Archive for September, 2008

After Ike

September 18, 2008

Northeast Ohio was not spared damage from Hurricane Ike.  It came roaring through our area on Sunday night (9/14/08) and brought with it a significant amount of destruction. We had sustained winds in the 40mph range and gusts close to 70mph. That was sufficient to do a significant amount of damage, especially when you consider that most of the plants, especially trees, were still in full leaf. It is also worth noting that the two days preceding this saw us get about 1.75 inches of rainfall so the ground was very wet. This is an area where the silver maple likes to grow and the silver maple is a tree that just loves to break apart in strong winds. We had a lot of trees down, a lot of branches off and that created a good bit of associated damage. Power was out for most people and for many it was a few days … not Galveston type outage but significant for us. We lost a chunk of fence to a large limb of our neighbors tree but that is a day’s repair as soon as I get all of the parts I need (it’s a vinyl fence).

The garden had some damage. We lost our pole beans when the trellis snapped. So, no late summer, early fall crop. We also lost a lot of pepper plants and branches, peppers being extremely brittle. I was upset that a particularly large and productive Thai Hot plant just snapped off at the base just as its peppers were just beginning to mature.  Most of my fall cauliflower and broccoli plants were pushed over but they seem to still be rooted into the ground.

Experiences like these may you realize how vulnerable people were when most people grew most of their own year’s food.

Garden arrangements and light

September 10, 2008

I practice intensive, raised-bed gardening and I extend my seasons on both ends. That means that I try to get a lot of plants in every square foot of my raised beds and that I am constantly swapping old plants (fully grown) out and new plants (small and developing) in. Furthermore, my garden beds are concentrated into one section of my yard and are separated by about 2 feet. They are oriented roughly east-west along their length. Because everything is so close together, one of my biggest challenges is light.

The light challenges divide into two categories … where to put things that grow tall so that they don’t shade out other things nearby (northern edges of the garden are prime spots) and how to give late planted things light when their long growing neighbors want to flop over them. Some examples are warranted.

Tomatoes are a problem since I prefer varieties that are indeterminate.  I grow my tomatoes in the back (northern side) of my beds on wooden trellises. They love it and grow to 8′ or more … so tall that they wind up shading my fig just when the fig is trying to ripen its fruit. Or, the tomatoes flop over the top and start to overhang the eggplants in front of them in the same bed.  I grow snow peas and pole beans where there is nothing to shade.  The bigger problem is with smaller crops … greens of all types in competition with nearby root crops for example.  Fall carrot tops get mighty tall and shade out nearby starting lettuces. Parsnips are even grosser in follage and flop over their neighbors as do leeks and even beet tops.

I think this is why most large scale gardeners and market gardeners plant in space wasting wide rows … lots of access to light. But every year I try to learn from my mistakes and rethink my arrangements. Next year, for example, I will plant Speckled Roman tomatoes in front of the fig since they do not grow nearly as tall and their foliage is much thinner than the “Little Shop of Horrors” Brandywines that are in that place now. And, I will plant my parsnips in the same end bed that I plant my snow peas.

Photos may follow later.

Fall Fennel

September 4, 2008

One of our favorite fall vegetables is fennel. Like many plants that are grown for leaves or stems, fennel will quickly bolt to seed in hot weather. It does OK in the spring and will get to a reasonable bulb size as long as you can get it to germinate early enough (late March in zone 5-6). It germinates best in very warm soil, so in the spring you need to find ways to warm up the soil as much as possible. One trick is to put a coating of pea gravel on top of the bed and sprinkle the seed in the gravel. The gravel holds heat and the crevices act as little ovens … which is why most herbs love to sprout in gravel where you don’t want them or in places like the cracks of your driveways or sidewalks. Anyhow … I digress.

Fennel is really best grown by starting it in mid July (again zone 5-6) with direct seeding. It needs to be carefully watered for good germination.  I seed it into 6″ trenches which are spaced about 18″ apart.  The trenches help with summer watering and this is important since fennel that is grown for bulbs needs, like celery, a LOT of water … especially in the heat of the summer. Right about now (early Sept.) I have good strong plants that are about 1′ in diameter at the base of the bulb. I thinned them when they first came up. I’ll soon thin them again within the rows so they stand about 9″ apart which means, in my case, removing every other one … the thinnings will be roasted with tomatoes, peppers, eggplants or some other summer produce and then served with oil, good vinegar and some shaved cheese.

Fall fennel before thinning ... 4 inch spacing shown

When the bulbs get bigger at the end of the month or mid Oct., I’ll start to pull some additional soil over the trench to blanch the bulbs a bit more. As cold weather approaches, I’ll also mulch them to keep the bulbs from freezing while they are storing themselves right there in the garden. I should get bulbs that are in the vacinity of 4-5″ in diameter and have them most of the winter, especially if we get a snow covering.