Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Like Christmas

Tonight we made a list of all the vegetables and herbs we're going to grow this year. Mark has been tweaking the garden plan in AutoCAD (overkill, for real) for weeks, and tonight we chose the specific varieties of each one. It's like Christmas. This list is subject to change pending the potential awesomeness of the Seed Savers Yearbook, set to arrive next week!

- Genovese
- Holy
- Thai
- Jacob’s Cattle
- McCaslan Snap Pole Bean
Bitter melon
- Scarlet Nantes
- Chantenay Red Core
Chard - Silverbeet Rainbow
- Casper
- Thai
- Inchelium Red
- Tochliavri
Leeks - American Flag
- Green Oakleaf
- Bunte Forellenschuss
Melon – Early Hanover
Okra – Burmese
- Cipollini
- Yellow Sweet Spanish
Peas – Amish Snap Pea
Peppers, hot:
- Thai
- Hot Lemon
- Purple Coffee
Peppers, sweet:
- Kevin’s Early Orange
- Aji Dulce
- Ancho Gigantea
- Ozette
- Purple Viking
Scallions – Evergreen Long White Bunching
Spinach – Monnopa
Squash, winter – Delicata
- Nyagous
- Isis Candy
- Amish Paste
- Heirloom plants from Catalpa Ridge Farm
Zucchini – Black Beauty

Friday, January 11, 2008


Composting is easier and less disgusting than you might think. We’ve been composting for three years now, and it’s become second nature. Keep in mind that we live in a suburban neighborhood in northern New Jersey, so you don’t need acres of land. We’re not talking about a big heap of rotting food—our composting container is a black plastic cylinder about three feet tall that we keep behind our garage. Kitchen scraps are collected in a lovely white porcelain container from Williams Sonoma made for exactly that purpose (but Tupperware would do just as well), and every few days we empty it out. We’ve also started a separate outdoor compost pile of just grass clippings and shredded leaves. Both piles have good ground contact in order to encourage the earthworm population.

Active composters keep track of the ratios of different kinds of matter, and they turn the compost regularly. We haven’t done any of that, although Mark does periodically turn both piles with a big spade fork just to promote even distribution and aeration. And now we’ve got black, nutrient-rich earth coming out of the bottom of the composter. It’s pretty darn easy.
- The ideal compost ratio is 4 parts brown (cold):1 part green (hot). Shredded leaves are an excellent source of cold material while green grass clippings and household scraps provide hot nitrogen sources. Coffee grounds are especially high in nitrogen but are also acidic (<5 pH) and should be used sparingly.

- Unrestricted airflow and moisture are necessary composting ingredients. It is also important that a compost pile maintains good ground contact to encourage worms.

- To best feed plants, make compost tea, which is made by soaking muslin-wrapped compost in a bucket of water for 12-24 hours. Aeration introduced during the steeping process is helpful in encouraging more vigorous microbe growth. The resulting ‘tea’ is then pumped and sprayed onto plant leaves early in the day.

- Add fresh or cured manure to the composter. Manure is a ready source of nitrogen. Never use manure without composting, and always use sparingly.

- Types of manure
Cow: Lowest in N but most balance overall.
Sheep: High in N but well balanced.
Horse: High in N, ideal for grass but not for flowering plants.
Poultry: Highest in N, not recommended for flowering plants.

Next up: Pest and fungus control--yum!


You see it everywhere: That wooden mulch comprised of little chips around every tree, along the shrubs, even in vegetable beds. You can even get it dyed different colors—bright red is popular. But don’t believe the glowing endorsements you hear at Home Depot and perhaps even from your landscaper: Wood mulch is bad for plants! It harbors pests like mice and termites and encourages fungus growth, specifically artillery
fungus, which is particularly nasty because it spreads its spores by flinging black sludge everywhere. The sludge is notoriously difficult if not impossible to clean.

Decaying wood will also deplete critical nitrogen from the soil. I don’t understand why wood mulch is so popular. It most likely has something to do with marketing, especially since the best mulch for a garden isn’t expensive or hard to find. Here’s what we’ve found:
- Yard waste compost makes the best mulch. It feeds plants and supplies natural disease-fighting microbes.

- Keep all mulch at least 6” from plant stems.

- Red mulch improves tomato yield. This is not red-dyed wooden mulch, but a special red plastic mulch like this one that absorbs a specific spectrum of sunlight and purportedly improves tomato yield. We may try it this year, as we are crazy about our tomatoes.

And Mike McGrath knows a lot more about mulch than we ever will.

Next chapter: Yummy compost

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Rules and Regs

Last year we were finding our way with the garden. This year we’re trying to take the lessons learned in 2007 and incorporate some of what we’ve learned from the books and the experts to do even better. The major difference this year will be more diversity among our crops. We’re going to try growing a little bit of everything and see what works best. The garden is an ongoing process for us; we want to learn a little more each year.

In the following week we’ll be posting some guidelines we’re going to follow this year. These are the basic ones.

- Keep things simple. Compost is the best way to feed & mulch most plants.

- Don’t mess with plants unless there are problems.

- Don’t use landscape fabric, which can anchor weed roots.

- Fundamental Nutrients

: Great for growth, bad for flowers and fruit. Sources include green plant material
such as grass clippings, coffee grounds, well-rotted manure.

: Good for flowering. Sources include rock phosphate and bone meal.

: Good for flowering, roots, and cell health.

: Prevents blossom endrot. Sources include ground egg and sea shells.

- Other Nutrients

Kelp: Promotes fast, early plant growth as well as frost resistance.

We're not going to feed our plants with all of these individual nutrients, but we will incorporate some manure and green material into the compost and mulch we use. We may consider feeding if certain plants need a boost, but we're trying to keep things simple.

Tomorrow: Mulching dos and don'ts. The excitement continues!