Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sweet Potato blossoms

These sweet potato vines were rooted at my After-School gardening classes last Winter, and transplanted this summer at a restaurant sidewalk planter.  Today I noticed that they're flowering.

I'm not sure if sweet potatoes bloom based on variety or conditions.  I don't recall any of mine blooming before, and most that we see do not have flowers.  Sweet potatoes mostly reproduce asexually (as we created these very clones from a tuber), so the flowers are less necessary.  They're close relations to morning glories, which do indeed need to flower for their species survival. 

The flowers resemble tobacco and petunias, but those are in the nightshade family, while sweet potatoes are in the convolvulaceae family.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Pole beans and trellises

By mid-August, bean season has officially begun.  We did have some earlier bush bean harvests, as those are quicker to produce.  Pole (or runner) beans, in contrast, take a few months to get going.  Most of these were planted mid-May to mid-June, starting slow, then spreading out as vines, and now are producing lots of beans.   Below are shown a few different trellising methods.

Sorghum plant
I have a few bean vines climbing sorghum plants.  It's a big success in this photo, but the weight of the plants and pods, has felled some other sorghum plants.  This is still worth trying with sorghum, sunflowers, and corn if done sparingly (as they are similar to sorghum but a bit more delicate).


To the right are some scarlet runner beans on a normal, wooden stake and twine trellis.  I planted bean and cucumber seeds the recommended 3 or 4 inches apart, and this is a good example of how full they will grow when doing well.  Next year I may finally learn and keep the plants 6" or more apart.  It is possible to over-plant beans and jeopardize the yield by overcrowding.

These purple podded pole beans are growing against a fence at a school garden.  This type of wrought iron fence is a bit too slippery and wide for beans to latch on to, so it's necessary to add some type of trellis netting or twine, as I have done.  With such assistance, the beans will engulf the fence.

Below are some more pole beans that are trellising on chain-linked fences, which seem to do just fine.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Larger scale gardening

In late July, while very busy with all of my freelance gardening work, I stumbled upon a very cool larger scale gardening job.

I was hired by a Brooklyn-based food pantry, to run their existing gardens, assist with their education programs, and oversee the building of two very large gardens.  One is a 7,000 square foot garden in a nearby vacant lot, and the other is a 20,000 "mini-farm" in the Rockaways.

I'll create some postings showing the step-by-step construction.  Given that we started the project pretty late in the growing season, I'll also have a lot to post about Fall plantings.  For now, just a quick overview.

Earlier this Spring, a smaller garden was created in the large vacant lot in Bed-Stuy, as a collaboration between my employer and a nearby school.  It consisted of around a dozen 4' x 16' wooden raised bed planters.  The problem was that this left a lot of unused space.  The space actually wasn't just unused, but it took a great effort to keep the lot from just filling up with weeds.

Our goal was to turn most of the space into a vegetable garden.  Rather than create dozens of more wooden raised beds, we instead just added rows of soil and paths, as would be in a farm.  We're also constructing a small greenhouse, soon a three bin composting system, and then some teaching, cooking and other gathering areas. 

This space will be used both as a school garden, and a production garden for the food pantry.  We may even have enough produce to support a small farmer's market.  

soil delivery
The project in the Rockaways is around three times large in scale.  Here, we'll also grow dozens of rows.  Plus, we'll have a larger composting operation, a chicken coup/run, and a dedicated area for a farm stand and some educational activities.  The growing areas will also have a hoop house or another type of construction that will give us some four season farm space. 

This farm will grow produce for some other local food banks, sell at our own farmers market, and maybe sell produce to some local restaurants.

Monday, August 12, 2013

What's growing and being harvested...

July was a busy month keeping up with watering during some heatwaves.  For the most part, everything survived.  Here are some photos taken in July and early August...


Ground Cherry

Lacinato Kale


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Succession planting, round two...

I haven't kept up with writing about all the gardening activities, as it's been too busy...for obvious reasons.

To backtrack from earlier posts about garden planning, here's some examples of how to get an earlier season in the garden.

The long planter in the front had arugula, spinach and radishes
Succession planting 

All of the arugula, spinach and radishes have been harvested since early June.  In some of my gardens, we filled this real estate with nightshades and companions.  What used to have those early crops, now have tomatoes (or eggplants, peppers, tomatillos or ground cherries), with basil inter-planted, and carrots seeded in between all plants.  Soon the plants will fill in and we'll forget that we had those prior crops.

Closer look at the eggplants

Now the same planter has ground cherries,
tomatoes and eggplants

Ground cherries, basil and carrots

In one of my gardens, the arugula has been replaced with pole beans, cucumbers and squash.  This area will turn from a simple horizontal garden, to a nice vertical planting.

