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.
The Snarky Gardener shows you how to plant tomatoes
With spring looking to summer, thoughts turn to planting frost sensitive tomatoes. The best time to put these little guys into the ground is when the soil has warmed up and all chance of frost has passed. Of course, one cannot tell the future, but mid-May on is generally considered safe. If you do plant and then there is a freeze or frost warning, covering the plants with straw/leaf mulch or blankets should give them enough protection.
Tomatoes are special in that their stems will grow roots if they come in contact with soil, so dig down enough to cover the stem up to the first set of true leaves. This will allow the tomato to receive all the water and nutrients it needs. Plus it will be easier to cover them if the weather turns cold (being shorter and all). I usually dig my holes ahead of time and plant either on a cloudy day or in the evening so not to stress them.
As you can see above, I use the “Terrier” digging method, but you can also use a shovel, Before placing your plant in the hole, you may want to add some extra fertilizer or other materials to the hole. Some experts recommend adding Epsom salts as they contain magnesium and sulfate. Others recommend egg shells with their needed calcium. I tend to use “dynamic accumulators” – plants that collect and store minerals. My favorites are comfrey (pictured below), dandelions, and mustard greens. I just remove the leaves I need and bury them.
Once planted and watered, you should add some support, whether it be a tomato cage, fence, or stake. Some tomatoes (called determinate) don’t need much as they only get a few feet tall (like Roma for example). Putting in support now means you won’t be piercing roots later as the plant matures. As you can see below, I make my own cages out of steel fencing. These totally surround the plant and are 6 feet tall, providing support for most varieties of indeterminate tomatoes. The other positive of this system is that peas can be grown up the cages to give more food production plus nitrogen fixing for future crops.
One other technique I stumbled upon is to grow tomatoes on the north side of an east-west steel fence (behind the caged tomato in the above picture). As the plants grow up, I weave the branches in and out of the wire, thus eliminating the need to use ropes or other bindings to keep the plant from falling over.
The Snarky Gardener is ready for the growing season
Spring has been a fun and interesting time to be a snarky gardener. I’ve taken in some workshops, and taken in some new edible varieties. Last year was all about growing my own starts and saving seeds. This year so far seems to be about expanding my knowledge, contacts (through Food Not Lawns and the Kent Community TimeBank), and perennial plantings.
In March I took two workshops – one for bee keeping and one for tree pruning. Looks like bees will be a future project though now I’m now a member of the Stark County (Ohio) Beekeepers Association (even have a cool membership card in my wallet). A very passionate group but I’m not quite ready to have so many little lives dependent on me. The tree pruning workshop did pay immediate benefits as there’s an old apple tree way in the back yard. I’m not real fond of getting up on a ladder but the tree is 30 feet tall so not much a choice. It did produce (small and holey) fruit last year and I’m hoping for better this season. In early May, I attended a WordPress “camp”, where I picked up new knowledge to help these blog entries and this site be better for you. I also concluded my permaculture class prematurely as my schedule has been full as of late.
With permaculture slowly but surely changing my point of view, I’ve taken some steps to make my domain more permanent and perennial. My two part article written earlier this year discussed perennial plant possibilities and I’ve taken steps to make them reality. For the Snarky Garden, Egyptian Walking onions, ground nuts, mushrooms, strawberry spinach, and perennial kale (from Territorial) will be added to compliment already established sunchokes, strawberries, corn salad (via self seeding) and comfrey. The whole north part (top in the plan) is evolving into only perennials. I’ll never move to a whole perennial garden (I love tomatoes and potatoes too much), but half would be nice. Also, my foraging is getting more serious with grazing of garlic mustard, dandelion greens, hostas and violets picked right out of the yard. I wanted to do maple syrup, but missed the February/March window, but there’s always next year.
In only a few short days, the Snarky Gardener will be eating homegrown cherry tomatoes in February. Of course there are only 6, so it won’t be much of a feast, but still, pretty cool. The Snarky Orange Cherry tomato plant is finally getting flowers. It had others a few weeks ago, but they grew into the lights and were burnt off (so sad). A cutting was also taken off the Chocolate Cherry to start a potted tomato plant. Not sure what I’m going to with it yet, but I’m sure I’ll think of something.
Learn how the Snarky Gardener created his own tomato variety.
In 2012, before the Snarky Gardener grew his own starts, he purchased way too many SunGold cherry tomatoes (6 if memory serves) from a local garden shop. SunGold is an F1 hybrid, meaning that it’s produced by crossing two varieties to get a better, stronger plant. Conventional wisdom says not to save F1 seed because one doesn’t know what or how the next generation will produce. With this knowledge, I saved none of this seed, but biology had a different plan. Last spring, while prepping the garden for planting, I noticed a massive clump of “volunteers” (plants that just grow on their own from the year before). They were obviously SunGolds as the orange outer skin of the parent fruit could still be seen. So in a flash of inspiration, my shovel relocated them to 4 different spots along my tomato fence. Each clump had several plants, so I thinned them out over a period of weeks until just one remained in each spot. Here’s the strange part – of the 4 remaining plants, 2 produced orange tomatoes and 2 produced red tomatoes. The orange fruits were as tasty as its parents, the red not so much, so I collected only orange seed last fall, naming them Snarky Orange cherry tomatoes as they can’t really be considered SunGold anymore. In biology terms, these 2013 volunteers were F2s, AKA the second generation, and 2014’s version is considered an F3. I am currently growing a Snarky Orange F3 in my AeroGarden and it’s orange like the original F1.
The question is “Why would anyone go to the trouble of breeding out an F1 while there are so many tomato varieties in the world?” I think the answer for me is “Just to try and see what happens” as I love to experiment. Also, if you save seeds from your own garden, they are adapted to your growing conditions. Think about it – these Snarky Orange volunteered and thrived so the environment was exactly what they wanted. And when I raise and save them this season, they will be even more adapted, something you’re not going to get out of an F1 hybrid you need to buy every year.