Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking Ahead to 2010

I admit, the Gerlach Garden Journal has taken a back seat to other things over the past six months, but so it goes. I wrapped up my MBA, we had our third child, Bodhi, and before you knew it, it was 15-degrees outside and just about New Year's Eve.

What better time to start thinking about the garden, right?

Well, just when thoughts of sifting compost and digging in the dirt seem the farthest away, a few seed catalogs magically appear in your mailbox to kick-start those daydreams again. Today we received Johnny's Selected Seeds (Maine) and Territorial Seed Company (Oregon). I'm sure there will be others, but while we start flipping through the pages, let me lay out a quick 2009 wrap up and 2010 game plan:

2009 can be summed up in one word: Terrible. While we started seeds in February, my schedule between work and school delayed not only the bed prepping, but the transplanting and seed sowing process entirely. Aside from some lettuce, a few cukes, and bush beans, all else was a wash. The highlight of the season was our new strawberry and asparagus beds.

I'm optimistic that 2010 will be more productive. Here's the high-level plan:
  • Optimize the Raised Beds. With 262 square feet of formal raised bed space, I want to do a better job at maximizing the growing space. To accomplish this, we're going to do two things: Stick to a more "square-foot gardening" approach and focus on crops that can produce a lot in a little space. No more frivolous corn stalks here. We'll leave that and some other things to our local farmers.

  • Get Serious About the Fruit. First, we'll rip out the existing blueberry bushes. My error in planting them two years ago was putting in four of the same low bush variety. Very little growth has occurred. This year, we'll replace them with a mix of high bush varieties that have staggered fruit production. Beyond blueberries, I hope to get some more raspberry canes in and begin to reap some of the benefits of the strawberry patch we put in last spring. All this is with an eye towards a decent round of canning. I doubt we'll get there in 2010, but we'd like to remove an existing tree or two in the middle of the back yard to eventually make way for some dwarf apple trees.

  • Extend the Season. Last month, I picked up some used greenhouse panels through our local freecycle program. I want to use these to build some cold frames to enable us to grow greens and maybe a few other things throughout the fall and winter.
That's about it for now. I hope to keep this blog more current throughout the coming months. Until then, Happy New Year! Please feel free to share your plans for the new year too!

[Photo Credit: Our six-year-old son, Will, took this shot of a dragonfly hanging out on the cuke vines over the summer. I just love it.]

Friday, September 18, 2009

Who's Canning Now?

It's late summer here in RI. The nights are getting a bit cooler and the garden is starting its slow succumbing to Season's End.

Safe to say, it has been a lack-luster garden season for us: From a slow start in spring due to wrapping up my MBA program and the birth of our third child to the rains to the blight to the lack of free time to tend it with the care necessary to nurture a decent bounty.

We did get around to planting new strawberry and asparagus beds, canning some strawberry jam (fruit from Quonset View Farm in Portsmouth), trying our hand at some new crops -- onions and beets -- with less-than-stellar results, and continuing the dream of doing even more. Again, this thing of trying to grow a bit of our own food is a learning process, one that will go on season after season.

Alas, even if we had a so-so season, it's always great to hear stories of how others are churning out their own fresh food -- and then making it last through the long, cold days of winter. Check out this great interview from an episode of NPR's "The Takeaway" this week on how canning is going mainstream.

I can't tell you how much value I believe comes from the start-to-finish process of growing and savoring your own food: patience, sustenance, awareness of the interbeing of all things, teachable moments... the list goes on.

Here's wishing you a hearty bounty during these last days of summer.

(Photo Credit: Sara Gerlach)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Root Cellaring

I've been thinking about how we make what we grow last a bit longer. Last year, we had two random acorn squash plants sprout from seeds that weren't cooked enough in the compost pile. We were able to store away about four or five squash and ate them periodically through the late fall and early winter. In addition, we also canned some homemade pickles that Sara cooked up (a few of those jars are still left).

