This year in the garden, like last year, is a bit of an experiment and will be fairly limited in its successes. I am finally admitting that to myself. I had grandiose dreams of giant, flourishing veggies gardens, and beautiful, lush landscaping. But, in reality, that takes years of effort even in a small space… and we have a HUGE space. This is only our first full year here, where we had the Winter and Spring to prepare for the growing season. I probably would have been happier with myself had I limited the projects for this first year to just a small area and concentrated on just that. But that’s just not who I am. I NEEDED chickens, fruit trees, berry patches, veggie garden boxes, and ten billion roses… and I needed them NOW. Patience is a virture that sometimes evades me…
Last Year’s Story
Last year, we got here in early June and I raced outside to find a relatively well-drained spot where I could plant something. For three days, when I should have been unpacking, and with a bit of help from Brian and my parents, I dug up a 12′ x 12′ square in the ground. This was not easy because we have 2.5 acres of wild, native grasses and it’s like digging through concrete. Their root systems are so strong and thick and intertwined that you literally have to cut out patches of it and lift them out in huge chunks. Once you are through the top layer, however, the soil is actually fairly nice. So, we cleared the grass, dug up the next six inches or so, covered the whole area with my best friend, hardware cloth, and then topped it with six inches of Miracle Grow Organic Garden Soil mixed with native soil. Around the outside edges, we set a crude, 2′-high chicken wire fence with metal rods stuck in the ground at the corners. I laid soaker hoses inside for water and covered the whole thing with bird netting.
In this little patch, I planted tomato starts (Beefsteak, Sweet 100s, Early Girl), pepper starts (bell, jalapeno, serrano, hot banana), squash starts (acorn and yellow crookneck), cucumber starts (pickling), and red cabbage starts all from Lowe’s. None were the heirloom varieties that I prefer, and they were all planted quite late in the season (mid-late June). BUT, I had amazing success, considering… by September, were were overrun with tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers. The peppers never got very big and only produced a few fruit, but it was quite good (hot peppers were hot, sweet peppers were sweet). In October I picked several lovely red cabbages, including enough to share with neighbors, though I lost a few to mega-infestation with cabbage worms (blech). Over the course of the season, I also planted heirloom cutting mix lettuce, Romeo baby round carrots (Italian heirloom), Easter Egg Radishes, Painted Mountain corn, English Shelling Peas, Sugar Snap Peas, Cinderella pumpkins and Paited Lady runner beans, all from seed. I had great success with the lettuce and carrots, and limited succes with the others. But, all in all, I had one small thing on which to focus, I had very low expectaions due to the circumstances, and it worked out surprisingly well.
I grew a modified Three Sisters Garden against the south side of the house: Painted Mountain Corn, Cinderella Pumpkins, and Painted Lady Runner Beans.
This Year’s Story
This year, I have to admit, has me a bit befuddled. We had all Fall, Winter, and Spring to prepare for this growing season. Besides the chicken project, about which you have learned in depth by reading this blog religiously *wink*, we built 6 raised beds for a vegetable garden (with more planned), installed a trellis and planted a 40′ row of raspberries (red, black, and golden), planted 16 fruit trees in a mini-orchard, removed massive amounts of vegetation and poorly-planned landscaping left to us by the previous owners, and planted 26 baby own-roots heirloom roses. And, while some of these things have been going quite well, others have been behaving badly in ways that are totally new to me.
First, the failures…
In early April, I direct-sowed Spring crops of lettuce, carrots (three varieties), radishes, spinach, chard, and broccoli raab. I planted them in our newly-built boxes, filled with our beautiful 3-way organic vegetable garden soil (compost, soil, and sand). They had consistent water, mostly from rain, and some from soaker hoses. They all sprouted right away and everything was fine… but soon after I noticed something – they weren’t changing. None of them were getting any bigger. Then, it seemed, some of them were disappearing altogether. Well, after a while, I realized that slugs were the culprits in the disappearances. Also, they were keeping some of the seedlings sheared down to tiny nubs, not allowing them to get any bigger. I bought some Sluggo (for Organic gardening) and fixed that problem.
After putting the Sluggo down, the seedlings stopped disappearing. I replanted the row of lettuce and some spinach and radishes. Those seedlings have yet to disappear. However, excpet for the radishes, lettuce, and one singular chard plant, in all these weeks, none of the seedlings have gotten any bigger. They sprouted and then just stayed tiny. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I am thoroughly baffled as to the cause. The above picutre of carrot seedlings is from a few weeks ago. To this day, they almost all look exactly like that. No change. It’s beyond me.
