Winter Vegetable Garden, February 2018

The vegetable garden is always a year-round affair for me.  That doesn’t mean I actually harvest and eat things every month, but there is always activity.

I started these on January 18.  There are Walla Walla onions, two or three varieties of storage onions, two varieties of lettuce, leeks, and shallots.  There are also a few spinach plants in here too out of the picture frame.  Both lettuce varieties are particularly cold-hardy; later in the spring I’ll transition to different varieties that don’t need to be cold-hardy, and eventually in the summer we’ll get into varieties that are actually bolt-resistant and tolerant of heat.

 

In my 2nd seedling tray I have almost all peppers.  This one row is eggplant, and they’re up first! I sowed these seeds on January 26.

 

Outside now, in the back yard, we have some broccoli! I’m almost positive this is variety ‘Rudolph’ which is a purple sprouting type that doesn’t require vernalization, so it matures earlier, and slightly more uniformly? With more of an actual head? This is how it seems to me anyway, compared to regular purple sprouting broccoli which really doesn’t make a central head at all.  These plants are flipping beautiful, too.

yeah, this is the same plant as the first picture above. I really like this one!

I’ve had a much easier time growing Brassicaceae plants this year than ever before.  I attribute that to a couple of garden helpers you’ll meet later in this post.

On to cabbage.  This one is ready for harvest anytime! The variety here is ‘January King.’  This is my favorite winter cabbage variety – if I had to grow just one, it’d be this one.

 

I’m not sure, but this may be ‘January King’ as well. But this one doesn’t look like it’s going to head up.  I always think that when they’re at this stage, and usually they prove me wrong.  We’ll see.  It looks like ornamental kale, kind of, doesn’t it?

 

Here are some other cabbages – these came from an overwintering cabbage blend from Territorial.  So who knows what the actual varieties are.  I don’t really care; they change what’s in their blends every year anyway.

See all the evidence of something eating the lower/older leaves on these?  All these Brassicaceae family plants have that to some degree or other.  It’s about half slugs and half birds.  Earlier in the fall, before the ducks were coming over to this side of the garden, the slugs and probably cutworms were having their way.  I’m happy to report that I have done absolutely nothing I mean NOTHING to combat slugs and cutworms this year.  The ducks eat them all!

This next one is a crappy picture, sorry! But this shows the cabbage on the far right in the above photo.  You can see that it’s heading up very nicely and should be ready later this month.

 

I just harvested three plants’ worth of Brussels sprouts. I thought this one could go a bit longer so I left it. Again this is from one of those winter season mixes from Territorial.  Nordic Winter Blend Hybrid, it says.  Three different varieties apparently.  So maybe those others were earlier-maturing.

I have to put a plug here for growing these Brussels sprouts over the winter.  You might find yourself hosing off aphids a couple times in September, but then once the cool weather hits, the aphids split town and you’re golden.  It’s a million times easier to grow all these Brassicas in the cool season, I find.  If you haven’t done it, I encourage you to try next year.  Get varieties bred for the cool season, or for overwintering, sow your seed indoors in mid-June, and set plants out in August.  Watch ’em for aphids and spray with Bt for those cabbage moths.  You’ll only have to do that until the cool weather of fall comes.  They don’t need any protection from freezes, I promise.

 

Here’s my helper Ramona, digging slugs and worms out from under the 2″ layer of wood chip mulch in there.

These plants are tall enough that she can easily walk under and among them and keep everything tidy.  Sure, she nibbles a leaf now and then, but mostly the ducks are after insects.  I feed them grain every day, too.

 

These next plants are the cauliflower.  In this pic, the large plants in back are the ones I’ve been calling my “ornamental cauliflower”  — they were started from seed in July of 2016.  Yes, 2016 and that is not a typo.  They just didn’t flower – not in the summer, not in the winter, not in the spring… I think it’s just a combination of a lot of factors that prevented whatever triggers their flowering process.  Compare their size to the plants in front, which were started in June 2017.

 

And it turns out, one of them is actually a broccoli! I had no idea.  It can’t be purple cauliflower because I didn’t have seed for that in 2016.

 

This is the stalk on the purple broccoli plant above.  Can you believe that? This plant was originally more upright, but a few weeks ago it fell over.  And of course kept right on going…

 

Here are the trunks of the other two plants.  If you look closely you can see the plants’ first year of growth mapped out in the leaf scars.  From the bottom of the stalks, it goes from summer, then to winter, and then summer again where the scars are more spaced out.

