Analyzing our 2021 garden: carrots, beets and potatoes

Since we ordered SO many things for this year, and expanded how much space we were gardening in, I decided to go over groups of things in separate posts, in no particular order and spread over the next few days.

Here we have some things we all grew last year, if not the same varieties.

First, the beets.

Last year, we ordered a beet collection from Veseys, with three different types. This year, we ordered one type only; Merlin.

We knew the deer would be after the solo bed by the spruce grove, and tried various ways to cover it. then we discovered the groundhogs were after them, too, and eventually found a way to protect them, and in the end, they did the best of all the beets.

We planted those in a bed by themselves, but had seeds left over. We also still had seeds left over from the previous year. My daughter planted them by variety, in a bed along the retaining wall of the old kitchen garden, but there were so many seeds left over, I mixed them all together and planted them in another bed.

The ones along the retaining wall ended up being eaten by groundhogs and never did recover. Drought conditions aside, that area is mostly shaded, too. The L shaped bed of mixed varieties fared better, and got much less critter damage. While we were able to get as many greens as we wanted for salads, the roots never did get very big here. There could have been many reasons for that to happen, and it was most likely a combination of them.

The carrots were a real battle for us this year. They started out well enough, but in the bed pictured above, they had their greens repeatedly eaten by groundhogs. Unable to cover the bed, we finally gave up and abandoned it. Much to my shock, we still managed to get carrots! This bed was half Napoli carrot, from Veseys, and half Kyoto Red, from Baker Creek. Considering how well they did under the circumstances, I imagine they would have been fabulous, if they hadn’t had their greens eaten repeatedly, then choked out by weeds!

We were able to cover the carrot bed in the old kitchen garden, though not until after they’d had their greens eaten by groundhogs first. Then, the kittens kept knocking the cover flat and playing on top of them.

This bed had Purple Haze Deep Purple (from Veseys), which we’d grown the year before, Longue Rouge Sang (from Baker Creek) and some Kyoto Red in it, which mostly went to seed as it grew back from being eaten by groundhogs. As we were able to tend and protect this bed, we did eventually have carrots to pick for meals. This was a small bed and there wasn’t a lot, but we at least got something.

Last year, we grew only one variety of potato – Yukon Gem – using the Ruth Stout method of growing them under a heavy mulch instead of hilling them. This year, we ordered 4 varieties; Yukon Gem, Norland, Purple Peruvian and Purple Chief. The Yukon Gem and Norland were chosen for storage-ability, while the fingerlings were chosen for quick eating. We also decided to convert deer and bird feed bags into grow bags, to avoid the slug problem we had last year, and so that we could “hill” them by adding soil into the bags over time. Only after they were planted did we learn that potatoes come in determinate and indeterminate types, that indeterminate varieties are the kind that work in grow bags and potato towers, and that the varieties we had were all determinate!

In the end, I feel growing them this way did work, if not particularly as well as I’d hoped. It was difficult to water them well, but we still got a decent amount of potatoes. All the varieties were delicious.

They also didn’t last long. We would need to plant a LOT more potatoes to last us through the winter. We won’t be able to do that for a while, but we are working out what varieties we like, and which are the most successful. The Purple Peruvian won that particular title this year. I was quite impressed. The down side of the fingerlings is their uneven shapes, making them hard to clean for cooking.

Final Analysis

Beets: The beets that didn’t get eaten by critters didn’t do too badly under drought conditions, though I’m sure they would have done better if we’d have been able to water them more thoroughly. Next year, we won’t be growing as many. I’ve already got a variety from Veseys called Bresko, which is noted as a good storage beet. I don’t think we’ll get any other varieties this time. They’re a good, dual purpose crop, since the greens can also be eaten, but after trying so many different varieties, I think we’re good with just the one, this time. Plus, it’s easier to protect one bed from critters!

Carrots: We still have pelleted Napoli carrot seeds, and I’m sure we still have the pelleted Kyoto red seeds left, too. I was quite happy with both varieties, as much as we were able to taste them. While I liked the other two varieties as well, they had far fewer seeds per packet. Plus, there is a super deep, dark purple variety I plan to try for next year.

The real challenge will be to protect them from groundhogs. They REALLY loved those carrot greens! I, however, want to have enough carrots for winter storage, as well as for canning and freezing.

Potatoes: while we were very happy with the potatoes we got from Veseys, I found a source that specializes in only seed potatoes, and there are some very interesting varieties I want to try. Again, long term storage is a primary goal. Next year, I think we will go back to doing the Ruth Stout method, as I want to use the growing of potatoes to help amend certain garden areas. We just have to look into how to protect them from slugs. Doing potato towers, with indeterminate types of potatoes, is something we will go back to in the future. I hope to plant more of potatoes, overall, too. We all really like potatoes, so the more we can grow ourselves, the better. I don’t expect that we’ll ever reach the levels my parents did, with dozens of 30 foot rows, but if we can do even half that, we will have enough to last us through the winter, and have seed potatoes for the following year.

I also plan to get some sunchokes, aka: Jerusalem Artichokes, for next year’s garden. They are in the sunflower family, but can be eaten like potatoes. I want to give them a try to see if they are something we like.

The Re-Farmer

Analyzing our 2021 garden: squash, gourds and melons

Since we ordered SO many things for this year, and expanded how much space we were gardening in, I decided to go over groups of things in separate posts, in no particular order and spread over the next few days.

When we had our first garden in 2020, one of the things we ordered was a summer squash mix from Veseys. It included green zucchini, golden zucchini, sunburst patty pan squash, and Magda squash. They were a great success, even when the first transplants got killed off by frost, so I happily ordered the same collection for this year.

