Friday, November 25, 2011

2011 - First Year Summary

Garden idea was born in March.
Robert was especially eager,
while Robin was quite reluctant.
(Said she has a purple thumb.)

Robert persuaded her to give it a try.
Robin's friend, Gayle, suggested the horse trough method.
We found the "recipe" at Mary Jane's farm on the internet.
Robert voted YES!

Sun we have,
but no level ground,
no well or city water.
Our water drains from the roof tops
into cisterns when it rains.
Deer love our property
and we enjoy them.

Fence? Must be deer proof.
Water? Must have more cisterns.

Horse trough? Good for senior backs.
Good for limited water supply.

Garden was engineered by Robert,
who admittedly didn't think much beyond
getting it built, the fence up,
followed by good mix of soils,
which was accomplished by 
May 1st.

Despite early reluctance,
Robin took over then,
planting, tending, harvesting, cooking.
Robert top watered new plants
until roots were established and long enough
to draw from the reservoirs.

Harvest was grand,
vastly exceeding our expectations.
We ate fresh veggies all summer
and had surplus to give to friends and neighbors.

The horse trough method
works well for our purposes.
The 3' high troughs are easy to tend
and the water use seems minimal.
All the crops prospered with full sun
warming the dirt in the troughs.

We planted winter crops
mid-August and early September.
As of today, Nov. 25, they've survived
three days/nights of below freezing temps,
winds gusting over 60 mph,
and monsoon rains.

We're amazed!
And needless to say,
we will be gardening again next year,
building on experiences this year,
hoping it wasn't just beginner's luck!

Winter Crops Survive Harsh Weather Conditions

We started planting winter crop seeds in mid-August and followed up with starts the first week of September. Kale, various types of lettuce, beets, carrots, spinach, Swiss chard, and two types of broccoli were in the ground by Sept. 5th. Some were organic starts bought at the local hardware store, and some were from seeds. Below are some pictures taken late September.

Below is a lettuce harvest from Nov. 9th. We'd already had some major rain and wind, yet the lettuce kept producing nicely. Rather than harvest whole heads, Robin cuts off leaves from the outer edges. Several days later the plants are ready to supply us with more salad fodder!

The third week in November through Thanksgiving was tough weather. We had three days/nights below freezing, monsoon rains, and a couple of days with winds gusting over 60 mph. While we were toasty warm inside with the wood stove well stoked, we wondered how the garden was doing.

Today, while the sun was out (briefly) and the wind was blowing somewhere else on the planet, Robin checked on the garden and took the pictures below.

Obviously the wind was a little hard on the chard and lettuce, but by and large the plants survived remarkably well. Amazing!

Robin harvested a few of the beets (still rather small) and examined the carrots (quite small). Perhaps these two crops, both from seed, should be planted earlier, say early August, next year.

Aphids Parade on Our Veggies

It was beginner's luck, maybe, to have had such fabulous results our first year of gardening, every plant producing edibles, growing well and long. But, lest there be envy, we certainly had our share of insect infestations.

The first was a seemingly overnight explosion of aphids feasting on our kale the first week in September, making a terrible, sticky, yucky mess. We cut off nearly the whole top on a couple of our plants (hastily taken to the burn pile) and then started treating what remained with the two different products shown below.

Since the pepper spray didn't seem to help much, we mostly used the other one. In a few weeks, we didn't see aphids any more.

Then, in mid-September we planted our winter harvest crops. Soon after the plants got to a viable size, we noticed they were being eaten. We never saw the culprits, though we suspect earwigs or the like. We probably should have sprayed the plants.

Now, today, surveying the winter crops after a weeks of particularly harsh weather, Robin noticed a new aphid colony on one of the broccoli plants. Spray to the rescue, we hope, before they spread.

We have sympathy for commercial organic gardeners. It's disconcerting to suddenly find holes in all the spinach leaves or a broccoli leaf crawling with aphids.

How to Turn Green Tomatoes into Red Tomatoes!

Looking back to the end of August, we wondered then if the tomatoes would ever ripen. We'd had one ripe cherry tomato... ONE. So we did a little internet research and found a garden blog that advocated removing ALL the foliage plus any remaining flowers from the tomato plant, so that it would think "Uh-oh, doomsday, I gotta get ripe and make seeds right NOW!" We decided to try it.

Here are the cherry and roma tomatoes stripped of their greenery. Robin took the clippers to them on Sept. 5th.

Already by Sept. 15th we were seeing a trend toward rouge on the cherry toms.

By Oct. 15th, 5 weeks after the surgery, both types were producing yummy, sweet, RED fruit, especially the cherry toms, which were yielding a tub like this every couple of days. We gave away lots, ate lots and Robin roasted then froze lots more. We never dreamed one small plant would produce so many tomatoes, maybe 6-700 hundred in all! The romas did OK too, but the main harvest was later in Oct. I can't find the blog where we learned of this drastic pruning method, but it totally works and we appreciate the guy writing about it!

Two tomato plants was definitely enough for us. Next year, maybe we'll skip the romas and plant one cherry tomato plant in one of the round buckets. Maybe we'll plant carrots around the tomato plant, as suggested in one of the books I've read (Carrots Love Tomatoes).