Garden Experiments

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Chinese Kale and Celtuce transplants; another experiment in the making.

Chinese Kale and Celtuce transplants; another experiment in the making.

If you’ve never gardened before, the first time around is an experiment. What inexperienced gardeners don’t usually recognize until about the time they’re on their fourth or fifth garden is that every garden is an experiment. Weather conditions, available water, changes in fertilization or weed control methods, insect populations, the varieties you plant … the possibilities for variation are endless. “Next year, I’m going to –” is the gardener’s battle cry, spoken in tones of hope, disgust, satisfaction or prayer. These are a few of the (mostly unplanned) garden experiments that have occurred in my garden over the years.

Considering that I started with a little three-inch stub of a plant, this is pretty impressive growth.

Considering that I started with a little three-inch stub of a plant, this is pretty impressive growth.

1. Replanting – There are an amazing number of plants that will regrow from bits and pieces. Celery, for example. Just use the celery as you normally would, put the cut-off end in a little water and give it about a week (change the water every day). Most will sprout new roots. Plant out in the garden and keep it well-watered. Since celery can be hard to germinate and takes forever to grow to transplant size, this can be a considerable time-saver. Winter these over and they’ll go to seed, which you can collect to use in the kitchen or to plant new celery. Green onions also do well with replanting; they go directly into the ground rather than into water. I’ve kept the cut-off bits in the fridge for a week or two and most regrow even after this storage period.
2. Perennializing – Sometimes being a lazy/sloppy/too busy gardener has its benefits. The broccoli I just didn’t get around to harvesting one year produced shoots the next spring. I discovered that as long as I kept cutting the shoots to eat, the plant wouldn’t go to seed. I got three years of broccoli from one planting in my zone 8 garden. I don’t know if this would also work for hybrids; I only use open-pollinated seeds. Nor do I know if it would work in really cold areas, but generally speaking, broccoli is pretty hardy, so it’s worth a try.

Wish I could figure out how to perennialize tomatoes!

Wish I could figure out how to perennialize tomatoes!

3. Resurrection – Onions will rise, not exactly from the dead, but certainly from a dormant state that looks pretty close. The perennial form of onion (often called the Welsh onion) which is used for scallions will dry up and look dead if you stop watering it. I discovered one year when the grandkids had been helping in the garden and hidden several pots out of my line of sight that these “dead” onions will resprout in the spring. I suppose it makes sense, as they’re similar to other bulbing plants. What really surprised me was a few Red Wethersfield bulbing onions left in the ground – because we had torrential rains and then snow that made harvesting impossible – also resprouted. They looked completely dried up; I was sure they were dead and had planned to clean them out come spring.

Those two big red tomatoes were both volunteers (the yellowish ones are about the size of an egg).

Those two big red tomatoes were both volunteers (the yellowish ones are about the size of an egg).

4. Overwintering Volunteers – When you grow your own potatoes, you almost never get them all out of the ground. A few small ones usually hide from the harvesting fork. Having always followed the traditional garden dictate to plant potatoes in the spring or early summer, I thought that was the only way it could be done. Then one year I found a lush crop sprouting in the area where I had planted potatoes not one but two years before. Curious, I decided to let them grow and treated them just as I would have a new planting. I harvested some real lunkers. Not only that but the plants were very healthy, while all the books will tell you that you must rotate potatoes yearly because (as the Sunset Garden Book notes) they “are subject to an eye-popping number of diseases.”

After these sorts of things happen to you a few times, if you’re like me, you put on your scientist hat and start creating experiments deliberately. One of the things I’m trying this year is to just scatter seed of cold-tolerant plants on top of the ground in November to see if they will sprout in very early spring, when it’s usually much too wet to do any gardening in my neck of the woods. I’ll keep you posted!

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