Saturday, November 23, 2013

Roots, both Edible and Incredible

How do you know you are getting a bit behind in garden chores? When the 2014 seed catalogs start arriving and you have not completed cleaning out the garden beds! I was enjoying the newly arrived Pinetree and High Mowing  catalogs when I realized I have not finished my chores with this year’s garden. We already had a garden work day but I spent more time helping put a wood chip border around our deer fence to protect the fragile plastic mesh deer fencing fabric from the town’s mowers than cleaning up my own plot.


We always recommend gardeners pull disease-prone plants like tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers and dispose of them in the trash, the task I had yet to finish in my own garden beds. So today I headed to the garden with a black plastic trash bag. My first discovery was a pleasant one. I had left some Golden Ball turnips in the ground after pulling the larger ones and they survived nicely. I now have a nice batch of turnips to use for Thanksgiving dinner.




Next I pulled all the dead solanaceous and cucurbit plants. The plants were dead brown stems, the leaves long blown away. The biggest distinguishing characteristic was the roots, and how easy or hard it was to pull the plant. Particularly interesting to me was to compare the root structures of the grafted tomato plants to the ungrafted control plant. I have already declared the grafted tomato experiment a failure, and I won’t be planting them next year. Looking at the root balls, you can see why. Below is a photo of the Juliet tomatoes. The ungrafted tomato is the one at the top.




Alright, maybe I should have removed the fabric from the grafted tomato, but roots are supposed to grow through it and actually did. Also notice the size of the stems. The ungrafted Juliet at the top was grown in a 4 inch pot by a neighbor and was a beautiful transplant with a thick, stocky stem flushed with red. The grafted tomato was a mail order plant and arrived as a small, spindly plant and was never going to compete effectively with my locally grown ungrafted plant. Next I pulled the Big Beef tomatoes, shown below.




Again, the ungrafted Big Beef is the plant on the top. The Big Beef grafted plant was a bit more successful than the pathetic Juliet grafted plant, but did not compare well to the ungrafted Big Beef. So much for the theory that the rootstock used for grafted tomatoes is far more vigorous and  produces huge root volumes. In my case, that clearly is not true, but there must be a reason. Commercial growers are huge consumers of grafted plants, so it must work in the right conditions. For the time being, I will sit out the grafting experiment and go with ungrafted plants next year.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Planting Garlic 2013



I have finally completed planting out my garlic for harvest next year. I am a bit late (mid-late October would have been better for my zone), but stuff happens. At least it is done, and since I over-ordered the Spanish Rioja, I have the additional satisfaction of spreading the affliction to three other gardeners by giving them free garlic to plant.


In the picture above, you can see the 4x4 bed that was used to grow bush beans this year. It was prepared for the garlic by adding a bag of lobster compost along with a granular organic vegetable fertilizer and some bone  meal. Three rows have already been planted and you can see the spacing I am using. Each square foot of the row is marked out and I have spaced 9 cloves of Rosso di Sulmona garlic per square in a 3x3 grid. That gives a 4” spacing between plants.


Last year was my first year for garlic and I planted two hardneck varieties, German Extra Hardy and Chesnok Red. I got a good harvest and set aside some bulbs for planting this fall. The Chesnok Red has held fine and is a great garlic. I am a bit concerned about the German Extra Hardy. Four months from harvest and the bulbs have started to soften and some of the cloves have turned brown, and some are even moldy. From the bulbs I set aside for planting, I only got enough sound cloves to plant three squares. This may be the last year for that variety for me, since there are far too many varieties to try and not enough time for me to settle for mediocre results.


This year I wanted to add another variety, probably Spanish Rioja. While shopping around I encountered and became enamored of Viola Francese, a softneck popular in the south of France and in Italy, so I ordered a quarter pound. Then I encountered Rosso di Sulmona, touted as the best tasting garlic in the universe, and I also had to have some of that. Eventually I got back to thinking about Spanish Rioja. Many sources were now sold out, but I found it at High Mowing Seeds and (accidentally) ordered a full pound. So this year I am planting five varieties of garlic. Here are the new varieties this year:




Viola Francese above (purchased from Cook’s Garden) is a softneck artichoke variety.The bulbs were very large and so were the individual cloves. The “viola” apparently comes from the violet stripes on the skin, since the individual cloves are an orange-brown color with just a flush of violet. Two bulbs to a quarter pound planted 4 squares.




The beautiful garlic above is Rosso di Sulmona (imported from Italy by Seeds of Italy). I believe it is a hardneck but I have seen it described as a softneck. The garlic I received had a single row of cloves around a central stem, which seems to be a hardneck. Cloves were very large, with 6-7 per bulb. I planted 5 squares of it and hope it lives up to the hype.




Finally, the garlic above is Spanish Rioja, another hardneck variety. The bulb has a white skin and the cloves are brown with a rose colored blush. Cloves were very large, 6-7 per bulb. Since I over-ordered, I planted 6 squares of this garlic, and gave bulbs to three other gardeners to try their hand at growing garlic. Everything is now planted, fertilized and mulched and I am done with the garden for this year, except for a few turnips and escarole holding in the garden.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Grape Harvest 2013




I have not been blogging much lately but that doesn’t mean I am dead (yet). Just busy with things that intrude on gardening. Like picking grapes in exchange for food and booze. Today was our second season of wine grape harvesting at Nashoba Valley Winery in Bolton, Massachusetts. This year we we picked late, but it turned out to be a beautiful Fall New England day with temperatures in the 60s and deep blue skies. We were tasked to harvest the Cabernet Franc grapes. Because of the cold nights we had, the leaves were mostly dead so picking was much easier than last year. And no bunch rot to deal with.


Below is the row we had to pick, which was loaded with grapes and seemed to run off into the sunset.




The Cabernet Franc clusters were fat and ripe. It was easy to quickly fill one of the yellow plastic lugs, but it took a bit more time to tease out the clusters that were wrapped up in the support wires and vines so we could maximize the yield for our host and fellow Boltonian, Rich Pelletier.






So two hours later,  here we are behind a skid containing 28 lugs of luscious Cabernet Franc grapes, sticky but un-stung (by hungry bees) and ready for lunch! I’m the strange looking dude on the left, accompanied by some of my fellow Bolton Community Garden compatriots, Lynn Dischler and Rachelle Ayotte (and Rachelle is responsible for some of these photos). We harvested an estimated 4 tons of grapes and my back can attest to that!




Finally it is party time in the pavilion, with a chicken barbeque luncheon and apple crisp for dessert, along with unlimited pours of last years Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay!




Lunch was followed by a personal tour of the winery led by the owner, Rich Pelletier. It was fascinating to see how the grapes we picked would be processed into fine table wines. We each received a gift card that will allow us to buy a bottle of the wine we helped harvest in a year or two, but I really did not need that to feel good about helping a local farm winery prosper. Walking back to the car, I smiled while I watched swarms of people on a beautiful fall afternoon heading to the winery to taste wines I might have had a hand in harvesting.

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