I accidentally ordered three collections.

We’ll be growing these for the next few years, and we’re just fine with that!

Oddly, though we did have yellow zucchini seeds germinate indoors for transplanting, we did not get any yellow zucchini. We did have two kinds of green ones, though.

We are especially fond of the yellow pattypan squash, and we like all of them as refrigerator pickles. We also sometimes freeze them.

This past summer, even with the drought, they grew well, though much more slowly than they did the year before. We tried growing them vertically, which I think worked well enough for the zucchini and Magda squash to do again (though with stronger stakes!) but the patty pans tended to have more than one main stem, so they were a bit harder to train up a stake.

The deer tend to leave these alone – they are quite spiny! – but we did catch a groundhog on the garden trail cam, taking advantage of them being grown vertically and munching away. Cayenne pepper solved that problem!

The winter squash was a new one for us. The two varieties we chose – Red Kuri (Little Gem) and Teddy squash – were picked for their short growing season, smaller size, productivity and storage potential.

These suffered from the drought quite a bit, in spite of our diligent watering. Plus, something kept eating the baby Teddy squash at first.

The two types of melons we got – Halona and Pixie – also struggled with this past summer’s poor growing conditions, but once they started producing melons, they went wild! We ended up with lots of melons throughout the last summer and extended fall.

The gourds are one of my pet projects. I really want to grow gourds for crafting purposes. Except luffa, which I wanted to grow for the sponges. We’d tried, and failed, to grow birdhouse gourds last year, with our transplants killed by a frost. This year, we planted two varieties on the squash tunnel – Tennessee Dancing Gourd and luffa – and two varieties at the chain link fence – Ozark Nest Egg and Thai Bottle Gourd.

The only real success was the Tennessee Dancing Gourd. I currently have a whole bunch of them drying out in the big aquarium, where we have house plants under lights, to protect them from the cats. I had them in a basket on the counter, but the cats kept stealing them as toys! They are adorable, and I would happily grow them again. What amazes me more about them is that, based on the reviews I read on them, as prolific as they were for us this year, under better conditions, we could easily have had two or three times more gourds than we actually got!

As for the others…

I think, if we had not had the drought, they would have done better, and we might actually have had some gourds. The Thai Bottle gourd only had a couple of flowers, but never produced fruit. When the heat waves passed and we finally started to get rain, the Ozark Nest Egg started to produce SO many little gourds, but it was just too late in the season for them to mature. I think the luffa also would have done better, though whether they would have had enough time to fully mature, I’m not sure.

The Crespo squash was really amazing. It did so well at first, only to get hit by deer and groundhogs. It rebounded and began to produce prolifically, but by then it was too late in the season. I was really looking forward to seeing how this large, warty variety of pumpkin would turn out. Had there not been the setbacks it got, I think it would have thrived and produced very well. The squash are supposed to be quite delicious, and I look forward to being able to find that out for myself!

I’m going to include the cucamelons here, though they are more like a cucumber, while looking like miniature watermelons.

We grew these last year in an area with too much shade for them, yet they did very well. This year, they were planted at a chain link fence to climb, and climb they did! The new location was definitely better for them. Unfortunately, the heat and drought conditions were just too much, though I also think that lack of pollinators, later in the season, were also a problem. They bloomed prolifically, and you could even see many, many little fruits under the female flowers, but that was as far as most of them got. I doubt we got much more than 2 dozen cucamelons the entire season.

Final Analysis

Summer Squash: we are quite happy with the varieties of summer squash (from Veseys) we’ve been growing and will continue to grow them. I also want to experiment with other varieties, especially other patty pan types. We did get a green patty pan variety by mistake with our first seed order for 2022’s garden, but I am also eyeballing some white varieties, too.

Winter Squash: we’ve rarely ever eaten winter squash, so I wasn’t even sure how much we would like these (when we did the taste test, my husband did not like them, so it’s 3 out of 4). My primary reason to try them was for our food security goals (since they can be prolific, and can be stored), and to see if we liked them enough to even bother growing them again. Even though they didn’t really succeed, due to circumstances out of our control, I consider them a win. What few squash we had to try were delicious, and I would expect they would have tasted even better, had they had better growing conditions and more time to mature. I was able to save seeds from the Red Kuri, but not the Teddy, though I don’t think we used up all the seeds in the packets from Veseys when we started them indoors. I definitely plan to grow the Red Kuri again, plus we already have the seeds for the much larger Georgia Candy Roaster and Winter Sweet varieties of winter squash (also from Veseys). The Winter Sweet is supposed to be particularly good after a few months in storage, which was one of the main reasons I chose the variety. I think winter squash in general are working out well enough that we will aim to grow more plants then just the 3 Red Kuri and 2 Teddy we had this past year. If we have Teddy seeds left over, I will try them again, along with the Red Kuri so, next year, we should have 4 varieties of winter squash to grow.

Unless I break down completely and order some of the rare varieties from that heritage seed company in our climate zone I’ve been swooning over…


Moving along now…

Melons: I am SO happy with how these melons from Veseys did, and how wonderful they tasted. We’ve saved seeds from both varieties, but have also been saving seeds from varieties we’ve tried at the grocery store that we liked. We will definitely be growing melons again, and more of them. There are so many varieties to try, so these are something we will likely be experimenting with a great deal, over the years.

Crespo Squash: these were seeds I got from Baker Creek, and we only tried to germinate a few of them. They were one of my “fun” choices. Given how large they can get, I was very surprised by how many fruit started to form once they were finally able to, and how eagerly they tried to climb the barriers we set up to protect from deer and groundhogs. I really want to try these again – but we will have to do a lot to keep them safe from critters!

