Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Kale, Carrots, and Chard

My attempts last year at gardening were less than successful. A housemate nutured some kale and chard plants that I wanted until they were seedlings and we planted them outside. I watered and weeded them, but the chard died and the kale never grew. Like some sort of Peter Pan plant, these little green things didn't grow up. In fact, contrary to everything I understood about biology, the tiny kale plants never grew or died but just stayed same size they were when we transplanted it. Eventually, as the weather got colder, I transplanted them again and brought the kale inside. I would have thought they were plastic or some other type of artificial plants, but they did orient themselves to the sun whenever I turned them. Finally, I harvested the little things and ate them as part of a salad.

This year I am resolving to learn everything about the three plants I want to grow. I am limiting it to three, figuring that I need to really learn how to grow just three plants, and grow them well, before expanding my repetoire. So this year I am concentrating on meeting the needs of kale, carrots, and chard.

Because it would be useful for me to have this information stored this way, and because, who knows, someone may want to raise kale or carrots or chard or all three, I'm going to write down what I have learned so far about each vegetable. (All three are, as it turns out, frost hardy biennials.)

Kale: a member of the Cabbage/Brassica family. A heavy feeder. Likes 'fertile, fine-textured soil'--pH 6.5-7.0; develops best in 'deeply prepared, loamy soil'. Prepare soil with manure, compost, mulch. Prefers cool weather and doesn't like hot weather--taste improves with frost. Can do multiple plantings (planting season around Boston: March 20-April 10 & July 1st thru August 1st). It can follow any other vegetable except another Brassica. You can keep harvesting it by pulling off just the outer leaves.

Carrots: a member of the Parsley family. Wants full sun but can stand partial shade. A light feeder. Likes light soil, a 'sandy loam free from lumps and stones'. One source claims carrots need pH 5.5-7.0; another suggests a pH>6.5; develops best in 'loose friable deeply dug soil free from stones and dirt clods'. (Stones, etc, cause mishapen carrots but one source suggests that halfsized carrots can be grown in rocky soil.) Don't start indoors--carrots don't transplant well. (Although another book suggests that they can be sprouted like any sprout--see my post of 2/26/10 on 'Sprouts!'--and then sprinkle sprouts over bed and cover.) Seed to harvest in 10 weeks. Planting season in Boston: April 1st-July 20th. Seeds can be sown every 3 weeks from early spring until two and a half months before the first frost. Water frequently and keep ground moist at all times--especially in hot weather. Need constant moisture until almost fully mature, then slow up so they don't split. They like phosphate and potassium but not too much nitrogen. Final harvest mid to late autumn.

Chard: a member of the Goosefoot family (related to beets). Does best in full sun, but can grow in partial shade. A light feeder. Does well with almost any soil but likes lots of humus. Again, one source says it needs a pH>6.5 while another says it will grow in pH 6.0 to 7.5 (not that they are that different). Apparently chard is a very deep rooted plant so it's useful where the subsoil requires aeration. Can be started indoors; keep soil warm (70F) until sprouted. Move to full sun as soon as first shoots appear. Seed to harvest in 8 weeks. Planting season in Boston: April 1st-July 20th. Will produce greens through the summer and into winter (but cover with a deep layer of straw or mulch). Three different books give three different advice on harvesting: 1) Carefully cut off outer leaves at stem by plant base with sharp knife when leaves are 6-9 inches tall; small, inner leaves will continue to grow. 2) Pull leaves off the plant, cutting causes bleeding; take just a few leaves from the outside of the plant, leaving remainder to grow. 3) Harvest by cutting to an inch above the ground and fertilize after harvesting; they will quickly regrow. The majority of the sources suggest pulling off the outer leaves so that's probably what I'll do.

I should report at some point later on how the plants actually do. Maybe if I do better growing kale, chard, and carrots this year, I will try raising a few more vegetables next year.

