By Peter Heffelfinger
posted June 14, 2022
We’re happy to welcome back long-time gardener and blogger Peter Heffelfinger!
For 2022 I am changing my overall garden strategy, reducing my large-scale production workload a bit and relying more on an expanded kitchen garden close to the house for quick year-round access to leafy greens, hardy alliums, and herbs.
Purple Artichokes with beehives in the background
At the main garden, a few miles away from the house, I’m increasing the basic crops that I rely on: potatoes, onions, leeks, as well as early and late varieties of cabbages and broccoli. I’m also adding to the existing perennial beds of asparagus and artichokes as well as the hardy Portuguese flat-leaf kale that lasts several years.
As much as I like having them in the winter, I’ve decided to forego Brussels Sprouts since they inevitably harbor aphid infestations over the summer and appear again during warm spells in the winter. It’s easier to grow fall-planted January King winter cabbages for a brassica less impacted by insects and sweetened by frost.
Since my usual garlic plot near Edison was flooded last fall I planted about #800 cloves of selected hardneck varieties in one large raised bed at my Campbell Lake site. I’m hoping the garlic will not be affected by the white root rot that I had there a decade ago. It’s looking healthy so far, and is benefiting from the steady rain and cool spring weather.
Last year the summer drought arrived a month early and my garlic was parched in the heavy clay soil of the Flats, with a loss of 30% of the crop. Over the years I’ve built up a collection of hardneck varieties including Music, Deja Vue, Korean Red, Russian Red, and recently added an unnamed purple-skinned variety from a nearby gardener.
At the big garden, I’m reducing my usual large plantings of Oriental snow and sugar snap peas, as well as cucumbers, since I had a surplus of frozen peas and pickles from last year. A few bulb fennel and snow pea starts went in early, but I’m leaving the snap peas, pole beans, zucchini, corn, and winter squash plantings to my garden partner. I’ll rely on the local farmers market for small items like radishes, Japanese white turnips, radicchio, and bok choy, and the food co-op for carrots and celery.
Portuguese flat leaved kale
At the house, which is too shady for main crop vegetables, I have pots and large containers of arugula, parsley, lettuces, regular and garlic chives, bulb fennel for greens, rosemary, winter savory, several thymes, a culinary bay bush, and a perennial bed of Greek oregano. The slugs got to my first cilantro starts, so I’ll try again. I also transplanted some of the perennial kale into a bed on a trial basis, and have a few snow peas in large tubs with a wire fencing to hopefully ward off the deer that come through each day.
I’m also trying to grow potatoes (Purple) in a few large tubs lined up against a south facing wall. My nearby bed of horseradish was set back by the cold winter; I’m hoping it will recover for some home-grown wasabi-like heat this fall.
The Hoop House
Hoop house with peppers and tomatoes
The 40×20 hoop house at the main garden has been moved to new ground, with a more efficient system of raising the sides for ventilation after last summer’s heat wave. I have Sungold and Sweet Million cherry tomatoes, plus an assortment of Romas for sauce, heirloom varieties of Beefsteak and Old German Striped, a Borghese Italian for traditional sun drying, and a new Japanese slicing variety Momotaro. There’s a Yellow Pear as well as Juliet, a larger grape-type cherry tomato that is also good for drying.
My hoop house pepper collection includes the standard green/red sweets, plus Anaheim, Padron, Shishito, Early Habanero, Bull’s Horn and Green Marconi for roasting, Italian Sweet Yellow, as well as a Hungarian Black, a Yellow Cayenne and several hot Asian varieties. Finally, there’s a single tomatillo for salsa and a stand of early basil for both pesto and to adorn the first ripe tomato slices.
Ants & Aphids
While I knew that ants and aphids have a symbiotic relationship, with ants harvesting the nectar that the aphids secrete as they suck out the juices of young plants, my garden had never really been impacted by it until now. I first noticed single ants on my young pepper plant leaves, but saw no real damage other than a suspicious sprinkling of tiny white flakes on the upper surfaces. I found the ant colonies next to punky wood in the greenhouse sills, removed as much as I could of the nests, and placed ant traps by the peppers. But the ants persisted, some moving their activity to the cucumber bed, while the scout ants were still showing up on the pepper plants.
Then I found the aphids: patches of young aphids on the undersides of the large lower leaves, and sprinklings of new activity on the upper buds and new leaves. I had to carefully spray the underside of each leaf with a mild solution of dish detergent and water as well as douse the buds at the top. I also rubbed off any soaped aphids as best I could without damaging the leaves. The soap dissolves the exoskeleton of the aphids. Hopefully I caught the infestation in time, and will spray again to make sure.
The hoop house was moved this spring to an area of the garden where I had previously grown Brussels Sprouts, as well as overwintering kale, which would have allowed the aphid population to build up over several seasons. Lesson learned.
The Atmospheric River
The heavy rainfalls so far this year have certainly been good for the trees and the mountain snow pack. It’s a reminder that we do live in a temperate rain forest.
I bought all my seed potatoes early on, including Chieftain Red for new potatoes, Yukon Gold, Cal White, and a Clearwater Russet. But I could only plant one or two rows at a time, waiting for the rare sunny day when the soil was dry enough to work. The first section benefited from the all the rain, with just enough dry breaks to prevent the seed potatoes from rotting out. Given the intense irrigation from the skies, it has been a race to keep the zooming plants adequately hilled up. The second and third sections of potatoes will hopefully benefit from the latest river from the sky. Sometimes you catch the wave, and hopefully the wave will recede by July.
Oh, it’s wonderful to peek through the blog at your garden again after so long, Peter! Thank you for sharing what you’re up to! May the aphids die a thousand soapy deaths. This year my nemesis seems to be tent caterpillars. They gobble up whole plantings overnight. I have been plucking them off plants and drowning them, and then offering them to the ducks as “dead caterpillar soup”, which was very exciting for them at first, but now they are so tired of it that they’ll only take a perfunctory nibble to please me.
Hi Julia, good to hear from you. Aphids and ants under control so far by regular soap spray and digging out ant colonies to hopefully remove the queen. Have only seen one tent caterpillar so far, but I imagine there will be more. I used to feed them to the chickens or just stomp on them.
It got up to 100F in my hoop house earlier today, but I hope new shade cloth, daily watering, and flooding the paths twice will prevent any tomato blossom drop. As well as keeping the sides completely open to catch any wind.