Posts Tagged ‘onions’
This one’s not at the community garden. My wife did some prep in the home garden, and I planted three double rows of peas. She erected trellises, and we’ve had at least two rabbit incursions, but still there are pea plants—and they’re just covered in blossoms.
My blog has told very little of the story of my first season growing food at a community garden. To summarize: I wrote an article for the local paper about area community gardens in early spring of 2015. I rented a plot in one of those gardens—a 30’ by 30’ plot among about 100 plots.
The plot was barely more developed than a patch of meadow with a rabbit fence around it. I hauled an enormous amount of mediocre compost to the plot, laid down sheet mulch (newspapers) and held it in place with the compost. I dug as little as I could, and put in an onion patch, a 25’ double row of peas, two hills of zucchini, two hills of neck pumpkins, 60 or more tomato plants, a dozen or so sweet pepper plants, and the largest potato patch I’ve ever planted.
The community garden was 30 minutes away and I tried to manage it with weekly visits. I worked hard and got a decent harvest, and I’d planned to work it again this year. My pancreas said “No.”
The Whipple—the operation intended to remove a pancreatic tumor—is major surgery, and common problems in the first year include ripping apart your re-routed intestinal tract by over-exerting. Moving a single wheelbarrow of compost to my plot at the community garden could land me back in an operating room.
I had to give up the community garden.
Gardening close to home
Also at home, my garden sage is flowering. There’s a song Burl Ives used to sing that includes the lines, “I long to be in Texas, When the bloom is on the sage.” This isn’t the sage about which he sang, but it comes to mind.
I had learned last spring that the Union County Community Garden is only five minutes from my home. A few things distinguish it:
1. There is no charge to have a plot at this garden
2. The county uses the community garden in its work-release program. Meaning: people who have been convicted of minor crimes and sentenced to community service can help out at the garden to work down their debt to society.
3. If you’re physically challenged to work your plot, the county may assign someone on work-release to help you.
4. The county prepares your plot for you. They apply composted manure, plow the manure into the soil, wait a few days, and plow again. They leave a plot raked relatively smooth.
5. A plot at this garden is 10’ by 20’ and you can have two of them.
If I was going to work in a community garden post-Whipple, this was the one!
Photos show my progress… with a few shots from my yard as well. I hope your gardens are in good shape this year.
I posted this photo earlier on Facebook. It shows ripening black raspberries in the patch I planted last spring. Sadly, about 1/3 of the plants got seriously chewed by a wild animal—probably a rabbit or three—but there may still be enough berries this year for a batch of black raspberry jelly which is by far my favorite jelly variety.
Poppies are back in my small kitchen garden! I sowed poppy seeds in our yard year-after-year without success until, finally, a few plants emerged and matured. These came back for several years and formed an ever-enlarging clump that I blogged about once or twice. Then, one fateful day, an unfortunate lawn mowing incident ended those poppies. I’ve tried for years since to get more poppies established, and this most recent effort involves seedlings I bought in Ithaca and planted near the “rain garden” two years ago. I thought the plants died in that first year, but they sprouted last year, looked miserable for a month, and then died back without flowering. This year, they sprouted again, looked slightly less miserable, and between the two of them produced a single flower stalk. It was a gorgeous bloom with purplish reproductive parts—not the classic poppies of my earlier success. It lasted two days. I got two plants to start from seeds under lights this spring, and I’ll soon set them out in the same area.
The first items I planted at the community garden were onion sets, potatoes, and zucchinis. Later, I set pepper seedlings which you can see in the top-right corner of the photo. Things have come through transplant shock in fine shape and the garden is looking good.
I set 70 tomato plants in one 10’ x 20’ plot—well, six are actually tomatillos. 7 of the plants are Romas and I put cages around them. The rest are indeterminate varieties—all heirlooms. These I’m managing on hanging string trellises with aggressive pruning; I’m plucking all suckers. I’ve set plants a foot apart in double rows that are also about a foot apart. In just three weeks many plants are already tall enough to need support. I’ve written a few posts about how I manage tomatoes. Here’s an overview that includes links to further articles: Tomato Plant Maintenance in my Small Kitchen Garden
Here’s one of my crazy projects for the year: I’m growing sorghum. It looks a bit like corn or even more like weed grasses I usually pull from around my actual vegetable plants. I bought a small envelope of seed hoping to get a modest stand from which to harvest sap. Getting the sap is a challenge: you’re supposed to run sorghum stalks through a mill that crushes them paper thin. You then cook the sap into syrup—a lot like making maple syrup. For want of a press, I may take a hammer to the stalks and then boil them in a small amount of water, eventually straining out the solids and cooking down the liquid. I’ve read that sorghum produces copious seeds, so I may collect some for the kitchen and more to plant next year.
