The Snarky Gardener writes an abundance of words about abundance. Imagine that.
To the Snarky Gardener, abundance means having plenty (even too much) of a thing. Often people are concerned with what they can’t grow or what’s not doing well because of pests, lack of sunlight, or poor soil. But if you take this “problem” and turn it on its head with abundance, your mindset totally changes. The question, “What can I grow a boat load of?”, offers up all kinds of possibilities. I believe food growers should build upon their successes, with new and experimental plants taking only a small amount of total resources, and removal of those that produce poorly. At Snarky Acres, that means growing more sunchokes, turnips, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, peas, kale, garlic, onions, greens, zucchini, corn, Swiss chard, comfrey, and herbs (especially perennials like mint, lemon balm, oregano, and sage). It also means growing less (or no) broccoli, watermelon, peppers, eggplant, spinach, and beets. It’s hard to stop trying with those fruits and vegetables we love to eat, but not everything grows well everywhere, even in the same relative climate.
How to create abundance:
1. Grow a lot more of what grows well.
2. Look for alternative resources (weeds, trees, native species)
3. Create environments where abundance happens naturally (perennials and self-seeding plants)
4. Save seeds, plant extra starts (tomatoes, etc), and start new plants from cuttings.
5. Grow in non-optimal spaces (shade, poor soil)
6. “Invasive” also means “Abundance”
How to utilize abundance:
1. Find trading partners (food swaps, seed swaps, time banks, neighborhood barter systems)
2. Learn to preserve (canning, freezing, drying)
3. Find other uses (dynamic accumulators, medicinal)
4. Learn to create products from your produce (extracts, salves, pesto)
The Snarky Gardener lists the top vegetables to plant in July and August
Just because you didn’t get around to planting a garden in May and June doesn’t mean you have to go without for the rest of year. The secret to planting in summer is knowing that the first frost of the year (usually in early October here in NEO) is your limiting factor. So you need either vegetables that will be done fruiting by then or that can handle a little cold. I’ve kept this list to direct seeded plants as it’s hard to get starts by the time summer starts. Seeds can be obtained online, garden stores, and from friends.
Here’s my list:
1. Bush Green Beans
Many green beans are bush varieties, meaning you don’t have to have a pole (or corn) for them to go up. The bush bean will usually produce within 60 days of planting but will only have beans for two weeks before the plants die off.
Carrots are a good choice as they can be planted through out the year and can handle frost. Make sure to keep them watered until they germinate.
3. Short season corn
Believe it or not, there are short season varieties of corn which give you ears with 62 days of planting (like Early Sunglow). Just make sure you get them in by the first of August to assure they have time to develop before it gets cold.
Bush zucchinis (like Burpee’s Sure Thing) are great for a short season with days to maturity in the 48 to 60 day range. Just plant them in mounds and let them go.
Kale, which is related cabbage and broccoli, is a versatile plant that loves the cold but will grow will in the summer also.
Peas are a spring and fall crop, so it’s best to avoid growing them during the hot months of the summer. To get them going in August, you’ll need to shade and water them diligently until temps cool down. Starting them inside first and then transplanting them in September is also a possibility.
As you have noticed in this list, bush varieties of vegetables are the way to go for a short season garden. Just remember to read the number of days to maturity and count forward to your first expected frost.
Last year, the Snarky Gardener discovered wintersown.org, which gives away seeds that can be used to grow plants outside during the winter. The idea is to sow your seeds in milk jugs (or other recycled objects) and then put them outside until the temperatures are correct for germination. I had mixed results with the WinterSown system but I believe I made several mistakes that I am pledging not to make this year. First of all, I tried plant too many seeds at once – 8 different varieties in just one carton!. This time, I’m using my new 2” square soil blockers to keep the number of plantings to a minimum – just 7 starts per carton. And only one variety per carton with identifying labels (what a concept!). I’m also keeping the choices to those I know well, and that I have too many seeds of already – Red Russian kale, spinach, cilantro, parsley, and leeks. All of these are cold weather hardy, so they are perfect for being winter sown.
Another issue I ran across last year was watering. The instructions explicitly said to open the milk carton to water but I got lazy and sprayed into the opening at the top. The one carton I didn’t put bottom slits in did the best as it didn’t go dry like the others. For me, putting my seed starting efforts outside leads to the “out of sight, out of mind” problem. This time around I’m putting them right outside my back door, which I will pass everyday on my way to work and back.
Spend some time to observe your chosen spot. You are going to want at least 3 hours of direct sunlight a day with more than 6 preferred. If you can’t get the minimum 6, then look for plants that will be OK with a little shade, like lettuce, herbs, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, turnips, and mustard greens. Another option is to plant in containers and move them to the sunny spots throughout the day.