Since then I have been thinking about root cellars and other ways of storing our veggies. I picked up "Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables" by Mike and Nancy Bubel at Essex Library and have been giving it a read through. There is material on everything from planning your garden for the right types of crops to root cellar designs to recipes for all those veggies you've stored away. The nice thing is that they offer designs for gardeners of all types who might live in places where the traditional basement abode is not practical.

I don't know how much we'll be able to store away, but I'd like to try my hand at it. This year, I think I'll focus on some winter squash, potatoes, and carrots. Of course, that assumes that the yield will be successful enough... that could be a pipe dream. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, eh?

I'm curious -- do you have a root cellar or know of someone who has? How have you made out?

For me, it's all part of this quiet, yet seemingly unyielding desire to be more self-sufficient even in the midst of suburbia; eat with the seasons more; slow down. Talk about a pipe dream...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Early June Update

Well, I finally feel like we're getting somewhere in the garden. Lots of activity over the past few weeks. Here's the run-down:


With three out of the four new beds built and two of those actually loaded up with our homegrown mix of soil, compost, peat moss, and leaf mold, we're getting some stuff in the ground. I still take a somewhat neurotic and structured approach to the planting plan as I continue to learn and experiment with things like succession planting, companion planting, etc. It's a hodge-podge mix of rows, square-foot blocks, and seed casting. Here is what's in:

  • First round of yellow onions were planted in the wide space in-between our strawberry rows. I plan to drop more in every few weeks.
  • First rows of silver queen corn. Four rows of 8 in the first quarter of our 8x4 beds. I plan to drop another quarter bed's worth every two weeks until it's full. This might be tight in terms of spacing but I felt I could have planted more last year.
  • All kinds of lettuce including a few transplants of butterball I forgot I started indoors about a month back. I planted a bunch of spinach in the same bed but that's been slow to sprout. Too late?
  • Most of the tomatoes are transplanted between our beds and a bunch of pots on the deck. I always do more than I need as I end up giving some away. Beefsteak, yellow, roma and cherries. Should be a good yield, especially since we're trying to freeze (or can?) some sauce away this season.
  • I've thrown some sugarsnap peas in for kicks. Going to see if it is still cool enough to grow.
  • Sara's new herb garden. See the pics below. Lots going on here: Basil, flat leaf parsley, mint, rosemary, lemon balm, lemon verbena, thyme, oregano, sage, pineapple sage and tarragon. We just received a few varieties of cilantro courtesy of Sara's mom that still need to get in the ground. (You can also see our concord grape on the side of the steps. This went in last year and has come back fantastically this year. Ultimately, I want to trellis it up somewhere in a more proper fashion. I can't wait to try our hand at jam...)


Hopefully, this weekend I can build that last bed, fill the empty ones and get some more stuff in the ground. The plan is to:
  • Transplant some broccoli and eggplant of varying ages that were grown from seed a few weeks apart
  • Get potatoes in. I'm going to try some of those spuds from Samson's Farm in Westport (that I think we bought at Lee's) that I've let sprout a bit.
  • Pole beans
  • First round carrots
  • Squash and zuchinni
  • Second round onions
  • Sunflowers that I hope to sell at the end of the driveway at some point


Giddy up! All of the roots we planted have sprouted as evidenced by the pics below. I've back-filled most of the asparagus rows as the spears grow tall, albeit extremely slender. We'll let the asparagus take its course this season and wait to see if we get a few pickable spears next year. As for the strawberries, we'll de-flower them so they focus on root development. When the time is right, we'll clean up the off-shoots.

That's it for now. Thank goodness there is some green out there! Hope your gardens are getting on well.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Finally Something Planted!

Whew! Finally, we got the asparagus and strawberries in today. Between everything going on, especially our new baby boy, Bodhi, things are a bit behind.

