Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Garden in Early May 2016

I have a confession to make, I've been neglecting my blog in favor of Instagram. It's just so easy to post a single photo with a bit of an explanation. A blog post requires a bit more work - more photos, more commentary, more inspiration, less laziness. And then there's that instant gratification of seeing likes popping up... With the blog you publish a post and if you are lucky you get a few comments and then you wonder if there's anyone out there reading and perhaps liking what you've put out there, sometimes it feels like tossing it out into a void... I've also found it easier to find like minded garden Instagrammers by looking through various garden related hash tags. There's lots of veggie gardeners posting to IG who don't blog.

But I'm not ready to abandon my blog yet, nor am I going to stop reading my favorite blogs, I still like to go back and peruse my garden tour posts from the past to compare with what's happening in the present. And the blogs that I like to read have far more substance to them than your average IG offering so I will be sticking around so long as my fellow bloggers keep posting.

So let's see what's happening in the garden in early May as the spring garden is going full tilt.

I'll start with a look down from the hillside above the garden. This is the north end of the garden where beds #1 (foreground) and #4 are. I'm using mesh tunnels as the default whenever I plant out any tender greens because the birds just always seem to find the goodies. I also adopted Daphne's use of tulle fabric for smaller areas or plants that are too tall to fit in a tunnel. Bed # 1 is where I'm growing mostly salad fixings. Bed # 4 is where I'm growing brassicas for the rest of the year through the winter. Other vegetables that are long term growers or will be grown to overwinter are also destined for that bed. And it's also home to various alliums until they mature in the summer.

Beds #2 (foreground below) and #3 are on the south end of the garden. Bed #2 will be where the tomatoes and peppers will be growing. I grew a cover crop of mustard, peas, and other things earlier this year, then chopped them down and dug them in. The I spread compost over the surface of the soil and covered it all with a layer of first paper and then cardboard. I've got the drip system turned off in that bed to keep it from getting waterlogged. The plan is to uncover it at the end of the month, dig in some amendments, move the trellis that runs the length of bed #3 to bed #2 and then set out the tomatoes along the trellis and the peppers on the other side of the bed by the first of June. I'm not sure that the favas currently running along the left side of the trellis will be done by then though so I may have to invest in a new trellis. You can see that the favas on the left are shorter and bushier than the ones on the right. Those are Robin Hood, a dwarf English variety and the ones on the right are my old favorite Extra Precoce Violetto (Extra Early Purple). Robin Hood is supposed to be early but it's at least two weeks later than Extra Precoce Violetto.

Let's take a closer look at Bed #1.

L to R Mexican Sour Gherkin, Green Fingers and Gagon cukes
I planted out some cucumbers a few weeks ago but they are growing very slowly, the weather hasn't been all that warm for the most part, it's been mostly cool with a fair amount of fog and even a touch of rain. There were a few days when the temperatures actually passed the 80ºF mark, but those have been the exception.

Peppermint Stick and Italian Silver Rib chard
These are the chard plants that I started last fall and planted out late. They pouted through winter, remaining small, I thought I had stunted their growth by leaving them in little pots too long and getting them into the garden when the weather was too cold. Wow, did they surprise me, they've been growing like weeds since the days got longer and warmer. The Italian Silver Rib plants are on the right and that photo was taken 1 day after harvesting 5 pounds of leaves. I've been keeping them covered with tulle to keep the birds from feasting but the fabric is also keeping the leafminers out.

Gulley's Favorite, Joker, and Red Butter Romaine

The spring lettuces are growing faster than I expected, as usual. Salad days ahead!

Tokyo Bekana napa cabbage and new Manoa butterhead seedlings
I nearly killed the Tokyo Bekana napa cabbage trying to treat an aphid infestation, but it rebounded, just in time to bolt. They were meant to be salad greens while I waited for lettuce. I'm still working on figuring out what to grow when. The little seedlings are Manoa butterhead lettuce, a variety from Hawaii that is adapted to heat. If we get some actual summer weather in the next 4 to 6 weeks that could be a test for how well they might do when we get our warmest weather in the fall. But so far the weather seems to be following a more typical cool spring pattern which I can't imagine will hurt them.

Buck's Horn Plantain
Here's a new salad green that I'm growing but haven't sampled yet, Buck's Horn Plantain (aka minutina or herba stella). I need to start using it before it bolts too.

