Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Time To Order Those Seeds!

I just got the 2012 seed catalog from Johnny's. Johnny's is where I seem to order all my seeds despite my good intentions to try other companies. But I'm a creature of habit. I LOVE their catalog, it's extremely informative, and I've had great success with all their seeds. They also offer reasonable shipping, which is usually what stops me from ordering elsewhere. Some companies charge ridiculous prices to ship a little packet of seeds, and as a result, I end up halting my order on the shipping page and going over to Johnny's.

But enough of that plug. I believed their warning that the prices would go up with the 2012 catalog, so I ordered all my seeds last month while the 2011 prices were still good. Here's what I'll be planting this year:

Hands down my favorite green beans are these Fortex.  They are abundant, have a long harvest season, and best of all, they are very forgiving pole beans.  What I mean by that is the beans inside the pods aren't quick to grow, so if you miss a few and come back three days later, the beans are still edible.  I will be hard-pressed to try any other pole bean from here on out.

Broccoli is another staple in my garden.  I've experimented with three varieties and am happy with all of them so they'll be coming back this year:

This Arcadia I start in the summer for a fall crop.

Gypsy is the broccoli I start in January for spring production.

Marathon is started in the summer for fall production.

This Gonzalez cabbage was the first I ever tried, and I haven't had reason to experiment with anything different. It works well for me, and the heads it forms are relatively small. Since Al and I are the only ones eating it, I like the small compact heads. I don't end up with more than I need.

Napoli carrots are new to me this year. I get them pelleted from Johnny's, which makes them so much easier to plant. They are an early variety, which means I get carrots in 60 days if I plant them at the right time of year.

These Nelsons are the carrots I grew last year. I'd tried carrots several times, both here in Rohnert Park and back in my garden in Petaluma. I never had success until I tried these Nelsons. When it comes to carrot varieties, I've learned to stick with early. I also stick to carrots that don't get too long. I've got about 16" of good soil until you get to a gravel layer that was under the original sod. So I need to stick to shorter carrots.

I'm not a big cucumber adventurer. I know lots of people love growing the specialty varieties, but I'm kinda partial to the plain old cucumbers you get in the grocery store. This Corinto is new to me this year. Johnny's replaced the Genuines I grew last year with this one, and since some of my earlier Genuines came out bitter, I was ready for a change anyway. We'll see how this does.

There are other varieties of Pac Choi I'm looking forward to trying, but for 2012, my plan is to use up this Mei Qing Choi I bought last year. My pac choi's never come out as big as the ones in this picture, but I've been very happy with them nonetheless. It's the only greens I grow. Lettuce and chard got obliterated by aphids the first year I tried them. And since tiny green mites in my food give me the heebie geebies, I forego anything they're attracted to that I can't easily wash (such as squash and tomatoes).

Peas: I did a pea experiment last year by trying four different varieties of English peas. My plan was to find out which one grew best. In the end, they all grew pretty much the same and I was never able to figure out what I liked best. So--since I've got leftovers from last year--they're all getting planted again.





I'll also be using up the Snow Sweet peas I bought last year, so no new peas on this year's list.

People in the Bay Area say they have much better luck growing specialty peppers as opposed to standard bells. Boy, they weren't kidding. I grew these Anaheims (Sahuaro) last year and had peppers coming out of my ears. I love the mild heat from these and will grow them again.

New to me this year are these sweet specialties called Lipstick. While I was pleased with my Anaheim results, truth is, we just don't eat hot peppers too much, and I found having to roast them was kind of a pain. I'm hoping I have the same success with these sweet peppers, as we'll go through them for sure.

Like cucumbers, I don't vary my squash much. That's mostly because plain old zucchini is the only squash my family will eat. Last year, I grew both this Plato and Costa Romanesco. I found the Costa Romanesco even more productive. The problem was, the leaves are very spiny and I got tired of scratching the heck out of my arms just trying to cut off a fruit. So this year it will be these Plato and only these Plato.

Which brings me to the queen of everyone's garden: Tomatoes

I grew these Juliets last year thinking they were Roma tomatoes.  They're actually salad tomatoes, which was a disappointment to me at first.  I'm not a fan of cherries and small tomatoes.  I find them a pain in the butt to pick, they drop (which means they'll seed themselves next year if I'm not diligent about cleaning them up), and there's not a whole lot I can do with them besides eat them whole.

However, after a year of having them I couldn't bring myself to abandon them in 2012. They really were handy for salads, and I found myself snacking on them a lot, which is great for one's waistline. So they'll be back again for a repeat.

Also back are these Moskvich.  They were my earliest tomatoes in 2011 and had good flavor and production.  And since I've still got leftover seeds, I'll use them up.

Big Beef are another return from 2011.  The plants I grew last year didn't produce any useable fruit because I'd planted them in wine barrels that didn't get the sun I'd hoped.  I'm going to give this variety a try in the ground and hope for better results.