Cucamelons: these are cute and fun and tasty little things! However, after growing them for 2 years, I don’t plan to buy more seeds for next year’s garden. We did “harvest” their tubers and are over wintering them in the sun room. If that works (it did not work the previous year, but they were much bigger this year) we will plant those in the spring, but that’s about it. Instead, we will be planting the Eureka cucumber; a variety that is good for both fresh eating and pickling.

Gourds: yes, I will be trying gourds again! The Tennessee Dancing Gourds were a major win, and it looks like the Ozark Nest Egg would have been a major winner, too, under better conditions. I should have some seeds from all the varieties we grew this year left over, and will be trying them again. There are other gourd varieties I want to try growing, for different purposes, but some of the seed sources can’t ship to Canada at all. These are the one non-food plant we are growing (though the Thai bottle gourd is edible, and if picked young enough, theoretically all gourds are edible). The varieties I’m choosing are for their potential usefulness once they have been thoroughly dried out. The problem is, they all seem to need a really long growing season, which means they need to be started indoors very early, I am, however, determined to do it! 😀

The Re-Farmer

Face time (and some good news)

I want to boop that nose!!!

Nosencrantz is such a cutie!!!

Potato Beetle is looking downright malevolent! 😀

It was a very chilly morning today, but that doesn’t seem to have slowed down the cats, any! I tried to do a head count, but never got the same number twice, as they milled about, so I gave up. 😀

We had a first, yesterday evening, though I was not able to get a photo. While it was clear that deer have been visiting our feeding station for a while, yesterday was the first time I actually saw any.

I saw one out the window, but it saw me moving about through the glass and soon left. A moment later, I saw another – and a second one beside it! I’d hung a sunflower stem, with about 5 little seed heads, off the hook that should be holding a bird feeder (we never did find the missing pieces). One of the deer discovered it and started reaching up to nibble on a tiny seed head, breaking off the branch. The other deer promptly went after a leaf on the branch, breaking the stem from out of the deer’s mouth! The first deer went after the rest of the sunflower branch and pulled the whole thing down.

There was no trace of it, this morning.

Meanwhile, a third deer showed up and hovered nearby. I think I even saw a fourth one coming through the trees. About then, the phone rang. It was the pharmacy delivery guy letting me know he was in the area, so I quickly started to bundle up to meet him at the gate – which is when I saw another deer come in through the little gate, walking up the sidewalk, towards the side of the house!

Of course, my going disturbed the deer. I saw the delivery car reaching the gate and, as I started up the driveway, a deer suddenly came FLYING over the south fence of the spruce grove, across the driveway, and over the fence into the old hay yard. It touched ground twice, maybe three times, over the distance. My goodness, when deer go all out, it’s like they have wings!

The delivery driver missed it entirely. He had been rummaging for our package in his back seat by then.

The delivery was a bit of a surprise. My husband had ordered more insulin, but he got a refill on is bubble packs, too. He still have at least a week’s worth, left. It used to be that, because some of his meds are restricted, he couldn’t order refills until he was within 3 days of running out. That restriction went away when the government started shutting things down, and now he’s able to get his medications refilled even when he hadn’t asked for them yet! They don’t even make the bubble packs locally, anymore. He’s the only one on those meds out here, so they had to special order them from the city. Now, his bubble packs are made in the city, and shipped to the pharmacy. I have no idea how they decided to do a refill for him so soon, when they hadn’t been asked for.

What fun. We can’t go into the pharmacy because they don’t recognise medical mask exemptions, but we can sure get our opiates in advance, whether we ordered a refill or not!

Looking at the bill was a head shaker. His bubble packs, with a 4 week supply of about 10 different medications in it, including some pretty rare ones, cost less than half what his one box of 4 slow-release insulin pens cost, and the box of insulin lasts for less than a month. I know this type of insulin is more expensive, but sheesh!!!

On a completely different topic, I got an email from our vandal’s lawyer yesterday. It seems our vandal is agreeable to the conditions we came up with during Case Management, and will be stating this in court tomorrow. Of course, it’s entirely possible he’ll change his mind at the last minute, but assuming he doesn’t, that means we will have a Peace Bond against him. For one year, we will have no contact with him, and he will not be allowed to be under the influence while off his own property (I don’t care if he gets drunk at home. I just don’t want him getting drunk, then coming over here to set fire to the house or something). I’m supposed to get a copy of the court order, so I’ll get the precise wording of it, then.

It’s just a piece of paper, but it’s a tool the RCMP will have, if our vandal ever does decide to do something stupid again.

Now we just have to deal with his civil suit against us. The court date for that is at the end of January. Hopefully, the judge will see just how stupid it is, and throw it out. Even if our vandal did have some sort of claim on the junk he thinks is his, it makes no sense for him to go after me for money, when I don’t own anything here!

We shall see how it goes.

Until then, I will enjoy caring for the yard cats, as my late father did. 🙂

The Re-Farmer

Analyzing our 2021 garden: corn and sunflowers

Since we ordered SO many things for this year, and expanded how much space we were gardening in, I decided to go over groups of things in separate posts, in no particular order and spread over the next few days.

This year, we planted corn and sunflowers for multiple purposes, making some of them both a success and a failure at the same time!

We planted two varieties of sunflowers and five varieties of corn this year.

From Baker Creek, we ordered:

Hope Black Dye sunflower
Mongolian Giant sunflower
Dorinny Sweet Corn
Montana Morado corn

From Veseys, we got one of their Peaches ‘n Cream collections that included:

Early Eh

With the sunflowers, I ordered two packs of each, for an experiment. One pack of each was started indoors, while the other packs were direct sown outside later on.

