Saturday, January 24, 2015

2015 Master Plan: The Workshop Quadrant

As I write this, a gentle, fluffy snowfall is blanketing the garden. It looks in life rather like the white planning page:

This is the workshop quadrant for 2015. Across the top are more grapes and herbs--perennials that live there permanently. The long row on the right side is, as always, filled with annual herbs (cilantro and dill) and spring greens. This length of planting space has plenty of sun in early spring before a nearby maple leafs out in May. It makes it a good place for leafy items, especially things like lettuces that enjoy the shade to keep them from bolting as temperatures rise. Since these are the only things that do well in the shade, we don't have much crop rotation going on: we just switch the herbs with the greens each year and amend with compost. We have decided on a four-block succession planting for the herbs this year, with plantings every six weeks. Hopefully this will provide cilantro and dill during the summer when we most need it for salsa and pickles. The spring greens will be started in a cold frame with a succession planting to fill the space the cold frame doesn't cover when the weather is warmer.

The bottom row holds our other trellis of peas (as always, on the north side to keep from shading the other plants in the row), parsnips, and heirloom tomatoes. This planting of parnsips echoes the line of carrots in the swingset bed that will quietly grow between taller plants until they are needed in the fall.

The left-hand rows are filled with a few Ukrainian Yellow tomatoes and the Sungold. We have given the Sungold four square feet this year, since it's always a beast of a plant--we have also made a vow to prune it back ruthlessly. We also cut back our yellow tomatoes to just four plants, which should be plenty.

This center C is the last bit of the garden we penciled in, which explains its patchwork appearance. From the top, we have space for 10 Brussels sprouts, a bit of chamomile, and a patch of calendula. Swiss chard, celery and parsley are grouped together for fall tunneling near the end of the season, though along the edge of that length is another trellis for spring snap peas and just three feet of slicing cucumbers. This is a major reduction is slicers, since we are absolutely overrun with cucumbers every year. Along the bottom is a patch for head lettuces and beets, which will also be successively planted in a five-week series to spread out the harvest. Finally, we have a little spot for nasturtiums.

Looking back, perhaps the center C isn't so randomly planned after all. It's a lot of springtime salad goodies, and that should make for some convenient pre-dinner harvests in a few months. In the meantime, I'm torn between enjoying the beauty of the snowfall and dreaming about balmy sunshine and dirty hands.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

2015 Master Plan: The Swingset Quadrant

As I mentioned in my last post, in the fall of 2015 we plan to try a much larger greenhouse space for tunneling over our winter veggies. That large tunnel will be tall enough to walk into, and will arc from the northern edge of the bottom row of the swing set quadrant (in the northeast) all the way over to the southern edge of the top row of the patio quadrant (which lies directly to the south of the swing set quadrant, separated by a brick path). The greenhouse will have an entryway (maybe even a lightweight, plastic-covered door, if we get fancy) at the center intersection of all the garden beds. Take a look at the big plan and see if you can visualize it:

To make this worthwhile, we had to plan ahead to make sure that those two long beds will hold only cool-weather crops. So along the bottom row of the driveway bed, we have a pea trellis, carrots, and leeks:

The pea trellis is to the north so that it won't shade the young carrots and leeks as they grow throughout the summer. In the past we've found that tucking the carrots in between taller items works well for ones we won't harvest until the fall; in this case, the pea trellis will be long gone by the time we need to reach the carrots. Having the carrots in the center of that bed also means that they are in the spot that freezes last, so with the help of the tunnel and their positioning, we should be able to pull carrots from soft soil well into the winter.

To the left is our asparagus bed, which is permanently reserved for this perennial that gets bigger and better each year. The top row of grapes and herbs is also perennial, although we often end up tweaking the herbs during the summer. For example, I may have to remove an overgrown sage bush and wormwood this year.

