Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 - A quick overview and plans for next year


Except for parsnip, this year's plantings have all been harvested.  Total yields for the season were on the light side at 313 pounds.  There were a number of reasons for the low yields.  Last spring I was trying to finish a kitchen remodel that had been ongoing for over a year.   Since there was some uncertainty when the kitchen would actually become functional again, only a few cole crops were started indoors, consequently the yields of broccoli, kohlrabi, cabbage and other brassicas were light. 

Tomatoes were hit by what I believe was early blight and septoria leaf spot, and yields were abysmal, just over 12 pounds from 4 cages.  Pickling cucumbers, which in the year previous had yielded prodigiously, produced just over 10 pounds from 3 plants.  Potatoes and sweet potatoes were hit hard by voles.  I still harvested 40 pounds of potatoes but no sweet potatoes.  On a more positive note, it was a mostly average year for peppers (13 pounds), okra (12 pounds), onion (25 pounds) and snap beans (19 pounds).  

Winter squash had their best year ever, with a total yield of 135 pounds.  Perhaps it was the  rabbit poop compost and nitrogen-fixing cover crops, or it was just a very favorable year for squash.  At any rate I'll continue to prep the beds much the same way this year. 

Under the protection of the plastic greenhouse next year's leafy greens are growing.  There are 2 rows of Burpee's Double-choice spinach and one row of Reflect spinach, a row of Pinetree winter lettuce blend, a row of bunching onion, and on the left, garlic.  With the extended warm autumn the garlic got off to a fast start.  I'm not sure what will happen with it being in the relative warmth of the greenhouse.  I've found the greenhouse prevents the soil from freezing unless the weather gets brutally cold.

Next year, yes, changes must be made.  I actually wanted to implement some changes this year but the remodeling work ruled that out.  First of all, no roots or tubers next year.  The rodents know where they are and they will be back.  Potatoes will be grown in containers or bags, sweet potatoes will not be grown at all.  That leaves a lot of free space in the largest bed, and that's where the tomatoes come in. 

It's unacceptable to give up on tomatoes, that means that major changes in methods are needed.  Here's a list:
  • Plant varieties that are blight resistant.  There aren't that many varieties available, and I've found that many of them are the saladette/grape varieties which I don't really care for.   Still there are some blight-resistant slicing tomatoes available, such as Ferline, Defiant, and Stellar.  There are also heirlooms which have been noted to have some degree of blight resistance, Pink Brandywine and Old Brooks, although they have no resistance to the wilts.  Also noted for blight resistance is the older hybrid Better Boy.  Plum Regal is a (supposedly) blight resistant hybrid paste tomato, so I'm sure I'll grow that as I need mostly sauce tomatoes.  I don't know if Juliet is a good sauce tomato but it has some blight resistance also.  I'm toying with the idea of buying a grafted Brandywine plant.  The list is still a work in progress.
  • Cage strategy.  I've been growing tomatoes in cages made from 4 foot by 8 foot remesh, which were rolled in cages of about 22 inches in diameter.  Two plants were grown in each cage, and two cages were wired together in pairs.  I may continue to use these cages for determinate tomatoes, which I've never grown before, but the cages will be staked singly, not in pairs, and varieties will be isolated from each other.  The extra space in the large bed will get some tomato plants.
  • New cages.  These will be made from a 50 foot roll of 5 foot remesh.  That extra foot will be a bonus for growing indeterminate tomatoes, which can really utilize the extra height.  I plan to make cages of about 16 inches in diameter, thinner and taller than the old cages.  Each cage will get one tomato plant.  They can be wired together in pairs, which saves on staking, as long as the same variety is grown in both cages of the pair.  
  • Mulching.  This is supposed to prevent splashup when it rains.  I don't know how much this will matter, as I prune off the lower foliage as soon as the plant gets a few feet tall, but certainly can't hurt.  
Most of the seed-buying decisions have already been made, but I'm still working on what tomato seeds to order, and it's a great way to pass the time on a winter's day.   I try to keep the number of companies that I buy from at a minimum in order to hold down shipping costs, but it looks like this year I'll have to order from a number of suppliers.  I always order from Pinetree, but this year will also place an order with Totally Tomatoes, Peaceful Valley (for cover crops) and Johnny's. 

