Friday, March 25, 2011

Oh! And we got married in Iowa, by the way!

January 8, 2011. It. was. perfect.

Welcome back!

That would be aptly titled if I'd written this a few days ago, when the snow had all but melted away, and I could welcome joy, sunshine, and growing things back to the world. But, as Minnesotans know, the first thaw is always a teaser and sooner than later, the ground will once again be covered. And so it is. So.. welcome back, snow?

I have to admit, I was pretty bummed to see it snow just as everything was finally warming up. I meant to start the seeds for this year's garden the day after St. Patrick's Day, but snow depression got the better of me and I haven't gotten around to it yet. Soon though! I know that I really need to make it happen soon, or my plants won't be fabulous and prolific like they were last summer. Speaking of last summer, I never did post fall update pictures. That's because I was way too busy cooking and freezing and eating. Between harvesting the fruits of my labor, getting my classroom ready for a new school year, and celebrating at the MN State Fair, I didn't have any spare moments to blog.

So to update verbally:

Carrots: awesome. They were big and crunchy and delicious for everything from raw carrot sticks to chicken noodle soup.

Onions: Very small. Yummy, but golf-ball size or smaller. I started them in the ground (so.. June?) from seed, and that was a mistake. This year I'm starting them from bulb, so they've got a major head start. We'll see what happens.

Tomatoes: Wow. I couldn't have asked for a better tomato harvest. Every kind (red cherry, yellow pear, red grape, beefstake, heirloom, etc) grew well and produced well. The plants in the raised beds grew faster and produced more than the plants on the ground, but the ground plants still produced.

Green onions/scallions: Wow. Easy, tasty, good harvest. I grew way more than I could use, I should look it up and see if I can freeze them. I think a neighborhood cat or something similar tried to use a corner of this bed as a litter box though, that was odd. But like I said, grew way more than I could use, so I just left those plants alone & gave them to the chickens later.

Bell peppers: These also took longer to mature than I'd expected. I think I transplanted them, so that means they got a head start inside. I should've kept a journal though, because it's possible that I started them from seed outside (which means they wouldn't have been in the ground until June). Also they had a lesser amount of sunlight than the tomatoes, so possible that this also increased the time. I was able to enjoy plenty of these sweet peppers, but there were so many fruits that froze on the vine because they hadn't ripened by frost time. I should also research these to see if they can be harvested early and ripened indoors or frozen.

Hot peppers: I bought this as a plant from a nursery. It matured quickly and provided more peppers than I could use. I could have dried some of them, I guess, to use in the chili I make in the winter, but I didn't. Was overloaded with everything else I guess, and hot peppers aren't my favorite (or very useful in my cooking).

Broccoli: Excellent. I bought 2 plants from a plant sale when I was volunteering with the rain barrel people. It put out small florets at first which I thought was strange, but after I harvested a few times, it put out bigger and bigger heads of broccoli. I couldn't believe how much it produced. Very useful for my summertime mac & cheese (mac & cheese plus green onions, broccoli heads chopped into tiny pieces, and diced tomatoes).

Cauliflower: Okay. I bought it same way as the broccoli. 2 plants, both produced decent heads. I harvested kind of late I think, so it wasn't as tasty as if I'd harvested a little sooner. It didn't seem to regenerate, so seemed like a waste for the amount of work (watering) put in. At least compared to the broccoli, which just kept coming!

Cabbage: (green cabbage) Great! I'm not a huge fan of cabbage, but I picked up 2 plants, same way as broccoli. After harvesting the first heads, I kept watering and new heads grew! So, good plant. Watch out for slugs though, they LOVE cabbage plants.

Cilantro: Grew this from seed and from a plant hastily purchased late in the season from Walmart (around the time that tomatoes were mass-producing). Seed grew well (and quicker than expected) and plant was good as well. I planted this after harvesting the cauliflower and realizing it would not regenerate, so I pulled the plant and put in the cilantro. Yum for pico de gallo!

Cucumbers: Tried 2 varieties (one smooth, one spikey), they both grew fast & were prolific the entire summer long. Laura like the cucumbers especially, I preferred them as table pickles (great recipe). The hens liked it when we'd slice one in half and give it to them to peck clean. They wouldn't eat the rind but they loved the insides. Plant leaves got a white powder mildew thing on them from the summer squash but this didn't seem to kill the plants or harm the cukes.

Yellow summer squash: Also very prolific. Laura loved these for sauteing for lunch at work. I loved them in my spaghetti sauces. They quickly got a strange white powder mildew disease or something like that, and it seemed to slowly kill off leaves/stems, but not the entire plant. And it didn't seem to usually affect the fruit, although occasionally a small fruit would succumb. It was strange, I wasn't sure how to fight it back. Spread to the cucumbers and similar plants (pumpkins too).

Peas & beans: I started these indoors and didn't see them sprout right away so they lacked decent light for the first few days, grew very "leggy". I think that made them not as hardy or prolific, although we did still enjoy peas and beans quite often. I also think they needed a sunnier location.

