Friday, May 8, 2015

A wonderful spring!

The world may be a mess, here in the Shire it is a wonderful spring. These double narcissi are still blooming after the regular daffodils are finished. Picture from May 3.
As reported, snow melted early. Then we had an alternation of sun and rain that was just perfect for growing things. Everything is early, at least compared to the last few years. I do remember this being normal in our earliest Kootenay times. It would be so nice to have a clear record, but I don't. This blog is as close as it gets. The trees are still bright green but fully leafed out. Spirea has started to blossom.
It is now May 7. Food production is a bit later than last year, when we had abundant salads from the greenhouse by May 11. That is the price we pay for taking off the roof. We are making up for lost time fast. We are getting green onions, sorrel, the odd leaf from overwintered Lucullus chard and the first lettuces, and best of all, asparagus!
As usual I wish it were 4 weeks earlier. Time is going much too fast. I am a poky puttering worker at the best of times, and besides my energy tends to fluctuate. Oh,  the things I could do if only I were at peak level and totally focused all the time! I am slowly learning to not, in the flush of high energy, make promises I cannot keep when it is lower. That only took about half a century.
My last serious garden work days were spent, I almost say wasted, on moving perennials around in the big sunny flower border. This ticks me off because it is work I thought I had done last fall. I had a lovely patch of bee balm that was in need of revival. I had dug it all up, fertilized it and planted pieces  over a wide area. This is a member of the mint family. Need I say more? I expected a healthy, major emergence in spring. Not. Only the strong big chunks returned and the patch was overrun by weeds. I blame the early frost and late snow. Meanwhile the vigourous, much loved yellow loosestrife got hit by deer again. It also looked in need of some TLC. Those rhizomous (is that a word?) perennials tend to go off in search of new ground if they are not happy. I wasted time trying to sort both patches out, and then decided to take drastic measures: dig up both patches, rework the ground and made them trade places. That took a whole day.We had a good rain afterwards and they look good. 
The beebalm looks skimpy but the stuff spreads.

The top garden is still waiting for attention. However, once I get there it will be instant greenery. The blessed greenhouse is full of thriving bedding plants. I worried about the lateness of tomatoes and Brussels sprout starts, but they are looking super healthy, vigorous and already bigger than when I took these pictures two days ago.
There is an immovable, huge, but more or less flat topped rock underneath the red tub that is closest to the front. It dictates the layout for that section. I scored two more of the tubs, which were originally used to store some animal food supplement. They will be used for the real heat lovers, peppers and eggplant. They serve as a safe place for bedding plants in the meantime. The farthest visible tub holds a quickie planting of arugula.
The greenhouse does not look nearly as fruitful as a year ago at this time. Give it a week. The small bed that did so incredibly well last year got a generous sprinkle of COF and was planted mainly in mesclun mix, to be followed by snap beans. It is up, just hard to see. The two boxes at the end are also still awaiting their final destiny. Both have been fitted with a trellis. Snow peas in one are up, yeah! They will be followed by nasturtiums in one box and yellow pear tomatoes in the other one. One box will hold a total of 4 tomato plants, the other one broccoli, Lucullus chard and radicchio.

The tipi of poles, just barely visible here, will be devoted to cucumbers this year. 

Speaking of boxes, I really want to grow more food closer to the dwelling in the raised beds. This section was not fenced and originally planned to be a herb garden. It was also used to store the bedding plants I was selling at the farmers market. I am not doing that anymore. It just takes too much time and something had to give. Last year I experimented with rebar and net by way of fencing. Without a top rail the netting tended to sag. I will play with PVC this year. I have not yet decided whether it will be hoops or poles or some of each. 
 But for starters I rigged up an improvised net cover over the three small ones. They are planted in green onions and early greens and I am quite pleased with myself.
To be continued.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Wresting late out of the jaws of early.

Late April already. Green grass is poking through the bracken duff. Perennials are racing out of the ground. Panic season is approaching. We were early, right? Note past tense.

What happened in two months? The snow was almost gone for weeks. It was nice weather but the nights were cold and the snow took its time. Without the cover on the greenhouse I couldn't do anything yet.

