Beginning Again

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Have you ever looked out at your garden and wished you could start all over with what you know now and make the whole thing again? I’ve done a couple garden remodels over the years but this season I’m putting in a brand new vegetable garden in a new-to-me gardening spot and having a lot of fun with the process.

I decided right away to use raised beds. After shopping around for a while, I’m going with the Vego raised beds. Here’s what their website has to say about the material the beds are made from

highly corrosion-resistant steel substrate, hot-dip-coated in a specialized layer of Zinc, Aluminum, and about 3% Magnesium. While Aluzinc is quite impervious, the addition of Magnesium to this formula revolutionizes the metal’s ability to resist corrosion, especially on cut or raw edges. Over time as a cut edge of the metal is exposed, the Zinc and Magnesium work together to form a protective film, sealing the exposed steel substrate and protecting it from rust and corrosion.

I’ll be reporting back on how they do through the seasons but I have to admit, they look nice now.

Beginning to layout the new container garden

The majority of the beds in my current plan are 17″ deep, but you can see a few of the 32″ round beds for comparison. The beds are going straight onto the grass (and weeds) but they’ll get cardboard underneath before they are filled with the closest thing I could find to the ingredients of Mel’s Mix of Square Foot Gardening fame. Supply chain issues have come all the way to the garden this year but I think the mix will be close. I’ll let you know how it performs.

Garden layout design where we’re starting

The black line shows the 20’x22′ space that has been fenced off for the vegetable garden. The grey boxes at the top represent the door. Green squares are the rough shape of where the garden boxes will go. The white boxes will be covered in cardboard and a thick mulch.

What are you doing differently in the garden this year? Please share what experiments you have planned and what will be new in 2022 in your garden.

Just 80 Pounds of Potatoes to Go

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20 Lb Box of PotatoesThere was certainly no danger of me winning the 99 Pound Potato Challenge with this year’s ‘Rose Gold’ crop even though it is a new Personal Best for us here in the Dirt to Dinner garden. In 2010, we harvested 20 lbs of potatoes from a fifteen square foot raised bed and this year we managed the same weight of harvest in only nine square feet. That’s almost an extra pound of potatoes harvested per square foot in 2011. And this patch of potatoes also produced flowers and potato berries that were harvested so that we can experiment with growing from seed.

The ‘Rose Gold’ potatoes were planted March 29th and harvested July 19th, 112 days later. They were planted in new ground that started out as a compost pile and was covered in a layer of rice straw and top soil. Potatoes were hilled to just over 24″ with alternating layers of straw and potting mix. They could have been hilled much deeper. Vines were over four feet tall and some stolons grew at least two feet long. With their excellent taste and this respectable harvest, ‘Rose Gold’ potatoes will probably gain a spot in our deep hilling trials this fall or next spring.

Rodent Teeth Marks?Unfortunately, I was not the first one to harvest the ‘Rose Gold’ patch. Just the other day the dog was chasing something and digging along the edge of the patch. I shooed her away and went back to watering the tomatillos. But today in that corner, I found at least six potatoes that were very strangely shaped and clearly no longer at their full weight when it came time for the count. Do squirrels eat raw potatoes? Who eats raw potatoes, can climb the fence into the yard and is faster than a streaking Labradoodle? Those potatoes started fist-sized, if you have small hands like me, and a good chunk of them has definitely been chewed off!

Potato vines starting to die backThe ‘Rose Gold’ potato vines were brown and fallen over and mostly dried up so I knew they were ready to harvest. I might have liked to allow the potatoes a few weeks undisturbed in the soil to harden their skins for storage but I pulled the patch before any more unauthorized feasting took place. I have two more patches and several potatoes in bags growing in that area. The patch shown here was planted April 6th and contains a broad mix of varieties for the Great Potato Grow Out Project.  The bulk of the varieties still have lots of mostly upright, green vines. They wilt in hot weather but with water and evening cool they stand most of the way back up again.  Except for the plant in the bottom right corner.

Potato vine finished dryingPotato varieties grow for a unique number of days before they finish setting tubers and the vines die back. Some early varieties are ready in as few as 75 days. The ‘Red Thumb’ potatoes have been the first in this trial to be ready for harvest at about 90 days. This vine is a ‘Caribe’ potato that is done growing and I plan to pull these potatoes very soon before anyone else starts to harvest them for me!

