Plants On Deck 2010

In case you were wondering what’s on deck:

  • Genovese basil (2)
  • Gold Nugget cherry tomatoes and Scarlet Nantes carrots
  • lettuce (Black Krim and Ashley), cilantro, and parsley
  • Des Bagnols (4 French filet bush beans) surrounded by lettuce and Scarlet Nantes carrots
  • purple bean with lettuce
  • Blauhide pole beans surrounded by lettuce
  • True Lemon cucumber with Swiss chard and lettuce
  • Black Brandywine tomato and lettuce (added 5/23)
  • Isis Candy cherry tomato with oregano
  • Minnesota Midget muskmelon with lettuce
  • Charentais muskmelon with lettuce and an orange cosmo
  • Thai bird chili
  • poblano pepper
  • Boothby Blonde cucumber with Swiss chard
  • pepper cress, tarragon, thyme, chives and orange cosmo

It’s Not Beets

As much as POD loves dirt, beets, which taste like dirt, aren’t well-loved in the kitchen below the little blue deck. (A side-by-side dirt/beet comparison hasn’t been recently conducted, but stories abound about a certain dirt-eating childhood misadventure.)

Swiss Chard Seedlings
Swiss chard seedlings say: "Hi, hi!"

Swiss chard (a beet without the beet), however, is well-revered on deck and well-received below deck.

The tasty greens flourish along red and white (and sometimes orange, yellow, and pink) stalks and can stand in for spinach in just about any recipe. Planted on April 20, these red Charolette (POD was unable to resist a chard named Charolette) and white Erbette seeds sprouted less than a week later. Both are touted as heat resistant and are likely to last through most of the summer.

Like just about anything planted in a container, chard prefers a soil that’s rich in organic matter and a regular feeding schedule. They’re a lot less picky than other veggies, though, and can probably tolerate last year’s (sterilized) and re-enriched soil. A few tablespoons of coffee grounds were mixed in for a little extra nitrogen kick. Well-watered soil is absolutely key for keeping chard from becoming too bitter during the hot summer months. It can tolerate partial shade, which is great, because POD sun allotment can be rather erratic.

Don’t be surprised if more than one delicious sprout emerges from the ground: each seed pod may contain multiple seeds. Here’s where it gets tricky: who likes thinning plants? It’s murder, right?!

Fortunately, chard is pretty hardy so many duplicates were carefully pinched from the soil and replanted elsewhere (alongside the cucumbers, for example). Chard doesn’t mind a little crowding (which makes it an excellent container vegetable) but somehow you’ll have to bring yourself to thin to 3-4″ between plants.

Since you can harvest chard at any point, POD plans on yanking several out, roots and all, when they’re at the leaf lettuce stage. They’ll taste great in a salad and this should leave plenty of room for the remaining plants to produce larger, more traditionally-sized stalks. Then, simply harvest the outer stalks as necessary, allowing the inner shoots to grow rapidly to maturity.

Delicate Roots

True Lemon Cucumber SeedlingLast week we had lows dipping into the 30s and this week we hit 91 degrees. The farmer’s tan has commenced.

This afternoon the remaining pots were prepped (emptied of old dirt, cleaned, sprayed with foul-smelling organic anti-fungal, lined with a couple inches of evil styrofoam, filled with organic dirt, pre-watered, and topped with a tomato cage) and planted.

Very happy Boothby Blonde and True Lemon cucumbers from Happy Cat Organics have taken up residence on the little blue deck and have been surrounded with one orange cosmo each (to help attract bees), Swiss chard, and lettuce.  Rather than using the horribly ugly jury-rigged bamboo trellis that was employed last year, POD sprang for a few more tomato cages to enclose the cucumbers and melons. One suspects it’ll be easier to train the climbers with the additional support.

For those of you who started your cucumbers or melons from seed, you’ll want to carefully transplant them, disturbing the roots as little as possible. (Peat pots can be planted directly, but alas, they generally suck.)