Below, February 25, view of the bracken field with home from the edge of the grove we call the Magic Spot. 
Snow was gone in sheltered places, like the small flower bed just below the living room window. Yellow aconites are spreading and welcome. It takes them a few years to go from seed to flower. I started out with just 3 and look at them now! Some have also been given away. They are the cheeriest little things and I just love them. This was March 10. Not the greatest photograph but it will do for a record.
The deer were merciful, or Bobbex was applied timely, and I got to enjoy the crocus.
I just found out that my beloved greenhouse/car shelter has been discontinued. This new cover should be good for four years. Who knows where we will be after that.
 Getting the roof back on might have taken me days of struggle. Instead my handy buddy Rick did it in one morning in return for three hour long sessions of acupressure. Barter rocks! We will take it off again in early November. Yes, we lose a few weeks of growing time but the advantages are worth it. The greenhouse went up in the last week of March. Until then there was no place to put the first batch of early greenery. Many plants got too leggy and some bolted, not worth transplanting. We ate them as microgreens. This is the crowd on March 31, just before they were finally moved.
The Chinese cabbages and arugula were a total loss, but chard, kales and lettuce did fine. I gave quite a few away too.
 This planter with lettuce and Lucullus chard will be moved to the deck once the weather warms up.
These trays were started in the greenhouse after our Easter trip to the coast. The grow light space is taken up with tomatoes.

 Brussels sprouts, more kale, broccoli.
The first thing I did after the trip was check the bulbs in the veg garden. I had been very clever last fall: tulips were planted inside the veg garden in containers. The plan was to put the containers on the deck in spring. Planting tulips in the flower garden is an exercise in futility. Guess what. Deer may love tulip greens, but voles love the bulbs! And I had been so kind to leave them in loose potting soil mix instead of underground. About ninety percent of them were gone. 
I should have remembered tulip bulbs are nutritious. During the bitter winter of 1944/45 my relatives in Rotterdam and The Hague ate their share of tulip bulbs as an emergency food. My parents with infant me lived in the Eastern part of the Netherlands in a rural town and never went hungry.
All the more reason to cherish daffodils. Actually their bulbs get ravaged by some soil dwelling wormy thing but that only hurts next year's blooms. As long as I treat them as an annual we're good. Some dafs do make it back, enough to transplant into these containers by the stairs.
We had a week of wonderful weather, green up is early this year.
Last Wednesday, April 22, the weather turned. The rain was welcome but one could do without the beastly cold. Anyway, I am now in the "OMG Where do I start?" phase. As usual, I have to choose between the bottom garden and the top one, either section would be plenty to keep me busy. The plan is to make the top garden an extensive section, with wider spacing among plants, and have all the fiddly piddly stuff like salad greens at the level of the dwelling, gardened intensely. I am finally claiming the whole space inside the fence. The section between the old raspberry row and the asparagus bed has now been covered with cardboard, wonderful cardboard! Hay will be piled on top and then we will see.
And speaking of asparagus, they are coming up, yeah!
Also coming up: sorrel.
And so it goes. To be continued.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Garden 2015. And so it begins.. .

We are eating green onion tops. The leeks just had their first haircut. The first seeds of hardy greenery are emerging under the grow lights. 
I hereby declare this garden season officially opened.
Leeks are one plant I can put in the window sill. They get trimmed when they get floppy, and the container gets turned around to keep them growing straight. Leek babies don't mind being crowded but love having vertical space for their roots. This narrow planter fits on the shelf and has a good tray to catch drips. The shelf space next to the onions has to stay clear for the sake of the cat. She insists. OR ELSE!
We are having an exceptionally early spring, unless winter makes a comeback. As mentioned elsewhere, the land can be clear of snow any time from early March to mid April, with snowfalls in late April or early May not uncommon. It looks like we will have an early start to the season this year. Even if we get more snow, whatever is gone now will not have to melt later. I am itching to get the new roof over the greenhouse, but there is still too much snow in the way. 
Go snow go! I get frustrated imagining how warm it would be in there if the roof were on and what a pleasure it would be to mess around in thawed out dirt. However, the soil will be healthier for the exposure to frost and snow, the cover will last longer and it sure was nice to have no worries about the works collapsing. We had one epic snow fall that would have been impossible to keep up with.

