Musing on food and cooking ...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Advice on Gardening

Little Merry Sunshine asked for some gardening advice in comments on my last post and I thought I would go ahead and just make a post of it.

First off, I will say that while not a newby, I have not often gardened all by my lonesome. I have normally gardened with mia madre, Garden Goddess, who can make things grow simply by looking in their direction. When I was growing up, we relied on our garden for much of our food - in addition to gleaning, wild food gathering, and hunting, fishing, and bunny raising, as well as an occassional Little Red (aka the pig).

But like LMS, I need to stretch my budget, and gardening can hopefully help with that this year.

So, here is my advice to beginning gardeners, who maybe just want to do a few basic items.

Easy things to grow that you can plant fairly early in the spring are lettuce, spinach, swiss chard - early greens. You will be able to eat those within 30 days of planting, and the nice thing is that you can often do a second planting in order to get a second crop in the fall. With many lettuces, you can also just cut them instead of pulling them out by the root and they will keep growing, just like hair.

I use a French intensive method for greens, which means I don't plant in rows. Rather, I mix the seeds with a little potting soil and spread that in a specific area - so they grow in patches rather than rows.

If you wait until the soil is consistently about 65 degrees, another easy crop to grow for the beginner is green beans. Make a little row by mounding some soil in a hump and then poke in a green bean seed ever 3-5 inches or so. With 45 days, green beans. Voila! Keep picking your beans and you will get multiple crops. Also, plant your green beans near your tomatos as some bugs that like tomatos don't like green beans and will stay away. Snow peas are also easy.... plant them in a little hump again, but give them a trellis they can climb on. And soon you will have a tasty addition for stir fry.

Peppers are also easy, if you get them as plants from the greenhouse. 3 plants will produce more than enough for one person. I personally do not like bell peppers of any color, so I tend to get an Italian style frying pepper, like a marconi or a godfather. I find them more versitile. To plant a pepper plant, dig a good sized hole that will come at least 1 inch up the stem of the plant. Before putting the plant in the ground, put a twist of aluminum foil around the stem. This will prevent cutworms from snipping your gorgeous plant in two once you plant it.

Zuchinni and summer squash are also easy to grow. Just pick which variety looks interesting to you and build a mound of dirt about a foot in diameter and plant five seeds in it in a star pattern. The ditty goes - one for the blackbird and one for the crow and three to grow. This will give you a gazillion zuchinni.

Cukes are grown just like zukes, but be careful that they are no where near each other in your garden space. Otherwise you will get a weird hybrid known as a cuzuke, which is nasty and has happened to me before. When selecting a cuke, you can go two ways: a pickling cuke or a burpless. Pickling cukes need to be picked small or their skins get bitter. They also have minor thorns. Burpless take longer but don't get bitter.

Tomatoes are also easy. But as much as I adore heirloom varieties they can be difficult to grow. Many of them have a far longer required growing season than we have here in the north. So, for the beginner I highly recommend a cherry type tomato, a Roma style tomato like an Amish Paste, and an Early Girl variety. Look to see that they will produce fruit no later than 70 days past planting from seedlings. Otherwise, you won't get maters until September.

In September, go ahead and do a second round of greens - kale, spinach, chard, etc. Also plant garlic at this time. It is so easy. Just plant it in the fall and in the spring it will come up. You can eat the little green shoots... they are called scapes. Then, in mid summer you can dig up the bulbs, and voila! Garlic. Softnecks are better for immediate eating. Hardnecks are better for long storage (check out The Garlic Store online for planting stock later in the summer).

I am growing the following in the garden this summer: Muskmelon (a variety that claims to be ready for harvest in 68 days - we will see); miniture spaghetti squash, red noodle beans, poona kheera cukes, deer tongue lettuce, parsnips (this is a crop I can leave in the ground during winter, if I mulch it well), cilantro, dill, a varity of basil, nasturtium (edible flower), eggplant, red lettuce, carrots, swiss chard, napa cabbage, radishes, cutting celery (the plant is bread to just grow leaves and not stalks), Italian flat green beans, snow peas, summer squash mix (three types), cosmos (for the pretty), morning glories (also for pretty), orange mama paste tomato, tangerine mama paste tomato, Italian ice cherry tomato, honeybunch cherry tomato, razzle dazzle, tomato, red lightning tomatoe, chocolate cherry tomatoes, ruby red sweet corn, hot lemon peppers (I hope - something on my order is backordered and I am afraid it might be this), violas, double feature cukes, Italian frying peppers, Ancho chilis, Lakota winter squash, okra and leeks. And maybe bok choi and spinach, for a fall planting. In fall, I will also be planting shallots and garlic, so that I can start harvesting them in early spring.

Mia madre is going to grow the following at her house for family sharing : sweet potatoes, swedish peanut potatoes, and daisy gold potatoes.

Some thing I would never attempt to grow here - watermelons, many of the longer season melons and winter squashes, anything that is a more common food in the south than it is in the north, anything requiring a growing season longer than 80 days - unless it is something specifically designed to be a late fall crop, like pumpkins.


Little Merry Sunshine said...

Thanks GG! Your advice rocks! In fact, I'm going to print it out so I have very easy reference with my other gardening stuff. Thank you so much! I'm going to do a post later tonight on my own blog linking to your post.

Pizza Diavola said...

Ooh, very cool!

Question about the green beans - do they need to be watered frequently, or is it just popping them in the dirt and waiting for them to grow? I'm new to gardening and I'm hoping to set up a pot garden on my fire escape-balcony. :)

GourmetGoddess said...

Always do a good watering right after you plant seeds. Container gardens can dry out quickly, so check them everyday. The soil should be damp but not sopping. When I container gardened, I gave them a little sprinkle every day it didn't rain. Make sure your pots have good drainage, especially if you are getting lots and lots of rain. otherwise, your plants can drown or get root rot. One summer, I actually had to punch holes in my pots because it rained every day for over two weeks and the dirt was literally floating....

Little Merry Sunshine said...

I'll be planting in the ground, but what do I do about rabbits? And I only had 1 last year (at the very end of the summer), but I kept hearing warnings about those tomato bugs. Is there anyway to prevent getting them?

GourmetGoddess said...

A chicken wire fence, dug at least two feet into the ground. Also, they don't like the smell of bloog meal... you could put a barrier of that around your garden, but it needs to be replenished regularly. Apparently, there is also a product called Rabbit-Out that works well but I don't know anything about it. They also don't like hot pepper, so a spray of water and hot pepper can be misted onto the plants. That works well for insects too. But you have to do it a lot.

I will ask the Garden Goddess if she knowns anything about mater bugs..... sound nasty, they do....

Pizza Diavola said...

Okay, thanks for the tips!

Boxer rebel said...

And I have to add, that I will be learning all of this hands on. I have never gardened really, just helped my mom with hers.