Garden progress

 

Spring up here has been a series of mild days punctuated by bouts of cold, almost winter-like weather and occasional days of hot weather. This weekend it feels like winter, there was even a dusting of snow, and the overnight lows are in the mid-30’s and upper-20s. That makes it a little difficult to put out tomatoes and peppers so they remain indoors under lights.

Officially, we are in a drought which began during the winter and that may continue into summer. The rest of May is forecast to be warm and dry but with small chances of thunderstorms. In the meantime I continue to plant and get the rest of the garden ready.

I planted about 250 feet of yellow Stugarter onions and 100 feet of potatoes (Ozette and Purple Peruvian) on April 14 because back then the weather was so warm and it seemed that it would continue that way. Soon cooler weather returned but that did not seriously affect the onions or potatoes and both have emerged above the soil. The rest of the potatoes will go in on Monday.

At about the same time I planted the onions and potatoes the garlic started to poke through the mulch. Now the plants have 4 to 5 leaves. About two weeks later the first shallots and bunching onions emerged above the soil. Rhubarb appeared early and has continued to grow. It seems way ahead of last year’s crop and I will start harvesting next week.

The first batch of chard, beet, parsnips, beets, kale, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower was planted last week. No rain of any consequence is forecast and even though they are mulched I will have to water them if anything is to germinate.

Spring arrives

Rhubarb
Rhubarb on May 5th and almost ready for the first harvest.

 

Spring has been coming on for a long time now but with frequent interruptions including three more snow falls, cold weather, frosts, and a week of cold winds gusting from 15 to 30 mph from Lake Superior. To go with the wind we got five inches of rain in two days with the usual “flooding in low-lying areas” as the weather forecasters put it but it made for some fun canoeing. But life persists having adapted long ago to our unsteady weather cycles.

The willows, hazels, red maples, alders, and aspens are past their flowering stage and going into seed production. Now there are many small flowering plants (hepatica, anemone, bloodroot, violets) blooming in the forests taking advantage of the warm sunlight that can reach them before the trees fully leaf out. In the forests and thickets, too, the small flocks of chickadees that foraged in the frozen tree tops during the winter are now accompanied by sparrows, woodcock, and flycatchers. Barn swallows and bluebirds are claiming nest boxes along the edges of my fields and today two robins began building a nest in the fork of an old apple tree.

 

Spring
Hepatica, viburnum, and meadow willow coming back to life in the warm sun of spring.

 

My gardens are coming along well. During the warm breaks in March and April I re-built my squash beds and tomato bed. By June the moldy hay and bedding should be well on their way to becoming soil and ready for planting. As always garlic and rhubarb began poking up very early in mid-April. The rhubarb has grown huge but looking back at last year it is pretty much on schedule. If the weather gets warm for the next week, however, I expect to be making the first harvest in May not June.

 

Onions
Planting yellow Stuttgarter onions on April 15th.

 

I’ve already planted yellow Stuttgarter onions and some potatoes. The onions are starting to show through the mulch. The potatoes seem a bit slower. This weekend on the garden agenda is planting of cole crops and root crops and massive bee forage patches of dill, anise, coriander, fennel, peas, buckwheat, vetch, and mustard.

August 1

 

July is over but during this month my gardens put on an amazing amount of growth. The winter squash now covers the trellis to a height of six feet and I think soon it will reach seven feet. My corn patches are at full height which for all the varieties is only five feet but every row is full of leafy plants with most sporting developing ears. I am looking forward to an abundant harvest of squash, fresh sweet corn, and dry corn.

During this month, which has been very hot, I have harvested all the garlic, onions, and shallots. These are drying now before going into storage. The garlic harvest was way down from previous years much as I expected. Last year a disease wiped out almost all my plants rotting the bulbs. As a result I had very little good seed garlic to plant. I will have enough to replant this year and an adequate amount for eating but no garlic binges this winter. Fortunately, the Stuttgart onions, yellow bunching onions, and shallots produced well with almost no loss from disease.

It looks like there will be a good apple crop this year. The trees which survived the rabbits and voles that ate off their bark during the winter of 2013/2014 have recovered and are heavy with apples. The wild plums have fewer fruit this year which I attribute to a cold wet week when they were flowering. But I know of many places in the area where I can collect wild plums from along roadsides so there will be enough for the winter.

Root crops, potatoes, cole crops, beans, tomatoes, all the squash and cucumbers are doing well. There will probably be close to a ton of squash this year. Like last year I will use the excess to feed my sheep and chickens through the winter.

