Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What Was and What Might Be - Part One

The record breaking warm and dry weather that we've been experiencing has prompted me to get an early start on my spring plantings. Actually, it has my head swimming with thoughts of summer plantings, but I just can't go there. Not in January. The temperature gauge is saying summer, but I'm still holding out hope for a few good hits of cold wet winter weather while the calendar says it should be so. Although, I have figured out the summer vegetables that I want to grow and I've placed most of my seed orders.

The mix of vegetables that I try to grow is constantly evolving as I learn my climate, (um, maybe) and as I figure out the capacity of my garden space (finally fixed), and as I get a grip on just how much I need (as opposed to want) to grow of various vegetables. Now that all four of my new raised beds are complete I can try to figure out a rotation that will allow me to maximize the space and minimize the waste through the year.

In my January 14 garden tour post I mentioned the preliminary plans that I have for each bed. The plans so far are for what types of vegetables will go into which bed but I've not figured out where specific varieties will go and that sort of detailed planning is not likely to happen. I find it best to have a general sort of plan and plant out specific varieties as time, space, and the vagaries of germination and harvests permit. So let's take a look at what each bed produced last year and what I hope to grow in the coming year.

In this post I will discuss Bed #1.

Last year - This bed was finally up and running in June of last year, it was where I grew my tomatoes but no other solanums.  One corner was planted with beets in June and July and those grew like crazy and got huge but the quality remained excellent. Those gave way some time in September or October (my record keeping got fuzzy around then) to the Romanesco that is there now. The rest of the bed was planted out to fall/winter vegetables (carrots, celeriac, celery, napa cabbage, and broccoli) in August and September.

Bed #1 on August 29, 2013

Bed #1 on January 14, 2014

The tomatoes were replaced with fava beans in two successions, first in November when I tore out the Andine Cornue paste tomatoes and the Martian Giant tomatoes. Then again in December when I took out the rest of the tomatoes after a few nights of freezing temperatures finished them off. The succession from tomatoes to favas worked well last year and seems to be working well this year so I hope to keep that succession going in future years. The fava harvests start in April and finish in May which will be just in time to transition to pole beans, corn, and cucumbers. I found last year that trying to get beans and cucumbers going any earlier doesn't work well - lesson learned. The garden beds run basically north to south so I can grow tall vegetables the length of the row where the favas are now (the back side) and shorter vegetables along the side where the fall/winter vegetables are producing now (the front side).

The plan for this year includes my first ever "Three Sisters" planting. I'm growing corn for the first time since I can't remember when, not in this garden (7 years), not in my last garden (4 years), maybe in the garden before that. I've not bothered to grow corn before because it is rather a space hog and I've not had enough space to devote to it until now. I've also been quite content with the sweet corn that I can get at the farmer's market. Actually, I'm still quite content with the sweet corn that I can get at the farmer's market. I plan on trying to grow flint corn this year so that I can grind my own fresh homegrown polenta and cornmeal.

My plan is to plant the back side of the bed with blocks of corn, alternating with trellises of pole beans, and one small trellis of cucumbers. The front side of the bed will be planted with zucchini, winter squash, maybe melons, and bush beans.

Here's the varieties that I've got or ordered seeds for (italics are new this year):

Corn: Red Floriani and Cascade Ruby Gold, both flint corns.
Pole Beans: Golden Gate (yellow romano type), Musica (green romano type), French Gold (yellow filet), Emerite (green filet), Australian Butter (yellow wax), Petaluma Gold Rush (dry bean)
Bush Beans (all dry): Black Coco, Fagiolo del Purgatorio, Rosso di Lucca
Zucchini: Romanesco, San Pasquale
Winter Squash: Black Futsu
Cucumber: Green Fingers Persian, Tasty Green Japanese, perhaps a cornichon type
Melon: Alvaro charantais type

Polenta and cornmeal are only an occasional treat around here so I really don't need to grow a lot of corn. I figure that 12 to 15 plants of each variety should be enough to meet my needs so 4 small blocks, two blocks of each variety should fit into the bed nicely.

Australian Butter, Emerite, French Gold, Musica beans

Three trellises of beans should fit nicely between the blocks of corn. I want to devote two trellises to green beans, each trellis will be planted with at least two varieties of beans, but maybe I'll try three or four per trellis this year. My aim is to have a nice steady supply of a variety of beans through the season, so I'll try to restrain myself and succession sow the trellises over the season. If the weather cooperates I may be able to get three plantings, first one trellis, then the second, then back to the first one. Hmm, perhaps I'll be able to transition the second trellis of beans to snap or snow peas in the fall. It will be hard to see any empty trellis sitting there, but I really don't want to have to deal with a big glut of beans all at once. The third trellis will be devoted to a planting of dry beans that will have to sit there through the whole season, although I might be able to transition that trellis to snap or snow peas also.

Black Futsu Squash

Black Futu squash produced really well for me last year. I love the smaller size of the squash and both my husband and I find it to be really delicious. I'll devote one corner of the bed to a few more vines of that. It was really easy to direct the vines to where I wanted them to grow last year so I'll be trying the same tactic again this year, let them grow over the edge of the bed and then around the sides.

F1 Zucchini Romanesco

Remember QuadraZuke, aka F1 Romanesco zucchini? I'm going to plant another of the same variety this year. But QuadraZuke did not produce any male blossoms after it popped the first half dozen or so when it was a youngster. My husband loves stuffed zucchini blossoms and the male blossoms are best suited for that. So this year I got seeds for San Pasquale zucchini which is described as producing a nice amount of male blossoms - I'll grow one of those this year and we'll see.

Alvaro melons

I grew two varieties of melon last year, Alvaro and Halona. Halona was a big bust but Alvaro was productive and really tasty. I'll try to save some space for a couple more Alvaro vines this year. I think I'll try the same method that I use for the vining winter squash and let the vines grow down over the edge of the bed. This will not only save some space in the bed, but if I let the vines grow down onto the gravel path they will get to soak up more heat than they would if they were sprawling around the bed and that should help to ripen the melons properly. The biggest problem I have with growing melons is that I have to plant them rather late because of the peculiarities of my growing season - cool summer but warm fall. I'm not sure that I will have a spot open for these babies when planting time comes.

Purgatory Beans

Any space that is left in the bed will be devoted to growing bush dry beans. I tried to grow out a new stock of Purgatory beans last year but I started them too soon and the plants suffered. This year I will try again and wait until the proper time to plant. I also want to grow a black bean this year so I've got seeds for Black Coco beans ordered and then I also couldn't resist the temptation to buy Rosso di Lucca beans also. Melons? What melons?

That's the plan for Bed # 1 for 2014. I've not yet wrapped my head around what the rotation will be into 2015, perhaps it will be the allium bed. Ah well, I'll deal with that later.


  1. Your planning is certainly a lot more complex than mine. Me: April-November, something might grow; December-March, everything is cold, stone dead. This winter has been different. We have had weeks in the 50s followed by sub-zero temps. And you are having unseasonably warm weather. Strange year. And thanks, I finally realized you were growing a hybrid Romanesco zucchini. I have to get me some of those seeds. I love Romanesco but my traditional version was pretty susceptible to PM last year.

  2. I always find it interesting what will grow well in one garden but not another. Halona did extremely well for me last year. And in bad melon years it is usually the best producer for me. This year I'm trying Alvaro too. With melons though my big wish is that Ambrosia would produce for me consistently here. I just love the taste, but I've found that it isn't reliable here.

  3. Good luck with your succession planting. I always get too excited and plant everything at once. But staggering is better.


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