click here for a photo overview of  our 2011 veggie garden

Here in Virginia, it’s possible to have three consecutive but overlapping gardens:  Spring (March-June), Summer (July-September), and Fall (October-December).  The spring garden began with seeds under indoor grow lights in February, with outdoor transplanting and direct seeding in early March.  Harvesting of lettuce and  spinach began in mid-April and of snap, snow and garden peas, turnips, kohlrabi, swiss chard, collards and cool-weather herbs such as cilantro between mid-May and June.  Twenty-five pounds of seed potatoes were planted in the third week of  March for harvesting in mid-summer.  The spring garden iltself ends around the time of the harvesting of the garlic crop (planted the previous fall) in late June .

With the major exceptions of tomatoes and peppers, our summer garden is mostly planted from seed  in May.   Several varieties of squash, along with  cucumbers, herbs (particularly basil), edamame, Malabar Spinach, parsnips, bulb fennel, radishes, and bush beans are planted first, followed by pole beans once the pea harvest is over and trellis space is freed up.  Tomato seedlings were transplanted in mid-May and pepper seedlings shortly afterward. Garden space freed up by the garlic harvest made way for winter squash seeds in late June.

As summer plants died back in August, freed-up space was planted with a mix of seeds for the fall garden (turnips, kohlrabi, and for the first time, rutabega) and purchased seedlings (lettuce, chard, kale, collards), mostly harvested between October and early December.

What’s missing in the account above are the ways things didn’t always go as planned: rabbits eating all the edamame down to the ground, fungal diseases on most tomato plants which limited their productivity and eventually killed off many, problems with proper storage for the garlic crop, etc.  Taking these sorts of things into account, I’d grade my garden success with about a B for 2011–most things went well, but there were some notable problems.

For details that probably are mainly of interest to me as a record, you can click on the “more” tag below.


Detailed Garden Report (2011)

Spring Garden.  My main goal in the spring garden was to increase the size of the snap and snow pea crop, which, frozen away the previous year, had been a great addition to soups and stir fries until we ran out.  Having liked the trellis from Johnny’s Selected Seeds I’d installed in 2010,  I added a new one along one side of the garden.  Along the first trellis, I planted in the first week of March Amish Snap Peas, Sugar Snap Peas, and Avalanche Snow Peas.  All proved productive, but the Amish Snap Peas were a bit yellowish, and so I preferred the other two more.  Along the second trellis I subsequently planted Miragreen Garden Peas,  Sugar Snap Peas, and Rembrandt Snap Peas (an heirloom procured directly from a member of Seed Savers Exchange).  The garden peas weren’t ready until early June and don’t seem to me worth the garden space for the amount of peas produced.    I’d recommend a ten day interim beteween the two trellis plantings, to prolong the season but not get into hot weather.  We ate snap/snow peas almost daily, and still had a significant amount to freeze–although more would be fine.

Having run through last year’s potato harvest by the end of the fall, we decided to double the garden space outside the deer fence and planted 25 pounds of seed potatoes using the traditional trench and hilling method: 2.5 pounds of Sangre, 5 pounds of Satina, 5 pounds of Kennebec, 5 pounds of Yellow Finn, and 2.5 pounds of Keuka Gold, all from The Maine Potato Lady, plus five pounds of Yukon Gold from Amherst Milling.

Brief notes on other spring plantings:

  • Very poor germination with beets.  Combined with the fact that we don’t tend to eat them often, I don’t intend to plant them next year.  Nice ones are available at our local farmer’s market.
  • Purple Globe and Golden Globe turnips did well, with harvests beginning in mid-May.  Golden Globe turnips had less good germination, but have a nicer taste.
  • Harris Model Parsnips, planted April 20th, germinate slowly but then grow without requiring any attention.  However, they were awfully large by October, so it may be better to plant them somewhat later.  Some of the woody cores needed to be cut out, but a nice taste overall.
  • Green Glaze Collards from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange seemed to live up to their billing as insect-resistant and were productive and tasty.  Germinated well inside.
  • Swiss Chard germination was very poor, both inside and outside.  Much better to buy seedlings!
  • Cabbage seedlings were full of holes by harvest time; not worth trying again.
  • Spinach America had only fair germination, but this was the best year so far for growing spinach.  Worth trying again.
  • Basil seeds planted on April 27th did very well and continued producing until frost in October.
  • Kohlrabi started in biodome had close to 100% germination and transplants did well.  Harvesting by later-May.
  • Onions planted in fall made for nice scallions in mid-April–probably due in part to the fact that I planted them deeper than they should have been.

