Tag Archives: garden

Bloomin’ Rhubarb

If you grow rhubarb, this is a familiar, exciting sight this time of year.

Last year, I put in a few new rhubarb plants. They were rather inexpensive and I thought I could fill in ye olde rhubarb patch a bit. Then, this happened.

The variety I bought is an old-fashioned rhubarb variety known for bolting. I would not have bought it if I had realized this at the time, but it was an impulse buy. Bolting occurs when the plant sends up a flower stalk in an attempt to produce seed. Bolting reduces the amount of energy the plant has to put into leaf growth. We eat the delicious leaf stalks of rhubarb, so bolting reduces the harvest and is an undesirable trait. More modern rhubarb varieties have had the tendency to bolt bred out of them. I am reminded of modern commercial turkeys who can’t reproduce without human intervention, but I want more delicious rhubarb so I prefer the modern varieties too.

The flower is a little alarming and it looks something like pink cauliflower. The gardener can simply chop off the flower stalk, and the rhubarb should return its attention to growing leaves. It would be preferable to chop it off before it gets this big, but we were busy.

Now that the flowers are gone, hopefully our new rhubarb plants will go back to making pie fillings. I’m not sure if I’m willing to tolerate this behavior, or if I should dig them up and plant a different variety.

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Adventures in Vertical Potatoes

In 2009, we grew poatoes in stacked tires on a lark. That was fun. The potatoes were delicious and we were converted to enthusiastic potato growers. Occasionally, I come across something about how important potatoes are for self-reliance gardening and I think that we really need to grow more of them.

In 2010, Krista built wooden stacking potato boxes. I wrote about why we switched from tires to wooden stacks here. We also grew potatoes in burlap bags from local coffee roasters, although apparently I have never blogged about that. I found burlap bags to be an unsatisfactory way to grow potatoes. The burlap bags were free though, and I composted them afterwards. No harm, no foul.

I buy our seed potatoes at a local nursery. I wrote about the varieties we planned to grow here if you are interested. We planted them in our faithful wooden stacks again this year, but we have been more attentive about mounding the plants regularly. Hopefully our diligence will be rewarded with a better yield. We haven’t harvested yet, but the plants are much taller and heartier than we have ever grown before.

The neighborhood deer have been voracious this summer, causing serious damage to the potatoes a few weeks ago. We covered the stacks with deer netting and as you can see, the plants grew back with a vengeance. The wooden stacks work well with deer netting because you can tuck it all around the edges.

This is a sort of experimental method, so we’ll report back when the plants die back. We planted late this year so we have weeks to go before harvest. And then? Potato salad, potato tacos, potato soup, roasted potatoes and colcannon for us, and maybe some of our hard-earned tips for growing vertical potatoes for you.

xoxo,
Jess

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hurray for the first tomato!

Growing tomatoes in the northwest is always cause for celebration. This year, with a record-breaking wet spring and a chilly start to summer, we decided to really celebrate our first ripe tomato.

And we literally only have one ripe tomato at this point. I hope to have a lot more, but this good-sized, bright yellow Limmony was the first to cross the finish line.

To really do it justice, I made a balsamic reduction, bought some smoked mozzarella, and harvested some basil to go on top. Now I really hope we get a lot more tomatoes. We found a little blossom end rot in the community garden that we’re trying to nip in the bud. It’s important to celebrate the small successes!

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20 x 20

Things are happening in our community garden plot!

Probably the biggest surprise: the artichoke starts that nearly died when we first planted them out are looking like they might actually produce! Last year our artichoke plants at home in containers never produced any food, probably because we didn’t choose a sunny enough spot for them. Our new plan is to dig these up before winter and store them in the garage in pots. We’ll see.

We’ve got a ton of green tomatoes over there. FINGERS AND TOES CROSSED!

Corn. Probably not going to happen this year but the sight of it still makes us happy.

Soy, corn, and volunteer borage gone wild behind. Our borage makes our plot very popular with the bees.

amaranth

nasturtiums and zucchini (and maybe some weeds)

Jess has some interesting plans for this calendula

Jess’ favorite gloves

the view from our neighbor’s plot

the food bank squash plot

So glad I finally hauled my camera over there on a day I wasn’t going to get covered in dirt.

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a little garden bounty

My wife may be a “master gardener” but we have a lot of room for improvement and learning in the gardening department. It’s our second year gardening in this yard, and our first year in our community garden plot, and we’ve learned a lot. While I may not be as obsessively photographing everything we eat, our big win is in eating nearly everything we’ve grown. Sometimes that seems like half the battle. Here’s a small taste of what we’ve been harvesting from the yard lately:

Everytime I look at fresh peas from our garden I hear Gordon Ramsay saying (in his nicer Master Chef voice), “THE MOST AMAZING FRESH PEAS!”

I’m pretty sure Ramsay would agree with me that those Chioggia beets are stunning.

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misumena vatia

The other day as we parked in the driveway and walked past our little front yard garden Jess noticed in our California poppies a little yellow spider that had captured a bumblebee.

