Monday, February 27, 2012

Non garden related posting...

I promise i will never do this again.

But.... here is a link to an article from "The Onion".

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Varietal Comparison, Winter Harvest

I wanted to take a brief minute to compare two garden crops on the basis of variety

For many years, I was of the belief that, while the particular variety of a crop you grew mattered, it didn’t matter as much as the quality of your soil, the care taken to provide ideal conditions, the vagaries of weather and pests, etc. in terms of your final yield. Obviously, such a belief flies in the face of seed catalog promoters, university extension services, and the process of species domestication generally but, if there is any trait common to organic homesteader types, it is a willingness to discount conventional wisdom in favor of gnostic revelation as regards science. I was/am by no means immune to the siren call of cheap, and have on numerous occasions favored inexpensive seed when planting my garden.

Now, this is by no means uniformly a bad thing. Though quite stringy, the grocery store pinto beans I planted last year were quite high yielding and tasted great, while the fancy yellow fleshed stringless French beans were terrible. Likewise, the ‘Hales Best’ muskmelon seed purchased for $1.29 grew healthy vines and fruit, but said fruit were not as flavorful as the Charentais melons grown from seed that cost a staggering $2.79. Needless to say, the amount of work, time and resources invested in producing a melon far outweighs the extra buck and a half that the different seed cost, so it PAYS to grow good varieties. Shocking, I know.

These experiences and others have led me to change my outlook somewhat, but this year I did a little more scientific experimentation and have decided to grow two varieties each of chard and spinach at the same time.

Here are the results…

Chard “Bright Lights” (on the left) vs. “Fordhook Giant” (on the right)

Spinach “Oriental Giant” (on the left) vs. "Bloomsdale" (on the right)

As you can see, the chard varieties are pretty different. While the Bright Lights does have interestingly colored stalks, the Fordhook Giant leaves and plants (not shown) are so much more productive that it hardly seems worth it not to grow them instead. Just for a sense of scale, here is our friend Nicole holding some chard leaves.


Here are some nice pictures of harvested vegetables from the past month or so. I'm quite proud of them.

Unfortunately, I don’t like these turnips very much. They aren’t very sweet. You know, that reminds me of another variety related comment. Don’t buy Shogoin turnips. Well, don’t buy them if you like turnip roots. They are passable greens, if you like such tings. I found them to be a bit fibrous as greens and kind of bitter as roots. I’ve had great experience with Hakurei turnips on some farms I’ve worked on, but the seeds are fairly expensive, and since these were also all white roots I thought it might be similar. They aren’t. Though highly productive and large, vigorous plants, the end result of growing Shogoin isn’t worth it to me.

Just if you want to know, the cabbage is “Early” (not sure if it’s early round dutch, jersey wakefield or what, the tag at the nursery just said Early). The carrots are Red Core Chantenay. The beets are Detroit Dark Red. Anyone who has spent much time looking at seeds will immediately recognize these varieties as being among the most common, cheapest seeds available. The carrots, however, I chose because of the Chantenay’s purported ability to grow in heavy soils, an advantage in the black clay I have in my garden. However, I have added so much compost, and the particular bed I grew in this year is quite sandy, that I think I would have been better off growing a longer variety, like Kuroda or Danvers, as it would likely have done well and produced more. Nevertheless, the yield and quality of these carrots is perfectly acceptable and I am happy with them for the most part.

I think the biggest determinant of yield in carrots this year has been my thinning regime. I have two carrot beds right now, a winter bed and a spring bed. The winter carrots were planted in late October, while the spring bed were planted in late January. Maybe that’s more like Fall and Winter according to the calendar, but in Austin we don’t really have seasons according to the calendar. Anyways, the winter bed (sandy soil mentioned above) was not thinned as aggressively as the spring bed. The carrots in the winter bed consequently have relatively tall tops (possibly also due to over fertilization with nitrogen), while the roots are sort of scrunched together. I thinned the spring bed furiously in reaction to the overcrowding in the winter bed, spacing each carrot about 4 apart compared to the inch and a half or so in the winter bed. The tops are much shorter and thicker, while the roots are already overtaking some of the winter carrots, despite having been in the ground for 3 months less time. This is in the heavy clay soil, too!


And finally, the chickens in their new budget chicken tractor, and some awesome bread I made using some wheat that I malted in the fall.
The budget chicken tractor is made of old scraps of chicken wire and some bamboo stakes that I used for tomato supports last year. It allows me to put the chickens out in the garden or yard without having to worry about them getting into stuff I don't want them in. It is about 5 or 6 feet long and is fit to the width of the garden beds. This allows me to put the chickens onto a recently harvested section of the bed, where they can scratch around for the bugs and little weeds, while fertilizing the top layer of soil. They especially love to eat baby snails, which are very nutritious for them and a pest that I would like to keep somewhat under control. I like snails, and don't want to exterminate them, but some predator pressure is good. I put the chickens on the first bed for several days after I removed the spent broccoli and boc choy, before planting tomatoes. So, we'll see what happens.