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Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

It has been an amazing season so far for the garden. Everything is growing so well and we’ve been enjoying full-sized tomatoes for over a month, which is the earliest we’ve ever managed.

We’re also getting lots more than is typical since the late blight usually cuts into the peak production. Not only are the large amounts of tomato, the tomatoes themselves are really big! This one is our personal record for size and was 2 pounds, 8 ounces! It’s also the third one we’ve had over 2 pounds so a remarkable harvest. There are so many we’re actually doing some canning but this one will be carved up for dinner!

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The black raspberries have mostly settled in so I thought it was time to talk a bit about the findings so far.

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I put in a number of plants in early 2016 and was given another group last spring so we have a mix of 1 and 2 year olds. Last fall was busy so we didn’t do much in the way of care or clean-up on them either. They are planted in bed that has partial shade to almost full sun. It was were the neighbours hooked up to the sewer system so while it was well dug earth, it wasn’t really improved.

This variety fruits on the second year canes so there was only a very light crop last year. This year was a different story!

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We’ve been getting an average of 1-2 cups a day for most of the past couple of weeks. There are still some left to ripen but most are finished now. I expect we’ll only get another 6-8 cups.

While they are very productive, getting the fruit is a bit harder than picking the fall reds. The branches are very high, so some easily rise above 5′ to 6′ high in beautiful arcs, and all are equipped with vicious thorns. The light picking last year left my hands and arms really scratched up so this year I made some armour. A pair of older leather gloves had their fingertips cut off and a bit of brown faux leather was used to make a pair of bracers. They may not be pretty but they work. I’m still getting a few scratches around my elbows and some clothing snags, but am otherwise unscathed. To be clear, this isn’t me being overly sensitive, some sort of protection is a requirement. Even the birds have left them alone.

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The fruit itself has a surprising, unique flavour that is significantly different from the red. I’d always wondered why “blue raspberry” flavour had no bearing on any raspberry I’d ever tried but it’s clear it was based on fresh black ones. While they are pleasant fresh, they are, in our opinion, best used as a cooking berry. They cook up with solid, yet juicy texture and a deeper, richer “raspberry” flavour. The colour is also lovely. The red ones tend to both get a bit mushy and their red colour can also end up looking grey when cooked and mixed with other things. With the blacks, they cook to a rich purple with deep reddish juice. The smaller, drier fruits also hold together better and they work more like a blueberry in terms of being easy to be mixed in and still hold on to their shapes. They make a lovely pie.

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Overall, the black raspberries have made a well timed addition to the fruit collection. They are a great cooking berry and their timing has fallen in a fairly empty period. The strawberries are done and the blueberries are just starting so it gave us a nice bit of small fruit coverage. The plants seem low maintenance. We’ll need to remove this years fruiting canes in the fall and intend to do a deep leaf cover again. While they are extremely well armed, it is possible to pick around them and they have fended off both birds and other berry thieves.

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We have a pretty wide assortment of edible plants on the property already but I am unable to resist adding more. The latest find is a clove current. We have some black currants already and used to have a couple of large red currant bushes in the past. (the red were taken out to make room for things that we will actually eat) What appealed to me about this one is that it’s a native to North America. It’s called a clove currant since the flowers smell like clove. They are edible and I tried one and the taste is very much like a light vanilla with a hint of clovey spice. They would make a nice addition to a fruit or light green salad. (I’m going to be tempted to try candying them when we have more) Apparently, the berries are a bit bigger than the black and similar in flavour, but milder. That sounds like a winner to me!

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For the first time, I’m trying to grow some potatoes. My general philosophy about food gardening is to stick to growing stuff that either has a very high value or where there is a significant taste/quality difference between what you can grow and what you buy. Also, things that just aren’t available to easily buy. Permaculture is preferred as is ease of growing/care/harvest.

Perennial herbs are the best example of paying for themselves. A few dollars for a pot of something like thyme, lavender or lovage and you have a permanent and constant supply of stuff that can run several dollars or more for a tiny amount, if you can find decent quality at the store. Most herbs are also extremely low-effort too. Put them in and forget about them until you want some!

The small fruit plants like the raspberries, haskap and strawberries are ones where you save your money over the long term. Even in season, raspberries run $2-$3 a pint and we’ll pull 2-6 cups a day off the hedge, often for 1-2 months, and have for years. Aside from some fall clean-up and feeding, they also need very little care. (they taste better too and we know they are pesticide free)

Tomatoes are a case where there are some savings overall in growing them, but the big value is in the quality difference between homegrown and what’s available in market. There are few cases where you can now find some of the more interesting and exotic varieties at some farmers markets, but generally, the best tasting tomatoes are too finicky or fragile to be grown commercially. There’s a reason something like 80% of home veggie gardens include tomatoes!

