Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Field Trip to Comstock, Ferre & Co.

Sunday was my birthday. It also happened to be the date of the Heirloom Festival at Comstock, Ferre Seed Company in Old Wethersfield, Connecticut, so guess where I went to celebrate? On our way down we stopped at Rein’s Deli in Vernon, CT for breakfast, where I went for a bagel with the works: cream cheese, lox, lettuce, tomato, red onion, cucumber, and capers. That’s a meal you could plow a half acre on before lunch.

Wethersfield is an old New England town on the Connecticut River just south of Hartford, settled in 1634 by John Oldham, who was kicked out of Plymouth Plantation for pulling a knife on Miles Standish (my kind of guy). The town of Wethersfield was built on the profits from selling the red Wethersfield onion, grown in the black soil of the Connecticut River flood plain (see here and here). Gazetteers of the period claimed the town actually smelled like onions. The onion trade fueled a ship building business to supply ships for the West Indies trade, which saw ships carrying onions and lumber to the plantations and bringing back sugar, molasses and rum.  And Comstock, Ferre is one of the oldest seed companies in America, started in 1811 by Joseph Belden, and it helped make Wethersfield a center of the US seed trade.

Comstock, Ferre closed its doors in 2009 but in 2010 was purchased by Jere and Emilee Gettle, owners and founders of Baker Creek Seeds in Missouri. Jere is committed to preserving and promoting heirloom seeds, so this was right up his alley. He is starting to restore most of the 11 buildings in the complex and has resumed seed packaging operations using the antique scales and equipment. Charles Hart, another old-timey seed company is also located in Wethersfield, just down the street from Comstock, Ferre.

 While the grounds outside have been turned over to the landscape contractors and are still a bit rough, not much had to be done to the inside to lend it charm. All of the seed racks and cabinets are intact, some still with replicas of the Comstock Ferre seed packets. The antique seed processing equipment is still in place and is being restored so seed packaging can be done at the facility. You can buy both Baker Creek and Comstock Ferre seeds at the store, and I took advantage of that, picking up some Gai Lan, Cosmic Purple carrots, Green Wave mustard and Amarylla tomatillo, an early yellow tomatillo from Poland.

It was a fun day, capped off with dinner at the Urban Kitchen and Bar in Worcester. Duxbury Island Creek oysters, grilled octopus and a pan roasted duck breast for me. The wife went traditional with a Caesar salad and a NY strip sirloin. A very good  day and we had beautiful weather. Now back to getting the rest of the garden planted this steamy hot week.

Note: Hopefully this post is properly formatted. On the evening of May 26, Google changed the API used by third-party editors such as Microsoft Live Writer, which I use to edit my posts, effectively breaking them all. I published this with the Blogger Dashboard editor, which is not a great environment.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Garden Update 18 May 2015



The onion plants from Dixondale are now obviously breaking dormancy and starting to grow. These are Super Star sweet white onions, an intermediate day onion I am trying for the first time. These are much larger than plants I have grown from seed, but they are dormant when planted and take several weeks before they establish roots and start growing. I was wondering if you really gain any advantage with the dormancy delay, but comparing these to my seed grown shallots, I would have to say yes. Sometime next week I will add some blood meal to the onions for their first nitrogen feeding.




The Golden Sweet snow peas are about a foot tall and looking for a trellis to climb. That was Sunday's task, to construct and erect 4 new trellises and cover them with netting. Trying to unravel a 50-foot length of trellis netting in the wind was a challenge so I had to enlist the aid of my son. I’m now ready for the peas and the pole beans I will plant next week.




The beets have emerged and are in bad need of a thinning. I plant 16 per square and you can see I got 16 to germinate in this square. I do not usually get such a good germination rate with beets, particularly in dry weather as this has been.




The chard is doing really well and starting to add size. So far they are not bothered by leaf miners. I usually get those later in the season. The unplanted squares on either end of the bed are waiting for the cucumber plants I have started inside in peat strips. When the cucumber plants are ready to set out, I plan to dip them in a Surround clay slurry to see if I can ward off the cucumber beetles and the dreaded bacterial wilt.




The endive is starting to grow, as is the escarole above it. It is time for another dose of Sluggo to deter any slugs looking to make a salad out of my greens before I do.




The kohlrabi are starting to add size. That is Azur Star at the bottom and Winner above it. They weren’t affected by the flea beetles when I looked last week, but the beetles have now discovered them so these got sprayed.




The Tyee spinach is looking good and maybe I will start getting a few leaves next week.




In my other plot, the row of brassicas are doing very well under their Agribon tent. That is Fiesta broccoli on the right, then dinosaur kale and Brussels sprouts on the far left. Notice the leaves are hole and bug free. The challenge is to keep the row cover closed at all edges despite the high winds we are getting.




Next week is going to be a frenzy of planting. All of the above transplants are being hardened off outside and most will go in the garden by the end of the week. The peppers and eggplant are still inside under the lights and they may not go into the garden until June. There is no point in exposing them to possible cold nights, which will just set them back and delay growth.


