Monday, May 6, 2013

The year of the strawberries

Last spring I planted 4 strawberry plants in containers in the rooftop garden. As the weather got warmer and the plants took root, small flowers started to appear. But following the advice of pretty much everybody who talks about growing strawberries, I resisted the urge to let those flowers bloom and pinched them off in hopes that the plants would direct their energy into setting down a stronger root system, survive the winter, and offer a larger bounty of berries during their second year.

It looks like that gamble might pay off this summer. When I saw most of the leaves of the plants wither, turn brown, and crumble away like dust in the cold weather, I had my doubts. But a few months ago new green leaves started popping up. And a few weeks ago the first flowers started to appear.

Now it's early May, and strawberries are popping up all over. They're still green and won't be ready to pick for a while, but it looks like strawberries may be one of the plants that can thrive in the microclimate on our rooftop. Unlike peppers.

Unfortunately weather doesn't pose the only danger to the little guys. There are also squirrels which have a habit of digging into the planters.

So we've taken the precaution of putting some chicken wire around one of the planters to try to keep the berries in and the squirrels out. It's not a perfect solution, because some of the leaves are squished up pretty tightly against the metal -- and that means some of the strawberries might rest on the mesh as well. That can cause them to develop poorly.

But it's nice to know that there's at least one plant that'll be somewhat protected from strawberry thieves.

While we started with just four plants last year, they also put out runners and multiplied... I'm not even sure how many individual plants are growing this year. Some of them even leapfrogged out of their containers and into other pots.


Another crop of plants I put in the ground last year is also thriving this spring. In the fall I planted some garlic, and the leaves are strong and tall this spring. It's a bit tougher to know exactly when to harvest the garlic, since the part you really want is under the ground.

But some of the garlic is soft-neck, while other plants are hard-neck. I'm hoping the hard-neck variety will send up some garlic scapes in the coming weeks. That'll be a good indication that the roots are turning into nice little bulbs of garlic below the surface... and a tasty indication at that. I love garlic, but I think I might like garlic scapes even more.

Snow peas, edamame, and tomatoes

While the plants I sowed last year are doing quite well in early 2013, the seeds I planted this year have been a bit more of a mixed bag so far. That's partly because I got off to a later-than-planned start.

I didn't have many seeds left from last year's snow peas and I forgot to buy new ones. Of the seeds I placed in the ground this spring, only one seems to be growing. It's coming up pretty nicely at this point, but the snow pea is in a race against time.

Once it gets too warm, it'll die, so there's no guarantee it'll produce any pea pods at all. Even if it does, I'm not sure a single plant will provide enough peas for anything larger than a small snack.

After trying, largely unsuccessfully, to grow red peppers on the roof for the past few years, I've decided to give up. I had some success with cherry tomatoes last year, so I'm trying to grow those again this year. And since snow peas thrive on the roof, I figured I'd try another legume with some edamame.

So far only two edamame plants are growing -- and they're surrounded by strawberries. It's a bit too early to say how they'll fare, but a few days ago I put a few more in the soil to hedge my bets.

Since I've had limited success growing seedlings indoors and transplanting them, I'm trying to just put everything directly into the planters to see what happens.

That's not a perfect solution for tomatoes -- which can usually start indoors as early as two months before they go outdoors. But rather than watch my plants die when they go outside, I figured I'd take my chances with directly seeding them.

Unfortunately I'm not 100 percent certain that what I'm looking at in this photo is a tomato plant. It could also be a weed. I get plenty of those in the garden. Right now I'm being careful about which weeds I pick, because I don't want to accidentally snip a tomato plant.

Leafy greans

One set of plants I started this spring which appears to be thriving is the leafy greens. Spinach still tends to be hit or miss, with some plants growing nice and big, but others looking anemic. But I bought a mix of red and green lettuce, and those plants are growing faster than weeds.

I didn't do a very good job of separating the plants, so some of the lettuce plants are probably growing too close to their neighbors. But I wanted to let them settle a bit before thinning the herd, because the first time I tried pulling up a seedling, I accidentally pulled up the roots of three of its neighbors.

I haven't decided whether it's time to give it another try -- or if I'll just let them duke it out among themselves while competing for natural resources.

Either way, it should be time to start making salads soon.

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