Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Raised Pots - A new science experiment

I've been thinking about doing this for a while.

7 years of pots—a solution looking for a problem
I really want more raised beds for my veggies, after moles killed my snow peas by lifting them out of the ground, and almost did the same to half my spring broccolis. BUT—as everyone knows, raised beds cost $$$$—far more than a year's supply of frozen broccoli. Meanwhile, I have a large pile of pots just waiting for me to recycle them. So I took my six baby winter brocs this morning and gave each one a mole-free and hopefully vole-free home in a 2-gallon pot.

2-gallon pots, fiberglass mesh, and a baby broc
I started with 1-gallon pots, but then I remembered how big my spring broccolis got, and how thick those stems were. I don't want to crowd their roots. The drain holes in the 2-gallon pots are big enough to let a vole or a baby mole through, if it were lucky enough to find it, so I lined the bottom of each pot with 1/8" fiberglass mesh, the same stuff I used under the strawberry raised bed. I really can't see any critter wanting to chew through fiberglass, it's inert, and little roots can get through it if they want to.

Buried in the soil, ready for insulation
I mixed in store-bought compost with the soil, just for a bit of extra tilth and drainage, and then dug a hole and buried about 4" of the pot in the soil. I didn't want to bury them all the way, which would help keep the roots from freezing, because that would make it easy for voles to climb into them, but I didn't want to leave them completely exposed, because that would make the soil more likely to freeze during the freezing spells. If we do have an extended freeze—like the ten-day one we had a few years ago—then I may lose them anyway. As the soil warms up and they start to grow in the early spring, I'm hoping the slight elevation will help the upper soil drain well and maybe warm up a bit earlier than the surrounding soil, which is one of the major benefits of raised beds.

Just need a few more leaves
After I planted each one, I filled the top 1" of each pot with a mat of the decaying hay from this year, and then I'm filling in leaves around and over the pots, which will help insulate them and block weed growth. I'm hoping that the only difference they'll notice from being in the ground is that they have a little better view.

So, now we sit back and see how they do. I really should have planted them a month or two ago, but I blew off a lot of my garden chores this fall while the weather was nice in favor of painting outside in my garden, which was one of the most fun things I've done in years.

As I dug the holes I found some subway tunnels, and lots of small, really deep, or half-eaten potatoes that I missed when I did the big dig. No wonder I always get so many volunteers every year. I'm shifting my potato culture to the west half of the garden next year; I've been growing them in the same rows for three years, and although I didn't see any disease, I'll rotate them for a year or two.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Early fruits come in

Asian pears and apples

When I checked the orchard last evening, there was a big Shinseiki asian pear on the ground. It had a big rotten area on one side, but the other side looked really good. I wanted to taste it and see how close it was to ripe, so I took it up to the house to cut out the bad part. When I cut into it, the flesh was so crisp it crunched as I cut, and juice dripped from it. Of course I ate it! It hadn't developed much flavor yet--it needs another month--but it was mildly sweet and the texture was terrific. So I decided to go around and shake all the trees. Seven pears and five apples!

The dark red apple on the lower right is the only gala--it really didn't want to come off but it's so blemished I doubt there'll be much to eat on it. Its footie got peeled back early on by a critter and it's been scarred since it was half this size. The two on the top are Honeycrisp and the two smaller ones on the bottom are liberties. The two darker pears are Chojuros, and the light yellow ones are Shinseikis.

Several of these fruits have wounds where squirrels tried to chew through the footies, but I can cut around those. I weighed the bagful and it was six pounds! I put the apples in the fridge (I still need to check and see if the Honeycrisp need cold storage) and the pears out on the counter to ripen a bit more.

The squirrel repellers I put up two weeks ago still seem to be keeping the squirrels away. The liberty and the pears still have another month or so till full ripening, but I'll keep watching them and checking. I'm glad I'm getting some of my harvest!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A surprise harvest day

I finished my painting session today just after noon, and was walking around looking at what I need to do in the garden, and spotted one of the grape clusters on my Himrod vine. Half of the grapes in it were half an inch across so I thought I'd taste one and see how close it was to ripe. It was sweet and delicious! So I ate more, and as I did, I spotted the other clusters. I went up to the house and brought down my pruners and cut all half-dozen of the clusters. I ate as many as I wanted and took the rest up to the house and put them in the fridge. I was surprised that most of the tiny grapes were as sweet as the larger ones—not all of them, though. None of my other three vines had fruit this year, but I'm still quite happy to have what I got.

