Sunday, April 1, 2012
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.