Gardening! It’s the Thought That Counts.

We are very lucky to have awesome landlords who let us till up (actually, helped us till up) about a third of our backyard for a garden. It happened late last year because they hadn’t realized we wanted a garden, and we hadn’t realized they’d be okay with us doing something so dramatic. This meant we didn’t have time to do our own starters, or even plan much, though it all turned out well in the end. Who can argue with fresh heirloom tomatoes right out of the backyard, right?

This year, we obviously know it’s coming and can be a bit more ambitious. This weekend, we put together our seed order from seedsavers.org, and I’ve started figuring out how much we can reasonably grow and put by. Our garden space isn’t big enough to feed us entirely, but it can go a long way towards supplementing our food budget and our health. This year, we also have access to a greenhouse with warming mats to start our seedlings! And, speaking of seedlings, it’s just about time to get some of them started. By the time our seeds arrive, it’ll be perfect.

So what are we growing, and why? I’m not going to go into the planting schedule yet, as I’m still working on the rotation schedules so we can garden in all seasons; but, here’s what we plan on harvesting in what season (obviously, some of these will start in one season and carry through to another, weather depending):

Spring: Greens (spinach, various lettuces), peas. With luck, blueberries from my potted plants!

Summer: tomatoes (several varieties), beets (these will be interval planted for continuous harvest), carrots, some greens (shade planting), leeks (late), radishes.

Fall: Beets, leeks, turnips, radishes, carrots, sunchokes, Australian Butter and Thelma Saunders squashes, kale, second planting of peas, fall crop of lettuces, tomatoes.

Overwinter in the ground or harvest late/cold storage: leeks, kale, carrots, spinach, squash, beets, turnips, green tomatoes, winter radishes, and sunchokes.

We’re doing all heirlooms, and as much organic as we can get our grubby little hands on. This is a far more ambitious undertaking than last year, but I think the payoff will be worth it. We elected to do high-yield varieties of squash and peas, and the sunchokes are also high-yield as a general rule. Our goal was to do a lot of fresh diversity in small quantities we can eat at harvest, and larger quantities of limited “staples” so we have enough to actually be usable for a good part of the winter. Some things, like squash, only get better with storage (to a point, obviously), and so we are really looking forward to these. Some things, like sunchokes, store just fine in the ground (and, in fact, are made better by freezing); so, we can have the produce without taking up all of our rather limited cold storage.

We’re also going to move some of our “cold storage” around next year. Squash prefer slightly warmer, drier temperatures than, say apples; so, we’re going to store them in another area. Our once concern is that our cold storage won’t be cold enough, which has actually been a problem this year. While I appreciate the warmer winter both from a personal stand point (I don’t like the cold much, hence I moved south) and a financial angle (our heating bills have been about half what they were the last few years), it is taking a toll on the apples. We’re going to have to sauce them out soon.

I spent a lot of this weekend going over two of my favorite books: Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables, and Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation. There is a bit of modification that goes on for us, since both books (especially the latter book) is written with the general assumption of a colder climate than Virginia generally has. The hardest part of cellaring here isn’t, as in the north, the worry of freezing–it’s the worry of spoilage due to warmth.  But, both books are very useful for anyone who is interested in putting up food. The Root Cellaring book in particular is a great resource for cold storage methods (did you know hard squashes need to be cured before they get put into cold storage?), duration food can be expected to last, what you should and should not store together and why, and all kinds of other neat stuff.

I’ll be doing a layout and schedule soon, and I’ll post them here. I’d love to see your gardens, your planning methods, and your storage hopes and dreams, too!

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6 responses to “Gardening! It’s the Thought That Counts.

  • Stacie

    I havent’ been able to garden much the last few years, as babies/toddlers took up most of my time. The “baby” will be 2 in June, but I’m still not planning a humungous garden this year. Maybe just a few odds and ends here and there. We planted a fig tree and five blueberry bushes last year. The birds got ALL my blueberries, so I need to remember to net them when they set fruit. I also planted asparagus last year, but I don’t know if I’ll get a crop this year. I’m excited to see how it does!

    I didn’t see broccoli on your list. Have you ever grown it? I LOVE broccoli, but it seems like it gets too hot here too quickly for me to get any good heads. Also, as much as I enjoy organic gardening, the bugs tend to eat more broccoli than I do! I also didn’t see potatoes on your list. I’ve grown potatoes once, and they were a lot of fun. I didn’t buy seed potatoes, I just used old red potatoes that had set out roots in my potato basket. The cheapest crop I’ve ever grown!