I also decided it was time to pick both my Bartletts, and they must have agreed because they came off the tree quite readily. It's such a small tree, and had to struggle so much its first two years in the ground, I was skeptical that both these pears would make it to maturity, but they did! They're full-size, nice, green-golden pears, and I'm hoping they're going to taste as good as they look. I should know in about a week.

I marked my calendar so I'll know next year when to expect harvest!

Friday, August 2, 2013

New squirrel in town

There's good news and there's bad news. The bad news is that grey squirrels have discovered my orchard. This was the first sign—an asian pear stripped of its footie and carried a hundred feet away and dropped on the other side of the barn. It wasn't ripe yet and won't be ripe for at least another couple months. I found the footie under the tree—it was from my Shinseiki.

Two days later I found two apples knocked down from the Liberty, and one damaged but still on the tree. Happily, this time the footies didn't come off, and the squirrel didn't chew through the footies and didn't actually get any of the apples, just left bites in them. They also won't be ripe till at least mid-October.

I've been trying to make sure I spend some time every mid-day out in that area of the garden, just to make sure the squirrels see me there. They haven't come back. My neighbor said one of them got run over in the road, and they've set traps at their place. But if they really get determined, I do have a trap that I can set up.

The good news is that the strawberries are bearing again! I had to rebuild my cage to keep the birds (and squirrels) out today, because they grew so big the strawberries were starting to ripen outside the cage! I ate half a dozen delicious big ripe ones, and had to throw away as many big green ones because I couldn't fit them back through the mesh. I raised the level of the top another 8" or so and redesigned it so it was the same height everywhere, instead of arched. I had one other idea that seemed like a good one, so I'm trying it, although I'm not sure it'll work—I staked up the fruiting stems with short lengths of bamboo poles, so the fruits will be off the ground. I have a couple other ideas if that doesn't quite work.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Berries, berries, and cherries

Seascape strawberries and Montmorency cherries
Harvest is starting! I've been eating fresh strawberries every morning for two and a half weeks now, and really enjoying them. The first flush of Seascapes is coming to an end now, but I'm still getting some every couple days. I'm expecting a 2nd crop in a month or two, but I'm not sure when.

And I have cherries! The 162 I counted two months ago are almost all still there--except for this pint I picked a few days ago. I'm heading down this afternoon to get the next bunch. I'm going to try cooking the ones I have so far, later today. Don't want them to sit too long. I'm very happy to see that the fruit fly trap worked really well, so far at least. I haven't found a single inhabited cherry yet, and only a few have been attacked by the birds. I have a net ready to put over the tree, but I really don't mind if the birds get a few. The first ones mostly came off the stones when I pulled on them, and only a couple trios came off with the stems. I decided to give them a few more days before I harvest again. This morning I peeked at them when I went down to hay the potatoes, and I see darker red than I've seen before. I'm still new at this, and definitely learning.

"Fall-bearing" raspberries—in June.
The raspberries started ripening in a really phased manner this year, way different from the last two years. I got about half a bag full over a week, just a few at a time, then suddenly a couple days ago I got a full pint. Now they're coming slowly again, and I've got one plant that is covered with green ones and only had 2 ripe ones when I picked the others. These are all basically the same plant, all located within a six foot circle, so I'm at a loss to explain the different timing this year. It did seem that they started early this year, but my schedule's so screwed up this year—with the month of June gone for jury duty—it's hard to say for sure.

Nice hay--lots of flowers this year!
Sometimes I'm learning the hard way: June is awfully late to be putting hay around my potatoes, but I have at least one excuse. I was waylaid with a sprained ankle and couldn't even make it down there for a couple weeks, and then it started raining again, so I waited. Well, today I got out at 5am, before the sun came up over the ridge, and put out my bale of hay. I had to push the plants back into their rows so I could get the hay around them on both sides, but it went pretty well. I really like the way it looks with the hay. The reason I'm in such a hurry to get it done down is, while I was pulling a few weeds two days ago, I came across a 2" purple majesty potato pretty much right at the surface, and I really don't want the sun to be hitting them. I won't start harvesting them for another two or three weeks.

Basket o' kale
Yesterday I harvested the broccoli yesterday, half-cooked it and froze it all. I probably should have just blanched it, but I wasn't sure how successful that would be with the big heads. This morning after haying, I cut down the four stalks of kale that hadn't fully bolted yet—it really happens fast when the temperature goes up—and brought them into the kitchen. Then I spotted a spider on one and took them back outside and sprayed them off. I set up my stockpot and a bowl of ice water and blanched 4 leaves at a time, and after I got them all done I figured out how to bag them for the freezer. I was going to leave the midribs in, but they were still so stiff and took up so much room, that I cut them all out, folded up the leaves in little bundles, and fit them all into one and a half quart bags. So we'll see how that works. I've never blanched anything before, so it was a bit of an adventure, too. It's nice to have that all done, now I just have the stuff I've done before. Should give me several weeks of greens to go with my taters. I did notice that the sweet, mild taste of the tuscan kale did actually get a lot stronger in the last week. I wasn't sure before how long it would last, so now I know: until the weather warms up.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Summer, Saturday, and Strawberries!

