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

Future food forest progress

We’ve been having rain off and one, and are still getting storm warnings for today as well. Nothing too excessive; our expected highs and lows are well within average, and the garden beds seem to be really liking it.

After doing my morning rounds, I was able to get the cardboard laid out along the saplings. The pile had been well rained on, which made it easier to lay them out, and less likely to get blown around if we get high winds.

This is the end I started at. The main thing was to get cardboard laid down close to all the saplings – but not too close!. The sticks I added to make them more visible (especially when using the weed trimmer) helped with that. Once all the trees had cardboard around them, I started filling in the spaces in between with what was left of the pile. It started raining again as I was working on it, which I didn’t mind at all. I’d have had to take a hose to it, otherwise.

The Sea buckthorn has all the cardboard they need, and are ready for when we have wood chips to lay on top of the cardboard.

I had enough cardboard to fill in the gaps all along one row, then start on the other, before I ran out. The priority is to cover the two rows, but if I can get enough cardboard, I want to fill in the space between them, too. That might take another 2 loads of cardboard to fill it all in.

We’re going to need a lot of wood chips to cover all this!

Once these bushes are fully grown in, this entire area should be a solid barrier of interlocking branches. There might be enough room to walk between the rows when they are fully grown, but not much. As they are bushes, once a good thick layer of mulch is laid down, they shouldn’t need anything more; they’ll basically be their own mulch, eventually. When we start planting fruit trees in the area, we’ll be working towards planting different edible cover crops into the mulch around them, but there won’t be space for anything like that with these, once they’re filled in.

The space between the saplings and the trees at the fence line is being left open as a lane to drive through. Once the berry bushes are getting to the point where they are starting to form a privacy screen, we’ll start cleaning and clearing up the rest of the fence line. Most of those fence posts in this section need to be replaced, and I want to open up access to it for that, for general maintenance – and to eventually replace the fence with something other than barbed wire! I’d like to also put a gate next to where the sign is, or some sort of fence crossing that will allow us to step over it, rather than trying to get through it. I really hate getting my clothes caught on the barbed wire when trying to go through it! 😀 We’ll figure something out.

Little by little, it’ll get done!

The Re-Farmer

Before the heat hits?

Well, I tried.

I headed outside earlier than usual, to try and get some work done before things got too hot. My goal of the day was to take the weed trimmer to where the berry bushes are. Tomorrow, I’m getting another load of cardboard and plan to lay it down around them as a weed barrier.

This is how it looked when I started.

I shoved the stick into the ground as a post to mark the end one of the rows of bushes.

Can you see the silver buffalo berry?

The row on the left, you can see the sawdust mulch around several of them, but the row on the right just disappears in the trimmed weeds and grass.

I ended up using sticks that were used to hold trellis lines last year, to mark where the saplings are. A few of them got two. They were so buried and trimmed material, I didn’t want to risk accidentally hitting them with the weed trimmer! I’ll be looking to make sure they all have at least two sticks marking each of them, when the cardboard get laid down.

From this end, the two saplings marked in the foreground are the two highbush cranberry.

It took adding one more length of extension cord, but I was able to trim around the sea buckthorn, too.

Since I had the trimmer in the area anyhow, I used it around all the trellises, the hulless pumpkin patch, and the bean tunnel.

The goal was to beat the heat, but I failed. By the time I was working on the bean tunnel, the thermometer attached to it was reading 30C/86F in the sun. Our high of the day is supposed to be 25C/77F, and we are now under a severe thunderstorm watch. When I headed out this morning, we were being warned of possible thunderstorms on the weekend, and just possible showers later today!

I kept at it, though, and was able to use the trimmer around the crabapple trees. The one I’m standing next to, to take this picture, died over the winter and will need to be cut away. There are a couple other sickly ones down the row that need to be removed, and the others need some pruning, but that will have to wait.

I’m hoping to be able to head out again with the lawn mower, set as high as it can go, to finish around the garden area. Even the lowest spot near the branch pile in the background is finally dry enough to mow.

The metal ring in the foreground was something I brought to do burns over old crabapple tree stumps that were infected with a fungal disease. It’s over a taller one that hadn’t been burned completely away. Currently, the ring is full of an ant hill!

We have SO many ants this year!

In other things, whatever happened to our phone last night was no longer an issue this morning. We can use our land line again. I did get an email response from the phone company to try disconnecting all but one phone and seeing if it was still an issue, which I’d done (there’s only 2 lines to disconnect; the extra handset for the cordless phone doesn’t connect to the land line on its charger base). I wrote back to explain that it was working again this morning.

It sounds like there is a short somewhere. Possibly due to rodent damage somewhere. I’m guessing the cause of the problem is outside the house itself. If it’s a short, we could lose our connection again, at any time. In my email response, I did include that possibility. It would require a tech to come and test the lines, though. They’d be able to do that at the pedestals at the fence lines, one of which is hidden by trees in the first two photos at the top of this post, at first. From there, they would know if they have to come to the house and test again or not.

For now, I’m just happy the phone started working again on its own!

The Re-Farmer

Wet, wet and more wet!

I am so, so glad the girls were able to get the clogged downspouts cleared yesterday! We had a thunderstorm last night, and are currently under weather alerts for more severe thunderstorms.

This is the one, draining into the north yard, that was causing the most problems. It is under this corner that the most water is leaching into the basement. This basement does have weeping tile, but they are not working as they should anymore, and are probably clogged at this end.

There is another downspout at the south end, but it had only the short piece of eavestrough at the end to divert the water away from the house. For some reason, we’ve got about a dozen or more downspouts in the garage, so I grabbed one for them, and they set it up to extend into the bed where the dwarf Korean lilac is. With how tall the grass is in the outer yard, it was actually a struggle to get through it, to reach the barn!!

I’ll put up with the extension blocking the path along the house. It’s not as bad as the north corner, but we do have water seeping into the basement a bit in the south corner, too. The wall is partly damaged by the roots from the Chinese elm my mother planted for shade in front of the kitchen window. 😦

While they worked on that, I worked on the trellises.

I decided I’m just going to have to buy more of those bamboo stakes once pay comes in. A pair of them was set up at each of the uprights for the two rows that need trellising. That left me with 4 stakes left. I lashed them to the bottoms of alternate A frames, for 2 on each side. To finish the job on both rows, I’ll need 10 more of these 6′ bamboo poles. Then I used the net from last year and set that up, lacing twine along the ends and at the bottom stakes, to snug it up. We need to get more of this type of net. The spacing is large enough that we can reach through to harvest our beans, peas or cucumbers. The other net we have is 1/4 inch mesh.

After this, I also put a simple rope fence around where we have squash, beans and corn planted. At this point, I just want to stop the deer from walking through it. They’re not after anything there – yet. You’ll see that set up in a photo below.

During the night, the skies opened and the rains poured down! I actually slept through it, awakened only by one exceptionally loud peal of thunder. While doing my rounds this morning, however, I could not believe how much water there is, everywhere! It must have been quite the deluge! I’m still holding out hope to be able to mow the west and north lawns, but that’s not going to happen today, that’s for sure! The west lawn is now mostly under water. Most of the north lawn as well. I’ve never seen that much open water in those areas before.

The squash patch is very wet – thankfully, the straw mulch is helping keep that under control. We’ve had paths between the low raised beds filled with puddles before, but not this much around where the grow bags and the small potato bed are.

I’m actually surprised the mosquito netting has held out. Their purpose is to keep the plants from being pounded by rain or hail, while still letting the water through, and it seems to be working. They’re only held in place with wooden clothes pegs!

I’m standing in water to take the above picture. There is even a large puddle next to the remains of the straw bale. The melons are likely good with the wet – they do need a lot of water, normally – but I’m concerned that some of the potatoes might get drowned.

This is the patch I “fenced” off last night. I used some old conduit pipes I found in the barn and pounded them in place as fence posts. They’ve got 2 lengths of twine running around them, far enough apart that we can just bend down and step through to get to the plants. I also dangled lengths of bells in different places, so even if a deer decided to step through, it would hopefully make a noise and distract it away. I added one of the pinwheels we have to the top of a pipe for the distraction. Little by little, we’ll set up more distractions and noise makers around the garden beds. Eventually, we will probably have to put a hardware cloth fence up, to at least protect the corn.

Assuming the corn and beans survive. As you can see, the sprouting corn is under water in places. The north end of the row with the popcorn in it is all under water. Still no beans coming up next to the sweet corn. Will they survive? I have no idea.

Even the area where the trellises are is full of water. This corner of the yard has been notorious for being incredibly dry and baked hard by the sun. Thankfully, the rows themselves are slightly elevated with the addition of garden soil and mulch, and even our digging and weeding before planting means where the plants are growing, the soil has better drainage.

The nearby sea buckthorn is high enough to not be in puddles – and they are finally unfurling their leaves! Nice to see they all took.

The silver buffalo berry is also doing surprisingly well. Moving south, the land slowly slopes downwards, so the last 10 or so silver buffalo berry are in pools of water. At least three of those have been in water for quite a while, and are still okay. They seem to be quite resilient!

The beds in the east yard are almost surrounded by water. Remarkably, the ground cherries are doing all right. I think that grass mulch is acting as a sponge, keeping them from being drowned out completely. There are pools of water right next to the mulch.

The paths between the low raised beds, and the entire lawn in front of them, is full of water. There is basically a pond in front of the outhouse. Thankfully, the raised beds are making a difference. There is increased growth visible in the Kulli corn, and the beans between them are looking very healthy. The tomatoes and onions are also looking strong – and those onions are really taking off! The 6 transplanted garlic at the far end of the third bed may not all make it, but the rest of the garlic is finally looking like they are taking off. I figure they are at least a month behind the garlic in the main garden area.

