Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Year of the Humungous Garden

2012 was the YEAR OF THE HUMUNGOUS GARDEN here on our 'clay farm'.  I still planted my wee front yard garden at the house, but we also planted a complete small-sized pasture near the barn.

Then, like people who don't plan their time well, we let nature take over for the most part and tried to react.

I'll admit that we had no idea what we were in for.  We might have guessed by the gaping mouth stunned look on peoples face when they said "You planted that whole area?"

Well, hard could it be?  Our collective grandparents fed their own families from their farm...and like, they likely didn't have a grade school education between them, eh?  Certainly, two successful (over-confident) college grads armed with Google and a library card could easily overcome anything nature threw at us, despite having only a lazy hobbyist approach to any previous food growing attempt.

Well, we've gained an education this summer.

Here's how it rolled out...

Corn - we planted 6 rows of 3 varieties - the one that didn't produce at all was supposedly specially developed for Northern Ontario. "Spring Treat" corn did the best, although here it was a late summer treat.  We ate quite a bit on the cob and I froze quite a lot of kernels.  I had a lot of cobs with uneven, undeveloped kernels and many little cobs that the chickens are now eating.   Next year, our goal is to get bigger cobs with even kernels. 

Potatoes - We planted a lot of potatoes.  We were encouraged by the lovely flowering bushes that came up and talked seriously about building a real root cellar.  Then, we were infested with potato bugs (well, not us but the potatoes).  I tried picking them off but I couldn't keep up (and boy, are they UGLY...horror movie UGLY).  We bought predator ladybugs and followed the directions on the bag...but alas, they flew away.  We tried different organic ideas and even resorted to some spray from the garden store.  It was an epidemic of grand proportion!  I stood in the garden with hubby and said something akin to "Wow...imagine if we had to actually rely on this food to see us through the year!!!" (The previous mentioned 'uneducated' grandparents had large crates of potatoes put up in their cold, dirt cellar every fall.  Hmmmm...maybe potato bugs didn't exist back then...) Anyway, the foilage was toast but we still dug up the wee little potatoes that we love to boil up.  Not the crop we aspired to, but we did enjoy what little we had.

Onions - minimal success.  I think weed control would have helped.

Purple Prince Turnips - I picked, cooked and froze quite a few of these, but they were smallish, hot tasting and not at all like the orange-fleshed kind of turnip I prefer.  Also, something enjoyed nibbling the top of the turnip when it started showing at the ground level.  Next year, I'll plant a different kind.

Radishes - Boy, we had a bonanza of radishes.  And you's not easy to find radish recipes.  Why is it that the stuff that does well isn't the stuff you can preserve?

Spinach - We had lovely spinach for a long time.  I didn't replant for continual summer growth.  I didn't get on top of things to freeze spinach and keep the young growth coming.

Carrots - minimal success.  Weeding will help, but our clay soil is also so compacted the carrots were very tough to pull out.  What we have had was tasty though.

Cucumbers -   We've had a few cucumbers but considering the amount we planted, they weren't successful.  Something else out in the garden ate a lot more and left the bottom skin on the ground.  (groundhogs? )  We've had more cucumbers in the past week than all summer, so whatever was eating them may have moved on.

Beets - Total FAIL.  Some colourful beet tops but only little dried up roots.

Yellow Beans - I love fresh yellow beans and so does my family.  I've grown them in my wee garden and in containers on the deck, but I've never grown enough.  So, this year, I planted a my wee garden and in the HUMUNGOUS garden.  A LOT.  Then, with the dry spring, and dry early blossoms came.  I thought the bean train had passed me by.  A bitter disappointment, indeed.
Then, came the rain.  Then, came the blossoms.  Then, came the beans.  And more beans, and more beans, and get the idea.  We ate a whole lot of boiled beans which we love and I blanched a whole lot of beans which will be great in the winter.  Honestly, the snow may fly before I want another yellow bean on my plate.  I hate to admit it but a lot of beans died in my garden because I couldn't keep up.

Swiss Chard - Did pretty well.  I don't love swiss chard but I understand it is one of the most nutrient rich foods in the garden.

Peas, Soy Beans, Lettuce - Total failure.  I suspect soil condition problems for this.  I've grown lettuce successfully in my wee house garden which is of nice, aerorated top soil.  Next year, I'll keep the lettuce in that wee house garden or containers.  We can only eat so much lettuce anyway.