Finally, next spring the strawberry plants in the perennial bed will be taken out and replaced with more asparagus.  The bed currently has 6 asparagus plants and there should be room for 4 more, which should make for decent yields of asparagus in the future.  Plenty to keep me busy. 

Here's wishing everyone a successful 2017.  We'll all need some luck in the coming year.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Monday November 14

Well it had to happen sooner or later, and this year it was definitely later.  I'm talking about the first hard freeze of course.  There was a light frost midweek that wilted some of the sweet potatoes and squash leaves at ground level but did not touch the peppers .   Friday called for a hard freeze that night and it was time to get the remaining peppers inside. 

From the top left are Mama Mia Giallo, an orange sweet pepper that I really like, Carmen and a few Jimmy Nardello peppers.  On the bottom are Mosquitero ancho peppers.  Jalapenos are on the right.  I plan to roast all but the jalapenos on the grill tonight.  I was hoping that the anchos would ripen but they never did.  They are not green either, there is a chocolate tone mixing in, so I'm hoping they will be good.  I'm not a fan of green peppers and much prefer fully ripe peppers.

The sweet potatoes were dug up.  There's no picture because there is nothing to show, just a few pounds of small roots and pieces of larger ones - food for the rabbits.  The voles got most of them.  I even managed to turn over one of the rodents while digging them up, and went after it with the shovel but it got away.   Next year, no potatoes or sweet potatoes in this bed.  I plan to grow some potatoes in containers.  No point in providing a buffet for the rodents.

The remaining squash were brought inside.  A few Tekskabotu were still on the vine and were also brought inside.  It was by far the best winter squash year ever.  I harvested 80.4 pounds of butternut squash from 4 plants, 42.0 pounds of Tekskabotu squash from 1 plant, and 12. 1 pounds of Golden Nugget squash from 1 plant, for a total of 135.4 pounds of winter squash. That does not include 11 pounds of Teksukabotu squash that may or may not be ripe enough for consumption.  All from a bit over 100 square feet of planting space.  To be fair, the plot was surrounded by trellises and the squash were trained over the potato patch once the potatoes were out, but still, it's an impressive harvest.

Once everything was out the garden was cleaned up.  The remaining structure was removed and the pepper plants cut down.  The 9 foot tall okra plant was sawed down.  To see what other people are harvesting, head on over to http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Hard to believe it looks like this in November

Still no frost, in fact we haven't been close to a freeze.  Last year the first frost was mid-October, more typical, although after that initial frost it seems it was about three weeks before the next frost.  Nevertheless it has been an unusually warm and pleasant fall this year.  The back bed in this photo shows the pepper plants.  The ancho and Mama Mia Giallo plants are tall and weighed down by peppers.   The middle bed has some parsnip and a cover crop of field peas and oats.  That's the last of the squash on the drying rack, although there are a few more still maturing on the vine. 

Speaking of mature squash, here's a comparison of a fully ripe Teksukabotu and one that never made it to maturity.  It probably set in September.  I had to harvest it since the vine was dead.  I don't know if the 'green' squash will be fit to eat but it can't hurt to cut it open and have a look.

This is a Mama Mia Giallo pepper that, with a little luck, may just ripen up. It will be harvested regardless.  It looks like next week will be sunny so it's got a good chance.

This is what I call the 'greenhouse bed' since it will get a plastic tent-shaped greenhouse set over it when winter finally gets here.  From left to right there are bunching onions that you can't see,  a row of mache that never germinated (what gives Pinetree?), a row of winter mix lettuce, two rows of Burpee's doublechoice hybrid spinach, a row of Reflect spinach, and garlic, which is just poking up.

I've had much more success with overwintering spinach than planting it in the spring.  The Reflect spinach, which I tried last year, has done the best in spring plantings so I thought I'd try it for overwintering.  For those of you who haven't had success with spinach, trial some different varieties.  Most varieties that I have tried have not done well for me, but the ones that have worked for me I have stuck with and they have proved reliable. 

This bed was planted in brassicas this year.  It's now growing a cover crop of field peas.  I harvest them with shears and fed them to the rabbits.  The peas should be 'fixing' some nitrogen on their root nodules, always a plus.

