Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bee-ware!

This is not good. Another major reason why we should all move toward natural and organic gardening methods. What would we do without our pollinators and honey?!

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/03/neonicotinoids-bee-collapse/

Put down the problematic poisons and protect our precious pollinators, please!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ready for Radishes

I love radishes. Not the tough, woody, and "hot" store-bought varieties. I'm talking sweet, crisp, and "sharp" home-grown radishes.

When I first started gardening 8 years ago, I heard and read that radishes were one of the easiest vegetables to grow. A real no-brainer. Eager for a quick success, I planted radish seeds and crossed my fingers. What happened? Not much other than disappointment. I grew lots of green radish tops but they all had thin and spindly radish roots. No round edible radishes.

Not one to be easily deterred in the garden, I planted a second packet of radishes and hoped for better results. What happened this time? Same poor results, and an extra dose of disappointment. So much disappointment that I walked away from the radish game. Threw in the towel. Hung up my cleats.

After doing some reading, thinking, and head scratching, I eventually identified my previous mistakes. In past years I planted my radish seeds in nitrogen rich dirt or soil. I also didn't water very often after germination. These two factors almost certainly resulted in poor radish growth. Radishes won't develop large flavorful roots if they have too much nitrogen, but they will grow lush foliage. Radishes are also best when grown quickly. What does that mean? Radishes need a steady supply of water to guarantee rapid growth. Most great radishes will go from seed to harvest to table in less than 1 month. They need lots of moisture.

In recent years and particularly this spring, I think I finally figured out how to grow great radishes. Here are the main factors I try to control:

1. Location - I plant my seeds in a large (24" diameter), deep pot in full sun. The pot provides plenty of space for root growth. It is very thick glazed ceramic with 3 drain holes on the bottom. It holds moisture very well, but also drains properly.

24" diameter ceramic pot filled with well-aged compost and radishes ready for harvest.
2. Soil - I like to use well-aged compost. Not fresh stuff, I'm talking year-old rich compost that isn't loaded with nitrogen. It drains well, contains all nutrients and doesn't require additional fertilizer or minerals, and does the trick for me. I fill up my ceramic pot with 100% compost.

3. Seed spacing and planting - I generally scatter seed on the surface of already-moist compost. I'm not overly concerned with rows or spacing, as long as the seeds aren't clustered together. Then I take a handful of dry compost, scatter that over the seeds, then water again. My top layer of compost is not much more than a dusting. Some seeds are usually slightly exposed. No big deal.

4. Moisture - I keep my radishes well watered. Every day for the first week after sowing. Every third of fourth day after germination. No extra water if it rains. This sounds like a lot of water, but good compost drains rapidly yet still manages to retain the perfect amount of moisture.

Blanche Transparente radishes peaking out of the compost. They are a long white, tapered variety of radish also called White Icicle. Note how the radishes are starting to crest out of the compost.
5. Thinning - Radishes don't require tremendous space but also don't like loads of competition. I will usually thin my seedlings if they are stacked up too tightly.

6. Harvest - Harvest early. Most varieties are ready within 30 days. They taste fresh, crisp, and only mildly spicy when young. Use your best judgement, but don't wait too long before harvesting. I have found that most radishes are not like fine wine...they won't get better with age. Older radishes are tough, woody, and have an overbearing heat to them.

Blanche Transparente radishes on my cutting board. The largest radish was over 7" long, the shorter radishes about 4" long. They were crispy, mild, sweet, and tasted like proper radishes.
7. Varieties - Round; thin; tapered; cylindrical; red; pink; white. You name it, it probably exists. Experiment to find the varieties that you enjoy eating and grow well for you.

These are just my personal observations about growing radishes. Probably too much info and maybe overkill. I still know many gardeners who have great soil, simply toss in a few seeds, water well, then harvest. Simple is always best in the garden. Experiment. Find out what works best for you. Then try to simplify. The only thing left to do after that is eat and enjoy.

Bon App├ętit!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

March Madness

The madness has set in. Not college basketball madness. I'm talking spring garden madness. Average temps have been consistently warm for the past few weeks, and I think the plants in the yard believe it is April. Enjoy the following picture tour of March Madness at .09 Acres:

Still harvesting Chantenay Red Core carrots from the garden.
This 18.5 oz carrot dwarfed the 14.1 oz carrot I harvested 2 months ago. I don't have the largest hands, but this octopus-like carrot is ridiculous. This carrot is grown from seed I purchased from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE).
Japanese maple waking up from winter slumber. This tree was a seedling from parent's old house in Virginia Beach. I also gave a second seedling (now about 8 feet tall) to my friends Elsa and Matt in Norfolk.
Gardeners know that mint is extremely invasive. Here is a half-barrel of mint scrambling for more real estate. 
Rosemary. Yum.
Rosemary blooms. Yum?
Cold hardy mache appears as if it will be going to seed very shortly. It doesn't like hot weather.
Arugula in full bloom. I save seed from this plant every year. It's very easy. Just wait for the seed pods to dry on the plant, then cut the flower stalk and shake the dry pods in a brown bag. Voila! Seeds!!
A 4-foot row of various Swiss Chard. This stuff is versatile in the kitchen and grows in all weather conditions.
Ruby Red Chard from SESE.
Kale. I grew my kale exposed all winter. No plastic, floating row cover, or hoop house. Resilient for sure. Try kale soup with chorizo. You won't be disappointed.
Red bunching onion grown from SESE seed sown last fall.
This Calabrese broccoli is destined for pasta with olive oil and garlic.
Winter Density has been the top lettuce producer in my garden for the past two years. The only problem I have is dealing with slugs and aphids that crawl inside the wrinkly leaves. Nothing a little water won't solve.
A row of trellised Fall Gold, Kiwi Gold, and Heritage Red raspberries. These are a must-grow in the Mid-Atlantic and Tidewater area.
Thornless Ouachita blackberries busting loose.
Potted lemon tree preparing to bloom. Looking forward to a better citrus harvest in 2012-13. This past year was disappointing. I only harvested a handful of lemons and limes.
Russian Red Pomegranate (8 feet tall) from Edible Landscaping in Afton, VA.
Russian Red Pomegranate leaves reaching for the sun.
Celeste fig tree (appx. 6 years old) from the now-closed Paradise Nursery. I've pruned this every year in order to encourage a low, wide shrub-like growth. More branches = more figs.
The tip of a Celeste fig tree branch. Notice the combination of new leaves and tiny figs. Some varieties of figs produce 2 harvests per year. The early figs are called brebas.
Another view of the Celeste fig tree. Note the multiple growths on each branch. If I didn't prune, I would have a tall, lanky tree rather than a dense shrub.
My fig espalier at the corner of my garden shed. 3 days ago I pruned off all of last year's vertical growth near the two main horizontal arms. I left a single vertical node from last year's growth in order to allow the new branches to grow from those same locations this year. I will repeat this process year after year. Grow, harvest, prune. Grow, harvest, prune.
Detailed photo of a vertical node extending from a horizontal branch of the Celeste fig espalier. New growth will appear on the rough area of the top portion of the vertical node. New growth will also likely appear elsewhere, but I will prune or rub off the new growth before it negatively impacts the desire appearance of the overall espalier. 
I hope you enjoyed your tour of March Madness at .09 Acres. My apologies for not posting here more consistently during the past few weeks. Work has been eating me alive, and it's great to be back outside again. Wishing you good growing and great harvests in your gardens!