Spring has sprung, me, not so much

I’ve been a bit slow on getting posts up this year.  It’s been a tough winter for me and just dragging, health issues seem to be catching up with me as not able to do as much this year as last, or the year before, etc.  Getting old sucks, getting old and sick sucks even more.  I try to walk every day for exercise and the distance has been decreasing the last couple of years.  It takes a lot out of me and some days I’d like to skip it to put the energy into gardening or yard work but those two pairs of big dog eyes say no, that’s not an option.

The tomato plants went in March 27 again this year and so far they’re looking good

Anyway, gardenwise, lots of setbacks so far.  I thought I’d plant carrots, spinach and cilantro in the greenhouse raised bed to double crop with the tomatoes.  The woodlice ate everything as soon as they came up.  I replanted the carrots and for some reason they left the second planting alone and they’re just not starting to get their first real leaves so at least one experiment will get to run.  I replanted spinach and cilantro and once again they were eaten as fast as they came up.

Wood lice (sow bugs, roly poly, BB bugs, etc.) are generally considered beneficial insects but the population in the greenhouse is so high that I just can’t plant from seed in there, although if I put in good sized starts like the tomatoes they don’t bother them.  I don’t want to wipe them out, so going to try to live with the situation for now.

I’ve also been fighting slugs in the greenhouse.  There’s not many, but I’ve lost a number of flats of starts to them.  All is fine for a week and then I come in one morning and a whole tray of starts has ben reduced to stumps by one slug that snuck in, traversed the bone dry bed, climbed up the supports to the tray, and found the babies, all while surrounded by nothing but lush grass and plants as far as the eye can see.  Why?  I don’t know, just like the deer that fight their way through the blackberry thickets to get to my raspberry plants as they’re leafing out.  Apparently blackberry bushes aren’t as interesting as raspberry bushes, although I think they browse by price tag…

The berry plants I put in last year are looking good, except for the Prime-Ark45 blackberries.  I think they may have been frost bit, but everything else is looking great.  The Albion strawberries are growing like mad and are flowering, they survived the tough winter just fine.  I planted spinach and carrots in outdoor raised beds today and lightly tilled the bed where my potatoes will go in a couple of weeks just to turn under the weeds and break the surface.  We’re supposed to get a week of sun and should manage to get a lot done if I don’t stay out too late looking at Mars and Jupiter as Mars is getting very close and Jupiter has been giving some great views through the scope.

Winter Carrot – Final Report

Last August I planted two large beds of carrots for winter use.  Here in the Willamette Valley they can usually be left in the ground and will last until Spring, although exceptionally cold weather can freeze the top of the roots which cause them to rot.  Fortunately, I had row cover over them during the really cold weather early in the winter and it kept them from freezing, in fact the tops even stayed green.  A bed of summer carrots that was uncovered froze and rotted immediately on thawing.

I grew St. Valery from www.growitalian.com and Scarlet Keeper from Fedco.  The Scarlet Keeper is intended as a storage carrot and is supposed to have good flavor in storage.  Both of them did really well, producing large roots.  The St. Valery ended up looking like an imperator type carrot, many of them 8″ long and fairly thin, with good orange color and no core.  The Scarlet Keeper look more like a Danvers, wide at the top and tapering down in a triangular shape to the tip, very blocky.  The color was much lighter, but again no core to speak of and pretty good flavor.

Either of them would have worked fine, but when I picked both I always seemed to end up eating all the St. Valery first, they look better and I think they have a better flavor, but all of them end up being eaten as I eat a ton or carrots in the winter, both raw and cooked.

I may end up doing the same thing next winter, growing a couple of varieties as it’s always good to have some diversity in the garden, but I think I’ll try one I’ve had my eye on fora  while, Napoli from Johnny’s, I’ve heard good things about it.

One final recommendation for www.growitalian.com.  Their carrot seed is from Italy and is very high quality at a very reasonable bulk price, much cheaper than either Fedco or Johnny’s for an ounce or two.  Carrot seed is a tough one to grow high quality seed, be sure to buy your from a really good source, there’s a lot of poor quality carrot seed on the market.

Storage Onions

I went through my onions from last summer today to see how they were doing and pull out the ones going bad.  I grew Copra and Dakota Tears last year, and both of them made nice big onions and didn’t store too badly.  Here in the middle of March, I think about 60-70 percent have made it through the winter.  I don’t do anything fancy, they’re just stored on racks in my shop, in the dark generally but at outside temperature and humidity.  I did put them in a heated room for a couple of days early in the winter when it got down to almost zero or they would have frozen and spoiled like all the other storage veg.

The real winners were a bit unexpected.  I’d found a few Red Marble onions, a “red” / purple cipollini onion.  They get pretty large, up to 4″ or so and are generally more flat than round.  A lot of them make doubles when they get big, so they are a  little more work to prep, but I would say that 95 percent of them made it through the winter.  Out of a big box I only found one or two that had gone bad, really amazing.  I see they’re sold as F1 hybrids at some vendors and open pollinated at others, but the seeds are pretty cheap and they’re great onions.

The other winner were “Ed’s Red” shallots.  They make standard size shallots, a lot of them doubles, and are grown from seed.  They did well and I ended up with a ton of them and got at least  90 percent survival in storage and maybe a little better, I didn’t count them but I made big braids and each braid had one or maybe two that were starting to sprout.  One nice thing about them is that none of them spoiled, they only sprouted, so they didn’t affect the ones next to them the way onions do when they melt down.

I’ll be growing the same this  year as I was really pleased with how all of them did except that I won’t be bothering with Copra and will just be growing Dakota Tears as they were pretty much identical in size and storage quality and Dakota Tears is an open pollinated variety while Copra is a hybrid.

