Analysing our 2022 garden: ground cherries, wonderberry, Korean Pine, sea buckthorn, silver buffalo berry and highbush cranberry

Okay, it’s that time! I’ll be working on a serious of posts, going over how our 2022 garden went, what worked, what didn’t, and what didn’t even happen at all. This is help give us an idea of what we want to do in the future, what we don’t want to do in the future, and what changes need to be made.

2022 saw us making some significant steps towards our perennial and food forest plans. This included getting nitrogen fixing berry bushes that will also act as privacy barriers and wind breaks, and annuals that are known to easily reseed themselves and can be potentially treated as perennials.

Let’s start with the berry bushes.

The majority of what we got in 2022 were silver buffalo berry, which came in a pack of 30 bare root plants.

As you can see by the first picture, they certainly got affected by the flooding! Mostly just at one end, though – around where you can see the old saw horse in the second picture.

We also got a package of 5 sea buckthorn, which were planted along the lilac hedge, to fill in a gap in the hedge that the deer jump through.

Those are the nitrogen fixers, but we also got a couple of highbush cranberry, which were planted at the ends of the rows of silver buffaloberry, not far from the sea buckthorn. Unfortunately, one of the cranberry saplings got chomped by a deer.

Twice.

That sapling now has the sawhorse over it, to protect it.

The deer seem uninterested in any of the other saplings.

Unfortunately, of the 5 sea buckthorn, one transplant didn’t seem to take at all, and another died soon after. A third got broken somehow and never recovered. So we are down to just two sea buckthorn.

As for the silver buffaloberry, they all seemed to survive. We might loose one of them, but that’s my fault. While I was weeding around them, I accidentally pulled one up. I replanted it immediately, but we won’t know if it survived until next year.

Conclusion:

I’d say our first food trees did okay, for their first growing season here.

We will need to get more sea buckthorn, but we were going to do that, anyhow. Sea buckthorn requires 1 male plant to pollinated up to… I think it’s 5 female plants. The problem is, there’s no way to sex the trees until they are at least a few years old. It’s entirely possible all the saplings we got were female. We were planning to get more later on, which would increase our chances of having both male and female plants.

With so many silver buffalo berry, even if we loose some, there should still be plenty to have the privacy barrier they are partly meant to be.

Now, if we can just keep those two highbush cranberry alive, that would be a good thing!

Thanks to getting the branch pile chipped this summer, we also had plenty of wood chips to place a thick mulch on the carboard around the berry bushes. That should help them a great deal.

It will take a few years before we know how well these do. They are all supposed to be prolific berry producers. If it turns out we don’t like sea buckthorn or silver buffalo berry, they will still serve to help feed the birds, and as nitrogen fixers, privacy screens and wind breaks.

As for increasing our food forest, we currently have two different varieties of apple trees on order. We have a lot of crab apple trees, but we’ve found only one of them tastes good. The very small apples are good for making vinegar and hard cider, plus we have made apple sauce with them. There was a second crab apple tree that had tasty apples, but it seems to have died over the summer.

We’ll have to cut down others that have either died, or have a fungal disease. We will likely end up with just two crab apple trees in the row along the main garden area. Those will be able to serve as cross pollinators that the eating apples we ordered will need.

Also on order is a pair of mulberry bushes specific to our zone, which will arrive in the spring, about the same time as the apple trees. Little by little, we’ll be adding other cold hardy fruit trees, such as plums and pears, but we really need to get started on planting nut trees, as those can take a decade before they start producing.

Speaking of which…


We also planted 6 Korean pine, in the outer yard.

Of the 6 we planted, one promptly got dug up by something. I found the seedling and replanted it, but it did not survive. After that, I picked up some dollar store picnic protectors to put over them. The white fabric made them easy to see, too.

Over the summer, one other seedling died, so we are now down to four. They started to get too tall for their covers, so I used chicken wire, sprayed with orange marking paint for visibility, to create larger protective cages for them. My mother gave us an ash tree she’d grown from seed, and that was planted in one of the spots where a Korean pine hadn’t made it, also with a chicken wire protector around it.

Conclusion:

With the Korean pine, loosing 2 out of 6 is not a major concern. One mature tree would be enough to meet our needs. Anything beyond that is gravy. It’ll be a few years before we really know how they do. These are 2 yr old seedlings, making 2022 their 3rd year. I’ve read that they grow slowly for the first 5 years, then suddenly start getting huge. They are still considered a slow growing tree, and we’re looking at another 6 years before we can expect to harvest pine nuts.

These trees can potentially reach 30 ft wide and 60 ft high, which meant we had to plant them far apart, and take into account other ways we use the area – such as keeping a vehicle sized lane open to access the secondary gate. Over time, we will probably plant other nut trees in the area, as many of them have a chemical they release into the soil, so they have to be planted well away from our vegetable garden and fruit tree areas.

This is all long term stuff. Let’s take a look at the short term stuff now!


This year we planted Aunt Molly ground cherries, and Wonderberry.

The ground cherries are something we’ve grown in containers on a balcony when we were still living in the city, so we at least knew we like them. I’ve seen this on lists of things not to grow, because they reseed so easily, but for me, that’s a bonus.

The Wonderberry is something we’d never grown before, but they were also described as being something that reseeds itself easily, and comes back year after year. We had never tried them before, but the berries are supposed to be good for many things and, if it turned out we didn’t like them, they would still be a good food source for birds.

Which meant that, for both of them, we had to consider planting them in locations where we could allow them to come back, year after year.

The Result:

Based on research, we started the Wonderberry indoors quite early. They were among the seedlings that got damaged by cats and had to be restarted. In the end, we had three plants that could be transplanted, and they actually were doing a bit too well!

The Wonderberry quickly became too large for our indoor growing spaces, including the plant shelf we set up in the sun room. They ended up having to be on another shelf on the side, where there was nothing above to constrict them. They were blooming and forming berries before we could transplant them! We put them around the stone cross in the yard, after pulling up the invasive bell flowers as best we could. Hopefully, the Wonderberry will crowd out the weeds, instead of the other way around!

The ground cherries were planted in a new bed near the compost ring. I had concerns that the transplants would not make it, as the ground was so incredibly saturated. Make it, they did, and they thrived in that location! They got so big that they could barely hold themselves up. After high winds knocked some down, I had to set up supports on one side. They kept right on growing and blooming, and setting fruit.

Conclusion:

After transplanting, the Wonderberry seemed to take a while to recover, and they never got much bigger. However, they continued to bloom and produce berries until the frost finally got them.

The berries themselves are… not anything special. They didn’t live up to their descriptions. They were surprisingly prolific, considering how small the plants remained. We were fine with eventually leaving them to go to seed, and we shall see if they come up again in the spring. The only problem is their location: I kept forgetting they were there, when I was weeding and watering! So they were a bit neglected. I think they can handle that all right, though!

The ground cherries, on the other hand, were amazing! They got very large, and started continuously producing so many flowers and berries! The plants got so thick, it was actually difficult to reach and harvest the berries. Mostly, I picked what had fallen to the ground, as I knew those would be ripe. Ultimately, though, I just let it go, so that more could fall to the ground to grow next year.

If they do start growing, I want to put in a support structure using some horizontally placed 4″ square fence wire we found, to help support the plants as they grow taller. In fact, I might put two layers of the wire supports, given how tall the plants got!

These berry bushes, whether shrubs or annual plants, are all part of plant to feed not only ourselves, but birds and even the soil. I think we got a good start on the whole thing. This is definitely an area that requires long term planning, and careful decision making. As much of a problem the flooding was, it did give us information that will be quite useful as we make these decisions.

The Re-Farmer

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