I pulled 120 garlics on June 24-25, a very high proportion of those planted.  28 Music, 10 Romanian Red, 33 Appalachian Red, 23 Brown Tempest, 14 S & H Silverskin, 12 Inchellium Red.  Hung them in bunches in the kennel to dry.  They looked great, but by early fall it had become evident that most of the hardneck garlics were turning brownish, especially Appalachian Red and Brown Tempest.  Should have given more away why they were still good!  Music and Romanian Red appear to have stored better, but some Music showing signs of browning.  Next time: 1) be sure not to pick them too soon; 2) dry them longer on screens before hangingl 3) leave stems on longer; 4) move over to Shipman cold cellar asap.   This has been very disappointing–probably had to throw out close to a third of the crop, although that was after planting (which was the point at which the extent of the problem became clear).  Hopefully still have enough to get us almost to next summer’s harvest!

Summer Garden.  Tomatoes are generally the centerpiece of the summer garden, but after a promising start, many plants succumbed to fungal disease, heat, and dryness.  We still managed to get some tomatoes through most of the season, but in the end most plants died back.  Fortunately, Monika had planted a “Late Keeper” in the backyard garden which started producing quite late, and without any fungal or other apparent problems, so we’re still eating some nice-looking tomatoes that have gone through their final ripening wrapped in newspaper.

I believe the main lesson to be learned from this is the importance of rotation, which I had largely ignored.  Next year I’ll avoid any plots where I’ve grown tomatoes before and will try to separate groups of tomato plants from each other.  I also plan to amend the soil more and to place some tomato plants on the shady side of a trellis.  We shall see.  I am in the meantime enhancing the soil with horse manure compost from Rodes Farm.

Once the pea crop was done, pole beans were planted along both trellises, along with Chinese Red Noodle Beans, Malabar Spinach,  American Slicing and Diva cucumbers, and some cow and lima beans, these latter two eventually being overwhelmed by the spread of  Zucchini Rampicante, to be discussed below.  Pole beans included Potomac, Fortex, and Purple Podded.  All were productive, but I’m inclined next year to return to Kentucky Wonder and (again) Purple Podded pole beans.  Fortex produced nice long, thin beans, but overall were not overwhelmingly productive; neither were the Potomac, even though they were supposed to like Virginia’s climate.  Blue Lake bush beans were a useful supplement, starting earlier than the pole beans and lasting almost as long.  Planting them a bit earlier will help make up for the delay caused by waiting for the end of pea season.

Either luck or careful tending and regular early applications of the organic pesticide Rotenone gave us much more success with squash this year than last.  Ambassador zucchini and Golden zucchini did quite well, along with lemon squash, although all died back in August.  In the meantime, however, two seeds of Zucchini Rampicante created two sprawling  plants that took over much of trellis #2 and covered much of the upper potato patch (the potato plants had mostly died back by this time, but the potatoes had to be left in the ground until later).  Zucchini Rampicante is fabulously productive, often overwhelmingly so.  It remains to be seen how many of the many freezer packets and frozen zucchini breads we will actually use.   I don’t know if technically it’s really a zucchni, but it can be used as such and is the tastiest we’ve ever grown.  A great find, although as one review notes, it “wants to take over the planet.”

The biggest summer harvest is potatoes, planted back in March and dug up in late July and early August.  We harvested about 230 pounds.  Potatoes did the best in the further-amended plot dug last year, less well in the newly-dug, more clay-based soil up the slope on the side.  In both 2010 and 2011, it seems to me, the heat and dryness of July caused an earlier die-back than is common farther north, resulting in mainly mid-sized potatoes.  Still, we were happy with the quantity and  flavor of them all.

Brief notes on other summer plantings:

  • Bulb fennel looked nice, but didn’t get terribly large and was tough and woody.  Not worth doing again.
  • Malabar spinach was slow to grow and didn’t appeal that much.  Most of it ended up being eaten by the chickens!  Don’t need to grow again.
  • Edamame was completely eaten by rabbits, which seemed to be in great abundance in the first part of the summer (seldom seen since then, however).  Rabbits had been somewhat of a problem with edamame the previous year, but the plants came back.  Probably worth another try.
  • Chinese Red Noodle pole beans were, as before, very productive and quite tasty.  They add a nice contrast.
  • Biscayne (Cubano-style) peppers were prolific and turned a nice red over time, although many were still green at the end of the season.  Nice for stuffing with tuna salad, but bell peppers remain best for stuffing with meat and rice.  Should grow some of each next year.
  • Diva cucumbers were the most productive and lasted the longest.
  • Remaining onions for the previous fall plantings pulled July 1st.  I think I had planted them too deep, and so some did not store well.  Hopefully corrected this in this fall’s onion planting.

Fall Garden.   Mostly a repeat of the spring garden.  Turnips, kohlrabi, and rutabega from seed; collards, kale, chard, and lettuce from purchased seedlings.  Some insect damage, but basically production has outstripped our demand, with our chickens gobbling up some of the difference.  Still waiting on the rutabega, which had fairly poor germination and was slow to get started, but which looks good now.

Planted about 130 garlic cloves in early October; it was only then I realized the pr0blem with Appalachian Red and Brown Tempest particularly.  Probably will want to shift the balance towards softneck garlics next year, given that they are known to last considerably longer.

Also planted onion sets (this time just below ground level) and shallots around the same time.  Doing this allows for an earlier harvest next summer.