Sunday, 1 November 2009

Garden 2009: Summary of What Worked and What Didn't

One of the purposes of this blog is for me to keep track of the things I'm doing and learning about sustainability and food security and the like, through my own gardening efforts. I didn't post much about my garden (or anything else for that matter) this summer, but I thought I should at least make note of how some of the things I tried turned out.

I'll start with what went well:

1) Potatoes: Potatoes are plain-packaged miracles in my opinion. I was astounded again this year at how many potatoes will grow from just a quarter-potato planted in the Spring. I planted a section of Yukon Gold potatoes this year - the section was about 5 feet square. I probably planted the potatoes too close together, and I didn't hill them up as much I had intended, yet I got over 40 lbs of potatoes out of that little patch. Some of them were hands down gorgeous! Smooth, creamy, perfectly formed spuds. I have since made a whole lotta potato-leek soup and mashed spuds, which are now in my freezer for Winter. Not to mention the bounty of new potatoes and butter we had over the Summer itself.

2) Carrots: These grew and grew whether I thinned them or not, and tolerated quite the variation in temperature and moisture - I was so enthralled with them I wrote a little post all about it a couple weeks ago...

3) Perennial Herbs: I was so happy that my lavender plant made it through last Winter, despite the many nights of bitter cold we had (and by bitter cold I mean -45C at times, and often many nights in a row of -30C). Not only did it survive, but it thrived and produced lovely flowers that were loved by a lot of bees and bugs. By virtue of a late September trip to a lavender farm just outside of Victoria, BC, I found out that my particular variety of lavender was edible! So I harvested my lavender flowers (probably past their peak, but oh well) and made some delicious lavender scones, like you see in the picture above. I also made some lavender and sage tea with honey, which is also quite tasty. Which brings me to the sage - another plant that just grew like crazy this Summer. I have harvested a huge jar-full, enough to last me over the Winter, for certain. My thyme and rosemary also did well, and I fully expect to see them survive over this Winter, providing there is enough snow to insulate everything nicely, like there was last year.

4) Perennial Salad Greens: I grew three varieties of greens from seed: Salad Burnet, Burnet Saxifraga and French Sorrel. All of these sprouted well and grew quite profusely. Both Gord and I and our guinea pigs enjoyed these greens over the summer and into the late Fall (i.e., now). I am keeping my fingers crossed that they live through the winter - the odds are fairly good since they are quite well established now.

There were several things that didn't go well, some of which I've complained about already, and some which I haven't mentioned yet:

1) Cucumbers: I have absolutely no luck with these. Last year they were killed by frost and this year the seedlings were fried by a hot spell after a cool, dry spell. I had been trying to conserve water becasue of the dryness early in the Spring, and apparently I was a bit too stingy with the H2O.

2) Beans: These things were fried more than once, and were very slow to get going in the adverse conditions of cool dryness followed by hot dryness. Later in the summer they had a burst of growth that happened so fast the beans were past the fresh eating stage before I even noticed there were beans at all. They were even past the pickling stage, they were that big. Fortunately they were a dual purpose bean, in that the seeds themselves could be dried and used for soups. So I have a whole cupboard full of bean pods drying.

3) Tomatoes: Dead. Killed in a late frost (in June). I didn't have the motivation to try again.

4) Pumpkins: Dead. Seedlings eaten by some sort of garden pest, perhaps of the deer or pocket gopher variety.

5) Chard and Kale: started out good, but the above noted pocket gopher decided to invade that corner of the garden after our 'mole repellent' thingies chased them out of the yard. All that underground burrowing killed a good half of the chard and kale after that.

6) Aspen tree "cloning:" Our property is full of trembling aspen trees, but there is one large gap in the treeline from what I assume was some over-zealous grading when the house was built. I want to fill in that gap with the same kind of trees, and when I saw this rooter pot device at Lee Valley tools, I thought it was the answer. I had visions of free trees in my head, and I enthusiastically made my way out into our woodlot to choose some prime cloning fodder. I followed the directions closely and soon had ten aspen saplings fitted out with attached rootpots. I don't know if it was a problem with the rooting hormone washing off of the exposed "wound" inside the rootpots, or my not keeping the soil evenly moist. (Watering these things was a tad more complex than the little instruction book led me to believe.) So instead of planting ten new trees, I killed ten trees instead. Not good.

Despite the disappointments I did learn a lot, and there were some things that did go well even in the tough conditions. I guess that's the most important lesson of all: when the going gets tough, I just need to channel my inner potato. And then maybe have some lavender scones with tea. :)

15 comments:

Eco Yogini said...

Oh I am so sad to hear that your "cloning" device didn't turn out! I was so excited for you when you first wrote about it... sigh.

I am happy that so many things turned out well though- I was thinking about lavender and wondering if it would continue to grow over winter. Would it grow inside? I should try some more herbs since my indoor plants seem to be doing alright.

my little urban balcony garden kinda tanked. All the rain killed the garlic and the peas only produced six pods...
we did get some carrots (although they were stunted and small) and a few strawberries. I'm hoping for better next year... even though we're moving.

Theresa said...

Thanks Eco-Y. It was disappointing for sure. At first just one tree died, but the others followed soon after.

I tried keeping some lavender inside two years ago I think, and it didn't work - I'm not sure why. I think I will plant some more, because I'm finding the flowers very tasty in tea and baking and all sorts of stuff.

I've had some luck with lettuce in containers, but it stays very small, which makes sense I guess. Are you moving to somewhere you can have a yard garden?

