Did You Know? How Does Your Garden Grow?

I’m excited about today’s post. It’s a visual of our vegetable garden this year. We were way late planting this year, especially since we had awesome weather this spring. We finally got our plants in the ground on May 7. Last year, it was the first week in April. I also have to give full credit to Sean and Anna Taylor…their home houses the vegetable garden and they have done pretty much all of the maintenance and watering this year. I just haven’t had the time. It’s no excuse, but it’s absolutely true. OK…so here are the pictures.

 

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Look at the little baby tomato plants!

 

Can you even see the little baby tomatoes? They looked so pitiful when surrounded by the tremendous cages. I did a post about the veggie garden after planting and I mentioned that I was embarrassed by how small the plants were. Can you see why?

 

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Here are the plants a month later in early June

 

 

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Here are the same plants at the end of June

 

There are bush beans in the background that were doing fairly well until Bambi paid the garden a visit. Here’s a picture of the damage:

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The hugelkultur beds that we installed earlier this year are progressing along nicely. One is filled with eggplant and the other with peppers. I can’t say that the wood is helping give back moisture quite yet but these beds are a process. I’m sure that once the wood starts breaking down more and can finally fill completely up with water, the results will be phenomenal.

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Do you want to know what I love most about this picture? The weed-free pathways. Ah…they are so dreamy. It makes me so happy to not see weeds. There are still weeds in the garden but at least we know that this area doesn’t require our attention.

We tried planting squash, zucchini, watermelon and cucumbers from seed instead of starting them indoors first. I heard Paul Wheaton talk about veggies that are sown directly in the garden having better drought resistance than those started indoors. So we tried it…and…epic fail. We had a few plants come up but the overwhelming result was nada. Nothing. Zilch. Lesson learned. Here are a few pictures of what did come up.

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One of our two Mandurian Round cucumber plants. We wanted many more of these but…

 

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Suyo Long cucumber…again, we wanted more but…

 

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Here’s what our squash and zucchini have turned into…a wonderful home for squash bugs. I dusted these heavily with diatomaceous earth before I left

 

Here’s a picture of “Eddie” our scarecrow. He swivels and keeps a watchful eye over the garden.

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My son, Myles, picking peaches in the garden.

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Maddie in the jungle of German Johnson tomatoes.

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So, that’s an overview of the vegetable garden this year. How does your garden grow? Send me pictures so that I can share them with other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

 

 

 

Friday Free For All: Wood Chips vs. Hardwood Mulch

 

What a great Friday at Mid-Atlantic Gardening! I was able to give seeds to one of our readers, Elizabeth, from New Jersey. The seeds are Tomatoes Mortgage Lifter, Amish Paste and Golden Sunrise, Eggplant Casper, Cilantro Slo-Bolting and Cucumber Mandurian Round. It feels so great to give back to the readers that inspire me to keep writing posts. I have to admit that there are days when I say to myself “I’ll skip writing today’s post” but then I’ll receive feedback from you all and that keeps me moving. To all of my readers, I feel compelled to say “Thank you. You all are awesome!” OK, on to the post for today…

wood chipsA co-worker approached me Monday and asked a question that I feel is very important to answer. He wanted to know if applying wood chips instead of conventional hardwood mulch was OK for plants. My answer was a resounding yes. While double shredded hardwood mulch may be more pleasing to the eye, the soil and its organisms don’t care what you put down, so long as you put down something. Remember, as a gardener, you want to grow beautiful healthy soil that will feed your plants with much less effort than it takes to feed the plants and not the soil. Does that make sense? If your focus is on feeding the plants with synthetic fertilizers, you are not feeding the soil. If you instead feed the soil, you are rewarded with plants that derive their nutrition from what the soil provides for them.

Some people fear that mulching with fresh wood chips will rob the soil of nitrogen and that is a legitimate concern. What those same people fail to realize (and I was one of those people for a long time by the way) is that the nitrogen the microorganisms consume to break down the organic matter is still there, it’s just tied up. At a later time, the nitrogen will be available to the plants and it will be in a form that is naturally occurring. And it’s free too. No more applying fertilizer every spring…instead you can apply organic matter and grow your soil. If your plants become too chlorotic for your liking in the time that it takes your nitrogen to become available to the plant again, you can apply blood meal which is around 12% nitrogen. It will be a quick shot of nitrogen that will green up your plants.

Like I said earlier, it doesn’t matter what you have to mulch with…just mulch. If all you have available are leaves from the woods, use them. It would be nice if you could shred them up before using them…they’ll stay in place better and won’t pack down and form a matted layer. If it’s good enough for millions of acres of forests, it’s good enough for me. If you live near a farmer and he has straw that has spoiled, offer him a few dollars and he’ll probably accept your offer. Just make sure that it’s straw and not hay as hay is full of weed seeds. If you have trees removed from your garden, take the wood chips and use them…your tree guy will thank you too since he now doesn’t have to dispose of them. Just about any type of organic matter that you can think of will benefit your garden. I tend to be a little thrifty so I’m always on the lookout for cheap or free sources of organic matter…whether it be wood chips, leaves, manure or straw, I’ll take it! I love hearing how resourceful other gardeners are…leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

 

Plant Profile: Mandurian Round Cucumber

 

Mandurian Round cucumberI’m so excited to be able to tell you about the star of last year’s vegetable garden: Mandurian Round cucumber. While everyone knows what cucumbers look and taste like, this little jewel is different in so many ways. Let’s talk about its appearance first. Mandurian Round cucumber is, you guessed it, round. Its skin is variegated with green and white and has a fuzzy texture to it. The fuzzies wash right off when you’re ready to enjoy the cucumbers with a meal. They are best consumed when they are no larger than the size of a baseball. They will grow to be the size of a football if you let them, but at that point the skins are tough and they don’t have the delightful sweet taste of the smaller ones.

