Saturday, December 31, 2011

I Have an Asparagus Patch! And a Mess of New Year's Greens

And I'm so damn proud of it.

I've always wanted an asparagus patch.  It's one of my favorite vegetables, right up there with bok choy and broccoli.  I can eat it twice a week, or more if I prepare it differently each time.  Steamed with Hollandaise sauce, baked wrapped in prosciutto, asparagus quiche and just plain raw.  Nomnomnomnom.

The permanence of an asparagus patch always gave me pause.  It lives over twenty years or more and resents transplanting once it's a few years old, so where you put it is where it'll be.  If you plan wrong and it's in the way, you've got to lump it or replant and wait another two years before you can harvest.  Yep.  You can't pick it for a couple years.  Quite the investment of time there, and makes it even more important that you pick the right spot from the get go.

I'm the kind of girl who likes to rearrange her furniture a lot (Didn't I just mention that...?), and it seems that tendency follows me out to the garden and yard.  I plan out the beds, sitting out there with a beer just thinkin', taking lots of time to make sure they're just right.  But they never are, so I have to fix it.  Last year, I didn't like where one wide row was, so I turned it into two 4'x4' square foot beds.  I shoveled three too-skinny rows into two a couple months ago.  And the chicken coop is really getting on my nerves where it is, so it'll get torn down and herbs planted in it's place.  Don't get me started on the sitting spot(s).

But I wanted asparagus, dammit!  And it's the time of year to plant.  We just got 1500 crowns in at work.  I counted every one when they came in, then Joe and heeled them in in big stock tanks with sand.  That took all of a day, and the entire time I was dreaming of taking a hundred of them home with me (Yeah, I want a BIG patch).  I've walked by them every day for the past month, thinking I should buy some but talking myself out of it.  Where would I put them?  Along the fence on the east side of the garden?  Nope, not wide enough.  Over in that northwest corner where I planted corn last year?  Nah, it'd block the view of the garden.  Where the chicken coop is now?  Definitely not.  Not only would that be an even worse view-blocker, it'd take too much time to move that thing and break the new ground under it.  That's a project for this summer.

But ... uhmmm ... what about the row at the south end where the peppers were last year?  Hrm ... it's about wide enough, after I enlarged it a bit this winter.  If not, I can always bust out the fence there and make it so.   But won't it block the walkway in summer?  Well, I can plant it as far over as I can to minimize that, and build a little bamboo fence to hold it back if it really gets bad.  But it's not big enough!  It's only fifteen feet long, just big enough for fifteen crowns IF I plant them reeeeeeeally close together.  Well, Linda, fifteen crowns is better than none.  Okay.  That's it then.

I bought fifteen crowns and a bunch of compost just before the winter break at work.  "How exciting!  I'm really going to do this!"  I bagged the compost, got it home, unloaded it and the asparagus ... and there they sat.  One thing after another has happened since then to get in the way of my asparagus patch coming into being.  First there was Christmas Day, then the house needed cleaning, then we got a little carried away with the Holiday Revelry with Spirits and spent the next day on the couch, then I had to set up the Seed Starting Cabinet, then ... then ...

THEN, I said, "Enough!  I'm planting that asparagus THIS YEAR."

"Well, you'd better get on it.  It's the thirtieth."


So that's what I did today, starting with digging a fifteen foot ditch as deep as I could get it, which was about a foot.  It wasn't that hard, but I was sure glad asparagus planting time isn't in summer.  I added in a mix of stuff  ~ humate, 8-2-4, quite a bit of Minerals Plus since you can't really overdose that and I won't be able to dig deep in that bed for quite a while after this.  The I put in liberal amounts of turkey compost, stirred it up, and started planting.  It took me two or three hours overall.

And now, after years of dreaming and planning and hoping, and hours and hours of hard physical labor (oh, woe is me), da-da-DUM! I have an asparagus patch!!

Aaaaaaand, I have a mess of greens for New Year's Day.  All picked today.  Aren't they beautiful?

The regular cabbage still is only tiny little heads (they're so damn cute), so  I hope Chinese cabbage (bok choy) qualifies as close enough for the tradition of eat cabbage on New Year's Day = LOTS of folding money throughout the year.  I'll probably have a hangover-induced anxiety attack tomorrow about this and go pick some regular and eat it regardless of how tiny or how cute it is.  But I have some kissin' cousins of regular cabbage, kale and collards being the most prevalent, so hopefully that and a Holiday Xanax will restrain me.  And I just found out that another name for kale is boerenkool, Norwegian for "farmer's cabbage".  I like that.  A nod to my Norwegian ancestors.  Good enough.

I think I'll make some Hoppin' John instead of plain old black-eyed peas.  And cornbread.  Definitely cornbread.  

Yes, those are tomatoes in the basket on the left.  Black Giants to be precise.  That one was the clear winner of the Thirty-Plus Variety Great Tomato Grow-Off this year (heh, as if I don't do that every year), so I thought about overwintering it.  I hemmed and hawed for a while since in my experience that always ends in tears.  But there were fruit still on it, and I'd borked my seed-saving attempt with that one, so what did I have to lose in at least keeping it around 'til those matured?  Two of those were almost orgasmically good with the ribeye I had tonight.  Looks like I made the right decision.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Seed Starting Cabinet

I took a seed starting class given by Jeff Ferris at work a month or so ago.  I've worked with him at the info desk and he really knows his stuff, enough to teach gardening at ACC.  AND all the plants in his garden this year are ones he's started from seed.  So I knew that even though I've started seeds for years, I could likely learn a few things from him.

"Though an old man, I am yet a young gardener." ~ Thomas Jefferson, when he was 72 years old.

