31 May 2009

Succession planting

Last week I visited the Chicago Botanic Garden for the first time and their vegetable and herb gardens were beautiful. I was struck by the perfect spacing of broccoli, chard, lettuce and other greens, and noticed that everything had been transplanted from cold frames. The lack of bare spots got me thinking about starting more things - even warm weather vegetables - in flats so that each spot in my garden might be filled with a healthy plant. I think it would be nice if I could plant a row of beans from a flat and have no bare spaces. I always direct-sow my beans in the row where they're going to grow, and I don't always re-seed bare spots because by the time a row is growing I don't think a two-week laggard will contribute much.
I do a good job starting tomatoes in my basement when the ground is cold and shovels are still by the door. But once the growing season starts, I tend to wait until a space is vacated before I sow anything new. My wife doesn't like seeing bare dirt in the garden; she thinks something should be growing there. So, with about two weeks before my arugula bolts, I decided to start a few things in flats and be ready when my lush rows of arugula turn to bitter, woody stems. Perhaps I can shorten the time before the next thing is ready to eat. So this evening, after I put the kids to bed, and just before this now-falling rain began, I filled two flats with beets, kale, cucumbers and beans.
I've never started beans in a flat and have heard they don't do well as transplants. Well, we'll see. Just as I don't mind losing a row or two of a too-early planted spinach or lettuce, it'll be good to learn if I can transplant beans. More than anything, I think the flats can be a good idea because it's easy to control the moisture for the germinating seeds. Until then, it's still arugula for lunch!

29 May 2009

Frost free

Just days or weeks after frost and threats of frost, I take for granted this regal green canopy under a blue blue sky. To remember time before this is difficult. Warm earth pushes seeds into air and light and green leaves unfurl their smallness, ready to burst and bloom and grow. How tender is that earliest push, a fuzzed wisp of life. Everything now is green and fresh and alive, and I'm going to eat it and smell it and absorb it with my eyes and feet and hands, forgetting frost and cold and the grey we know for months each year.

23 May 2009


Posted by PicasaFinally, baby rabbits. Our two does kindled about two weeks ago and ten of the thirteen kits survived and are doing fine. For their first eight weeks or so their diet is exclusively breast milk; the does usually nurse their young twice a day and otherwise leave them alone in their nesting box - a cozy box filled with hay and fur. The kits are born hairless and the does provide insulating warmth by plucking fur from their own chests in the days before they give birth. For the first few week or so the bunnies are nearly impossible to see unless you part the mound of fur that covers them and keeps them warm. Now that they're growing their own fur and are a bit bigger, the mother's fur has matted in with the rest of the bedding, and isn't needed for survival any longer.
We're going to breed the does several times during the summer, and we hope to have a full freezer by the time winter rolls around again.

19 May 2009


Posted by Picasa
Green again. The year's first arugula frittata on Sunday night, baked in the enameled, cast iron fry pan. And on the side, a heap of arugula, a mess of arugula, wilted in hot olive oil and touched with a pinch of salt. And May with its lilacs...

03 May 2009

Vicia faba – Fava Bean

The fava bean hypnotizes me with its early spring green growth. Its thick, almost waxy leaves push through the soil when I'm still only dreaming about my warm weather green beans. Very cold hardy, fava beans originated in the Mediterranean basin and, before the introduction of our common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) by post-Columban explorers, they were the main bean eaten in Europe, the Mediterranean basin, and central Asia. Varieties range from the small, almost pea-like favas known as 'tick beans" to the large-seeded varieties known well in England and Italy as broad beans or horse beans. In Italy and the southern Mediterranean a disease known as favism affects a small percentage of the population: eating even a small amount causes serious illness.

So here we are in late April (it's turned to May since I wrote this!) and my fava beans were planted a few weeks ago on a nice warm Saturday. A few rains in the meanwhile have warmed up the soil and given the seeds the moisture they need to germinate. As usual, I wish I had more in the ground, but living in town and having only a small garden, my spring favorites – fava beans, arugula, and spinach – have to share the space with soon-to-be planted summer things. Some years ago I obtained a small sample of a southern Italian fava bean, and I neglected to plant them. Last month when I looked at my seeds I knew I had to get this variety in the ground or I'd lose it Seeds tend to be viable for a few years longer than seed packets let on (I've successfully planted 5-6 year old seed) and these seeds were about five years old. From my sample of 20-25 seeds six plants are up and growing. If they do well, there will be enough to save seed from, and I'll have another small supply for planting next year. If next year's planting goes well, I'll have enough seed the following year to eat a few of them. But for now, I have to help these six plants along because I don't know if anyone else in the United States has this particular variety.

The challenge with fava beans in Minnesota is that our spring is so short. Favas prefer cool weather and their flowers abort in warm weather. The trick is to get the seeds in the ground as early as you can so that they flower before our summer heat scorches them. Additionally, aphids like fava beans a lot and the seeds need to be developing before aphids come along, or the plants can succumb to their attacks.