Most of the strawberries in the pallet planter have survived.  Still don't know if this is going to work or not.

The squash and sweet potato vines are still alive.  There's no likelihood of frost until next weekend so I'm in no hurry to dig up the sweet potatoes.  The leaves are another source of rabbit food.  The Silver Queen okra plant in the back is about nine feet tall now.  It's not producing any more usable okra but it's still growing.  I'll have to saw it down.

And the raspberry plants are still producing a trickle of berries. There's Autumn Bliss and Carolina Red.  They are both everbearing but I plan to cut them off at the ground again this year.  Last year the wet weather gave them a bad case of fungus and they are still not fully recovered.  Better not to leave any foliage over the winter.

Then there's the apple trees.  This is the first year that they set out a lot of fruit.  At first I was worried that they had set too many fruit but about a third of the young apples quickly dropped off, as if the tree knew it had too many apples.  Then the birds, probably blue jays, took an interest in the apples.  They would knock one off, peck at it a few times and leave it.  Sometimes they would carry them off a little ways then drop them.  They must have though it was great sport.  Still in late summer there were some apples remaining.  Then the wasps found them.  Wasps would find an entry into the apple then eat it out from the inside.  Long story short, there are no apples left on either tree.  None.  Maybe next year.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Monday October 31

This is unprecedented. It's the last day of October and yesterday I harvested these peppers - four ripe Carmens and some Jalapenos. 

The peppers were roasted on the grill that day.  After deskinning and deseeding they'll be frozen for use later.  There are also a number of ancho peppers that are beginning to turn red.  With no frost predicted in the ten day forecast, with a little luck I'll get some ripe anchos for roasting in a week or so. 

To see what other people are getting from their gardens, head on over to http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

Monday, October 24, 2016

Monday October 24

It's late October and this area has not yet been subjected to a freeze.  In fact the weather, with the exception of a few bouts of heavy rains, has been incredibly nice.  The trees are just beginning to change, the winter squash are still blooming and the pepper plants are still producing. 

The second batch of winter squash was harvested yesterday from the screen on the right.  They have been curing in the sun for about ten days.   There are still more squash that I have left on the vine or are curing on the remaining screen.  The squash on the vine still looked a little 'green' and since the vines looked healthy, they were left to ripen.  That's nearly thirty pounds of Teksukabotu and twenty four pounds of Metro Butternut.   The largest Tek squash weighed in at over five pounds.  Looks like I'll be making squash soup.   So far this year I've harvested sixty pounds of Butternuts, thirty-three pounds of Teksukabotu, and twelve pounds of Golden Nugget. 

It's always been a challenge deciding when to harvest winter squash.  A general rule thumb is that it takes seven to eight weeks for a squash to fully mature so it's flavor and sugar content is at a maximum.  About the third week in August I begin removing any newly set squash, on the assumption that the first frost will happen in mid-October, although a few sneaked by me.  You begin to notice indications from each variety of squash that indicate ripeness.  The Teksukabotus develop ribs as they ripen, and the green color loses to black. The Butternuts also change color somewhat.  I also look at the color of the stem.  It should be losing the greens and turning to brown.

The peppers are still growing.  Actually they are loaded with green peppers that will never ripen in time.  I harvested a Mosquitero ancho, a Jimmy Nardello and a few ripe jalapenos.  On the plants there are several Carmen and ancho peppers that are ready to pick.  I plan to roast them on the grill in a few days.  Many of the serrano and jalapeno peppers were left to rot on the vine, since there were no tomatoes with which to make salsa. 

To see what other people are growing, head on over to http://www.ourhappyacres.com/ and take a look.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Monday October 10

There are still a few green fresh vegetables to be had from the beds.  Very few, but better than nothing.  The summer squash, planted mid-summer, is still making a few squash, and losing just as many as the end rots away.  At this time of year the garden doesn't get enough hours of sunlight to ripen much of anything. 

The lone Silver Queen okra plant is now over eight feet tall.  Like the summer squash it is producing at a trickle.  

Last week I picked a small batch of beans, enough to make a bean stew, but they are nearly finished also.  It's not over though, there are still a lot of winter squash to harvest.  The squash on the screen are about half of the total squash to be had. 