The Hopi Black Dye started indoors were strange, in that they didn’t germinate until after the other packet was direct sown outdoors! The Mongolian Giants that were started indoors did have a visible size advantage over the ones that were direct sown – right up until the deer started getting at them.

The Peaches ‘n Cream corn and sunflower blocks were planted the furthest away from the house, in poor soil. Part of the reason was to start preparing the soil for when we plant trees and bushes in the area. These were all things that were expected to grow tall, so they would also act as a privacy screen.

The sunflowers handled the drought fairly well with watering, and appreciated the super long, mild fall we had. We did harvest seed heads, though none were anywhere near full size. Currently, the smaller of the seed heads are being set out at the feeding station for the birds, while the larger ones will, hopefully, provide seeds that can be planted. We have not tried eating any of them yet, but the heads should be well dried by now.

As for the Peaches ‘n Cream corn blocks, they were the tiniest things ever, yet we still got corn we could eat!

I truly did not expect this. Especially with corn being a plant that needs a lot of nitrogen, and the soil in that area being so nitrogen depleted.

The Dorinny corn was planted not far away, also on virgin ground. I chose these specifically because they were a Canadian hybrid that were to be planted before last frost. When we got hit by one unusually cold night in May, I thought the ones that had germinated had survived, but alas, after a few days, they died off. Other seeds germinated, though, so we did get at least a few cobs out of it. I really enjoyed them, too.

The Montana Morado corn was something else entirely. There was some confusion as I thought I was ordering Peruvian maize morado that had been successfully grown in the US, only they turned out to be a US based hybrid. They were started indoors and transplanted after our last frost date, as far from the other varieties as I could, and they did well at first, even when the heat set in – until the deer got to them!

We did get a few cobs to try, but ultimately, it failed due to critter damage.

Final Analysis

Hopi Black Dye sunflowers: These were beautiful, and my reasons for getting these are the same reasons I am seriously considering ordering them again, or just trying to plant them from the seeds we have. It would be awesome to have enough of them to use for dying, as well as for eating and for bird seed.

Mongolian Giant sunflowers: I really want to grow a giant variety of sunflowers, and these are supposed to be quite massive. I want to try them again, both for our own eating, and for bird seed.

But will we grow sunflowers again next year? These did not really succeed very well, but at least we got something out of them in spite of the drought and heat waves. I do want to grow both varieties again, but we will need to think about that a bit more, and find a place to plant them that is suited for their growth, rather than for things like wind breaks or privacy screens.

Peaches ‘n Cream corn: These were enjoyed, but we will not get a collection like this again. I have already got seeds for a bi-colour variety called Latte, chosen partly because they were on sale. These came in a packet of 200 seeds, so there will be plenty of this one variety.

Dorinny Corn: I really liked this variety, and especially like that it is a cold hardy variety that can be planted so early. There were not a lot in the packet, so if they are still available, I may pick up two packets.

Montana Morado: These are now being sold as Mountain Morado. As awesome as they were (so far as they were able to grow!), I will not order these again for next year. I am after the Peruvian maize morado, aka Kulli corn. It is supposed to be good for fresh eating, as a flour corn, and to make the drink, chicha morado, and I am determined to succeed with this! I have found a heritage seed site in the US that carries Kulli corn seeds, and plan to pick up a couple of packets, as there are only 25 seeds per packet. My hope is that, over time, I will have a deep, dark maize morado that is acclimated to our climate zone. That may take a few years, but for some reason, I really want to do this!

For next year’s garden, I do want to plant a new “fun” corn. I want to grow popcorn. It turns out that, when you’re buying them from seed, there are all sorts of colours and flavours to choose from, and there are even varieties that taste buttery, all on their own. Which means that, if I am able to get seeds I want, we will have a total of four varieties of corn, next year. All of these would be planted/transplanted at different times and mature at different rates, so cross pollination will not be an issue.

The biggest challenge we will have for all of this will be critter protection. Without that, even if we had perfect growing conditions next year, it won’t do much good if the deer or the raccoons decimate them.

Of course, one way for that to be less of a problem is to plant so many of them, we can afford to lose a bunch, but we are a long way from having the growing space for it! Over time, though, we will probably be doing that, if I’m wanting to plant enough corn for flour or animal feed.

The Re-Farmer

Analyzing our 2021 garden: garlic, onions and shallots

Since we ordered SO many things for this year, and expanded how much space we were gardening in, I decided to go over groups of things in separate posts, in no particular order and spread over the next few days.

Let’s take a look at how our garlic, onions and shallots went.

Let’s start with the garlic, since hard neck garlic is a fall planted crop, and our garlic for next year is already in the ground.

We are growing the same three varieties as we did last year, each in one pound bags. We had considered doubling how many we are growing, but decided against it at the last minute. If we grew the number of onions and garlic we use throughout the year, we would probably fill most of the beds and not have room for anything else!

Overall, the garlic did rather well. They were all smaller than they should have been, but that’s true of just about everything we grew, mostly due to weather conditions. We much prefer the flavour of these hard neck varieties over the soft neck garlic that is available in the grocery stores. We especially enjoyed having garlic scapes to harvest, making this a dual crop. These are a big win, and I can see us growing this year after year. Hopefully, we will have better growing conditions for next year’s garden, and will have large bulbs that are worth saving to plant in the fall. Otherwise, we are more than happy to buy these from Veseys.

The onions and shallots were a much bigger challange.