Palla Rossa Radicchio

Here's an experimental sowing of Palla Rossa radicchio. Radicchio is usually sown to mature in cool weather which intensifies it's red color and sweetens it also. Wild Garden Seed said in their description that this is one of the most reliable open pollinated varieties for spring sowing so I thought I would give it a try since spring and early summer tends to stay on the cool side here. So far so good, they look like they may be trying to form heads now.


Here's my small patch of small turnips. I've got Mikado (white), Round Red, and Scarlet Ohno. Scarlet Ohno is supposed to be grown as much for the greens as the roots. Unfortunately, one of the downsides to growing greens in a tunnel is that the aphids can get out of control easily, which is what has happened in the turnip patch.


This year I got around to sowing carrots, just a small patch to try some new varieties. If I find some that I like I'll grow a larger patch of them for fall and overwintering. This lot includes Bolero, Nelson, Purple Sun, Pusa Asita Black, Pusa Rudhira Red, and Rotild.

Radishes, Arugula, and Pac Choi seedlings
I've been  pretty good at keeping succession sowings of radishes and arugula going. That's the latest sowing above along with some Baby Shanghai pac choi.

That's pretty much it for Bed #1. I've got a Romanesco zucchini seedling started that I'll plant out in a day or so. When the chard is well and done then I'll put up a trellis in that spot and plant a couple of Tromba d'Albenga squash. And then there's more little lettuce seedlings that I've started that will go into the empty spots in the tunnels.

So now I'll show what's happening across the main path in Bed #4.

Dazzling Blue kale, Little Jade napa cabbage,
and Pixie cabbage

Back on April 1 I showed this corner of the bed just planted out with tiny seedlings of spring brassicas. They have really grown quickly, from just 3 or 4 little leaves to this in less than 6 weeks! The cabbages even look like they are starting to form heads. Both varieties are small headed, but still, that's quick.

Little Jade napa cabbage
Pixie cabbage
Amazing Taste Cauliflower and Mizunarubasoi
The cauliflower isn't showing signs of forming heads yet. I hope it doesn't misbehave like it did last spring and make buttons instead of heads. The Mizunarubasoi is a particularly enthusiastic grower. I've already thinned it out twice and it's still trying to elbow aside the more leisurely paced Cape Greko mustard.

Mizunarubasoi and Cape Greko mustard

Helios radish
There's the previous succession of radishes sown along the edge of the brassica patch, already big enough to harvest, just in time since they are getting overshadowed already.

I'itoi bunching onions
There's a few I'itoi bunching onions planted along the very edge of the bed outside the tunnel. I ordered the bulbs for these onions last fall and when they arrived I was dismayed to find them to be almost totally desiccated. I planted them anyway and much to my amazement 8 of the 10 bulbs sprouted. But then one of my cats (or the neighbor's) dug around in my pots so I ended up with only 5 scraggly little survivors. Not to worry though, these onions multiply like I wish my savings account would, they keep doubling, 1 bulb turns into 2, 2 into 4, 4 into 8, and so on. One grower in Arizona reports that 1 bulb can turn into 100 by the end of the season. Now I'm wondering if I gave those little things enough room.

Syrian Medieval chard

I'm trying a new chard this spring. It's a very old heirloom and is supposed to be an annual rather than a biennial, producing flower stalks that are good eating. Harvesting the flower stalks promotes more so it's possible to get successive harvests. It will be interesting to see what it is like. So far it has leaves that look like a fairly typical green leaf chard, but the stalks are slender and green.

Bolting carrots and cilantro

I always try to have something blooming in the garden that is attractive to beneficial insects. That used to be Sweet Alyssum, I would let it volunteer all over the place, but unfortunately it is also hugely attractive to Bagrada Bugs. If you haven't heard of these bugs lucky you, it probably means that they haven't found you, yet. They are nasty critters and since they are foreign invaders they don't have any natural enemies here. Anyway, my easy substitute for Sweet Alyssum these days is plants in the Apiaceae family (formerly Umbelliferae), including cilantro, parsley, fennel, dill, carrot and such. It's so easy to let cilantro bolt and the good bugs love it! It takes up a lot more room than Sweet Alyssum, but it is well worth the space to let it go in a few spots around the garden.

Rusty garlic
Ugly, ugly, ugly, oh so ugly rusty garlic. This is the last of it which I've not gotten around to pulling.

Zebrune shallots
Thank goodness the shallots and the onions aren't so susceptible to the rust. The shallot leaves have a touch of it but it's not enough to worry about.

Various onions
The onions are standing tall and green, no sign of bolting yet, but a few are dividing.

