Thursday, April 26, 2012

Poor start to the season

We have already had a few garden sacrifices this growing season. Most of our bean plants have been eaten by pill bugs. Sigh. This has never been an issue before, but we did a few things differently this year and we suspect that these changes are the culprit.

1.) We did not turn the soil. In our attempt to stave off the morning glory infestation we took the lasagna gardening approach and layered either compost or leaf mulch over our beds but didn't turn it into our soil. Bad idea. I don't think lasagna gardening is intended for clay soils. In our big bed, we have had the worst lettuce germination we have ever had. We have reseeded twice but still have only one row of lettuce thriving (pics below). I think the seeds can't get started in the compost/leaf mulch.

More concerning, in our bean bed where we did only compost and no leaf mulch pill bugs have eaten our bean seedlings. They have never bothered our plants before, and I think this is because we usually dig in copious amounts of leaf mulch which becomes pill bug food. This year they have nothing to munch on except our seedlings. Since they are only a nuisance in the bed with no leaf mulch, clearly using leaf mulch (and digging it in) makes a difference.

2.) We've watered...a lot. Historically we are horrible with watering. Horrible. So this year, trying to start the year off right, we've been watering a ton. Turns out we've just softened our bean seeds and made them easy for the pill bugs to chew on.

3.) We started earlier. We had an unseasonably warm winter which allowed us to start plants earlier. Good for lettuce but not good for beans which if planted in cold soil can rot before they germinate according to Carole Turner's Seed Sowing and Saving book (which I just learned after I checked this out of the library). Well damn. 

Happy highlights:

Chamomile is huge and gorgeous. We're planning to move the sun box to a better place in the garden (and eradicate the virginia creeper growing behind it...eek!). Since there is only some opportunistic mint in the sun box, when we remove the box we are going to extend the chamomile bed and make a big "tea" bed to include the mint. 

 Radishes and one mesclun have come up and one lettuce row looks great.

Also we have some rogue asparagus (which we thought we sacrificed to build this bed but I guess nature finds a way):

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Seedling Update

All the seedlings from the cell pack are now in pots or yogurt cups. Herbs have turned out great. I sowed enough to transplant in the garden and to fill the pots on my window sills.  Sadly, a number of my tomatoes got a bit leggy, but given that I ended up with 18 plants it is not the end of the world if a few don't make it into the garden. However, the surprise this year have been the peppers and eggplant which I did not expect to have such strong germination (based on the last two years experience). Perhaps I will finally get a Beaver Dam pepper and my Rosa Bianca eggplants. I am also including some pics of my lemon balm and my Christmas cactus (which blooms anytime but Christmas). Didn't grow them from seed but they are just so pretty!



Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter at the garden

We had a busy Easter at the garden. In the big square bed we re-sowed lettuce (since only one of our six types germinated with any vigor) and kohlrabi since our first batch of that also never popped up. We also put in the rest of the onions and sowed some of our radish mix (can't wait to see what kinds we get). This is our first year of planting onions for their own sake and not just as our anti-aphid protection so we will see how they turn out. Luckily we still have enough of the set left over to make an onion border in a couple of beds.

Hubby put in the PVC hoops for our row cover tunnel. In the tunnel bed we sowed green beans, wax beans, more kohlrabi, and cylindra and golden beets.

 We had to move some garlic chives out of the hoop bed before we sowed seeds, but I found a good sized pot for them. We have garlic chives all over so if they don't survive the transplant it's not the end of the world.

Hubby also put a permanent wood frame around my "tea bed" so that now it actually looks like a bed since before I just some pieces of wood laid on the ground and it looked more like debris. I was very happy to see that the chamomile is already putting out flowers but am still perplexed because the package of seeds these came from said they were German chamomile but all my herb books say this is Roman chamomile since the plant is more frond-like and the flowers are smaller. If anyone knows one way or the other, please leave me a comment since at this point I don't know who to believe. I guess it doesn't ultimately matter since I'll have tea either way :)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

For the love of parsnips

My interest in parsnips was first peeked by Joan Dye Gussow's book, This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader. She described them as "spicy, aromatic, and delicious" and talked about how wonderful they taste when sauteed in butter and oil. After such a description I had to grow some and try them out.  The product of that first gardening attempt, chronicled in my first blog post, was the catalyst to start this blog. Even though they are notoriously hard to propagate due to spotty germination and can turn woody if you don't harvest them at the right time, they are absolutely worth the effort.

