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

Our 2022 garden: some growth, a first harvest, tree status, and no, that is not a funeral pyre

It was a very early morning for me today. The cats got active at about 4am and wouldn’t stop! I finally gave up and did my morning rounds while the girls were still cooking down the crab apple sauce for me to can later.

Parts of the province got frost warnings last night. We did not, thankfully, though the temperatures did go down to 5C/41F. It was still only 6C/43F while I was outside. I actually had to wear a jacket!

Today is our average first frost date and, while it was chilly last night, it is expected to warm up again over the next few days, and stay mild for the next couple of weeks, at least.

The garden is on borrowed time right now!

We actually have a few tiny little Purple Beauty peppers ripening! They are much, much smaller than they should be. These should look much like your typical grocery store bell pepper, in size and shape. That we got any at all still amazes me, though.

The one Little Finger Eggplant that is producing fruit is growing so fast!

No, I’m not pointing to anything there. I’m just moving a leaf while not blocking the view of an eggplant at the same time. 😁

The other plant sharing it’s space is blooming, but still no eggplants, while the plants in the low raised bed aren’t even blooming, yet.

As for this morning’s harvest, we got a first today!

We actually had grapes ripe enough to pick! There are still come clusters that are not ripe, yet. There isn’t a lot in total, but last year we basically had nothing, so that is no complaint at all. I’m not sure what to do with such a small quantity, though.

I finally remembered to go into the outer yard and get a picture of the Korean pine. Here, you can see three of the four surviving pines.

You can just see a mowed path going off to the left. That leads to the fourth surviving pine. The six pine had been planted in pairs on either side of the lane we want to keep open to the secondary gate that I normally would have kept mowed.

The chicken wire covers painted high-viz orange seem to be working out so far. My only concern is that chicken wire isn’t very strong. If the renter does let his cows through to graze in the outer yard, it couldn’t take much for a cow to crush one of them. I’m counting on them simply avoiding the cages, instead. Or deer, for that matter. We’re more likely to have deer going through here than cows.

You can see the other big branch pile on the right of the photo, with some fresh branches on top. Now that the other piles are chipped, any new prunings will be added to this one. Today, I pruned a bit around the stone cross, opening things up and even giving a bit more sun to the Wonderberry. I also started to break down one of the dead crab apple trees near the one that we harvested from. The dead branches are well entangled in the other trees, so it will be done piecemeal at first.

One of the other things I got done, though this was last night, was go through the pile of logs the chippers left next to the burn barrel. I’d already set aside a stack of pieces that are not rotten, quite straight, and useable. The rest of the pile of unsalvageable wood is now moved.

I laid it out around the pile of burnable junk we’d been stacking against the branch pile. Much of it is old newspapers and catalogs we’d cleared out of the sun room when we cleared and cleaned it out the first time. We intended to burn it in the burn barrel, but it’ll just be easier to do a bon fire! The straw is what was cleaned out of the cats’ house, so it’s not something we can use as mulch, or even for the compost.

Once we do have a day to start a burn, we’ll have to take turns keeping an eye on it. This will take a long time to burn through! This is something that could smolder for days. Plus, I plan to drag over branches from the pile next to the garage that the tree guys couldn’t chip, to clean that up, too.

When the girls saw this, the first thing they said was, “nice funeral pyre!” 😂

Yeah, it does kinda look like that! 😁

The Re-Farmer

Summer growth

Yesterday, forecasts said we were supposed to have a couple of dry days. While I was out and about with my mother, I saw lots of people mowing, so when I got home, I decided to do some preparatory weed trimming. The beans and peas are coming up nicely, and some of the cucumber plants are getting pretty big, so we need to get those A frame trellises up. I picked up some 6′ bamboo stakes to use as supports. I’d hoped to use pieces of poplar, like the frames are made of, but of what we have, any pieces long enough were too thick or too crooked. If it was straight enough, or thin enough, it was too short. So, bamboo stakes it is. Unfortunately, they cost a fair bit; just under $10 for a bundle of 6. I was only able to get 4. Not enough for what I was thinking to do.

Before we could set those up, I got out the weed trimmer and a whole lot of extension cord, and trimmed the paths as close to the ground as I could.

Which is about when I started hearing thunder.

I did get the trimming done, then 4 pairs of stakes lashed together and set up at the trellis with the cucumbers. I had planned to set up 5 pairs – one at each upright support – then have cross pieces at the bottom, to help support the netting. With only 4 pairs, I don’t think they’re long enough to join with cross pieces.

I was able to lash together 4 more pairs of stakes before I was driven inside by rain. We ended up with quite a thunderstorm with heavy rain and strong winds. We even lost internet and had power fluctuations.

Still, when I headed out this morning, I thought we might at least be able to do some mowing in the west yard, but no. There’s water all over, and even the usually drier spots are squelchy. :-/

Quite a few new flowers are blooming. The ornamental poppies have exploded along with the dwarf Korean lilac, and even some wild columbine is blooming. The yellow lilies near the fire pit that I keep intending to divide and never quite get to, are in full bloom.

I waded through the tall grass and water to check on the Korean pine. A couple of them are in puddles of water! Five of them are showing new growth, but the one that got dug up by something looks like it has not survived. A lot of the needles have turned brown.

While checking one of the pine trees, I kept an eye out for the strawberries I saw before. They are now mostly hidden by the tall grass, but I could still see them. They are still blooming.

The corn we recently direct sowed are starting to come up! The popcorn seems to be a bit slower in germinating than the sweet corn. No sign of the green bush beans, yet.

The garlic that is doing really well in the main garden area is now starting to grow scapes. The other garlic, that seemed to have been set back badly by the extended winter, are finally starting to really perk up and grow, though they are still quite small. I’m seeing carrots coming up in the various beds, but a lot of the turnips that I saw before now seem to be gone. One variety seems to be holding out, even if the tiny leaves are riddled with holes.

