December 31, 2018

Tales From the Orchard

I was trying to make this one sound like an L.M. Montgomery book. Ha!
Not quite.

So, the orchard.
I am sad to relate that it is dwindling.

We lost another tree this year--I believe it was a plum?
It was already the most sickly of the bunch, then when the Attack of the Aphids happened in early summer, it succumbed completely.
Cut it down and pulled up the roots, which weren't very big actually.
Maybe that was part of the problem.

Also, our sweet cherry tree experienced some die-off as well.
Specifically, the half of the tree that had been grafted in.
All along, there's been this crack where the graft didn't take right.
Anyway, this summer all the branches attached to the grafted portion died off. They were pretty good-sized, too, which was sad.
So I took out my pruning saw and hacked off half the tree.
This tree also suffered badly with the aphids. 
I need to get some kind of spray or something for next year. They were so bad!!
We'll see if it makes it through the winter.

So as of now, we have 1 cherry tree, 2 apple trees, 2 peach trees, and 1 plum tree in the orchard itself, plus the big apple tree on the side of the house, and the 1-year old pie cherry planted in the oval bed.

Our best crop this year was: 

All from the side tree. The two in the orchard didn't even bloom.
This one, though, was loaded!
Most groups of the apples had 4-6 apples developing on them.
I went through in June and July and thinned them down to 1-3 apples per bunch, which noticeably gave them all room to grow to be full-sized.
Didn't spray this one, and there were some worms, so may have to look into that for next year.
The apples were very mild-flavored.
We harvested a couple of buckets, plus a big crate full.
I used quite a few as additions to applesauce with more tart apples, and the rest I ended up slicing, blanching, and freezing.


Both of our trees had a good number of peaches on them this year!
I should have thinned them the way I did the apples.

As it was, we ended up with a bucket full of very small peaches.
Tasty, for sure, but a pain to process!

I'm trying to remember what became of them.
I think most of these from our orchard became jam, due to size.

The plums were a gift from our  neighbor.
Peaches were ours.

Look how beautiful they were!

Interestingly enough, the other peach tree didn't have nearly so many, but they were quite big.
Also, they ripened 2-3 weeks later than the smaller ones.
I was afraid I had missed the harvest window, because they were so bitter when we first tried them.
Nope, they sweetened up, but not until early September or so.
So, note to self for next year: leave them on the tree and don't worry about them!

Our plum tree didn't do anything this year.
Well, I take that back.
It lived. That was good.
It was looking great prior to the aphids, then it was touch-and-go there for a month or so.
Finally pulled out of it, but no fruit this year.

The pie cherry didn't make any noticeable progress, but I'm hoping it takes off next year.

Also, I've got to add in a little note about RASPBERRIES.
They have struggled!
I planted new starts this spring, trying to fill in the spaces where the ones from last fall didn't do anything. No luck there either. They all died.
So then I moved my raspberry patch--what was left of it--from the back of the orchard, to inside the garden proper, all along the fence. I had a few survive the summer. Not as many as I had hoped.
I got some free plants from a lady who was tearing out her whole flowerbed.
I dug up more starts from my dad's lawn (former raspberry patch), and planted them.
Still struggling to live, even with the regular watering in the garden.
I have never had this much trouble with raspberries!
Here's hoping they all make it through the winter with flying colors and actually grow big and tall and give me some berries at some point! 

Still want to put in grapes and possibly strawberries.

So overall a mixed bag this year, but hey--YAY PEACHES!

December 29, 2018

Let's Talk About Those Vegetables!

With all the flower-growing going on this past year, the vegetables were a bit overlooked--at least in blog posts. Well, we did grow some, and had quite a bit more success with them than last year.
(Admittedly, not hard to do, as last year was almost completely a failure in that department!)


Sweetmeat Squash

My oldest, in the midst of the squash's garden takeover.

We planted 2 hills of sweetmeat squash, each with 4-5 big, flat seeds.
Boy, did they ever take off! 
Perhaps it's a good thing that none of the other stuff we planted next to them (5 feet away) came up, because they would have completely over-run it anyway!

From those 2 hills, we harvested around 11 squash.
The smallest ones still weighed at least 7 or 8 pounds, and the biggest were probably more in the neighborhood of 15-20 pounders. 
When ripe, they are a silvery greyish green color that was really pretty.