Apple Jack Creek said...

Well, Theresa, if it makes you feel any better, our garden was much like yours this year.

Cucumbers, tomatoes, and beans - total bust. Potatoes ... woohoo! Potatoes seem to do just fine with laissez-faire gardening. :) Mine grew in half-finished-mostly-still-recognizable-as-hay-compost, and we got a nice harvest. Carrots and beets did well here, too, even when almost entirely neglected. Peas didn't do too badly this year - although next year I plan to space much more widely. I discovered the Northern variation of 3 sisters planting: a pea plant planted with a sunflower works great - the sunflower provides support for the pea and grows fast enough! Presumably if you were using hills you could also put something at the base, but I haven't done that yet. 2 Sisters planting, maybe? :)

Our wheat did grow, which was a fun surprise - going to plant more of it next year, in all the 'still wild' spaces and see if it can outcompete the pasture grasses. Might try some oats too, since I hear oat straw is really good for tea.

You had way better luck than I did with the herbs ... I had NOTHING grow this year, except volunteer calendula (of which I have scads ... I plan to scatter seeds all along my fencelines next year, they're pretty, useful, and they seem to just ... grow!). I have big visions of starting a proper herb bed next year ... got any suggestions for 'easy winners'?

Theresa said...

Hi AJC! Potatoes are amazing, aren't they? Sharon Astyk has just posted about their amazing EROEI ratio, which our experience sure bears out. As for sure fire herbs, I would say thyme is your best bet, along with chives - nothing seems to kill them, and they multiply like crazy!

Theresa said...

Well, they don't really multiply so much as spread, but you know what I mean....

Jerry said...

"Channel your inner potato". I love that.

Nice reflections, Theresa. Such an important exercise, it seems.

You said you killed 10 trees. Did the trees you were cloning from die, or just the clones? If just the clones then it was not failure but a learning experience!! Just a thought.

Your herbs that should survive winter if insulated by snow...I wonder if a thick layer of straw surrounding them would help?

Apple Jack: I didn't have enough bean seed so I tried that peas and corn idea as well. Unfortunately, very few of them sprouted, and those few that did, did not seem too eager to climb the corn. But they produced pretty well...and damn nice pods too. Definitely going to try that again and I too must seed with more space between rows!!

King of Green said...

aspen is a member of the poplar family. These trees root fairly easily. Have stuck terminal shoots from side branches in potting soil and kept in shade. will get 50-60% rooting.

Theresa said...

Hi Jerry - thanks for the kind words :) Unfortunately it was the trees I was cloning from that died. The whole tree itself died before putting roots into the little rootpot that encircles the stem of the parent plant. If I do this again, I might try cloning off of a branch of bigger tree, rather than off the main trunk of a smaller tree. And I won't do 10 at once, maybe just one or two. Still a learning experience, but I wasn't happy to have killed 10 nice aspens who were just minding their own business...

Theresa said...

Oh, about the straw mulch - I think I may have put a little straw down last year, come to think of it. I shall have to do that again...

Theresa said...

King of Green - hello and thanks for taking the time to come by and comment! I will try what you suggest next Spring - thank you! That is a much better success rate than my 0%, and I won't kill another tree in the process!

Leaf Dharma said...

Sorry about the garden, but as along time Calgary boy I know the frustrations and limitations of growing in that zone. This year we moved to a new house in Kelowna and had major success with everything we grew. Beans, tomatoes, Cukes, Zukes, Water Mellon we even planted a Kiwi Tree based on our neighbours success. Better luck next year. PS: A cold frame can really help out.

Theresa said...

LeafD - a cold frame sounds like a really good idea. I have had some ideas for these, but never really followed through. Congrats on your garden - that is a much different zone alright!

Apple Jack Creek said...

Speaking of cold frames - the local dump has a pile of windows off to the side (there's an area specifically designate for "stuff that might still be useful, take it if you want it" - we call it the local mall) and I snagged one that's been set up as a cold frame in the past. It needs a bit of repair, but we can do that - and in the spring, I am going to give it a shot!

I also have dibs on the shower doors/walls when we take it down (maybe this winter if all goes well), as I think those will be good cold frame lids - they're frosted, but I think they might work anyway.

Inspired by your gift of the Four Season Harvest from last year! You're spreading the love of gardening, Theresa! :D

Oh - as for the trees - do you own > 5 acres? If so, you probably qualify for trees from the gubermint ... the Prairie Shelterbelt Program gives them away, for just the price of shipping (which is minimal, like $7 for all the trees I got last year).

Liz said...

Hi Theresa - I may have missed it, but what type of lavendar do you grow? I've avoided it as I figured we were close to the limits in this zone but you'd certainly be colder.

I'm glad you had successes in the garden this year despite your late frosts. Hail to the potato and zucchini. When all else fails...

Theresa said...

AJC - Glad you are getting use and inspiration from the Four Seasons Harvest book - I need to open that up again for some inspiration over the Winter. About the shelterbelt program, our acreage is just over 3 acres, so we don't qualify for that. In the past we have benefitted from a kind farmer who does though :). The beauty of these cloned trees was that they were going to be 4-5 feet high already, instead of just 1 - 1 1/2 feet like the shelterbelt trees. I may just give in and buy some established trees from the local tree nursery, if I get desperate enough!

Hi Liz - the lavender I grew is one of the lavandula angustifolia varieties. Ya, we are in Zone 2.5 here, so I'm sure you could grow it where you are!