The varieties we got as seeds were:

Red Baron (a bunching onion)
Norstar Onion (a yellow bunching onion noted as good for storage)
Conservor Organic Shallot

Plus we ordered Red Carmen Onion as sets, which did not get shipped until our zone was ready for spring planting. All of these were from Veseys.

The seed onions and shallots were started indoors, using our aquariums as mini greenhouses to protect them from the cats. The smaller tank had problems right away, as the cats could still reach down to the growing trays and very determinedly destroyed them. Also, there was very little air circulation with the lid, and the soil started to mold. We eventually found a window screen we could use as a lid, but it was too late for the shallots.

For the Red Baron onions, we use the flats from egg trays to start them in, which turned out to be a bad choice. The carboard just sucked the moisture out of the growing medium and we ended up losing the seedlings.

The Norstar, in peat pellets and repurposed K-cups, did much better and we were able to transplant them. We used extra seeds to try growing more, using red Solo cups to start them in. The Red Baron onions sprouted, but that’s about it. We transplanted them anyhow, but they didn’t take, though I did find a single one when I redid the tomato bed, so I planted it right back again.

I ended up buying onion and shallot sets, later in the spring. Between those, the surviving Norstar seedlings and the Red Carmen sets, we found ourselves with a decent onion harvest that we are still enjoying now, though we quickly ran out of shallots. We also harvested green onion tops, freezing some and dehydrating others.

Of course, like everything else affected by the drought and heat, the onions and shallots did not reach their full potential in size, but they did quite well and are very delicious.

Final Analysis

Onions and Shallots: For all the struggles we had, ultimately, we did well with onions. While sets are easier, I’ve decided to go with seeds for next year’s garden. There is more choice in variety, and you can get a lot more seeds in a packet than sets in a bag. Especially with the shallots.

I have since bought more onion seeds. We will be trying the Conservor Shallots and Red Baron bunching onions again. For a yellow bulb onion, this time we will be trying a type called Oneida, again because it was noted as good for storage. We will also be growing a red onion, but I will be trying a different variety, with a very different shape, from another company.

The problem will be with starting them indoors. They need to be started very early, in our zone, with people in my gardening groups starting them as early as January! The big aquarium is currently holding house plants to protect them from the cats that keep wanting to dig in the soil, so we’re going to have to figure something out.

Over time, we plan to have a plolytunnel and maybe even a greenhouse. That will solve some of our problems, when it comes to starting seeds and protecting them from the cats, but it will be some time before we reach that point. Until then, we will just have to made do with what we have, and find the space we need to start all those seeds! When it comes to long term storage of bulb onions and shallots, we want to be growing a lot more that we did this year. Something we will build up to, as we expand our garden.

Hard neck Garlic: These are just a win, all around. It was the first time we got to try scapes, and we all love them. They are also really easy and low maintenance. Being able to plant outdoors in the fall is a major advantage. The bulbs certainly could have been bigger, but there was no loss when it came to flavour. Over time, we will be increasing how much garlic we plant, too.

You just can’t have too much onions and garlic!

The Re-Farmer

Analyzing our 2021 garden: peas and beans

Since we ordered SO many things for this year, and expanded how much space we were gardening in, I decided to go over groups of things in separate posts, in no particular order and spread over the next few days.

To start, let’s take a look at our peas and beans.

I had wanted to order a three bush bean collection, but they were out of stock, so I ordered different coloured beans to make my own collection. These were the Lewis bean (green), Golden Rod bean (yellow) and the Royal Burgundy bean, all from Veseys.

Also from Veseys, I ordered the Dalvay pea (a green pea), while ordering the King Tut Purple Pea (purple pods, green peas), from Baker Creek.

These were planted in new beds that were little more than layers of organic material and new garden soil, directly on the ground. Which means that, right from the beginning, we knew it would be rough growing for them.

Then the drought hit.

Then the deer and groundhogs showed up.

The grasshoppers seemed to leave them alone, though.

In spite of all that, the bush beans did remarkably well. The yellow bean plants were the most stunted in growth, but they were the first producers, and even produced a second crop later in the season. The green beans did quite well, both the plants and the yield, but it was the purple beans that were the most amazing. They handled the drought conditions the best, with the plants growing the strongest and densest of all, even with a few deer nibbles along the way, while producing a steady amount of beans right up until they finally got killed by frost.

Between all three varieties, we not only had enough for fresh eating, but were even able to freeze a few bags of them, too. I had hoped to have enough to do some canning, and if we had had an average year for rainfall and temperatures, I have no doubt these hardy and prolific beans would have just exploded in growth and yield, even with the relatively poor soil conditions, and we would have had plenty to make it worth breaking out the canning equipment.

We will not, however, be growing these again next year, though I would certainly grow them again in the future. For 2022, we will be growing pole beans, and possibly drying beans as well.

I would definitely recommend these varieties of bush beans from Veseys, though.

Then there were the peas.

They did not do well this year at all, but we did have some surprises.

The King Tut peas from Baker Creek were just a small package with barely enough seeds to fill one trellised row. The Dalvay peas from Veseys, on the other hand, were packaged by weight, and there was a lot of them! We planted enough to fill two double rows with trellises, and had lots left over.

The peas all started out well enough. The Dalvay peas had some gaps in germination that I later planted with more peas, but there were no extra seeds to do the same with the King Tut peas.

Then things turned for the worse.

With all our watering, I don’t know if the drought was the main problem. Peas don’t like to be over watered, and they don’t like heat. I don’t think I watered them too much, and it was likely the excessive heat that did them in.

Then the Dalvay peas basically disappeared, withered away. The King Tut peas got a bit bigger before they dried up.

