Saturday, October 26, 2013

Next year will be even better!

This was an excellent gardening year. We harvested a little over 600 pounds of fruits and vegetables. For the five years we have kept records this year was only exceeded by 2010 when we recorded 626 pounds.

A large factor was the grape harvest. Notwithstanding my concerns that my lack of pruning knowledge left far too many bunches for the plant to bring to maturity we harvested 70 pounds of processed Concord grapes from the two vines. That represents a lot of grapes to process. Processing involves picking each grape and squeezing out the pulp and seeds and depositing the skins in a separate pot.
My hope next year to prune more effectively and end up with fewer bunches of grapes that bear more and larger grapes. A smaller harvest, in terms of pounds, would be okay. The 70 pounds is the processed weight of the grapes. From one measurement 90 ounces of grape bunches resulted in 74 ounces of processed grapes. That would mean I picked about 85 pounds of grapes.

We harvested more blackberries (20 lbs), blueberries (24 lbs), cherries (16 lbs in our first year of picking), currants (10 lbs), garlic (15 lbs), kale (41 lbs with more to come), pears (43 lbs - and this weight is after preparing the pears), and peppers (33 lbs) than in any of the prior four years.

I have not grown potatoes for the past two years and this year's summer squash harvest was 36 lbs (compared to 45, 60, 109 lbs the prior three years). I only grew three plants this year. I had thought that they were not infected by squash vine borers although when I removed one of the plants it did have them in its stem.

Next year, in addition to pruning the grapes properly, there are some other changes to make. I want to grow ground cherries in a contained space. They grow taller when they are not allowed to spread out. I plan to grow them in an area surrounded by three foot fencing. Not sure how I will harvest the ground cherries but I think it should be easy enough to reach over the fencing.
I also want to space out my peppers even further than I did this year, and, put the red peppers on the outside. They also need to be grown in a sunnier location in the garden. I purchased some longer posts to tie them to since the wooden ones I used were too short.
I want to try to grow cucumbers on an inclined trellis so that they hang down for easier picking. Also I plan to start the cucumbers inside and then spray them regularly with kaolin clay (I have a lifetime supply) to prevent the cucumber beetles from infecting them with wilt. I only sprayed once or twice this year and the result was that some plants seemed unaffected (or uninfected) while others wilted.
Basil needs to be planted in its own area (as opposed to under the tomatoes as I did this year). Tomatoes were poorly attended to this year. I did not remove the suckers and tie up the main stem as frequently as I did in the past. Although we had 91 lbs of tomatoes (compared to 94 lbs last year) the quality (and size) was not as good even though I grew twice as many plants. Some were experiments in the straw bale (see earlier post) and some others were overcome by the flowers growing in the adjacent garden - there was no path separating them.

We will be planting a new pear tree next week and expect that the harvest from what drops out of the backyard pear tree will be significantly less next year since that tree seems to be dying.

I'm not planning to grow anything new next year. We had no soybeans this year (the old seed didn't germinate) and not very many fava beans (4 pounds). I will plant both next year and try to stake the fava beans and also see if they produce a second crop (see earlier post).

Monday, August 26, 2013

Straw Bale Update

Strawbales August 26th
The six nice firm straw bales that were set out on the driveway at the beginning of the season are breaking down. On the left of the photo the tomato plants are tilting and the bale is about half of its original height.

Production by the tomato plants in the bales has been significantly less than the same seven plants that are in the regular garden. Although these plants produced the first tomatoes the difference in time was only a few days. When I was keeping track of the individual plants the straw bale plants produced about half of what the garden bed plants did. And after that the difference increased. The plants that produce the larger tomatoes (brandywine, Hungarian heart, jetstar and Polish linguisa) were far less productive than those in the garden bed.

Location might have been a factor, these plants being on the shady side of three arborvitae, but it is more likely that lack of nutrients and inability of the straw to retain moisture the way that soil does were bigger factors. The plants were watered daily and were provided with green sand, bone meal and blood meal mixed with compost but that wasn't sufficient.

The squash plant did fairly well and kept up with the squash plant in the garden for quite a while. The first squash were picked from the bales on July 4th and the first from the garden on July 16th. As of August 10th, when I stopped keeping track of where squash came from, the plant in the bales had produced 10.7 lbs and the plant in the garden 10.2 lbs. Then there was a five day period in which it was watered only once and production dropped after that.

One problem with the bales is that water tends to run to where the edges of the bales meet and, over time, enlarge the gap between the bales. I tried to counter this by planting in the middle of the bales.

It will be interesting to see how much structure is left in the bales at the end of the season.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Suggestions for Next Year

I am not always thinking ahead. I continue to plant too close together, I sometimes plant too much or too little of something, and I frequently see ways that I might do things differently. Included in those categories this year are:

1. Plant peppers with space between the rows. Last year I just planted the peppers too close together. I improved this year and put more space between them. But they are still too close together, such that the ones in the middle seem not to produce very much. I think that in the space where I had 34 pepper plants I could plant 24 with more space around each plant and get similar quantities of peppers. I will still plant them about 12 inches apart but with about 24 inches between rows. I also have longer stakes for the peppers but only used a few of them this year because I already had them tied to the wooden stakes.

