With the new barn construction taking most of our attention this summer, we didn’t have as much time to devote to the garden. But we still managed to get our favorite crops planted: tomatoes, corn, peas, onions, potatoes, beets, cucumber and another testbed of watermelon (we have yet to be successful with watermelon).
By the way, did you know beets make excellent salads? Just chop up the beets and leaves (throw the stems) and add some dressing. We’ve been eating them daily around here. In fact, beet greens are the healthiest part of the plant and are ranked among the world’s top 10 healthiest foods!
The main lesson I learned from last year was that you can’t slack on the weeding and “make it up on volume”. It’s much more productive to plant a smaller garden and keep it well weeded that a huge garden that doesn’t get tended. The harvest of corn, peppers, potatoes and onions last year was pathetic where I let the weeds take over.
Another lesson learned is how incredibly “fruitful” our perennial fruit plants are. The blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and apple trees are healthy, abundant, and require almost no work on my part. Minimum input, maximum output.
This has led us to more conversations about what other kinds of fruit we should be planting. Cherry, apricot, peach and plum trees may be in our future.
The only trick is finding ripe fruit before our kids do.
It’s the end of the season for us Zone 4B growers. My faithful standby’s Lisa and Zina, who helped me plant this Spring, joined me for a day of garden cleanup. My dad also came out to help with landscaping around the house.
We pulled up all the plastic mulch and drip irrigation from the vegetable plot. Then we re-mulched the blueberries with fresh fallen pine needles, a great natural acidifier.
We also fenced the blueberries because they are easy targets for rabbits and deer during the lean winter months.
I didn’t end up liking the variety of strawberries we planted (Sparkle and Ft Laramie). So we pulled all the strawberry beds and I will re-plant my newly discovered favorite Jewel next year.
The other major project was weeding and re-mulching the apple orchard. Becca and, to a lesser extent, Ivar and Elsie helped with weeding and shoveling piles of wood chips around the base of each tree.
Everybody worked hard. But the pay was good. Everyone got to take home a free pumpkin.
This year is our second attempt at growing strawberries and we’ve made some modifications. We planted them into a raised bed with fresh compost, mulched heavily with wood chips, and the piece de resistance: a plastic owl to scare off hungry birds.
And I must say, our improvements have worked! Last year I hardly tasted a single strawberry due to birds and slugs. The weeds completely took over, stunting the meager growth. This year, we’ve enjoyed strawberries every day since mid-June. I don’t think a single berry has been lost to pests. And the weeds are practically non-existent. The ones that do spring up are easy to pull.
Now the plants are finishing their fruiting stage and have started sending out runners. Runners are how strawberries propagate themselves. It’s pretty fascinating to see how prolific these little plants are. Its not unusual to see five or more runners growing out of each plant. And these things grow like crazy — up to 5 inches per day!
Because of the wood mulch its important to help the runners get established in good soil. These will be the fruit-bearing plants for next year. So for the past few weeks I’ve been pulling back the mulch in strategic places and pinning down the runners into the soil.
Within a few days the roots have set and leaves begin forming. The strawberries will continue to spread this way, year after year.
I made quite a few improvements this year to my strawberry-growing strategy. I placed them up high in raised beds, mulched them heavily to keep the weeds at bay, and have bird netting ready to install. And so far, the strawberries have come in nicely, even surviving a deer attack. But when I saw the picture above, I realized I forgot about the slugs. Last year, the slugs got what the birds, the deer, the rabbits, and my 3-year old son didn’t. There are many interesting things people do to deal slugs in their strawberries: beer traps, salt, diatomaceous earth, organic toxins, non-organic toxins, and plain old squishing. They all have pros and cons. I was going to use diatomaceous earth because I have it on hand. DE is powdered remains of fossilized hard-shelled algae. Its completely harmless to humans, but is an effective insecticide because the microscopic crushed shells destroy insects that traverse across them. However, I was lucky to discover that among the affected insects would be honeybees who pollinate strawberry flowers. So DE was out. But another organic remedy was a perfect fit: wood ashes. Ashes are a garden additive, in fact. If your soil is too acidic, spreading ashes will help balance it (similar to lime used in farming). And I’ve got plenty of ashes.
I’ve been collecting ashes from the wood burning stove in my office cabin all winter. I knew there would be possible uses for it in my garden, so never got rid of it. Now I’m glad I didn’t! I spread the ashes around the base of each plant in one of the beds.
Of course, I have to run a proper experiment, so I’m holding off on treating the second bed until I know if it works.