GARDEN REPORT What a pleasure it is to go to the garden. It is still early and we are already picking rape and collards, sweet bell peppers and artichokes, tomatoes and cucumbers, radishes, lettuce and Swiss chard. The “Kandy Korn”, okra and Brussels sprouts are looking good and promise to give us a good harvest as well as all the other thing we have planted. Our sugar peas have given us three 4-lb pickings with more on the way. We have just put in two varieties of bush beans as well as two varieties of pole beans. GARDEN HISTORY Our raised bed garden started as a 10 bed layout inside a fenced-in area within a larger fences area around the formal 3 acre “English garden” (to discourage deer munching). As time has passed, we expanded outside the initial area into the “English garden”. Many of our readers will remember our placement of 5 long 25 foot raised beds to the north of the small garden (this area now holds our daylily garden – for eating). We then built a 40 foot cage to protect our blackberry crop. Next was another long 40 foot raised bed next to the east fence where the peas/beans/cherry tomatoes are growing today. We then put in 5 rows of fig rootings that are well on their way to becoming our fig hedge as well as a new row (raised bed) of blackberry cane and blueberry plants that also grow our Kentucky wonder pole beans this year. This winter I built a double raised bed that can be covered with a protective cloth to grow squash under to avoid the squash bore. Scattered throughout the larger garden are other areas that we have converted into productive food areas like the bush cherry hedge, the pear and apple trees and the three olive trees. We have 14 citrus trees within the garden (these are not producing any fruit this year due to the cold winter but have supplied us with abundant oranges, tangerines, grapefruit and lemons over many years). WHO ARE WE?
I am going to ask each of the 4 other members of our garden group to submit something about themselves for the next blog. I know that they will comply as they know that I will write something about them if they don’t and they will have no control over what I will reveal. Last week I was delighted to find three of our four in the garden at the same time. That is rare because we sort of show up when we find the time and don’t need to have everyone present unless there is a major task to accomplish (like hauling dirt to a new bed). This has been a learning experience which has been very productive. Every crop is not always successful but we make changes each year to improve our success. This spring garden looks to be a very successful garden.
Other related activities are our three bee hives which were started to aid in garden pollination (however most of our bees fly into the forest to gather the abundant nectar and pollen found there); the horses which give us a rich supply of compost as well as the accompanying earth worms; the chickens which we have increased by 12 this year to yield more fresh farm eggs (good big brown ones) and the chicken manure. We have enlarged the original fenced area from 10 raised beds to 16 (it is now full). It is interesting to note that we do not grow our vegetables to save money but instead do so to have access to varieties that are not available in the grocery stores or are free of most pesticides. We do occasionally use a mild insecticide like Sevin dust to control things like the cabbage butterfly but our crops are mostly insecticide free. I tried to pick the butterfly worms off the Cole plants each day but I couldn’t stay ahead of the aggressive egg-laying skill of the butterfly.
ARTICHOKES I have never tasted fresh artichokes until this spring. They are nothing like the vegetable that I find in the grocery store. A fresh artichoke has a delicate, non-bitter flavor that goes into the stem portion of the bud. I eat mine with garlic butter and will never get enough – sort of like my craving for blue crabs. We have 12 plants in the garden and I will increase this next year. Only one of our plants were old enough to produce artichokes this year but that will change next year. Artichokes are not supposed to be perennial plants in zone 8 but ours survived the winter which hurt our citrus so I am encouraged that we might be able to count on a good crop next year. In a nut shell – artichokes like water but don’t like to swim so the garden soil needs to be well drained. They grow best in areas with mild winters and cool foggy summers (like on the northern coast of California). That is not happening here along the South Carolina coast where our summers can get close to 100 degrees and winter frost can go down to 5 degrees. So what can we do to help the plant survive these extremes? First we can plant them in partial sun (or partial shade). After the final fall harvest we can cut the plants down to the ground and mulch with 4 inches of aged compost (this mulch is also recommended for the summer growth period to keep the roots cool and retain moisture). This is a subtropical plant that will produce for 5 years before it needs to be replanted. The small suckers at the base can be removed and planted elsewhere to increase the size of the crop or removed and discarded if one has enough artichoke plants. It is important to feed the plants when they are growing fast. I use fish oil but some don’t like the smell it gives the garden so any good balanced fertilizer will do (Miracle Grow). Also use a liquid high potassium (potash) fertilizer during the growth period (every two weeks) to encourage bud formation. It is recommended that the plants be spaced 4 feet apart but that will not work in the raised bed configuration so I plant mine on a 1 foot pattern and will prune to avoid overcrowding. Good luck with your artichokes. They are well worth the effort. I will discuss another vegetable that is seldom found in the southern garden which we are having good success with in the next blog – rhubarb.
This is a lot of fun and very educational for all of us in the garden. I love the fresh vegetables as well as the comradery we enjoy with ourselves and the expanded friends that visit us on the last Saturday in March to celebrate the Wisteria bloom….
BUT I MUST CONFESS THAT THE REAL REASON I GARDEN IS: