Analyzing our 2021 garden: the abject failures!

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 is the last post in this series.

The utter and complete failures!

It was such a very difficult growing year this year. We had to deal with drought, heat waves, difficulty watering things due to the beds being so far flung, deer, groundhogs and a plague of grasshoppers.

Yet, we still managed to harvest food from our garden, and with some, we even had enough to freeze and pickle.

There were some things, however, that just didn’t work.

One of these was the Baby Pam Pumpkin.

I have no photos, because there was nothing to take photos of!

When we started these indoors, we only planted a few seeds, not the entire package.

They did not germinate. At all.

I highly doubt there was something wrong with the seeds. Veseys seeds have always been of very high quality. We had a number of issues with starting things indoors, and those were more likely the reason.

These little pumpkins were chosen for their short growing season, small size and their reputed excellent flavour. I think I’d be willing to try them again, when we start our other squash indoors. We already have so many others, though, it might be something we will try again further in the future.

Another fail was the Strawberry Spinach. These were broadcast in a new bed we made, near where the asparagus crowns were later trenched. They did seem to sprout, and then they disappeared.

Assuming the sprouts we saw were even Strawberry Spinach!

I want to try these again. This spot was chosen because they are known to self seed easily, and this could be a permanent spot for them. We’ve grown them before in a balcony garden, years ago, so I know we like them. I plan to get more seeds for this coming year. Once this bed was finally abandoned, it got very weedy, so in the spring, it will need a lot of clean up of as many roots as we can. It’s already got new garden soil on it, but a bit more won’t hurt. The seeds are so fine, a mulch might be too much for them, but perhaps if we cover them with the clear plastic we have, first, then with netting until the start getting big. Maybe that will work?

We shall see.

Then there was the Illinois Everbearing Mulberry.

We took a chance on this one. It was a zone 4 plant, but with a good microclimate and winter protection, I thought we could make it work. I remember my mother being able to grow things I later learned were zone 5, quite successfully, so I knew it was possible.

It started out so well, too! We had a wonderfully warm May, and Veseys sent it out when it was the right time of year for transplanting in our zone. Once transplanted, it took well and soon sprouted healthy leaves.

Then we got hit with that one really cold night in late May.

Our last frost date is June 2. Typically, that means hitting temperatures at or just below freezing. Maybe as low as -2C/28F or so.

If I remember correctly, we hit -8C/18F.

It was devastating.

With the month having been so warm, we had things blooming all over. Most of the lilacs, the crab apples, chokecherries and Saskatoons were all blooming. Even the highbush cranberry I uncovered in the spruce grove the year before had flowers.

That was it for the lilacs blooming, and we got no fruit. Even the grape vines, which hadn’t even started budding yet, were set back.

Unfortunately, we had completely forgotten about the mulberry tree. If we had remembered, we could have done something to protect it from the cold, but we didn’t. I’d read that, when hit with cold, mulberries can drop all their leaves, but then grow them back and recover. I held out hope for months, even continuing to water it during the drought. I even thought there might be a possibility that it would make a come back next spring.

All possibility of a recovery ended just a little while ago, when I discovered that even the remaining stem was gone, having been eaten by deer.

That poor little tree.

Since then, I have found a nursery that has a cold hardy, white mulberry available. It was an accidental discovery on their land, and that parent tree has survived temperatures of -40C/-40F. It’s a lot more expensive then mulberries at other nurseries, but no other place has any this cold hardy.

We plan to order one, as soon as we can squeeze it out of the budget. Mulberries are known for producing a LOT of berries; enough for our own uses and what we can’t reach, the birds can enjoy. Another reason I want to get a mulberry tree is because of my mother. She shared stories with me of a mulberry tree they had in Poland when she was a child. A huge tree, bigger than their barn. When I found out that mulberry trees were available to grow in Canada, I just had to give it a try.

Hopefully, the next one we get will survive!

