Thursday, April 17, 2014

Planting the Small Garden in Central Wisconsin

Four trays on the top shelf of my grow rack filled with seedlings fro transplant
Choosing the best varieties, for me, is part seed saving, part experience, and part leg work.  I have been talking to truck farmers, market growers, and checking out the winning varieties at the local county fairs for a few years now.  My goal in seed saving is develop cultivars with provenance, that sense of place, cultivars that will grow well no matter what Mother Nature hands us.

By talking with other growers and checking out the county fairs, I am attempting to cut down my research time frame and develop some good knowledge for local growers.  Here in central Wisconsin we live in a unique horticultural climate bounded by gardening extremes.  I don't want tomatoes in the hot year, I want them every year.  Same for peppers, potatoes, lettuce, and broccoli.

Over the past few years I have started to develop some favorites.

My seedlings are typically a bit larger, but this year, I didn't start many until March 15, including the annual flower transplants.  As spring is slow in coming this year, I am not particularly concerned that I will be late.
Sweet Peppers:

Surprisingly 'California Wonders' are the best bell peppers with the best probability they will get red, even in a short growing season.  They are sometimes marketed under some other names like 'King Arthur'. Also surprisingly, they seem to come true from seed, although they are F1 hybrids.  I have not noticed a difference over seed collected over the course of a number of years.  Additionally, the saved seed germinates at nearly 90 percent.  I wish I could say the same for the pricey purchased seed of new cultivars I would like to try.  As an added kicker the purchased seed sometimes runs 50 cents a seed, for seed that does not reliably germinate.

Pimento Peppers:

'Sheepnose', by and far, is the meatiest of these pimentos I have tried.

Other peppers:

Peppers are an interesting group.  They are super easy to wash, slice up, and freeze.  You can dry them.  I use them in a wide variety of foods from stir frys to fajitas and soups.  Surprisingly, seed saved at almost any stage of harvest will germinate-- whether it is a red pepper or a potentially red pepper harvested green.  All the mumbo-jumbo about hybrid seed does not seem as rigid with peppers either, which means you have a really tasty grocery store pepper, by all means save the seed and try and grow it.  I have had good luck growing  peppers from saving the seed from the nearly seedless roasting peppers you see in supermarkets for tail-gating coming football season.


Well, there are these, and this...


When it comes to green beans, I will admit I wasn't a fan...until beautiful SIL made her gluten-free green bean casserole.  I will say I planted a short row of 'Fortex' last spring and they were incredible.  Even just blanched and frozen and then heated in a microwave these were really good.  Previously I have grown some other beans, like kidney beans and white northern, primarily to use as dried beans.   The white northern were a pain to shell which had to be almost completely done pain-stakingly by hand, while the kidney beans could have been beaten and shook loose fairly easily.  I have also grown some of the white and red mottled bean of the dragon tongue type, beautiful mottled red pods on smallish plants, singles this bean out for use in a well-designed decorative garden space for edible landscaping.


I have struggled with onions.  First off, I like them fresh, like as scallions.  Second I would like some good storing onions. I also, because I like onions, am a fan of all the nuances the right onion can add to any dish.  Unfortunately, central Wisconsin is a long day length onion growing zone.  Most of what is sold here are onion sets, which certainly seem to not actually set onions of much size at all.  They certainly don't have the nuances that a sweet Spanish yellow can impart to a dish or even the flavor of a Vidalia.  Both of these are short day length onions and will not grow very well here.  For flavor and storing potential 'Alisa Craig' seems to have the lock.  The only way to grow them is to start your own from seed.  Some of the Asian onions will do well to grow as scallions, and grow fairly quickly.  I have tried the flat, red Cibolla types here and they were okay although only about two inches in diameter.  Onions do germinate fairly well from seed, so if there is a variety that is a favorite I do encourage you to start your own sets sometime in the end of February.

Next Post: Salad greens and peas...

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