Oh, but the confusion doesn’t stop othere. Oh no, my friends. It is only the beginning. Not only do I have miniature directly-sown seedlings, but I have miniature indoor-started seedlings as well. That’s right. Remember all those lovely seedlings I started in my window in February and March? Well, they all sprouted nicely. They all grew inside surprisingly well, considering I don’t have a grow-light setup. They got bigger and stronger and grew more leaves and had lovely, healthy green color. I transplanted some into larger pots. The weeks went by, the weather warmed, and all was well. Then, at some point, they all started looking just a tad peaked. At this point, it was about time to start moving them outdoors to harder off and then be transplanted into the raised beds. I hardened them off like a good girl, then I moved them out to the flowerhouse. All seemed well, though the seedlings started to look more and more unwell. Finally the time came to transplant them. At this point, many had dropped their leaves or turned a pale shade of green or even tan. For no apparent reason. Oh well, I thought, a few days in the new garden beds with room to stretch their roots and bright, beautiful sunshine with a little spring rain and warm temps and they will be better than new! Right? Wrong.
A summary of my seedling failures:
– I transplanted 9 tomato seedlings. Two grew a little bit, these now have about three sets of leaves and have stuck at that stage for about three weeks, no more change. Two died completely… one dropped its leaves and never grew new ones, the other was fine until this morning, when it was just flopped over and dead for no reason. The remaining five have finally seemed to recovered from whatever was ailing them and they each now have 2-3 sets of bright green, healthy leaves. They are about 3 inches tall. In June. Pathetic. Still, I don’t want to complain… they are looking better now… and I’m afraid if I look at them wrong, they will fall over dead like their friend did this morning.
– I transplanted 6 eggplant seedlings. All had their two biggest leaves turn brown and drop off, then they grew two new green leaves, and that’s it. No change. No growth. They just sit there. WHAT DID I DO WRONG??
– I transplanted 500 kazillion pepper plants (various hot and sweet). They are all like 1 inch high. Bright green, healthy-looking. No new growth. Zero. I have no clue.
So, at this point, I know I should give in, scrap everything, and just buy some large starts from the farmers’ market and replace all my failures. But I can’t. I won’t. I want to see what happens with these. I may well go with no homegrown tomatoes, peppers, or eggplants this year. Lesson learned, I guess. I just wish I knew what the lesson was. WHY ARE MY PLANTS NOT GROWING BUT NOT DYING EITHER???????????\
Last on my list of Spring seedling failures are my Spring-sown brassicas. I planted broccoli raab super rapini, Green Fortune baby bok choi, Michihili Asian (Napa) cabbage, Red Cabeza red cabbage, and Offenham green cabbage. My rapini got about 2 inches high with about one decent leaf per plant, and then bolted. Yippee. My baby bok choi did only slightly better by making a few tiny heads and getting to a max of 4 inches (many were smaller) before bolting. And now, my Michihili cabbage, which was just starting to form heads, has all decided to bolt. Every plant. So, the chickies get some green treats. :::sigh::: The red and green cabbages are still looking OK. I have high hopes for them, but my success rate doesn’t bode well.
All in all, my major problem is miniature plants. They just aren’t growing. But why? Is my beautiful, purchased, organic soil not all it’s cracked up to be? Are they missing some essential nutrient? Am I watering too much? Not enough? WHAT DO I DO??? I have been growing these things my whole life and I’ve never seen anything even remotely like this. OK, enough complaining. If anyone has any thoughts for me, I’m all ears.
Onto the successes…
I don’t mean to make it sound like everything is terrible. Some things are actually doing quite well so far this year. Two weeks ago today, we finished and filled the last box and I planted it with cucumbers (homemade pickles, endeavor pickling, white wonder, parade, sour Mexican gherkin, lemon), French filet green beans (Tavera and Fin De Bagnol), and edamame soy beans. They all sprouted almost immediately and have been growing beautifully since. Within a few days of planting, they were all up and larger than any of my months-old tomatos, eggplants, and peppers. Argh.