Arugula before an early harvest

Same area with a trellis, after all arugula was harvested

 Another good way to utilize space is to inter-plant radishes with chard or beets (same species).  In a future posting, I'll show some before and after photos.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Early harvests at the restaurant, and squirrels

Arugula and mizuno
The first two harvests at the restaurant where a lot smaller than they should have been, but for a squirrel (or few) that kept digging up some of my newly seeded planters.  I kept sprinkling blood meal, hoping that would deter the pests, but no such luck.  So, better late then never, I finally added bird netting  Bird netting isn't perfect against squirrels, but it just makes it enough of a hassle, and thus does protect most of the plants.

Going forward, I hope to lose a smaller percentage of the crop to squirrels, so we should be able to harvest larger quantities.  

I harvested a lot of arugula, plus some spinach, lettuce, mizuno, chard, beet greens, bok choy, and also some pea greens.  All will be mixed in with the purchased salad greens and fed to the restaurant's customers.

1st harvest from a few weeks ago

2nd harvest from last Thursday

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

More from a school garden

This Spring has seen a phenomenal radish harvest.  In the past, many of our radishes have been small or have bolted before producing a good root, but this year there's been a huge success rate, plus some beet-sized radishes.  I believe the weather conditions are to credit, not the seeds. 

Most other Spring crops are ready.  We'll soon be harvesting arugula, spinach, lettuce, and also some baby kale.  Below is some kale and chard that were planted in early April.  After six weeks since being sowed, the kale can be thinned out with "baby kale" harvested, leaving fewer plants to continue.  The chard, to the left of the kale, is showing it's true form, but still very small.

All in all, it looks like our early planting was a huge success.  If we harvested all the short-season crops today, and then started the later plantings, we would be pretty much aligned with most gardeners that don't start thinking about their garden until mid-May.  There's not much risk in delaying the later planting, by sowing some frost-tolerant crops in March..  Also, from the photo to the right, it appears that our chard and kale plants, that were direct sown are surely just as mature as most plant starts that later gardeners tend to buy.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

An early season harvest

Arugula, planted seven weeks earlier
Today we had a big work day, planting many of the hot-weather crops.  We also had our first little harvest of the season.  The arugula here is starting to bolt so we harvested all stems and maybe 1/3 of the leaves.  I expect this bunch to be done in a couple of weeks, but we can stave off the bolting for a few more harvests.  We also harvested some spinach, last-year's chard (saved for the seed crop).

Below is some early garlic that we sacrificed make room for beans.  Allia and legumes don't do well together.  I'm not sure if the ground is tainted for the legumes, or just by removing the garlic, the beans will be just fine.  Will find out.

Early garlic

This particular bunch of garlic was not planted last Fall.  The new garlic will be saved.  These are descendents of our 2011 crop, planted Fall 2010.  Some stray cloves stayed in the ground, maybe split last year and re-emerged.  Some are also likely to be descendents of the elephant garlic from that same year, as I recall in 2011 that our elephant garlic had little tiny side bulbs, most that fell off and stayed in the ground when we harvested.

A closer look shows that we have two types of plants.  One with a gently tapered white bulb, and another with a green, spherical bulb.  This isn't how they looked when harvested, but I pulled off the outer layer.  My guess is that the spherical bulbs are the elephant garlic or another stray species, not the true garlic.

If the leaves are already too tough, I'll still chop and cook the inner stem, which is the beginning of the scape, which would have emerged in a few weeks...had we let them live.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Now starting to look like a real garden in May

Now the gardens are beyond that "catching up" stage, with some crops ready to harvest and most resembling their adult selves. 

Shallow planter with chard and dwarf kale
This planter will test whether or not we can grow kale and chard in 5" of soil.  I'm hoping that less depth will simply give us smaller plants, but no less healthy and happy plants.  Keeping it watered should be the challenge, but hopefully we'll have that under control.  We chose a dwarf kale, so it's full size potential is already less than the larger varieties like lacinato, which we're planting in a deeper pot.

Radishes and beets, with nasturtium on the front edge

To the right are radishes and beets inter-planted.  Now it looks like a mess, but hopefully all were planted enough distance from each other, so the harvesting of radishes will leave the smaller beet seedlings undisturbed.  Towards the back (unseen), many of the beets are still tiny seedlings with no or only one small true leaves showing. Those in the front are getting more sunlight so more mature.  Below, we can see one of these mature beet seedlings that has several true leaves.  These may be the chioggia, which usually have a lighter green leaf and red stem.

Arugula (below) and turnips (top left)

The arugula (right and upper-right) is really coming strong.  We'll allow it to grow for a couple more weeks so it can be harvested for a special meal in our cafeteria. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

First radishes of the season harvested.

I'm not a huge radish fan, but it's always fun when the first radishes are harvested, as they're usually the first new crop to be harvested each Spring (differing in significance to overwintered crops).  These were harvested at a school garden, so I was happy that a few of the kids got to taste the fruits of their labor.

