I have been thinking of some things I may want to do differently in the garden in 2015. I use the word “may” because I reserve the right to bail out on any or all of this. This is not my New Year’s resolution list.
Purchase Onion Plants
The last three years I have been growing storage onions in my garden. I use seedlings because the results are much better than sets. After all, alliums are biennial and there is a risk with sets that the plants will bolt, plus you are severely limited in your choice of onion varieties. Starting onions from seeds is really not hard. They take a while to germinate and here you have to start them in February, but they do well in cool conditions (the definition of conditions in my house in February with $4 heating oil). But I did manage to do a bad job last year. Trying to plant black seed in black potting mix is difficult, so I just sprinkled the whole packet in a 4” pot. The seedlings were crowded and too difficult to thin, resulting in weak transplants, many of which died from transplant shock.
This year, I am going to try using purchased onion transplants, at least for the yellow and red storage onions. I will still have to start seed for the shallots and specialty onions This is an expensive proposition, about twice as expensive as purchasing seeds and starting you own. What I am hoping to achieve is a much higher (more and bigger bulbs) and more reliable yield from the same garden space because I will be planting robust and healthy transplants grown by professionals. A lot of seed vendors sell onion plants and most seem to be grown and shipped by suppliers in Texas (Dixondale Farms being one of the most prominent). And most of those seed vendors get about $15-16 for a bunch of 50-70 plants. Fortunately, Pinetree Seeds in Maine sells two bunches for $15.49 and you can mix and match. So, one bunch of Copra and one of Red Zeppelin for me. One of the many reasons I really like Pinetree.
Total War on Cucumber (and Flea) Beetles
OK, I have had it. This year, once again, my cucumbers were decimated by bacterial wilt spread by cucumber beetles. These pests feed on the leaves of cucumbers and their larvae feed on the roots. The leaf damage is not that bad, and cucumber plants can usually recover. What is worse is the beetles carry bacterial wilt disease in their guts and spread it to the plants. Once infected, the plant wilts and dies in just a couple of days. The little buggers are small and fast, and they like to hang out inside the flowers, so they are difficult to hand pick.
So in 2015 I am going to try using Surround for the cucumbers and eggplant, spread DT on the soil around the plants, and spray weekly with an organic spray like pyrethrin or Spinosad (I usually alternate these). Surround is an interesting material and it will be a challenge to use it. Surround is a finely ground kaolin clay produced in a magnetic centrifuge in Georgia by one company. It’s a patented process using fancy and expensive equipment, so the product is fairly pricey. Both Johnny’s and Fedco carry it, but Fedco is about $5 cheaper for a 25 pound bag. Shipping is another matter so I may try to find a local source.
The way Surround is used is a slurry is made with water and the plants are either dipped in it before transplanting, or you use a sprayer to apply it. I will probably try dipping the transplants and then use a sprayer to cover new foliage and touch up spots that are washed off. The film left by the clay apparently doesn’t affect the plant and transmits light. There are various theories on how it works, such as the beetles don’t see the plants, they don’t like the feel of it, they spend their time cleaning their little feet rather than feeding, but it apparently does work and is used by commercial growers. An option is to mix a pyrethrin with the clay slurry when applying, but there is no evidence that improves effectiveness.
Row cover for Brassicas and Eggplant
Obviously, row cover for brassicas, eggplant and squash makes a lot of sense, given the plethora of pests they face. I have used squares of the stuff in my square foot garden, supported by arches of plastic tubing. Last year I had access to one of the unused plots in our community garden and reverted back to traditional, in-ground row gardening. I may have that privilege again and want to try planting brassicas and eggplant in-ground, so a row covering makes sense.
I ran across an article on the Grow Abundant Gardens blog with a nifty way to implement a floating row cover. Turns out Johnny’s sells a 10 foot wide Agribon AG-19 in rolls. This is wide enough that if you use, say, 10 foot sections of 1/2 inch plastic conduit as supports, you can create a tunnel high enough to grow broccoli, Brussels sprouts, eggplant and summer bush squash under it. The row cover helps with cool Spring weather for the eggplant and squash and repels the nasties for anything you plant under it. I’m going to give this a try.
Grow Peas on a Trellis
I am getting tired of the results achieved from my patented technique for growing snow and snap peas in a block. I have tried to select varieties that are short vined, such as Oregon Sugar Pod II. I plant them in a block surrounded by a low fence and hope they support each other as they grow. Good theory, but in practice they usually grow taller than the catalog claims and flop over. I get a big mess and it is hard to find the peas to harvest them
So next year I am going to try growing them on a trellis. In fact, they are going to get the 8 foot trellis I grew the Musica beans on. I think I will select a tall variety like Green Beauty from Fedco, which is supposed to grow to 8 foot and produce heavily. Instead of an occasional handful for a stir fry, I envision bags and bags of snow peas in the freezer next summer.
This is a topic somewhat new to me and big enough that I may save it for another post. Obviously, if we are eating our own garden produce, we want food that is “nutrient dense” and healthful. That’s why we garden. A key to producing nutrient dense food is having garden soil that has the right mix of macro and micro nutrients. According to Mel Bartholomew, all you need is a trowel full of “perfect” compost per square to produce healthful food. Of course, no one can define what “perfect” compost is and even Mel himself has admitted that sometimes supplements help. For example, he acknowledges that broccoli and beets are boron dependent and supplying a boron boost can increase productivity and eliminate hollow stems. I will write more later but mineralization will get increased attention from me in 2015.
As I have said, I had access to an extra plot in the community garden and planted a double row of tomatoes. I am more careful what I plant in my square foot garden because of its limited space. So I took advantage of the additional space and planted some heirlooms. I planted four Brandywine, four Pineapple, and a Cherokee Purple, all heirlooms. At first, results were great and I got a heavy set of fruit, but they took their good old time ripening. Unfortunately, by late summer, most of the fruit cracked and anthracnose rot infected the cracks before the fruits ripened. I lost a large amount of fruit because of that. So next year I will put a bigger emphasis on selecting full size tomatoes that are more crack resistant. It doesn’t matter what the flavor is if the fruit rots before you can eat it.