My garden plans in 2015 were extensive, this time last year. Yet, by the time the ground had thawed and both of the gardens tilled, my enthusiasm for gardening was fragmented and distracted. Rows of spring vegetables quickly became choked out with weeds and largely abandoned. Summer crop plants were bought only to be ruined by pests. Until the end of autumn, when frosts killed the sensitive plants, I only went into the garden as I needed an eggplant or a pepper or a tomato every now and again. Challenge and change were themes in 2015 and will continue to be so into 2016. Before describing my plans for this year's garden, events of last year deserve further scrutiny.
I was enduring some considerable work stress though-out last year. This culminated in the announcement that the factory that I work in would close early in 2016. I internalized the stress. Roller Derby kept the wife and I eating out frequently, which was simply more convenient than planning meals and shopping. I put on twenty pounds and developed difficulty sleeping. I began snoring badly. I suffered from chronic anxieties. By the end of the year, I was often feeling depressed and defeated.
I reached a turning point when I had an expensive sleep study performed, the conclusion of which was a negative diagnosis for sleep apnea. I knew that I had to take control of my life again. That control had to start with what I was putting into my mouth. My wife and I started a new eating plan based on the exclusion of processed carbohydrates: no more breads, pastas, and any processed convenience foods with added sugars. We replaced these things with full fat and protein rich foods, like yogurt, avacados, eggs, cheese, beef and chicken for her and soy-protein-based meat substitutes for me. We stopped going to restaurants. I started to cook a weeks worth of lunches again: lots of mirepoix and mushroom base stews with lentils and Italian soy sausage. Two weeks into this
diet lifestyle change. I have begun to be able to start sleeping though the night again. I am not "hangry" within a couple hours of eating. I have returned to strength training. My moods seem a bit more even keeled. My pants are feeling a bit looser.
This year, my garden plans are going to be based upon modesty and practicality. Both of the gardens are full of weeds. The newer and larger garden, now choked with perennially growing Canada thistle
, is currently overwintering with a cold-hearty cover crop of winter rye
and hairy vetch
Last September, I killed all above-ground thistle growth with my flame weeder and then broadcast the vetch/rye seed mixture directly onto the soil. After raking the seeds in and watering daily with a bar sprinkler, the mix germinated very well and grew to a half foot height before the ground froze. When the thistle shoots emerge, they will already be behind the growth of the cover crop which should resume growth rapidly. The thistle should be unable to compete with the tall growing rye and thick vetch and should exhaust the carbohydrates stored in it's rootstocks and die off.
With newer garden fallow, I will focus on the older garden, which has been reduced to it's original 24'x24' dimensions. Last year, this garden was the site of a three sisters crop experiment. I planted Kenearly Yellow Eye dry beans, Jerry Peterson Blue flour corn and Jester acorn squash freely in eight uniform rows. The idea is that these three crops thrive in symbiosis with each other and should require little human intervention. I failed, however, to harvest the dried bean pods, some varmints ate all of the corn ears before they dried and the Jesters did not produce very many mature squashes. Despite this, the three sisters did produce a thick multi-layered green canopy all summer long, which had the effect of smothering a good deal of the weeds.
For 2016, I have decided that I will not plant many of the crops that I usually grow. I will forego the beets because nobody ever eats them. Cauliflower never seems to mature well. I will not grow carrots or radishes because their tiny and/or slow maturing sprouts cannot compete with weeds. No potatoes this year because they are too starchy and not in my diet. Cucumbers and summer squash plants always get killed by vermin and, besides which, are cheap and plentiful enough at rural farmstands during the summer. Corn either gets knocked down by a thunderstorm or the birds get it, or the squirrels.
Focusing on a spring/summer crop, I have room for eight rows of vegetables.
OLD GARDEN (SPRING/SUMMER)
I have been growing Strike sweet peas for a number of years out of the same big bag that I bought several years ago. I hope that the dormant peas are still good. I suspect they are as they look no different than last year, which germinated well. The peas are the first crop to sow once the ground thaws.
Within a few weeks I will start the kale and broccoli indoors. Last year, the sprouts I started indoors were attacked by boxelder bugs, perhaps attracted by the light or maybe by the warmth of the heated germinating pad. I hope to avoid this by sealing the transparent lid of the seed starting tray. After the sprouts appear, I plan on removing the pots from the tray to a different area of the house under a growth light.
The Toscano kale and the Umpqua broccoli are cold heart varieties which can be transplanted outside fairly early. They both do well in the heat of the summer and produce abundantly all season long. Umpqua is an open-pollinated variety and aggressively produces side-shoots. I grew Umpqua two years ago and left some side shoots to flower and then go to seed. I saved many seed pods and will be attempting to grow this year's crop from these.
I will start some of the Bibb lettuce indoors following the germination of the broccoli and kale. and then transplant them out when it is a bit warmer. I will transplant them double-spaced into rows and direct sow the remainder of the seed between the transplants for a second crop. It has been some time since I have attempted to grow a head lettuce. This Bambi variety is supposed to be a heat resistant mini-head variety with leaves suitable to replacing tortillas for tacos. Lettuce can bolt in hot weather, which will be more of an issue than usual in the Midwest if this year's El Nino persists into late Spring.
Tyee spinach is the most bolt resistant variety of spinach that I have had the experience of growing. It is, once again, unavailable this year. Reflect is the variety that Johnny's Select Seeds is recommending as a replacement for this semi-savoyed favorite of mine. We shall see. I shall direct sow a double half-row around the same time as the lettuce.
This year, I am really going to wait until the heat of late May before sowing okra and green bean seeds. Okra is a hot weather plant of African origin. Last year, the okra failed to germinate at all. They probably failed to germinate in too cool soil and rotten. The bush beans will grow in any kind of heat and the Jade variety seem to produce bean pods right around the time that the broccoli heads needed to be harvested. It would be nice to enjoy broccoli and later to enjoy green beans.
The Walla Walla onions are my most beloved garden crop. Some people, if they could only grow one thing may grow a single tomato plant, or a pepper plant on their porch, or a small plot of strawberries. If I only had 3'x 12' of dirt to grow one crop, it would be these onions. They are so easy to grow, but are delicate and need to be carefully weeded. It is the only crop that I really enjoy weeding with my bare hands. Nothing is so satisfying as a big box full of sweet onions curing in the garage.
Tomatoes, eggplants and peppers will round out the garden. I have decided to purchase plants from Territorial Seed Company this year. The Principe Borghese Tomato had a pair of great reviews:
"I'm not a green thumb, so territorial has helped me now for several years with their wonderful plants. I'm also not a tomato fan, but decided to try these. The flavor of the Principe Borgese is rich and flavorful in cooking and great in salads. I dried several batches, and they rehydrate with incredible flavor. Can't go wrong with this variety."
"I grew these in 2012 and they are simply the best drying tomato out there. The plant was HUGE -- spread across a 12 by 6 foot barn wall within 2 months of planting. However, this variety seems very susceptible to blight and we lost the plant in late summer... but still had harvested about 500 tomatoes from it! I'm trying again this year and planning to stay more on top of plant diseases."
I believe that I will try my hand at growing a pair of these plants on the trellises of the new garden. In the old garden, the "Heirloom-Marriage" series intrigues me as does eggplant and pepper varieties for their vigorous growth.
I know I will eat every one of these crops I intend on growing, even if I am the only one eating them. I really intend on tending to the rows diligently this year. Hopefully, 576 square feet should not be out of the question. If all goes well, maybe I will think about an update for a putting in a few fall crops. But that would be getting ahead of myself.