Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Welcome to Garden Season 2014

It's that time again.  I have been working on my garden for the past few weeks and have the basics in place.  This year I'm concentrating on growing things I can't get from the Farmer's Market.  I'm letting my big garden bed, the 18x3 foot one, go mostly to flowers this year.  I planted a big batch of summer lilies (thank you, Costco) and a batch of dahlias (from OSH).  Only about half of the dahlias have come up, which is disappointing, but nearly all of the lilies are up.  Volunteer cosmos and California poppies make up the rest of the garden bed, interspersed with some volunteer dill and lettuce.  And grass.  I need to keep weeding, I'm doing it in stages!

These gorgeous flowers are my thornless blackberry, Black Satin, now blooming and attracting big native bees.  Every year in the fall I cut it back to one long runner, which I trellis onto my sideyard fence with a staplegun.  It leafs out exuberantly every spring and gives me a bumper crop of blackberries in June.  It's not too late to plant bare-root blackberries or raspberries if you can find them-- you may need to mail-order them, as the season to put them in really started a couple of months ago and they may not be in local nurseries.

This picture was taken a couple of weeks ago, and shows a yellow crookneck summer squash, English cucumber, and peppers and beets in the foreground.  The 4-inch pots on a plate in the middle are my winter squashes, just starting to poke their heads up.  I started them indoors and moved the pots out to the sun so the seedlings would get green and healthy.

I'm growing three kinds of winter squash this year, all of which are varieties that I love and can't reliably find at the Farmers' Market: Hokkori, Sunshine, and Sibley.   Hokkori and Sunshine are both kabochas, a Japanese squash that tastes like a cross between a squash and a sweet potato.  While I can find generic kabocha at the Farmers' Market, I really like these two varieties and chose to grow them so I can enjoy them.   Sibley is an American squash shaped kind of like a long fiddle and related to the Blue Hubbard squash.  It won top billing in a squash tasting run by the Santa Clara County Master Gardeners in 2011 or 2012, and I've been meaning to try growing it for several years now.

Here are seed sources for all three varieties:
Hokkori and Sunshine are both hybrid varieties, so I can't save the seeds from them and expect to get the same quality of squash.  Sibley is an heirloom variety, but planting it near the other two means it will likely get cross-pollinated by the other squashes and not be good to save for seed.  If I get really ambitious, I can cover a female squash blossom (with the baby squash on the end) with a paper bag while it is still closed, and use a male squash blossom to pollinate it, ensuring that only Sibley genes are passed to that flower.  Since squash blossoms open and are fertile only for a day, I'd need to check the vine two or three times a day and be ready to play pollinator at a moment's notice. I think I'd rather just use the rest of the seed packet next year! 
The pollinating part is easy, you just break the center out of the male flower and use it like a paintbrush on the center of the female flower.  It's just getting the timing right.  If I had a big yard, I could grow the Sibley out of the way of the other squashes and be pretty sure it would breed true-- heirloom seed companies isolate their squashes to grow them out for seed, they don't run around with paper bags.  That doesn't scale! 

I'll try to start posting regular updates now that it's garden season again.  See you in the garden!