2. Don't plant so many tomatoes. This year, because of the straw bale experiment, I planted nearly twice as many tomatoes as I would otherwise. I ended up planting 17 plants, as opposed to 6 last year. (Six is not enough.) I think about ten plants would be sufficient. I will not plant the Ida Gold and Glacier tomatoes again. They are both determinate plants and have small tomatoes. The Ida Gold had very tough skins and the Glacier tended to crack. Instead I will plant one early tomato (such as Fourth of July).  I also need to find a way to support the large yellow determinate tomatoes. They produce well but I put them in tomato cages which do not provide enough support and many of them ended up on the ground. The Polish linguisa and Hungarian heart tomatoes are good varieties. Not sure about the Jetstar or Brandywine.

3. Plant fewer cucumbers and have the poona kheeras grow up a slanted trellis. Perhaps then the cucumbers will hang down under the trellis. The lemon cucumbers grow throughout the garden, which is a problem because they invade the space of other plants. One solution may be to plant them in the blueberry area, but this requires having the blueberry harvest done before the cucumbers have grown very much. We prefer the lemon cucumbers.
The use of kaolin clay seemed helpful. It appears that some of the cucumbers were infected because they have wilted. Others, however, were apparently not affected. It may be that some were effectively sprayed while the others weren't. The cucumbers near the trellis were planted there from seed and sprayed as they grew but they were only sprayed twice and their location made it difficult to do so effectively. Some that I started inside and sprayed thoroughly and planted elsewhere in the garden seem to be fine. Cucumber beetles have been present throughout the gardening season.
Spraying the patty pan squash plants was effective for both plants, and the production has been excellent (sometimes a little more than we can handle).

4. Prune the grapes. We have far more grape clusters than the two plants can handle. The grapes are small and it remains to be seen how many will ripen. I pruned the grapes in March. I pruned again later but there were still way too many. I assume that if I prune properly, so that there are perhaps 40 to 50 clusters, the grapes will be larger and the clusters filled in. This will take some serious and thoughtful pruning.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Fava Beans

I first grew fava beans from seeds that Greg brought back from Oregon. Then I didn't grow them for a couple of years, but tried them again this year. The beans take some processing and the end result is 20 to 25% of the weight of the bean pods that are harvested.
The beans have to be removed from the pods. Then the beans are boiled for a brief time (I do 90 seconds) and the inside of the bean squeezed out. That is the part that is eaten and it has a different and pleasant taste.

When I pulled out the fava bean plants today I learned two things: first, the plant, which grows to about 4 feet tall, has a relatively small root, which explains why the plants need support. The other observation was that there were new blossoms near the base of the plants. This suggests that once the first beans are harvested the plants could be cut back to see if these later flowers develop into a second crop.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Fruit in Quantity

We have an abundance of fruit this year. Some of them are surprises. We planted two currant bushes several years ago and had enough berries last year to make a little bit of currant sauce. This year we have more than I can pick and perhaps more than we can actually use.
Yesterday I made nine 8 ounce jars of currant jam - three from the champagne currants and six from the red currants. I picked more today, until I got tired in the heat that we are having. We don't need more jam but might make a currant pie. We don't see any bird or other damage to the currants, which is a surprise.

We also have a good crop of cherries this year for the first time. The trees were planted at about the same time as the currants. They are sour cherries and that seems to have a real benefit. Although some of the cherries have bite marks in them, the birds do not seem very interested in them. I saw a squirrel eat one but otherwise it seems the squirrels don't like them. So we keep picking and freezing them and eventually will make a pie and some jam from them.

The concord grapes did poorly last year, probably because of the early warm weather followed by freezing temperatures. This year, as shown in the photograph, there are far too many. This is after I pruned out a lot of the canes that had little grape clusters. I still haven't devised a method of pruning grapes and the result is that there is too much fruit. I fear that the plants will not be able to sustain the growth and develop this many clusters but don't know what to do at this point other than let them try. Hopefully there is now enough growth over the arbor that I can effectively prune them next year to provide a sensible amount of fruit. Like the currants and cherries, the grapes, at least in past years, have not been eaten by birds or squirrels.

We also have several gooseberry plants that have a good crop. We haven't picked any yet. Since they are between the compost bin and the fence around the vegetable garden and have thorns harvesting may be difficult.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

This year's experiment - straw bale gardening.

Periodically I try something new. One idea I came across between the end of last year's garden and the beginning of this year's was planting in straw bales.
It seemed a good way to rotate tomato plants to a spot in the yard that didn't have late blight or whatever it is that annually causes the lower leaves of my tomato plants to wither and drop off.

We had six bales of straw delivered and set them on the driveway. I added a couple of inches of  compost to the top and, a few days later, another couple of inches. When it came time to plant, which I did way early, I used an old rake handle to make a conical hole at appropriate places in the straw and filled them with more compost. (I suspect soil would have been better.) Then I planted a variety of tomato plants, some of which are determinate and some indeterminate. I also planted one patty pan squash.

We had some very warm weather around the beginning of May but no sooner did I plant the tomatoes (and the peppers in the regular garden) than we had a cold spell. With covering - row cover material for the straw bale area and peppers and upside down driveway sealer cans for the tomatoes in the garden - everything survived quite well.

My major concern is where the plants will obtain the nutrients they need to grow. I assume the inside of a straw bale is bereft of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus and also the fungi that assist plants to obtain nutrients. I have added some fish emulsion and will soon side dress with a mixture of bone meal, blood meal and green sand.

This is an experiment. We have enough squash and tomato plants in the rest of the garden that should this fail we will not be at a loss. So far these plants do not show any differences compared to those in the soil.