Sunday, January 27, 2013

Seeds are Here! and I'm a Garden Planning Fiend!

The bulk of my seed order is in!  This is so freaking exciting.   If you don't understand this excitement then you are likely not a gardener or perhaps you live in a sunny warm place with a year round growing season.  Being in Iowa makes me long for spring and receiving and starting the seeds is one of the things that makes the winter bearable.

The Garden Situation

I have a small and shady yard which is about as lousy as you can get for growing vegetables.  I've dabbled in gardening for several years now but didn't get serious about it until I bought this house and had some land of my own to cultivate.  If I had been savvier I would likely not have bought this house with its small shady yard and as I walk around the neighborhood I always eye south-facing sunny yards with envy. On the plus side it gives me an excuse for when things go horribly wrong in the garden - it couldn't possibly be that I don't know what I'm doing;0) On a more serious plus side it's helped me to explore and experiment with smaller space gardening and be creative in my planning.
In the past I have wanted to grow as many types of veggies as I could squeeze in my small space.  However I have relatively low harvest rates from what I plant  (again I blame this on the fact that the sunniest spot in my yard gets maybe 4 hours of sunlight a day - most veggies want 6-8 but its also my sadly steep learning curve) so the more varieties I try to squeeze in my small space the less yield I get of each vegetable.  And then there are a couple vegetables that I have tried growing for a few years now for which I just don't have the knack or situation (onions, potatoes).  It's ended up being frustrating and expensive. 

The 2013 Plan

So with my situation in mind I've made some pretty significant adjustments with the goals of harvesting good yields and not spending as much money as I have in the past.  To this end, I am cutting back on the types of vegetables I'm growing and planting more of each and I made an effort to save some seed from last year so I didn't have to buy all my seeds.  I also shifted some of my beds around.  I have two 3'X6' beds that just don't get enough sun for the fruit bearing plants.  What I think is the sunniest spot in my yard is where I had my herb garden.  So... I dug all that up (saving some of the plants) and will replant the herb garden in the two 3X6 foot beds.  There should still be some room in those beds for me to also plant some greens  - Spinach, Lettuce, Chard, Kale.  I replaced the herb bed with a 2X12 foot raised bed. 

Below is the list of what I'll be planting.  As you can see I prefer to use heirlooms and Iowa-based Seed Saver Exchange is my favorite source.  However there are a couple of hybrid varieties (like the Sweet Success cukes) which I do really like and for which I make an exception. 

Seed Savers Exchange 

Empress Green Beans
A friend of mine planted these last year and gave me some seeds after my initial planting of green beans was felled by disease.  Despite being planted late they grew and produced well and were super tasty.  My friend indicated that when serving these beans to guests she had more than one say they were the best tasting they had ever had. 
Lacinato Kale
This is a big hearty Kale with dark green wrinkled leaves which is also known as Dinosaur Kale. It is my favorite for the things I like to do with kale such as using it in soups.  It's also rather striking in the garden.
American Spinach
Never grown this one before, we'll see how it goes.
Fish Pepper
I've never grown these either but was intrigued by the description of them traditionally being used a lot in seafood houses on the Chesapeake Bay which is close to my roots.  We'll see how they do for other things since Iowa is generally not known for its seafood;) And this is what I love about heirlooms - they come with stories!
Round Tomato-shaped Pimento Pepper
I love pimento peppers - they are thick-walled and sweet and can be pickled to make, well, pimentos.  The fruit in this variety is on the larger size and the plants produced really well last year.
Tolli's Sweet Peppers
Because of my lack of sun, I can't really produce bell peppers.  These are a good alternative and generally heavy producers.
Dragon Carrots
I have a serious brown thumb with root crops and these were the first carrots I was able to grow to a good size.  Plus they are so pretty (purple skin but orange inside) and yummy.
Beam's Yellow Pear Tomato
I planted these for the first time a couple years ago and they immediately became my favorite tomato. Small, yellow and pear-shaped they are sweet and delicious and the plants produce like crazy.  I am traditionally not a huge tomato-lover but these started me along the path to true love.
Gold Medal Tomato
These are some seeds that I kept from last year and did a germination test on and they still had a 90% germination rate.  They were planted in a bad spot last year and didn't produce very much but the few fruits I got from it were really yummy.  Kind of a mottled orangey pink tomato.


Sweet Success Cucumbers
This variety is reminiscent of an English type cucumber: practically seedless, long and relatively slender.  They are sweet and never bitter with a tender skin.  Great slicing cucumber.

John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds

Fukagawa Bunching Onions
#3220 Fukagawa Japanese Bunching Onions: 60-70 days 
 I grew these last year in a container and they grew great, were yummy and stayed edible in the ground almost all summer From the catalog:
"This slim, straight, non-bulbing variety is most popular with Japanese cooks. It grows easily and quickly and has a wonderful sweet taste: not at all unpleasantly hot like some scallion varieties. Best used within two weeks of harvest, these ambrosial delicacies are wonderful finely sliced fresh in garden, potato or macaroni salads, dressings, sandwich spreads, crostini toppings and dipping sauces; as a garnish atop soups, chili and tacos; or cooked in savory bread and cheese crumbles atop bubbling casseroles, California-style pizza toppings and in stir-fries. For a caramelized treat, brush these sweet, sugary beauties with olive oil and grill for two to three minutes. For an ambrosial taste: brush with olive oil and grill briefly over low heat. These sweet beauties brown in minutes because of their high sugar content. (OP.)"

Lovely Lettuce Mesclun
Haven't planted this particular mix before but the lettuce varieties included look good and cut and come again leaf lettuces have become on of my favorite staples in the garden.  Not to mention that they do really well in  my shady yard.

Random left over from last year:
Sugar Snap Peas:  Not really a real special variety but germinated well and pea pods were plentiful and delicious.




Looking at it all together makes me panicky and want to try to squeeze more in.  I will likely plant a couple more pepper plants, the bunching onions, and some more lettuce and kale in pots and half of my other 3X6 foot bed.  But what about chard and beets!  I must resist and try and focus this year.  Not get lured in by other sexy vegetables.

Is anybody else out there dealing with a similar garden situation?  What are your favorite vegetable varieties to plant in small spaces?  Any advice and wisdom to pass along?

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