This has all be a long-winded way of saying that I generally don’t bother with potatoes. They are something that is easy enough to find at the seasonal markets for great prices and good quality so I haven’t been giving them garden space before now. They only went in this year because the bed beside the store is partially shaded and it just doesn’t work out that well for most of our priority crops. Last year, I put in some sunchokes and hope to eventually have them take over about half (the most shaded section) of the total bed. They’re not there yet so I needed to fill the space for this season and found a nice bag of assorted, slightly exotic, seed potatoes. One of the types is a deep, beet level purple and I was wondering if it would be hard to tell which is which, but looking at the plants as they come up, it’s really easy to tell which ones are the purples due to the deep red veining on the leaves. They went in in a random mix and we might end up trying to dig some as early as July, in the hopes of tiny, tasty baby spuds. I’ll update as the experiment continues.

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Last year, I’d taken the pruned bits from my hardy kiwis and potted them up. All the surviving pots were buried in one of the beds for the winter.

This past week I pulled them out and moved all the living ones to new, single pots. They all had good sized root balls so I’m optimistic about the process. I have 12 plants with 11 being female and one male. That ratio isn’t ideal, but the males seem more fragile.

We took pretty heavy damage on the older ones from bunnies this winter. They had been fine the 2 years before but this winter saw 3 eaten back to smaller than they were when I first planted them. A couple more lost 20% to 40% of their branches. One had the bark cleared off the top of most of it’s base but it seems to doing alright so far. The smaller of my 2 males got the worst, but he’s still alive. I don’t know if was due to how cold this past winter was, but clearly, I’ve got to come up with some form of bunny guard, going forward.

The plan now is to keep the babies in their new pots for at least another year then I’ll look at putting them in the ground. It’s still a bit early for me to take a new round of pruning, so I don’t know what this years crop of newborns will be. At the rate things are going, it’ll be a few more years before I’ll have extras to share.

 

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We’ve been continuing to add to the garden, even if I haven’t been all that good about posting the details. One of the major additions was a group of hardy kiwi plants two years ago. They are gendered so we have six females and two males. (one male can pollinate over ten females) All have settled in and are growing, with several doing better than others. They flower and fruit on the second year wood, so we did see a small number of flowers and the berries set in late May. kiwi1

The only problem was that we had no idea when they would ripen or what they would look like when they did. As a result, I spent nearly four months doing regular squeeze checks for ripeness until they turned in mid-September. They were well worth the wait and were sweet and delicious. Easily the best kiwi I’ve ever had.kiwi1kiwi2

They are shade tolerant so we’ve given them the west run of the south fence. The thing with the kiwis is that they are quite vigorous growers and you have to be pretty severe with the pruning, if you want them to maintain a shape. I’d like that fence to be as covered as possible so we attached some support grids to the fence and have been attempting to espalier them along it. It’s going well, but each year I’ve ended up with a chunk of pruned off twigs. Last year, I discovered that the trimmed bits are capable of rooting so this year I made a serious attempt at propagation. I’ve got around 10 survivors in gender marked pots. The plan right now is for me to bury the pots for the winter and we’ll see if any make it. If it works, we’ll finish the west fence and probably add them along the east run as well since the fruits are so tasty. I’m also hoping to be able to share with friends and family.kiwi1

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Last year, one of the bigger garden projects was that we put in four 4’x4′ “squarefoot” gardens. They covered over where the old septic tank used to be and make that space usable for crops. (it was solid clay and gravel so even grass had a hard time surviving in it)

I’m still getting the hang of how to make them work the best way for us but so far, they have been productive, even if I heavily over-planted them last year.

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For this season, I started early and put in the first round of peas in mid April. One batch was our regular sugar snaps and the other was a new one called a grey dwarf that is also supposed to make edible pods. Just this week, both started putting out their flowers and I was pleasantly surprised  at the pretty flowers from the new pea. All the other edible ones I’ve ever grown just had white flowers but these are right up there with most of the sweet peas for the beauty of the flowers. I’m hopeful that the pods will be tasty, but even if they aren’t, I may let a few go to seed since I wouldn’t mind growing these as an ornamental!

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