One of the most exciting requirements of a gardener and urban farmer is seed and crop selection. Earlier this week I ordered my fall and winter seeds and was told I looked like a kid on Christmas morning. This excitement continues as your plans for the year become sprouted seedlings in the greenhouse, starts needing to be transplanted to larger pots and eventually crops placed in the garden to grow, mature and harvest. When the process works better then expected, you delight in your green thumb, when misfortunes never expected occur you shed tears and curse the evildoer. Here are two examples:
Crop: Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris, Cicla group), Territorial Seed Company, Bright Lights variety
Story: In October 2011, I started work at Pringle Creek Community as their Urban Farmer. We had plans to restore the smaller greenhouse raised bed system, which would mean I would have indoor space to start winter vegetables. The beds were completed right before Thanksgiving, soil added, and by mid December I was ready to plant.
What do you plant in mid December? The weather is cold and wet the days are gray. I had never tried to start seeds this late in the season and never in a greenhouse. I found an old seed packet in a box of seeds left over from spring and found, Swiss Chard. I decided to give it and another green a try and see what happens. It took about 3 weeks for the seeds to germinate and another month before the sprouts became start sized. I began to plant them in the raised beds in small groups and by early February 2012 to today, we had Pringle Creek grown Swiss Chard appearing in soups, sandwiches and salads at our Painter’s Hall Café. Through a cold late start, a long spring and 120 degree summer greenhouse temperatures, my first December Swiss Chard is still growing and thriving, earning the top spot on my list of successful crops in the Pringle Creek Garden.
Crop: Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) Territorial Seed Company, Green Globe variety & Abundant Life Seeds, Imperial Star variety
Story: Last fall we had deer arrive early and destroy most of the last crops. They munched on leaves and salad greens, gnawed on the last summer melons, and trampled entire plants. A goal of this springs garden plans was to design it with deer resistant or discouraging plants to better protect the more fragile crops. Artichokes and squash both have thorny foliage that makes it uncomfortable for deer to walk through so they would make up my garden perimeter. I was extra excited about trying artichokes as I had never tried growing these before. I enjoying eating them but not paying high prices for them at the grocery store. I dreamed of grilled artichoke dishes at Painter’s Hall Café.
The seeds, sprouts and starts did AMAZING! Better then I ever expected. I lost a few starts due to germination and early growth problems but far less then the 20% that was suggested on the seed packet. They germinated pretty quickly and up-potted without problems. It took longer then expected to prepare the garden space for planting due to our long wet spring but the transplants showed no signs of stress. Finally when the soil was warming and workable, the fall/winter cover crop tilled in and the irrigation systems installed, it was garden planting season. The artichokes were one of the first to go in and they were soon showing new signs of growth. The rest of the garden was being planted with other crops for the café and individual plots reserved for Pringle Creek Community neighbors and Urban Farmer Certification participants were filling as well.
In late May I noticed a hole in my artichoke deer defense wall. I was pretty sure there had been a strong healthy plant there the day before, the weather had been perfect and all of its neighbor artichokes were looking well. Upon inspection I found the upper third of a limp silver tipped plant right where I had planted it. I grabbed the leaves, picked them up and there I found…
A hole, a gopher sized hole with a tunnel leading away from the spot my now dead artichoke roots and stem had been. Within the following week, three other artichoke plants met the same end, one disappearing completely with no evidence of the plant that had been there the day before, just a hole and a tunnel. I arrive to the garden each day knowing that another artichoke plant may be missing.
Since planting my artichokes in May, I have five plants remaining. I have been able to harvest a few small globes though not enough to add them to the café menu. Over the season the gophers have nibbled and eaten other crops in the garden. They seem to know when the zucchinis are ready and the green peppers are ripe. The Swiss Chard continues to grow as beautifully as ever, living through late spring aphid infestations and refusing to bolt during our month (or two?) of summer temperatures. The joy and surprises an Urban Farmer feels during times of success and the shouts of frustration and sadness that accompanies ultimately makes us BETTER.
There is always next year, another chance, and another opportunity to learn and grow!