Sunday, May 15, 2011

Garden Report

Gary has brought in several more batches of asparagus.
The strawberry bed has been raked and stripped of the visible dandelions.
The other berries and canes have also been de-dandelioned.

Don't know yet what Wednesday's storms did to the newly-planted seeds in the raised bed. I'm sure the seeds are still there. But rows? Not so likely.

There is CILANTRO coming up which must have seeded itself last fall. Woo hoo!


  1. Any tips on how to take care of asparagus and berries? There is a garden at our parsonage, and those are the two things that are already in it. I'm very excited about it, but I don't know ANYTHING about gardening, so any advice would be appreciated.

  2. Asparagus is easy. Keep cutting it. You want to cut the stalks (right at ground level) before the heads loosen up. Better to cut too short than too tall. If it gets away from you, go ahead and cut it (at ground level) but discard anything woody, even if that's 85% of the stalk.

    It is good (but not strictly necessary, I guess) to loosen up the ground in the asparagus bed in late March or April, well before the first heads poke through. You can use a tool like a Weezel or a very shallow tiller, or just hoe along the row to break up the compacted soil. You may also do well by digging some well-composted manure into the soil between the rows, or on the rows (if you do it early enough that you are messing only with the top 3-5" of soil) prior to the edible growth reaching up that high. (Asparagus is supposed to be planted at least 12" down in the earth.)

    When you're sick of asparagus ... and your neighbors are sick of asparagus ... or it's just getting too late in the year and too warm, just quit cutting. You let the stalks grow big, and they leaf out with a feathery, lacy prettiness. When you're putting the garden to bed in late fall, the stalks should be dried up. Cut 'em down. If you don't get to it in fall, do it as soon as you can get into the muddy bed in spring.

    What kind of berries? Canes (such as blackberries or raspberries) are treated differently from strawberries.

  3. Thanks! That is so helpful.

    We'll have strawberries and one other kind (the secretary couldn't remember, but she thought maybe blackberries.)

  4. My strawberries need to be ripped out mercilessly. This is my second strawberry bed. We gave up the one at the old house when the trustees kept mowing the overgrown lawn (and weeds!), shooting the dandelion and thistle seeds right into the strawberry bed. So Tip#1 is mow around the strawberries with the mower blowing AWAY from the garden. :-)

    Here's what I'm doing now, and what seems to be working better than "thinning" the strawberries as I used to do. Half the bed is dirt, and half is rows of the plants. You want the empty rows to be wide enough for you to crawl through without trampling plants. After the plants are done bearing for the year, I till up the soil in the empty-space rows, adding in compost or manure (not fresh manure, though!). The strawberries will send out runners, setting down new plants in the empty spaces. Let it all grow through July and August, and maybe September. In fall, entirely rip out the rows that bore this year, and till it up, possibly with some compost added. Your new rows may look a little sparse in fall, but they should fill in nicely in spring before June-bearing.

    My biggest mistake with strawberries was trying to leave too many plants, and then having the fruit either rot (because of not enough fresh-air flow) or having the berries be too small (because the soil can only produce so much, whether it's lots of small ones, or the same weight in bigger ones). So my best advice with the strawberries is to make sure half your bed is empty. And from one year to the next, you'll keep switching off which half has the plants. This also has the weed-control benefit of tilling up the entire bed each year (half in June/July, and the other half in late fall).

  5. With berry canes (raspberries or blackberries) you also need to prune more than you want to. (Taking care of fruit trees, canes, and shrubs has been a huge theology lesson to me.) If you don't prune enough, to the point that you wonder if you've cut off enough to destroy next year's crop, you'll end up with less fruit than you should. How's that for weird?

    Berries grow on last year's canes. (That's the rule you need to remember.)

    So, two weeks ago, I had a bunch of sticks out in my garden. It's what I had left after last fall's pruning. Right now, I have baby berry-canes starting to emerge. Right now they're a fluff of green leaves. They will grow into canes and bear nothing this summer. Next year they will flower and bear fruit.

    My "sticks" now are the plants that sprang up last May. They lost their leaves in fall, just like the maples and oaks. New leaves are growing in now. They'll flower in June and bear in July.

    You can (and should) prune shortly after they're done bearing. It's not going to make any difference to the plants if you prune in July or November. But it will be loads easier for YOU to prune when you've just been working with the canes. You'll see the little knob where you pulled off the raspberry. The canes with those indicators are the ones you cut away. If you wait until Oct/Nov to prune, you'll have to go more by the brownness/greenness of the cane. Brown is old and needs to be cut away.

    Also, you need to prune new growth once or twice in the summer before it bears. When the baby canes (for next year's fruit) are growing up, get rid of a lot of them while they're still 12" or less. This is partly so the ground can put effort into producing fewer strong plants instead of many spindly plants. It's also for your harvesting convenience, so that you can get a lot of those baby plants out of the way, so that you can both see and reach this year's fruit. Also, this is for your pruning convenience; it's so much easier to know which canes go and which canes stay when there is an obvious height difference between this year's and last year's canes.

    By the way, when pruning new growth, keep the strong, straight canes, and eliminate the crooked ones and thin ones.

    To summarize --
    ~ In May/June, prune away much of the new growth, so that you have a manageable number of canes for next summer.
    ~ Harvest in June/July. (You realize that I'm on a Wisconsin time-table. I'm not sure how your timing will be different in Missouri.)
    ~ Within a month of harvest, prune away all of this year's bearing canes. Possibly prune away more of the new canes if you didn't prune heavily enough earlier.
    ~ Before winter sets in, ensure that you have thinned next year's canes to a proper level.