Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Notes from the garden

When we lived in Salt Lake I could always count on the KSL Greenhouse radio show each Saturday morning for expert local gardening advice (plus I learned a lot from my dad). But people in Los Angeles are more interested in the farmer's market than growing food themselves, so there's no radio programs with gardening advice and few people to ask. Yes, my wife's family are gardeners, but they're all about flowers and landscaping and not vegetables (except when it comes to cooking them).

We started a vegetable garden again last year which did okay but was too crowded, and I was determined to do better this year. And since we have mild winters I even tried a few vegetables in the colder months. Broccoli did well but that was about it. I think a combination of late planting (early December was about a month too late) and a cool winter sabotaged me. But when spring came I made a plan ahead of time and once it started to warm up I built a short raised bed. Unfortunately, that was the weekend (March 20) that we got 5" of rain in one day and I learned that the corner of the yard where my garden is located is also the lowest spot. Yep - it flooded.

I don't really care for tomatoes, but they're easy!

I thought I'd have to worry about Taylor's tortoise eating all our veggies, but the problem has been caterpillars.

Soooo... four weeks(!) later, after the ground finally dried out enough to dig again, I finally planted. All the root and salad veggies in the raised bed in the middle, and tomatoes on one side and beans on the other.
  • I planted 4 kinds of lettuce: green leaf, buttercrunch, romaine, and a mixed salad kind. All were slow and some grew better than others (some were seeds from last year) but we also had a plague of caterpillars!
  • The carrots were a miserable failure from the start (probably due to the poor soil) so I reseeded with beets ("Detroit Dark Red" because the greens are suposedly good in salads). I'm not exactly sure what to do with them (or if I even like them) but they're growing fairly well.
  • Spinach was a disappointment. The "Bloomdale Long-standing" variety is supposed to be good here, but it's done poorly in both cooler and warmer weather.
  • I also planted Swiss Chard "Bright Lights." I don't know if we'll like it but it's growing well and the caterpillars don't touch it (hmmm, should I take that as a hint?).
  • Beans ("Kentucky Blue") have also been disappointing. I planted them late and I used a seed packet left over from last year and got poor germination. Some have grown but I should probably try planting more seeds.
  • We planted 6 heirloom variety tomatoes. I'm not a big fan of tomatoes but Jamie is and when it comes right down to it - they're easy to grow. And although they've been slow (because of the cooler weather) they're big and have fruit on them. I'll update more on the tomatoes later.
  • We had a TON of raspberries and boysenberries from the plants we put in last year. Luckily, we even got some before the birds found them. Even the strawberries are doing fairly well.

I hope we like Swiss Chard, because it's growing.

This is what happens when you dump the jack-o-lanterns in the garden - and then I don't have the heart to pull all the seeds that sprout.

So, that's kind of a rundown of my garden so far. It's not in the sunniest spot but it was as good as we could do. And I never got around to planting zuchinni or crookneck squash, and I probably shouldn't have let pumpkin seeds from last year's jack-o-lanterns grow, but they're doing pretty well. I'll follow up with what I learn what's successful and what's not. Also, I really need to improve the soil, but I'll post later about what I'm doing for that.

The beans aren't doing so well, and now the caterpillars are in them.


  1. (From Rich D. in Pittsburgh)
    This year’s garden:

    I planted everything from seed purchased on line and then planted those seeds on March 15th in small containers near the window. Then on May 20th, we planted them outside. But this year I wheel barrowed 7 tons of sifted topsoil and laid in on top of my normal garden. But I think the soil is just too stripped of nutrients, so I’m getting very uneven growth rates of the plants. I’m going to pile on leaves and grass clippings this fall and rototiller in. But this year I used a new technique that someone told me about and then I merged it with my newspaper topping. So I placed newspaper (about 6 or 8 pages) and laid them all out and then covered it with black plastic, cutting holes where the plants go. It is supposed to heat up the ground and keep everything moist. I will vouch for both. When the temps are getting to 90 degrees, the heat is so much, you can nearly burn your fingers by lifting the plastic. But the yields are pretty good so far.

    We planted 12 hot yellow banana pepper plants – the yield is too much. So far we’ve taken off nearly 6 dozen peppers
    4 Jalapenos – really good yield. This year used El Jaffe

    2 zucchini – not bad and quite enough for the 2 of us.

    6 cucumber plants and too many cukes.

    5 sweet green pepper plants – not enough, need to cut back on the hot banana and add more of these

    bean plants didn’t take.

    Planted onion seeds and lettuce and spinach in containers – to keep them off the ground and away from bugs that crawl. The yields are huge and no damage from worms or caterpillars.

    1 eggplant for a test – really nice plant and will plant more next year where the cukes are.

    Then we planted 16 tomato plants (mostly Roma for sauce). We bought an inexpensive skin and seed separator for the tomatoes and it works great. Then we make sauce and freeze it for winter use. We also stuff the hot banana peppers with sausage and freeze them also. Then I planted several specialty tomato plants (pear, yellow cherry, grape) into containers on the deck. I also put in a new addition to the deck – an herb garden holder – like a railing that holds the pots for nearly 8 different herbs. It works great – right off the kitchen for easy grabbing.

    So still a work in progress. Oops, almost forgot, we planted 3 blueberry plants this year. They are supposed to yield between 10 and 20 pounds of blueberries each when mature. Can’t wait for that.

  2. So jealous of your garden. The summer before we moved, the Hays' planted a garden in the Van Slooten's yard. I LOVED the cherry tomatoes that grew. They were so sweet and the bugs tended to go for the bigger ones rather than the smaller ones. I would go out and bring in a bowl full for lunch. Yummy. Good luck with your beets. If you need a recipe for Barszcz I could probably find you a good one.

  3. Thanks Liz. Are you sure you didn't misspell "Barszcz"? It seems like there should be some more vowels between all those consonants. ;-) And sure, post a recipe for it - I might need something to do with the beets a month from now. One thing I've noticed with the leaves in salads is that the stems are very bitter.

    (And I wish you could see the pics Rich D. sent me of his garden - actually, I wish my garden looked a little more like his! I'll update more on my garden in a little while.)