Thursday, January 19, 2012

Back in the Garden Again

My apologies!  It's been well over a month since my last post. The holidays and an INTENSE workload really put a dent in my gardening and blogging time. In the past 6 weeks I've done little in the yard and nothing with the blog.

Considering my neglect of the garden during this period of time, I expected Mother Nature to force me to tighten my belt a notch or two by wreaking total havoc on my tasty veggies and herbs. I imagined hard frosts, harsh winds, and cold dry air conspiring against me. I pictured languishing lettuce, crusty carrots, and beat up beets.

What did I find? Beautiful broccoli.

Calabrese broccoli head approximately 8" in diameter. This plant was grown in a glazed ceramic pot.
Don't think broccoli is beautiful? How about now?

Calabrese broccoli head.
This head of broccoli looks almost like a coral reef you'd expect to see off the Florida Keys rather than in a backyard garden in Newport News, Virginia. This plant was grown from seed in a large glazed ceramic pot. I mulched it with a thick layer of wheat straw after it germinated and haven't fussed over it since then. Yes, I hand-picked a few caterpillars but did little else. It is also growing smaller side shoots that I will only cut after I harvest the main head.

What else did I find that I didn't deserve? A cool cover crop.

Diego standing guard over a 4' x 8' bed of winter rye and hairy vetch cover crop.
I purchased Wren's Abruzzi Winter Rye and Hairy Vetch cover crop seeds last September from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. I mixed and planted them in a 4' x 8' bed previously occupied by my Inchelium Red garlic. The seeds germinated easily and very quickly filled the bed. It's a vibrant addition to the otherwise muted colors of the winter landscape. I plan to cut and till the cover crop into the bed in early spring before planting tomatoes in late spring.

The cover crop is also important for another reason I did not anticipate. Dogs are natural foragers, and my two dogs often ate grass in my previous yard to aid in digestion. By successfully smothering my grass, I unintentionally eliminated one of their favorite diet supplements. Last summer, I often found my dogs sampling different weeds and other greens because they were looking for a suitable substitute for their favorite but now missing forage. As soon as the cover crop germinated and grew, Diego would regularly run over to the bed and dine on selected shoots of Winter Rye. He still does, seems to love the stuff! So in a way, it's a happy system. Soil feeds cover crop; cover crop feeds soil, dog, and future plants; plants feed human; human feeds cover crop to the soil; repeat. My only concern is that Diego doesn't get comfortable dining on whatever he choses from the raised beds. That could be a problem.

Maybe I'll construct a bone-shaped raised bed for dog edibles...then again, maybe not.

The broccoli and cover crops are just two of the many reasons why Diego and I are beginning to appreciate winter gardening more than summer gardening. There is little to do after planting and germination other than to harvest the rewards of Mother Nature. No toiling, no tilling, no sweating.

Many other veggies are doing very well despite my neglect, but I'll save them for another post. Hope all is well in your gardens.


Anonymous said...

Very cool! Why did you plant broccoli in pots? Do you have to water them frequently? Its been very rainy this winter so maybe not. I just wondered if there was a reason you didn't plant them in your beds.

I also wondered why you dug up your peach trees? I just planted one (as well as a fig) after being inspired by your blog. Look forward to hearing about your other veggies. Any brussel sprouts? Helen near Knoxville TN Zone 7b)

.09 Acres said...

Hi Helen. I planted broccoli in pots because I ran out of room for it in my raised beds. As you can see from the title picture on my blog, I don't have loads of room. You are right about the rain - so much of it here that I only remember watering it twice.

I removed my peach tree for a few reasons even though fresh peaches are one of my favorite fruits. The tree grew fast and large. I was pruning 3 times/year to keep it to a manageable size. A problem in small yard. It was also impossible to manage organically. So many pests like ants, worms, caterpillars, birds. Not much fruit was harvestable. So for those reasons I decided to dig it up and replace it with something more carefree but still delicious and productive (Angel Red pomegranate).

What type of fig did you plant? I'm excited to hear that you are growing a fig tree. A multi-stemmed shrub form is better than a single-trunk tree form in Zone 7b. They can easily be pruned to attain that shape and are much more easy to harvest. I tried brussel sprouts in the spring, but they were devoured by a variety of beasts. :(

KL said...

Lovely broccoli :-). Don't the dogs get stomach upset or don't they vomit? Mine does.

KL said...

You have planted pomegrante!? Do they survive snow and winter? I thought they don't. What type did you plant? HOw big will it grow? Where did you buy it from? Sorry for so many questions.

.09 Acres said...

KL, some dogs usually eat grass when their stomachs are upset. Other tend to graze periodically regardless of stomach. My older dog Diego eats grass regularly. My younger dog Scout hardly every touches the stuff.

The pomegranate has been a great addition to the yard. It is a Russian Red from Edible Landscaping and will grow close to 15 feet tall if unchecked. I've pruned it to maintain shape and size, and will try to keep it around 8 feet tall. Click "pomegranates" under the topics on the right hand side of my blog for alot more info.

Barry said...

How big is your garden!!! Is that a normal sized garden for your area?