The vernal pond is trying to become just that. 
The grow light setup has new tubes. This necessitated taking the heavy frame off its stand and putting it back on. At first I thought something was broken, but fortunately my handy electrician friend and barter partner Rick knew exactly how to twist them into place. Phew! Rick will also give me a hand when the time comes to reinstall the roof in return for body work. Old Dutch did it 4 years ago, all by himself, but that was then. It still took me the better part of a morning to get the tubes back onto their metal frame thingy. I had to do it three times. Never mind all the details, I am a bit learning disabled when it comes to practical things. It is done and that is all that counts. 
The first planting is just early greens, hardy stuff that can go into the greenhouse ASAP. In a few weeks I will need the lights for tomatoes. If the roof is not on then we will enjoy them as microgreens.

And so it begins.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Asparagus to Zucchini 2014

The good news: We finally had enough for a delicious dinner for two. The bad news: that is all we had, just one dinner and some raw treats for the gardener. Some of the plants looked as if there was some pest trouble. The emerging spears were thin in places. Voles? Beetles? Slugs? Otherwise most of the ferns are looking fabulous at the end of summer, in spite of scanty water. They have received a fresh weeding, a generous sprinkle of COF and more mulch and are now ready for the first snow. Next year, right?

As mentioned the greenhouse gave us a delicious early start of haricot vert type snap beans. Blue Lake pole beans did well but were hit by an early frost in September. Just one quick light frost but it did in the beans and squashes. We had weeks of growing season afterwards. I had been counting on the pole beans for more beans later in the season and for freezing. Never mind, we can live with them being a seasonal treat. We ate lots for 2 months. Next year do start a succession of bush bean plants for a second wave. And DO prestart beans. It works fine and really gives them a head start.

Voled, as mentioned in previous post.

Broad Beans.
We have the wrong climate for them. They will not set fruit if it gets too hot, like, over 70F, around 20C. They thrive in places with long slow springs, like the Netherlands, Great Britain or the Pacific North West. I have fond memories of them as a special Sunday treat in June or September, the same season as cauliflower. Everyone ate with the seasons in those frugal post-war years in the Netherlands. Brother Jaap and I loved shelling them and playing in the kitchen sink with boats made out of the fuzzy aromatic shells.
This year I stuck some seeds in between the cabbage plants that succeeded the garlic, in early August. They were meant more as a cover crop and to have something to show for my efforts in case the cabbages failed. To my surprise they grew and bloomed profusely, in between the thriving cabbages. But that was all, blossoms. The temps should have been perfect. I don't know what they want. Pollination? I planted one whole bed in broadbeans as a cover crop quite late, well into September. They grew insanely fast. The frost just killed them but there is lots of loverly plant matter to be incorporated into the soil next spring.  Must buy a few kilo seed next year.
Packman hybrid is a great variety that will be planted again. They did well and kept giving sideshoots for months after the main head was done. They yielded till hard frost
but the shoots were minuscule towards the end. Next year I must have another batch ready as a succession crop.
Brussels sprouts
The mystery of the year. I always devote one whole bed to them. They got everything I have to give.  The bed received a generous supply of rotted manure and compost as well as COF before planting, and several top dressings of COF during the season. The plants were well mulched and reasonably watered all summer. During the worst of the cabbage butterfly season they were protected by Remay. They grew great. Huge whole leaves, tall plants. Look at this. Promising or what?
This picture was taken in mid September. By now they had outgrown the protective covering but most of the cabbage loopers were gone. In August I had started removing bottom leaves, right after this picture was taken I removed the tops to encourage the formation of sprouts.  I expected a bumper crop. NOT. Here is the crazy thing. The top sprouts are gorgeous. 
 About a third way down the stem they start looking awful. The transition happens suddenly and across the entire row.
I would sure like to know what caused this.  Meanwhile we have been enjoying what we have, after a hard frost that mellowed them to beautiful sweetness.

