Posts Tagged ‘Tree Collards’

Bringing the Garden Indoors

Several people have inquired if I’m growing any food indoors this year. Initially, my answer was, “No! I burned out on deadheading last winter’s basil. Every. Single. Day.” In the past few weeks, though, I’ve reconsidered, taking cuttings of some favorite non-cold-hardy plants like pineapple sage:

pineapple sage

I also brought in the terra cotta pots of pink geranium and lemon balm, as well as starting another lemon balm in a small pot:

lemonbalm

In the above photo, you can also see our Christmas cactus (from my friend Sherri’s grandmother) getting ready to bloom, and thriving jade and aloe plants that I got through freecycle.org. To the right, you can see just the tiniest bit of a very happy spider plant started by David’s sister.

Because my red geraniums helped so well with garden bug control, I decided to rescue a few of them from the brutal cold:

red geraniums

We’ve got dried mint for smoothies and teas (plus a whole bunch of other dried herbs not pictured):

mint for tea

It is so cold outside right now (hasn’t gotten above freezing in many days!) that I’ve not ventured out to check on the cold frame. In retrospect, I wish I had located that bed just a bit further back so that it would get morning sunshine. My uncovered plants on the East side of the house actually look happier than even the covered ones out back, because they get sunshine at the coldest part of the day — early morning. Oh, well! I trust at least some of my cold hardier plants will survive this week’s deep freeze. In the meantime, we’ve enjoyed meals featuring dried and then rehydrated tree collards from this Fall:

tree collards and dried tomatoes

A quart (half this jar) has provided us with ample greens for 5 different meals featuring tree collards, which taste like an intriguing cross between collards and kale with just a hint of purple cabbage. They’re great in stir fries, “beanie greenies,” soups and even in scrambled eggs. Above, you can also see some of the many tomatoes I dehydrated, beginning in late July when our supply went through the roof! We even still have some German Yellow Tomatoes ripening inside:

yellow tomatoes

At last week’s cold frame workshop, someone reminded me that cilantro and arugula grow well indoors, so I will plant a few seeds of each in small pots once it gets a bit warmer in our garage. The thought of 9 degree planting efforts just doesn’t feel very enticing right now. [Update: oh, my goodness! Make that 3 degrees.] Planting in single digits is about as enticing as redistributing the rest of the mulch in our driveway, which I had reallllly hoped to have finished by the holidays. Excuse me, Mama Nature, I’d like to order a string of high forties days with a side of sunshine. Hold the wind, please and thank you!

Fall Garden Update: First Frost

Well, it finally happened last night: the first frost of the season! David and I spent this weekend preparing, and I harvested a few final things yesterday afternoon. Here’s a photo journey:

Guarden install

We began installing the cold frame portion of “The Guarden.” Above, you can see the PVC pipes bent into the brackets, in preparation for holding up the plastic tunnel. As when we first put together the raised bed, it would have helped to have read all the directions right away. It turns out that David not only needed to undo and redo his over-eager, non-linear girlfriend’s attempt to build the raised bed herself, but we would have been better off installing at least the PVC pipe before adding soil, despite the heat. We wouldn’t have needed to put on the plastic, but the soil now blocks easy access to add some extra bracketing that would create a tighter seal. Oh, well, live and learn. Plus, soil sinks, so perhaps we’ll have an opportunity next Spring. For now, we’ll have a cold frame that’s not quite as tightly sealed as the original design.

cold frame assembly with David's shadow

Above, you can see it with the plastic covering, and below, a peak through the zippered side vents. It’s very important to vent your cold frame on sunny days! Inside temperatures can scorch cold hardy crops, especially under glass. Think of how hot a sunny porch or sun room can get in winter, and then intensify that by the smaller space and soil activity.

looking through the vents

You can also lift the sides for Fall and Winter harvesting:

cold frame lifting

I just checked on the babies outside, and I noticed an unexpected thing. The plants in the uncovered beds all looked great, whereas the ones under the cold frame were covered in frost. I will need to experiment to see how much of that happened due to added moisture within the cold frame and how much due to the fact that the uncovered beds have already had at least an extra hour of full sun exposure, while the little cold frame that could(?) sits in only partial sun right now due to the lowered sun angle. It might also have something to do with the heat retained by the black beds, as opposed to the white bed that keeps the soil cooler. David’s dad offered to paint the white one to match the others, but we thought that would require too much maintenance. I may reconsider if it makes a huge difference in productivity, though. Live, observe and learn.