The other beds in the south yard are all high enough to be out of water. It looks like all 10 of the sunchoke tubers planted are now sprouted; some of the tubers have multiple stalks coming up. The asparagus and strawberry bed are right next to the vehicle gate, which is full of water, but the bed is doing well. Likewise, the beds along the chain link fence, on either side of the people gate, are above water and doing well. Still no signs of white strawberries.

The old kitchen garden has a slightly different situation. We’ve deliberately built it up over the past 4 years and have the retaining wall at one end, so it’s above the water that is in the lawn surrounding it. The house itself also usually keeps parts of it from getting rained on as much, not to mention the ornamental apple trees. However, the sump pump hose drains into the sun room garden, and that pump is going off quite frequently. It drains next to the bed where we’ve got the beets planted. I shift the end every now and then, so it’s either draining straight down a mulched path between the bed and the laundry platform, or it’s draining into the mulch at the end of the bed, and partly down the path on the other side.

These are all areas that are normally drier than everywhere else. Until this year, the sump pump basically never went off, because we’d been so dry. Now, not only are we getting more rain, but there’s all that nice, clear water from the sump pump reservoir being added. There is currently so much lush growth along the house side of the old kitchen garden that the path we made using salvaged cap stones, bricks and rocks along the house is almost hidden. The high end of the beet bed is almost overgrown with mint – and I dug up and transplanted as much of the mint from there as I could, last fall. Then again in the spring, I pulled up more of it when getting the bed ready for planting! The path is also full of mint at that end, along with loads of crab grass. Moving north along the house, it’s more of those invasive wildflowers, some of which my mother planted deliberately, not knowing they were invasive, and some are the same ones we’ve got taking over all over the place. I don’t mind them in the paths too much, but they’re coming up in the L shaped bed, too, and choking out the lettuce.

We have a drainage hose for the sump pump, but it’s currently being used for the washing machine to drain outside (it sounds like whatever is causing the water to back up in the pipes is still a problem). I’d like to add an extension so that the sump pump drains further away. With the length these hoses come in, we could even move the end to different areas of the old kitchen garden that might need more water, if we wanted. The area it’s draining into right now is getting to be too much of a jungle! 😀

We had already determined that we’ll be building high raised beds for mobility reasons. For some crops, like corn, tomatoes and vining plants, we would still want to have low raised beds. High raised beds are notorious for drying out quickly and needing more water, which is why we are using modified hügelkultur methods to fill them, with all those layers of wood and organic matter acting as a sponge to hold water. This spring has shown us that even for a wet year, there are benefits to having raised beds, as they are keeping things from being drowned, too. Even a few inches of elevation or a mulch is making a difference.

When we get around to building permanent high raised beds in the outer yard, from what I’ve been seeing so far, water like this will be less of a problem. There are patches with water collecting in them, but where we are planning to build the beds seems clear. We’ll see better once we finally get that overgrown grass cut. It’s about 3 ft high, at least! I almost feel like asking one of our neighbours if they have a grazing animal we could borrow. Otherwise, it feels like such a waste to cut it all!

We’ll figure it out.

The Re-Farmer

Food forest: silver buffalo berry

Since planting trees and bushes are more long term than our usual gardening, I decided to start a food forest category.

Including for things that were already here before we moved in, like these Saskatoons. It’s so nice to see them blooming again – though you can very clearly see how high the deer ate the twigs and branches! Hopefully, we’ll have berries this year. Thankfully, these are very flexible, so we should be able to bend them down to harvest them.

We are, however getting a frost advisory tonight. !!! Well, our June 2 last frost date is just an average, after all. It’s supposed to dip to just barely freezing, so most things should be all right.

Including…

The 20 out of 30 silver buffalo berry my daughter was able to transplant today!

She does not take progress pictures, though, so I just got a picture at the end of the day.

Even with the holes already dug, it was a huge job. The soil that was removed was so full of roots, rocks, weeds and gravel, she was using garden soil from the remains of the pile we got last year – which is clear across the garden area. After sitting there for a year, it’s full of roots, too, which she picked out as best she could.

She started at the north end of the double rows, next to the highbush cranberry, as the ground is slightly higher there, and the holes were mud rather than filled with pools of water. It didn’t take long before she was having to deal with standing water, though.

Towards the end, I was able to help her out, adding the mulch and watering it just enough to keep it from blowing away. By the end of it, my poor daughter was so knackered, she could barely lift the shovel on its own, never mind with soil in it!

So the remaining 10 silver buffalo berry (I just realized, I’ve been calling them bison berry, because we don’t have buffalo; we have bison. The label says buffalo) will be planted tomorrow. Holes still need to be dug for the sea buckthorn, but there’s just 5 of those. Then there’s the Korean pine, which is going to be planted in the outer yard.

While she did that, I worked on the main garden area and got some decent progress done, too – but that will be my next post.

The Re-Farmer