Saturday, April 18, 2015

Garden Review

It's April, and in western NY, that means it's time to get outside and get digging.  It's pretty muddy out, though, so every time I go out to the yard, I have to wear these:

And I'm out every day, because I'm just so excited about the return of spring.  The flowers are blooming, the birds are singing, the earth is greening.  The hill sides are even turning from brown to red as the tree buds swell and ready for opening. 

I suppose I should back up a bit and mention last year's garden, before I jump ahead into this year.  We had a nasty winter in 2013-2014.  It was not only incredibly cold (many weeks of -10 degree weather with up to -40 degree wind chills), but it was what they call an open winter; there was hardly any snow on the ground.  Combining those two things wrecks a lot of havoc on nature.  Many plants died; I lost my dwarf  blueberries, my Russian red kale, my raspberries died down to the ground, and our chock cherry even died back a bunch.  On top of that mess, we had a very cold and rainy summer.  It seemed like it rained every other day.  I didn't have to water but once a week, whereas in a normal summer, I have to water every day. 

Despite all that, my garden did remarkably well!  I got the best tomato crop I've ever gotten, even though everyone else in the area was having a terrible tomato year.

That's a 1.3 pound ox heart tomato.
Not all of  my plants did as well as my tomatoes, but it was a successful year, all around.  Because I'm a huge nerd and I love numbers and spread sheets, I kept track of how much produce I harvested and multiplied it by how much we'd pay for it if we'd bought it in the store.  By year's end, I'd harvested $356.77 worth of fresh produce.  I call that a success. 

The winter we had in 2014-2015 was just as cold as the year before (actually, it was colder; we had the coldest February on record, seriously), but the difference is that we had a ton of snow.  I think at its deepest, the snow was probably three feet high; of course, that's not counting the snow drifts or the places Chad piled up the snow as he shoveled it (probably 5 feet high at the tallest).  The snow was a huge pain when we had to shovel it, but it did a lot of good for the garden.  It provided a lot of protection to plants and kept the ground from freezing so deeply (or at all, in some places).  Plus, I hear old timers call snow white fertilizer because of the tasty things it leaves behind as it melts.  I'm not entirely sure what it leaves behind, but I tend to believe old timers.

I've been super anxious for spring to get here.  I have lots of lovely plants in the basement going, gearing up to get planted in the next month or two:

Lettuce, coleus, petunias, and catnip.

Tomatoes, kale, onions, peppers, and unsprouted cabbage.

A close up of my tomatoes.

And a close up of my peppers!

I'm experimenting with wall-o-water type things this year.  They're a water filled ring that you put around your tomatoes (or other plants) so that you can set them out early.  The water collects and holds solar heat through the day, and then that heat keeps the plants from freezing to death at night.  I'm planning on setting the tomatoes out four weeks early, which I hope should give me a much bigger harvest!  And I figure if I kill off my tomatoes by accident, well, that's ok.  It was a fun experiment, and I can always go buy starts at a nursery. 

I bought two new blueberry bushes to put in pots last fall.  I waited until the local nursery was having a half off sale.  They were out of the bushes I had originally wanted, but by dumb luck, they had forgotten that they had a bunch of Pink Lemonade blueberry bushes in the back!  Pink Lemonade blueberries are, well, pink blueberries, and I've been wanting some of those bushes for years now.  And now I have two!  I stuck them in the old blueberry barrels with some coffee grounds and hoped for the best.  We ended up pulling them into the garage midway through winter, because we were sure they wouldn't make it with -16 degree nights.  And, as far as I can tell, they have made it.  The buds are swelling and greening up nicely! 

I bought a couple blueberries at Home Depot last week, too, to act as pollinators.  The PL blueberries are mostly self pollinating, but the tag says they do better with some friends.  So I bought one Polaris, and one Chandler.  I ended up putting them in the front of my main garden.  It's hard to see them, but they're behind the green fencing on the right in this picture.

The main garden, all ready for planting.

And here's a close up of one of the new blueberry's buds, ready to open:

I had the best batch of compost last year that I've ever had, and I got a lot, too, so the gardens got a great boost last fall.  I only had a couple of soil tests left from last year, so I only got to test a couple of my squares this spring.  But from what I can see, that compost must have been pretty awesome stuff, because it looks like I have plenty of N, P, and K to last me through a good part of the season.  Woo!

Gee, there's lots of updates, actually.  I haven't even gotten to the apple trees.

Can you see them?  They're those sticks in the green fencing.
Last year I bought two dwarf apple trees; one Goldrush, and one Liberty.  They did surprisingly well last year; I even got one little apple forming, but Chad made me pick it off.  Sigh.  But he was right.  Apparently, if you let these dwarf apples fruit too soon, they'll stop growing any taller.  Their full size is 6-8 feet, and they're currently about 5 feet, but last year they were only about 3 feet.  I think I'll probably let them fruit a little this year.  I'm excited to try my own apples! 

The exciting thing about these apples is that I'm going to try growing them completely organic, which I hear is quite a challenge.  Obviously whoever said that didn't have access to Google!  I found tons of info on the best ways to grow apples organically, and I've already started getting to work on it.  I gave them a good spray of Neem oil as a dormant oil, to kill off any overwintering bugs, and once they fruit, I'm going to bag the baby apples so worms can't get access to them.  Take that, nature!  Plus, I have an amazing micro ecosystem in my yard.  Because I use no pesticides and no artificial fertilizers, I have a lot of natural predators that keep the pest population in check. 

Hmmm... anything else?  I guess nothing major.  I guess I'll finish this post off with pictures!

Our front garden.


And one little snow drop.

My side garden with the strawberry bed (on the right).

The long box in the main garden.  That's garlic coming up.

Another view of the main garden.

Baby lupines coming up!

One of the raspberry brambles.

And our chives!
Happy spring, everyone!  Make sure to get outside whenever possible!

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