I did not seal up the vents all the way, either, so I will try that this time. I needed to leave before dark yesterday for the Inner Transitions book group and thus left the vents not too open and not too closed. It may have resulted in a frost-friendly moisture situation. Since all the plants in there are cold hardy, I think they’ll be fine. Kale actually tastes better after a frost! Still, it was only 30 degrees last night, so I hope I can count on a little better performance in the dead of winter. I might have to break out my row covers sooner than expected! [UPDATE 2: With the vents closed last night, I had zero frost on my cold frame covered plants this morning.]

After David and I finished installing the cold frame, what to my wandering eyes should appear? A hidden (even from the squirrels and rabbits!) Moon & Stars Watermelon, ripe for the picking. It was tiny, grown in a crate, and totally delicious. It tasted like watermelon bubble gum — very sweet and unlike other watermelons I’ve tried. It was the first and only watermelon we got this season before any critters drained them of their juice. Definitely worth the wait! Who harvests watermelon in late October?! In Northern Indiana???

watermelon

The harvest continued, with (non-cold hardy and hopefully, please, please, please perennial if mulched) tree collards and unripe tomatoes:

tree collards and tomatoes

I gathered even more yesterday:

More Tomatoes

We’ve got mint drying for tea and smoothies…

mint

… and lots of lemongrass!

lemongrass

I made another weekend bouquet…

this weekend's bouquet

… and a zinnia and pineapple sage bouquet along with edible nasturtiums and calendula flowers:

yesterday's harvest

I expected to find frozen nasturtiums, zinnias and a dead sage today, but everything’s still bright and joyful. What a bizarre, wonderful world out there! Good thing the flowers inspire me, because I’ve got a boatload of bulbs to hide from squirrels plant.

Cheers!

Gardening FAQ’s

I want to start by reminding people that I still consider myself very much a novice gardener. Yes, I’m a complete gardening and permaculture nerd, reading all manner of books and conducting all manner of ongoing experiments; however, I only planted my first garden in 2011. A lot of people have asked me questions, though, and I’m happy to share my own experience and knowledge. Whenever I go to the Farmer’s Market or meet someone at a permaculture gathering, I shamelessly engage them in garden discussions, so it feels fitting to pass along the tips and tricks I’ve gleaned and learned along the way. Today’s post is by no means comprehensive, but here goes:

I’m having challenges growing my squash. Leaves are turning yellow. How much water do they need?

Squash like consistent water and well drained soil. Yellow leaves could indicate too little water or too much. You’ll really need to check the soil. If you have really sandy soil, you might want to mulch around the roots to keep in moisture, but if your soil doesn’t drain that well, then mulch could contribute to fungal issues. Root rot from poorly drained soil does kill plants, so beware of over-watering.

Please note that squash (as well as cucumbers and melons) don’t like having their leaves left wet. When watering anything in the Cucurbitaceae family, aim for the roots rather than spraying the leaves. If you notice white splotches, your plants might have powdery mildew. Remove affected leaves. You can make a baking soda based leaf spray to prevent powdery mildew. I’ve not done this, but it’s on my list. You can find recipes online or in the book, “What’s Wrong with My Plant? (And How Do I Fix It?)” My parents bought me this book for Christmas, and it has proven a valuable diagnostic tool. I’ll admit that it’s a bit intimidating to see just how many things can go wrong with your plants, but it provides a lot of helpful solutions.

How much space do my squash/melons/cucumbers/tomatoes need?

That depends on the particular cultivar. If you want to grow in containers, you might want to select dwarf varieties or ones mentioned as suitable for containers or small spaces. In general, all of these require quite a lot of room! If you trellis them, you can grow more plants in less horizontal real estate.

My tomatoes have outgrown their cages and require daily pruning to keep them from completely dominating the garden. I have tons of tomatoes growing, but I’d also love continual basil, parsley, onion and kale harvests, so I prune back unruly branches and tie them to trellises. Next year, I plan to devote my raised beds to other crops and will give the tomatoes room to spread elsewhere.