Despite a late start in 2011, these Brandywine gave me some wonderful fruit.  The plants suffered from black spot, so my plan is to take better preventative measures and hope for even better results next summer.

I'm adding two new varieties this year:  Cherokee Purple got raves from people who have shorter, foggier summers.  They are another early variety.

And Prudens Purple got good rankings from the same group of people.  It's another early variety and that is this year's theme.  I'm going heavier on the early tomatoes since I'm not expecting any long hot summers in our future.  We'll see how they do!

My 2012 Garden Planting Calendar

I'm a data analyst, so it's not surprising that I've spent the last two years experimenting with my vegetable garden and recording the results. Lots of effort went into seeing how far I can stretch my growing season, and I think in these two years, I've got a general idea of where my limits are now.

With everything I planted, I recorded it into a spreadsheet and gave each trial a final grade when all was said and done. What came out of that two year experiment was this garden planting calendar that I'll be using for 2012:

1st Start broccoli seeds (Gypsy)

Start cabbage seeds

Start bok choi for barrels

1st Transplant broccoli, cabbage and bok choi
15th Plant English peas (cover for frost)

1st Start tomato seeds

Start pepper seeds


15th Plant pole beans

Plant carrot seeds

Plant zucchini seeds

Plant cucumber seeds

Transplant tomatoes, peppers

15th Plant pole beans (optional)

1st Plant pole bans (optional)
15th Start broccoli seeds (Arcadia, Marathon)

Start cabbage seeds

Plant carrot seeds
15th Plant snow peas

Transplant broccoli, cabbage (cover for shade)

I confess, I'm looking forward to having a schedule to stick to this year. It's going to be much easier. I won't be spending a lot of time planting things that ended up as little more than bug food. And I can stop constantly pouring through my gardening books, looking for what I can try planting every couple of weeks. 2012 is going to be a much simpler year. I'm trying a few new varieties of tomato, and a new specialty variety of sweet pepper. But besides that, this will be a year I do a little more relaxing.  Now, I just hope the weather doesn't throw me a giant curve!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Prepping a Fall Bed

This was an easy little project that will reap a big payoff in the spring. To start, I raked up leaves from my back yard and spread them over an empty bed. Tossed in some spent coffee grounds I've been collecting, and whatever other garden waste I had on hand:

Cover that with newspaper and soak good:

Cover that with steer manure (I actually need to buy a second bag since what I have here isn't quite enough):

Let this break down over the winter and (hopefully) get chomped on by worms and other good microbials. In the spring I'll lightly turn it into the soil underneath and be ready to go.

The project only took about an hour, and that included raking the leaves. As soon as I can collect more leaves (I'm eyeing a neighbor's yard) I'll do the same to the rest of my beds.

For someone like me who loves fall, wet leaves, the crisp air, the smell of fresh dirt and a little morning exercise, this is an awesome project!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Summer Veggies....Still

As I'm whining in July about our cool cool summer and pondering that I may never see a ripe tomato, I need to remind myself that they will come, and they will stay all the way up to Thanksgiving.

I still have a zucchini plant that's producing. And here I have the last of the tomatoes and cucumber that got pulled out this morning. As I'm pulling in my fall cabbage and broccoli, I've still got remnants of summer so....I guess in this Thanksgiving season, I should be thankful for the bounty!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fall Harvest

The first of the cabbage. I love the fall garden. Rains do my watering for me, and the broccoli and cabbage are relatively pest free once it gets too cold for the cabbage moths.

This cabbage got split into a stir fry and minnestrone soup. Yum!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Container Woes

Of grave disappointment are these three wine barrels. I have yet to grow anything in them that comes close to matching the success I have with plants in the ground.

These carrots and onions have been stuck in this state for a solid month. Not dying but not growing either. I guess I now understand the trials of people who try to garden in poor soil. I'm spoiled with my clay. It holds in nutrients so well that I don't need to fertilize much to get healthy plants. I only need to amend the soil a couple times a year and I'm pretty good to go.

And I'd assumed I could do the same with my containers. I'd made a stew of SuperSoil Potting Soil, steer manure, bone meal, sand...all kinds of good things to plant in. Then I stuck in my plants. And they haven't done much. They grow, but they're small compared to what's growing in the beds. 

So I started reading up on container gardening. I've decided my problem is fertilizer. I guess if I want veggies in containers, I'll need to fertilize weekly. At least, that's what I'm going to try. If I can't get any success doing that, I'm throwing in some geraniums and calling it a day.

I will keep you posted.

Choppin Broccoli!

The summer crop is still hanging in there, but with nighttime temps now dipping down to the mid 40's, I'm not sure how many more weeks I'll be able to stretch it.

For now, I'm enjoying the last of the tomatoes and squash.