Up the Bean Pole


White Emergo Pole Beans

White Emergo Pole Beans

Remember that crazy thing we did this winter with a dozen or more varieties of peas? Well, I think it’s happening again, this time with beans. White beans, black beans, heirlooms, perennials and beans with packaging in languages I can barely understand. Ever wonder what the opposite of monocropping would be? Stop by and I’ll show you.

We like green beans, especially if Chinese sauces are involved. But most of these beans are intended for drying. This winter they will turn into chili and baked beans and hearty soups.

Tarahumara Black Bean Trellis

Sprouting Tarahumara Black Beans

Some of the beans are heirloom black beans traditionally grown by the Tarahumara. We are trying both the bush variety and the pole beans. They are used to a very dry climate and I initially over-watered the bush beans giving them “chlorosis” which is a yellowing of the young leaves that occurs when you give them so much water that you actually wash away some of the nutrients they need for photosynthesis. Oops! I mulched them with some Happy Frog and cut back on the water and they seem much happier now. It helps that it’s not over 90 degrees any more.

Druzba Tomato and Hutterite Soup Beans

Eastern European Cousins

Another interesting variety we have in the garden right now is the Hutterite Soup Bean. Seeds of Change says these beans immigrated to the U.S. in the 1760’s with a religious group from Austria. Which sounds nice and is about all you can fit on the back of a seed pack, but the Hutterite’s have a rich and interesting history. And let’s hope they have some good soup recipes too, because these beans sound delicious so far. In homage to their Eastern European connections the Hutterite Soup beans are interplanted with a Druzba tomato, an heirloom from Bulgaria. They may actually be planted a whole lot too close for comfort. In my research about the Hutterite beans, I came across one site that recommended planting them 18″ apart. I’m lucky if mine are 3″!

Contender Bean Pods

Our First Contender

The first beans planted in the garden this year, Contenders planted on March 30th, no less, were the first ones to give us pods. I’m surprised they didn’t curl up and die from the cold. I know I nearly did! I planted a tiny patch of them, maybe a dozen plants, just to see if it was warm enough to sprout beans yet. I have been cautiously adding different varieties to the garden since mid-April when these came up looking no worse for wear. So far the list includes:


White Emergo
Christmas‘ Limas
Fagiolo di Spagna ‘Spagna Bianco
Bush Black Beans ‘Tarahumara Ejotero Negro
Hutterite Soup Bean
Swedish Brown
Pole Black Beans ‘Tarahumara Chokame
California Blackeye Pea
And I have some Fin de Bagnol seeds around here ready to slip into a spot where nothing else is growing yet.
Why didn’t I get more pole bean seeds? They are so much easier to find room for. Though I think the real question will be, how many beans of a given variety do I need to plant in order to save enough dry beans to cook something from them? I guess we’ll find out.

First Sighting of Tomato Land

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First P. Borghese Tomatoes

Principe Borghese Does It Again

We have tasted the first tomatoes of the season. Briefly, because they were small, but enough to whet our appetites for more. The first tomatoes ripe were Principe Borghese tomatoes again this year. From a plant who has been none too happy about the wet, cold spring and honestly doesn’t look very good. There are five P. Borghese plants in the garden right now and only one of them looks as robust as the ones we grew last year. I also have six more of them started in pots because last year I was wishing I had done a second planting of these guys. They are packaged as determinant plants, but some of them produced a second crop of tomatoes after we had picked the first batch. I’ll have to look up how a semi-determinant plant behaves. Maybe that’s what they really are. I grow them to make sun-dried tomatoes with them but they are delicious in salads or marinated with mozzarella and basil.

Grandma Jill's Ugly Tomato plants

Ugly? Maybe. Delicious? Absolutely!

I was sure this year’s first tomato was going to be a Grandma Jill’s Ugly. And it would have been, but the top contender was rat-napped. It was beautiful, with deep creases like many of the varieties we are trialling this year. It was almost ready, it was blushing beautifully. It needed just one more day on the vine. But the next morning all I found was a small sliver of tomato skin in the mulch beneath the plant! I was heart-broken, as you can imagine, but it looks like the plant is happy enough to try to make up for it in volume. These plants look very close to the Costoluto Genovese variety that won our fresh eating taste tests last year. The Grandma Jill’s Ugly are certainly earlier, and the plant looks sturdier, but I hope the taste will be close to what we get with the Costoluto.