Lord, don't I know that.  My seed starting has been met with widely varying success.  Every year I have high hopes, and every year Ma Nature kicks my ass.  Well, I shouldn't blame it all on Her ~ there's a helping of my own ineptness thrown in there.  I forget to water them and they crisp up, forget to open the plastic-covered hoop house and fry them, don't close the garden gate and the dogs use them for chew toys.  You get the picture.  But I don't give up.  Gardeners are nothing if not optimistic.

I had been thinking of reskinning the greenhouse for my seed starting efforts this year, but as Jeff talked about doing it indoors, I got to thinking: the best success I've had was when I did it indoors.  We won't mention the thought that I could avoid spending over a C-note and two days on that project.  Uh-uh.  Give a lazy woman a job and fifteen minutes to think about it...

For days, I kept turning the idea of inside over and over in my head.  I knew trying to do it on the kitchen counters would end in disaster.  I keep the extra bedrooms quite cold to save on the heating bill, so they were out.  And the closet, where I started some tomatoes last year, is rather full now (clean it? nope).

After a week or so of mulling it over, I hit on the perfect idea.  I'd bought this big old cabinet from Goodwill way earlier this year thinking it would make a good kitchen for the cabin.  Just drop in a sink, install some lights and viola!  A portable kitchen.  (I have a thing for rearranging my furniture, so the thought of rearranging a kitchen just got me all-a-tingly.)  Anyway, since the cabin remodel has been put on the back burner...

George and I worked all of a day getting the dining room cleaned out.  An extra bedroom had to be decluttered to fit in the freezers.  The fridge is still in the hallway, but we'll worry about what to do with it later.  And actually getting the cabinet in here was a bit trying ~ I almost got squashed flat twice, there was much re-nailing since parts of it fell off on the way in, and once we put the bottom cabinet in place and lifted the hutch up to the top ... it was about three inches too tall.  DAMMIT! ... Yeah, it could be placed off-center. ... NO IT COULD NOT!

Then I noticed the three-inch "lift" board along the bottom that was cut-off-able.  Enter circular saws and curse words to go with the already-in-use hammers and other curse words.

"That looks nice. Really classes up the place," George said.  I agree.

In the class Jeff said most any light except incandescents would do, but the best bang for your buck would be T8s.  So off to the hardware store I went.  Jeff said he uses 4' fixtures and bulbs, but those wouldn't fit in my cabinet, so two foot it was. If you try this at home, four foot ones will be the better deal if you have the room ~ about the same price overall, but twice the lighted area.  And freaking easier to find!  Everywhere had all sorts of four foot fixtures, four foot bulbs, four foot everything.  And two foot nothing.  Almost.  I think the world is bigoted against the two-foot-length-ed.

But I prevailed.  And came home with two of these:

And four of these:

I'd learned a bit about lights when I had planted tanks and everyone in the hobby then recommended at least a 6500K (kelvin) rating.  Then there was the watt thing: how many? LOTS seemed to be the answer from what I'd heard.  I mentioned all that to Jeff and he said that in his experience, that didn't matter nearly as much as lumens.  The more the merrier with them.  Since they're a measure of the actual light output, that makes sense.  He looked up some online for me to give me a direction to go in, but when I went to look I couldn't find many in a two foot length (again sigh).  I searched Lowe's, Home Depot. Brite Ideas, and online and unless I wanted to buy a 25 count case (I didn't), the best I could find in a two foot length was at Lowe's: 1325 lumens, 4100K, 17 watts.  We'll see if they work.  (They. Will. Work. I will. Make. Them. I will Bend The Laws of Physics or WhateverTheApplicableThingHereIs with my Sheer Will and They Will Work.  Says She.  And that's all I got to say about That.)

I got them installed today.  It was great fun wiring them up and mounting them below the shelves.  The shelves are adjustable, so I can move the seedling trays and lights themselves up and down as needed.  I was a bit concerned about the "crystalized" plastic covers on the lights, but Jeff said they might not block any light, might actually throw it all around better, and they'll likely keep me from popping bulbs by accidentally spraying them when I mist the seedlings.  Bonus!

A month of planning and execution and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel (see what I did there?).  

Now comes the fun part: looking through the seeds to pick out which ones to plant.  I love looking through my seeds.  I know what will happen though ~ I'll want to plant ALL THE THINGS.  Which means MOAR LIGHTS and a BIGGER CABINET.  Somebody stop me.  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Bunch of Pictures

Future asparagus patch.  16 feet long, so I can fit 15 plants in it.  Can't wait 'til I can have 100+!

Bok choy.  YUM.

Frost damage on broccoli. None on the bok choy!

The garden so far.  Big, tasty collards in the center.  I picked a BUNCH right after I took this picture and cooked them with a hog jowl.  Now THAT's southern.  

The white mountain on the right foreground is my Black Giant tomato.  It's still hanging in there with a couple dozen green tomatoes on it despite many freezing nights.  Three down to 24 degrees.  It's wrapped with one 25' string of incandescent C7 Christmas bulbs and an entire 12'x24' section of heavy duty floating row cover.  I'm hoping for a few ripe ones, enough to save seeds from (this was my absolute favorite tomato this year and seeds are hard to find).  And Christmas tomatoes would be nice...

Stonehead cabbage.  The best looking cabbage in the garden.  Others I have planted:
Late Flat Dutch, Early Jersey Wakefield, Mammoth Red Rock, Red Acre, Golden Acre.   The others are rather long-stemmed so far, too long to hold up a head of cabbage.  We'll see what they turn out to look like in a few months.  But so far, the Stonehead is winning the race.

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