That’s an update of my garden. To see what other gardeners are harvesting from their gardens, visit Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Row Cover System




Up to now the garden has been free of pests. Last weekend I noticed the white cabbage moths fluttering around  the garden, so I knew I had to get protection in place soon for the brassicas. So I spent Sunday putting up the hoops and row cover to protect the row of broccoli and kale in my in-ground plot. On Monday I took a look at my turnips and radishes in the raised beds and was amazed at the flea beetle damage done in just a few days. Just a few days ago there was not a hole to be seen, now the plants are crawling with the tiny black beetles.




The Broccoli raab and Soloist Napa cabbages were doing really well and are now just pin cushions. It doesn’t pay to be a pioneer, you just wind up with arrows in your back. There are no brassicas elsewhere in the garden and no wild mustard anywhere near. When you get a hatch of hungry crucifer flea beetles and your garden has the only meal around, expect to be attacked.







Likewise, the radishes and turnips are damaged, while the kohlrabi are untouched The trouble I have is they are small plants that get put here and there in the garden and it is difficult to come up with a system to protect them. These were sprayed heavily with Spinosad on Monday to hopefully knock down the population. Spinosad is effective against flea beetles but is not yet licensed for them. I will alternate the Spinosad with a pyrethrin spray. Both are approved for organic gardens.




For the in-ground plot, I am organizing it by row. The row in the back is the large-rooted brassicas, specifically broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts. I used black plastic mulch to minimize watering and inhibit weeds. Since these plants do not have to flower (in fact, we do not want them to flower), they can remain covered. The hoops you see are 10-foot (3 m) sections of inexpensive 1/2-inch (1.3 cm) plastic electrical conduit, pressed into the soil and bent over. The material is PVC, which is not ideal, but at least it is marked to be UV-resistant. You could use PEX water tubing, but it is not UV-resistant and rapidly breaks down when exposed to sunlight.




The key to this system is the availability of 10-foot wide (3 m.) fabric. I used Agribon 19 which I sourced from Johnnny’s Seed. I bought  the 250 foot roll so it should last me a while. The trick was to get the fabric over the hoops. Of course, as soon as I was ready to raise it over the hoops, a breeze started blowing. I had to have another gardener help me and I had to use large binder clips to hold it in place. So far it has held up to the usual windy conditions we get in the spring and the brassicas underneath are bug free (although they got sprayed with the Spinosad just in case). It’s necessary to seal the edges because the flea beetles are fully capable of getting underneath. Hopefully this will keep the plants beetle and caterpillar free this summer.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Progressing Slowly



The garden seems to be running in slow motion this year. I do not know if it is the temperatures or the many partially cloudy days, but everything except the garlic seems to be growing slowly. The garlic is quite happy and growing strongly, as you can see above. The big, thick-stemmed ones in the middle are the German Red I picked up at a garlic festival in Maine last fall. And the smaller ones on  the far left are the Duganski garlic I was worried about because the skins were falling off and I was planting almost bare cloves. It  seems to have done just fine, as people assured me it would.




I finally got the brassicas into the ground. I’m growing them in-ground in a second plot I rescued from the weeds last year. Besides the extreme weather delaying the planting, the soil is still very mucky despite the lack of rain. The water table has to be very high after the eight feet of snow cover and the clayey soil is just not drying out. I have installed hoops and these will be covered with 10-foot wide Agribon this weekend. No flea beetles yet but the cabbage moths are already fluttering around the garden, so I am in a hurry to get these covered.




The peas are up. These are the Golden Sweet snow peas and will be trained up a trellis this year. I gave up trying to grow shorter varieties in blocks and opted for taller varieties and a trellis. You can see how dry the soil is in the raised beds. Trying to get seeds to germinate in this soil requires constant watering, and the pumps in the garden were only turned on this week.




The spinach I started in 3/4-inch soil blocks is doing just fine, although growing very slowly. Since only half the cubes germinated, I started another batch and will set them out this weekend.




The lettuces are starting to reach planting size but will need hardening off. I opted to keep them inside under the lights to maximize growth rather than put them outside during our many cloudy days. These will go in a container on my deck, which I need to prepare. The prep work on the container is tedious but once done, everything is automatic and weed-free, a salad green machine. And it is just outside the kitchen door rather than 2 miles away in the garden.




The tomatoes are doing well, even the ones I had to salvage by re-planting with seeds pre-sprouted in paper towels in a baggie, and most have been potted up. The Jaune Flamme were acting petite, so they were put in 4 inch pots. The rest went into Solo cups where they could be planted deeper. The two six-packs remaining are a pack of Romas in back which I am growing for a fellow gardener, and Chocolate Pear in front. I used a pinch of Tomato Tone and a sprinkle of mycorrhizae inoculant in each cup.




This is another tray of tomatoes in Solo cups. It is not an experiment to see if tomatoes grow better in the red cups or the blue cups. That said, does anyone know if red or blue is better?

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