Also, my shelling peas and sugar snap peas are both doing beautifully. They are all thriving, really. The shelling peas are now covered in maturing pods, and the sugar snaps have just started setting flowers and young pods.
My little experimental strawberry patch is also a success. I have only three plants of Hood strawberries and three Aromas. Both are healthy plants and have been bearing lovely berries. However, I have decided that the flavor of the Aromas is not worth it… it’s just not that great. I think I will probably rip out the Aromas and allow the Hoods to throw out runners to take their place. The Hood berries have been delicious – on the small side, but extremely sweet. They beat the Hoods I have purchased from the farmers’ market in the past by a mile. I think maybe they don’t travel well and are beat eaten straight off the vine. The Hoods will be a nice addition to my Mara Des Bois, which I am growing only in pots right now. They, too, are doing beautifully and are currently filled with berries on the verge of ripeness.
Lastly in the garden boxes, I should mention that the asparagus continue to do well… the little spears have developed into lanky fronds and are busy feeding the roots to fuel my crop for next year. And also, my onions, garlic, and shallots are all doing nicely.
The biggest succes, in my opinion, has been the raspberries. I have to admit, I was hesitant to be too hopeful about them for two reasons. The first reason is that the first week after we moved in here, our next door neighbor showed us her garden and pointed out her row of sad-looking raspberries. She said you just can’t grow raspberries right here. It must be the soil. You can grow them right up the road (we live a few hundred yards from commercial raspberry fields), but not here in our neighborhood. That was all she said, and it sounded a tad goofy to me, but she seemed to know about gardening and she had lived here for 10 years already when we moved in. The second reason was that, because I took on too many projects at once, and because the weather didn’t fully cooperate, our poor bareroots raspberries had to sit in the plastic bag, wrapped in damp newspaper for WAY too long. I just hoped some would live at all. Anyway… at this point, they have all officially made it… all 17 plants. They all have beautiful, healthy, bright-green shoots and leaves on them, and miraculously, two plants even already have flowers on them! They all grow amazingly quickly and just seem really healthy, so I am really happy about that. Berries are some of my FAVORITE foods in the world and basically you can’t buy good berries. I’ve tried. Even from great farmers’ markets, most berries (raspberries, blackberries, blueberries), except strawberries, are not that great and they cost about a trillion dollars a pound. Growing your own is the only way to go. I grew up eating deliciously perfumed berries from our home garden, and I plan to continue doing so with my own.
This isn’t really the garden… but it’s growing success!
I will leave you with this – my easiest growing success so far in my life. On May 29th, I recieved my Shiitake Indoor Kit from Fungi Perfecti. Following their instructions, I “cold shocked” the kit by putting the block in the fridge for 3-5 days (I did 5). On day 5, I took it out, cut open the plastic bag that contained it, filled it with boiled, cooled tap water (also rain, spring, or well works, but not distilled or chlorinated), and let it sit for 24 hours. After that, I dumped out the water, pulled the block from the bag, placed it on a dinner plate, stuck some wooden skewers in it, and placed the humidity tent (just a plastic bag with holes in it) over it. I then sprayed it with more boiled, cooled tap water about 3 times per day. On the first day after the soaking, I saw blisters (baby mushrooms). They started appearing litterally overnight. There were several baby mushrooms within 24 hours of the soaking. It’s AMAZING and so easy. Today is 6 days after the soaking, and I took the above picture tonight right before harvesting 4 of the mushrooms. The others will continue to mature and I’ll pick them every day for several days. There are still blisters that are forming, so I’ll be picking for a while (up to two weeks). Then, I will let the block dry out for two weeks and then I’ll start over again with a new soaking. This is SO FUN and SO EASY. If any of you have kids, this would be such a great project for them to do – educational, easy, fun, and you get to eat the results!!
Still No Eggs
And, as the title says – still no eggs. Dorothy continues to act a bit strangely… panting when not one else does and when it’s not hot… not coming out to free-range sometimes… perching on the bench with me, rather than eating grass… and JB is still IN LOVE with her. But, still no eggs. I just hope that there is nothing wrong and she is just dragging out the process. I am convinced she is saving it up for when I am not here. Brian and I leave to go to the East Coast this Friday. My parents are coming to house-sit and watch the doggies, chickies, and gardens… and ever since this trip was planned many moons ago, I have been convinced that my first egg will come while I’m gone. You won’t hear from me for over a week, so don’t miss me too much!