Cantaloupe/muskmelon: The plants I put by garage did better than the plants I planted along the bed with the grapes/raspberries. Mostly because the damn squirrels messed up all of those beautiful fruits - they'd take a bite out of them and then the fruit would be attacked by insects and rot. So, so difficult to prevent. This year we're thinking of making small wire boxes to put over the fruits as they ripen. The 2 fruits we were able to enjoy were absolutely delicious, so yummy sweet. The spoiled fruits we gave to the hens. They loved it. (But we cried.)

Eggplant: I got a dying eggplant seedling from Robyn. I put it in the ground and it did fine, it produced one eggplant. I didn't know how to tell when it was ripe, so it was harvested too late. Oh well, live & learn. We aren't big eggplant fans over here anyways, but we would've gladly baked it with some parmesan and enjoyed.

Watermelon: complete fail. I planted the seeds directly in the ground. From what I could tell, they never sprouted. Just a bunch of weeds.

Strawberries: Fun, tasty, didn't produce many but they were a definite treat.

Pumpkins: the small pie variety: We got a handful of full-term pumpkins and two or three mini-pumpkins (think golf-ball size). I used a few for pumpkin bread, that turned out okay. Next time I should try to make a pie though, I've never tried that with non-canned pumpkin.

Spinach: Put it in too late. We were able to enjoy some spinach, but I planted the seeds sometime in June (last- after the rest of the garden was planted, I think) and I was bad about watering the bed regularly. Plus we had a weird issue with the raingutters dumping water & tree gunk on the middle of the bed and that messed the soil & small plants up a bit too. Overall I think the front planter was a bad location for the spinach. This year I'll put maybe the broccoli there instead, or maybe the cabbage? I'm not sure. Something that's hard to kill.

Asparagus: Good. I got a few nibbles off of it, but I only planted one small plant so.. yeah. We'll see if it survived the winter or was nibbled to death by bunnies.

Apple tree: Going strong as far as I can tell. Bunnies tried to eat the bark late in the summer so I put a small fence around it, it seemed to heal. We'll see if it puts out flowers this summer, if so I think it'll be fine. It'll be a long time before it grows apples though, at least another 5-10 years.

Basil: grew into a couple of small bushes. Awesome, and very useful in cooking. Right by kitchen door.

Chives: plant was from Mom & Dad's house, it had overwintered on the deck. Hopefully that means it'll spring back once the weather warms up for good. Right now it just looks deadish. It grew well over the summer & fall and was also quite useful.

Sunflowers: Wow, these suckers grew fast & furious. Beautiful flowers, and lots of seeds were dried & harvested! We'll see if the seeds grow this summer! After harvest this year, I'll try to roast some or shell some.. maybe.

Raspberries: planted as bushes (well, roots I guess). They grew well, were tasty, and are probably plotting their takeover of the whole garden as we speak. Not many berries but enough for several treats.

Grapes: I didn't do a lot with my grape plant. I was too overwhelmed with everything else and this one got neglected. It put out two great looking bunches of grapes, but I never got to eat them because I think they rotted on the vine or were stolen by wildlife.

Blueberries: Same as raspberries, although towards the end of summer they seemed to be feeling sad. Probably wrong pH for soil, so they might not be so great this summer. I got to enjoy ripe berries several times, and they were delicious. So I hope I can keep the bushes alive and maybe even happy!

Zucchini: Same as the yellow squash, although I only had one plant so Laura didn't get to enjoy the zukes nearly as much as the yellow summer squash.

There's my post-harvest, post-winter journal. I need to do a better job of record-keeping this year. But since my entire garden was brand new this past year (& I taught summer school & I had a brand new classroom to get ready in the fall), you can understand why I was a bit overwhelmed. No baby steps here!

By the way, this year we're hoping to volunteer with the rain barrel distribution again and snag some free barrels that have the removable lid. They look more like trash cans, but we didn't end up liking the function of the barrels we chose last year. Hard to clean (no fully removable top) and the spout wasn't screw-on, so it sometimes popped off during use (frustrating because then the water sprayed out all over until you could replace the hose). Also the over-flow hose had a tendency to slide off during heavy rains, which was definitely no good and if left unchecked would have caused water damage to our foundation. So while they looked awesome, they didn't perform as well as expected. Better luck this year! :)
Also, loving the hens. This year Laura's going to build a permanent outdoor coop behind our garage and a small winter coop inside our garage. Next spring we'll get 2 large-breed hens (we have mini-breeds currently), they'll lay the whole summer and winter and the following spring we'll add 2 more hens (so 4 total). At the end of fall, we'll butcher & soup the first 2 hens since their egg production will be basically over (after 2 summers of laying). We'll overwinter the 2 hens remaining. Each spring we'll get 2 new hens and each fall we'll butcher the 2 older hens. So we'll have 4 hens in the spring/summer/fall and just 2 during the winter. Winter is the time when you have to buy them massive amounts of chicken feed, they don't need hardly any in the other seasons because they eat bugs, worms, grass, and garden scraps all day long. So.. win win? By the way, we've gotten way more eggs this winter than we could eat. I just don't have as much of a taste for eggs in the winter like I do in the summer. In the summer, I love me a yummy hard-boiled egg. In the winter, I just want soup and fattening sweets like cookies. The eggs do come in handy for baking those cookies though.