Batavia broccoli shoots (also through netting)
I grew the broccoli under a tulle cover this spring, mostly because of the birds. Both heads of Batavia broccoli have surrendered their main heads, one has some nice side shoots and the other one so far isn't showing any signs of shoots. I'll wait and see.

Shootless Batavia broccoli

Atlantis brokali (seen through netting)
The Atlantis brokali is starting to develop some main heads. These will be a nice succession after the Batavia broccoli.

Pink Plume celery
Off in another corner corner of the bed are a few Pink Plume celery plants. These are an unusual pink stalked variety that I'm trying for the first time. I usually grow celery in the fall and through the winter, I haven't tried it in the spring, so I'm sure how these will do, but I couldn't resist giving them an early try.

Rishad cress going to seed
The only other thing left in this bed are a few plants of Rishad cress that I had sown between the garlic. When the garlic starting failing because of the rust I decided to not harvest the cress but let it go to seed. I'm going to have a few years supply of seed now.

Bed #3 is dominated by favas right now. The trellis is where I trained the tomatoes last year and I left it in place to tie the favas to as they got tall. I'm liking the trellis as a way to keep the favas under control, it is very easy to take a long tie (strips of old t-shirts) and loosely gather together the shoots of an individual plant and tie them back. I used to grow them inside my big tomato cages, but when I switched from cages to a trellis for my tomatoes last year I decided to stick with the trellis for the favas. Not only is it easy to tie up the fava plants, but it's easier to harvest the beans as well, it was always awkward reaching through the mesh of the cages to get to the beans which is not a problem anymore.

Extra Precoce Violetto Favas
Compare the photo above and the photo below, you can use the posts supporting the trellis as a gauge for how tall the fava plants are. Look how short and bushy the Robin Hood plants are below. I've never seen fava plants like that, most of them are only about 2 1/2 feet tall, and a few are about 3+ feet tall.

Robin Hood Favas

Extra Precoce Violetto
Here's another comparison of the stalks with the pods.

Robin Hood

Extra Precoce Violetto and Robin Hood favas

And one more comparison shot, the size of the pods. What the Robin Hood beans lack in size they make up for in quantity. There's just a couple of things about Extra Precoce Violettos that I prefer over the Robin Hoods, the beans mature earlier and the pods are easier to shuck since the beans are more loose inside the pod. The short stature of the Robin Hood plants (was Robin Hood a short guy?) is nice but they do flop a bit and are too dense to tie up so that's a minor negative. They are both really nice beans.

Sabre shelling peas

On the other side of the bed I planted a small patch of shelling peas. It's been many years since I tried shelling peas so I wanted to see how they do. This bunch won't produce a lot, but if I like the results and the timing works ok I may try a larger patch next year. You can see in the photo how the Robin Hood beans are encroaching on the peas, but the peas just grow out away from the beans so for now it is ok.

I am finally coming to the end of the tour. Here's some bush beans getting off to a slow and rocky start. I initially set them out under cloches but that didn't work out so well, the first leaves got fried but most of the plants survived. Above is a mixed bunch of snap beans including Red Swan, Roc d'Or, Royalty Purple Pod, and Rolande. The beans shown below are all Black Coco dry beans. Beyond the beans are a couple of volunteer Monticello poppies that I allowed to stay for a while, perhaps they will show off some beautiful blossoms before I have to pull them out.

And one last item at that end of the bed, an overwintered Padron pepper. It survived and is even blooming but doesn't look very good, the leaves are just not growing and the peppers that have developed don't look great either, they probably didn't pollinate properly. The plant won't be there much longer.

But wait, there's more...

Mara des Bois strawberries

my latest experiment with growing strawberries. I'm trying them in fabric pots this year. I really want to taste a Mara des Bois strawberry and the only way it seems that that will happen is if I grow them myself. I tried once before back in 2011 but was foiled the ravenous appetites of rats. The rats that year were so bad that they were eating everything, including the wiring in my car. They did such damage in my strawberry bed that I ripped out every single plant, crying as I did so. It took me a couple of years to get over my fear of growing rat candy again but my experiments with growing them in my veggie beds were not as successful as I liked. Last year my best berries came from some plants that I had put into containers since I didn't have enough room in the bed for all the plants that I had purchased. So this year I put all of my strawberry plants in containers. 