 

I have really loved these plants and I’ll be sad to harvest them.  I might actually try just cutting the flowers and leaving the plants, to see just how long they’ll go.  Will they bolt eventually? Will they just keep growing? Are they truly perennial or will they someday actually die? I find them quite fascinating and beautiful.

 

Lastly we have nearly 300 garlic cloves planted in this bed.  Well, cloves-turning-into-heads.  The ducks nibbled our garlic quite a bit last year too, but they haven’t done that this year.  I really do think it’s because of the wood chips.  A few of them are a little smashed – that’s because Ramona landed directly on them the other day when she flew over. The ducks roost at night in the coop with the chickens, and when I let all of them out in the mornings, the ducks fly over the 5′ fence out of the chicken run and into the garden, where they hang out all day until I let them go back and roost at night.  They’re not super accurate fliers, so a smashed garlic plant on occasion is just part of the deal.

 

Next week I’ll be starting my tomatoes indoors.  This year, I’m trying a completely new-to-me thing with them: grafting! You can bet I’ll document that whole process here.

That’s it for the vegetable garden highlights.  This has been a remarkably mild January, and overall a zone 9 winter, but mild winters aren’t really a requirement for winter gardening in the Northwest; you can still grow brassicas and garlic over the winter in zone 7.  That said, here’s hoping February turns out to be as kind as January has been!

Backyard pain points

Frankly, most of my backyard is sort of painful to me at the moment.  I’ll show you some of it and try to explain what my goals are for these areas.  Then in a couple of years or so we can come back to this post and feel like something good has happened, I hope…

First let me give you a sense of the layout.  My super awesome stepdad did a really cool thing for me when we first moved in to this house: he drew up a to-scale plan of the backyard, and gave me a roll of flimsy so I could map and re-map the garden each year.  So here’s this year’s map, more or less:

 

I did make a little key of existing permanent plants (at least I don’t *think* I’m going to move any of these anytime soon):

A – Eucryphia ‘Nymansay’ planted 7/2017
B – Acca sellowiana planted 10/2017
C – Clerodendrum trichotomum was there when we moved in
D – a couple of berry bushes.  One is Jostaberry which I’d like to keep there, the other is a native blackcap (Rubus leucodermis) that I’d like to keep but might not, because it’s really brambley
E – Quercus hypoleucoides planted 9/2017
F – Lagerstroemia ‘Natchez’ planted 10/2017
G – Pear, red Anjou, semi-dwarf, planted 3/2017
H – Chocolate Persimmon planted 3/2017
I – Pear, Flemish Beauty, full dwarf, planted 3/2017

By the way this whole yard was just lawn grass pretty much when we got here.  There was a scraggly butterfly bush against the east/back fence, a very young and frighteningly fast-growing ponderosa pine right behind the Clerodendrum, and a pair of ailing rhododendrons right up against the back of the house to the left of the patio.  Those have all been removed.

The first thing we did was establish all those rectangular vegetable beds.  I completely or mostly ignored everything else for the first couple years.  As you can see by the planting dates above, this year has been the beginning of anything to do with trees and woody shrubs.

Here’s a photo from May of 2016.  Note all the barriers.  I hate that look but the zooming of the dog necessitates it.

May 2016

So here’s what’s painful: I have come to realize that I can’t stand looking at this fence anymore.  Photo from today:

The back fence, from the center of the yard.

So that’s why I planted that Acca there, which you can sort of make out to the right of/behind the largest cauliflower plant.  I have three or four additional plants that I want to put along this fence with it.  Those two in pots at right are up for consideration; one is a Callicarpa and the other is a Leptospermum. I’m undecided still, and there are others in the running as well.

By the way that largest cauliflower plant there? I have to take a moment to geek out over that plant. OMG I love it. It is 15 months old and has not flowered.  I think maybe it will in early spring.  I don’t care — I think it’s just a gorgeous plant.  Maybe I should plant a hedge of these! Ha! No seriously, it’s worth considering using them in the landscape if they’re going to be like this.  They can get by without supplemental water in the summer if they’re mature enough, they do like rich soil but don’t absolutely require it, and if they flower, you can just eat that and let the plant keep going.  They’ll resprout from the stem if you cut them off at ground level.  And near as I can tell they’re absolutely perennial.