I had beautiful starter plants for the first spring planting. The final potting up was in one liter yogurt containers. The roots were just right.
 Then the slugs hit as soon as they were planted out. Look at this poor victim.
A planting that was started in the greenhouse to succeed the garlic did amazing once they were in the ground. Must plan better, with smaller plantings but in succession. Once again Alcosa hybrid Savoy cabbage performed like a champ, as did early Wakefield pointy cabbage. With a household of two it makes no sense to grow giants.

I grew some beauties but not nearly enough to satisfy the almost daily juicing habit. The earliest plantings were ravaged by slugs. Only one 3x3 square out of 5 escaped their wrath. Below, extreme close up of carrots slugged in infancy. I used to think the seeds had not come up, but when you look really close you can see tiny stumps of green. I suspect Arion Ater, the big black slug, sometimes kills them just by slithering over. I started saving all my egg shells. They might not be enough to deter the big one but it is worth a try.

Because of the slugs I cannot use the square foot method of spacing, which makes thinning so much easier. I seeded again later but those batches suffered from not enough watering and thinning.

It is a Prima Donna, but I like it so much I will keep trying to grow it. The spring planted regular ones were first demolished by slugs and then by heat. Below: my one spoon cauliflower.

I planted lots and it did great! Usually I just buy a few plants but this year I started some as well. They all did well, except for one dumb thing. The market buddy who had sold me some starters asked me how I had liked the red variety. Oops! I had forgotten there was such a thing, and had ripped them out, thinking it was some disease. Here is the funny thing. Several other local gardeners also had great celery this year and weird Brussels sprouts. It is not always something we do.

Chard was its usual abundant self. Bless the hardy reliable stuff. Rainbow chard looks so beautiful in the garden, and it brings out the collector in me. I want one of each colour. But really, for eating I prefer the lighter green Lucullus. It is mild and tender and an excellent subsitute for spinach. Slugs like it better too but there is enough leafy green goodness for all of us.

However! In the fall we had some nice Romanescos, love those crazy fractal florets. I wonder if this plant is easier to grow, or if it was the timing? Will play with both.
I tried growing some fat white radishes and failed miserably. They were woody and bitter. I suspect the sudden excessive heat is too blame. I did not feel like repeating the experiment in fall. I don't really care much for them anyway.

In spite of all the good care about 30% of the harvest was lost to the dreaded rot. It appears to attack just before harvest, when the temperatures rise. You see a perfect bulb with the yucky mold covering it, sometimes only part of it. There is enough left and the clean bulbs last all year. My best friend has a garden that keeps being invaded by deer, so almost nothing grows except garlic. She does not have the rot. This year we planted most of her garden in garlic. I just planted one small bed at home. Meanwhile I grow more than enough of everything else for both of us. Cooperation with neighbours is a good thing. Fingers crossed!

Many green leafy things were grown and eaten, dried and frozen. I don't feel like going into detail. In recent years kale, that easiest to grow member of the cabbage family, seems to have acquired near cult status among the young wannabe homesteader crowd. This makes me laugh. I remain the Queen of Kale but as mentioned, this year I also fell in love with Lucullus, a mild variety of chard. 

Basil did very well. I have a confession to make. I don't really like pesto. Fresh basil in tomato salad I love, pesto not so much. One large planter on the deck is enough. Yes, I have planters on the deck. You'd think with 10 acres that would not be necessary, but I love having the fixings for a lunch salad or some herbs for dinner right next to the kitchen. Parsley did spendidly, cilantro went to seed like it always does, why do I even bother? And somehow I never did get around to starting dill. I have a serious borscht addiction and must have dill. The medicinal herbs were sadly neglected. I really need a bed of echinacea again, not to mention growing mushrooms on stumps. SO MUCH TO DO!

