Tuesday, January 26, 2016

First Seeds of 2016

There may still be some snow on the ground outside, but inside spring is beginning!  I planted my first seeds for the spring garden.. Red Creole onion seeds.

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

"Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has
been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed
there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

― Henry David Thoreau

No pressure itty-bitty onion seeds, but I do expect wonders out of you!  While I'm waiting for those seeds to sprout I will be dreaming of spring and a bountiful garden in my future.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Harvest Monday 1/25/16

Probably not the best time for me to rejoin harvest Monday, considering this is what my garden looked like over the weekend:

My row covers didn't stand up to the snow, so no clue what I will find underneath.  The snow is melting quite a bit today, so maybe I'll be able to venture to the garden to see what survived.  We were not in the main pathway of the snowstorm and ended up with about two inches of snow and plenty of freezing rain.  

Before the snow arrived I did go out to the garden and harvest a few things.  While everyone else was out running to the grocery store for the last of the milk and bread, I was digging up some root crops: turnips and carrots.  Some of the turnips were a good size.  The carrots are delicious.  The taste of fall and winter carrots is so much sweeter than my spring planted carrots.

I also harvested some Swiss chard leaves.  Chard is one of my most resilient and reliable crops.  Whether it is the middle of winter or the middle of summer, there is chard in the garden.  It keeps me supplied in leafy greens year round.  I would like more variety of greens. I have spinach and kale out in the garden right now, but they are much smaller and less productive.  They will grow quickly in early spring and then bolt.  Then it will back to the reliable chard.

Weekly harvests:
Carrots: 10.4 oz
Turnips: 1 lb 4.4 oz
Swiss chard: 9.8 oz

2016 Harvests: 11.8 lbs

That's all the harvests coming from my garden this week.  To see what others are harvesting check out Harvest Monday this week at From Seed to Table.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Garden Goals 2016

I have so many dreams about what we can do with our land.  I envision creating a beautiful and productive place that nurtures us and the environment.  Of course dreams are wonderful, but to make them happen, we have to actually make plans and implement them.  I love making lists and that is the first step.  So here are my gardening goals for 2016 to get us closer to that vision in my mind:

·         Plant an orchard: This year my goal is to get fruit trees planted and off to a good start.  We currently have three apple trees and would like to add three pears, two more apples, four peaches and two plums.  I am also considering a persimmon and a fig for the orchard as well.  I have spent countless hours researching varieties.  I want to grow fruit organically, which according to what I have read, may be difficult in my zone due to the high humidity and diversity of pests.  My first line of defense is to select varieties that are disease resistant and adapted to my climate.  I hope this will make producing fruit a little bit easier.

·         Plant wildflowers in orchard:  I know it will be many, many years before my fruit trees will flower and hopefully bear fruit.  Despite this, I would like to grow wildflowers to establish an ecosystem for pollinators and beneficial insects.  I dream of a meadow filled with flowers among the fruit trees.  I know this dream may not be practical as the trees grow and cast shade, but while they are small I want to fill the area with flowers. 

·         Build and plant a strawberry and herb bed:  My current vegetable garden is only for annuals because we till the area every year.  I plant annual herbs among the vegetables, but I want a place to plant some perennial herbs and also strawberries.  I miss having deliciously ripe strawberries in the spring.  My plan is to build a bed along the back of the garden.  It will be 75 feet long and one foot wide.  To keep this planting bed affordable, we plan to collect rocks around our property to make the border.  Hopefully we will have it completed by spring so that I can fill it with strawberry plants and herbs. 

·         Make and follow my garden planner:  I love planning and organizing.  I keep my planting schedule on Evernote, but I want to have a hardcopy so that I don’t have to go onto my laptop or phone to see what I need to plant.  I may have a tendency to easily get distracted. 

·         Sell some veggies:  With my harvests last year reaching over a thousand pounds and the fact that there are only two of us, I think I can safely sell some surplus vegetables and still have plenty to eat and preserve.  Everyone keeps telling me to sell at the farmer’s market and I’m sure that’s a great way to sell produce, but I really like my Saturday mornings.  The thought of getting up before the sun rises every Saturday to sell veggies does not make me happy.  I want to figure out ways to make a little bit of money from my extra veggies while keeping my Saturday mornings for sleeping in and gardening.  I’m thinking that selling to co-workers would be a good option.  I don’t plan on making much money, just enough to help offset the cost of seeds, compost and mulch and help support my gardening addiction!

·         Save more seeds:  Another effort to cut back on gardening costs is more seed saving.  I’ve saved seeds for easy vegetables like peas and beans, but I want to expand my ability to save seeds from most of my vegetables.  I went through my list of varieties and found that all but ten are open-pollinated.  I need to research methods for different types of vegetables and then hopefully save most of my seeds.

