Our gardens in many lights

dimanche 20 novembre 2011

Successes and failures, part 1

Cet article en français. 
Este artículo en español.

Pumpkin harvest, one standard pumpkin from the mystery vine
and 10 Baby Boo pumpkins.
Hélène : It feels like the gardening season just started to gain steam a couple of weeks ago and here we are, already at the end of the show. Nights are fresher, it's raining quite a lot and nothing is of a vibrant shade of green anymore. But here we are with a cornucopia of delicious vegetables from the garden! There are of course also a couple of spots in it that are empty, not because what was there was harvested but because it simply did not work out. So here's the article that compounds the successes and failures of this beautiful year's garden season, welcome to the recapitulation of what happened in 2011.

Successes :
Juneberry flowers
First and foremost, juneberries and strawberries. These tiny fruits have wooed us at the end of spring and the harvest was huge. We mostly enjoyed them like that, nothing special. Anyway, I wouldn't have had time to do much with them since my son usually finished the bowl we just harvested. You can read more about it in this article.

On the other hand, I only made one dessert out of unappealing strawberries, strawberries that passed too much time under the rain to the cares of slugs. I also had a decent peach harvest, my first year with this tree, but this is a subject that deserves its own article (here's the article, a year later in August 2012).

The first 4 Zlata radishes,
these are yellow radishes.

There was also lettuce (2 kinds, one of which got a second wind recently because of October's colder weather), carrots, mustard and radishes, all of these planted in Polyculture. For those who don't know, Polyculture is a simple gardening technique: you throw a blend of seeds  in a predetermined space and wherever the seeds land will be where they'll grow. When it becomes crowded, you methodically harvest the biggest specimens to allow the smaller ones to grow in turn. It's a great way to eat baby lettuce for an extended period.

You can however bring the technique a step farther : making an educated choice of plants that complete each other in different ways. The classic combo of carrots and radishes is one (radishes grow so fast compared to carrots that the carrots are just poking out when you harvest the radishes, resulting in a lot less weeding to do than if you had a space dedicated to carrots only).

But there's other combinations worthwhile mentionning like lettuce-carrots-leeks (or onions) : the carrot grows underground and its leaves barely gives any shadow, the leek grows straight and doesn't bother its neighbors, while the lettuce gives enough shadow to prevent weeds but doesn't impact the tall leaves of carrots and leeks. My experience wasn't a complete success however. I got barely 10 radishes. Carrots have been as finicky; I harvested between 15 et 20, but since I didn't pay attention to my clay soil, they came out somewhat small and deformed. I'm still kinda proud since this year, I grew 3 different varieties, 3 different colors. For the mustard... I've talked about it here. The lettuces, Komatsuna and Langue de cerf (Deer's Tongue) come from Solana and have been a resounding success all summer long, rewarding us with lots of delicious salads.

Did you ever try to grow your plants from seeds inside? I did, years ago, near a window, with a too-big container and potting soil. I never quite managed to make anything grow like that, so obviously I got discouraged, because when nothing wants to grow from seeds, it just doesn't make us want to invest more in it. And then for the first time I got a serious setup, with a tabletop grow light, and a heating mat from Veseys (I didn't want to risk disapointment again). Many types of plants grew there from February to May.

3 varieties of tomatoes here: The traditional but good yellow pear,
the White Currant and the P20 Blue Tomato.
 Tomatoes were a success spread with failures here and there. The seedlings grew pretty well considering the lack of water under a lamp, a mistake I will not make next year. All in all, 4 plants survived the seedling stage, a quantity I judged sufficient at the time. But there was trouble : putting the seedlings in the garden. Too cold? Not enough water? I'm not exactly sure, but I came really close to losing the 4 plants. And in a moment of panic, I turned toward my favorite garden center (this site is in french) and I bought a tomato plant, one that's very popular and common, cherry yellow pears, something that's found pretty much everywhere. When my seedlings started to show color again, I ended up with a lot of tomatoes and actually a good range of different tomatoes. My 2 seedlings of White Currant managed really well, but in the garden, only one seedling of P20 Blue made fruits (The other one came so close to the brink, it only grew leaves). Me and my family, we love cherry tomatoes, that's pretty much the only kind we eat fresh, so it's not surprising that they take the biggest space in the garden. But next year, I promised myself I would try a fantastic variety of normal size, maybe for canning. The White Currant and P20 Blue came from Solana, like the lettuces mentionned above.