Just inside the gate of Ithaca’s community garden is a planting bed along the base of the fence. Many types of plants were sprouting there; my favorites were potatoes.
Sunshine and 76 degrees! What gardener wouldn’t take advantage of such a day? Except my garden was 130 miles away. I did what I could: visited Ithaca’s community garden.
I’ve visited the community garden several times this spring and had been underwhelmed at how slowly it has gotten started. Few plots had cool weather crops planted back when weather was reliably cool. Now, as temperatures occasionally spike to summer highs, cool weather crops are in and they have a race to win! If June brings hot days, Ithacans may come up short on spinach, lettuce, and peas.
Well… we do what we can. The photos provide an idea of what’s up in Ithaca.
There are patches of lettuce throughout the community garden. The colors in this patch set it apart from the others.
This allotment uses shiny CDs as scarecrows. The CDs hang above a small lettuce patch which I suspect won’t interest birds at all. However, perhaps rabbits and other large rodents have access to the community garden and have some fear of shiny baubles.
Once you’re gotten an allotment at Ithaca’s community garden, you get first dibs on it year-after-year. Some growers plant perennials and this combination is a classic: strawberries and rhubarb. While I encourage gardeners not to let rhubarb flower (flowering stresses the plant), the plants can put on a dramatic show if you let them.
Many years ago I grew a few sage plants from seed. I eventually moved the mature plants from a wooden half barrel container into an herb garden I established at the corner of my house. Those plants died over the 2013-2014 winter… they’d look about like the sage plant in this photo—clearly the product of many years’ growth. The spiky leaves in front are garlic plants started last autumn.
These are two of the prettiest rhubarb plants I’ve seen. They’re growing at the back of an allotment and garlic grows behind them in the adjacent plot.
I watched a small Burmese community work on this allotment about two weeks ago and was surprised now to see all the sprouts so far look like radishes! I learned several Burmese families rent space in the community garden and they often converge on one allotment much as an Amish community assembles to build a barn.
Here’s a pea patch managed by someone who understand peas! Often, people plant just a short row of peas with fairly loose spacing. Here, the gardener planted peas close together—from plant-to-plant within a row, and from row-to-row. As the vines climb the trellises, they’ll create a pea jungle that produces enough peas or pea pods for several meals.
Were I managing a community garden, I would enforce the following rule without mercy: PLANT NO MINT IN THE GROUND. If you grow mint on your allotment, do your neighbors a favor and plant the mint in a container tall enough that the plants never touch the ground. This one would pass inspection. I wrote about mint’s aggressive “conquer all” nature here: Protect Your Garden from Mint.
One allotment at Ithaca’s community garden had a striking row of tulips alongside a stand of mint. I loved to tulips. I wanted to fine the allotment’s owner for planting mint.
This allotment’s owner has a terrific idea: grow more in limited space by going vertical. The containers on this tower contain squash plants—way too many for the space unless they’re compact varieties. I can see a problem if this catches on. Plant skyscrapers may prevent sunlight from reaching plants on the ground… I’d hate to have an allotment neighboring a wall of these structures.
One allotment at Ithaca’s community garden is clearly as much about design as it is about growing food. The owner has fenced the space and created raised beds that spiral in from the gate. All is tidy and well-kept…
This is not a meadow. It’s an allotment at Ithaca’s community garden. Can’t say whether it’s rented and the owner is getting a slow start, or the chives are up for grabs. If you live in Ithaca and you want to grow vegetables, perhaps you’ll find an opening at the community garden.
This onion barely qualifies as “in bloom” on this Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. A few petals remain, and I assume the white bud-looking things are future onion seeds. If these grow anything like wild onions, I expect to see sprouts emerge all over this ball within a month or so… assuming I can continue to work around it—at this point, it’s kind of in the way in my small kitchen garden.