15-month old cauliflower

I guess it’s not ALL painful back here.  But wait, it does get worse…

Just ugggghhh

The above picture is what it looks like when you walk out the back door onto the patio and look left, which is north.  There is just NOTHING good happening here.  The rain barrel is the most obvious eyesore and I really don’t know what I want to do with it.  Are these even useful at all in this climate? I’m doubting that.  I think at the very least, I’ll move it around to the north side of the house so it’s invisible.  We also haven’t yet finished painting the house – this is the original color.  The dark color you might have seen in other posts is the new color and we ran out of time before the rain came.  Ugh.

The white trellis thing somehow ended up there – it was one of three of these that were attached to the patio roof support posts.  We had no love for them so they got removed and this one was probably being used as a dog-fence-garden-protector over there.  This is reminding me I need to deal with it in a better way.

To the right of the rain barrel, toward the fence from the hydrangea, is Quercus hypoleucoides.  Ok, it’s the one good thing.  You can barely see it in the photo above, so here:

Quercus hypoleucoides, planted 9/2017

As you can imagine, this is going to really change this scene eventually.  Q. hypoleucoides is an evergreen oak which will eventually get to 30 feet or so (reports vary considerably).  I planted this here because I absolutely LOVE it but also because I want it to obscure my view of my neighbor’s house (and his mine, why not?), to provide afternoon shade for the part of the garden to the east of the oak, and because I love the little willow-esque brown leaves it drops on the ground year-round, and the bright shade underneath that is due to the white undersides of the leaves. There are several 10-year-old specimens around a very interesting parking lot on NW Vaughn between 19th and 20th.  Another, about 20 years old, lives at approximately 915 N Shaver, and someone has a couple more in their amazing garden on NE 11th just north of Knott.  I looked at all of these (and looked on Google maps street view over the years) before selecting this tree.  I love all of these trees in all stages of growth that I’ve seen.  This plant was recommended initially to me by James Wilson of Garden Stories.  I bought it from Xera Plants this summer.

The Hydrangea quercifolia came with the house, as did two large rhododendrons that used to be right on top of it; you can almost see where they were by the way this thing has grown – we removed them this summer because for a location so prominent, they were not the right plants.  Big, coarse, dark leaves, tons of lace bugs and aphids, messy after flowering, very short season of interest… it feels very bare without them, and I miss having plants here, but I don’t miss the rhodies themselves.  Of course, they were also hiding all these atrocities, like the AC unit and the cat shelves and the rain barrel.

Speaking of the AC unit that’s actually the hands-down worst thing going on here.  It’s LOUD and I HATE IT but Certain People really can’t tolerate heat, so I have to live with it.

The Plan, then:

  1. Plant something dense and somewhat soft right where those hostas are, to shield the eye and ear from the AC unit.  I might also put something of a wooden fence on the near side of it.
  2. Prune the hydrangea to encourage more up-ish growth which will actually be possible now that the rhodies are gone.
  3. Move that rain barrel out of sight!
  4. Wait for the oak to grow.
  5. Plant some other stuff along that fence so I don’t have to look at it either. I have a nice Pittosporum tobira ‘Variegatum’ in mind, and an Azara microphylla.

Speaking of that fence, here’s another pain point.  In the following photo I’m standing near the oak, looking east toward the Clerodendrum:

Cucurbits on fence, dog fence and (potted) Azara down in front here

For the last three years I’ve grown squashes and things on this fence, and I rather like the look of it in summer, but I’ve finally decided I’d rather give that up and have a mostly evergreen hedge-border type of thing here.  That means that eventually I’ll have to shorten these vegetable beds to make room.  I’m fine with that.  I’m actually fine with completely rethinking the whole layout of vegetable beds.  Anyway, I’ll start with a couple of Leptos along here (actually you can see them in their pots with their white tags; they came from Xera Plants as well), and go from there.  The further-away one is L. lanigerum and I’m hoping it’ll provide some afternoon shade for that Jostaberry which needs it, and at the same time be a nice focal point in that spot.

I think about focal points a lot.  And what tends to happen is I get too focused on them and end up not being able to decide how to handle them.  The result is that of all the main focal points that exist back here from the patio vantage point (a total of maybe 5), there is only ONE that has a suitable plant in it, and that’s the Acca.  So I have some decision-making to do! And please feel free to make suggestions! No really.  I need help here.

The more I think about this, the more I want to change the rectangular vegetable bed arrangement.  That’s going to be a lot of work.  But more and more I’m yearning for a garden that is nicer to be in, rather than just do the hyper-productive edible garden thing.  Let this post be the first, in what will probably be a long process… Thanks in advance for hanging in there with me.