Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Year Without a Summer

This was the headline on the Weather Channel the day we got back from our Hawaiian vacation, paired with a map of western Oregon.  Ah, Hawaii, where the sun shines and our family's backyard gardens are full of limes, mangoes, papayas, ginger, and plumeria.  We were spoiled to be sure, and returned rested and relaxed.  Before we left, we fit in a little more garden work:

We have some rather aggressive squirrels and realized we should plan to net our tomatoes and peppers to limit the garden pilfering.  Using some PVC pipes and brackets, we made a frame for our netting (I like to call this the "covered wagon"). Today's tip: execute this plan prior to filling the boxes with dirt, lest you find yourself un-filling the boxes.  Not so much fun.  It's also impossible to do once you've planted things, but I think our broccoli and cabbages will be safe for this year.

Aside from moving the dirt to make space, it was pretty easy: We got the thinnest PVC piping with the thickest wall (thinner pipe walls are too brittle for this use).  We then cut six-inch lengths of a wider PVC pipe - wide enough for the thinner pipe to slide into - and attached it to the sides of the boxes using a metal C-bracket.  You can forgo the PVC pipe in the bracketing and just use the metal bracket, but this gave us the flexibility to remove and replace the hoops as needed without dirt getting in the way. 

Success!  Tiny broccoli heads had already started forming...

...and check out those "guaranteed to grow" carrots.

We were feeling rather proud of ourselves.  In the last two boxes we planted basil, green onions, cucumbers, green beans, peppers, and tomatoes.  We're really excited about the peppers and tomatoes - we picked out our starts from Jeff's Garden of Eaton, a local treasure.  Jeff cultivates literally hundreds of different varieties and sells them from hoop houses at his home in addition to some local markets.  This year we picked out an heirloom sweet pepper called "Doorknob," a purple bell pepper, a grape tomato called "Sprite," and another tomato called "De Barrao Black Ukrainian."

Two weeks of Oregon's unseasonably cool summer weather later, we returned to our garden to find things going pretty well, except...

Hmmm, I'm pretty sure broccoli shouldn't look like this. 

Most fertilizers have three numbers on them - one promotes fruiting and flowering, one promotes leafy growth and thick stalks, and the third number indicates water retention and overall plant health.  It turns out that the "general garden soil" we bought for our beds had the fruiting and flowering kind of fertilizer added.  Great news for the tomatoes, peppers, cukes, and beans, but not so much for the broccoli. 

Gardening vocab of the day: bolting.  When a plant that one usually harvests for leaves or stalks starts flowering, it's no longer tasty or in some cases, edible.  With herbs (like our basil) you can pinch off the flowers as soon as you see them, but with broccoli...well, at least it's sort of pretty.


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