According to the calendar, summer 2014 is a wrap and, indeed this summer’s garden is just about done. Here’s some of what we learned and experienced this year, a few notes on the autumn crops, and a really great product I had a chance to try.
We bought Kale seeds from Mary’s Organic Seed Company. The kale grew up quickly and it’s been going strong all season long. We’ve picked at it several times a week and you can never tell. If anything, it’s only gotten bigger since the weather turned cool.
We also got an heirloom sweet corn variety from them. It was a total bust. The plants were beautiful but we didn’t get a single decent ear of corn. I can’t put all the blame on the seeds or the variety of corn we chose. Since this is our first season in this house we didn’t realize how far the shade from our big walnut tree would reach and the corn ended up with very little sunlight. Also, I’m told that the tannins from the walnuts themselves change the chemistry of the soil which could have contributed to the problem. Next year we’ll do things differently in that corner of the garden.
Our heirloom popcorn from Tietz Family Farms grew fairly well. It’s not quite totally dried yet, so we won’t harvest for another week or two.
This summer’s weather was a little weird. We had long periods of dryness followed by torrential rainfall that would leave the ground soggy for days. The temperatures stayed very mild, often getting downright chilly in the evenings. Apparently these circumstances create an issue known as “blossom end rot” in tomatoes. At one point I was certain we weren’t going to get any tomatoes at all. They hung, green, on the vine for weeks and those that turned were only turning because they were rotting. Then, right around labor day, we got some rain and the temperatures hit 90 and, literally over-night, the whole garden ripened. Since we’d planted about twice as many tomatoes as we really needed we ended up with a great haul. If we hadn’t had any issues we would have never been able to keep up with the harvest and processing.
We had four varieties of large tomatoes as well as some “Sweet 100” cherry tomatoes. Four of our plants were beefsteak tomatoes from a local nursery and they put out the prettiest, roundest, reddest, most “meaty” tomatoes I’ve ever seen. We didn’t lose a single fruit on those plants to blossom end rot!
I looked up how to clone tomato plants and I’m going to try over-wintering some cuttings. I’d love to grow more of those next summer!
Spaghetti squash grew like mad. 3 or 4 plants on 2 little hills put out well over 100 pounds of squash!
Seeds from Burpee Organic yielded a monster of a zucchini plant. It was so big that people were commenting on having noticed it from the road as they were driving by. Note that our garden is behind a barn, 50 yards or so off the road. It was a BIG plant. It was prolific in the way that only summer squash seems to be and then it started to wilt and die… but no… wait… it sent out “runners,” which are now putting out a whole second crop. I didn’t even know zucchini could do that!
We lost our cucumbers to greedy chickens. The strawberries were really too young to be impressive, though the occasional bright red berry all summer long was a joy to find! Our pumpkin patch consisted of one vine that never had a single pumpkin. Squirrels ate every single hazelnut.
Oh, well. Win some, lose some.
All in all it was a great first year on this property. We harvested well over 500 pounds of fruits and veggies with the fall stuff still trickling in! Not bad considering the late start and total disorganization surrounding the planting of the garden that was pretty good.
We pickled and canned using a hot water bath this year and that works out fine. I did burn out a bit at the end and sadly ended up letting more tomatoes than I wanted to go bad. I’m not beating myself up too much. It was an overwhelming few months for a number of reasons and I was working on a stove that only has 2 (sometimes 3, if the stars align) working burners.
We froze as much as we could fit in the freezer and hung peppers and carrot tops to dry them.
Most winter squash will store very well, kept in any cool, dry place. Dry is important. We lost a large amount of our squash to mold when it got damp in the barn. Disappointing, but lesson learned.
If we really are going to be serious about being as self-sufficient as possible we really need a pressure canner, a deep freeze and a dehydrator. Four burners would be lovely as well. But, you know… we’ll get there. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that.
Any sponsors out there who want to send me free appliances? Just thought I’d put it out there.
Next year I’ll plant fewer tomatoes and a greater variety of other veggies. By then we’ll have our raised beds ready to go so we’ll have that space plus we plan to enlarge the main garden a bit.
I’m hoping my little tomato clones will flourish over the winter. I’ll also save seeds from the spaghetti squash and zucchini plants that did so well. We’re also going to try to make some good cuttings from our concord grape vines. The vines we had did beautifully but we’ll be out of juice before the snow flies and I never did make any jam. We really love grape juice. The kids were guzzling it up just about as fast as I could pick the grapes. OK – maybe not just the kids.
I’ll definitely plant sweet corn again but I’ll try a different variety and plant it away from the walnut tree.
THE PROMISED COOL PRODUCT:
Kidecals wrote and asked if I would try out their labels and, if I liked them, share them with you.
I loved them!
I ordered these adorable little customized Christmas labels and they came just a few days later. They are super sturdy and the picture doesn’t do the bright colors and clear quality justice. They feel more like plastic than paper. This means they are water proof and also that they will peel off without leaving a messy, ugly residue on your jars.
They had several styles of labels for canning but also labels for just about every other conceivable use, some very cool wall decals, key board stickers and more.
I’ll definitely be ordering from them again! I hope you take a minute to check out their website. You’re going to love it!
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