Another failure for us was the Chinese Pink celery, though that is entirely my fault. I didn’t pay enough attention to the instructions. It wasn’t until we were starting other things indoors that I realized these should have been started in January or February, not April!

We did actually get seedlings, and I even transplanted one little bunch, but nothing came of it.

I am still very curious about these and would love to try them again.

Maybe not right away, though.

Ah, the radishes.

I ordered a couple of varieties for my younger daughter. Daikon and Watermelon. These were interplanted with the corn. The Daikon radish in particular is known to help break up hard soil, which would have been quite beneficial in that area.

It was very exciting when they started to germinate! We were seeing them all over.

Then they disappeared without a trace.

A while later, there was some late germination, but those disappeared, too.

I have no idea what happened to them. We weren’t having problems with insects at the time. Birds, maybe? I just don’t know.

It was quite disappointing.

Then, later on, I decided to try again, this time with seeds I picked up at the grocery store.

Oh, I completely forgot about the chard!

It was not a failure. At least not the Bright Lights chard. As a fall planting, they grew very well, but we didn’t eat a lot of them. They weren’t a big hit with the family, and we didn’t really know what to do with them. They sure handled the frosts well! The second variety was a fail. Only two plants survived the grasshoppers. Barely.

As for the radishes, they got decimated by the grasshoppers. In the end, all we got was this.

Two French Breakfast radishes, which were left to grow because I was after pods, not roots.

We got neither.

I do plan to try radishes again, but very different ones. I’ve found a source for tillage radishes – they can grow many feet long, and are used as more as a cover crop, because they do such a great job of “tilling” the soil, and are left to decompose, further amending it. They can also be used as a forage crop, so planting them away from the house could be useful in luring the deer away. I’m also looking at picking up some sugar beets to try. They also help break up the soil, can also serve as a forage crop – or we can actually try making our own sugar from them. Our province used to be a major producer of sugar from sugar beets for many years. I figure it’s worth a try, at some point.

We have a couple more complete failures here. The Early Purple Vienna kohlrabi, and the Russian Red Kale.

These were both free seeds from Baker Creek. I really like kohlrabi and tried planting White Vienna the year before. Of all the seeds I’d planted, only 4 survived, and only 2 got large, but none ever got a chance to form their bulbs. The final killer was flea beetles.

This year, we didn’t even get that.

As cool weather crops, both got planted the earliest, but as far as I can tell, none germinated. I even tried planting kohlrabi again, as a fall crop when the radishes, lettuce and chard were planted.

Nothing.

Now, I don’t mind the kale not working. I’m not a big fan of kale, though I did enjoy kale chips that we’ve made in the past. I’m willing to try different types and maybe find that I do like them, after all.

Kohlrabi, on the other hand, is something I really enjoy, but only buy rarely as a treat. I’d love to be able to grow my own. The problem is, I don’t know why they failed this year. I can’t even be sure if they germinated, or if something ate all the seeds. Or maybe they did germinate, and something ate all the sprouts?

I have no idea.

But I really, really want to grow kohlrabi!

I think, if I have the space for it, I will try starting some indoors. Maybe transplants will survive!


Final analysis:

In spite of the complete failures, and all the other challenges we had in the garden this past year, I’m still pretty happy with it all. I heard from so many others that lost their gardens entirely, so we have much to be thankful for.

Plus, all those challenges now, means we have a better idea of what we can do in the future, whether its by focusing on hügelkultur beds and mulching as a way to conserve water during drought conditions, to knowing what critters we need to protect our food from (the groundhogs were an unexpected problem!), and so on. We’ve learned a great deal.

Which means that even the failures are really successes, in the end.

The Re-Farmer

Analysing our 2021 garden: lettuce, spinach, tomato, poppy and asparagus

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.

Quite a mix of success and … almost success… in this post!

First, the asparagus!

I’ve honestly lost track of when we ordered these, but they are Purple Passion Asparagus from Veseys. We only got six crowns for a start.