We stacked them all up in our back pantry and have slowly been eating them.
They are delicious!
However, one squash cut in half and baked yields enough meat to keep us in squash for 2-3 weeks! So, yeah. We've been spacing them out a bit.
In fact, I think it's about time to cook up another. 

A bonus in the garden: where the squash spread, the weeds weren't nearly as prolific.


I'm giving tomatoes the 2nd Place ribbon this year.

With all of my seed-starting failures learning experiences, I was tickled when these tomatoes actually came up and grew strong! These were seeds that Adam received from his Grandma--and we realized later that they were actually nearly a decade old! It's amazing they grew at all!

So, we started them in jiffy peat pellets, inside this makeshift little seed-starting chamber, made from a large water jug with a lid cut into it.
They did great!
After some hardening off (probably not enough), they went into the garden in early June.
They were all cherry tomatoes.
We also bought some regular-sized tomatoes as starts from the high school's spring sale. they were in August. 
It's so incredible that a handful of tiny seeds yielded this kind of abundance, but it really happened.
We picked many tomatoes.

You may notice in the photo above, that they look rather gangly and flopped over.
Well, that's because they were! 
Our soil is so rocky, that our usual 4-pronged round tomato cages didn't work at all!
You couldn't get the legs deep enough into the ground no matter where you placed them.
They would just hit a rock and stop.
So the tomato cages were useless. They fell over and we were stepping over tomato plants all season long. I'm looking into other ways of supporting tomatoes for next year.

The regular-sized tomatoes that we bought did fine also, planted over in the kids' gardens.

We harvested enough tomatoes that I decided to give homemade tomato sauce a try.
I never have done it in the past, because it takes something like 40 POUNDS of tomatoes to make 7 PINTS of sauce. Then my parents brought a couple of buckets of tomatoes, on top of what I already had, so I went for it. Used my Vittorio strainer with it and was quite pleased with the results.
As expected, however, all those tomatoes yielded only 4 pints of sauce, which I froze.

The Rest

We actually harvested peas this year!

So, a quick rundown on the rest.

PEAS: planted a mix of shelling and sugar snap in one long double row.
For the most part, they did fine. I did have to reseed in a couple of spots, but nothing major.
We harvested enough to keep us happy in late June/early July.
Like I say every year--I need to plant more peas next year!
Maybe next year I'll actually foray into fall peas.

CARROTS: Had a pretty good row of these planted, and after a long time, we got some decent germination. It was really hard to keep the weeds out of these! Bindweed, in particular, was my nemesis amongst the carrots.
We harvested enough to process some for the freezer.
I did not take nearly enough pictures this year, and I'm too lazy to go see if I wrote in my journal how much we did! In any case, some for the freezer and quite a few for fresh eating.

BEETS: What is it with beets? Why do I continue to plant them? 
We actually got a decent crop this year, and yet they have sat in my refrigerator for 4 months now and recently went out to the compost bin. The ones we ate were good. 
Still--no more beets!
I like eating them fine, it's just cooking and peeling them adds about 45 minutes on to my dinner prep--at least it seems that way--so I generally don't choose to do it.

CUCUMBERS: With one whole row planted to cukes, we should have been swimming in them! Alas, only 2 plants came up--total. Even with a second round of seeding in early June.
Not sure the deal with those. 
We harvested maybe 3 or 4.

CANTALOUPE: A surprise success! I wasn't expecting much, but we actually harvested some about the size of softballs. They were the perfect size for one meal, and tasted delicious! 
I'm sure we will be planting more of these next year!

WATERMELON: Also harvested 3 or 4 of these this year! Very small, icebox variety. We need to do better at waiting to harvest until they're completely ripe, but we had enough to share with my son's soccer team one day, so hey--it's a win! 

BEANS: Surprisingly, these did not do well at all! 
Late to come up, and didn't thrive once they were up.
We maybe harvested a couple of handfuls total.

PUMPKINS: Also complete no-shows, even with multiple seedings.

I'll have to ask the kids to remind me how their gardens did.
I know they harvested peas, radishes, and tomatoes.

We didn't plant corn or potatoes this year, since my parents planted a lot of each and very generously shared their harvest with us.

December 26, 2018

Greenhouse is finished!

I am very happy to tell you that the greenhouse is finished!!

