Winter Gardening in Arkansas (Garlic, Kale, and More)

Mr. Code Junkie and I went back to his parents’ for Thanksgiving for a week and a half and we ate our weight in juicy turkey and delicious stuffings. It still feels like the parents’ house is the best since they have a stocked fridge full of wonderful surprises while our fridge looks like a college student short on money.

I had hoped my garden would hold up while I was gone because for a while there, it really was doing wonderful. The bak choy is producing every single day, the tomatoes are growing mad, and so are the peppers that I started in October! I had thought about putting a hoop house on this bed while I was gone but I looked at the forecast and it says it will go down to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 Celsius), and I thought my plants can handle it.

Well, they did not.

According to my friend, the week we were gone, the temperature dipped down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 Celsius). Of all things, my calendula and lupine survived. The bak choy is struggling a little, but kale and cabbages seem to love the cold very much. 

I built a hoop house after watching this video by James Prigioni on Youtube and mine came out quite like his! Although I feel like his bed is probably a lot sturdier. According to Prigioni, the hoop house adds a zone and half which makes my zone (6A) 8 and a half! 

The garlic I planted in the fall (October-ish) all sprouted because we have had a fairly warm fall here in Northwest Arkansas. I forgot who recommended this seed company called Southern Exposure, but I got my garlic and some other seeds from this company and my sprouting rate has increased drastically compared to the seeds I buy from nurseries, or worse, Home Depot. I realized you can click on the little sun icon on the left column of the website and it shows all the seeds that are suitable for the South-East region (which isn’t exactly where I live but close enough). You can also filter by “Certified Organic,” “Heirloom,” and “From Small Farm.”

 

I recently got chatting with one of the guys who run a local orchard, and he introduced me to this rather rare fruit I have never heard before, pawpaws. This opened up a new door for me to explore all the fruit-growing hipsters of the world. After discussing with him, I decided to buy two Pawpaw trees and try it out. It takes 3 years for these trees to fruit, so I can practice my patience while I wait. I also read up on these from a book called For the Love of Pawpaws by Michael Judd. Apparently, my trees are descendants of the famous trees they cultivated from the University of Kentucky! They are supposed to taste like bananas + cantaloupe but each tree may produce a slightly different flavor of the fruit. And even crazier, there are pawpaw festivals

The reason I never heard about Pawpaws is that they have a very short shelf life (2-3 days) and cannot be transported like bananas, strawberries, and other fruits. The only way you can taste a pawpaw fruit is if you have a tree, or have a friend who has a tree! 

While there isn’t a lot going on in the garden in winter, I spent my time planning out next year’s garden layout! Learning from this year’s successes and failures (mostly failures and some dumb luck), I paired up different types of vegetables that are companions with each other, and only plant veggies I like to eat. I don’t know who I was kidding, planting beef-steak tomatoes and cucumbers thinking I would convert into a vegetarian overnight.

It is the time of year where we reflect, slow down, cook soups, spend time with loved ones, and gather our hopes for the new year (though we should always do all of these things!). I hope you are cherishing what you have and taking a break from the normal busy life to enjoy a bit of gardening in the winter.

May Garden Update, Food Forest, and more

It’s hard to believe it’s only been a month since I started randomly planting things. Here’s what I planted in mid April.

The chamomile didn’t make it. I am not sure how to take care of them after they sprouted. They all seem to die just a few days after sprouting. So that’s something to learn next time. If you have any suggestions, please comment below or send me a note!

The sprouting potato from Walmart is doing amazing in the garden. This is a potato that we had in the pantry for weeks and forgotten to eat it. So it sprouted in the pantry. I dug a hole in the front of the garden bed thinking it would probably be dug up by squirrels and eaten (like the sweet potatoes I tried to plant last year). Surprisingly, the potato is growing REALLY WELL. 

I planted these leeks into the ground after harvesting just the leaves a couple of times, realizing that’s not how you harvest leeks. I am waiting for them to flower and go to seed, and replant them again in the summer.