2. Start small
Don’t go hog wild with a giant garden first thing out. Keeping it small will allow you to learn what grows best in your area without a lot of investment of time, money, and effort. Containers or a 4 foot by 4 foot raised bed would be a good place to start.
3. Grow what you like to eat
Sounds straight forward, but I’ve known a few snarky gardeners to grow things before they know how they taste (like me with my sunchokes). If you think you want to grow it, buy it from the store first.
4. Grow easy stuff
Some vegetables are easier to grow than others, by a significant margin. Talk to people in your area to learn what grows well in your area. For instance, in Northeastern Ohio (my neck of the woods), cherry tomatoes, beans, peas, onions, zucchini, potatoes, and turnips do well with little trouble. Broccoli, watermelons, Brussels sprouts, peppers, and eggplants are much harder to grow, to the point I’ve given up on some.
5. Mulch a bunch
Mulch is anything that covers the ground around your plants. Straw, grass clippings, newspapers, wood chips, and leaves (my favorite) all make good mulch. You can also use plastic mulch, but it won’t make your soil better over time like organic materials will. Covering the ground is important as it will keep weeds from overtaking your edible plants plus it holds in moisture which will keep you from having to water as much (or at all!)
6. Visit often
Gardens are probably ruined by neglect more than anything else. Visit a few times a week to keep up with the weeds, watering, and ready to pick food. Think of it as that exercise your doctor keeps telling you need to do. I find the garden as a quiet place to get away from it all. Also, try to plan around the weather (early or late on hot summer days, etc).
7. Learn about food seasons
Some plants can tolerate and sometimes prefer cold (like spinach, turnips, onions, peas, potatoes) but don’t like heat and others can’t handle frost (tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, okra) and love warm weather. It still surprises me that this isn’t common knowledge (it wasn’t for me when I started). Your frost dates (last frost in the spring and first frost in the fall) are the most important gardening times. They tell you when you can plant certain vegetables and when they need to be reaped. Too early or too late and you’ll be sad, sad gardener.
8. Watch out for critters
If you notice animals in your neighborhood, know that they may think of your garden as a free meal. A small fence (2 or 3 feet tall) will keep out rabbits, but you will need a taller fence (6 feet or more) to deter groundhogs, raccoon, and deer from invading your space. There are also garlicky sprays and fence clips that will deter them some. Most animals don’t like strong smells, so planting herbs and garlic/onions on the outside of your garden is not a bad idea. Also, keep an eye on your plants for damage, as even the best fencing can be leaped over or dug under.
9. Think outside the box
There are a lot of different ways to garden besides the standard “till up the backyard and plant in rows”. Indoor gardening can be done with systems like the AeroGarden. Containers or individual planters work well for situations where you can’t plant into the ground (apartments, limited sun, etc). If you don’t have a tiller or want to go to the trouble of tilling, you can build gardens on top of your grass, whether it be raised beds, straw bale gardening, or lasagna mulching. And don’t be limited to your backyard. Front yard gardens, if done tastefully, are a possibility as long as there are no prohibitions where you live (like city ordinances or home owner association rules).
Good luck and happy gardening!
Have any questions about your first garden? Please leave a reply.
Are you growing (or planning to grow) mustard, kale, or turnips?
Did you know it’s easy to save your own seed?
Seven Top Turnips going to seed spring 2013
Mustard, kale, and turnips basically all go to seed the same way. When they get stressed (hot weather, etc) or are overwintered, these plants send up stalks and put out flowers. These flowers are beautiful and functional, as they bring beneficial insects to your garden. Once the stalks are produced (also called “bolting”), the leaves themselves become bitter as the plant puts its energy into getting busy (cue the Barry White music) reproducing.
The seed is ready to collect once the stalks turn brown and dry out. Unfortunately, the pods don’t all dry out at once, with the ones closer to the base of the plant going first. If you wait until they are completely ready, some seed will escape onto the ground and you’ll have babies starting before you know it. This is a good thing if you are trying to get a perennial supply of yummy greens. Not so good if you have plans for that area in the form of other crops. But, as I always say, edible weeds are better than inedible weeds.
The best system I’ve found so far to collect this type of seed is through the use of garden cutters and trash bags. Just snip below the pods and put the top into the bag. This way you can squish and crush up the pods in the bag and have the tiny little seeds fall to one corner. Cut the corner tip as small as you can and release the seed. You will get some chaff (fancy word of the day) but only some, not all.