2014 Tomatoes

Last year I grew an assortment of heirloom tomatoes and a few hybrids in my polytunnel and it was a mixed success.  The heirlooms I got to market were early and good, people raved about them and I sold a lot.   The problem was that I composted at least 2-3 pounds of tomatoes for every tomato that made it to market.  Either they rotted on the vine, cracked and split or even split in the few hours between picking and market.  What I did learn was that while people say that they want a delicious heirloom tomato, what they really want is a tomato that looks great.  Week after week I had customers picked through the heirlooms to find the few tomatoes that looked perfect, even though I warned them that they didn’t taste as good as the others.

This year I’m primarily going with “greenhouse” tomatoes that are bred for multiple disease resistance which they need in the hot humid environment (not often we say that in the PNW…).  The seeds are expensive but I won’t need that many and if they do even slightly better they’ll be well worth the difference in price.

Here’s what I’ve settled on for this year.  From Johnny’s, Pozzano, Pink Wonder, Verona, Sunrise Bumble Bee and Olivade.  From Fedco I’m trying Jet Star which they say does well in hoophouses.  One real standout last year was Juliet, a “salad” or small roma tomato.  It would keep on the vine for a couple of weeks, heck it could fall on the ground and not rot for a week, but it still had pretty good taste and had enough solid matter to be good in salads or such while still juicy enough for good flavor.  Olivade is supposed to be a supposed to be a bigger version of Juliet so going with it this year, at least for a few plants.  Another winner was Tigerella, an heirloom red/yellow striped tomato, hence the name.  Another “salad” type tomato, mostly about an inch to two inches max, but great producer and very good flavor.  Much juicier than Juliet and better flavor but much more tender, although still one of the best heirlooms in the greenhouse.

I sold quite a few tomato starts last year so I picked up some hybrids that people were asking for, New Girl and Big Beef from Johnny’s, Yellow Pear and SuperSweet 100 from Fedco.  I’m also starting a lot of heirlooms from last year from my own seed.  These are what people were asking for last  year and I’m working on growing what people are looking for, always a problem for me in business.

I got most of them in a few days ago using heat pads to keep them warm and I’ve got almost 100 percent germination and they’re starting to put on a little size.  Last year I put transplants in the greenhouse on March 27 but I don’t think I will lose anything by being a week or two later as they didn’t start to ripen until well into June.

Spring has Sprung

A couple of weeks ago I was up to my knees in snow but it’s been up in the 50’s with lows around 40 or better with the 10 day forecast of more of the same.  I think we’ve turned the corner on (consistently) cold weather so it’s got me motivated to get started on the garden.

I got my shipment from Fedco.  It took them a while to ship due to the rush but they upgraded it to Priority which was good so I put a lot of seeds in flats last week.  I bought a bunch of Johnny’s expensive greenhouse tomatoes to try this year and they’re all started, along with early stuff like kale and onions.  In a week or two I’ll start all the tomatoes for starts for sale as last year they got started early and got too leggy.

I tilled up the two raised beds in the greenhouse that were in tomatoes last year and planted one of them in carrots, half in Sugersnax 54 and half in Rainbow, a multicolored carrot.  I’m hoping to harvest early carrots for market before anyone else has them and plant tomatoes right in between them.  I figure that by the time the tomatoes start to shade them out I’ll have harvested most of them, with any luck.  The other tomato bed I’m going to plant in spinach with the same idea.  The bed on the north side that I had in strawberries and canning tomatoes, which didn’t work at all, I’m going to plant in sweet peppers.  I need something that doesn’t get too tall and by having them early I think I can get good money for them.

Looking back at last year, it’s clear I don’t need to grow so many squash as I just hauled a couple of hundred pounds of mixed squash to the compost pile.  They all seemed to go at once over the last week or two after surviving all winter.  The Delicata actually did the best in storage, even better than the Sweetmeat types, so this year I’ll be focusing on them and not growing so many or at least selling the surplus, instead of keeping them all winter.

The main focus this year will be on growing what I actually eat and growing what sells at the market, not stuff that looks “interesting” so I need to be working on how to allocate space in the gardens.  Once again, I need to work on succession planting.  Every year I know I need to do better and every year my system falls apart when summer gets here.  Last summer people wanted lettuce in July and August, no one had any, so I’m trying sone new varieties that are supposed to be more heat resistant to see if they work.  Given how cool our summers are compared to most of the world I’m hoping to get some summer lettuce, and I also bought a big pack of cilantro seed so I need to plant a patch every couple of weeks.  It will be interesting to see how long that plan holds together.

Garage sale season is also starting.  I picked up a huge box full of flats and trays, probably 50 of each and made out of something that looks like fiberglass instead of cheap thermomold, really fancy stuff, for $10 at a sale yesterday and when I emptied the box I found a brand new 15′ x 50′ net which will cover my whole blueberry patch to keep the birds off.

I need a couple of clear days, or at least non-raining days to finish pruning the fruit trees.  I’m really looking forward to doing some more grafting this year.  I did a little last year and picked up some root stock last year I’ll be using as well as converting over some existing trees to new varieties.  Most all of my saddle grafts took while all of my cleft grafts failed, so I know what I’ll be doing this year.  I picked up a bunch of pear root stock so I’m going to make some Asian pear trees with 2-3 varieties on each tree.

That’s about all my ramblings for today.  I hope to get back into working on this site.  Winter has been tough for me and I haven’t been able to get much done but with the days getting longer and more light I should start doing better and feel more like getting something done.

Finally, I am getting 10-20 “user registrations” every day here.  I can’t figure it out as if they’re spammers they don’t seem to be posting anything so not sure what their purpose would be, and if they’re real people they’re not posting anything either.  If any of you are real people how about posting a brief comment just to say hi and let me know someone has an interest in the idea behind this site, it would help to get me motivated to put in some time on it.