What an incredible day! I spent the morning in a garden workshop at Gracewood Studio (see my other garden blog for today) and came home to a wonderful quiet afternoon, 75º outside, no wind, and a dozen and a half of fresh-pickable strawberries, not to mention a couple snap peas and the first raspberries of the year.

I rinsed these off and have eaten half of them already, with my supper. For the last few I mixed up an easy instant chocolate sauce (1 Tbsp. nonfat Nancy's yogurt, 1 tsp. cocoa powder, 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar. Adjust quantities for sweetness and thickness), and oh my goodness, what incredible, astonishing flavor. I feel that I am now in a position to HIGHLY recommend Seascape strawberries! They are growing and producing great guns, and throwing runners like it's going out of style, and the berries are so sweet and bright-tasting they practically effervesce. They have exactly the same sprightly bubbliness on your tongue that a perky flute of champagne does. I have no idea how that happens, but it does.

The Liberty apples are growing faster than any of the other apples and pears, about 1.5" in diameter now. The pears have grown, as have the other apples, but they're way behind the Liberties. So far the footies seem to be stretching easily to fit the fruit. I'm wondering if I'll need to go around and partially untwist the footies so they'll stretch more easily. I'm just keeping them under observation for now.

My tuscan kale is so beautifully lumpy! It's also more tender, quicker to cook, and milder than any of the kales I've grown so far. I need to start blanching it because I can't eat it fast enough to keep it under control. It's great with potatoes and vinaigrette.

My bergarten sage in the veggie patch is looking beautiful and blooming more than last year. The other little ones I put out other places are still getting established, but I'm hoping they start looking like this next year. I love the big light blue flowers.

I've learned a bunch about basil this year, trying to grow it for the first time. In mid-may I bought 7 little pots of it and planted them in with my blueberries, and one green one and two purple ones in a pot on the patio. The slugs promptly ate every one I put in the ground, and within a couple weeks the ones in the pot were rotting at the base of their stems and falling over. I told a friend and found that she keeps hers in her greenhouse till June. Two weeks ago, I happened on an herb man at the Oregon City Farmers' Market who told me that basil plants do just fine outside down to 40º, but only after they've been hardened off. My big mistake was buying plants from greenhouses and then setting them out immediately, and not to mention, putting them in the ground without a moat of slug bait around each one. I bought two new green ones from him, and put them outside in the pot with the one living remnant of the purple ones that's still hanging on. I did put a plastic cloche over them when the rain was coming down hard, just to keep them from getting too wet and beat down. July 4th and the dry weather are both coming. The fragrance is fantastic. I pruned the sprout tips tonight and put them in with the potatoes I cooked. Mmmmm. This is turning into a wonderful year.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

My apples have footies!

It's been a busy spring, but the veggies and fruits have been doing great without much help from me. But I finally got in with them today, weeded the orchard, put footies on all my apples and pears, and made a first pass on a bird-proof cover for the strawberry bed.

I also took a bunch of pictures. My tuscan kale is really looking great! It definitely is tuscan kale, lumps and all! I took a nibble out of one leaf today, just to see what it tasted like. It was very mild, thick and chewy. It's probably going to take a lot of cooking. I'll be trying some soon.

The broccolis are 18" tall! The potatoes are a foot tall and a couple are starting to bloom. I don't know what happened to the potatoes, but they practically leaped out of the ground. Maybe the soil was warmer? I still haven't put hay on them but I will soon. June is usually the last month of rain, but it's so weird this year, who knows what will happen?

I counted 172 cherries on my Montmorency tree today. Time to get a fruit fly trap on there.

The Seascape strawberry plants are looking really great, and I can't believe the berries!

And here are the footies! Between the Gala, Honeycrisp, and Liberty apples, the Bartlett pear, and the Shinseiki and Chojuro asian pears, I put footies on 53 pieces of fruit today. If they all make it to maturity—which they won't—that will be a lot of fruit! Here's a nicely-twisted footie on a Chojuro baby. I'm prepared for the eventuality that some of them will fall off or blow off. I'll go down with some wire and tie them back on when (if) that happens.

And here's what one of the better-laden branches of the Shinseiki looks like.