If all goes right, you can put the separated seed into a holding vessel (like this glass jar pictured below). Once there, you can shake it to force the lighter chaff to the top for more removal. You could also use a screen to sift out the extra material.
This fall we’ve had serious snow twice so far (several inches each time) here in Northeastern Ohio. While most people have not even thought about their gardens since the first freeze back in October, the early snow had me worried. Many of my fall duties were incomplete, including digging up and bringing in my rosemary herbs (they died out there last winter – sniff). Also, the fall leaves I gathered into big honking piles did not get as distributed as I would have liked. I found out this summer that some plants (lettuce, spinach, kale, turnips, peas, corn salad) could be covered with mulch 5 or 6 inches deep in the fall to “overwinter” them. Then in mid-March, you just pull off the leaves and viola, they will start growing again. Nifty trick having food producing plants when other unsnarky gardeners are still planning for the summer. Anyways, I was finally able to finish these tasks on 12/4/2013 with most of my fall babies no worse for wear.
If you look at the pictures below, you will notice some of my plants didn’t do as well by December (especially the sad Swiss chard in the middle foreground). In the back left, my mustard is going to seed, which is good because I needed more for cooking and next year’s crop. But you will also see that there’s quite a bit of green considering it’s December in Ohio. On the right foreground, my purple top turnips are looking great. I will thin these out (yum) and mulch the rest in the next week or so. Also, near the Swiss chard, you should be able to make out bright green areas near the ground. That’s my corn salad and onions, all ready to eat. We used them plus mustard greens, carrots, and kale to make a wonderfully fresh salad (again, in December in Ohio).
P.S. I don’t think “unsnarky” is a word, but with use it will soon become one.
It’s been an eventful 2013 spring for the Snarky Gardener. He has learned humility and patience, especially since it’s taking forever for everyone to know how wonderful he truly is. Mother nature has given many lessons this year, and it’s possible the Snarky Gardener won’t make the same mistakes next year. Here’s the summary of highlights and lowlights (is that really a word?) for this spring.
Starting my own plants
This year started with much (probably too much) enthusiasm as January can make a gardener in Ohio a little nuts. Overall it went well, with lots of tomatoes, and basil plants to plant and trade. I do need to improve on starting dates, labeling, and hardening off. All of these issues come down to one thing – patience. I tend to want to start seeds earlier than they should be, forget to label and/or record properly, and to rush plants outside too soon.
Spinach was a little hard to get germinated (maybe one in two seeds actually sprouted). I used the AeroGarden starter kit, so maybe spinach just doesn’t do very well with that system. I’ve done some research on soil cubes and could go that direction for spinach and others next year.
Frosts and freezes
Last year we in Northeast Ohio got spoiled with an early spring with warm weather in March and April. This year we had freezes and frosts into late May and I lost quite a few tomatoes and peppers. I’ll make a concerted effort not put out the majority of my frost intolerant plant until late May next year.
This is the second year I’ve had issues with groundhogs in my garden. Last year in July, a little guy (named him Woody) terrorized my garden for a week or two until I finally caught him in the act of trespassing and theft. He took out half my early corn and green beans before I was able to finally capture him. Let’s just say that he’s in a better place now.
This year the fun started earlier in late May as a momma and her little one moved into Woody’s old house, which is a burrow under a stacked pile of pine trees 5 feet behind my garden. It began with a few carrot tops missing and culminated with the loss of spinach, peas, kale, broccoli, and even Jerusalem artichokes. I called in the experts this time as my own trapping efforts were getting me nowhere. First morning we had a raccoon, who had been stealing my trap bait of corn and apples. My trap is obviously cheap and worthless. Since the raccoon, we caught two more raccoons, Mama and another baby groundhog. On July 4th, I added some 3 foot chicken fencing to the north side with 1 1/2 feet on the ground and 1 1/2 feet attached to the current fence. This will keep future groundhogs (there will be more) from digging under (crossing my fingers).
My long-term plan is to remove the wood either by having the landlord move it or by acquiring a chain saw. The cleared area will make a good place to expand my composting efforts.
Overwintering and collecting seeds
I overwintered several different plants this year, mostly because I wanted early spring produce. Carrots, kale, onions, mache, and turnips all made it back for 2013. I let the kale, mache, and turnips go to seed with a concerted effort to collect the Seven Top turnip green seeds. I ended up with a giant bag of turnip green seeds on 7/14 (more than I’ll ever use), so if you want some, just let me know and I’ll figure out a way to get them to you. I’m still planning to collect tomato and bean seeds for sure, with a possibility of collecting peppers and eggplants this year too.