Friday, April 25, 2008

Well-Sweep Farm

We never wrote about our visit to Well-Sweep Farm last weekend. Saturday was gorgeous and perfect for a drive out to the country. When we arrived, the guy who greeted us immediately mapped out where all the adorable baby animals are for Nico's viewing and cuddling pleasure. Mark and Kate both went all starry-eyed at the plethora of flowers and herbs, but we had the foresight to make a list, which helped us stay on track and mitigated the dazzling effect.

The farm is still getting organized for the season, but we managed to find almost everything on the list, including Italian oregano, lemon thyme, Logee rosemary, broad-leaf sage, slow-bolting cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, lemongrass, and a Vietnamese herb that tastes surprisingly like cilantro and can be grown indoors year-round. Kate and Mark each got a treat for themselves--Mark a curry leaf plant, Kate a sweet bay. We also picked up a couple of the fabulous black violets that were such a hit last year.

Best of all, old Cy struck up a conversation, as usual, and he actually remembered us! We'll go back again to get our basil sometime in May and hopefully we'll get to explore the private greenhouses with Cy like we did two years ago.


It's apt that Passover is this week, since we goy are being plagued by pests at every turn. First the squirrels, then Leroy the plant-squashing cat, and now the aphids, which somehow got into the entire flat of peppers despite the fact that they were sitting in the basement under lamps and had no exposure that we know of. Dedicated organic gardeners that we are, we decided to put them outside and hope that ladybugs, their natural predators, will gobble them up and we won't have to take more drastic action.

Luckily, the nice weather has been therapeutic for the plants in more ways than one--lots of sunshine, beneficial bugs, and fresh air are helping the little peppers recuperate. There are still aphid eggs on the undersides of some leaves, but we just wipe them off whenever we see them, and the little guys are holding up very well.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Playing Ketchup

We transferred the tomatoes on Thursday--all 63 of them. Here are the numbers:

Nyagous: 20 out of 24 (83%)
Isis Candy: 16 out of 24 (67%)
Amish Paste: 15 out of 24 (63%)
Furry Yellow Hawg: 7 out of 12 (58%)
Snowball: 5 out of 6 (83%)

TOTAL: 63 out of 90 (70%)

These are numbers of actual, viable transplants. We had even higher germination rates if you count the discarded stragglers. We’ve allocated space for 30 tomatoes, so we’re ready to start taking orders from our adoring public. We’re predicting a similar surplus for eggplants and okra.

Last night we applied some more liquid kelp to both our indoor and outdoor plants. We gave the plants their first feeding some time in late March. It’s difficult to gauge the impact of the kelp since we aren’t really doing an experiment with a control group or anything like that. The plants certainly haven’t been hurt by the feeding, though. We also sprayed Nico with some kelp. The results are mixed.

In varmint news, we’ve encountered the most cunning perpetrator to date. His name is Leroy and he’s a bushy-tailed, hyperactive cat. He couldn’t care less about the plants but seems to love nesting atop the row covers over our broccoli. We know this because Mark actually witnessed Leroy in (in)action. This explains our discovery of mysterious holes and tears in the row covers earlier in the week. We’re a little stymied by this behavior but there’s no way we’re letting that little runt outsmart us and our opposable thumbs. Next time Leroy gets “The Hose.

After hardening off in the garage for a week, the onions went into the ground on Saturday. The cipollinis took up so little room that we direct seeded all the extra ones we had, and a couple of rows of the Spanish ones as well. It’s almost time to transplant the leeks as well. The direct-seeded lettuce has started to emerge in little patchwork clusters. Our 2-week-old spinach transplants seem to be doing all right in the garden, but there is no sign yet of their direct-sown companions.

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.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008


The squirrels are very slyly sabotaging our garden--digging up the sweet pea seeds we planted in pots, and most recently making off with several healthy-sized broccoli plants. The broccoli was in the garden for less than 24 hours when we realized that four of them were gone. Mark quickly erected the row covers, but the pests are still wreaking havoc on the lettuce bed, where only one or two seeds have sprouted so far. The spinach, which was also recently put outside, has been covered as well.

On the other hand, the peas are coming up like crazy, and the tomatoes are ready to be transplanted in to bigger pots. Even though we're growing 5 varieties of tomatoes already, we won't be able to resist the big Catalpa Ridge tomato sale in May at Lafayette Village.

There's been talk of transforming the last bit of grass along the driveway into an asparagus patch. This talk has been mostly on Mark's part, since Kate is not very fond of asparagus. He's been cajoling with fancy multicolored varieties, but we won't even be able to harvest any for a couple of years, and the plants are enormous. For now we [read: Kate] are deliberating.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Fingerling the Potatoes

We were workhorses this weekend. Built three new boxes and filled them with a homemade mix of compost, topsoil, perlite, and vermiculite. Planted Ozette fingerling tomatoes in one box, but Kate thought it wasn't enough, so we cleared out a corner of the yard near the rock wall and planted some more for a total of 32. We plan to do the Purple Vikings today or tomorrow. And last night Mark planted some of the more obscure herbs: holy basil and culantro.

Cold-weather veggies like broccoli, spinach, and chard were moved out to the garage to toughen them up a bit before we transplant them outside in a week or two. Since the nights are no longer freezing, they're pretty happy out there.

The garlic is on an enthusiastic comeback after the winter chill. While we were out planting potatoes we witnessed new rhubarb and strawberries poking through the leaf mulch. Kate dug up a misplaced raspberry bush that has been plaguing the yard for years. Things are starting to feel almost--dare we say it?--organized.



Purple Coffee pepper from Trinidad

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Renegade Garlic

On this cold and sunny morning, Nico and Kate found five pea shoots coming up, so all hope for them is not lost. Mark is mixing perlite and vermiculite with a truckload of compost he picked up this morning to fill the new boxes he's building. While cleaning out the boxes from last year, we found some parsley coming up, and even the tall stalk of a garlic clove we mistakenly planted last spring. Go figure.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Thawing Out

This week spring finally started to feel imminent. The temperature crept up to 60, the tulips are about to burst, and the ground has thawed. From the forecast, it looks like we may be done with serious frost. All of our seedlings are thriving--the okra had a 100% germination rate, and new tomatoes have been popping up every day this week.

We haven't seen much of the peas we planted in the garden. A few naked sprouts were found sitting on top of the soil, and the squirrels probably got a few. There's still time, though. The nights have been cold, in the upper 20s. We optimistically planted a second wave of peas on Tuesday. This weekend we start some herbs, plant potatoes, and put the sprouted spinach outside. We're getting all amped up for the main event, when we'll see if these babies can hack it in the great outdoors.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Tremendous Trellis

Here's the trellis Mark built for the peas and beans. We're going to do something similar for the tomatoes and melons, too. Those will be the same aluminum frames with vertical netting instead of the horizontal wire on this one.