Zucchini - I am destined to be a zucchini farmer.  This stuff took over (see earlier post here).  We ate zucchini in many different forms and I froze a lot of shredded zucchini.  We sold zucchini, gave it to friends, wrapped it as a birthday gift for co-workers, left it on random doorsteps and almost got arrested trying to sneak it into someone's gymbag at the YMCA.  I have avoided that end of the garden since mid-August...I know they are out there still.  And for whatever I took from the garden, there were twice as many that were half-eaten by some scavenging creatures out there (groundhogs? birds?)

Acorn squash - so far, so good.  Something is eating some of it, but leaving me enough.

Tomatoes - This was a great year for tomatoes.  We had our first frost last night, Sept 15th, so many have had time to ripen (and I covered the plants last night, so hope more will ripen).   Usually, I grow green tomatoes but only a few red.  This year was so warm, I even have tomatoes on plants that grew from last years late tomatoes that fell from the plant and rotted into the ground.  Rare in this part of the country to have tomatoes from seeds that haven't been started indoors.
Pumpkins - If all continues well, I will have about ten or so jackolantern pumpkins.  Currently, they are dark green, so with orange blotches.

So, it's been a learning experience.

The most important lessons are...
1.  Our soil isn't totally useless.
2.  The pump and hoses were a good investment this summer of little rain. 
3.  Weed control matters. 
4.  We are capable of growing food. 
5.  We have a lot to learn. 
6.  It takes time to harvest without being overrun. 
7.  Friends really appreciate your produce.
8.  Growing food for ourselves is a fun and rewarding family hobby.
9.  My kid has the entrepreneural spirit (she's already planning next year's sales).

I follow some blogs from some seasoned market farmers and the general conversation has been that it's been the toughest growing year for many decades.  So I take heart in that.

All this greenery will go back into the soil when we till it under for preparation for next year's garden.

To try next year:

1. I'll be propping up the beans - I saw a great idea to use cattle panels from Leigh at 5 Acres and a dream.  I learn a lot from her blog.
2. Try companion gardening - I knew about this, I just didn't plan it.  I'll check those books out of the library this winter.
3.  Use weed barriers.  Reality is that I'm not going to be out there weeding that large lot by hand.  The plan instead will be to use something like the alpaca fleece throwaways and cardboard as garden felts/weed barriers.
4. Have the plan for excess - which includes having the recipes ready, a sales plan and a giveaway plan to the soup kitchen or food bank.  (Part of the problem is that this food needs to harvested and preserved during the hottest part of the summer when I'm not wanting to boil or cook in the kitchen - I'll have to think about this)

Learn and improve.


Zenitude said...

Sounds like your summer was very busy with tending to the garden and the preserving. My gardening learning will be done thru your experiences and your writing as I'm not ready to start gardening on a grand scale like you. Even though I love the harvest!

Rian said...

"We bought predator ladybugs and followed the directions on the bag...but alas, they flew away." I had to laugh when I read this. We tried this too once... and the same thing happened. They flew away.. and some even landed on me and bit me. Didn't know ladybugs bit!

Azure Accessories said...

congratulations on your successes Norman...


Carol Tomany said...

This sounds so delicious. Thanks for posting

Julia said...

We were fortunate to have the best garden year we've had in a long time. Pumpkins, chard, zucchini, lettuce, corn, cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes! It has little to do with our gardening acumen, we were fortunate enough not to live in an area hit very hard by drought and we had plenty of pressurized secondary irrigation water to go around. We use ladybugs every year, and have good luck with them - but we also buy about 10x the recommended amount..."they" don't seem to know how many you should really use. We didn't plant potatoes this year, and our onions all died. We planted everything in about 2' of composted manure from the barn - I think that is also why we had such good luck!

Norma from Misty Haven Alpacas said...

Zenitude - I do beleive you can get the same harvest by supporting your local farmers at the I know you do!
Rian - Wow...didn't know ladybugs bit either. We once had an infestation in our hot tub cedar room (due to the moist condition they nested in the tropical plants I had) - good thing they didn't turn on me!
Heather....only my brother calls me Norman!;)
Carol - It IS delicious - Thanks for dropping by.
Julia - I must find a Canadian side source for bulk ladybugs...since I paid $18 + tax for a little yuppy bag full at the garden store.

Leigh said...

Excellent post Norma. This is my kind of learning, just jump right in and do something! I love that you shared it all.