Their taste is sweeter than a conventional cucumber and they are unbelievably crunchy. My favorite part of them is that you don’t have to peel them before eating. See, I’m a lazy cook…while I enjoy fresh vegetables, I enjoy them a lot more if all I have to do is wash them and eat them. Even the simple act of having to peel a “normal” cucumber is enough to make me move on to the next vegetable. There were many evenings when my husband and I would wash the cucumbers and then sprinkle them with sea salt and freshly ground pepper as a side dish. While ranch dressing makes everything better in my opinion, the Mandurian Round cucumber can hold its own with just a little S&P.

As for the culture of the Mandurian Round cucumber, it’s really no different than other cukes. It enjoys full sun and consistent soil moisture for the best production. I grew mine on the ground last year as they are touted as being a bush form instead of a vining type. In my experience, they did vine but the stems only reached about 5′ in diameter. I didn’t notice any tendrils, which is the way that conventional cukes climb. The arms of the Mandurian Round cucumbers were easily tucked back onto their allotted hill if they became a little unruly.

While Mandurian Round is described as a cucumber, it actually belongs to the melon family. Cucumis melo is its botanical name, whereas “normal” cucumbers go by the name Cucumis sativus. For you, this means that it is naturally burpless and won’t become bitter as it ages or if it doesn’t receive the proper amount of water during fruit formation.

I have a story about how popular this cucumber is with those who have sampled it. My husband and I have a vegetable garden at a friend’s house as we don’t have enough sun to sustain a veggie garden at home. Our friend took some of the Mandurian Round cucumbers to work to share with co-workers since we were inundated with them when they were in full production. His co-worker enjoyed them so much that she called grocery stores all over the Richmond area looking for them, but no one carried them. They are definitely a specialty crop that hasn’t caught on with mainstream grocers but that shouldn’t stop you from trying them in your garden. The seeds are available from Gourmet Seeds where you can purchase a packet of 80 seeds for $2.89. That’s a small investment for such a delicious bounty of cucumbers, don’t you think? Let me know if you have any experience growing Mandurian Round cucumbers by leaving me a comment below or e-mailing me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

December 28, 2011Permalink 9 Comments

Gardening Calendar: December

 

So it’s finally December in the garden…the time of the year when you can reflect on what you really enjoyed about the garden this past year, look at what needs improving for the upcoming year and ponder any new gardening projects. But there are tasks that are perfect for accomplishing in December and that’s what we’ll look at today.

 

  • By now, most of your deciduous plants should have been taken down by the freezing temperatures. If your perennials have turned into brown clumps of mush, go ahead and remove the foliage and add it to your compost pile. If some of your deciduous perennials still have green leaves, it is best to leave them so that the plant can continue to photosynthesize and add to its stores for next year.
  • Depending on how meticulous you want your garden to be, you can remove any fallen leaves from the bases of shrubs to allow for good air circulation around the stems. If you have had fungal problems on your shrubs, it’s a pretty good bet that the spores are on the fallen leaves so removing them now can save you a ton of headaches in the spring. Unless your compost gets really hot, it’s wiser to bag the diseased leaves to avoid risking spreading the disease around.
  • If you’re like me, I tend to wait until the majority of the tree leaves have fallen before cleaning them up so now is the time to work on this project. I have woods behind me so I am able to blow them into the woods…it also serves as a sort of stockpile where I can go to obtain leaves when I need them for the compost pile or for mulching the veggie garden. If you have a bagging mower, chop them up and then use them as mulch…see my Healthy Soil article for more information.
  • The biggest chore for December is probably pruning. Now that the stems are bare, it is the perfect time to remove crossing branches on trees and shrubs. You can also remove wayward branches on evergreen shrubs such as hollies and osmanthus. If you are looking to shape your hedges, you’re best to wait until we get closer to spring. Severe pruning will often force new vegetative growth that is easily killed by freezes and late spring frosts.
  • The most exciting gardening chore for me in December is poring over seed catalogs that inundate my mailbox beginning in mid-November. My mind races as I read the descriptions of ‘Amish Paste’ tomatoes and ‘Mandurian Round’ cucumbers. While the sheer number of cultivars are overwhelming, I still make list after list of those I’d like to try. I try to pare it down to a reasonable number, but I am usually met with failure…last year I grew 13 different types of tomatoes.

 

The gardening calendar for December is relatively short but this is just the beginning of an ever-growing list of garden chores that need to be accomplished. By no means is it exhaustive…I’d love to hear what your plans are for your garden in December. Please share them in the comments section so that other gardeners can benefit. If you have any thoughts or concerns, please e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!