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Posts Tagged ‘vegetable gardening’

Gordon Castle's Walled Garden

Gordon Castle’s Walled Garden

Brittan and I are in Scotland at the moment. We’re halfway through a 5 week stay and it’s been awesome. I lived here for 13 years, a long time ago, and it’s wonderful to be back. It really is a most beautiful country.

One of my favorite things has been to visit places I haven’t been or don’t remember, especially gardens and scenic locations.  At the top of the list so far, has been the Walled Garden at Gordon Castle, in Fochabers, Moray.

Even if you’ve been to Scotland, the odds are you haven’t visited Fochabers, or any of the Moray district, for that matter.  Most tourists don’t get past Edinburgh, or Loch Lomond, unless they manage a train journey to Inverness in search of the Loch Ness Monster.

Make no mistake, you can see some awesome sights wherever you go in Scotland, especially if you love gardening. Let me mention two of them during this rambling introduction:

1.       The Royal Botanical Gardens in Glasgow. This is a Victorian garden and has some of the most interesting greenhouses I’ve ever seen. Many of the plants are very old and the aging architecture of the greenhouses will transport you back to before the turn of the 20th century. If you hit the mean streets of ‘Glesga’ don’t miss this treat.

2.       Inverewe Gardens near Ullapool on the West Coast. The drive from Inverness alone is worth the trip to Scotland. The views are breath taking. You will find yourself stopping to snap photos every mile or two. But when you get to Inverewe Gardens, you will swear you have been transported to Eden. I may write more about it later, but I promise you, you’d better take extra memory cards for your camera.

Earlier this week, though, I was introduced to one of Scotland’s best kept secrets, Gordon Castle’s Walled Garden at Fochabers, Moray. I lived within 10 miles of this glorious site for 7 years and never knew it existed. Mind you, it’s only been open to the public a few years, but still…

Fochabers is situated nearly halfway between Inverness and Aberdeen just off the main road between them. During my time here it was on the main road, but a bypass has been built since then. The area has always been one of my favorites. Baxters of Speyside, sort of the ‘Campbell’s Soup of Scotland’ is probably the primary tourist draw, but the Fochabers Woods trails and scenic overlook are also personal favorites. But when friends took Brittan and me to the Walled Garden earlier this week, my heart was stolen, along with my breath.

The castle itself is very nice, but the fact that the estate is still a working farm, made me giddy. The  round bales of hay still fresh and standing in the fields, lent an extra charm to the whole magic scene; open fields surrounded and divided by strategic strips of properly maintained hardwood forests, made for a gorgeous drive back to the Visitor’s Center and  the Walled Garden itself. 

The Visitor’s Center has the mandatory gift shop and café which are in themselves, very nice, if I say so myself, and I so say so myself.

walled-garden-2The gardens themselves stole my heart away. As you can see from the arial photos I downloaded from their website (I was too overwhelmed to remember to snap any), the garden is not overly large, maybe a couple acres, but it is spectacular. Even in mid-October, there were still flowers blooming and fall vegetables growing.

The walls were lined with trained apple and pear trees clinging to them with the garden laid out artistically in a series of beds, making up the centerpiece. At the parking lot end, a roomy chicken coop housed a happy flock of laying hens, which always makes me happy.

There were als a couple large well designed greenhouses, much more handsome than the ones we usually have in north Georgia.  In one of them, a couple dozen tomato plants were still in full production. I was extremely jealous.

In the other house, hundreds of onions (several varieties) and shallots were drying, probably to be used at the castle and in the café.

But, as you might guess, the main attraction for me, were the containers growing a wide variety of hot peppers. Some of the plants were still producing, outside, at this latitude. Scotland, because of the gulf stream is a zone 8, but here on the Moray Firth, plants must be protected from the harsh, cold winds. Gordon’s setting, combined with walls, buildings, and greenhouses provide just such protection.

I recognized Jalapenos, Habaneros, Yellow Ghost, Cayenne, and Moruga Scorpions. There were also some names and pods I didn’t know. On the whole, the pods were smaller than what we grow in Georgia, but they looked great.

I wanted to stay there all day. Heck, I wanted to apply for a job. Gordon Castle, and its walled garden, is my dream farm. I fell totally head over heels.

Scotland is full of gems like this for those who are willing to get off the beaten tourist track. But I warn you, if you are a gardener of vegetables, or flowers, your expectations will change forever. The bar has been raised. I need to start redesigning, now. After all, that’s what winter is for.

 

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Fresh-Garden-Vegetables_Natural__IMG_5191-580x386It’s garden planting season all over the Northern Hemisphere; aka, Spring.  Seasoned gardeners have been pouring over seed and plant catalogues for months, deciding which old favorites will grace their gardens for the umpteenth time and which new varieties we’ll try.

Those of us in the more moderate to warmer climates have the majority, or even all, of our gardens totally planted. A few of the most fortunate are already enjoying early harvests.

For thousands of beginning gardeners, and those in the northernmost zones, it’s just now decision time.  We’ve studied our hardiness zones and prepped our beds, but deciding on plant varieties seems almost overwhelming.