Asparagus is something that can produce for about 20 years. They required a new bed to be dug, and we had to choose an area where they could be permanent. We did see a few asparagus growing from all the crowns this summer. The earliest we can expect to harvest these is two summers from now, and even then, it would be better if we gave them more time.

There was asparagus already growing here, and they have been for many decades. Nothing suitable for harvesting. I suppose, as some point, we should dig up the ones in the old kitchen garden, which are all male plants (male plants are apparently better for harvesting). They are easily more than 50 years old. We’ve also found a few female plants at the fence near the gate. Every fall, we see their bright red berries, but for all that they drop seeds, there are never more plants! I’ve asked my mother about those, and she said they have been growing there since before my parents bought the property! That makes them probably well over 60 years old.

While our asparagus seemed to do all right this year, even with the drought, we won’t know of they are a complete success for at least another two years.

When I was a child, I remember my mother grew poppies that we could harvest for their seeds, but when we moved back, there were only ornamental poppies. So when I found seeds for bread poppies, I happily ordered some. They were Giant Rattle poppies from Baker Creek.

The seeds were broadcast on a new bed in the old kitchen garden, more nostalgic reasons. That’s the garden where my mother had her poppies growing. 🙂 It took quite a while longer than expected for them to germinate and, with the drought, they never reached their full potential, even with regular watering. We did end up with some small seed pods that I could harvest, though!

Poppies self sow easily, and I did make sure some seeds were broadcast in the bed this fall, but I will sow more in the spring as well. Hopefully, next year, they will live up to their name!

Then there were the tomatoes! These were, hands down, the must successful things we grew this year. We had the super tiny Spoon, super prolific tomatoes from Baker Creek, and Mosaic Mix, a medley of cherry and grape tomatoes, from Veseys, that were also very prolific. Both were indeterminate varieties planted in a new bed against the chain link fence, which we could use to help support them. With the drought conditions, it did seem to take a while for them to start producing ripe tomatoes, but once they did, they just didn’t stop, and even kept on producing after being hit with colder temperatures, before finally being killed off by frost.

If that’s how they did during such a hard growing year, I can’t imagine how much better they would have done under optimal conditions!

When it comes to eating tomatoes, my husband and older daughter love them. My younger daughter and I do not! She and I can handle them if they are processed into a paste or sauce, but that’s it. I was, however, able to taste the Spoon tomatoes and not gag, which is saying a lot! My husband and older daughter, however, absolutely loved having so many of these little tomatoes to snack on!

While the bed these were in has been completely redone and is now a low raised bed bordered with bricks, I would not be at all surprised if we see some of these sprouting in the spring. Reviews for the Spoon tomato in particular said to expect them to self-sow, because there’s just no way to pick all the tiny tomatoes before they fall to the ground.

Spinach was another success for us. We got a collection from Veseys that included three varieties that matured at different rates.

Honestly, I couldn’t tell much different between them! They were all good. We quite enjoyed having fresh spinach available any time we wanted, usually in salads or sandwiches. Even when doing my morning rounds, I would grab a few leaves to snack on as I went by!

We harvested the last of our spinach when they started to bolt in June. The original plan had been to successive sow them, then sow them again for a fall crop. That didn’t quite work out, when we found ourselves having to build covers for the beds to protect them from deer. The covers weren’t long enough to cover the entire rows, which meant the exposed spinach at each end still got nibbled on, but there was so much of it, we didn’t mind!

We ended up dehydrating the final harvest spinach, and we are still using them. 🙂

As for a fall planting, things didn’t quite work out as planned, and we just skipped it – which means we still have seeds that we can use next year, if we want.

Then there was the lettuce…

*sigh*

We ordered three varieties of leaf lettuce from Baker Creek, all in reds and purples. We got a packet of green lettuce for free with our order. We planted all four varieties in the retaining wall blocks, with netting to protect them from the deer.

