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July 29, 2014 / 74

Long Time No Garden Post (2014)

Well… it has been a looong time since I posted a garden article… so this may be a long post. So go get you a beer, coffee, soda pop… and some popcorn. this might take a while. ;-D

Wow… what a year so far! Spring was cold and wet… which was okay since most of our warm plants were still inside when the frost hit May 15, 16, & 17. For the plants that were already out, most were cold hardy, but for the ones that weren’t, for the first time ever we had a cover for them! Yea us! The daily round of cover in the evening, uncover in the morning wasn’t too onerous, and it did save our early plants (like the brasica). We planted three varieties of strawberries – but a little frost just livens up the evening for them, and they did fine without being covered.

But the night we had a 5″ rain… our garden is mildly sloped and one of the varieties of strawberries was planted in the corner… the low spot in the garden. 25 plants planted, 12 remain unburied by the strawberry plant equivalent of the Johnstown Flood.

Just an interjection here – I expect the weather to get colder over time – short time – which is why we are focusing on cold weather and short season crops, cold hardy plants and varieties (like one of our grapes is good to -40 F without covering) and working on setting up some “mini-greenhouses” -short tunnels- to extend the growing season. About 20 years ago, I looked at the solar patterns and said to myself – hummm… gonna get cold, maybe, and if it does, it’s gonna get REALLY cold! As of now, the Sun is supposed to be in Solar Maximum – but it’s acting like it’s going into a minimum. Something for you to study and then watch. And an interesting databit – somethng else for you to look up – during the mini-ice age, the French Farmers fed the people of Paris fresh greens ALL YEAR LONG!!! (ie even in the winter!)

The onions and carrots? Pretty much a no-show-didn’t-grow. 😦  (And they did so WELL last year!)

The string beans were attacked by the giant foxtail – the removal of the “little foxes” in the garden ended up damaging the roots of the beans – so we decided to just let the beans dry for seed and soup instead of picking and canning.

Melodee decided to try a “trap crop” this year. (If you don’t know about this – ask and I’ll explain it.) I aided and abetted her – and so we planted squash all across one end of the garden – where it promptly formed a nearly impenetrable barrier between the gate and the rest of the garden! If you have small children, make sure you don’t take them into the garden if you’ve planted squash in a wet year… you may never see them again!!! And if you don’t have a really good shop-vac, don’t plant a “trap crop”. 😮 But we’re getting some nice squash out of it.

We bought 7 canes of yellow/gold raspberries to try this year. The hybrids from Stark were par for the course for Stark plants and trees – ie they arrived as “dead sticks.” The others grew nicely. But one of the Stark sticks would not be denied – it has sent up a sprout from the root. We’re letting it grow to see what it is. Probably a black raspberry – since they are very hardy.

Another inovation we tried this year was using 4 foot wide “planting” beds with 2 foot aisles between them. I think the theory is that after you weed the same patch year after year after year – the weeds give up and move to the neighbor’s garden. Our weeds aren’t that dumb. They know a good thing when they see it. They seem to know that if you have a 4 foot wide planting area, you’ll put lots of plants in it – and have to hand weed it instead of hoeing it. Now, I’m not saying the weeds took over – but I’m pretty sure I saw a few monkeys swinging from the tomato supports. And of course – the really important part is “year after year” which implies you’ll be able to keep up that first year. Ummm… maybe some folks… but me? Not so much.

Another thing we tried this year – we planted two 10′ X 10′ patches of mixed grain and other plants to see what would happen. Well… since we didn’t know what the grain and plants looked like when they first came up, we let everything grow – and yes, weeds still grow faster than whatever it was that we planted. So we now have two 10X10 patches of movie set ready for the next Tarzan movie. (Maybe that’s where the monkeys came from?)

We planted a bunch of Hollyhocks for the bees… but they didn’t do well either (the Hollyhocks). Started them inside, the germination rate was around 40% – which is really poor for anything. But I planted around 80 of them so I still had enough to run with. Unfortunately, they’ve decided to go over to the other side – they look just like weeds now and I can’t tell which plants to uproot. So it appears the Hollyhocks are the plant equivalent of camoflage for the weeds.

But – the STARs of the year were the grapes!!! Melodee bought 5 new varieties and all but one grew! We’re trying hard to grow only cold hardy plants and varieties. Of the last 5 varieties we bought, three remain, and the two that died bailed on us BEFORE last winter’s -20 F temps! Then for the first time we tried propagating some of the varieties we already had… and I now have four new (surviving) vines!

IMPORTANT WORDS TO REMEMBER – “Transplant shock!” They are important bcause those two words ate 5 of my new vines. I have some more from a couple of varieties that I haven’t set out yet. This time I’m hardening them off before abandoning them to the harsh world.

I’m really proud of one of the new varieties. I made a trip North to my Grandfather’s old house. (He died when I was 18). The object of my attention was an OOOOOLD Concord grape vine that I think MAY have come over from Belgium with the family in the 1880s. Even if they didn’t, I KNOW they were started before the 1920s. Due to neglect the vines were “let go” and when I showed up in front of the house, at first view, I thought they were dead… until I looked up. There, about 20 feet or more above me in a tree were healthy vines with good leaves! I rooted around in the “understory” of the yard, and found some vines that might be suitable, and took a couple of ropey cuttings.

From what I’ve read online, I wasn’t supposed to be able to root grapes in late June… but I did it anyway!!! ;-D I currently have 5 strong starts to move in the next couple of weeks… gotta be careful, though. There’s no guarantee that the original vine will still be there in the Spring – so I gotta make these go! Grapes from my grandfather, to me, spanning around 100 years. Sweet. (They are Concords – and we used to make some OUTSTANDING jelly out of them!!!)

Melodee is doing a test project to see if our soil can/is suitable to grow/ a new (for us) plant. Some of them are doing okay… but others not so much. I’ll write up a separate post when the results are in and we decide if we want to go commercial with these plants.

The bees are doing okay… well… the 9 of 16 surviving colonies are. A couple of them seem to be weak… and may not make it through the winter.  One of the things that “everybody” told me was that we’d HAVE to “treat” for varoa mites. Nope. The breed of bee we have has developed strategies to get rid of them – and I have yet to see my first mite. When we first got our new packages this spring a few of the bees had tracheal mites… but they died off and it didn’t spread. What we did have in the hives that died was nosema – both kinds. We didn’t treat for it, and the weak bees died – the stronger ones lived. Natural Selection in action!

Well… that about does it for now… stay tuned and watch for my next garden post… maybe… someday. ;-D




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