I'll skip the sunflower subject, since it's already been explored here. But I'll add that I use my sunflower seeds mostly in germination in Mason jars even if they're not easy. Again, here's a subject that deserves an article all to its own (and here's the article in question, dated december 2011).
Another small success was found in the golden raspberries. Each harvest was very small however: a handful here, a couple there. My biggest harvest was only 15 raspberries! The plant is small and young. But if you count on the length of the season, it did extremely well ; my first harvest (of maybe 4 raspberries) was in mid July. Well, here we are in the middle of October, and I'm still harvesting some! And if everything's well, I expect I'll have some until the first frosts!

One thing to mention : the first year brought me fruits too (normally a raspberry plant only fruits on second year stalks), but they were acidic and not good. This year however, they're absolutely delicious! If I first had doubts about keeping the plant, I don't have any, anymore!

 Somehow, the red raspberries coming under the fence from my neighbor didn't do good at all. I didn't pay attention, but these were 3 years old stalks. They dried and died just as they were setting fruits. Maybe next year they'll come back with a vengeance (hope springs eternal).

I barely had the time to take a picture when a little hand grabbed
the fruits, its owner ready to swallow all of the delicious fruits!

Here's a sample of  July's harvest : 4 gigantic turnips,
a handful of golden raspberries, tomatoes, tomatoes
and more tomatoes!

One of the enormous success of the garden was the turnips. Louise gave me early in the season seeds of the variety Early Snowball. I sowed them in a polyculture design with seeds of calendulas. The calendulas have been shy, but managed regardless. The turnips on their part, took all the place they could and we are still eating some on a regular basis!

Louise's Sidenote : Note here we are taking about true turnips, not swedish turnips -look at the picture. And by the way, the leaves and stalks of turnips, radishes and swedish turnips are edible, I'll talk about it in a future article.

There's also a pepper, Corno di Toro, from Solana again, a good sweet pepper that gave a good harvest, albeit a mostly green one. I also planted a purple bell pepper variety, but they had so much trouble getting sun with the sunflowers and pumpkins that I collected only a few, mostly small, deformed and still green inside (I discussed this here). Out of all this bounty, I made a mix of vegetables preserved in oil that I'll taste in a couple of weeks.

The calendula flowers, lost among turnip leaves.

 A note on the potatoes : This year, for an unknown reason, my potatoes died. I heard that sometimes it just happens even if the place attributed to them was a success years prior. So it is only fair that I try it again next year!

There must have been a problem
with the polination of the Mini Boo :
Normally this squash is supposed to
be a bit bigger and white with green
And then there's the pumpkins. I had bought Mini-Boo pumpkins from Solana, a completely adorable, small and white variety. From that vine, I collected 10. They made excellent Halloween decorations and probably will finish as stuffed delicacies. There were also my 2 mystery vines, sprouted from my compost heap. Unfortunately out of that experiment, only one pumpkin grew... At least it was very, very good and as I write this text, I have a bag full of pumpkin squares in my freezer!
Louise's Sidenote : It would be normal to harvest a very small quantity of squashes from a single vine. The standard would be of 2 or 3 squashes, even for farmers.