The right hand side has a plot for bell peppers and hot peppers to the north and potatoes to the south. This summer we plan to revamp our potato boxes so that they better fill the space in the bed, which should help us plant more potatoes in a smaller area. We also plan to keep them much lower to the ground, since additional height hasn't increased yields much in the past couple years.

In the center C we will bring back the original bean house, which arches over the keyhole path in the center. These poles will support our black beans again. Around the outside edge of the bed will be pumpkins and butternut squash. We had this same arrangement in 2013, but will go back to it after just just a short rotation because it worked so well from a space-saving standpoint. We also heavily amend the soil with compost each year, so the short rotation should be sufficient.

Monday, January 19, 2015

2015 Master Plan: The Patio Quadrant

January snow and ice (or, in this year's case, rain) mean that we're in the short lull between garden seasons. There's still a bit left to harvest from the tunnels through the winter, but during the very shortest days of the year nothing is actually growing. In just a few days we'll be starting leek and onion seedlings indoors, but just now the only gardens that are growing are on paper:

This year we've streamlined our plans onto just one big sheet instead of four normal ones. We ran out of graph paper (thanks, Newburyport math and science program!), so Kirk just made a measured drawing. We're pretty well-trained to see the garden as a giant grid for square foot gardening at this point, so this worked out fine. To the right of the plot is the complete list of everything we plant, which gives you a sense of just how big the garden is overall. 

By far, the easiest quadrant to plan is the patio section. It's the smallest because it doesn't have the center C that the rest do, and a full half of it is taken up with permanent perennial plantings:

On the left we have our strawberry patch, which is getting its fourth and final planting this spring. We are adding 25 Sparkle plants, a June-bearing variety which promises to be good for eating, freezing, and jam. We won't be able to harvest any until next year, but we still have the other 75 percent of that enormous row available to harvest, so we should be up to our ears in jam and pie

Across the bottom, unlabeled, are our roses, lavender, and rhubarb: all perennials that have been in those spots for years now. 

Along the right side will be cabbages; red for summer eating and green for sauerkraut. We cut back on the amount of red cabbages this year since we could barely keep up with them last summer, even after giving away a couple heads and several enormous bowls of slaw. There is a length of trellis for our pickling cucumbers to the lower right. This trellis will cast some shade on the red cabbages, which should help keep them from bolting if the summer gets hot.

Along the top are even more cabbages as well as broccoli. This is the same amount we planted last summer, and we keep these sister crops together for easy rotation and to fence out any critters who fancy a nibble. We are also planning a more substantial winter greenhouse next winter that would cover two long rows at once and have a door on one end: a walk-through plastic hoop house. The cabbages and broccoli make up one half of that scheme. Because they can withstand cold temperatures, we are hoping to harvest them well into December and January next year with a little extra solar heat. The cabbages in this row are for winter eating, while the ones on the unprotected side to the right are for summer eating and slaw making. 

The bottom row of the swingset quadrant is directly across from the cabbage/broccoli row, and will make up the other half of the walk-in tunnel. More on that next time.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday Dinner: Football Food

This Sunday we enjoyed some football food while we watched the AFC Championship game: sliders!

Our mini-burgers were topped with bacon and cheddar, plus caramelized red onions, bread and butter pickles, and homemade ketchup from the garden. Well, pickles and ketchup don't come directly from the garden, but their ingredients do.

We also had purple and yellow French fries and a light slaw. Our storage cabbage is still doing well in the basement, and Kirk made a new winter slaw with shredded cabbage and carrot, plus a couple of thawed cilantro cubes, salt and pepper. The dressing is a light vinaigrette of olive oil and vinagre de banano (banana vinegar) from Costa Rica. It's a really delicious vinegar that tastes like a fruity, caramel-y malt vinegar. I've never seen it in around here before, and if I can't find any, I may have to try to make some when we run out. Anyway, it's just the thing for this crispy winter salad.

And to drink? Chocolate milkshakes. 'Cause that's how we roll in New England when it gets above freezing in January.

Go Pats!