    I have a Seed Savers catalog, and I’m tempted to buy a few seeds, but I’m going to restrain myself this year. My husband is taking 18 units in college this semester, so he’s pretty much unavailable to do ANYTHING lately, ha ha. The whole tilling would be on me, and I just can’t do it this year. But next year, oh I’m ready!! I’ve got BIG plans, baby!! (We’ll see how they pan out…LOL)

    We’d eventually like to get a Concord grape vine going, a strawberry patch, a better three-bin composting system, some blackberries, and a big garden. (I generally use the square-foot system.) I’d also like a few more fruit trees, definitely apricot and apple! And a pomegranate bush too.

    • shwankie

      I hope you get a chance to do some gardening, this year, though I can imagine it’s more difficult with young children! Thanks for the thought on the blueberries, I wouldn’t have thought to net them until they were all gone! You just saved my fruit.

      We had to be pretty picky and choose crops that we could do in our space, that were water efficient, and that had high yields. Also, we tried for crops that we can’t purchase from farmers for less than we can grown them for. This left out broccoli and Brussel sprouts, though I’d love to do both. We have a similar problem with the heat that you mention, and so they’re just not the most effective use of space. Same thing with potatoes. It’s cheaper for us to purchase organic local from our local farmers than it is to grow them, and they take up enough space in our garden that it means we’d have to give up some other crops that we can’t purchase locally as cheaply or readily (like the sunchokes). Some day, when we get settled, we’ll do vertical potato growing; but, given that we know we’ll be moving next year, that’s more than we want to have to deal with for just one season.

      Our other challenge is water efficiency. Living in the city, we pay for water and sewer, which means we’re essentially double-charged for all the water we use. So, even if it goes to watering the garden, we pay sewer fees on it. We can’t install a rain barrel, and probably wouldn’t even if we could (there’s a pretty strong chance we’ll end up in housing that will preclude things like water barrels once we move for Thadd’s grad school). Potatoes can be pretty water-intensive, so if we get a dry season, they end up being far more expensive than purchasing them because most farmers in the area don’t pay sewer fees on their crop water.

      I am with you on the fruit bushes and trees. One of my biggest reasons for buying a house eventually will be so we can plant out own. If you lived closer, I’d say we should just buy some seeds from SeedSavers and split them, because most packets come with far more seeds than we’re going to use anyway! Is there someone more local to you that you could go in on seeds wit?

      Like you, most of the gardening will be on me. We can commiserate on our gardening while the guys are being bookish! Thadd is taking what amounts to 21 hours this term (18 credits, plus research, plus PASS leading which entails sitting in on additional classes), so I feel your pain. He’ll till and help with getting the seedlings going, but until he gets out of school, most of this will be my project. Thankfully, I love gardening! Will you be posting your garden plan?

      • Stacie

        If we stay here once my husband graduates and gets a “real” job, we’d love to put in rain barrels. Like you, we also live in city limits and get charged for sewer. I would love to learn how to keep goats, but living inside city limits won’t allow us. We would also like to keep bees, something that we are allowed to do. Once we know we are settled here longterm, we’d like to get some bees.

        You can store extra seeds in the freezer. Just make sure they are in a super airtight container, especially if they are near fruit at all. Fruit emits ethylene gas, which prevents seeds from sprouting. I’ve kept seeds for three years in my freezer. You do lose a little on percentage of seeds planted vs. seeds sprouted, but if you just start a few extra seeds, you’ll be okay.

        Your garden plan sounds like it will put mine to shame, so I probably won’t post anything about it. If I manage to actually get some blueberries, I’ll definitely post!

  • Stacie

    Oh, wanted to add: don’t net your blueberry bushes until you see them set fruit. Blueberries need a pollenator like bees, and netting them too soon will keep the bees from doing their job! (Blueberries aren’t self-pollenators, and their pollen doesn’t spread in the wind like corn does.)

    • shwankie

      Thanks for all the blueberry tips! And bees? That would be awesome!

      We’re pretty good at saving seeds, but we almost certainly won’t get to use them next year, and possibly not after that for several years (Thadd graduates next Spring, and we’ll be moving at some point before fall. In the interim, we have to re-seed the lawn, etc.). So, we’ll have lots of extras from the varieties we’ve ordered. I am probably just going to donate them to a local community garden.

  • It’s the New Year! « Garnished

    […] Gardening! It’s the Thought That Counts. (eclecticedibles.wordpress.com) […]

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