The real excitement in the garden is coming from the fall crop I planted mid-August.  Look at these beautiful cabbage plants.

I've only got 3.  I wish I had triple that, but the August garden doesn't allow for much new space.  I might have to work on that next year.

I've got about 10 broccoli plants, and every single one of them is looking spectacular!

I'm probably another 30 days from eating broccoli, but I'll be cutting the first cabbage head for minnestrone soup next weekend for sure!

Love my irises

I want more.  I've planted two more that I just got in the mail.  One is called Paprika, so you can imagine what color that will be.  But until the others bloom, I'll enjoy these purple ones.  Most definitely, I am considering where else in my yard I can start a second collection.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Food Donations

If you are looking for a local pantry to donate the excess produce from your garden, this non-profit agency offers a registry you can search:

Check out AmpleHarvest.Org for more information.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Squeee Excited!!

I just found out that the Redwood Empire Food Bank in Santa Rosa accepts produce from home gardeners.  Somewhere, I'd heard that food banks won't take home grown produce, but at least in my area they will.  In fact, she said that fresh produce is their most sough-after donation.

This is SOOO exciting!  I love the idea of growing way more than I need, taking what I want for the home then donating the rest.  This year, despite only growing 3 zucchini plants, I was over-run and kept wishing I had something constructive to do with my excess despite bombarding friends and neighbors.

I'm already thinking about new areas of the yard where I can add more plants.  I've got two in mind.  My goal will be to grow things I know will give me an abundance without a tremendous amount of work.  I'm thinking zucchini, cucumbers, pole beans and salad tomatoes.

Fun fun fun!!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Last of the Fall Planting

Today marks the end of my fall plantings.  From this point out, it will be all harvesting and clearing out until January when it's time to start seeds for spring.

This spot had green beans in it all summer, but the old vines have been removed to make way for the last of my broccoli and cabbage.  To amend the bed, I've added chicken and steer manure, then a sprinkling of bone meal.  Mix well into the existing soil.

Then I plant my tiny seedlings.  I've set up the drip around them, watered good, sprinkled the soil with Sluggo to keep any slugs at bay, though this time of year they aren't typically a problem.  What IS a problem is cabbage worms; those pretty white butterflies you see floating around.  They're actually EVIL I tell you!  So I spray my seedlings with Bt.

If all goes well, I should be eating yummy brassicas between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Despite all the failures this year, I actually got enough tomatoes to do some canning.  Maybe there WILL be sauce this year.  It is more a testament to planting 6 times the plants I need in the hope I get three that work, than any talent on my part.

The zucchini and cucumber continue to produce.  Last year, I pulled the plants because the leaves start getting moldy and sad looking.  This year, I'm holding onto everything until they are D-E-D dead.  I want to see how much production I can get out of everything.

The exception is that little pile of green beans.  They are from a succession planting of beans I did in July.  I've pulled the old bean plants to make room for broccoli.  The old beans were still producing, but the beans were tough.  I think young bean plants make the best beans, so a succession planting is the way to go to get the most out of my summer season.

Still growing are my cucumbers (above) and anaheim peppers (below).

Here's the beans I planted in July.  They are just now starting to produce.

Interplanted with the old summer stock is a fall crop of broccoli and cabbage.  We've had lots of heat since I put these plants in, and while they look marvelous right now, I won't know if the heat has done any damage until the actual broccoli starts to come up.  It might button.  It might not.  I'm hoping for not.

For sure, these little cabbage and zucchini plant that I put in about a month ago are not happy in the shade.  This spot really does get no sun at all, thanks to the large tomato vines to the south of them.  The plants are suffering for it.  Live and learn.

And the jury is still out on how successful I am with container gardening.  My bok choi is doing marginally well.

The carrots and onions sprouted quickly and I thought I had a winner.  But they've seemingly been stuck in this spot for a while now.  It doesn't look like they're growing, but it could be my imagination.  We'll have to see if I get any production out of it.

And in this one, I've planted broccoli raab.  I'm not a fan of this variety of broccoli.  The seeds were a gift.  I had to pull one plant because it immediately bolted and went to flower.  I'll see if I get anything from the rest of them.

Lots more broccoli and cabbage seedlings to plant in the coming weeks.  I'm waiting for this heat spell to get over with, then I'll put them in the ground.  I figure if the broccoli and cabbage I started earlier suffered from the heat, I've got these back-ups.  If they didn't suffer from the heat, I'll just have loads of broccoli and cabbage!

And finally, I am going to have to figure a staking method for my tomatoes that is much higher than the 4" I've got going.  That was not nearly enough height.  I'm thinking about a cattle panel arbor for beans and tomatoes.  I'm going to start out with one and if that works, I'll get more.  For the rest of my tomatoes, I'll continue with my Florida weave, but I've got to get much taller stakes.