It’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day and my Small Kitchen Garden actually has something to offer! My vegetables are a few weeks behind compared to past years, but things are finally shaping up. (Understand that I had virtually no spring crops this season because my planting bed was underwater until the end of MAY.) Tomatoes have formed (seedlings went into the garden in early June) and I’m projecting the first will ripen in mid August… which is just a bit later than usual.
Peppers are the hold outs this year. While my bell pepper plants are lush and growing, my jalapeno, banana pepper, and poblano plants have stood for weeks with no apparent growth. Now that the soil is seasonably dry, I hope these struggling plants finally get it in gear.
For long-time readers of Your Small Kitchen Garden, the cilantro and dill pairing should seem familiar; it has starred in many a Bloom Day post. The dill (right) is poised to blossom, while the cilantro (left) is about to produce coriander—seeds from the cilantro plant are, in and of themselves, a popular seasoning.
My herb bed helped me through the wet spring; it was never as wet at the main planting bed so I was able to start annuals alongside the perennials I’d set in in the fall. The purple flowers—clearly in bloom—are on a volunteer that I recognized when it first sprouted; it had snuck in from my wife’s ornamental plantings. The modest blossoms stand out against the lush greens of sage, cilantro, dill, and basil.
Mint blossoms! I don’t know what type of mint it is… it started growing two years ago in a planter containing tarragon plants. I’m OK with it as long as it stays in the container. But if it escapes, I will almost certainly eradicate it; mint is aggressive about colonizing planting beds.
The broccoli was a joke this year. Because of rain, I left seedlings in their starting pots about a month too long. When I finally set them in the garden, the soil was too wet—and then it rained. When the plants finally sent up florets, each would have filled about a tablespoon. The side shoots have been even less impressive. I’ve pulled all but three of the plants, and a rabbit recently pruned two of them. Climbing beans are now emerging from the decimated broccoli area. Pretty yellow flowers will not save the last broccoli plants from a move to the compost heap.
Happiness is a tomato blossom presaging the coming harvest. (I said “presaging” because it has “sage” in it.) I’m growing 10 varieties of tomatoes this year if you don’t count the Cherokee Purples that have sprung up in the compost heap.
There seems always to be at least one interloper at my Bloom Day photo shoots. Here, a fly-looking thingy tries to steal the spotlight from a bell pepper flower. I so hope my peppers have enough growing season remaining to turn red; I’d like to make a batch of red pepper relish using only peppers from my garden.
Yep: weed. At least that’s what my wife says. I think it looks like a morning glory, but my wife assures me it’s not. Still… it really wants to be a morning glory. I suppose I should believe my wife given that these things grow as abundantly as purslane wherever we work the soil.
That’s a cosmos about to burst into song in my vegetable garden. It irks me just a little to have been planting flowers, but I planted corn this year (which I haven’t done since I was a kid). I mentioned one week during #gardenchat (a weekly gathering on Twitter of anyone wishing to discuss gardening) that I was going to plant corn, and someone assured me that if I plant cosmos with it corn ear worms will not visit my crop. I hope this wasn’t just a mean trick to get me to plant flowers… We shall see.
It looks as though either someone big took one bite out of this clump of wild onions or someone small bit off a few dozen onion stalks. Either way, it has me musing about the viability of wild onion as a ground cover. If my lawn had a dense cover of this stuff, mowing—or even just walking on it—would throw up a delicious aroma.
With spring refusing to show itself, my small kitchen garden is nearly barren. Only my herb bed and the rhubarb patches show signs of life—not even weeds have stirred where I hope to plant annuals when? Last week?
My yard, however, has awakened. Tufts of grass are green and growing. Along the margins, wild onions grow in clumps. Crocuses, lambs ears, and forget-me-nots encroach from the ornamental beds into the lawn.
I noticed a few days back that the wild onions and crocuses aren’t entirely happy. Someone seems to enjoy nibbling them. I wonder if it’s the same someone who chews the bark off of apple twigs I prune from my trees? My brother suggests deer, but I’m more suspicious of rabbits and woodchucks.
Is anyone eating your yard?