There is a church near me that has a corner flower garden with a plaque that reads: "We come from the earth, we return to the earth, and in between we garden." It's a good reminder.

Mel Bartholomew, Square Foot Gardening
James Crockett, Crockett's Victory Garden
Geoff Hamilton, DK Pocket Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening
Organic Gardening Magazine,Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening
Dick Raymond, Garden Way's Joy of Gardening

Quote of the Day: "My philosophy is that a garden should be in production for as long as possible, from early spring into the winter. This means working all year long, preparing the soil in the fall, ordering the seeds and planning the garden in the winter, getting the seedlings started in January, and planting and harvesting all through the growing season." - Jim Crockett


CrackerLilo said...

I don't know kale or chard, but your source has it bang to rights about the carrots. You'd have laughed out loud at the deformed things my brother and I first grew. (And we'd eat them anyway, but they were awful to peel.)

I grow tomatoes, carrots, romaine lettuce (which seems less picky than either the kale or the chard), zucchini, and various herbs and flowers. It's all in pots on our terrace. I tried, and utterly failed, with corn and strawberries.

I like the plaque on the church garden. Lately I've been seeing more things about people being Jerks for Jesus, so it's also a reminder that some people use Jesus as an inspiration rather than a weapon.

MoonRaven said...

Thanks for your comment. I have been thinking about container gardening--it sounds like you have an excellent mix of stuff in yours.

The house I am in now has someone in it that is really into growing fruit and we have raspberries, strawberries, grapes, and rhubarb that come back every year. But we do have a yard--it sounds like you can't do strawberries in a pot. I'm sorry you weren't able to grow them.

And, yes, I know some traditionally religious folks that are very open and understanding and I have been hearing about these 'new atheists' that sound as intolerant as Christian or Muslim fundamentalists. As someone who hangs out with Catholics and Quakers and Witches and Humanists and Buddhists and born-again Jews, I think that there are good folk of every belief.

Anyway, I hope that your garden grows well this year! May we all have a bountiful season.

freeacre said...

Hi, Moonraven! Don't give up! In our area, Central Oregon - high desert with volcanic ash soil (that's been amended for four years with manure & mulch). We get so much Kale and Chard that it's coming out of our ears. One thing to watch for is these white little moths. They will lay eggs on your Kale (or anything else in the cabbage family) and eat it all up. Plant French marigolds in with the kale, to keep the moths away. Last year we blanched and froze it and have been eating it all winter. Next we read that it is a perennial, so we left some in the ground and mulched it. So, we'll see if it begins to come back when it warms up. We have had very good results with Baker Creek cold hardy heritage seeds.
This year we are trying five colors of carrots. Had deformed ones at first when the water didn't reach all the way down to the bottom of the root. They grow great, though. So do beets. Gotta thin them to give them room to grow. Oregon snap peas are a cinch to grow and produce and produce and produce. Just let them latch onto a fence or something and keep picking them as they mature.
Leaf lettuces grow well in the shade. Last year we were giving it away by the bag.
We can't grow corn at all. Not enough of a growing season, and they require at least 3 rows to pollinate, I believe.
Trial and error. It takes a few years to figure out what works for you and what doesn't. And, even when you thing you've got it knocked, some unanticipated changes happen anyway. Diversify to hedge your bets.
Good luck!

MoonRaven said...

Thank you so much for all your encouragement. I enjoyed going over to your website and looking at all the pictures of gardens and produce last fall. It looked quite prolific, including some of the multi-colored carrots. I only hope that some day, I will have gardens that abundant.

And, yes, over time I intend to diversify--but first I want to have some success with a few vegetables.

Good luck with your garden this year. May it continue to be abundant.

Jerry said...

I think there should be some kind of recognition for keeping plants at exactly the same stage for an entire season!

Good luck this time around.

MoonRaven said...

Thanks, I will need it.

And good luck to you with all your work. You are doing the real growing.