No sign of the bare-root white strawberries starting to grow. Those might be a total loss. The red strawberries we transplanted with the asparagus are still blooming, though.

Everything is so wet, wet, wet – and we’re supposed to get more showers tonight! In fact, now the forecasts are saying nightly showers, or thunderstorms, for the next 5 days. This is frustrating. One of the down spouts is clogged. Normally, the girls would go out onto the roof to clear it, through one of their windows. Their windows, however, are pretty much coated with mosquitoes. Which means using a ladder, but the ground is so wet and mushy, there’s no place solid to set a ladder. The eaves over the north side of the old kitchen also need to be cleared. That area is difficult enough to set up a ladder at the best of times. With how slick and muddy things are now, it’s just not an option. The ground needs to dry out at least somewhat, but that’s not going to happen. I think the girls are going to have to brave the mosquitoes to at least do the one over the living room. Too much water is seeping into the new basement.

One of these days, we need to pick up one of those small, mobile scaffolding set ups. Too bad the scaffolding that was here before we moved in grew legs and walked away. It would be so useful – and safer – with scaffolding.

The rains we’ve been having are certainly a mixed blessing. The saturated ground and open water prevents us from being able to do some things, and makes it harder to get to different parts of the year – but things are growing and blooming and, with a few drowned exceptions, fairing much better than last year! Things definitely prefer the damp, over the drought.

The Re-Farmer

Rescue!

While my husband and I were gone for our medical appointments, my daughter finished watering the rest of the garden beds and transplants, including the trees.

She sent use this sad photo.

One of the Korean Pine was gone! Not only was it dug up, but even the wood shaving mulch was gone! There was nothing left but a hole in the ground.

So disappointing.

When my husband and I got home, my daughter and I headed to town to see what we could find to protect the rest. My original plan had been to pick up some metal mesh garbage cans at a dollar store somewhere – it was a recommended suggestion I found when looking up how to care for the Korean Pine. Somehow, I just never found any.

The local Dollar Store was no different. They’re about half the size if the city stores, so that’s not a surprise.

I did find something else to try.

These are food covers to keep the bugs away while eating outdoors. I picked up 5 of the smaller size for each of the remaining Korean Pine. I used the last of our ground staples on a couple of the, and tent pegs in the rest, to secure them to the ground. Obviously, they won’t stop a determined critter, but they should be enough to keep away any that are not determined!

When I went to where the lost one was, I looked around the area, just in case it was just a critter digging, and that the seedling itself wasn’t eaten or dragged away. There was no sign of it, unfortunately.

With so much open water around this spring, and especially in this part of the outer yard, the mosquitoes are insane. All I could hear was the whining of clouds of mosquitoes. Since I wasn’t going to be long, I didn’t use any bug spray, so I was lunch! As you can imagine, I tried to finish up as quickly as I could. It wasn’t until after I’d covered the remaining Korean Pine and brought the support poles back to the house that I realized I’d forgotten the one by the lost pine. So I battled my way through the clouds of mosquitoes and went back to get it.

Since I was there anyhow, I looked around again. Because once you’re bitten a hundred times, what’s a few more?

I found it!

The poor little seedling was hidden in the grass, just a couple of feet away. I’d walked right past it, at least twice, while looking before!

I quickly replanted it and returned as much of the soil as I could – whatever dug the hole had certainly spread it far and wide! Then I went and grabbed one of the remaining tomato cages and filled a watering can. The tomato cage is now over the seedling, with the support post running through it for extra support, and it has been thoroughly watered.

I intended to get a picture, but I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes, so I ran away as soon as I could!

Hopefully, it will survive it’s brush with whatever dug it up. My thought is it was likely a skunk, digging for grubs, and it dug there because the soil was looser.

So we are back to 6 Korean Pine… and will hopefully stay that way!

The Re-Farmer

Food Forest: Korean pine are in!

My younger daughter planted the last of this year’s tree orders today.

These got planted in the outer yard. Because of how big they get at maturity, we had some issues deciding where to plant them, since we also need to keep a lane open from the driveway to the back gate, plus have open lanes from the garden area, and the fire pit area, gates. Eventually, the old, collapsing fence line on that side of the inner yard is going to be removed completely, and there will be no barbed wire gates at all, but the renter’s cows still sometimes get into the outer yard, so the fence stays for now.

Hard to believe these teeny things will eventually grow at much as 18m/60ft tall, with a spread of 9m/30 feet. It’s that spread that is the kicker. In the end, she planted them in two rows of 3, on either side of the lane from the driveway we want to keep open. We had talked about planting 1 in a corner between the back gate and the garden gate, then the remaining 5 in a row on the west side of the lane we want to keep open, but with spacing them to their mature sizes, that would have put at least one, maybe 2, in an area that is still basically a pond right now. So she winged it.

For now, they are marked with tall stakes, since they are so small they disappear in the tall grass. They are slow growing for their first 5 years, and these are 2 yr old seedlings, if I remember correctly. They are sold out as I write this, so that information isn’t on the website anymore.

If we can manage extension cords from the pump shack, we should be able to get out there with the weed trimmer and clear further around the saplings. We can’t get at some areas here with a lawn mower at all.

I also want to put something around them to protect them. I don’t know if deer will eat them – they don’t seem to bother pine trees – but if the renter’s cows are on this quarter and get through the fence, they might stomp on them or something.

It will be quite a few years before they reach the age to start producing pine nuts, but when it comes to trees, we’re planting for future generations! The main thing is, they are finally in the ground.

Little by little, it got done!

The Re-Farmer