Friday, January 17, 2020

Perpetual Spinach or Chard

For years I had been looking in the seed catalogue at something that looked quite delicious: Perpetual Spinach, leaf beet, or perpetual chard. This vegetable appealed a lot to me because of the opportunity to grow something that tastes like spinach, but grows like chard. Chard, or beet leaves, have always been easier for me to grow than spinach. Chard has a lot more holding capacity in the summer than spinach and can be a lot less fussy over the winter.

With all these wonderful things being said about chard, it would be a pointless to talk to someone who has not grown this variety to go into detail about this vegetable without describing the taste. What most vegetable gardeners want to know before growing something is: is it likely that I'll enjoy consuming this? 

So here's how I'll put it: If you like both chard and spinach, you’ll love perpetual spinach. If you really like chard, you’ll like this leaf vegetable in salads. However, if you don’t like chard at all, you’ll probably want to limit your picking of this variety to tender leaves around 3 inches long or less. If the temperature rises too high or the leaves get too long, then the chalky chard texture and copper/iron metallic taste can overpower the pleasant spinach taste or tender crisp quality of the leaves.

Take away: If you want the longest season of this vegetable for salads, your best bet is in the fall. This will mean that the leaves grow slowly for maximum use of smaller leaves for salads. Once the heat sets in and the leaves grow quite a lot, this variety is better cooked.

Another alternative: In the spring, transplant perennial spinach into areas that will receive plenty of shade, while still having airflow. With ample shade, this variety remains tender longer and, if spaced properly with adequate airflow, will develop healthy stands of leaves for salads and, as the temperatures rise, for cooking or juicing. Yum!

Friday, January 10, 2020

What's going on in my Winter Garden(s) in 2020

For those of you not familiar with a Mediterranean climate, such as near the California coast and throughout parts of Italy, the summers can be dry and hot and the winters can be cool and wet. As cool and wet can be a challenge for vegetable gardening, I often choose to plant crops that require minimal maintenance over the winter. The majority of what I am currently growing in the spaces that I manage are cover crops, or green manure plants.

My garden looking from the south

At home, I am growing fava again. However, this time I have been adding oat grass to the mix. I have heard that oats are able to make the silicon in the soil more soluble. As there have been some studies on the relationship between soluble silicon and powdery mildew resistance, I thought it would be worth trying it out. Even if I do not get my cucumber-melons to resist powdery mildew as long as I want, I can still compost the oat grass.

My garden, looking from the north.

While I have heard that some gardeners utilize their greenhouses over the winter (something I’m sure I would have done back in Tucson) I really have no desire to go through the work of maintaining plants in my greenhouse over the winter. As greenhouses can be a lot of work, it can be a much needed relief if you don’t have to be in them year-round. While my greenhouse doesn’t look as bad as the last photo I took of it (I have since harvested the sweet potatoes) I will probably be cleaning it up quite a bit before my next photo session.

One of the main reasons that I grow cover crops over the winter is because I don’t care much for battling critters for food. This includes squirrels. When I moved into my current location I initially had a major concern about the stray cats using the restroom in my garden. Since most of the cats have since moved on or been relocated by neighbors, the squirrel population has seemingly exploded. With this has come the constant digging up of my potted lettuce. I won’t go into all my emotions about this, but in short I’ll just say I am now growing lettuce on my balcony in 5 gallon buckets whose soil is protected by aluminum foil. Tacky? Yes – but effective too.

Fava and lettuce in 5 gallon buckets on my balcony

This next picture is one of the fertile garden. Notice that nothing is growing in the garden beds. This is because I take the winter season off from managing the fertile garden beds. This is at least how the owner prefers it, so a break in maintenance works for me!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the chicken garden soil is constantly in need of improvement. Having begun with very rocky dirt, it took a while to begin transforming the ground into more healthy dirt. Additionally, the section with tomatoes from last fall seems to still be having concerns. Though I began growing mustard greens there (for biofumigation purposes) I am considering planting some grass, like oats there for a second cover crop soon. The mustard is not doing as well as I would like. As I have said earlier, tomato plants can be worse than antibiotics for the human gut. Tomato plants suck so much life from and leave so much residual disease pressure on the soil that I try to minimize how many plants I grow.

Finally comes the newer garden. My place of employment has permitted me to utilize one of their raised gardens for my growing purposes. Though I grew a small crop of cucumbers to share with the staff last fall, I have some more substantial plans for this plot in the upcoming year.

Over the last year, I have worked very hard to constantly gather compostable materials to feed to my gardens. It has greatly helped and enabled my gardens to get better and better each season.

While not everyone who grows or manages garden space may be able to grow year round, I hope that those reading this might consider the merits of “feeding the soil” healthy compost and other inputs that will enable the garden to regenerate the soil life and tap the nutrients necessary bountiful vegetable harvests.

Friday, January 3, 2020

2018-2019 Winter Garden

For those of you living in a wet moderate climate, this post is for you. Back in late 2017 to early 2018 I was struggling and fighting to try to grow vegetables in my garden. I had to constantly fight slugs and snails. Because tender winter vegetables are easily prey for slimy creatures, I decided to just grow a hardy cover crop during over the winter.

This has proved to be a very good policy. I would highly recommend tall growing vegetables for anyone wanting to fight slug/snail attacks who lives in wet moderate climates. As slugs and snails are practically unavoidable at ground level, it is best to just grow things that they prefer not to consume. By doing this, in addition to caring for the local ground beetles (which prey on slugs) I have drastically decreased the slug pressure in my garden in the summer months.

Favas have also done wonders for my soil. The nitrogen they provide really feeds my vegetable beds. In the spring, I cut all the fava bean plants to the ground, but do not pull up the roots. Though it takes a little more planning to transplant my spring vegetables around the fava stump, the results are well worth it.

With all this being said, I couldn't help but purchase a 6 pack of lettuce starts at the local big box store. Though this lettuce looked delcious, it tasted worse and turned bitter much faster than the lettuce I grew by seed. In addition, I had to keep up with removing slugs and cabbage loopers in order to ensure I recieved my fair share of the garden's bounty.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

What's ahead for 2020

Dearest Friends and Readers,

While I really enjoy blogging a lot, sometimes life gets in the way. Over the last couple years I have blogged less based on my family situation. This does not mean I have gardened less or taken less pictures. In fact, over the last several months, I have invested the time and energy to begin catching up to what is currently going on in each of the gardens I work with.

By looking back over my experiences the last couple years, I have been able to catch up enough to ensure that I can post on a weekly basis. Although some content will be more recent and some will be older, you can continue to anticipate quality information. Altogether, I hope that you find my experience with vegetable gardening helpful in providing perspective in your gardening endevours. If not, at least you can recieve some good entertainment from both my successes and blunders.

Yours Truly,


Friday, December 27, 2019

December Garden Beneficials

As you enjoy your holidays, I thought I would share a little of what those of us in the moderate part of California can find in our garden in December. While adult mantids are most often seen between August and September in the northern hemisphere, females can often live longer in moderate climates. I found this girl on a bush in the courtyard of a school that I work at.

 Mantids often find both food and refuge on bushes with flowers. This is because the bushes provide cover from predators while flowers attract the mantid's prey. Additionally, depending upon the mantis and their preference for egg laying surfaces, a bush can provide a perfect place for a female to lay her egg case or ootheca.

Mantids live much of their lives upside down