If you decide to trellis, you need to consider crop size. Cantaloupes, for example, need support for the heavy fruits, since the stems generally can’t hold the big round fruits above ground. I’ve used pantyhose tied to a fence before, and you can also use small nets to support them.

For watermelon, you would need to select a small fruited variety. I didn’t, so my experimental milk crate watermelons are given room to spread over a mulched out area. I have no idea what to expect as I’ve never grown watermelons before. These varieties promise 15-40 pound fruits, so I opted for ground rather than trellis. I would have loved to let them spread out over the back yard without the mulch, but we’ve got a poison ivy issue back there, which I don’t want to encourage by neglecting to mow the lawn all Summer. Nor do we want to get poison ivy every time we harvest a watermelon!

Squash grows well on trellises. In 2011, I grew volunteer pumpkins along our neighbor’s fence in Madison, and they did surprisingly well as decorative fruits. I had no idea how to care for pumpkins at that time, especially since I didn’t even know what the plant was until Fall! In the future, I would suggest regular watering as well as periodic soil enhancement via compost or organic fertilizers. I’m growing two varieties of squash this year — acorn and Boston Marrow — all of them in landscape cloth lined milk crates, all of them to be trellised up “combo” fencing from Tractor Supply Co. LOL, I feel like I’ve graduated to the big farm stores now! I had to explain to the good folks there that I don’t have hogs or cows, just squash and cantaloupe. 😉 We’ll have six 8-foot wide panels and 18 stakes delivered on Friday.

Our cucumbers are a smaller variety, growing three to a crate, and I’ve got a decorative wrought iron trellis for those. So far so good, although the first plant has only just now flowered.

What’s a tree collard?

It’s a perennial “tree” that produces amazingly huge collard-like leaves:

Tree Collards

Tree Collards

Apparently, you need to trim it down and bury the lowest branches in mulch or soil during the winter months. I plan to research wrapping it in burlap inside a cold frame/hoop house. In the meantime, check out these leaves, pictured next to two large bananas for size reference:

Tree Collards

Tree Collards

I love them as wrappers for Whole Foods’ “Guac-Kale-Mole” and salsa, but they also sauté nicely as strips with a bit of garlic and lemon juice. I’ve added them as the green in “Beanie Greenies,” too. David and I particularly like Beanie Greenies with a splash of wheat free tamari, chipotle pepper, and a hint of miso and blackstrap molasses. Yum! In the past, I’ve had terrible luck growing collards, so I am thrilled with these tree collards. I’ve not done this yet, but supposedly, you can also cut off a lower branch, root it and grow a whole new tree. This one’s so prolific that I don’t think I’d need a second one. It loves the deep soil available in the second tier of my InstaBed.

What if I only have a patio?

You can grow a lot of things in pots! When we lived in Madison, we had a very shady raised bed out back and only the thinnest strip for a garden on the side of the house. Combined with lots of containers, this garden fed us well all Spring, Summer and into the Fall, with some supplementary food from the co-op and Farmer’s Markets:

My Madison Garden on July 1, 2012

My Madison Garden on July 1, 2012

As you can see from the above photo, I planted a lot of herbs in pots and gave larger plants like tomatoes and tomatilloes a spot in the soil. David found these Grow Soxx last year, and they worked great. I am still intending to locate them before next year, as I’d love to use them to plant some of my medicinal herb collection. The Grow Soxx are tubes of stretchy landscape cloth that you fill with soil and compost. They keep out weeds (mostly) for two years. I figure two years would be plenty of time from my somewhat invasive medicinals to take hold and transform our lawn into more of a permaculture paradise than a weedy mess. 😉 For those with a small strip of poor soil, the Grow Soxx work well.

Something to consider with container gardening, though: you will need to water a lot more! If plants can’t grow extremely deep roots to find water, then they’re at your mercy. Some pots offer reservoirs for water, which makes watering less of an urgent need. I still found I needed to water my containers once or twice per day during the heat of the sunny Summer.

I’m sure there’s much more, but this is all my busy day will allow me to share. I hope it helps! Happy Gardening … each plant you grow brings you a little closer to Nature, a lot more freshness, and one step closer to food sovereignty. Bon Appétit