The view in early June shows onions holding their own between closely-spaced tomatoes and broccoli (left). However, even at this point, the lower parts of the onion stalks spend most of the day in shade. The stalks are the leaves, and they obviously require full sun all day for best production. (Ignore the onions on the right; they are last season’s victims of the Lost Onions method of kitchen gardening.)
My small kitchen garden is a laboratory that provides evidence each year supporting well-accepted theories of kitchen gardening. It also suggests that many alleged “best practices” are, at best, pretty good practices. This season, my success with crowding tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower reinforced my growing belief in cramming together vegetable plants to maximize your harvest. Eventually, I suppose I’ll have to think up a cutesy name for this approach so it can take its place next to “square foot gardening,” “lasagna gardening,” “straw-bale gardening,” “vertical gardening,” and “no-dig gardening,” among others.
The Lost Onion Gardening Method
Last season, I planted several rows of tomatoes in which I left only 12 inches from one plant to the next. Until late blight struck, the plants thrived. So, in the interest of growing more produce in the same space, this season I went a step further: I set plants a foot apart within their rows. I also laid out rows very close together.
Here’s a map of my small kitchen garden’s main bed in 2010. I added details only in the section I’ve described in the main article: Tomatoes, onions, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower (labeled as broccoli). The grid represents one-foot squares, with the planting bed being 14’ deep and 28’ long. When you plant this tightly, you don’t walk in your vegetable garden, you wade in it.
I left just 18 inches from one row of tomatoes to another. When that looked “airy” I planted a second pair of rows with only a one-foot gap. My rationale for putting two rows of tomato plants just one foot apart was that I’d be able to reach and manage both rows of plants from one side.
18 inches from one of the tomato rows, I planted a double row of onion sets: white and purple. 18 inches from there, I planted a zig-zag row of broccoli plants, making the broccoli row itself very crowded. The line drawing shows this section of my small kitchen garden with tomatoes on the right, then onions (with cabbage at the bottom), and then broccoli and cauliflower.
I was very happy with this layout with one exception: I lost my onions.
How my Garden Grew
After several hard frosts, I peeled back the dried up tomato plants and ripped out small broccoli trees. There, right where I’d planted sets in the spring, were young onion sprouts. A few onions are in good enough shape that I can use the bulbs. The others’ stalks will substitute as spring onions in my Chinese stir fry dishes.
Technically, I didn’t so much lose my onions as I lost access to them. The tomatoes grew like champs, eventually extending four feet beyond the tops of their 7 foot supports. The broccoli also outgrew the onions; by season’s end one broccoli plant was eight feet tall!
The onions? They kept pace with the tomatoes and broccoli for a while, but sadly, onions grow to about 20 inches. So, the season wasn’t far along before the onions were in complete shade.
Consider the onion: They have tall, slender, spiky leaves that seem well-adapted for survival in very sunny climates. They have none of those thin, flimsy leaves typical of annuals that can’t survive extreme summer heat.
Heavily shaded, only a few of the onions produced flowers. But by the time the tops should have matured and started falling over under their own weight, the tomato and broccoli plants had formed a canopy over them; I could barely wiggle between the plants to do maintenance, and no way was I able to bend down to the onions without displacing tomatoes or broccoli. I’d lost my onions.
Mid autumn is a tad late in the year to pull your first onions but these are my first. There may yet be another dozen golf-ball-sized wonders ready to harvest from my small kitchen garden.
In early November, I dismantled the tomato trellises, pulled the spent plants, and ripped out the broccoli trees. As I pulled back the weeds, lo-and-behold: there were young onion tops! These were a large onion variety, but the biggest ones in my garden are the size of golf balls. In many cases, the onion bulbs are too ratty to eat. However, the tops are tender enough to use as spring onions.
So, despite the abuse I’ve given these plants, they have forgiven me and provided some flavor to my life and my cooking. They have also taught me that onions will not tolerate crowding if it covers them in shade. When I plant onion sets next spring, they will have the front row of southern exposure… or there will be a generous three foot gap on each side of the onion bed to assure a sunny disposition.
In the category of Flower closest to my kitchen: A bell pepper plant is just starting to set fruit. I have great hopes as there are already dozens of banana peppers and a few jalapeno peppers ripening just a few feet away.
Flowers are not the point of a small kitchen garden. However, without flowers, there are very few food products a kitchen garden can produce. So, though I often joke that I’m too lazy to plant something that I won’t eventually eat, I am very fond of flowers.