Okay, okay, it's been a couple of months now. 
We were going to do actually glass or PVC something or other, but then looking up more information, we realized that 90% of the farmers we saw just used the 6 mil. plastic sheeting.
It's not nearly as durable as glass, but apparently does a pretty comparable job when it comes to heating the place in the sun.

Also it's WAY cheaper! A couple hundred dollars vs. thousands.
So even if we end up having to replace it as some point, it will still be much cheaper.

On the inside are these shelves made of hardware cloth, so the dirt can drop through (and water).
The floor is gravel/pebbles.

I haven't had much growing in here yet, since it was finished right at the end of the growing season.
However, I have spent some very pleasant hours, potting, dividing, and re-potting various plants and houseplants, including the amaryllis I'm selling right now.

When it's 40 degrees outside, it's probably in the 60's inside the greenhouse, as long as the sun is shining! I need to get an actual thermometer for it. Anyway--coat weather outside = sweatshirt weather inside. I love it! 

Another advantage to using the plastic: the long sides can roll up.
The white you see along the bottom is a plastic pipe holding that side down.
To get a breeze, you just pop out the pipe, roll up the plastic, then hang it on some handy little hooks just under the roof.

I am so excited to have this space to grow in next year!
I've already got plans to put my crates in there as soon as new growth starts popping through, so the deer don't get the tulips and lilies. I'll probably line the bottom shelves with them.

I also plan to get my dahlias started early, and get the seed starting in full swing!

It is unheated, so as long as we're still freezing at night, I may have to add extra protection out there for anything that shouldn't freeze. 

I'm sure I have a lot to learn about greenhouse propagation.
Bring it on!  

December 23, 2018

If I Knew Then What I Know Now: End of Season Thoughts

By the way, yes I did get all those bulbs and trees planted.
Phew! Onward and upward!

Looking back at the last 6 months, it's incredible what I've learned this year.
First, I want to do a run-down of my flower crops:

Buttons and Bells

By far, Best Field-Grown Flowers this year was a 2-way tie between Bells of Ireland and bachelor's buttons.

Bells of Ireland
I winter-sowed them (only 1 germinated), I planted a bunch inside (almost all germinated and most survived), and I direct-seeded a section of a row (I had around 6 come up.)
Despite the dismal germination rates outside, the direct-seeded did way better than any of the others. Once they started growing, they grew strong. Meanwhile, the ones I had started in the house, then hardened off, were weeks behind and never got as big in the end.

Even with all of that, my little patch of 8-10 total kept pumping out the flowers all summer long!
They were a staple in my weekly arrangements from end of July-September.

I loved the apple green color, then as they aged, they started turning a mottled eggplant color.
Beautiful ivory color when dried, however the blooms are rather fragile and pop right off the stems when dried, so I'm still figuring out the best way to use them now.

To change for next year:
1. Start them way earlier outside.
I have learned that Bells of Ireland are cool weather flowers--or at least, can handle cool weather. I didn't direct seed until first week of May. I want to direct seed March or April, and see how they do. Also, no winter sowing for these guys--they don't need it!

2. Use netting.
I didn't net them this year, and by the end of the season, most of them had such a curve on them that they were hard to put into arrangements. Also, the lower blooms got to be filled with dirt after every hard rain or sprinkler watering.

3. Don't bother cutting them to dry.
They dried just fine on the stem after a couple of frosts. Could have saved myself the trouble!

4. Always wear gloves when handling them!
I think the spines got more stiff as the season went on. I got a couple lodged in my fingers that hurt for several weeks. It's easy to peel off spines/unwanted blooms by pushing on them sideways, but watch out for those sharp points!

5. Don't buy any seeds. Bees loved these flowers!
I've just collected a whole bunch of seeds from this years' crop.

Let's talk about those Bachelor's Buttons!

Also winter sowed them (again, just 1 germinated), and direct seeded them twice (once at the end of April, and again a month later). I had around 30 germinate from the first round of direct sowing, and a handful more with the second. I spaced them 6" apart, which seemed crowded.

Like the Bells, this patch kept blooming all summer long and even lasted through the first frosts. There were really more than I could use or harvest. I discovered I liked them best in arrangements with very few leaves, if any. So I got to where I was stripping down the entire stem pretty much, before using them, which was time-consuming. Also, great for filler, but not a high dollar flower.
By the end of the season I was charging just 25 cents/stem.

