Been away from the blog since we started harvesting last summer’s bounty from our garden – school, yard work, a three week trek across the eastern United States, and puppy training have limited both my time to cook and time to blog. This year I am going to try and post a bit more regularly (no promises) and to add periodic updates about “our garden experiment” which of course will include what we do with the vegetables we grow (canning etc.).
As a brief intro to our garden: this is our fourth year of trial and error in growing and preserving vegetables. Each year we have changed and expanded the experiment. In Year 1 we built two 8’x4′ planter boxes and had a very limited mix of vegetables and herbs. Year 2 we re-purposed one planter to ornamental flowers and the other to herbs, while the vegetables were moved to two 12’x10′ beds we dug. Year 3 we repositioned the planters for more sun and dedicated both mostly to herbs; the 2 garden beds have merged into one 30’x13′ bed and the ornamental flowers have moved to an enlarged garden area at the front of the house. A solar powered electric fence was added to keep the raccoons out. Here is the garden bed in late July of last year.
This year (year 4) the garden bed is being graded for more even watering and the individual rows are getting low borders in order to a) try some SFG (Square Foot Gardening) techniques; b) prevent erosion; c) better mark out where to walk; d) look more neat and organized; e) create something that irrigation can be attached to. The trellises for the vining plants are being re-engineered – last year’s were more or less functional but ghetto looking. We have added 4 more raised beds (2′ x 6′ each) against the fence line, not so much to add more growing space as to shore up possible dog escape points along the bottom of the fence.
Last years ‘crop’ included beets, bush beans, carrots, corn, cucumber, eggplant, ground cherry, habanero, jalapeno, parsnip, pumpkin, snap peas, squash, sunflower, tomato, tomatillo, zucchini plus a wider array of herbs. Some things turned out well, some were wasted effort (I mean learning moments). We are still working through last years pickles, relish, tomato sauce, corn, pumpkin, salsa verde, and other canned goods. (We also added in some other fruits and veg from the farmers market and a u-pick farm.) Here is some of what we have left in the cellar.
To recap some of the more important lessons learned to date:
1. Turn off electric fences when weeding or working around them. While being injured by the small energizer we have is unlikely, it is still not pleasant to get zapped in the chest, leg, or (and especially) the groin.
2. A normal lawn sprinkler wastes water, makes a big muddy mess, and is not very effective. Investing in a simple irrigation system with soaker hose, drip pipe, or dribblers as well as a watering can for spot watering is much better and also saves the hassle of moving hoses through the garden all the time.
3. Long-range weather forecasts are extremely inaccurate, either plant well after the last frost date or be prepared to protect your plants. If you do neither the dollar store can (in a pinch) be a great source of inexpensive containers to act as temporary plant covers.
4. A pressure canner and a dehydrator were smart buys and divert a lot of food away from an already overfilled freezer. Boiling water canning generally relies on foods being acidic or sweet – and there is a limit on how much relish and jam you can use in a year! A pressure canner lets you pack most foods in water or their own juices. The dehydrator handles most of the herbs as well as vegetable cubes that can be added to soups and stews. Throw in a food mill for saucing (and seeding) tomatoes too.