When we saw signs of critter damage in the gardens, I set up a trail cam to confirm what critters were doing the damage. I did catch deer, but it was a groundhog I saw among the peas, so it wasn’t just the heat that was killing off our green peas! They didn’t seem to go for the purple peas, though.

In spite of looking so dead, the purple peas kept trying to produce, and I even had a few pods to taste while doing my morning rounds, and a few that I let dry on the vine to collect for seeds. I think I have maybe 6 of 7 seeds. Given the growing conditions, I doubt they tasted the way they were supposed, so I’ll just say they tasted just fine and leave it at that.

I will not be buying the King Tut peas again for next year, but I do want to try them again, and hopefully the few seeds I saved will germinated. If they are still available, I wouldn’t mind getting fresh seeds again in a year or two and trying again.

As for the Dalvay peas, I had so many left over that, when temperatures finally cooled down, I interplanted them with all the varieties of corn, for their nitrogen fixing qualities. They did a lot better than the first planting, and I even got to pick a few pods before they were killed off by the first, very late, frost.

I think these would be worth growing again, though I plan to try other varieties. It was just a terrible year for peas, so there will be no way to do a proper comparison.

Final analysis:

Bush beans: did surprisingly well under terrible growing conditions. Though we will be trying pole beans in next year’s garden, all three bush bean varieties are well worth growing again. Especially the Royal Burgundy. As we develop more garden space in the future, we will likely be growing both pole and bush bean varieties.

Peas: did not do well at all. The drought and heat (and groundhog!) were just too much for them. I’d be willing to try both varieties again in the future. For our upcoming growing year, we will be buying other varieties to try.

The Re-Farmer

Analyzing our 2021 garden: overview and planning for 2022 and beyond

With snow on the ground and temperatures dropping, this is the perfect time to look at how our gardens did this past year, compare it to the year before where we can, re-examine our goals, make some adjustments, and use that information to plan on what we will do next year.

Because we went from a pretty small garden the year before, to a much larger – and spread out – garden this year, I will go through things in more detail in later posts. For now, I just want to do an overview.

When we first moved out here, we worked out a multi-year plan. The first summer would focus on clearing and cleaning up the inner yard. The second year, we’d continue working on cleaning up the spruce grove and start working on the outer yard while maintaining what we cleaned up in the inner yard. The outer yard, we figured would take another 2 or 3 years.

With this plan, we would have been ready to start gardening around year five. Which would have made it next summer. Instead, we started our first small (ish) gardens in 2020. We had a few beds in the old garden area, and planted in the newly uncovered, soft soil found under the old wood pile. We were not very ready for gardening at all, but really – if we only ever did things when we are “ready” to do them, nothing would ever get done! 😉

This past year, we kept our main goals, and added some new ones. The main goals have stayed the same. Ultimately, we want to be as self-sufficient as possible. That means growing as much of our own food as we can, in quantities sufficient to store or preserve enough food to last us through to the next garden season. So, not just through the winter, but until we can start harvesting fresh food from our garden again. (Animals will be part of the picture, too, but for now I will focus on plants.)

While we certainly didn’t meet that goal this year (nor did we expect to, yet), we did make progress. And I must say, I love being in a position to start working on a meal, realizing we’re out of onions or garlic in the kitchen, and simply popping into the root cellar to grab a bunch.

We didn’t plant anywhere near enough onions for our needs, but that’s part of figuring things out!

When it comes to planting things, whether it is our garden or trees or bushes, we try to meet multiple goals. In our long term goals, we want to have fruit and nut trees. Mid term includes certain types of berry bushes. Growing vegetables are part of our short term goals, simply because they are mostly annuals.

After being here a few years, we have identified gaps in the shelter belt we need to fill, as well as the need to increase privacy screening and dust protection from the surprisingly busy main gravel road that runs past one side of the property. With the aim of meeting multiple goals, any trees or bushes we plant will be chosen not only to meet those needs, but also provide food – and if they can provide enough for ourselves and for birds and wildlife, that’s just bonus. Soil testing has also helped us focus on what we can reasonably expect to grow here at all.

In trying to meet these multiple goals, we did things that would normally be gardening no-nos, like planting as far from the house as we could, and still be in the yard, breaking new ground that will later have things planted permanently. Choosing what to grow was based on things like short growing seasons, high yields and long term storage capabilities.

One thing we have is the luxury of space. That means that we have room to experiment and try new things to see how they do in our zone and growing conditions.

Some things, of course, end up being completely out of our control. Drought conditions being the main issue we had to deal with, this past summer. A plague of grasshoppers certainly didn’t help, either. Then there was the critter damage. That combination of things, plus the far-flung garden beds, made things considerably more difficult than it should have been.

Looking at things from a very broad perspective, though, we had more success than failure. Under the conditions we had, that’s pretty amazing!

I will talk about more specific things later but, in general, here is how we hope to progress next year, which will help us decide where our monthly “seed” budget will go.

The main thing we really need to focus on is trees. These can take years before they will start producing fruits or nuts, so we need to get those going as soon as we can. We’ve identified areas where we can plant things that will need more protection from the elements, and we’re looking at varieties that can handle our climate zone, as well as our nutrient depleted soil. Some of the varieties of nut trees we want to get cannot be planted in the inner yard, though, so we will still have to hold off on those until we can prepare areas in the outer yard. The renter is planning to rebuild the fence around the outer yard, and if he is able to do that next year, that means his cows won’t be able to get through anymore. We won’t have to worry about cows damaging seedlings; just deer! We will also be able to start taking out some of the old fencing around the inner yard, which will make it easier to tend to anything we plant in the outer yard.