As we look through catalogues and websites, the options make our heads spin. How can there be this many kinds of tomatoes, green beans, or cucumbers, etc. to choose from?

Among the areas of confusion for new gardeners is the misinformation that hybrid varieties are all bad, while heirloom varieties are all good.

The confusion lies in the mistaken idea that hybrids are synonymous with GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) varieties, which is simply not true.

Hybrids are merely cross bred varieties that are created to emphasize certain traits like size, shape, seedlessness, disease resistance, or any number of other characteristics. While hybridization crosses different strains, it does not introduce foreign DNA into the plant.

A GMO, on the other hand, has had its DNA tampered with in a laboratory environment. The most hyped kind of GMO is ‘Round Up Ready’, which means the DNA of the seed has been ‘enhanced’ chemically to resist the introduction of the herbicides found in Monsanto’s ‘Round Up’.  Fields of Round Up Ready crops can be freely sprayed with Round Up, without, theoretically, damaging the crop itself.

A hybrid tomato, then, is comparable to a designer dog, like a Labradoodle, while a GMO tomato would be more like something from ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’.

veggiesCurrently, there are no GMO seeds being sold to the general public from seed catalogs or garden centers. The same is true for starter plants.

Most gardeners are familiar with Bonnie Plants, who seem to have displays in nearly every garden center.  Bonnie offers a wide selection of both heirloom and hybrid varieties.  You are perfectly safe choosing which varieties you like.

The biggest downside of growing hybrids is that they are not good for seed saving. Chances are, the seeds will not breed true to the same characteristics of the plant the seeds were saved from.  Apart from that, the only other negative is that some people think hybrids lack the flavor complexity found in heirloom varieties.

I disagree.  While it used to be true, and in a few tomato varieties, hardiness trumped flavor; these days many of the hybrids taste just a great as open pollinated, heirlooms. I would go as far as to say, the sweetest sweet corn and melons come from some of the hybrids. My absolutely favorite Jalapeno is the ‘Biker Billy’ hybrid, which has great Jalapeno flavor with more than double the heat of the traditional ‘Early Prolific’ variety.

My favorite cabbages are heirlooms, while my favorite cauliflowers are hybrids. I love heirloom basil and hybrid cantaloupe. I could go on, but you get the point.

Grow the varieties of fruits and vegetables you and your family love to eat and don’t worry about the heirloom vs. hybrid myths. Unless you’re planning to save seeds, the whole catalogue is open to you. Have fun. Experiment with different types. Find your old favorites and see if there are some new favorites out there.  Rest easy. Hybrids are not the devil.

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CDC_greenbeanUndoubtedly, you have been waiting with baited breath for the results of our “Most Popular Vegetable on earth”?  Of course, it’s a mystery to me why you are eating bait, but we’ll save that for another day.

The survey produced a good number of visits to the website, but we didn’t get the quantity of votes we’d hoped for.  Still, we decided to do the drawing and give the prize, anyway.  Who knows, perhaps a packet of seeds is not as inspirational to some as it would be to me!  🙂

Anyway, without further ado, the most popular vegetable in our survey was… Green Beans!  Zucchini got a few votes, too, but I was the only person who opted for sweet potatoes.  What a shame.  You probably need to re-examine your priorities.

Moving on to the drawing.  The winner of our first ever giveaway is……Jennifer Ciarletta!  Jennifer wins a packet of Butter Bean (Lima) seeds.  Surprisingly (?), Mrs. C was the only person who voted for Butter Beans, which is another shame.  Jen, if you will send me your mailing address by email, or PM on Facebook, I’ll send you a packet of seeds.  And, as I promised, I will also grow a batch of them in your honor.  In addition, I will do a ‘spotlight’ blog post on Butter Beans, sometime this summer.  Congratulations!

Thanks for playing, everyone, and watch for our next giveaway next week VERY soon.

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EarthBox Self Watering Containers

I don’t know why I have to learn everything the hard way.  I have a PhD from the University of Hard Knocks.  Mostly it’s my own fault.  I read a lot. I study the gardening and farming methods of the ultra successful, and then I go out and make a mess of everything.

Eventually, I get things right and can pass on what I’ve learned to others, but bow howdy, does my learning curve have some steep drops.

For the last two years, we’ve played with the idea of a CSA (community supported agriculture).  We’ve even had a couple of people sign up.  Each year, I have made some terrible planting and timing mistakes that have prevented me from implementing a fully operational CSA.

Finally, though, I have a plan that will work.  In fact, by incorporating my Aquaponics systems and a couple of greenhouses, we could offer a few 10 to 12 month shares.

My biggest mistake has been a failure to utilize a wise system of succession planting. I’ve finally figured that out.  I just had to start thinking like a customer.  I’d much rather have 4 tomatoes a week, with one or two big weeks to can some tomatoes than have 25 lbs one week and no more the rest of the year.  The same with beets and lettuce.  Everyone likes a head of lettuce from time to time, but who wants 11 heads of the stuff one week then have to wait a year to get more.  It was a real d’oh moment.

