I thought that we were going to be able to terrace the back yard into a workable garden space this year; alas, however, the intractable slope remains intact. The French drains that keep the water run-off from turning our grassy hill into a mudslide have collapsed, resulting in a bog at the top of the hill. So, we are having new drainage installed, as is everyone else who lives at the top of this hill–the neighbors on both sides are having it done, as well as folks up the hill a ways further. It has been a very wet spring and summer, and so it makes sense to deal with the drainage issues.
So, once again, I am gardening exclusively on our deck. However, instead of my usual mixture of decorative and food plants, this time around, I am growing only food, and am surprised at the amount of plants I can grow on the deck.
I have a dozen Thai chili plants, forty basil plants of various sorts–four different varieties in total, a handful of different herb plants, seven large tomato plants, and about forty gai lan plants poking their little sprouty selves up out of the dirt. Last week, I also sowed about twenty methi plants, a bunch of cilantro seed, a potful of mizuna and around the gai lan, which is in a whiskey barrel planter (cut in half longitudinally and set on its side in a cradle which keeps it from rocking), I have sown a lot of baby Shanghai bok choi seeds. I also have ordered another large planter to sow with more gai lan and baby bok choi.
I am amazed at how prolific the garden is, and last night, I took the first harvest from it–a huge bouquet of Siam Queen Thai basil and five Thai bird chilies, which I used in my favorite summer dish: Spicy Thai Basil Chicken. Tomorrow night when I come home from work, I will harvest a big bouquet of Italian basil and make pesto, the first of many batches from my own garden.
There are dozens of clusters of tiny green tomatoes, looking like jade beads, dangling from the five-foot high (and still growing) tomato vines. Kat and I watch them greedily, waiting for them to ripen. There are four different varieties of grape/cherry tomatoes–a green one, a black one, a yellow one and a red and yellow striped one, and then there are three roma type paste tomatoes, called San Marzano. The vines of the plants are amazingly strong–stronger than the ones I planted last year–I planted these tomatoes very deeply in the planter, so that roots grew out of the stems I buried in the compost, peat moss and soil mixture in the self-watering planter. This practice, which I read about last year, creates a stronger, more wide-reaching root system which helps to anchor the plant well and also helps the plant survive drought better, although, unlike last year, this year, lack of rain hardly seems to be the problem. (We’ll see how August goes–that is usually the driest month in our part of Ohio.)
It is always amazing to me how well compost and other organic fertilizers, such as livestock manure and fish, bone or blood meal, feed plants and help them to grow strong and healthy. I overcrowd my plants in the garden–the kindest way to put it is that I garden intensively, though truthfully, it is not just that I admire and emulate the work of John Jeavons, but because I am lazy and hate mulching and weeding. The thing is, if you crowd your plants together in a container or even in the ground itself, the plants grow together and their leaves form a perfect canopy, shading the roots, which not only discourages the growth of weeds (weed seeds are triggered to sprout by the sun), but helps to retain water. It isn’t as efficient as mulching, but then mulch isn’t always the be-all and end-all of gardening–it can harbor mice, slugs, mold and other plant killers. In very wet weather like we have been having, it can trap too much water, leading to root rot and worse, so this year, I don’t feel quite so lazy about going mulch-free.
Right now, my favorite bit of the garden is the half of a whiskey barrel that is serving as a seedbed for gai lan, baby bok choi and methi.
I got tired of not being able to get farmers around here to grow these vegetables consistently, so I decided to up and do it myself. Why not? I had the whiskey barrel empty–it usually harbored a garden of coleus plants–and I had some seeds. The fenugreek (methi) seeds I had were from the Indian market, and they were meant to be ground up and used as a spice. Instead, I soaked them for twenty-four hours, then laid the mushy seeds on damp paper towels, then covered them in another layer of damp paper towels and set them on a cookie sheet in a sunny window for about four days, dampening the towels twice daily. On the third day, I took the top towel off and let the sprouts which were springing forth grow upward toward the light.
The next day, I transferred the strongest sprouts, of which there were around forty or so, to the whiskey barrel and to various pots. The soil was light and friable, amended well with compost, manure and fish meal, and so far, even though right after I planted the tiny things, we had a huge thunderstorm with heavy downpours, the methi plant babies are going strong, putting out roots and working on making true leaves.
The gai lan has already started putting out true leaves, and I will have to thin it soon. But I am still waiting for the cilantro, bok choi and mizuna to sprout.
I can’t wait to see how well they do.
I promise to continue to blog about my green miracles on the deck as they grow and as I harvest, as well as chronicling the delicacies I make from them.
In the meantime, for those who want to grow their own Asian vegetables, you can get seeds for many varieties of greens, roots and herbs from Evergreen Seeds. They ship quickly and their prices are great.
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