We do not have the funds to get everything at once, so we have to focus on getting what will provide the most benefit in the shortest time frame. We will be able to get a few of the slower growing/producing trees, little by little, but will need to focus on faster growing/producing trees and bushes first, even though logically, it’s the trees that need the most time to mature that we should be getting first.

With that in mind, we will be ordering shelter belt berry bushes as soon as we can. Unfortunately, the varieties we had decided on are currently not available, but they might be available for ordering in December or January. Our first layer of “defense” will be to plant Bison Berry (if we can get them) along the East property line, to create a privacy screen. Sea Buckthorn is another one we are looking at, for another area, and we’re also looking at the Rugosa Rose. These will not only provide privacy screens, but will act as dust protection and deer barriers. The berry bushes are also nitrogen fixers. Once mature, they are supposed to be very prolific producers. What we don’t use ourselves will provide food for birds and other wildlife. The Rugosa Rose produces unusually large hips, and the flowers are also edible. (This will be on top of the wild roses we already have growing here.) These are more short to mid term items, as they should be able to start producing in just a few years. It will also take a few years for them to get big enough to form privacy and dust screens, and probably longer before they are dense enough to be a barrier to deer.

For long term, we are looking to order a bunch of Korean Pine Nut trees, if they are available. They require shade for their first few years, and we have the perfect spot to plant a row of them, though they will still need extra shade (and deer!) protection, at first. They are hardy to zone 2, and with 3 yr old saplings, it will still be at least 7 years before they start producing pine nuts. These will be the first nut trees we plan to get.

In the row of crab apple trees that we currently have, we will need to get rid of most of them, due to disease. I’m hoping we can save two of them that produce the best fruit. Crab apples are good for pollinating other apple varieties, so it’ll be important to keep at least a couple of healthy and strong trees.

What we are currently looking at are different cold-hardy apple varieties. I hope to get at least a couple varieties ordered this winter. We are looking for apples that are good for fresh eating, good for storage, and suitable for making cider, as well. Over time, we will be adding pears and plums as well, with the same requirements. These are more mid to long term goal plantings. They will need several years before they start producing, but nowhere near as long as the nut trees we are looking at. Once they do start producing, they are prolific, so we shouldn’t need a lot of trees to meet our needs.

Speaking of prolific, I found a source for a cold hardy variety of ever bearing, white mulberry that we plan to get. A single tree should be enough to provide for our needs, with plenty to spare for the birds as well. I even found a source for zone 3 paw paws! Given the rarity of those, I think we will put a priority of ordering them before they are sold out. Which means that is likely where our upcoming seed budget will be spent.

For short term, we need to start on our raspberries. This past year, the bushes my mother had planted did not produce at all, and the new ones we planted had to struggle with deer damage as well as the drought. We want to get several varieties of raspberries, in different colours and maturity rates. We all love raspberries, so the goal is to eventually have quite a lot of them.

We have found several bushes that appear to be black currants. There are two fairly large bushes, but they are completely shaded and barely productive. I plan to transplant those into sunny areas. I’m also looking to pick up some gooseberry and/or josta berry bushes as well, though probably not for 2022. We shall see.

The main focus with all of these is that they are perennial and, once established, should provide food for many years, so the sooner we can get them growing, the better.

For short term food growing, our original plans have changed a bit. Where the main garden area is, we will be building high raised beds to replace the current low beds, using logs from dead spruces in the spruce grove. Now that I have a chain saw that works, we should be able to clear the dead trees out much more quickly, and have logs cut to size ready and waiting to build high raised beds in the fall. Clearing out those dead trees will open up the spruce grove a lot. While we will be planting more spruces in the spruce grove (there are many little spruces we can transplant from elsewhere), we will also plant food producing trees that can use the extra protection the spruces provide.

The high raised beds we will be building in the main garden area will also serve multiple purposes. A primary one is accessibility, so we can continue to garden even as we get older and more broken. Filling them hugelkultur style should reduce how much water they need, even as high as they will be. This garden area has some shade issues, due to the tall trees my parents planted along the south side, and the beds will be high enough that they should even get more sun.

We will need a LOT more garden space to grow food in the quantities we need, however, and for that, we will be making garden beds in the outer yard, where they will get full sun, too. We won’t have enough dead spruces to use as materials for high raised beds there, as well as the main garden beds, but hopefully by the time we need to build them, we’ll have the funds to buy materials.

Looking at our long term plans, however, we are going to need to expand beyond growing vegetables for ourselves, too. We plan to get a hand mill. Among things I want to grow will be varieties of corn that can be ground into flour, and even different varieties of grains. I am hoping to at least get seeds this year, even if we can’t plant them right away.

As we start to include animals, I want to be able to grow as much of their food, as well as our own, as possible, which means forage crops. I’m even looking at plants that we can use to make our own sugar or syrup (yes, sugar maples are on our list, but there are other possibilities, too).

While some of these things may not be started this year, or even next year, we can still keep the plans in mind as we work on things this coming summer, to prepare. There is a rather massive amount of clean up needed in the outer yard, to have room for all this, as well as for the larger trees we intend to plant. Especially since some of those trees will need to be planted a minimum 30 feet apart, or cannot be planted near food crops because of the chemicals their roots release. Between that and the extra space needed between the raised beds, for accessibility purposes, things will be very spread out.

This past summer was a very difficult growing year. While I will go over specific things later, in general, I consider it a successful year. Remarkably successful, under the circumstances! Even some of our failures where still successes, since we had multiple purposes in mind. Some things we will do again, others will be dropped, if only temporarily, and new things will be tried. We learned a lot in the process, too, making everything a step forward to our ultimate goals.

And that’s about the best I can ask for!