It’s probably too late for me to salvage the situation this season, but going forward we should be good to go.  I’m sure things won’t work out perfectly, but I think I’m on to something.

Speaking of going forward, we are in the process of creating a new business plan and direction for East of Eden Farms and Our Edible Suburb.  We believe that a more narrow focus will allow a better experience for our customers and us, and will set a better example for what is truly possible in maximum production from small spaces.

Finally, at long last I have begun writing the book version of Our Edible Suburb.  I’m still undecided about whether or not I will go a traditional paperback route or if I’ll stick with electronic versions.  Your thoughts would be appreciated.  If you were to buy a book about growing mountains of food and becoming self sufficient in small spaces, would you prefer an electronic version that could go with you anywhere and have live links to other helpful information, or would you  like a hard copy that you can reference from the comfort of your recliner?  Let me know.

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Spud 1

The garden is starting to look like one.  I’ve captured a pic of the season’s first potato, “Spud 1” and of a golden Patty Pan squash.  It appears that the bee activity from Brittan’s bee boxes, yes, it’s B’s Bees, are going to have the desired effect on our production.

I have also included a photo of my barrel Aquaponics unit that is currently under construction.  What a disaster that has been.  I am photographing and filming some it and will call my adventures, “Aquaponic Gardening With The Village Idiot.  Watch for updates.

 

 

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Mostly Not.

It’s time to get the garden done.  Time, ha. Time is an elusive thing.  I can’t seem to catch it, so I make do as best I can.

Starting tomorrow, my plan is to work in the garden one hour each evening after we get back from the farm.  I have some transplants that need to get in the ground right away.  I have some other things that can wait a bit.  I’ll probably go ahead and get some of the beans and squash in the ground, too.  My plan is to do beans in succession this year to save space.  I will plant a few, then as the summer squash finishes, I’ll plant some more in the spaces the squash vacates.  Alternatively, I’ll plant some of the beans where the cabbages vacate.

We grew onions over the winter.  I’m pretty excited about them, but they are taking up a lot of space.  I need to either plant a legume in that spot after they are harvested, or I will need to use a great deal of compost.  I’m sure they sucked up a ton of nutrients.  I’m leaning towards peanuts.

Not much else to report.  I’m not ready for the garden, but the garden is ready for me. So, ready or not, here I come.

 

 

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It’s garden season here in the burb.  Not that you’d know it by looking at our garden.  Every day, I say, “Must work in the garden tonight”.  Every night, I find another chore to do.  Yikes.  I need to go back and watch “Multiplicity” again and see how Michael Keaton did it, because I need more of me.  Well, at my girth, not more of ME, but more copies of a leaner me. Well, you know what I mean.

Our sun room is loaded with tomatoes and peppers that need to go out, but they must wait a couple more weeks, in the unlikely event of one more frost.  I have bags and bags of seeds begging to be unleashed into the earth.  Unfortunately, the garden beds and containers are unprepared for their arrival.  In other words, I’m BEHIND.  Oh, that the Keebler elves would do me a kindness by sneaking in and take care of that for me one night.  Perhaps they could even leave behind some of those little cookies with the yummy fudge stripes on one side; that would be nice. Sorry, got side tracked.

One of the things I’m excited about this year is our compost.  People who actually know what they’re doing, say that one sure sign of good compost and earth is the presence of worms.  If that is the case, then we are in luck this year.

First, as previously recorded here, after our worm bed box was flooded last year, B tossed the soggy contents into a compost pile we have in the garden.  Somehow, a few of the little wigglers lived.  The survivors tackled the rabbit manure with vigor and have turned it into something spectacular.  And, Boy Howdy, have they reproduced.  It is so much fun just to go out to the compost pile and turn over a fork full of it and watch the worms dance.  Am I a cheap date, or what?  I can’t wait to get some tomatoes into that compost.

Hold on, there’s more.

Out at the farm, we have a compost heap made up mostly, of mule waste, with a little side dressing of donkey and cow manure.  It has been steadily growing, and shrinking, for months.  On Saturday, I stuck a manure fork into it and turned it over to see how the compost was doing. Oh my gosh, it was like all my compost Christmases came at once.  First, the stuff is black and rich and smells like earth instead of, well, instead of what it smelled like when it was first produced.

What really painted my wagon though, was the number and size of compost worms.  They were everywhere and they were huge!  These are not night crawlers, these are compost worms.  They found our heap and said, “Oh, baby, we’re home.”  That pile of, well, you know, is to worms what Cracker Barrel is to a fat man. They have buffeted themselves into obesity.  The compost is ready.  And I have snacks for the chickens, too, not to mention a tasty trap for some unwitting bluegill in Lake Acworth a little later this spring.

Yep, we have the best compost ever.  It should translate into the best garden ever. Well it should if I ever manage to get my buttocks into the garden and get it ready, that is.  And I’m on it.  I really am.  Just as soon as I finish looking for those fudge cookies.

 

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