To my everlasting shame I ruined my own seedlings and had to buy them. I did not get as many as I would have liked. One batch that I grabbed when I was in a hurry and had low blood sugar to boot turned out to be red onion, which does not like my land. But the ones I did plant did fantastic. I know what I did wrong. Seed for this year is standing by and the planter was filled with mix in the fall. Coming soon to a window sill near you!
I had Norli snow peas in the greenhouse in June, a first.
This was just a teaser row of 3 feet. Tasty but just a few. The main crop did not do well because it got too hot. I only grow edible podded peas for fresh eating in season. They don't freeze that well. Regular peas are on the list of plants that do not have to be organic, and they are cheap frozen. 

The best peppers ever! I had only 8 plants in the greenhouse in the same small bed that housed the early greens followed by the snap beans and some leeks.
Why oh why did I not keep better records of what went into that bed? That two and a half by eight foot bed was by far the most productive section anywhere. I do remember it was in tomatoes last year and received generous amounts of compost and COF.

I have come to love those crisp bitter balls. They are incredibly resilient and will bounce back after being mercilessly slugged like the one shown below, as long as there is a growing tip left. They resist heat, drought and frost.
Also, they look cute in the garden while growing. 
Winter Squash
I wasn't going to bother, they are such space hogs. My friend gave me one plant, a mystery acorn variety, that did amazingly well considering how late it got planted. It went in after the garlic. Also, I love their glorious flowering sprawling exuberance. Squashes are almost a bonus. I still have seeds and may will get seduced for 2015.

Once again there was too much plant and not enough fruit. 
Two plants in a boxed bed in the greenhouse got a mystery fungus in the stem when they were just starting to fruit. They got ripped up and dumped. There was also a tipi in the greenhouse with about half a dozen plants of different varieties that did so-so.
In general it was a good year for them. I had planted more than I normally do and there was enough for fresh eating. But my neighbour with only 4 Roma plants was harvesting enough to can! Towards the end the late fruits were cracking. I can't control the rain but I suspect a need for more potash. Paste tomatoes did suprisingly well, especially Principe Borghese.

Covered in previous post. Lots of seed left from last year, including an untouched package of hybrid mix. I loved the suprises.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Random notes from the year so far.

I got the pictures on a stick, which saves me the trouble of figuring out how Windows 8 organises them. So here goes, finally!
The year so far with pictures. This post is started on August 17. The day is cool and cloudy which suits me fine.
May and June this year were great growing weather, a nice mix of sun and rain. Not too cold and not too hot. Thanks to the greenhouse we were eating fresh salads in early May. For the umptieth time, I love my greenhouse! The picture above shows the abundance as of May 11. I must have done something just right with that small 21/2 by 8 ft bed. It yielded an anazing amount of food.
Early in the summer perennial flowers did their thing in the bed to the side of the lawn.  This is a poor picture, I had not figured out the camera's menu yet. The deer were relatively merciful.  Somehow they left the astrantia alone.
Of course I had to create some more work for myself by buying annuals to fill in the gaps.
Salmon coloured poppy is always a brief and uncertain glory. It bloomed during a showery period and we never got more than a few blooms at the time. I did get this one picture I am quite proud of.
Since I am a non technical klutz I was quite pleased that I managed to remove the dull, nicked beyond repair blade from the lawnmower in order to replace it. The mower  had cut the lumpy space that passes for lawn here for almost a quarter century and was otherwise working just fine.  It turns out they don't make blades for this sturdy model any more. I went to town for a blade and came home with a new mower. It works great and is lighter, but I doubt the plastic body will last as long as its metal predecessor. Planned obsolescence, don't get me started or I'll be ranting on the insanity of the economic system for hours.
By late June it got HOT and by the second week of July we were in a nightmarish heatwave/drought that defined much of the summer. That nice blue time of early July, when the rains have stopped but summer is still young and all is lush and green, that time was cut short this year. It soon felt more like August. The valley was choked with smoke from the many wildfires, fortunately none right here. It felt scary. At the beach the water was delicious, but the atmosphere was so weird I didn't even enjoy it. The sky was white, the mountains across the lake were barely visible in the smoky haze. A hot erratic wind made one worry about the fate of the many brave souls fighting wildfires. We had one week of respite, cooler temperatures and one rainy day around the twentieth of July. The heat soon returned with a vengeance and did not abate till August  14. It was often smoky/muggy, and more to be endured than enjoyed. In spite of the many weeks of hot dry weather I feel strangely unsatisfied with the summer. I was also very busy, a mixed blessing.