The squash on the left were picked about ten days ago and have been curing in the sun, so they were ready to bring in and weigh - just under forty pounds.  The squash on the right were picked a day ago.  Most of the Teksukabotu squash are still on the vines, which are still green, so I'm leaving them for now.  Along with the Golden Nugget squash I've harvested over fifty pounds of squash, and expect the total harvest to be in excess of one hundred twenty pounds.  Quite a year for squash, which makes up for the bad year for tomatoes.

The peppers have done well this year.  They just keep making more peppers, even though there is no chance they will ripen.  This Jimmy Nardello plant is full of green peppers.

Sunday I planted the bed for overwintered plants.  Around the beginning of December a plastic greenhouse will be set over the bed.  This year I put in a row of bunching onions, a row of winter lettuce mix from Pinetree, a row of mache, and three rows of spinach.  Garlic will be planted later this month.  The mache and bunching onions are new for me. 

To see what other people are growing head on over to http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Paw paws

Lately I've been working on the old fence line between the yard and the pasture.  The fence is no longer dividing anything and what's left of it needs to be removed.  Like many abandoned fences it became the start of a wooded corridor.  There are a few large trees near the fence, in fact a large white oak simply engulfed the fence so the old fence appears to go right through the tree.

In 2008 a large sugar maple came down in a storm.  The tree split into three equal forks about chest high, and all three forks came crashing down.  The base of the tree was hollow, so hollow that I was amazed that the tree stood as long as it did.  After eight years this is what's left.

The loss of the tree opened up the area to sunlight and numerous saplings sprang up around the tree.  A few weeks ago I noticed that a number of paw paw saplings were growing in a patch near the stump.  I spotted a few paw paw fruits on the branches.  I don't know if any readers have ever tasted a paw paw.  I found some a few years ago while hiking and found them indescribably delicious.  At any rate the thought of eating ripe paw paws motivated me to remove any other tree species from the patch and let the paw paws have it to themselves.

The paw paw is an understory tree, usually growing beneath the giants.  I think it's very attractive.  It has large deeply veined leaves.

The largest of the paw paw saplings looks like it is well on it's way to becoming a tree, about twenty feet tall.

So far I've taken out a half dozen or so saplings that were competing with the paw paws.  Most of the saplings are straight and will find use in the garden.  There's still a lot of removal work to do as there are many saplings growing very close together, as well as a tangle of multiflora rose and wild blackberry in the patch.  Since this is a fairly narrow corridor of woods I'm selecting for the trees I want to have and removing the rest.  Near the paw paws I removed a deformed green ash to give this dogwood, the forked tree, more space.  The tree to the right of the dogwood with the severe lean looks like it has died and will also be removed.

Near the old stump there are a green ash, sugar maple, and redbud tree growing within a foot or so of each other.  I'll leave the redbud tree, since it's a very attractive flowering tree, and remove the others.

North of the paw paws the fence corridor broadens to about fifty feet wide and is populated mostly by tulip poplars.  It looks like these trees all started at the same time, when the area, which was likely mowed or tilled, was left to its own devices as the lot was prepared for a home.  I'm guessing these trees began life around 2000.  Tulip poplars are very fast growing, straight trees that are often the first trees to spring up in an abandoned field.  I removed a number of 'near neighbors' several years ago and the remaining trees are growing quickly.  Someday they will reach a size that has commercial value but not in my lifetime.  It's the wood of choice for paintable millwork, straight grained and easily milled.

North of the poplar trees, on the other side of the pond, is a fast growing sycamore tree.  This tree was part of a patch of sycamores, five or six of them, that appeared about five years ago.  I removed all but the largest tree and also the invasive vining honeysuckle that was engulfing them.  The tree that was saved has rewarded me by growing leaps and bounds, probably four to five feet a year.  That's not surprising since it has a bottomless water supply and full sunlight all day.  In ten years this will be a substantial tree, if it lives to a hundred a giant.  It's a tree I can admire from the deck.

That's pretty much my strategy for landscaping around the edges of the yard - find wild growing trees that I think add to the mix and remove the trees I don't want.  As for the paw paw fruits, I can't find them now.  Something, probably deer or raccoons, got them before I could.