Tag Archives: Asian vegetables

Maximizing Space

Growing Vertically

We devote only a small part of our backyard for vegetable gardening and I’m always looking for a way to add more plants and increase productivity in the existing space.  Though we have put a deer fence up around our backyard, we still have to put a low fence around the vegetable garden.  If we don’t, there would be nothing left.  Deer cannot get in our back yard but rabbits, woodchucks, squirrels and chipmunks are still able to sneak in and enjoy what we grow.  So we are limited to growing vegetables within this little fenced in area, therefore I try to make every inch work to its maximum productivity.

Looking back at the last season, I note what worked and integrate it into the coming season along with whatever adaptation increases efficiency.  The method described below can be used for any plants that grow vertically, not just vegetables.

Aside from incorporating different plants in any one plot, I also grow vertically.  While most gardeners grow beans on a cone shaped ‘teepee’ I believe, I put up a trellis for beans that’s over the path, high enough to walk under, and grow beans on each side.  Last season, I put one up by the vegetable garden entrance.  It worked well and when the beans were fully grown and had developed pods, it looked beautiful and provided easy access for picking the beans too.  The trellis can be moved to any part of the garden easily when needed or I can grow different vegetables on it.

The bean trellis early last July. You can see the netted frame structure behind it.
Toward the end of July, beans have grown to cover the trellis with plenty of pods. It’s easy to walk under when picking beans.
I’m not sure what type of beans these are but their ancestry is Italian. My neighbor brought the seeds back years ago and we have been growing them ever since. They are delicious as young pods as well as dried beans later.

Once the weather was warm enough to remove the plastic from the cold frame, I put up a net in its place, see the first photo, to filter and soften the sunlight.  It reduces the light by about 50%.  Leafy vegetables like lettuce, Mitzuna, and Pac Choi prefer a little shade.   In the middle of summer, when the temperature is high and the sunlight is strong, these leafy vegetable will bolt easily and the lettuce will turn bitter.  With shade over them, they can take their time to grow, their leaves are crisp and sweet and the soil will dry more slowly.  I grow Bitter melon on the side of the frame structure and let them entwine themselves up the frame.  I gradually roll back the filtering net as the melon plant grows allowing it to take over shading the vegetables below.

Bittermelon growing up the frame (see first photo) and completely covering the top of the structure, providing shade for the leafy vegetables below.
The melon fruit hangs down making them easy to pick
Early in the season when the structure still cover with a filtering net. Vegetable that do well in semi-shade here are-Left front to back- Wasabi Arugula, Chinese broccoli, two types of lettuce. Right front to back- Mizuna, three types of Mustard greens
Later on when the melon plants cover the structure, I put in more lettuce like ‘Spotted Trout’ and ‘Truchas’

One down side of having the vegetables grow up the frame is that I have to cut them all down when the temperature threatens to drop close to freezing.  I need to put the plastic back on and turn it back into a cold frame again.  Most gardeners leave the plastic on but open the ends of the structure to let the air flow through in summer.  I could have done the same but I would lose growing space on the top of the structure.  I would also have to put a smaller frame over one of the 3’X18′ plots and cover it with a sunlight filtering net to grow these vegetable in the heat of summer.  I prefer to kill two birds with one stone: shade the vegetables and have extra growing space.

Cold Frame – Spring

Early Start

I finally had a chance to do something in the garden.  My spring itch has subsided a little bit once I had the chance to get my hands dirty.   The garden is still covered with a foot or so of snow that is slowly melting away.  We made a path to the bird feeder a few weeks ago and today I made an extension path to the vegetable garden.

I opened up the cold frame for the first time today.  It has been closed up for the last three months.  I had good intensions to grow and harvest vegetables in winter but I couldn’t get access to it.  With three feet of snow covering the vegetable garden and temperatures that dropped to below 0 degrees Fahrenheit and sometimes double digits below, I didn’t expect to see anything alive in there.  I also haven’t been able to water inside since I closed it up.

This is what our cold frame looked like in winter.  Snow covered up to half of the frame.
This is what our cold frame looked like in winter. Snow covered up to half of the frame.

The temperature was hovering around 40 degree and I managed to dig my way there so it’s a good day to check the inside.  As soon as I pulled the tape off and opened the plastic ‘door’, I could feel the heat rushing out.  To my surprise, there were some red lettuces, mustard greens ‘Dragon tongue’, Mizuna, Red Russian Kale, Swiss chard and some carrots that survived the ordeal.  Not in such a good shape though.  These are the ones that made it through winter as seedlings and now they are not much bigger.  There are also some new seedlings that sprouted up.  I have no idea what they are.  My best guess is either Broccoli Raab or Pak Choi.

The survivors: Mustard green 'Dragon tongue', Mizuna, Swiss chard 'Ruby red'.  A lot of their leaves have dried up
The survivors: Mustard green ‘Dragon tongue’, Mizuna, Swiss chard ‘Ruby red’. A lot of their leaves have dried up. Even without watering for the last three months, the soil in side is still moist.
As much as their leaves look very fragile, this red leaf lettuce pulled through.
As much as their leaves look very fragile, this red leaf lettuce pulled through.
I pulled one of this Mustard green 'Dragon tongue' and tasted it.  It was surprisingly sweeter than in summer.
I pulled one of this Mustard green ‘Dragon tongue’ and tasted it. It was surprisingly sweeter than in summer.

I took my time cleaning up inside the cold frame; pulling up the dead, clipping off dry and rotten leaves, and pulling up weeds and moss.  Then I put new seeds in.  The day time temperatures are still around 30 and 40 degrees fahrenheit and at night will drop down ten points or more most of the time.  However, the temperature inside the cold frame is much warmer because of the heat trapped inside.  So, this is a good time to put seeds in to get a head start for salad and transplanting later on.

I’m happy and satisfied getting my hands dirty.  In two to three weeks, we will have baby greens for salad.  The vegetables that survive the winter will also be big enough to harvest for soup and stir-fry.

After cleaning up, sowing new seeds and watering.
After cleaning up, sowing new seeds and watering.
Ready to close up again.  See you in a couple of weeks or when the weather allows.
Ready to close up again. See you in a couple of weeks or when the weather allows.

By the time we finish with the greens, the temperature outside should be warm enough to transplant Swiss chard and kale to their permanent spots.  The following are the seeds I put in, most of them do well in cooler temperatures.

  • Lettuce: Green Oakleaf, Danyelle (red leaf), Black Seeded Simpson
  • Swiss chard: Fordhook giant, Ruby red
  • Kale: Red Russian, Nero Di Toscana
  • Radish: French breakfast, Sparkler white tip, Red meat
  • Edible Chrysanthemum (Shungiku or Tang Oh): Round leaf, Serrated leaf
  • Chinese broccoli
  • Pac choi:  Green, Red choi
  • Komatsuna
  • Arugula ‘Astro’
  • Carrot ‘Short ‘n Sweet’
  • Mesclun (arugula, red Russian kale, endive, chervil, Raddichio, red romaine, and Bibb)