It feels like September now. The trees were weakened by drought and are shedding leaves, some of the bracken is yellowing. Our Saturday market yesterday was quite wet and nobody minded, we were all so glad to see some moisture.
On the plus side, harvests were early too. We had the earliest green beans ever, these beauties came out of the greenhouse on July 15. I had stuck them in between the Chinese cabbages, so when those bolted the beans were well up and raring to go. Better: just pre-start them in pots. They got a bit too leggy from having to fight their way up in childhood. One smart new trick: sticking bamboo poles in between the beans, one per plant. Even a bush bean likes some support. 

Continuing August 29.
Blame the Nexus 7 and the cat for the long interval. These days I spend more computer time in my comfy chair with the tablet, lap free for cat. This makes it less likely I will work on a blog post. Even my four fingered efforts on the keyboard are faster than the tap tap tap with the stylus on the touch screen and besides I have not figured out how to add pictures.
Once July was past the flowerbeds were TOAST, victims of drought and deer. The only late colour comes from the petunias, geraniums and marigolds in containers that are placed along the edge of the border and diligently sprayed with Bobbex. Plants the deer never used to touch, like sedum and golden glow, are now systematically demolished. 
The veg garden on the other hand is starting to look decent again after an interval when I felt like a total failure. I mean, if you can't even grow zucchini, what's the world coming to? It turned out the small fruits that started rotting in infancy were suffering from blossom end rot. The same plague hit many gardens in the area, even a professional grower. Extreme heat may have played a role. I removed one plant to improve air circulation, encouraged the other three to grow in a certain direction, removed all sick leaves and stems and gave them a good spray with liquid seaweed. The temperatures also moderated. Whatever did the trick, we are finally enjoying the usual zucchini season with lots to eat and plenty to give away.
We have carrot pulp to use up for all the things that used to soak up the excess zucchini crop. Muffins, sauces, veggie patties.  Last year I dried a bunch but we did not really like them. Conclusion: consider summer squash a seasonal treat and relax. It makes no sense to let them grow beyond tiny deliciousness.
Isis Loran posted a list of questions to ask ourselves NOW, while we can still remember what was what. Good plan. I try to do that with an almost-annual Asparagus to Zucchini post.
but I love these questions, especially 4 and 6. As the attentive reader can see, the beets were eaten up again. The dastardly voles are back. I had planted lots because we juice carrots and beets almost daily. 
Before they were eaten the beets were looking great, with the healthiest leaves I have ever seen. Credit goes to Steve Solomon's COF with a tiny bit of boron. The few we did get were delicious.
These golden beets came from the greenhouse. Could I have prevented the loss? Maybe. I could have planted them in a fortress bed, but that is what I did with the gourmet Sieglinde potatoes, supposedly a late variety. The plants started to die down quite early. When I pulled back the hay I found the vines had been chewed through. The varmints had managed to get in there. There were a lot of half eaten potatoes. Voles can JUMP and I had allowed the buttercups around the base of the bed to get too high. I saw a big fat culprit,  It took him or her a few tries before (s)he managed to jump out of the box, which gives me hope that with better weeding at the base the fortresses will hold. By the way, the few Sieglindes that we did get were delicious. Yellow, firm, waxy, will plant again.
My nomination for Plant of the Year goes to Lucullus Swiss Chard. It does not look as dramatic as Rainbow chard with its many colours of stems, but is it ever delicious! It is mild and tender, without that set-your-teeth-on-edge oxalic acid quality. Much more like spinach. Since spinach always bolts here this makes me very happy. At the end of the season I am transplanting it in any gap. is September 19. Forget the rest of this, I might as well start on the Asparagus to Zucchini overview!
Just one picture of the flower beds reduced to containers.