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.


  1. I could write a comment about as long as your post but I'll refrain. Every year in the garden is a learning experience. I'm constantly tinkering with the mix of veggies and varieties and methods and becoming a better gardener, I hope. It's always interesting to see what worked or didn't for other gardeners. Climate and different disease/pest pressures make such a huge difference. Good luck in 2016, let's hope for more cooperative weather on both coasts this year.

    1. Thanks. We both could use some rain (but not too much, please).

  2. I'm the same way with cucumbers, love them but they always seem to die an early death so am always trying lots of new varieties. It looks like we've had the same experience with pole beans too, I always plant both bush and pole varieties of green beans trying to extend the season but only occasionally do poles do well.

    Hopefully this year will be a lot better than last year.

  3. One thing that I have found in my short experience is what a difference variety can make, so I would definitely NOT give up on those may even be worth your while to do a "cucumber test" one year with a bunch of different varieties. I'll bet at least one or two surprise you.

    1. Just saw a cuke in SESE catalog called Ashley that is commonly grown in the south and resistant to all the heebie jeebies they get in their hot, humid climate. Might try that.

  4. That's a lot of plans for 2016, Dave! I'm not sticking my neck out that far. I have a few outline plans, but I'm remaining flexible. P.S. You can have some of our rain. We have plenty to spare.

    1. Mark, if you send rain this way it will be snow, so thanks for the offer, but no thanks.

  5. I can't bring myself to give up on cukes ... despite the terrible problems I had between cuke beetles and squash bugs. I agree with Margaret; I'm just going to focus on vigorous varieties that will withstand a bug attack (but ewww, they get creepy to look at!).

    But I still can't bring myself to start in with row covers. That is my concern, having to lift them off every time I water. Not sure I'm ready for that effort yet.

    And LOL, I'm pretty sure it was you who I got the idea of the nylon trellis from for peas and I've already got some as a Xmas gift to use this coming year (just as you are about to switch away from it - but I get it).

    Happy gardening in 2016.

    1. We engineers call it continuous improvement. The nylon trellis is nice but I was faced with 2 pea trellises completely white with PM, with clouds of spores every time I touched them. Three bean trellises had bean mosaic virus with bean vines tightly wound around the trellis. Easiest and safest thing was to snip the supports and carefully put everything in a trash bag. There goes all the expensive nylon trellis. Hemp cord next year.

  6. As a relatively new gardener located not far from you in MA, I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your blog. Seeing what you're planning, planting, or harvesting each week helps me know whether my garden is on track, and it's helpful to know how others are dealing with similar weather conditions. I'm in goal-setting mode right now too. My raised beds went up Memorial Day weekend last year, so this will be my first spring planting. I look forward to seeing your progress throughout 2016!

    1. Thanks, Christine. There are older articles on planning the past few years if you click on "planning" in the Label cloud. Another local blog with a lot of planning info is Skippy's Vegetable Garden, linked in my blog list.


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