That was before the groundhogs showed up.

One morning, I came out and they were all gone. They had just gotten big enough to start harvesting, too.

We didn’t try replanting in the blocks. There just didn’t seem to be any point!

We did, however, plant some in one of the spinach beds for a fall crop, with a cover to protect them from groundhogs, deer and grasshoppers. A bunch of seeds had spilled into the slide lock bag I had them in, so I planted the loose seed, expecting to get a mix. They turned out to be almost all one type – Merlot – with only a couple of Buttercrunch in the mix.

Having to keep them covered with such a long cover, unfortunately, made it very inconvenient to casually harvest them. The bug proof mesh prevented us from being able to just reach underneath an end, like we could with the spinach. This is why I decided to make our high raised beds only 9 feet long. We can build covers for them that one person can easily move alone, unlike the 13 ft covers we had for this year.

We did enjoy the fall lettuce for a while, but then they suddenly got very bitter, and I don’t know why. It’s a shame, because they handled the colder temperatures, and even frost, very well.


Final Analysis:

Asparagus: With only 6 crowns planted this year, even once established, it’s not going to be much for four people. Well, three. My husband isn’t a fan of asparagus. Over time, we will get more. I think we’ll get a green variety, next. We will need to find another suitable location, though, as the one we planted the purple asparagus in has room for those 6 crowns, and that’s it! This is something for the long haul, though, as we will likely get just a few more crowns every year, until we have enough for our uses. Asparagus is one of those things that are so expensive at the store, except for a few short weeks, that once we have our own, we will happily eat them a lot more often. If we eventually have enough to freeze, pickle or can, all the better!

Poppies: While these were not quite a success, as far as having seeds we could use for baking, they weren’t quite a failure, either, and we should have this variety of poppies growing in the same bed again, year after year, if we do it right. I have since found a couple of Canadian sources for other varieties of bread poppies. I plan to get one of them, and sow them in another area where, like the Giant Rattle poppies, we can treat them as perennials. I figure, with at least two types, we will eventually get enough poppy seed to use in some of the traditional Polish bread rolls I remember my mother making with them! 🙂

Tomatoes: both of these varieties did very well, but we will be trying different varieties next year – though I expect to see some of this year’s tomatoes showing up on their own, next year! If not, I would have no problem buying more of the Spoon tomatoes in the future, and highly recommend them. We already have some Yellow Pear tomato seeds from Livingston (my first purchase from this company; I found them at the grocery store by my mother’s place) and Chocolate Cherry from Veseys. These are for my older daughter and husband to enjoy. In addition to these, I will be picking up a variety of paste tomato – I’ve not yet decided which type – for processing into our own tomato paste. This is something we regularly cans by the case, to use as an ingredient in quite a few things. We use it in quantities that make it worth the effort to can our own. Any other type of processed tomato we use tends to be so infrequent, I don’t think it’s worth going through the trouble of canning them ourselves. We’ll just buy those from a store as we need them for specific recipes.

Spinach: These did very well, and I look forward to growing them again. We still have lots of seeds, since we never got to succession sow them, so we don’t need to buy more for this year. Yes, I know, older seeds have a lower germination rate, but considering how high it was originally, I don’t see that as being an issue! Spinach is a favourite, so I can see us growing this every year. We just have to make sure to protect them from deer.

Lettuce: Our intentions of having fresh lettuce to casually harvest any time we wanted, didn’t quite pan out! We still have plenty of seeds from all four varieties to try again, next year. As with the spinach, we’ll have to find a way to protect them from critters. Doing so without making it a pain in the butt to harvest them turned out to be the tricky part. As much as we would like to grow lettuce regularly, as long as we have plenty of spinach, we can do without lettuce as well. That’s a decision to make once we start planting other things, and see what space we have left.

The Re-Farmer

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…

*ahem*

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

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
Montauk
Sweetness

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