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Autumn Shuts Down my Small Kitchen Garden

I had a Christmas cactus when I was a kid, and it never produced a blossom. The one in this photo started as a four-segment branch from my daughter’s plant just two years ago. It blossomed that first autumn, and it blossomed more last November. It’s about to put on a show unlike any I’ve seen a Christmas Cactus produce. The secret, I think, is to make sure the plant knows summer has ended; apparently, cooler days encourage the plant to blossom.

Though Your Small Kitchen Garden blog has been catching up with a backlog of posts that didn’t get written during the growing season, a few things have come up recently and I felt like sharing them.

Christmas Cactus Knows it’s Cold

It has nothing to do with kitchen gardening, but I’ve gotten a little excited about my Christmas cactus. This started two winters ago as three or four leaves broken off of my daughter’s plant. Even in its first year in my care the plant flowered, and last autumn it produced a couple of blossoms. This month the plant has produced several dozen buds– I’m told in response to the lowering temperature. It’s about to put on quite a show!

Do you have a Christmas cactus that never seems to blossom? Move it near a window—especially one in a room that you don’t heat thoroughly in winter. The plant responds to cooler days and nights by producing buds.

Container Gardening Lima Beans

A pair of lima bean pods hangs in front of a baluster below the handrail on my deck. Recently I wrote a guest post for a friend about growing lima beans in containers.

I grew lima beans on my deck this summer. I’d never before grown lima beans, and I was quite pleased with the experience. What’s more, I had the pleasure of being a guest blogger for my friend Kerry Michaels over at About.com’s Container Gardening where I explained how I set up my planter and how it worked out. Please have a look. While you’re at it, poke around a bit. Kerry writes about growing stuff in containers which is small-space gardening at its extreme.

The Final Harvest from my Small Kitchen Garden

One especially poignant task for me lately was spending a half hour harvesting the last of everything that looked edible in my small kitchen garden. We’ve had several frosts, one of them heavy enough to kill off the tomato, pepper, and winter squash plants. Still, fruits have held on and continued to ripen. But with November looming large, there was growing danger that we’d have cold enough to freeze the produce.

Most of what you see in my “final harvest” photo is peppers, but there are decent layers of green and semi-ripe tomatoes beneath them. I haven’t decided what to do with any of these, but if I don’t decide soon, enzymes will do the job for me and I’ll be adding the lot to my compost heap.

If I get myself in gear, I’ll preserve the season’s last chili peppers by canning, freezing, or dehydrating them. The semi-ripe tomatoes will finish ripening and end up in pasta sauce or curry, and the green tomatoes will end up as green tomato mincemeat for pies.

My gardening is far from finished. I’m still setting perennial herbs into a planting bed I created this summer, and I need to clean up my vegetable beds. There are trellises and stakes that I’d like to move into the garden shed before snow falls. Sadly, facing these tasks emphasizes for me just how much I despise yard work. I’m a kitchen gardener because my small kitchen garden produces better vegetables than I can buy anywhere… and because for an initial investment of about $30 each season, I manage to grow several hundred dollars worth of fruits and vegetables.

By October, my excitement for gardening has worn away and I’m ready to get on with winter. Fortunately, winter recharges me and I emerge from it full of energy and enthusiasm for the next season’s kitchen garden.

 

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7 Responses to “Autumn Shuts Down my Small Kitchen Garden”

  • Pass me a peck of those peppers, please!

  • Natalie:

    Hello, I just stumbled on your blog and really enjoyed reading it. I am planning to convert most of my small, narrow backyard into raised beds and was wondering, just how large is your small kitchen garden? I don’t have much space, perhaps only about 18′ by 20′, but I would like to be as self sufficient as possible. Thank you!

  • admin:

    Natlie:

    Thank you for visiting. My main planting bed is a traditional in-ground 14′ by 28′ – just a little larger than the space you have. As far as maximizing your production, I’m not convinced raised beds are the way to go. In an 18×20 space, you might reasonably fit 3 four-foot beds that are each 16′ long. That would leave clearance of 2 feet on each side of each bed and at one end of the beds. This would give you 192 square feet of planting space while locking 168 square feet into pathways in which you can never grow food crops.