Last year two plants per 5-gallon bucket were given the go-ahead but this year, once the seedlings have survived the transplant, only one will be allowed to continue. (When last year’s plants were removed from the buckets they were pretty rootbound. And, since fungi and mildew always seem to attack them, the extra air circulation may come in handy as well). Because the root systems of cucurbits are pretty touchy, resist yanking the doomed seedling from the dirt — just nip it off at the soil line.

As POD had run out of space (and energy) indoor seed-starting, the melons were direct seeded this afternoon. Happy summer.

Plants On Deck

Today was a busy day for the little blue deck. Tomatoes (Black Cherry, Isis Candy, and Gold Nugget made the cut — alas, my Kellogg’s Breakfast and Dwarf Tims didn’t do so well as seedlings and were scrapped), beans, (more) lettuce, carrots, oregano, basil, and orange cosmos were all planted.

Unfortunately, Philly’s expecting a week of rain and evening lows in the upper 40’s; so it’s not necessarily ideal, but the tomato seedlings were straining at the seams of their seeding container. And this gardener was sick of hardening. If you can wait until next weekend, by all means, do. Anyway, in preparation for the big day the seedlings were doused fairly generously with water so they’d come out of their containers fairly easily — which one hopes will help reduce transplanting trauma.

The cucumber, pepper, and melon seedlings will join rejoin their friends in a week or two, after the evening lows have risen a tad.

Black Cherry Tomato Seedling
Black Cherry and the Knife

This black cherry gets to call the container filled with 28 lbs of Organic Mechanics dirt home for the next 5 months. The soil acclimated to outdoor temperatures for a week and was augmented with a few eggshells for additional calcium, and a few handfuls of worm castings were mixed in as well. To help the seedling free itself from the bonds of its nursery, run the knife around the perimeter of the container and…

Transplanting Black Cherry
Free the Tomato!

…Gently shake the seedling into your hand.

Black Cherry Strips Down

Tomatoes are one of the few fruits (or vegetables) that actually like to be planted below the soil line. That is, below the point where your seedling meets its original dirt. Strip the leaves that will be buried from the stem and set your seedling deep into its pot. This strengthens the primary stalks and roots will sprout from the submerged stem.

Planted Black Cherry Tomato Seedling
Yippie!

Here, the black cherry has been surrounded with luscious seaweed-enriched mulch (to prevent splash back and, one hopes, diseases) and lettuce seeds have been planted around the perimeter of the container.

Planted Black Cherry Tomato Seedling
Caged Black Cherry

2009: A Review

Apologies for an incredible dull post. When making plans for next year, however, it’s important to remember what worked and what didn’t. So, here it is, all in one tidy package.

Herbs: This year’s parsley, mint, tarragon, bay, and thyme were winners. Next year, grow basil from seed. The lavender never blossomed and thus, failed miserably. Next year, plant oregano and cilantro! The mint was a fine companion to the Gold Nugget tomato, but given diseases that befell the tomato, it should be planted with the rest of the herbs next year.

Lettuce: The four-year-old hand-me-down seeds produced well. They did not do well as companion plants to cucumbers and tomatoes. Could have used more — use the carrot container for additional lettuce. Still, it may be time to spring for new seeds

Carrots: After two years of parmex, it’s time to try something new. Plant as companions to tomatoes.

Radishes: Worked very well. Need to buy new seeds.

Peppers: Poblano Segundo produced well but needs careful fertilization and calcium to prevent yellowing leaves and blossom end rot. Save seeds and plant again next year. The Thai chili and random ornamental hot pepper both  produced incredibly well.

Cucumbers: Lemon cucumbers produced very well. Try the iznik again — only produced one cucumber, but dozens were on the vine before mildew throttled them. This was POD’s second attempt at growing Spacemasters — whose small, compact vines seem perfect for a roofdeck garden, but what’s the point if they only produce two little cukes?

Muskmelons: Refer to More Than a Handful

Rainbow Swiss Chard: Grew very, very well as a companion to the cucumbers and melon. Buy seeds and plant again! Perhaps try as a companion plant to tomatoes as well.

Snap Beans: Need more! Refer to Food for Thought.