And finally, there's this must-have here, the Scarlett Runner Bean. It's a wonderful vine that grows so fast and high it was the inspiration for the folktale Jack and the Beanstalk. The beans can be eaten whole with the pods when young and tender, but if you let them mature and dry on the vine, you can harvest the seeds (the beans), and these are absolutely superb! Dried, the beans can wait a long time before being cooked, or you can put them aside to make new plants the next year. In a spaghetti sauce, they add color, taste and nutritious value. This year was my fourth year growing them and they had a new space for them, growing directly on my balcony's railing. So, technically, they take little precious space and all by themselves, they make a pretty spectacular vertical garden.
Harvest 2011. All in all, for 5 plants, I collected 736g worth
of delicious dried beans!
The red flowers on this type of bean are vibrant... and edible!
I only planted 5 seeds and my cosmos and nasturtiums were overwhelmed
by the vines. This picture was taken in August, and they
didn't spread that much yet. But you should have seen them at the end of the season!

What about the failures?

This naked obelisk in spring becomes a huge green mountain
in summer. Years before, it was used for the Scarlett
Runner Beans. In 2011, it's a mystery vine
that grew there. I never knew what variety ;
the only benefit I got out of it was experience.
Well on that topic, I do not have many pictures, of course. Besides the potatoes and the second mystery vine, I failed with my cucumbers. I boughtt a dwarf variety that apparently does really well in containers... If the water input is perfected to an art I have yet to achieve. The blueberry plant only produced 9 berries... It's the second year I got it and I think I know why it's a problem : I heard bluberries yield were better if cross-pollinated. Next year, I'll buy at least 2 other plants. I also tried to grow a variety of tiny melon, but it was so small, its vine just couldn't compete with the squash vine : both of them shared the obelisk in my garden. There, I also have a plan : I'll try to grow this variety inside. It did really well on my tabletop mini-glow, so I'll probably just try it there again.

Freya searches for a mouse that I placed
 back in the compost bin where it lives.
There were also surprises...

I somehow managed to grow tomato plants out of the compost bin again. Of course, I only got a couple of fruits since the season was just too short for these late newcomers. But the two biggest surprises of the summer were of a totally different aspect.

First, I found mice in my compost. It's when I noticed my youngest cat running like a maniac after something in the yard. When I got close, I not only noticed a small mouse (it wasn't harmed, but it might have made a heart attack, it wouldn't have surprised me!), and then I noticed through the compost bin's ventilation holes, not too far from where the cat and mouse drama was unfolding... tiny paws running around inside the bin. Lots of tiny paws! Not only that, but under the tool shed, not even a meter away from the bin, I found a lot of tiny mouse-size holes... and one much bigger hole. When I looked into the huge one, I saw two big eyes look back at me. Huh, that wasn't a mouse. But what was it? At the time I'm writing this article, I'm still not sure. I can venture my guess on a wild bunny ; there're some in a tiny forest, nearby, and this passed winter, I found some rabbit manure in my front yard. I never saw gophers around here and althought I did smell a skunk once in a while, its "fragrance" was never powerful enough to signal it was as close as to be in my backyard. This backyard is, by the way, well fenced since the previous occupants owned a dog. The last visitor we had was a raccoon that came around only once : it opened the compost bin, took its fill and went on its merry way. From now on, I do make sure my bin is secured but I do think my 3 cats also made an impression on him. At the very least, he made an impression on them.

Oh yes! One surprise I also found in the compost was a mushroom! I'm pretty sure it was a Button Mushroom, the standard variety we find in grocery stores, since I threw out some, some days before this event, but as mentionned in Louise's article if you don't know for sure, you do not touch it!

I also explored the interesting flora of my lawn. Red and white clover, dandelion and plantain were some of the plants I actually used this year (the clover and dandelion for herbal tea and the plantain to suit mosquito bites - it works!). But the other complete surprise was German Camomile. Considering this plant can sometimes be hard to grow, I was skeptical, but after making an herbal tea out of it, I have to admit it was, indeed, Camomile.

It's to say that nature is always ready to give a little help to curious gardeners... Keep your eyes open  for the second part, Louise's Successes and Failures!

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