Sunday, April 1, 2012

Garden update.....

After an unseasonably warm winter, it's time to get the garden back into shape. Once again, the focus will be on tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, leafy greens, berries and an assortment of herbs. We're also devoting some space to garlic, carrots and, for the first time, corn, peas, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts and shallots. Of course, we're going organic again. No chemical herbicides or pesticides. The soil is all organic and the only fertilizer we use is a combination of composted vegetable scraps and the poop-laden pine shavings we scoop out after each cleaning of the chicken coop.

Surprisingly, a number of items re-emerged after the brief, mild winter. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (sounds like a Simon & Garfunkle song) all came back a few weeks ago. We've grown herbs in the past in warmer climates like Georgia and Texas and we've never had parsley or rosemary come back after a winter. I'm rather shocked, in a good way, that they decided to come back for us in Kansas. We ripped the cilantro out after it went to seed last summer (yes, I hand-picked a large jar of coriander seeds from the plants) so we'll have to re-plant cilantro. And hopefully this year we can time it so the tomatoes and cilantro are ripe at the same time. Last year we didn't get to make any 100% garden-fresh salsa since the cilantro went to seed right about the same time we were starting to get ripe tomatoes.

We grew a number of types of tomatoes last year, mostly of the indeterminate varieties. In case you don't know the difference, indeterminate tomatoes grow and produce fruit throughout the season, but they require a substantial amount of staking, pruning and care (think: vines). This year we're going with determinate varieties. We won't get as many tomatoes this way, but the plants will be more compact (think: bush) and consistent.

We're also experimenting with an alternate method of supporting our cucumber vines. They got completely out of control last year when we attempted to contain them in tomato baskets. Something like this is what we have in mind for this year:

But instead of buying something from a catalog, we're going to build something similar with a couple of old chain link fence doors. You can see our improvised cucumber supports in the picture at the top of the page.

We planted 36 asparagus plants last year knowing full well that we wouldn't be able to harvest any until the third year. But my wife recently read an article that claims you can harvest second year spears for a month so long as you stop and let it go wild for the rest of the growing season. So we've already snapped a couple of meals worth and I can't even begin to tell you how delicious this stuff is. So sweet and tender - like no asparagus I've ever had from a grocery store. And it's amazing how quickly those little guys grow. You snap them all off one morning and 24 ours later you're ready to harvest them again. It's almost like one of those time-lapse films you used to see back in elementary school science class!

I had to include a gratuitous picture of our totally cool Boer goat, Willow. Willow is about as sweet as it gets - as affectionate as a dog. She and her compatriot, a pygmy goat named Olive, act as our lawnmowers in the chicken pen and they love to wander around out in the back pasture. Olive is sweet in her own right, but damn if she doesn't like to bite! There's nothing the goats like more than a handful of fresh herbs, particularly thyme

Here are Olive and Willow together. I wish I could've caught them on film here as they were engaged in a little head-butting exchange.

I'll be sure to post more pictures as the garden comes into its own and update our hits, misses and favorite recipes.


  1. Interesting. Is all that you grow just for your own consumption? And what's the problem with letting cucumber vines just grow on the ground? Is it a space issue?

    Lastly, what wine with Goat? :) Just kidding...

  2. Last year it was mostly for our consumption. We had a little extra of some items that we gave to friends and neighbors. Our goal this year is to be 100% self-sustaining with regards to herbs and vegetables. No green stuff from the grocery store. And we have over-planted some items with the intention of starting a CSA with some friends. Every two weeks or so we hope to sell them a little basket of fresh herbs, vegetables, dozen eggs, etc.

    Last year the cucumbers spread over the ground and took over two beds. And with the huge leaves, sometimes they were hard to see until they had gotten mushy and rotten. This way, the vine will climb over the gate and the cucumbers will hang down. That allows for:

    1) Easier to spot the ripe cucumbers

    2) You can grow things like lettuce (love shade) underneath the cucumbers.

    Personally, I hate cucumbers in all forms so we're growing them for my wife, 2 of the kids and our friends.

    Willow is a Boer goat, a South African breed known for its meat. But the kids would never allow that. We actually got both of them as pets and I told the kids we wouldn't eat either of them. But I'm thinking a hearty Zinfandel or Cotes-du-Rhone would be great with whole spit-roasted goat :)

  3. That sounds really cool. I wish I had as much room as you do to garden, but in suburbia, I'll have to live with my 20x20 patch. :) I'm surprised at how open your land looks. Don't you have issues with groundhogs or deer? Last year I think a ground hog was biting my tomatoes and ruining them before they could ripen. Then Hurricane Irene hit and that pretty much ended the garden last year.

    Plus, for some reason, I haven't had luck growing cukes. Had lots of romaine last year - but I hate that it's a "single harvest" since it takes up valuable space. My last post on my blog featured the first spring contribution - chives! Man were they tasty. And the mint is coming up too.

  4. We have a lot of deer on our property, but they rarely venture up to the garden. There's a good 200+ yards of open pasture between the woods where the deer live and our garden. And if they did happen to wander up this far, I think the dog would start barking and frighten them off.

    Never seen any groundhogs. Moles have been a real problem ever since we moved here, but the cat that adopted us last fall seems to have taken control of that situation as the mole trails were pretty light last winter and nonexistent now. (This time last year our yard looked like a roadmap of mole trails.)

    I wonder which variety of romaine you were growing. The stuff my wife planted came back and back and back. Cut off a meal's worth one day and you'd have enough for another meal 3-4 days later.

    My chives are AMAZING right now. Little purple flowers everywhere, too!