Thursday, May 31, 2012

What, AAS Winners in My Garden?!

Most of the planting is now done and I am getting excited about some of the heirloom vegetables I have put in this year, particularly the heirloom tomatoes and some of the heirloom Italian vegetables like Costata Romanesco. And next year I hope to try more heirlooms, particularly Italian varieties. I have come far from the days when I would peruse the Burpee and Parks catalogs and be seduced by the glossy color photos of the latest All-American Selections (AAS) winners, I smugly thought. But in taking an inventory of the garden I find I have a lot of AAS winners in my garden. None were consciously selected because of the AAS label but because I wanted them for their characteristics and appeal. Some won their AAS designation more than two decades ago! That’s a real testament to the value of the AAS selection process. Here are the AAS winners I am growing this year but didn't know I was.

Eggplant 'Fairy Tale' (2005)

There are so many varieties of eggplant (Asian, Middle Eastern, Italian heirloom) but garden centers around here mostly offer transplants labeled “Eggplant”or “Classic”. I wanted to try something new, so that meant starting plants from seed. Fairy Tale was one of my choices, a miniature violet eggplant striped with white. It looks like an Italian heirloom type but it is actually an F1 hybrid and the first eggplant to win the AAS since 1939. The plants are petite as well and should work out well in my SFG at one per square. Unfortunately, this is a Seminis variety that I may not buy again, although Johnny’s is not listed as a vendor of the Seminis seeds. Check here for a list of Seminis varieties to avoid.

Eggplant Fairy Tale

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend Planting

The new raised beds are complete and filled with Mel’s Mix and the Memorial Day weekend is here. It’s time to finish planting and we have perfect weather, mostly sunny, warm, with the prospect of a few showers or thunderstorms. I spent Saturday and Sunday planting seeds and transplants, and erecting the tomato trellises for the new beds.All the beds were mulched with chopped straw to preserve moisture and prevent soil from splashing on the plants.

This will be my first year in a long time growing tomatoes in a raised bed. I built 8 inch beds to give me an extra inch or so, even though everyone says 6 inches is enough. This will also be my first year in a long time training tomatoes up a string trellis. I do have experience with this and used the technique in my original raised beds back in the late 80s, where I did indeed plant one tomato per square foot.

So here we go. I have a pair of Juliet tomatoes I am trying this year, variously referred to as a mini-Roma or a really big grape tomato. My neighbor planted them last year because her husband likes them. Her vines were so loaded with fruit she lost a lot to drops and birds. So I am giving them a trial this year. If they get ahead of me they will become sauce.

Juliet tomato plants

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Finishing My SFG - Adding the Final Beds, Part II

Finally it has stopped raining, although we still get a lot of cloudy and threatening weather. Over two days I took advantage of the weather to mix up two batches of Mel’s Mix and fill my new raised beds. The boxes are 4x6 by 8 inches deep, so doing the math that is 16 cubic feet of mix. Since 16 is not evenly divisible by 3, I rounded up to eighteen. One box required 6 cubic feet of each component. I happened to have bought two 6 cubic foot bags of coarse vermiculite, so that works out. Six bags of five different kinds of compost, check! For the peat moss, I bought one 4 cubic foot bag and one 2 cubic foot bag of Canadian peat moss and used the eyeball method to divide them.

The technique for mixing the ingredients is detailed in an earlier post so I will not repeat it here. Instead, I will offer a few observations. When mixing up a batch of Mel’s Mix the fourth and fifth times, I was considerably more relaxed and less anal than the first few times I did it. Practice makes relaxed. Mixing 18 cubic yards of mix is a heck of a lot easier than 24 cubic feet, the amount needed to fill three 4x4 boxes. Still, I figure I mixed about a half ton of Mel’s Mix, so it was a significant amount of work to fill the two boxes. Mixing 18 cubic feet when calculations called for 16 turned out to be fortunate, yielding an amount of mix that almost filled the beds to the top. Finally, I was at first skeptical about the #4 coarse vermiculite but I now like it and believe it makes the mix much lighter and fluffier than finer grades. Finer grades allow the mix to compact and settle more.

This picture shows 6 cubic feet of #4 vermiculite dumped on the blended compost. You can see the size of the pieces, some almost a half inch in size with very little in the way of fine particles.
Vermiculite being blended with compost

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Finishing My SFG – Adding the Final Beds, Part I

Last year I planted my tomatoes in a row at the end of my plot in the Bolton Community Garden since I had already built and filled 8 raised beds and planting season was well underway. The plan was to finish the implementation of raised beds this spring with the addition of two 4x6 raised beds. These beds were going to be used for tomatoes along the long side of the boxes, planted 1 per square and trained up a trellis.

I began looking at alternatives, buy versus build, cedar versus composite. I actually bought a couple of cedar raised beds from The Farmstead. They had a 4x6 box using 5/4 rough sawn white cedar lumber with mortise and tenon joints, 8 inches deep. These same beds are sold by other vendors, including White Flower Farm. The best price was from The Farmstead itself, $104.50 for a 4x6 including shipping. Unfortunately, the specification were a bit lacking. The quoted dimensions were for the total length of the side pieces, including the mortise and tenon. When you assemble the boxes, the interior dimensions are a bit more than 3x5 feet, or 15 squares, quite a bit less than the 24 squares I was planning on. I decided to keep the Farmstead beds and use them at home for strawberries and herbs. For the community garden, I decided to build my own beds.

The decision to build my own was based on the discovery that Lowes carried 1x8 cedar lumber (the Home Depot I checked only had 1x6 and I wanted a little more depth for the tomatoes, despite what Mel says). So the boxes were going to be constructed of 1x8 cedar (Lowes had 8 and 12 foot lengths, which was perfect). I also bought some 1x2 and 1x4 pieces to use as corner blocks and as braces for the bottoms. The beds are going to sit on blocks to keep them out of the standing water that we frequently get after a hard rain, so I would need a bottom. I planned to use hardware cloth rather than plywood for the bottoms, with landscape fabric to keep the mix in the boxes. Assembly in the garage was fairly easy, as shown below.
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