Blondkopfchen Tomato Flowers

Sucker for Blondes

I’m also looking forward to trying a new (for us) yellow cherry tomato called Blonkopfchen. There are three or four of these plants in the garden, well-spaced and not, and they are easy to find because they are making multiple wide sprays of flowers as they set fruit. I’m concerned that some of the fruiting branches may break off if every bud on those sprays produces a tomato, even a small one.

Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

Not Purple Yet

Cherokee Purple Tomatoes are also doing well this year. There are only two plants in our test and they are in similar conditions except one of the plants is crowded (it’s in the Square-Foot bed) and the other has lots of space. We are also hoping to enjoy Speckled Romans and Big Rainbow Striped tomatoes. And my mother-in-law just sent over a Green Zebra which I have read wonderful things about. I’m not sure I quite understand a tomato that is still green when it’s ripe. How will I know when to pick it?  Today I’ll give it a choice spot in one of the raised beds where I can keep an eye on it. If a rat starts nibbling them, I’ll know they are ready for eating!

Square Foot Bed with Tomatoes, Peppers, Celery, Basil and Nasturtiums

"And the little one said, 'Roll over!'"

Starting Seeds – Take Two

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The Mary Washington asparagus crowns never did sprout. It’s been a long, wet, cold spring here. Maybe they are still down there thinking about it. Probably the ground was too cold and wet when I put them in and they have succumbed to rot. I will dig them up when the sweet potato slips arrive from Sand Hill Preservation and see. In the mean time, I am starting asparagus from seed. Italian seed, no less. The packet says, “Asparago Precoce d’Argentuil” which I am pretty sure means early asparagus and leaves a bit to be desired on the descriptive end. For $2.99 I figured it was worth a try. I’ve already lost this year’s growth since the 1-year-old crowns didn’t make it and I really want enough asparagus to pickle some eventually. I broke down and bought asparagus this year, planning to pickle some of it, but we devoured it.

And speaking of things being devoured. Where are my beautiful Appaloosa beans? I know I planted an entire 4′ x 4′ of them! OK, it was mid-April. And that same wet, cold rainy spring that I mentioned earlier. But still, they are in a raised bed against the house in a nice sunny spot. ONE bean came up–and something ate the top of it off. Ugh. Remind me to reseed that planter bed now that it is finally warming up. Where did I just read not to rush to plant your bean seeds because you will just end up wasting a lot of seeds? Sometimes I think I am just gardening to learn patience.

But then I have a week of eating like we just had. I have a big board in the kitchen and last weekend I wrote down everything in or from the garden that was ready for us to eat; shell peas and snap peas, potatoes, salad greens, spinach, chard, beets, green onions, strawberries, oregano, celery, chives, carrots and the last of the kale and parsnips. Then I set about eating or finding a way to preserve all of it. It was actually fun trying to ‘live off the land’ there for a little while. And the vegetable curry I prepared in the middle of the week made it all worth while.

Today I also started some of the Principe Borghese tomatoes that I love for drying. I know, it’s mid-May. But last year, I was wishing I had started a second round of them by the time the first group were finished and the tomatoes were all in the dryer. Assuming it ever warms up this year, I may want them again. I also started Bottle, Dipper and Corsican Hard-shelled gourds. It’s probably warm enough for them to sprout outside, the watermelons and pumpkins are coming up, but I figured, why torture the poor things? They can get started under the grow lights with the last of the peppers and go into the garden when it really is ready for them. Plus, I don’t know where I am going to put them yet. And there’s all those sweet potatoes yet to fit in.

And did I mention that I started 40 or so quinoa plants? I was thinking about experimenting with a quinoa and sunflower version of The Three Sisters. I got some nice looking Hopi sunflowers from Native Seeds to mix in with the quinoa. I started a couple varieties of pumpkins in the bin to shade the soil and keep the weeds down. And I’m wondering if I can grow some pole beans up the quinoa. I think the sunflowers will be strong enough. The quinoa part might be crazy. I’m still reading up on it.