We felt bad for the little bumblebee but mostly we were struck by the sight of this bright yellow spider with little stripes of red down its side. In almost 35 years of living in the northwest I don’t recall ever seeing one of these little guys.

I quickly found the wiki for misumena vatia, also called the flower crab spider or goldenrod crab spider. Maybe I had seen one before, because they aren’t always yellow. They can change at will from white to yellow to camouflage themselves and are often found near goldenrod. So how is it hanging out in our bright orange poppies?

Jess quickly reminded me that we do have a yellow flower nearby. We had a plant that popped up in that container that we let go for months in case it was one of many varieties of poppy seeds Jess had planted around the yard for her wife (me) who loves poppies. The thing got huge and took ages to flower. We talked about just yanking it several times, but we always let it be just in case. Then it finally formed little clusters of buds and clearly was not a poppy.

Maybe these tiny little flowers are home to our bee eating spider friend.

So is it goldenrod? Unfortunately not. Goldenrod is edible and medicinal and even considered a sign of luck, but we think we have this plant now figured for tansy ragwort, a noxious weed. How funny that we may have never seen this sight if we hadn’t given that weed a home for all these months? Seems like a bit of luck if you ask me.

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2011 Spuds: Seed potato shopping!

It’s that time of year. I bought seed potatoes. In the past, I went to Black Lake Organic for seed potatoes. Good prices, good selection, all organic, what more could I want? But BLO is shifting their focus and they no longer carry seed potatoes. So now I drive to Yelm to visit Gordon’s Nursery. It’s kind of a haul for potatoes, but I like shopping there. They have many varieties of organic seed potatoes and I can usually justify buying “just one more” blueberry or huckleberry or strawberry. I brought home six varieties of potatoes this year, but I could have bought a lot more.

I picked three full size potatoes: Cal White (early), Viking Purple (mid-season), and German Butterball (mid-season). I have grown Cal’s in the past and I loved them. I picked the Viking Purples because I try to grow a purple potato each year, and they are scab resistant. I picked German Butterballs because they’re prolific & delicious & our teenage German Student child loves most German food, like beer and sausage, at least in theory.

Krista loves to cook with fingerling potatoes. We prioritize growing them because organic fingerlings cost a small fortune. I picked up three fingerling varieties: French Fingerling, which we grew last year and loved, Russian Banana, another beloved 2010 spud, and Princess La Ratte. A lot of people love La Ratte potatoes in the PNW. I have never grown the Princess because it’s such a pretentious name for a potato, but I thought maybe 2011 is the year for a pretentious potato.

Last year we grew potatoes in wooden stacks that Krista built. I also grew some fingerlings in re-purposed burlap bags from a local coffee roastery a la Sustainable Eats. The year before that, we grew potatoes in recycled tires. I’ve discussed why we switched to wooden stacks. Although I was happy with the yield of both tires & wood boxes, the stacks had better drainage and were easier to manage. It’s difficult to compare my results from each method because there were many variables: temperature, water, different soil, different microclimate and so many potato varieties. So when people ask how I recommend growing potatoes in small spaces on small budgets, I don’t have enough information to answer them as effectively as I’d like.

Fortunately, Organic Gardening Magazine did some fieldwork for me. This article is long over-due in my opinion, and I couldn’t be happier that they wrote it. O.G. found that growing in the field (hill/mound method) is good enough, as potato farmers from centuries ago could have told you. But not all of us have that much space. Growing in raised beds is more productive than a field of hills, but requires a lot of dirt. Growing in wooden stacks is as good as raised beds, but energy-intensive to start. Growing in wire cylinders, grow bags, trash bags and straw are less ideal for reasons like yield, drainage, moisture, pests and cost. I want to see more data about with which varieties respond best to aggressive hilling (or stacking). Growing varieties that respond well to aggressive hilling is crucial to produce a lot of food in a small space. You might notice I’m not growing Yukon Golds this year, even though we love to eat them. They don’t respond well to being buried. Also, some methods will inevitably work better in different areas than others, adjusting for issues like drainage, temperatures & soil quality. But the Organic Gardening article is a big step in the right direction. Growing potatoes is such an experiment. I love the resourceful, creative ways people try to produce such a humble food.

Considering the Organic Gardening findings and the resources we’ve already sunk into the stacks, we will be growing potatoes in our wooden stacks again this year. Honestly, I have to grow potatoes in these stacks for years to make them cost-effective and I really enjoy using them, so I would use them no matter what Organic Gardening said. It’s convenient that I happen to love them.

I admit that if I see organic seed potatoes around town in the next few weeks, I will pick up a few more lbs. I can’t really help myself. Homegrown potatoes are worlds and epic legions better than potatoes from the store. I love growing & eating potatoes, but they are also an important crop. Potatoes are probably the best way to grow the most calories in the smallest amount of space. I don’t foresee my family adopting a 1-block diet, but the more calories we get from our yard the better, especially mashed, baked, french fried and roasted.

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