I liked the single colors best: burgundy (my favorite), blue, purple, light pink

To change for next year:
1. Rather than planting mixes, seek out single colors that I like and plant those in blocks.

2. Again like the Bells, BB are cool flowers, meaning they can be direct sown way early. I won't winter sow them (pointless), but try direct sowing even a month earlier, so end of March. As early as I can get out in the garden and work in the soil, they're going in.
Very curious to see how many reseed themselves, if any. I will also be on the lookout for those seedlings and transplant them into the space with the others if needed.

3. Space them 9-12" apart to give each plant the room it needs. See if it effects stem length.

Okay, what else?

Cosmos--several varieties
I used to have a cosmo jungle in Washington. Here, not so much.
I direct sowed them beginning of May and reseeded a month later.
Originally just 2 or 3 germinated. After a couple of wet days, I had 5-10 more come up.
So, I'm going for it much earlier this year.
I want to try starting them in seed trays in April, ready to plant out by early May, then cover them with frost cloth if a frost is predicted. I think they need that early moisture to germinate.

I did get a few weeks of some nice (though short-stemmed) cuts, before September frost completely took them out. I going to try some of the more unusual varieties, use the methods described above, and see if I can't get another jungle going!

Cynoglossum, (Chinese Forget-Me-Not)

[That carpet of green in the picture? ALL WEEDS! UG! The blue flowers are the cynoglossum.]

After a slow start, I did end up with 5-6 of these plants that grew.
Tiny blue flowers.
Pretty, but I wasn't enamored with them.
Plus, the seeds stick to EVERYTHING!
That's why I decided this was a good ditch-bank flower. At the end of the season, I pulled them all up and scattered those sticky seeds along our back ditch bank.
If they come up, awesome! I'll use them. If not, no big loss.
If they reseed in the garden, I may transplant them over, or just pull them out.

Orlaya (White Finch Lace)
Another cool weather flower, that I started from seed too late (end of April.)
I had around 20 that grew, but the stems were very short and it was hard to catch the blooms at the right time to cut. I harvested maybe 20 stems from them, total. I think the issues were because of the heat. So this year I'll be starting from seed inside much earlier, and hope to have them transplanted outside by mid-April. I may try planting some later, in the shade, and see if they'll last through at least early summer for me that way, with some decent stem length on them.
I collected seeds from the ones I grew.

Snapdragon (Chantilly Mix)
I sowed them inside in early April. Had quite a few germinate, but then they just sat there for a month and half, not growing much at all. It took them FOREVER to grow! By the time they were big enough to put out into the garden, it was the end of July--probably the worst timing ever.
I had a grand total of 8 that I planted out. From those, I cut 4 stems.
These are, once again, cool flowers! They can take frost better than heat.
Next year, I'm starting them much earlier, indoors again. I'm going to try individual pots or soil blocks this time, instead of the broadcast sowing method.
Then I hope to get them into my garden by mid-April, like the orlaya.
I'm switching to the Rocket mix, which is supposed to be a prolific spring bloomer.
I may overlap with another variety to get them through summer.

Sunflowers--several different varieities
I direct sowed all of these. It took awhile for them to germinate and get going, but once they did, I was inundated with sunflowers! These were almost all branching varieties, with pollen.
The pollen was a pain--it got everywhere!
Next year I'm doing all pollen-free.
Branching was okay--good because I could get more than one cut, but bad because the sunflowers took up the space all summer. With single stem varieties I could cut it once, then pull it out and use the space for something else.

Also, these didn't sell as well as I was hoping. I am getting some different colors this year--straight packets, no mixes--to see if that will help sales go up a bit.
I think I want to plant these closer together--the ones that came up a foot or more from any others had broomstick sized main stems.
Also, I want to try planting some day-length neutral varieties in a crate in my greenhouse in early April, to see if I can have sunflowers by June.

Zinnias--several varieties
I winter sowed these (none came up), and direct sowed a whole row, out of which approximately 7 germinated and grew. I cut maybe 6 stems from the ones that did grow this year.
Zinnias are supposed to be dead easy, so I need to figure out what I did wrong and fix it for next year! I did discover rodent tunnels under the far end of the row where I had planted these, but not sure if that's what happened to seedlings or if it was something else.

I want to try starting some in the greenhouse in the beginning of May, and see if I can't get some healthy transplants ready for the garden by beginning of June.

Next up: The Veggies!