Sunday, April 20, 2008

Great Success

It looks like our garden improvements are starting to pay off. The peas are just about ready to grab the trellis twine hanging from above and the row covers have prevented further squirrel damage to our broccoli plants. I’m sure the bushy-tailed saboteurs are fully capable of infiltrating the covered beds, but for now they seem to be content with defiling the unplanted soil. There was some trial and error involved in erecting the row covers, since they’re primarily designed for conventional row planting and not necessarily for raised beds. The U-shaped pins used to secure the sheer fabric covers are absolutely indispensable in preventing the covers from turning into giant white windsocks. Aside from the science fiction-like appearance, the row covers already seem to be making an impact (like modest frost protection), and the insect pests haven’t even arrived yet.

We figure that it’s probably a good idea to jot down some observations on our various vegetative varietals from time to time, so here goes:

Peas: After some initial sluggishness that lasted a couple of weeks, the peas are really showing some vigor. Interestingly, the peas that were direct-seeded have sprouted faster and more uniformly than the pre-sprouted ones, which were planted a week earlier. We noticed that some of the pre-sprouted peas somehow wound up on the soil surface, looking shriveled and broken. We don’t have much explanation for this. Is the slow germination rate normal for April’s low soil temperatures, or are we experiencing a particularly wet spring? Comments are welcome!

Okra: We’ve had really good germination rates with okra; all 12 seeds sprouted. We abandoned 2 underperforming seedlings, and we will probably do a further cull since there’s no way we Yanks can justify raising 10 okra plants. The seedlings grew so fast that they’re all pretty leggy (close inspection will probably reveal stretch marks). The plants are just starting to put on some new leaves.

Harlequin Marigold: These heirloom flowers are doing really well. They’re about 4 weeks old and are growing their third sets of leaves. The leaves are spotted and serrated, almost like tomato leaves but more angular. The seedlings are overdue to be transplanted, but they don’t seem any worse for the wear.

Basil: We started three varieties from seed two weeks ago, all of which were coincidentally purchased from Johnnie’s: Queenette (a Southeast Asian native), Holy Basil (red and green mixed, also from Southeast Asia), and Pistou (a compact “toy” basil demanded by Kate’s grandma). The Queenette variety is the most vigorous so far with the Pistou a close second. The holy basil is doing moderately well, although it has a lower germination rate and is growing more slowly. We’ve experienced the same thing in the past with nursery-grown holy basil. An interesting side note here is that holy basil needs some light to germinate, a requirement that sets it apart from all of the other seeds we’ve started this year. Mark is happy to have 7 holy basil plants sprouted so far. He can’t get enough of it.

Shiso (Perilla): This Asian green has sprouted nicely and should give us 4 or 5 plants. Although we were trying for the Vietnamese version, we inadvertently ordered the green Japanese variety. I guess it pays to learn the Latin botanical names. No worries, though, as shiso makes an excellent spicy addition to mundane Western salads.

Culantro: It’s amazing! This herb is invisible! Actually, it just hasn’t sprouted yet after 2 weeks. The package predicts “erratic” germination after 14 to 21 days, so we’re not too concernced. Culantro (a.k.a. eryngium foetidum, saw-leaf coriander, recao, Ngò gai) can be used as a cilantro substitute, so we probably should have planted more. It is also more heat tolerant and should outlast the frustratingly bolt-prone cilantro into the summer.


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