I’m also very fond of the on-line gardening community. While many participants in that community discuss their food-growing activities, it seems a majority prefer the time they spend with their flower and ornamental gardens. From the photos on their blogs, I know I’d enjoy spending time in their gardens as well… but I have no flower- or ornamental-garden to offer in kind.
And then there’s Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day started by Carol over at May Dreams Gardens: on the 15th of each month, participating garden bloggers post entries about what’s abloom in their gardens. This month, I’m joining the gang. But my post isn’t about nasturtiums, pansies, cone flowers, daisies, black-eyed susans, and clematis. You won’t find such things in my garden (sure, you’ll find them in my wife’s garden, but she doesn’t blog). Still, my small kitchen garden is blooming its head off, and I’m psyched because nearly every blossom means another goody to eat growing in my yard.
In the category of Tallest herb in my small kitchen garden: Dill weed volunteers grow where seed fell from last year’s plants. This variety of dill grows about five feet tall.
In the category of Don’t get me started: If I left all the volunteer cilantro plants to grow as they please in my small kitchen garden, I’d never again have to plant the herb. However, the volunteers rarely start where I’d like them to. Shortly after they flower, the plants produce coriander: the round seeds that either plant themselves in the garden or season a variety of Asian and South American foods.
Yes, more cilantro flowers. I wanted to point out that flowers aren’t the be-all and end-all of pretty in a small kitchen garden. Several varieties of variegated lettuce are still growing where I planted them, and they provide an attractive background for this volunteer coriander factory.
In the category of Invasive, noxious herb: About five years ago, I planted a tiny oregano plant from one of those 1.5-inch-cubed nursery pots. There is now a five-foot diameter circle of densely-packed oregano shoots, and they have just started to flower. No doubt, this fall I’ll be excavating oregano roots to decrease the plant’s footprint by at least half.
In the category of Winningest weed: It’s tiny. It likes my small kitchen garden planting bed. It’s gorgeous. I had to kneel with one elbow on the ground to get close enough for the photo.
In the category of Most fun for the money: In my first year growing climbing beans, I have become enamored. The flowers look a lot like all other bean flowers I’ve grown. However, I’ve had a lot of fun tying up strings and training the bean vines to use them. The tallest climber is about to pass the end of its string and become entwined with the kids’ play set (my youngest child is 13 years old, and the play set sees play about once a year).
In the category of Another tomato blossom photo: Yes, I’ve photographed a lot of tomato blossoms over the years. This photo is a little different as it vaguely captures the components of the tomato support system I erected this year in place of tomato stakes.
In the category of It’s cool to be different: I love the round cluster of flowers that emerges at the end of a long onion stalk. Ideally, your onions don’t flower; flowering generally results in a smaller onion bulb with a short shelf life. However, crazy weather can cause flowering, and growing onions from sets can also lead to flowers. No matter. My onions are plump and I’ll use them quickly once the stalks flop to the ground. My onion flowers look grand.
In the category of: Who’s happy on Garden Blogers’ Bloom Day? And: who doesn’t have clover flowers in their yards and gardens?
In late spring or early summer, a starburst flower explodes on the top of an onion plant’s center stalk.
I hope you’re growing onions in your small kitchen garden. Onions provide a rather poor return on your gardening investment: if you don’t have much space for a garden, you’d do well to consider other plants that produce more food per square inch. However, onions put on an impressive display.
Most gardeners start with sets which are essentially tiny onions. Once planted, a set sprouts fleshy green shoots that grow a foot-and-a-half long and longer. Then, a ball starts to form with its top showing just above the soil’s surface. Through the growing season, that ball grows larger as the plant produces a starburst flower on its tallest stalk.
The flower eventually fades, leaving new onion plants ready to go in the soil. Finally, the fleshy green stalks wither, leaving only the onion itself stuck partway into the soil.
Life-Changing Onion Folklore
When I was a kid, my grandmother demonstrated a characteristic of onions that I’ve seen presented nowhere else. To impress upon you the full impact of this life-changing onion lore, I prepared a short video of the presentation she gave me those many years ago.
Please take two minutes to learn about this remarkable characteristic of onions so you can apply the knowledge in your own small kitchen garden: