are commercially grown (because they can be machine harvested) and so are bred for desirable properties. So I may go back to planting bush beans this year, which have a much more impressive disease-resistance package. Johnny’s catalog is really helpful with information on these types of issues.
  • Beets – It was a good year for beets despite the hot, dry summer. At least we had rain in the spring and I got a good germination of seed, which has always been a problem in the past. I will probably go with Shiraz and Touchstone Gold varieties again since they did so well last year. Shiraz is an encouraging example of the plant breeding being done to improve the characteristics of a variety. Open pollinated varieties are what make that possible since they can be bred and selected.
  • Broccoli – Another bust this year despite the row cover protection from flea beetles and cabbage caterpillars. A dry, hot summer did not help. I may try Blue Wind this year to get a quick crop before it gets hot.  And maybe some Aspabroc or Apollo for shoots, but the overall square footage is definitely getting reduced.
  • Carrots – I got some fall carrots to germinate and grow by simply planting the seed deeper than you would think given their tiny size. I will definitely try fall carrots again and may even try some in the spring.
  • Cucumbers – Another complete bust. Given the hot, dry weather last year the cucumbers did not do well. I didn’t notice any bacterial wilt but there are plenty of other things around ready to afflict them. Not completely sure what I will do. Cucumbers are one of our favorite vegetables so it is hard to not try again. I will probably be trying Calypso, hoping Mike’s incredible results come with the seed.
  • Eggplant – Covering with row cover until well established and starting to flower worked well. I got a few eggplant this year, but the hot, dry weather did affect them (not a drop of rain for 2 months in New England, what is going on??).
  • Kale – Did OK. I got a few cuttings from the Toscano. Trouble with it is the bugs also love it and leaves tend to get smaller as it grows. Seems you need to replant it frequently. The Beedy’s  Camden did OK but not great because of the drought. I tried Tronchuda Beira but didn’t care for it or its growth habit. So next year I will be trying something new in the kale patch and maybe planting collards again. I am looking at some of the kales available from Adaptive Seeds, like Western Front. And I may also try a red Russian kale. It would be nice to find a Toscano kale with better growth habits.
  • Kohlrabi – Both Winner and Azur Star did well and I will grow them again. I tried a fall planting of Winner but it didn’t do well when we got a freeze, even under row cover. The choi and Napa were fine but all the foliage on Winner was killed.
  • Onions – I will be ordering Copra and Red Zeppelin plants from Dixondale again this year, but nothing else. I may start some Tropea onions and a leek from seeds because I only need a small quantity of those. For shallots I think I will try Conservor. The Ambition shallots are showing signs they are not going to store well.
  • Peas – Snap and snow peas grown on trellises again. I managed to score some Green Beauty snow peas from Fedco this year before they sold out, to replace the Golden Sweet I planted last year as a substitute.
  • Peppers – I need to get more preemptive in controlling bacterial spot, which has caused me big problems two of the last three years. In addition, I will be more selective in what I grow. This is a weird climate and I don’t have enough time to effectively grow a lot of the C. baccatum and C. chinense peppers, so maybe I should stop trying. I will try to stick to what works well for me, which will be a lot of peppers like Carmen, Revolution, Tiburon Ancho, and Jimmy Nardello.
  • Radishes – Definitely Zlata again, plus a red cherry (maybe Champion if I can find it). I also am looking for a Korean radish I can use in making kimchi and pickles, a shorter version of a daikon.
  • Squash – I will repeat growing Dunja and Costata Romanesco zucchini and Sunburst patty pans. They did well this year, squash bugs were controlled, no SVB but eventually the PM got to them after I had my fill.
  • Tomatoes – I have already said I am going to give up on paste tomatoes, given their propensity for BER.  I’ll just grow more of something else, process them in my blender and boil them down into sauce. There will be some new tomatoes, no doubt, but repeats will be Juliet, Sweet Treats, Sunkist, and Jaune Flamme. I am not sure Esterina gets a repeat or I try another yellow cherry like Honeydrop (a sport of Sun Sugar, not teh Russian tomato
  • Turnips – Hakurei is a winner and I need to plant a lot more. I will also be planting a golden turnip and the Royal Crown purple top.
All this is subject to change as I proceed with my planning. It is already January and some seeds need to be started in February, so I better get to it. Hopefully, the overall plan will be simpler than years past so it will be easier to implement. Now all I need is some decent weather with a reasonable amount of rain for next summer. Hope you too have a great new gardening season.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Meyer Lemons

We had a balmy, 70 F (21C) Christmas day, but winter was not far away. On Tuesday we got the remnants of Goliath, which dropped an inch or two of snow and then turned into sleet and freezing rain. With a name like Goliath, is that all you got? Our first storm last year dumped 5 feet/1.5 m.. of snow. Best of all, we got an heating oil truck up the driveway during the storm so I now have a full tank to start off the winter. We are now having some sunny weather and my Meyer lemon tree is enjoying the light reflected off the snow/ice on the deck. The tree spends summer days on the deck and gets yanked inside before really cold nights begin. Note there are five lemons on the tree, which has been a fantastic producer given its small size. It is the holidays and time to use a few of the lemons, which are my Harvest Monday crop.

We picked two of the lemons, which are a little smaller than the first few lemons off the tree but produced almost half a cup of juice. The recipe we used is my mother’s, saved by my sister, Sharon. We used a little less sugar with the Meyer lemon juice because the juice is sweeter than regular lemons, about a cup. The recipe is included below and I apologize it is in American measure. I am not adept at converting recipes.

Lemon Meringue Pie

1 ½ c. sugar (less for Meyer lemons)
3 Tbsp. corn starch
3 Tbsp. flour
1 ½ c. hot water
Pinch of salt
3 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 Tbsp. butter
½ tsp. lemon zest
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 9 inch baked pie shell
1 recipe meringue

1. In saucepan, combine sugar with corn starch and flour; then stir in hot water gradually. Bring to boil stirring constantly to make a smooth mixture.
2. Add salt and continue cooking for 8 minutes stirring occasionally until thick.
3. Stir a small amount of the hot mixture slowly into egg yolks, stirring constantly. Return to pan and cook 4 minutes longer. Add butter and lemon zest; stir until melted. Slowly add in lemon juice. Cool the mixture.
4. Pour into pastry shell. Cover with meringue, and bake in 325ยบ F. oven until delicately browned, about 12-15 minutes.


3 egg whites
6 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice

Beat egg whites and lemon juice until stiff. Add sugar gradually (1 Tbsp. at a time), beating constantly until soft peaks form. Pile lightly on pie filling, sealing meringue to edges of pie crust.

It is the New Year and it is totally fitting that we start it off with all our/my plans completely blown up. The lemon pie was supposed to be dessert served with our New Years Day dinner but I forgot to make it. So we had it Saturday after the Osso Bucco that was supposed to be our New Years Eve dinner. That got put off while we stuffed our faces with the excess of appetizers I procured for New Years Eve (not to mention the Champagne).  Oh well, hopefully my garden planning goes better. Most of the seed catalogs are in and nothing better than to start planning the new gardening year.

That is my modest harvest this new year. Hope your year starts off wonderful. I do seasonal tax preparation and my season starts Monday, so my blog posts will become less frequent as I start my 75-hour a week work schedule. To see what other gardeners are doing, check out Harvest Monday at From Seed to Table, our host for Harvest Monday during January.
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