Monday, April 19, 2010

Four Sisters Gardening

After much delay, we finally managed to get the pasture garden tilled last weekend (or at least a large portion of it). Every year we expand our garden a bit further, amending the soil with our own "home grown" compost. When we first began gardening on this little patch of land at the back of our property, it was nothing more than rocky, hard pan clay soil. After 3 years of amending, it's finally beginning to look like good garden soil. I estimate that it will take another two years of soil amending before the ground is the quality that I would like it. The good news is that we will never run out of compost!

At the back of the garden plot (the west end), our grains will be planted: camelina, amaranth, quinoa, etc. Next will come the usual corn, beans, squash, melons. This year, I am excited to be growing Oaxacan green dent corn (used for making green corn flour!). I will also be growing two different heirloom pole beans, and training them to grow up the corn stalks, in the traditional manner. There will be plots of heirloom bush beans, and black beans, giant sunflowers, four different varieties of heirloom winter squash, three types of heirloom melons, and two heirloom watermelons, of course spread out over my two different garden plots to try to prevent cross-pollination. For those who have been following my previous posts, I have begun converting an old goat pasture at the far east end of the property into my second garden plot. I will unfortunately not have the time to complete this 2nd garden this year, but I have it about a 1/3 of the way amended/planted (and filled with onions, leeks, artichokes, and herbs). It's going to be a great gardening year!

My tomato plants are doing fantastically! I have had to replant most of them into gallon pots, and many are flowering already (one even has a little green tomato on it!). I feel proud for what I have accomplished thus far.

I have converted two raised beds into heirloom potato patches, and am waiting for Ryan to build me a third bed. This year, I am raising All Blue, Red Norland, Russian Banana Fingerling, Kennebec, and (the one I am most excited for) Purple Cowhorn (whose true name translates into "Bear Poop" - it hails from Scotland, go figure!)*. I am also excited to see if any of my potato plants go to seed this year. Raising potatoes from true seed is a fun and interesting way to discover new potato varieties. However, potato seeds do not reproduce themselves true to form, but will often produce throwbacks to ancient potato varieties, or sometimes the seed simply won't be viable. Still, with a little time and patience, it can be a fun way of growing potatoes (though you should never rely solely on potato seed for the following year's crop! Always save tubers from your harvest for planting.).

I will also be raising the now almost unknown pot herb, Good King Henry. This versatile plant -
one of the earliest greens in summer, and one of the last greens of fall - is great for extending your salad season. The leaves taste like spinach (and are high in vitamins A & C as well as calcium), and the stem can be eaten just like asparagus (& tastes similar). Good King Henry was once very popular, but is now almost impossible to track down (I managed to find seeds for it at Fedco Seeds and Bountiful Gardens). More people should grow this plant in their gardens, and help to preserve this valuable herb from our past!

Lately I have become absolutely enamored with two books written by Seed Savers Exchange member and Master Gardener, William Woys Weaver. I discovered him through the local library (where I checked out his Heirloom Vegetable Gardening), and scrimped and saved until I could afford to purchase a copy of my own. That book has now become one of my most treasured volumes, and recently I also purchased his "100 Vegetables and Where They Come From." Both are what I consider the Bible on heirloom vegetable gardening. I absolutely recommend reading them!

* = Cowhorn is also known under the synonyms Purple Cowhorn, Purple Cow Horn and Seneca Cowhorn. Though listed as a fingerling in most databases, its name comes from its general appearance. It is oblong, thickest at the far (apical) end and curved to a narrow end at the stem attachment. Skin is dark purple. Flesh is cream colored. Eyes are shallow and few in number. It has large spreading plants. It is valued as a 'quick bake' baking potato. Specific gravity is 1.069. Maturity is mid-to-late and it is low yielding. It is a heritage variety with uncertain origins. It has been grown in New York state since before 1853. There is some speculation that it might have been developed in Vermont. There is further speculation that it might be identical to La Crotte d'Ours (Bear Poop), a Canadian heritage variety, thought to have roots to Scotland.
- Cornell University's "Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners" website

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