Thursday, May 19, 2016

Gearing up for summer, the learning continues

There is still chill in the air. The strong winds blew away the cardboard sheet mulch from my vegetable beds. Redoing a task isn't fun.
On the sunny side, the garlic is growing strong and healthy. So is lettuce. Fenugreek, that was direct seeded two weeks ago, has started to sprout but it is little scared to get out from it's seed in today's windy weather. A row cover is helping it survive. The month of May this year has been very odd. It hasn't been very warm and the nights get chilly.

I am no fan of winds. A slight breeze is okay but gusty winds that blow away efforts of my work in the field isn't my friend. I am beginning to realize the immense amount of patience it needs to grow a vegetable farm or home garden. I admit, coming from a technology background, I am used to getting results as soon as I hit the Enter key on keyboard. Or I would love to tweak a code or configuration to have the results I want. Alas, I cannot do it with the slow growing spinach in my garden or the many onion seeds that died on me without giving a sign. Only 9 onion seedlings are left.

One of the many non-weather related reasons for why onion seedlings failed can be accounted to critters. My garden was unfenced until two days back. Groundhog and rabbits all thought they were welcome. Some seedlings were not hardened well before planting outside. Lesson learnt.

Row covers seem to do a good job of protecting my recently planted seedlings from winds and rain damage. Although rains press the covers down, it still protects the plants from dying. At times though, I am short on things to press the cover down. I am using some old sod that was lying around and empty milk cartons to hold the row cover in place.

A lot of grass and weeds in the garden after last week of rains. Weeding takes away a lot of my time from other things I want to do in the garden. Many things, including sowing new seeds, gets postponed on days I do weeding. Many of my beds are covered with cardboard mulch and compost (except spinach, cilantro and fenugreek which are direct seeded). It is the paths and the edge of the beds where the grass keeps growing if not checked. The dandelions, though they look nice with their yellow flowers, are difficult to control in garden. They are everywhere. For the grass that grows along the edges of beds, I take a scissor and cut it down short. It takes time and a lot of neck and back pain. This first season dealing with weeds is a tough call. I do not know what could be an easier and cost effective way to deal with weeds. The two measures that I am taking for my farm is using cardboard mulch and black plastic mulch for beds. For paths, I wanted to use wood chips but I have a big garden and buying wood chips from stores will prove costly. Let me know how you control weeds in your garden.

Happy gardening.



Lovely squash..they are now outdoors

Spinach bed covered with row cover

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Short growing season..challenge accepted

Sometimes I complain. Like when it is May and windy and a bit like spring outside. After five long winter months, I am waiting for summer. I am waiting for warm days and cool nights and a temperature where all that I have planted outside can thrive without costly protective measures.

Just 56 degrees
As humans, we want to control things. When we cannot, we hope for things to get better. We call it optimism. It doesn't help but only keeps your hopes high and makes you feel good about future.

As a gardener, seeing your plants grow well in the care of earth is like seeing your own child in a happy place. I love to watch plants dance when a gentle breeze brushes them. That's how they learn to adapt with the weather outside. However, the windy and not-so-warm weather in this part of the world is, in my opinion, not ideal for growing food year-round. A lot of protection and measures have to be taken by a farmer or gardener in order to protect plants from wind damage or untimely rains. Such measures might not be a great deal in a small garden but one wishes it would be better if things were simpler. Big commercial farmers, hence, put huge investments in greenhouses to protect tender plants from weather extremes. Not the most natural way of growing food but protects your investment in a farm. For a small farmer or home gardener, the costs can easily add up when you put money in purchasing things to protect rows of plants. These can include row covers, mulches, small hoophouses etc. It is, after all, the weather than makes a plant grow. A little too harsh and the plant may die. Even for cold hardy vegetables like the ones from brassica family, some degree of protection is needed when plants are in early stages of growth. The seedlings of such crops may tolerate cold but harsh weather is a different game. Young seedlings planted outside most often need a degree of protection from weather extremes. I learnt this when I saw the leaves of onion sets planted outside drooping after weeks of strong winds and rains. I applied a row cover over them today fearing they won't survive this weather for long. I planted the onions, cabbage and lettuce outside a few weeks back hoping they now need more sun and water than what I can provide them inside. Tired with the task of moving the seed trays in and out of hoophouse every other day (there were frost advisories in April), I decided to direct seed spinach, cilantro and fenugreek outside.


  • Spinach: it didn't germinate well when direct seeded. It was either attacked by pests, seedlings died of winds or seeds didn't germinate at all. Birds also stole some seeds off the ground. 
  • Fenugreek: I used store brought seeds of fenugreek to experiment. I wouldn't use them again. The fenugreek grew but it's leaves(which is what is eaten) weren't as healthy and of right size as they should have been. I will experiment with fenugreek again next year with better quality seeds. 
  • Cilantro: grew well. It spread it's aroma in abundance in the garden. I used the leaves in soups, curry and home-made dressings. I stored some seeds as well. I would have stored more seeds from the plan had it not caused severe sneezing when I was near the plant for 10-15 minutes to remove seeds. Couldn't continue doing it. 

Is merely five months of good warm weather good enough to farm for food ? Surely, one can grow a lot of annuals but not the easy way and with a lot of uncertainty. The strong cold winds have woken me up late at night only to worry about what might happen to the little plants outside. Surprisingly, they take the cold but too of it, and I can see the signs of distress. Farming a little somewhere south (sans tornado threat) would have been more rewarding. There is so much more one can grow in a garden when the weather is mild.