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We’ve tried for a couple of years to get great broccoli but it’s not working for us. Earlier this month we had a crazy hot spell — something you’d expect in July and not early May — with temperatures in the 80s and creeping toward 90 on some days.

Bolted broccoli. Again. Still tasty though!

Bolted broccoli. Again. Still tasty though!

It started really well — big leaves and small, compact broccoli heads. But once the temperatures spiked, it was all over. What broccoli was growing started to bolt. The stalks were separating and starting to produce flowers. Some of the other ones weren’t even growing (though now that the weather has cooled significantly, they seem to be bouncing back.)

Oh well. We plan try again in the fall, starting from seeds. Next year, I’m going to use our old garden beds as cold frames and get the broccoli, peas and lettuce started way early. Maybe even February. Maybe even when there is still snow on the ground. We’ll see how it goes.

The mysterious cluster of insect eggs. Or pollen. Who knows!

The mysterious cluster of insect eggs. Or pollen. Who knows!

Random side note:  This year when we cut the main heads, I discovered a cluster of what looked like yellow eggs on one of the broccoli stems. After a bit of searching, I came up empty as to what it was. Best guess was maybe ladybugs, but those looked like shinier eggs. It could just be a bunch of pollen trapped in a spider web, too. Has anyone else seen something like this?

 

Radish ready to pick!

Radish ready to pick!

It’s pretty simple, actually. They’ll pop up out of the ground! We pulled four out so far, with more coming soon.

Even though radishes are spring crops, we plan to plant some more by the cucumbers because they help deter certain bugs, including the cucumber beetle which has hurt our plants every year.

Last year we tore out even more honeysuckle and created a new flower bed in our backyard. It’s also a place to give our blueberry bushes a proper home.

A pop up blackberry bush?

A pop up blackberry bush?

This spring, as we covered the fallen leaves with topsoil and pulled some weeds, we noticed a plant that looked familiar. At first I thought it was poison ivy or some Virginia creeper that’s all over the woods. But, we’re pretty sure it’s a new blackberry bush.

We tore out our old one last summer because it died, but maybe it set down a shoot that’s only now sprouting. That’s our hope, at least. Only time will tell.

Our trellis rig for the peas (snow peas here).

Our trellis rig for the peas (snow peas here).

One benefit to square foot gardening is everything is on a grid. That’s also part of its problem (for us anyway). When planting the peas earlier this year, I plopped the seeds — eight per square — in the soil and let nature take its course. It wasn’t until a week or so later that I realized my planting method was flawed.

I didn’t pay attention to where I put the seeds and thus created the “great trellis challenge” of 2015. A couple of weeks ago, the peas were growing happily, with tendrils looking for something to climb. We had to figure it out. I’ll credit my brilliant husband, Matt, for coming up with this.

We did our best to untangle the plants from each other and put two stakes in between the “rows” of peas. Then we took this bendable wire fencing we’ve had for years, folded it and slid the rig over the stakes. It’s got big enough squares to weave the peas in and out where needed, but not so big that the peas need to climb huge gaps. Also, peas are easy to train but require a bit of care because they’re rather fragile.

The wire & stake trellis for the peas (snow peas here).

The wire & stake trellis for the peas (snow peas here).

And when we needed to add another row because the peas grew even taller? We just added one more piece to the top. Admittedly, it’s quite a haphazard set up, but it was cheap and it works!

When the peas are done and the beans have started to grow, we’ll just move it where we need it. Though this time I’ll be more aware of where I’m planting the seeds.

In the past couple years, I’ve heard a lot about square foot gardening. It keeps coming up in Google searches and the 500 Gardens program we’re part of recommends it to all of the new gardeners in Madisonville.

Our garden grid made out of old blinds.

Our garden grid made out of old blinds.

So what is square foot gardening? It’s a method that lets you grow more in a smaller space and is great for small gardens. We’ve half-tried this in the past and decided this year to go for it (almost) all the way.

The essence is breaking your garden bed into grids — one square foot at a time — and planting one to 16 plants per square foot. How do you decide? It’s all based on the plant spacing recommended on the seed packet or transplant tag: 3 inch spacing is 16 per square; 4 inch spacing is 9 per square, and so on. This has a good explanation of spacing as well as which plants typically work in which spacing plan.

This is what happened to our grid after a storm. It was easy to fix and put back together.

This is what happened to our grid after a storm. It was easy to fix.

It also helps to have a grid to better visualize where you’re planting everything and the Mel Bartholomew book says you need a grid to be “a true square foot garden.” Even though I think a grid drawn in the dirt would suffice, we decided to make a real grid this year.

Our gridlines are actually slats from old blinds that the cats have previously destroyed and they worked out really well. They are “secured” with a nail through the holes already in the slats.

An errant onion in a totally different bed. Squirrels probably dug it up

An errant onion in a  different bed. Squirrels probably dug it up

I will say the grids helped already.

When I was checking on our plants, I noticed a couple of onions weren’t poking through (we had nine per square). I was able to find a few where they were supposed to be but a couple of bulbs were missing. One I found in the next bed over, lying by the garlic. I suspect squirrels are responsible.

Garden archaeology

I’m not always the best planner, and that was pretty evident when I filled our new raised beds with our planting mix. By the end of the “mixing day” I was exhausted and sore and just wanted to be finished filling the garden.

So I didn’t pay any attention to the garlic and chives already poking out of the ground. Once the beds were full, I just assumed the garlic would find it’s way up.

When that didn’t happen after a week or so, I knew we had to dig our way through the new dirt to find them.

It took a while and now the beds look a little more like a strange pit than a garden, but it seems the garlic is doing well. I found a picture I took of the new beds (sans soil) and learned more was still buried because there were actually two chive plants instead of one.

Now that everything is dug out (I hope!), we have 14 regular garlic plants and seven elephant garlic plants. Can’t wait until they’re ready!!

We’re now in mid-April and all our early spring crops are looking good! I’m kind of amazed at how much we have planted so far.

There are peas (sugar snap and snow), spinach, radishes, carrots, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and onions all doing really well, along with the garlic planted in the fall and chives that come back every year. Most of those are repeats from previous years, except the onions.

We decided to grow onions on a whim this year, even though they’re cheap to buy at the grocery store. After successfully growing garlic last season and learning how much better the homegrown variety was, we suspect onions will be the same. I found a bag of onion sets (they look like tiny, slender onions) that had red, yellow and white onions so we’re trying each variety. There are also a few squares we’ll use for onion seeds to have another later harvest (and for green onions).

We have tons of broccoli this year because the cell packs I bought had nine plants each instead of six, and I decided to try two different varieties. Some are planted in the garden beds and others in containers; same idea with the Brussels sprouts, which we can move around to find the ideal conditions/area for them to grow.

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