Here are two little Honeycrisp babies before I put the footies on. So cute! I'm really hoping some of them make it to harvest because they are sooooooo delicious! There are eleven now so there is a chance.

Whatever happens this year, it's going to be interesting again.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

New year, new starts

Broccoli in front, snow peas on the trellis
The garden is awake and growing! The winter months are gone (yay!) and everyone in the garden is back in business. Last month I got my broccoli and snow pea starts and got them in. They didn't get snowed on this year, but did get their quota of overnight freezes. Now we're just two weeks away from our guaranteed frost-free date, and the garden is almost all ready to grow. I still have to buy more companion plants! And my now three-year old purple-sprouting broccoli is still alive, still three feet tall, and fell over again this winter. I need to put up something really sturdy to hold it up. I'll be happy for it to keep staying alive as long as it can, as long as it keeps producing.

I had to do a few maintenance things this year. I had to cut back the hardy oregano planted around the outside and pull out the bits that were invading the garden space. I may be rethinking having them right on the edge, but they really do keep weeds down, and I imagine that they repel critters, being quite unappetizing themselves. Maybe a root barrier is all I need, but that's a lot of barrier and a lot of digging. I might achieve the same aim by just moving them further away. Another nice thing they do is produce a healthy pile of harvestable mulch at the end of the year. They like being sheared down to the ground in late winter when the new shoots get started. One of my friends mows hers a couple times a year, but the good bugs like the flowers, so I let them come in the fall.

Again, there were very few weeds—many fewer than last year—and the winter leaf mulch is in great shape. I used maybe a quarter more leaves than I did last year, to make sure I got better cover. The hay beneath them, from last year's mulching, is half-rotted by now, and I know that's exactly what it's supposed do: feed the soil organisms that feed my plants. As the leaves start to decay and the potatoes start to grow, I'll be piling on more hay and straw. After two years with this garden, I don't see any reason to change the basic approach: lots of mulch means less work, less water, and better soil.

Parsley survivor & garlic
I was surprised to find one of the parsleys I had last year is still alive and looking really healthy. I still have most of the half-quart I froze last year, so I won't buy any more this year. Last year was the first year I actually got my new garlic set out in October, as you're supposed to, and they're looking great already. I'm having one regret now—that I didn't plant any ornamental kale again last fall. Not only are they pretty over the winter, they're blooming now, and when I saw them around town, I realized I'd missed  a great opportunity to attract good bugs to the garden early in the year. So this year, I will plant ornamental kale! I promise! Whenever I say "I will" like that, I think of Whoopi Goldberg in "Ghost", saying it through clenched teeth.

Tuscan kale babies
I decided to try some Tuscan kale this year. I got a six-pak and planted it further down than last year's kale, where it'll get more sun. With all that leaf pigment—and being from Tuscany—I'm guessing it'll want sun, and sun, with more sun on the side. It bothers me that the plants aren't black and lumpy now. I hope they really are Tuscan kale.

Seascape everbearing strawberries
There are new babies this year, and I added a whole new room for them, in the sunniest possible corner of the good dirt—where the artichokes and dying melon plants were last year. I've given up on melons—for now. More technology is required for them. Two dozen new Seascape everbearing strawberries have their own 7'x2.5' raised bed now. I drove 25 miles each way to get cheap cedar 2x8"s and filled it with half my red clay and half mint compost. I had a set of metal corners I got literally ten years ago, so the bed went together easily. I lined the bottom with fiberglass quarter-inch mesh I got at a barn sale a couple years ago, to keep moles and voles out, and stole the garden fencing from one of my compost piles, so the mint compost and the lumber were the only things I had to pay for this year. Nice. I got enough lumber for two beds, but don't have any more corners, so I haven't put the second bed together yet. Maybe next winter when I can get more cheap Seascapes. I bought the plants as soon as the store got them, and planted them the week I got them, so they could get as early a start as possible. Really looking forward to getting lots of strawberries this year.

And last but not least—the potatoes went in the ground on April 2nd, four days earlier than last year. Twenty Purple Majesty starts. I gave up on finding All Blues this year, and I was really happy with the PM's last year. Again, I planted them in exactly the same place I put the last ones. Next year I'll move them around. I did a much more thorough job of harvesting last fall, and have had fewer leftover re-starts this year, at least so far. I've thrown most of those out, but did keep a couple blue ones and one that looks like a fingerling from year before last.

So there it is—Ruth Stout garden 3.0—and it feels pretty good. Soon I'll have pictures of my little orchard in bloom. The Asian pears are blooming now and the apple buds are pink. The Chinese apricot bloomed this year, but just a few flowers. Anyway, that's for next time.