Radishes should be harvested soon after they show above the ground.  These were not huge, but still a decent size.  If you let the radish grow any bigger, there's a risk that they'll start getting pecked at by birds.  Bird netting may be a good option, but I prefer just harvesting at this stage, and then using the space for other crops.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A few maturing sprouts from the umbellifer family

These were all planted five or six weeks ago. 

Here's a parsnip with one true leaf and another on it's way.  The parsnips start out slower than the others, but then will pick up speed and grow into huge plants, and by October or November, will have huge taproots to harvest.  I don't plant parsnips at school gardens, because I have heard that the leaves are very poisonous (as the umbellifers also include Poison Hemlock, Queen Anne's Lace, and some other toxic plants), and they leaves and plants look way to similar to edibles.  It would probably taste bad, but still better to be safe.

Below is a cilantro plant.  It already has many true leaves, and will start to be harvested soon, and then start to bolt by late Spring or early Summer, giving us the coriander seeds, to eat or replant in the future.  At this point, cilantro and parsnip leaves look very similar, but the parsnip is slightly bristly.  Our parsley is growing slower than these others, but will resemble the cilantro.  I won't bother trying to show the differences between parsley and cilantro, because there's different varieties, so any particular visual rule may not consistently hold true.  When comparing a flatter-leaf parsley, my only way to tell the difference at a store or in the garden, when not labeled, is by taste or smell.  Maybe there are some better rules, but I just haven't bothered figuring this out.

The carrots below are starting to resemble carrots.  As root vegetables, they may need to be thinned out.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Amaryllis bulbs

Not to drift too far from the gardening theme, but our very old amaryllis bulb bloomed again, as expected.

For those viewing this post in the distant future, note that it's early May, when most tulips are still in bloom but starting to move beyond the flowering stage (I won't use the word "die").  Most magnolias are a bit beyond the blooms, and dogwoods are in full bloom.  Amaryllises do not bloom during the holidays in their natural state, just like paperwhites, tulips, or other forced bulbs don't normally bloom in December.  Amaryllises just don't survive the winters like those other flowering bulbs, so they are sold as quasi-houseplants, and hence the industry can chose when to make them bloom.

The one pictured was purchased in January 2000.  It hasn't bloomed every year since, but it has when I followed each rule below:

How to make your amaryllis bloom year after year

  1. After bloom, remove from pot, trim roots (if too tight) and add more soil, or amend old soil with compost.
  2. Place plant in very sunny location, outdoors.  Can be in pot or ground.  Not much attention needs to be given, but water every-once-in-awhile.
  3. Bring indoors in Fall before it freezes.  Cut leaves off, just leaving an inch.
  4. Water a little every few weeks; will be dormant for many months.
That is pretty much all I ever do.  When I lived in an apartment with no balcony or yard, I kept it in a sunny window and then it had new leaves, but no bloom.  Another year, I skipped the part about replacing soil or adding compost, left it in a sunny balcony, and again I got leaves, but no bloom.  Thirteen years, and we've had at least ten blooms.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cardoons self seeding...and, are these invasive?

In a previous post about volunteer sprouts, I misidentified what I thought were squash seedlings.  I was a bit surprised to see squash so early, and sure enough they turned out to not be squash, but cardoons!

Cardoons are the closest relation to the artichoke, another member of the same genus, also in the Aster family.  The plants look nearly identical to their better known relative, as do the buds and flowers.  Cardoons and artichoke plants and flowers, look like scaled-up versions of another well-known aster family member, the thistle.  Cardoons are harvested for the leaf stems, whereas artichokes are harvested for the flower buds.  This summer I will try to cook a bud, and I'm hoping that the flower stem will at least taste like an artichoke stem.

To the left is an earlier photo of the initial sprouts.  The cotyledons do indeed look like squash.  But, after a few weeks, we see the familiar silvery green leaves of a cardoon. Below is the same large cluster of seedlings, but now some are showing their true leaves.

I have heard that cardoons are an invasive species, but my belief was that may be so in the Mediterranean where they are from, but not here, where it takes effort to grow them.  Not all will overwinter.  But, now it appears that even if a fraction survive the winter, they are indeed invasive.  For small urban gardens, just keep the seedlings in check, and all will be fine, but just don't release the seeds into the wild.  Now I realize that I added our saved cardoon seeds to a mix that we used  for seed bombs in one of my gardening classes last Fall, so if we eventually see a Brooklyn vacant lot taken over by's the blame.  But, I'd take a lot full of cardoons over Japanese Knotweed...

These are the large seed heads that eventually were scattered around last Fall, many of which are sprouting now.  Below is one seed head that I harvested and now have as a home decoration.  One obvious way to prevent these from spreading, is to harvest (and dry) the buds, or harvest all seed heads before they open and spread.  The plants are huge so the number of flowers in a smaller urban garden will always be finite.