Native bee in poppy

One last parting shot for those who stuck it out to the end of this long post. This native bee spent a lot of time working over this poppy blossom. If you want to see a short video of this beauty at work, um, head on over to Instagram - you'll find me there as @cvveggie.


  1. I so enjoy your garden tours! I have been having a terrible time with leaf miners this year. I will be looking for tulle to cover my beds and hopefully break the cycle.

  2. This is an excellent post, one of your very best. It must have taken hours to write. I have yet to figure out Instagram, but now I have incentive. My vegetables aren't looking so good this year. No pep. The Sun Sugar tomato already has that tomato disease that always kills off my Sun Golds. I think I mentioned before that fog is harvested in Chile using nets like you've shown. My strawberries, the only kind I'll eat, the yellow alpine are doing well.

    1. I did work on the post off and on over a few days...

      I have seen fog "harvesting" setups also, it's an intriguing idea and it comes to mind every time I find all the mesh covers in my garden soaking wet after a foggy night. Maybe it was the wetter than usual weather weather that's making your veggies unhappy this year?

  3. A very interesting garden tour! All looks so healthy!

  4. Thanks for the comprehensive garden tour, Michelle. It's good that you show us both good and bad aspects - very helpful. I was particularly interested to read more about your Robin Hood beans. My plants are flowering now, and if all the flowers set I will get a big harvest from them, even though the plants are very short. Re blogging in general - I don't use Instagram because I prefer the more "reasoned" approach of blogging. Lots of Instagram posts are just snaps of something "pretty" with little or no backup information, which I find frustrating. So please don't give up blogging!

    1. I found that I was watching a lot of the flowers fall off the Robin Hood plants before they started to set. I don't know if that was weather or what, but if all the flowers set the plants would end up looking like pine cones!

      Don't worry, I won't give up on blogging, but I do find Instagram to be a nice compliment to blogs. I agree, there is a lot of dross there, but one doesn't have to look at it all, there are some inspiring feeds there.

  5. It's really wonderful to see all the different things growing in your garden. "Rat candy" so awful sounding but the strawberries look like they're doing really well.

    My pole beans are just starting to vine, even though the bush beans just got seeded in the garden yesterday.

  6. I always enjoy your garden tours. You have such a variety of things growing, and your cool weather crops seem to be doing quite nicely. And it is great to see cabbages and greens without all the slug damage mine has! I am surprised that aphids aren't a big problem under the covered crops. They quickly get out of control for me when I use row covers, at least in fall and winter.

  7. Rat Candy - ha, now I have cartoon-ish images in my head. Good luck with the strawberries!

    I love seeing the pictures of your full garden spaces, great to see the design and setup. Wow, you have so many things going on! And other than the Padron, you haven't even got your tomatoes and peppers going yet.

    I started Zebrune shallots from seed and have transplanted them in the garden recently. They are looking a bit weak, I can only hope they'll come out looking half as good as yours.

    And I also have Palla Rossa radicchio seeds, but I will wait another month or so before sowing for a fall harvest. I'm sure they would bolt quickly in our summer heat.

  8. The garden is looking great. Your chard is huge, 2 foot leaves! And the Robin Hood favas are something I might have to consider trying. I grow them in blocks and those might be more self-supporting than the standard size beans.

  9. Oh, I love your bed by bed garden tours. I'm a sucker for any garden related tour but with yours I always come away with a few interesting tidbits, either when it comes to culture, variety or a different plant altogether - Buck's Horn plantain? Can't wait to see how you use that & what you think of it. I'll also be interested to see what you think of the two varieties of favas in the kitchen and how the actual bean quantity from Robin Hood compares. I found the fava harvest to be deceiving last year as even though the pods for Ianto's were so small holding only 1 or 2 favas each, there were such a large number of them that they definitely gave the much larger Extra Precoce Violetto pods a run for their money.

    I haven't yet gotten into any of the other social platforms, but can definitely see the appeal of quickly posting a photo with a couple of lines. I'm sure if (when?) I eventually do branch out, I'll wonder why it took me so long.

  10. Please don't give up on the blogging, I always check in on a Monday to see what you've been doing. I very rarely post a comment, maybe 3-4 over the past few years so maybe I should do more. Just want to say how lovely your posts are and how much I appreciate them. Easily the best I see. Have grown the extra precoce broad beans from your recommendation in the past few years and will try the Robin hoods next year.

  11. I view my blog first as a journal of what's gone right and wrong in the garden (or baking, or whatever). Comments are awesome to receive, but at the end of the day it's really handy to have the blog around as a reference.


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