The weather in July was very hot for Minnesota and on a few days the high was 90 degrees. Most of the time the highs were in the upper 80’s during the day and lows between the 65 and 75 at night. Coupled with high humidity this made for some muggy days that did not go well with weeding, pulling onions, or hauling and spreading mulch and spent bedding. But those things had to be done so I broke up the day into three parts: early morning work outside, late morning to early afternoon stay inside, late afternoon to sunset work outside.

This month was good for the monarch butterflies. The first ragged looking migrants appeared in June and laid eggs on the new milkweed plants. I counted about 30 caterpillars on the milkweeds throughout the month. Then they were gone having formed chrysalises somewhere in the bushes. This past week there have been several new monarchs with fresh colors flying around the milkweeds. Yesterday I saw a new monarch caterpillar so the next generation which will migrate south to Mexico this fall has already started.

Beets this year

A mix of beet varieties
A mix of beet varieties

 

I’m trying beets this year and decided to go with a mix of varieties from red to yellow and round to cylindrical. Germination was slow at first and once that happened the plants seemed to sit still for a long time. Now they’ve put on some more leaves and a few have tiny tap roots that look like beets.

Beets are one of several kinds of new root crops I’m trying this year. Most of these beets are a late season harvest to be stored and eaten throughout the winter. There are a few varieties in the mix that are earlier and I suppose I’ll know which ones they are when I see them. Any small beets that are thinned no matter the variety can be eaten, too. Even mangelwurzels, which are huge beets grown primarily as stock feed, can be eaten when small as can the young leaves.

The rows have been weeded and I watered several times each evening this past week because the weather has been so hot and dry. Now I will mulch between the rows with a layer of spoiled hay to replace what has deteriorated during the summer.

Root crops like beets, turnips, rutabagas, and carrots have been a mainstay in northern gardens. These root crops are tolerant of cooler weather and grow better as the season winds down and temperatures cool off. Getting food from my gardens every year is a challenge but by planting many kinds of crops and taking a few chances on some new things I am able to produce a variety of good food each season for myself and my animals.

The East Garden

East Garden

 

This is my east garden which, in 2010, was a fallow hay-field with miserable pale brown soil that grew daisies and stunted grass. Since them I’ve added tons of moldy rotten hay, biomass from vetch and rye cover crops, and bedding with manure from my sheep sheds. The soil is still stony but the texture has become crumbly and the color much darker, sure signs of increased organic matter.

The view in the picture is looking south at the winter squash trellis and the Painted Mountain Corn. To right of the corn is a strip of yellow mustard, buckwheat and vetch planted to feed pollinating insects. In the foreground and out of focus are other crops: more squash on the right, shell and drying beans, tomatillos, mixed varieties of beets, amaranth, and Zebulon sunflowers.

The garlic has been harvested and in their place I have transplanted most of the broccoli and cauliflower, about 75 plants so far, that I started earlier. Once the onions are harvested I will be transplanting more broccoli and cauliflower and some small cabbages that might do better if they had some room. There is also a potato patch about 100 feet long by 12 feet wide and strip of Kamut wheat. Along the east side of the garden is a wide strip of vetch planted for the bumblebees and other pollinators and as a larval food plant for the clouded sulfur butterfly (Colias philodice) and the alfalfa butterfly (C. eurytheme).

Everything is growing wildly this summer from a combination of warm weather, rain, and soil improved by organic methods. Just today silks and pollen appeared on some of the Painted Mountain Corn only fifty-four days since planting.

Flowers on the squash

Bumblebee in spaghetti squash flower
Bumblebee in spaghetti squash flower

 

My squash, cucumbers, and edible cucuzzi gourds have really gone wild this month. It must be the hot (for Minnesota) weather. The winter squash trellis will soon be buried under a mass of vines that sport leaves a sixteen inches across. They don’t call them Cucurbita maxima for nothing.

 

Hubbard squash flower nearly six inches across
Hubbard squash flower nearly six inches across

 

The edible cucuzzi gourds, tromboncina, and butternut squash are growing fast and are more advanced than I’d expected for this time. Flower buds are clearly visible and I don’t need a magnifying glass to be sure. The edible cucuzzi gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) make interesting white flowers and I’m looking forward to seeing these when they bloom.

 

 

There are small fruits on the crookneck squash and many flowers on the scallopini squash so very soon the first harvest of tender squash fruits will happen. Other squash are coming along well, too, including Tonda Padana, Zapalo Plomo, and a few unknowns.