The tomatoes I got are from Sam’s Club. They were grown plants (about 2 inches with flowers) and I planted them in around end of April. There are three kinds I tried: Husky cherry red hybrid tomatoes, Cherokee purple heirloom tomatoes, and Heatmaster hybrid tomatoes.

Hybrid tomatoes’ seeds will not germinate next year so they are just going to end after this year’s harvest. I am hoping the Cherokee tomatoes grow well, and I can collect some seeds from this plant for next year. I learned about determinate/indeterminate tomatoes just this morning, and how to prune them. Here’s one of my favorite gardening guy talking about setting fruit with tomato plants to make sure you get the tomatoes!

The sunflowers are growing really well so far. I germinated them around the same time with the zucchinis and they’ve grown a lot more than the zucchini. They are also seeds from my friend who grew them locally. So I hope they will do better in this soil than others. They tend to have long stems shooting up when they are young, so transplanting is slighting hard. I killed all of them last year because I accidentally snapped these stems (they are so tender!). This year, I waited a lot longer for the stem to firm before moving them anywhere which seem to have helped.

(Almost) Zero Waste Gardening Progress

I am a bit of a black thumb when it comes to keeping plants alive. I am genuinely surprised I was able to keep my dog alive for this long. 

Here are some of my gardening this year and tips to battling the black thumb!

1. Use the waste to create new life

My “Infirmary” in the kitchen.

  1. Eggshell seedling tray: Since learning this trick of making eggshells as seedlings, it’s such a brilliant idea instead of buying those cardboard paper seed starter trays. Eggshells are free, easy to come by. I have tried cracking the egg carefully on one end and preserving most of the shell, and found that really unnecessary. Cracking the egg in the middle like usual gives you enough shells to make two seedling pots! I usually poke a hole with the chopstick (from the INSIDE guys, don’t be an idiot like me trying to crack an empty shell end from the outside. It doesn’t work, folks!). I find it also easier to transport these seedlings to pots, and the eggs decompose way faster than the cardboard boxes for the roots to extend into the bigger pots.
  2. Vermiculite: I usually fill these egg shells with vermiculite I bought from Home Depot. Vermiculite itself encourages root growth, so it’s fantastic for seed starting and propagating. Since it’s so expensive, I try to only use it when necessary. Seeds usually sprout religiously around 70-75 degrees (unless you’ve roasted your sunflower seeds…then you should just eat them).
  3. Seeding pads: If the temperature outside is still too cold, you could try this $10 heating pad, which I have found to be very useful! You can also use this heating pad to make mead in the winter.

I just read online that my chamomile seedlings are too bunched up together, and I need to thin them out. I just gave them a little trim this morning, let’s see if they will survive the seedling stage this year.


2. Regrow your vegetables

Before I met Mr. CodeJunkie, I have never eaten leeks before. The leeks in America is so big it looks alien to me. It looks like a giant version of the green onions which didn’t sound appetizing at all. Mr. CodeJunkie loves it; and once I’ve tried it, I realized that it’s surprisingly refreshing. Now we eat a lot of leeks when we cook twice-cooked pork (a Chinese dish from my hometown Sichuan). One day Mr. CodeJunkie asked if we could grow leeks with the stem we have leftover, and we tried it. The leeks we bought from Walmart seems to be extremely eager to not be completely eaten. You can almost see the growth overnight. Now we just put the leftover leeks into some water, wait for it to root, then plot it down into soil. They seem to be loving it.

I also grow green onions in these pots too, considering they look so similar. The newly grown leaves taste so much better and fresher than store bought that now I am considering having an herb garden collection!


3. Compost

I have watched a lot of composting videos about the brown and green ratio, vermicomposting (with worms; this guy from the youtube is so excited about worms…), pile composting in the backyard, etc. The most clean and no-brainer I’ve found is the Trench Composting method. It basically means you dig a hole and bury your kitchen waste. I don’t necessarily dig holes in the yard. I have a raised garden bed and use one of them as my composting area, where I dig and bury the kitchen waste

If you live in apartments, then you might like this vermicomposting indoors. I wish I had the organization to be able to do this, and not have a dog that eats almost everything who will certainly want to personally investigate this worm bin.

What are some ways you find helpful to reduce waste and/or grow new things?