·         Make and use soil microbe spray:  I’ve been reading about growing and maintaining healthy fruit trees.  I highly recommend The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips, although I haven't actually harvested fruit yet.  One topic I keep coming across is the use of soil microbes to keep plants healthy and productive.  These good microbes in the soil can help protect plants from pathogenic microbes and even help the plants acquire more nutrients.  I want to try this out by making my own soil microbe spray for veggies and fruit trees. 

·         Grow a better balance of vegetables:  Even though I had a substantial harvest in 2015, I want to grow more onions, potatoes, garlic, broccoli, sweet bell peppers, carrots and peas.  I didn’t have enough of these crops while I had way too many melons and cucumbers.  I hope that over my gardening years I get better at balancing what I grow with what we want to eat.  

Those are my goals for the coming year.  I think it's going to be a busy 2016!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Growing a Thousand Pounds of Veggies

2015 was the year I finally broke the 1,000 pound mark on my harvests.  I still can't believe that I grew that much!  What I’ve learned about growing excessive amounts of produce is that it is a lot of work to grow, harvest, cook and preserve a thousand pounds.  In the end I’ve learned that gardening is not all about the number of pounds, but before divulging into lessons learned, I'd like explain how I got to such large harvests.

Here’s how I grow lots of veggies:
  1.  Utilize as many seasons as possible.  I plant overwintering crops such as spinach, kale, onions and carrots.  Then I plant early spring crops that are fast growing such as lettuce and radish followed by summer crops.  In late summer I plant beans, carrots, turnips, peas and other fall crops.
  2. Succession planting keeps the harvest coming.  I have plenty of pests in my garden, so I am constantly planting.  I start summer squash seeds inside every three weeks.  That way I have seedlings ready to transplant in case I lose plants to vine borers or squash bugs. 
  3.  Maximize space with close plantings.  I use square foot spacing for most crops, which helps to reduce weeds and increase the number of plants you can squeeze into a bed.
  4. Harvest often.  When you harvest crops such as beans and squash, they keep producing. 
  5. Invest time and money into your soil.  Gardening always starts with quality soil with plenty of organic matter and nutrients.  I add compost and mulch every year. 
My garden has about 1,700 square feet of planting beds.  I don’t think that this is the maximum amount I can grow in that space.  I devote some of the space to growing flowers for pollinators and just because they are pretty. I also plant annual herbs such as basil, cilantro, dill and parsley among the vegetables.

Reaching a thousand pounds was a goal of mine, but as with any goal the lessons you learn in the process are more important than getting to check it off the list.  If it was just about the weight of harvests, I could plant my entire garden in sweet potatoes and blow my record out of the park. 

But there are only so many sweet potato pies a person can eat!

Here’s a breakdown of my harvests:
Summer squash
Green beans
Winter squash
Sweet potatoes

Too Much of a Good Thing
I’ve learned that I don’t want or need 105 lbs of cucumbers.  I have forty jars of pickles in my pantry.  Everyone I know has received Christmas pickles.  I also don’t need so many melons.  I do love melons and can easily eat an entire cantaloupe in one sitting on a summer afternoon.  However, it can get old after a few weeks.  Another lesson I learned is not to eat half a watermelon before going to the airport and getting on a three hour flight sitting in a window seat. 

The Right Amount
I, however, do not think that 200 lbs of tomatoes is too many.  I love roasted tomato sauce and made batch after batch during the growing season.  I will find out if my supply will make it until the first tomatoes of 2016.  I was overwhelmed with the amount of green beans during the summer, but I’m content with the amount I have frozen.  I have enough to eat them weekly until next summer.

Not Enough
Despite having a thousand pounds of harvests, there were some crops I would like more.  I want to grow enough leafy greens to eat them daily.  Swiss chard was the most productive green, but I would like more diversity of greens.  I did not have much luck with onions last year and would definitely like to grow more.  All those batches of tomato sauce require onions.  I love broccoli and sweet bell peppers and it seems I never have enough of them.  Also on the more list is carrots and peas- enough to freeze would be great.  I didn’t get to plant potatoes or garlic last year, so they are in the not enough category as well.

New Goals
I will continue to weigh my harvests.  I like knowing how much I grow and how much I use.  I never would imagine that I harvested a thousand pounds last year if I hadn't weighed everything.  Instead of aiming for an overall weight goal, I want to focus on growing a better balance of vegetables.  Less cucumbers and melons with more greens, onions, garlic, broccoli, peppers, carrots, peas and potatoes.  The best strategy is to grow what you eat.