We got our Jersey Supreme F1 asparagus and Jewel strawberries from Johnny's Selected Seeds up in Maine. I thought they arrived a tad early (first week in April), but then again, our schedule is way behind. We've kept everything moist in the meantime. The asparagus went in an existing bed in the northeast corner and we build one of what will be several new beds to hold the strawberries (see pics below).

The beds were dressed up with a heaping dose of leaf mold and freshly screened compost. What a pleasant surprise with the leaf mold. We have tons (and I mean TONS) of leaves and each year, I haul them back and make big huge mounds in the woods. I knew one day I'd use it. The pile I pulled from was from three years ago.

Here are some pictures of the asparagus crowns in the bed. I went down six or seven inches and placed the crowns on small mounds. Covered them up a few inches and voila, their in! Now we wait for shoots and the systematic back-fill of the soil.

With that done, I prepped the rest of the existing beds. Tomorrow I hope to plant a few different lettuces, radishes, and lots of spinach. I also need to get my peas in though without some of the additional new beds built, I might have to get creative. We'll see. In a few more weeks, I'll transplant the first round of tomatoes, get the cukes and first corn in, broccoli, peppers, beans, onions, and whatever else we have laying around.

How are your gardens going? You know what's amazing? I know of three people who are planting gardens for the first time this season. That is awesome and a testament to the growing awareness and dialog about good, local food. For me, it continues to be a learning experience: try, try again, and they try even more.

Here's to the start of the season!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Early Spring Update

With school just about finished, thoughts are gravitating towards two things: Our new baby that will be here in a few weeks and the garden. I can't show you pictures of the baby yet, so we'll have to settle for the new Tower of Growing Power.

With plans to expand the garden this year, we're starting more seeds. And with that, we needed a better solution to laying everything out on the kitchen counters. Enter this rack I pulled out of the basement. So far, so good. It gets ample southerly sun, so the spot is bright and warm.

What we have going so far in various two-week intervals: Four types of tomatoes (Beefsteak, Sweet Tangerine Hybrid [yellow], San Marzano [plum], and Sweet Snack Hybrid), Black Beauty eggplant, broccoli, and Buttercrunch lettuce. Can you tell we love the tomatoes? Honestly, the plan is to pump out lots of the San Marzanos to make and freeze lots of sauce. What ever is left will be doled out to friends and family.

At this point, we're waiting for the ground and air to warm up just a bit more. I want to see how early I can get the spinach to take. Until then, it will be preparing the existing beds and building the new ones. Oh, the rhubarb has sprouted too. And we ordered up some asparagus and strawberries which are set to deliver in early May.

I'm still trying to work out the layout and planting plans for the expanded garden. I have some traveling coming up, which will leave plenty of time for sketching on the plane.

Finally, I had one of those amazing compost experiences. Compost Die-Hards will know what I'm talking about. I turned the pile inside our Earth Machine and was knocked over by the heat and steam coming out of it. Awesome! In the next couple of weeks I'll screen the ready compost in the second pile (made of recycled pallets) and get it worked into the beds.

How are your gardens going? Any good stories to share?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Let the Planning Begin!

What a great morning! Just when I was starting to wonder if the seed catalogs were ever going to grace our mailbox, Sara surprised me with what was in yesterday's mail (over to the left). I love this catalog. It always gets the juices flowing and thinking in earnest about spring.

In short, this year's plan in to double the number of raised beds we have from five to ten, rotate beds for all of last year's crops, and introduce a bunch of new things. I'm sketching it all out now and will post pictures when complete.

Last year was such a learning experience. So this time around, we're eager to make good on our mistakes and take it from there. At a high-level:
  • More compost in the soil to improve density and water retention
  • Try to leverage trellises more to increase available growing space and yield.
  • More spinach (and planted earlier)
  • Better crop timing and succession
  • Trying to use one crop to improve another (e.g., growing lettuce and greens under the cucumber trellis during the warmer summer months)
Anyway, I'm off to start thumbing through the catalog. Here's to this year's garden!