    If you prepare the entire 18×20 foot area, you create 360 square feet of planting space. Granted, you’ll need to walk among the plants to tend them, so you can never plant every square inch in a season. However, with so much more tillable space and some creative planting, you’ll be able to fit way more into the 360 square feet than you can fit in 192 square feet.

    I’ve written pros and cons about building raised beds versus gardening directly in the ground, and I’ll post the articles in the near future. Please check back or subscribe to my RSS feed; upcoming posts will help you plan your new vegetable garden.

    -Daniel

  • Natalie:

    Hi Daniel,

    Thanks for your reply. The space I have is actually a brick patio, and in order to plant it, I would have to remove the bricks. That’s why I was considering raised beds — only removing some of the bricks and leaving the rest walkways. I saw another idea, however, which involves using galvanized stock tanks as raised beds. The advantage of that would be that I could try out raised vegetable beds without committing to ripping up part of the brick patio. I was thinking of punching holes in the stock tanks and raising them up a little by some bricks, just off the patio. Do you think that would be all right, or would it be better to rip out the brick? It is quite a big undertaking, so I am a little wary of it!

  • admin:

    Natalie: Wow! The brick being there changes a lot. I focused on the notion of maximizing production. But unless I was facing a severe financial crisis and working in survivalist mode, I don’t think I’d take out an existing patio. There are dozens of permutations of growing produce in your situation. Individual containers can be decorative and, in large quantities, grow a lot of produce… though watering tends to be a chore because smaller containers of soil dry out more often than larger containers do. If you like their appearance, stock tanks can work well. Note that they may be deeper than you need them to be. If you want soil to the brims (or near the brims), consider putting in a generous layer of empty plastic soda bottles (with lids on), packing peanuts, or other non-degradable, non-toxic waste before filling with soil.

    As for setting containers up on supports? For larger containers that you won’t be moving around, I vote either “no” or “higher.” With low clearance, you create shelter that may attract nesting mice, rats, and chipmunks. If the container rests on the brick, it won’t likely provide cavities for rodents. However, if the brick is uneven and the container has a raised rim on its bottom edge, then I’d set it up with five or six inches of clearance so I could easily sweep leaves from under it and scare away rodents that may be thinking about homesteading.

    In your situation, I’d explore ways to arrange a variety of planters–raised beds, pots, hanging planters, and maybe even greenwall-style planters–to grow the most I could without having to remove bricks. I had a lot of fun growing eight lima bean plants in a windowsill planter this year, and will likely grow a lima bean curtain on my deck next season. You project sounds like a lot of fun. Good luck with it. I hope you’ll visit from time-to-time and let us know what’s going on. If you’d like to share photos and a few paragraphs about it, I’d be happy to consider presenting your story in a guest post some time next year. Please keep in touch!

  • Hi,

    I wanted to let you know that Christmas cacti flower in response to shortening photoperiod, not temperature.

    If you grow a xmas cactus under a lamp that is turned on almost every evening, it will inhibit flowering! Make sure your photoperiodic plants are not near artificial light sources if you want them to flower!

  • admin:

    Daedre: Thanks for visiting and for setting the record straight. I reported that cold was a factor because I’d heard or read that not more than a month ago. Your comment sent me to Google, and the pundits are across the board on the issue. Some say it’s light, some say it’s heat, and some say it’s a combination of light, heat, and dryness. My daughter’s Christmas cactus, still in her relatively warm bedroom and in a west-facing window, doesn’t flower. This cutting from her plant, in the south-facing basement window that experiences extreme seasonal temperature changes flowers like crazy. Of course, it also experiences greater changes in the amount of light it receives–morning to night every day compared to mid-afternoon till night in my daughter’s room.

    All I can fairly conclude from my experience is: if you want your Christmas Cactus to blossom, move it to my basement window. I’d be happy to host it for the winter! Anything else I reported on the matter was hearsay.

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