Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Not Enough Hours...

I've been commiserating with Kevin over at Seriously Good about not having enough hours in the day for cooking and writing and working. Well here's a news flash: It's Spring, and food needs to be planted.

What you're looking at here is a view north on our corner lot in the District of Columbia. I started working this bed with a stirrup hoe yesterday. It was thick with chickweed, so there was a matt of roots. The stirrup hoe is just what it sounds like: a metal piece shaped like a stirrup at the end of a long handle. The stirrup jiggles back and forth, so you can force it an inch or two under the soil level. Jiggling the blade along it cuts weeds (or last year's plants) off at the roots. No need for turning the soil too deeply and disturbing all those worms and micro-organisms that are so beneficial to the soil.

I then spread a thin layer of well-rotted compost over the bed and work that into the soil. Then I come back and level out the soil with my hands. I suppose I could use a rake. But it feels so good to sift the soil through your hands and break the small clods with your fingers. Plus, there's always broken glass and stones that need to be picked out of the beds and pitched.

I've laid a piece of clothesline down the middle of the bed, dividing it roughly in half. I use two lengths of oak trim from the scrap pile to measure small squares for planting individual seed varieties.

This particular bed falls into shade around noontime this time of year, so I planted parsley and chervil at the shadiest end. The bed will get more sun as the days pass. There are large squares for beets, frisee endive and mizuna, smaller squares for arugula, Treviso radicchio, cilantro, Tokyo Bekana and chervil. Finally I reserved two very large rectangles for red giant mustard and ragged edge mustard. We love braised mustard greens around here, and I'm going to make more of an effort to see that we have some growing all season long. Same for arugula. We crave arugula in our salads. We have a small patch that survived the winter. So that marks the first year we've had arugula year 'round.

Many of these seeds came from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. That's a company local to Virginia, so its offerings are more oriented toward our part of the world.

I've given up trying to label the plants in my plots. Last year I saved yogurt containers. These I cut into wide strips and labeled with a permanent marker to identif my seed beds. But the writing always seemed to fade in the weather. A farmer friend suggested using scraps of Venetian blinds. But what I do now is simply plot out everything in a spiral-bound notebook. Whenever I need to know what I planted, I just go back and look in the book.

Let's see. Red giant mustard matures in 43 days. That would mean braised mustard greens around May 3. I can hardly wait.


Anthony said...

I love to hear about gardeners using compost. Sounds like you're in the thick of your spring gardening. I'm jealous.

And you may want to laminate your garden plan so that you can leave a copy out by the garden. I'm going to try that this year because my printed plans always get covered in dirt and mud.

Have a great growing season.

Ed Bruske said...

I guess I forgot to mention that not having enough hours in the day means not having a real plan. I grab my box of seed packets out of the fridge, try to sort them according to what should be planted NOW, then scribble the results in my notebook. Since I'm always rotating things during the year and planting in succession, and keeping notes on the "plan" as the months go by, I'm not sure how a laminated plan would work for me. I do notice, however, a lot handwashing going on in between seed packets and writing in the notebook. Maybe that's why mine isn't all covered with soil.

Mary said...

I'm so happy for you that planting season is coming. My yard has 3 feet of snow and we've got our house up for sale, so there'll be no vegetable garden this year. Sigh. Hopefully by next year at this time we'll have a bigger yard and can expand our plot.

Until then, I'll need to live vicariously through people like you. I'll be looking for your first mustard greens of the year post.

Ed Bruske said...

I'm guessing you live somewhere north of us. I promise to let you know the minute we cook some mustard greens, if you tell something more about what's happening in your neck of the woods.

El said...

Mustard, yum! But then I am a huge fan of anything that one can grow in the garden. Do you get flea beetles in your mizuna et.al.? Ours get pretty lacy, but my answer to the problem (and all things, really) is to succession-plant the heck out of all the crops.

I'll look forward to your progress. It seems you're almost a month ahead of us, which really should be no surprise. I do so agree about how the gardening season eats up time devoted elsewhere. My house is a mess between April and November!

Ed Bruske said...

I have to say we have had very few pest problems. Except last year I was stunned to see--and actually witness first hand--the damn sparrows and starlings munching away on my spring seedlings as they came out of the ground. Literally, I would walk out and see all kinds of stems sticking up, but the cotelyden leaves competely gone. Also, the Brussels sprouts were planted a bit late and took forever to bear fruit. By that time they were pretty tired, and were covered with beetles. But I'm convinced that's because they were simply not very vital anymore.
This year I've purchased row cover to keep the birds away. We'll see how that works.

Thanks so much for visiting!

Christa said...

Have you had any luck growing cilantro? I tried it a few times, but it always died quickly in our summer heat. Same with chervil. Have you tried any of the "slow bolt" varieties?

Idaho Gardener said...

Dear Ed,

Get them mustard seeds in the ground. I will be out to visit soon. Learned to eat mustard greens when living in So. Maryland. Love it!