A little about the parsnip:
The parsnip (pastinaca L.) is part of the Apiaceae family which includes carrots and celery. Essentially the body of a parsnip is a root that looks like a slightly thicker white-yellow carrot, but that is where the similarities end.  The foliage is deep green, similar in size and shape to flat-leaf parsley. And unlike carrots, parsnips have a slightly tangy spicy taste. They are much loved in the UK but not as familiar to American eaters. The most common varieties grown by gardeners are the Hollow Crown which tends to be very long and the Harris type which is a bit shorter and quicker growing. Parsnips are said to prefer sandy, loamy soil since clay soils are known to be rough on root vegetables, causing forking. Also it is believed that size makes a difference, smaller parsnips thought to be better tasting. 

Traditional advice has been to sow them in the summer and harvest in the late fall after at least a frost or two has hit them and made them sweeter. They can also overwinter in the garden (just throw some soil on top of them) and supposedly the stored starch in them will change to sugar in early spring as the plant gets ready to grow out new greenery. Ideally if you harvest them early enough in this process they will still taste especially tender and sweet. The down side is that once the roots put out new greenery they supposedly lose much of their flavor and start to become woody. Also, the general garden wisdom is that parsnip seeds, which are  round, flat, papery thin and brown to tan in color, need to be absolutely fresh in order to get decent germination. 

Cooking and Nutrition:
Parsnips can be boiled, fried, baked into bread but my favorite method of cooking is to saute them with honey and olive oil or to add them to stew. Joan Gussow even describes eating slices of them with maple syrup like a pancake! They are high in vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, folate and have approx 6 gms of fiber (in a 9" root) according to Nutrition Data website. Here is one of my favorite parsnip recipes (I also throw in some cinnamon).
Parsnip Rash:
Picking parsnips and handling the greens while in sunlight is linked in some instances to cause a skin condition called phytophotodermatitis (some times called Parsnip Rash). This causes blistering skin lesion, but this does not seem to affect all people and seems mainly to affect agricultural workers picking a great quantity of parsnips at one time and in sunny conditions. While this doesn't constitute medical advice, it seems prudent to wear gloves when picking parsnips in full sun (particularly if you feel you might be sensitive). I can tell you have I am allergic to everything in the garden, and I have never had an issue picking the stray parsnip. For more information check out this article from the Journal of Accidental and Emergency Medicine. The Australian Centre for Farmer Health also has some helpful hints.

Our experiences so far: 
We are still trying to crack the code for our own zone and soil as to when to sow and when to harvest to get only tender parsnips but we have had no problems getting seed to germinate and we have had no serious forking despite our heavy clay soil. Based on our own experience, size doesn't matter (see pics and captions below). The mega parsnip we harvested in early spring a while back was amazing despite being gargantuan. It had been threw a horrible winter and hadn't yet grown a new top so perhaps this was why it was so tender despite its size. We have since harvested some that were smaller but that didn't experience a frost. These tasted woody and awful. We also just harvested one that overwintered in the garden but had grown all new greenery, and it was just beginning to be fibrous.
Ultimately you have to figure out what works for you but if you have any tips for growing tender ones feel free to share.  We have used the same packet of seeds for the past few years with no problem (stored in a miracle whip container in the fridge) but when they run out I am going to give the Harris variety a try. Our hollow crowns grow such long roots that we often end up breaking off the very bottom just to get it out of the ground. You can see in the last picture how long they grow. 

Over wintered, picked before much foliage regrew. Tasted terrific.
Started in summer and picked before a frost. Very fibrous and woody.
Overwintered, picked in spring but after new foliage came. Part tender and part fibrous.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Online Victory Garden Poster Exhibit

I love a good Victory Garden poster since what is better than a little garden propaganda. Today I found this great online exhibit of US war-era food posters used in WWI and WWII from the US National Agriculture Library. You can visit the exhibit at Beans are Bullets. Also found these wonderful updated posters for the "Victory Garden of Tomorrow" which can be purchased as posters, t-shirts, etc. 

Here are some of my favorite American and British Victory Garden posters from across the web:

I think I may put this on my fridge since it is all still good advice :)

Don't know if this was a real propaganda poster but it is lovely so who cares

Is that a parsnip I see?

I was intrigued by the National Agriculture Library's section on the "Women's Land Army" since their posters were very girl power for the time.  According to the exhibit, "in 1943 the Women’s Land Army (WLA), as part of the Emergency Farm Labor Program, provided agricultural labor to the nation’s farmers. Under the auspices of the USDA and Extension Service, the WLA recruited, hired, and placed farm and nonfarm women over the age of 18 throughout the country during WWII." The UK also had a WLA which the US version likely used as a model. There is a great BBC drama series available on Netflix Streaming called "Land Girls" in which the characters are British WLA workers. I found it very entertaining.