The Re-Farmer


Just look at that Lady!

What a contented expression, as Rolando Moon enjoys her spot in the sun after breakfast!

I was able to do a head count this morning, and all 20 are accounted for! I even got to pet a few of them, as they rushed into the kibble house, including the Distinguished Guest.

The heated water bowl was almost completely empty when I got to it. A bit of frost on the inside showed that it is functioning properly, and shutting itself off when it’s not needed. This time, I filled it completely, rather than dividing the water between all the containers, so they will have liquid water for longer. Later today, I’ll come back out with more warm water and knock the ice out of the other containers, and maybe switch to using a couple for kibble, instead. There is more need to spread out the kibble than the water.

We got a fairly steep drop in the temperatures today. Yesterday, we actually reached 2C/36F, very briefly, which was a few degrees warmer than forecast. This morning, we are at -14C/7F, with a wind chill of -25C/-13F! Tonight, we are supposed to reach a low of -20C/-4F, but the wind chill is supposed to reach -29C/-20F. Which isn’t too bad for this time of year. The weird part is that on Saturday – just three days from now – we are supposed to reach -1C/30F, or possibly even 3C/37F, depending on which weather service I look at!

The outside cats have plenty of food, water and shelter, including the heated cat house, so they will be fine, either way. The younglings will learn from experienced cats like Rolando Moon, and enjoy their sheltered sun spots while they can!

The Re-Farmer

Twenty fuzzy butts, and what’s with the deer?

Yesterday, my daughter and I opened up the cats’ house and set up the extension cord I found that is safe to use in there. The heated water bowl had been knocked over again, by the time we got out there, which meant the cats had no liquid water available. They hovered around us the entire time we worked, then when everything was set up and the bowls refilled, they came running! They were so thirsty. I made sure to put water in all the bowls, so more could get at water at the same time.

Then I topped up the kibble trays and even more cats came running! I counted 19. Only Ghost Baby was unseen.

Not this morning!

I counted 20 furry butts this morning! All are accounted for.

Also, the heated water bowl had just an inch or two of water in it when I came out this morning, and no ice. Awesome!

I decided to leave the chimney insert where it was. The cats like to climb up and sit on it, plus the little ones can even go inside it for extra shelter, if necessary.

While doing the rest of my rounds, I noticed deer tracks all over the yards around the house. In some areas, it seems they are checking out the different crab apple, and even the plum trees. There is no fruit on any of them for the deer to find, this winter.

They are even digging into the compost pile. I would not have expected them to try and eat the potato plants in there! Do deer normally try to eat things in the nightshade family???

You can see from the tracks that they’re walking right through the half-finished low raised bed. That one was left with a trench down the middle, where we will add more compostable scraps before the bed gets finished in the spring. That’s where most of the frost damaged aloe vera plants ended up, though there are kitchen scraps in it, too. The deer are not digging in this bed, though. Just walking through it! The garlic beds, at least, are being left alone.

I had an unfortunate surprise, though. While looking at the deer tracks in the trees at the south fence along the spruce grove, I saw them going past the little cedar tree we’d found, and the remains of the mulberry tree we’d planted in the spring (only for it to get killed by that one cold night in May that is also why we had no crab apples, plums, chokecherries or Saskatoons this year). I’d asked my mother about the cedar tree, and she knew nothing about it, so I don’t know who planted it there or when, but it had clearly been there at least few years longer than we have been living here.

This year, for some reason, the deer decided to eat it. The twigs and branches are completely stripped. Not only that, but it looks like they even ate the remains of the mulberry tree! We had left it alone, so it was still in between support stakes, but the deer still managed to get at it.

Even the pile of bush bean plants in the garden that was waiting to be buried in garden plots next spring has been dug into more. There doesn’t seem to be much left at all.

We’ve had such a long, mild fall and, even with the one blizzard we’ve had, things have still been very mild and there’s not a tremendous amount of snow, by any means. This early in the winter, there is still lots of food available for the deer that is easy for them to get at. We haven’t see the deer in our yard, just their tracks, but we do see them along the roads or the occasional trial cam file, and they are still quite plump and hearty looking.

So why are they acting like they are starving? And going for things like the cedar, which they completely ignored for years?

I suppose it’s possible the cedar will still survive and regrow in the spring, but it seems so strange that they would have gone for it now.

One thing is for sure. When we finally do start planting our fruit and nut trees and berry bushes, we’re going to have to make sure they are well protected from the deer!

Also, it gives us even more incentive to plant forage trees, beyond the outer yard, so the deer will have less reason to come after trees closer to the house.

The Re-Farmer

Our 2022 garden: replacement seeds in

I was happy to find a small package waiting for me at the post office, today. Our replacement seeds from Veseys had come in!

Ginger REALLY wanted to be in the picture! 😀

You can read about our first seed order for 2022, and why we chose what we did, in this post.

This image from the Veseys website is what the mature Winter Sweet squash is supposed to look like. I am really happy with Veseys, and their excellent customer service when we found we got a patty pan squash by mistake.

We will be placing another order at the end of the month or beginning of December. For the next few months, seed orders are part of our budget. With what I’m seeing at various sites right now, I think I will be making a point of ordering seed potatoes from the one place I’ve found where they actually have some in stock again. Everywhere else I’ve looked, potatoes are still marked as sold out. There are a couple of Canadian seed sites and nurseries we’ve never ordered from before that I want to try this year. We really need to be ordering fruit and nut trees and berry bushes this year, as those can take years before they start producing.

The girls and I will have to set ourselves down, go over our plans, see if anything needs to be changed, and make some decisions. 🙂

The Re-Farmer