Eggplant: Consider omitting. Three plants produced only enough for two meals. Preferred the Udmalbet over the Bambino.

Tomatoes: Oh, tomato. While the cherry tomato experiment worked fairly well, it’s worth experimenting with a couple new varieties. Four plants. New: black cherry tomato and Kellogg’s breakfast (full size). Old: Tumbling Tom, Gold Nugget, or Isis Candy. Prefer the Isis Candy, but the Gold Nugget produced more heavily and the Tumbling Tom fits in a 1.5 gal container and seems poised for a second crop.

Parsnips and Brussels sprouts: Verdict to be rendered at a later date.

Fall Fell

lettuce seedsWell, dear friends, Fall has touched down in South Philly. Which is not to say we won’t be slammed with a few more 90 degree days; but generally, temps are hovering in the 70s during the day and low 60s at night. The biggest challenge, though, is the rapidly dwindling sun exposure. POD enjoys at least six to eight hours of sun throughout most of the summer but by September, it receives only a few hours of morning sun.

What does this mean for POD’s zone 7 garden? Major work on deck.

As you can see from yesterday’s post, there’s been some reorganization.  First, all containers have been crammed together to maximize sun exposure. Both the Gold Nugget and Isis Candy cherry tomatoes bit the dust, as did the spacemaster and lemon cucumbers (tune in for more info on Friday).  Filling their shoes are several more parsnip seeds, French radishes, lettuce, Swiss chard, and carrots.

Parsnips and Radishes of the Future
Parsnips and Radishes of the Future

The Brussels sprout seedlings have also made their way, full-time, onto the deck. Honestly, they’ve been looking a little peaked lately. Here’s hoping they pull through.

More Than a Handful is a Waste

Gardening plans for next year always begin to form as the fruits from this year’s labors are being harvested. Recently, much time was spent researching potential muskmelon varieties for next year. Then I realized, the solution is right there at the farmers’ market, gazing up at a me. Duh.

Over the past few weeks the husband and I have been sampling melon varieties. It’s a rough job, surely, but someone’s gotta’ do it. Given the space limitation of a roof deck garden, cantaloupe options are limited. The great thing about this method is it allows POD to choose the melon that tastes best and happens to be tiny.

charentais melonStep One: Slice the melon in half and scoop out the seeds. This is a wonderful French heirloom called Charentais. It grows to 2-3 pounds, probably a little on the large side, but worth a shot.

Step Two: Place the seeds in a wire strainer and rinse the seeds while smooshing the goo out the strainer. cleaning seeds

Step Three: Put the seeds in a bowl. Cover with warm water. Scoop off the seeds that float; they’re no good to you. straining melon seeds

Step Four: Rinse some more.

Step Five: place them in the wire strainer and allow them to air dry them thoroughly! About three days. melon seeds drying

Step Six: Seal them in a well-labeled bag and freeze.

Food for Thought

Each year POD ties to walk the delicate line between trying new things, planting a nice variety of edibles, and planting enough of any given vegetable to make a meal. When your garden is a 10×10 roof deck and a bunch of pots, it makes things tricky.

And, every year, some things work and some things don’t. This year’s experiments included four cherry tomato plants versus the standard planting of two traditional plants. Good thing, too. The chocolate cherry got tossed before it could offer much to the table but the remaining three were pretty vigorous producers (despite an impressive case of early blight). Producing enough, in fact, for an almost-weekly dinner starring or, at the very least, co-starring sweet homegrown tomatoes.

The year’s biggest regret, howbeansever, is the inconsistent stream of green (or purple) beans. Next to tomatoes, beans are simply one of the summer’s greatest gifts and next year POD really needs to do something about this. Filet nickel bush beans are pretty marvelous: they’re tasty and prolific, but because of their short life span they take a lot of dedication to keep an even yield on the table. Two rotating pots (with a total of three plants) simply couldn’t come close to keeping up with the demand.

Next year a bucket of pole beans may appear on deck. Perhaps McCaslan, Dade, Kentucky Wonder, or Blue Lake. Your suggestions are welcome…