Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Carrots! Radishes! Swiss Chard!

As many of you know by now, one of my most trusted sources for this newsletter is the book titled "Crockett’s Victory Garden" authored by James Underwood Crockett who was also the original host of the PBS gardening show by the same name. Mr. Crockett wrote this book in the late 1970’s so I will make a couple of interjections regarding some products we carry that may not have existed at that time. That being said, his writing style is clear, concise and very straightforward. His subject matter is organized “calendar style” just as we try to live our lives. He writes in a way that both the beginning and intermediate gardener can understand. I find what he has to say very helpful and I hope you do too. For this edition of Garden Talks Online, I have pulled articles on carrots, radishes and swiss chard. Here is what he writes:

Carrots: Many seed catalogues don’t mention this, but the long, slender carrot varieties produced by commercial growers require a soil so soft, deep, and smooth that they are all but impossible for many home gardeners to grow. In the Victory Garden, where the soil contains not only rocks but impervious blue clay, it would be folly even to try these varieties. Instead, I plant one of the solid, chunky, blunt-tipped carrot varieties of the type known as Half-long. These stubbier varieties are every bit as tender and tasty as the longer ones.

Carrots can be sown as early in the spring as the soil can be worked, which, in this garden, is March or April. I dig the soil over, the full depth of the spading fork – at least 8 inches – loosening it and removing any rocks bigger than 1 inch in diameter. Then I work 5-10-5 fertilizer (5 pounds to 100 square feet) (we at Skillin’s recommend Pro Gro 5-3-4 or Plant Tone by Espoma as a better choice) into the top 4 or 5 inches of soil. After raking, the soil’s ready for planting, but as an added precaution against compacting the soil I lay long boards between the rows to distribute my weight as I work. (I leave these boards here for the entire growing season.) (You can also place some flat stones in strategic places for stepping in your garden. I don’t know about you but I have plenty of stones I am always pulling out of the ground!)

I sprinkle the seeds into a ½ inch furrow, or “drill” in garden terminology, trying to space them every ½ to ¼ inch or so. This is no mean task. The seeds are tiny and they cling to everything, including my hands. It’s well worth the effort to space them carefully, though, as this cuts down on the thinning operation, which can be arduous.

There won’t be a sign of these carrots for at least three weeks, but there certainly will be weeds. So I sow a few radish seeds in the furrow right along with the carrot seeds. The radishes will be up in a week, identifying the carrot row so I won’t pull the young carrots as I weed. About a week after the carrot tops break through the soil, the radishes will be ready for harvest. (This is a great tip by Mr. Crockett!)

Radishes: One of my favorite viewer letters came from a would-be gardener who confessed that while radishes were known to be “absolutely foolproof,” hers had failed miserably. Radishes are not that easy. For one thing, they need at least 6 hours of sunshine a day or they’ll make all tops and no bottoms. For another, like peas and spinach, they do best in the cool bright days of early spring and fall. The midsummer crops are often hotter than firecrackers. But unfortunately on those cool bright days of spring there lurks in the soil the dreaded root maggot, which will chomp its way through the radish crop, leaving the tender roots scarred and tunneled. So whoever started the rumor that radishes are a cinch had full sunshine, cool days, and no maggots.

I plant my first sowing of radishes in the open garden in April, though I usually plant some in March in the hotbed or cloche. First I work a handful of 10-10-10 fertilizer )(again we would now recommend Pro Gro by North Country Organics or Plant Tone by Espoma) into the soil that I limed and “manured” the previous fall. I sow the seeds in a ½ inch deep furrow about ½ inch apart along a 5-foot row. (Radishes are at peak flavor for such a brief time that I never plant more than I can use.) Then I keep my fingers crossed and hope. With luck I’ll have radishes in 25 to 30 days. To have tender radishes most of the summer and fall I plant successive crops every week or so except during June and July.

The following vegetable—swiss chard—is not always a popular vegetable but is an outstanding “green” that is easy to grow here in the Northeast:

Swiss Chard: Swiss chard is part of the beet family, but it’s grown for its succulent, vitamin-rich greens rather than for its roots. With just minimum attention throughout the summer, it will have a long, productive life: as the plant matures, I harvest the outer leaves and allow the crown and roots to stay in the ground, where they will continue to produce new growth until the ground freezes. In some of the warmer parts of the country, Swiss chard will even last the winter, producing new growth until spring. Then the plant, which is a biennial, sends up a flower stalk. So no matter where you live, you have to make a new planting of Swiss chard each year.

I sow the seeds directly into a 1/2-inch-deep furrow, dropping a pinch at 12-inch intervals. Late this month when the young plants grow to about 1 inch tall, I’ll sacrifice all but the most vigorous seedling at each spacing. If I want more plants I can transplant the pulled seedlings to another spot in the garden.

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 29, 2009

No comments: