I’ve started contributing to a website about sustainability. My first article is now up, check it out here.
A few days ago I outlined what grew well in my garden last summer, now it’s time to go over what didn’t grow well.
1 – Cabbage. This one I consider a colossal failure. I started two types in a cold frame last spring resulting in enough robust, healthy seedlings for half a garden bed. I carefully spaced them out and planted them once temperatures were warm enough – that night cut worms took action killing several of my seedlings. I made little collars for all the surviving cabbage seedlings and spent several nights outside with a flashlight hunting cutworms down. Next slugs took their turn munching complex patterns into the leaves, then the aphids moved in covering the plants. I sprayed them with soapy water, but the aphids didn’t seem to care. More seedlings succumbed to the attacks. Heading into winter I have two cabbages left, enough for few coleslaws, but certainly no sauerkraut. I sacrificed a lot of space to cabbages, for not much gain – while kale (which I like equally as much) always thrives. I won’t be growing cabbages next year.
2 – Lettuce. I started early lettuce in the ground last spring. Slugs decimated my new lettuce seedlings (but not the arugula). Lettuce starts given to me by others did just fine when planted, I assume they were big enough to withstand some slug munching. I started lettuce in trays on my deck, well away from the risk of slugs, right beside the cabbage with germinated just fine. But, germination rates were low. Mid spring (mostly because of my salad-a-day challenge) I went to the nursery and bought quite a few lettuce seedlings. Over the summer, I tried two more times to start lettuce in trays with little success. I was hoping to try overwintering some lettuce but that’s not going to happen (I do have plenty of mizuna, mache, wintercress, spinach, arugula and chicory – so I’m set for salads). I’m not willing to give up on growing lettuce, so I’ll get all new seeds to try next year – any ideas on how to better start lettuce would be appreciated.
3 – Watering by hand. All summer, I went out every night with a hose to water the garden. I don’t mind spending the time, but I’m a bad waterer. I don’t manage to water everything evenly. In my carrot patch, based on the amount of foliage, I can see where I watered plenty and where I didn’t – I don’t think trying to water more evenly by hand is the solution, I need to make the process more automatic. I’m going to start researching automatic watering systems with the goal of installing a system for next summer.
Overall, I’m happy with how my garden did this year – and I’m not done yet, there is plenty still out there growing to feed my family for the winter and into next spring (kale is the best in the early spring).
Years ago I was in the army. At the end of each of our exercises we would sit down and create an ‘After Action Report’ outlining what went well and what didn’t. The idea was to create a document to learn from. With this in mind, I thought I would take a similar approach to this summer’s garden now that I’m trying to be more systematic about getting more food-stuff out of it.
What turned out well:
1 – Early peas in a big, black pot. I started peas really early in both a garden bed and in a big, black pot. The ones in the pot took right off, out growing the height of my trellis in no time while producing tones of peas. The peas in the ground were slow and produced only a few peas. My theory is the black pot provided extra warmth by heating up in the sun. Next year, I’ll grow all my early peas in black pots.
2 – Raspberries, strawberries and blackberries. All of these are in relatively new places and heavily mulched and fertilized. The result was a constant supply of these berries, even now there are raspberries and strawberries to eat.
3 – Carrots and beets. I devoted most of a bet to these two this year and mulched them well. None of them turned out huge, however we’ve eaten plenty over the last while and have enough to last us a few more months.
4 – Celery. I had an old package of celery seeds and some extra space when I was starting seeds, so celery became a last minute addition to my garden plan. I’ve tried to grow celery before and was disappointed by the small, bitter tasting plants that resulted. This year I ended up with six good sized plants (plenty for my family) that tasted great. Again, they were heavily mulched which kept them wetter than before. It appears that mulching is a common factor that improves my harvests.
Next, I’ll get into what didn’t turn out well…
I’ve written an article about how I’m going to attempt to grow more calories in my home garden over at Emma the Gardener’s blog – plus some things I won’t be trying to grow/raise.
I used to hate beets – it was all about their colour. Their juice stains everything it touches a nuclear shade of magenta, a colour I find unappealing. Now that I’m gardening, beets make a great crop; they are easy to grow, nutritious, and can just be left in the ground until needed. These plusses outweighed the fact that I didn’t like them, so I planted beets. I can’t say they are my favourite vegetable, but I’ve grown to tolerate them in soup and roasted (my quest to love beets is still ongoing).
In looking for something to do with my beets, I stumbled across a recipe for ‘biosphere beet soup’ from Eating In: from the field to the kitchen in Biosphere 2. The recipe called for beets, a potato and a lemon. I don’t grow any of my own lemons as I would need a greenhouse. However, I do have lots of beets and potatoes, so this recipe makes a great starting point for an experiment in making dinner out of what is currently in the garden.
First thing this morning, I went out and harvested the beets. Beside the beets were red carrots. These carrots were bred to contain lycopene, a health promoting nutrient, and they were red. Purple and orange carrots have been a huge success, so trying out red ones seemed like a great idea. To release the lycopene, the carrots need to be cooked and their redness wasn’t as bold as I wanted (they are a rather pale red, almost pink) making them an ideal ingredient for my beets soup.
In another bed, my first successful celery crop waited to be harvested, so I cut off several stalks to put in the soup. Last spring, I had planted multiplier onions to harvest their greens. The onions did their own thing and set single bulbs, that are modest sized red onions. Several of these onions went in along with two cloves of my own garlic.
Purple potatoes seemed the obvious choice for this soup, so I included a handful of small ones. Based on my recent spaghetti squash avalanche, I’ve also slipped in a squash which I assume will blend in.
Everything is now in the slow cooker, along with some salt and pepper that I didn’t produce. I’ll puree the lot before dinner. The original recipe came to 101 calories per serving, which is rather low. It is difficult to get a lot of calories out of garden produce. I think I’ll fry up a couple of eggs from my hens to round out the meal. That’s as local as I can get.
I seem to be challenged when it comes to growing winter squash*. This year, out of three plants, one delicata and two acorn squash, there is only one, misshapen squash to harvest – unfortunately this is on par with my previous years harvests. Winter squash are great and store well, so I’d be disappointed with my harvest, except this year I out sourced my squash production to my parent’s garden. They are downsizing their gardening efforts, so have lots of space for sprawling vines. I passed on seeds for butternut, baby blue hubbard (I think) and spaghetti squash.
My dad said he planted three of each type of squash. He lined up the harvest in the picture. Clearly the spaghetti squash outdid the rest. Three plants produced 112 squash, or roughly 37 per plant – that’s insane!
It looks like we’ll be having spaghetti squash for dinner several times a week until next spring and giving many away.
* lemon cucumbers on the other hand are no problem, currently one plant is giving me billions of them. They don’t pickle well and they are overrunning my other cucumbers. Lemon cucumbers might not make my planting list next year.
Something has been eating the leaves of my sour cherry tree (picture below). The tree is still in a pot, scheduled to be planted in a deer-proof fortification this fall. It has been happily growing since I bought it a few months ago. The damage is unsightly, but hopefully not detrimental to the tree. It looks like windows have been installed haphazardly through the leaves exposing the fractal-like veins of each leaf – very reminiscent of the leaf miner damage that has destroyed this summer’s chard. The difference is I caught the cherry assaulters red-handed. They look to me like little translucent caterpillars with the colouring of a fresh bird dropping. I took mug shots and sent them to be identified by a master gardener and an entomologist.
The gardener identified them as Western Tentiform Leafminers (Phyllonorycter elmaella), a leafminer big enough to see that prefers apple and cherry trees. They have a distinctive adult form with orange and white stripes – I haven’t noticed these, however I have not been looking.
The entomologist identified them as Pear Slugs (Caliroa cerasi), which is not actually a slug but a sawfly. This one also likes munching on fruit trees – including sour cherries like mine. The adult form of these look like a flying ant and I’d have to look really close to tell the difference. Since I assume all flying ants are coming to eat my house, I flatten them on sight.
To me the larvae forms of both the Western Tentiform Leafminers and Pear Slugs look exactly the same! When I noticed these caterpillars on the cherry tree, I picked them all off and squished them, so I can’t hold onto one and see what it turns into. Any idea what these pests might be?
My almost fully homegrown lunch included my own fried purple potatoes and eggs with a salad made of tomatoes and cucumbers. I don’t produce any of my own oil, so I used store-bought oil to cook, plus I like a bit of salt on my tomatoes. For a little zip, I added someone else’s diced red onion to my salad – I’m not growing any onions this year because I got mad at them last year. I devoted a huge amount of space to bulb onions and only got greens, I’ll try onion growing again next year (cabbages are on my current hit list because they are buggy space hogs, so they won’t be grown next year). It is only one meal in my day, breakfast was totally not homegrown and dinner tonight of left over chili contains my own celery as the only homegrown ingredient.
I’m still actively working on getting more homegrown food into my family’s meals. In pondering how to grow more, I stumbled across this pool – an awesome conversion of a dilapidated pool into an food producing ecosystem including vegetables, tilapia and eggs that mostly feeds a family of four (another article is here).
The hens live above the deep end of the pool which is filled with water. Chicken waste falls into the water providing nutrients for algae and floating plants, tilapia eat the algae and excess floating plants (duckweed and azolla) get fed to the hens. The nutrient rich water is then pumped (solar powered) through a hydroponic growing system. In their video I spotted chard, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, peas, various herbs and perhaps even taro. The plants looked fabulous and healthy.
They make a claim of ‘unlimited tilapia’, is that possible in the 1000 gallon* they have for them? I did a quick check on an aquaponics site. Their ratio of gallons of water to pounds of fish was 3:1. Which translates into roughly 300 lb of fish in a 1000 gallon pond. I don’t know how fast they reproduce, but it does seem like a lot of fish dinners are a possibility.
It looks like the Garden Pool produces lots of healthy food, perhaps a bit calorie light as they didn’t appear to be growing calorie dense stuff like potatoes (perhaps taro fits this category, I just don’t know enough about it), root vegetables, dried beans or corn.
My one criticism was that their operation was covered with poly – I see that as a great way to start, but if it was my pool I’d be looking to convert to a covering that is more permanent and ascetically pleasing. These clear solar energy collectors would make a great cover (how cool is that!), perhaps fashioned into a pyramid like this one suggested for living on Mars.
*feeling too lazy today to convert these units to metric