Some Good Ideas and Some Things You Should Avoid at All Costs: Lessons from My Summer Garden

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This blog post might be more aptly named “Everything-I-took-photos-of-since-May-but-never-blogged-about-because-the-summer-was-too-crazy-and-I-wanted-to-look-at-the-sky-rather-than-a-computer-screen”.

So here we are.  End of August.  Rain outside for the first time in months.  Oak leaves all over the lawn.  And I am coming to terms with the summer ending.  I am pulling things out of my summer garden and getting fall/winter crops going (a little tardy on that, but will see how it goes; am hoping for an Indian Summer).  This has me reflecting on this growing year, and what went well, and what went poorly.  Every year I start the spring with high hopes and new ideas.  I spend January pouring over seed catalogs; then in March I watch the first triumphant seeds push out of the ground.  It is all hope and ideas and joy.  Then by this time of year, everything is a little dry and tired looking.  This year I feel a little dry and tired too.  It feels good to pull out the dead stuff and put the gardens to rest for the winter.  The rain is welcome.  Let’s all hibernate so we have energy to feel hopeful again next spring.

Like most people, every year I try new things in my garden.  Some things work, and some things do not.  There are usually unexpected problems as well.  In a short and sweet fashion, I’d like to try to share as much of this as possible, mostly with pictures.

Things that Went Well and Good Ideas

Rather than having half of the 3/4 acre lot fenced off as pasture, including the only area that gets full sun, we moved the fence to the corner behind the greenhouse.  We sold our goat Lucy and decided to just get gardens and chickens figured out this year.  Master one thing before moving on to the next.

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Still plenty of room for the chickens, but this opened up the whole middle, sunny area for raised beds.  So in March, while my husband was in Nepal making a film, my dad came over and helped me make raised beds as a birthday gift.

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IMG_2056I used the same Hugelkultur method I blogged about previously, and that worked really successfully in my greenhouse.  Basically, you throw logs in the bottom of your raised beds to act as giant sponges.  They absorb moisture, and you have to water less often.  As they break down, they also release nutrients and heat.  I threw some composted chicken manure on top of that.  Then my dad built the raised beds around that.

IMG_2063(And yes, I dug out that entire pile of rocks just from beneath this one raised bed).  Once the bed was constructed, I scooped in horse manure my dad had picked up in his truck on the way over, and soil.  It ended up being about 50% manure and 50% soil.

IMG_2065My dad then tilled it all together in each raised bed.  We were both a little worried that it was too much manure, but that’s what it took to fill the beds, so we just decided to try.

IMG_2080Then a couple of weeks later, on Easter, my mom and my son helped me plant seeds.  My parents are divorced, but I loved that somehow they were both involved in helping me create our summer garden.

As I mentioned, the hugelkultur garden in my greenhouse did really well in the spring.  In about February, I planted snap peas, kale, carrots, spinach, lettuce, arugula, and swiss chard in the ground.  Everything came up and did really well.

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IMG_2088I taught my two year old son which plant was kale, and he loved coming in the greenhouse with me to pick and eat some kale.  (To any parent:  if you have trouble getting your kids to eat veggies, let them plant something in the garden, and I bet they will go pick it and eat it).

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IMG_2085I had a great harvest of French Breakfast Radishes this year.  However, I am actually not much of a radish eating fan.  I always plant them because they are one of the first seeds you can put in the ground in the spring, and you get a harvest so quickly.  So it’s rewarding.  But I don’t like eating them that much.

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HOWEVER, inspired by Korean BBQ cooked by our friends Jesse and Bo, I decided to try pickling radishes.  This went very well; we went through them very quickly.  I can’t find the recipe I used (as this was a couple of months ago now and I wasn’t smart enough to bookmark it), but here is one that is very similar.  Basically, you slice up radishes, put them in a jar with garlic and peppercorns.

IMG_2148You then heat vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a saucepan.  You pour that over the radishes and close up the jar.

IMG_2149These were so good!  I will be growing WAY more radishes in the future, and will be pickling them.  We ate this on sandwiches, salads….all kinds of things.

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I also decided to set aside some fruit this year.  My friend and I went fruit picking one day and ended up with 30 pounds of blue berries, raspberries, and boysenberries.  We split it between the two of us, and and I froze most of it.  I did not have time to can it at that time, and decided I can always thaw it and make some jam later.  At least is is safely tucked away for winter.

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Let’s see….what else was successful?  I guess we just had an all-around good harvest.  Things grew and produced flowers and fruit.  Here are some pics…..then on to the “what went not so well”…

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Things that Went Poorly and Should be Avoided

I previously posted about how to hatch chicks and raise them using a broody hen.  This went fine.  But the only place I had to put them, separate from the flock, was in an old rabbit hutch in our yard.  I let the mamma hen roam freely with the chicks.  When they were about a month old, I put them in with the other chickens.  What I learned:  NEVER, EVER allow chickens to roam about in an area you later do not want them to be.  I don’t think that chickens have very big brains, but they are tenacious creatures of habit.  These chicks have grown into master escape artists.  I have spent the whole rest of the summer trying to keep them out of my garden.  I have not had ONE SINGLE ripe tomato.  Just as they start to turn color, I come out to find this:

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So I fix every hole in the fence I can find one weekend, sure I’ve solved the problem.  Next morning, they are strutting around the yard again, more harvest eaten.  I work full-time, so it is a few days or weeks before I can try again.  I clipped wings.  Twice.  I fixed the fence.  I added height to a section of the fence I thought they were flying over.  Still, they are out in my garden.  I resorted to trying to fence off each individual raised bed itself, and even that did not work.  They ate almost all of the red tomatoes.  All of the baby cucumbers until I fenced around them.  They annihilated all of my lettuce.  Pecked holes in most of my winter squash.  And scratched up all of the second planting of lettuce I tried to put in.  It has turned into an epic battle.

Only the chicks that were allowed to roam the yard get out, all of the others don’t even try.  All they know is their pen, and they are content with that.  But the ones that know the outside world cannot be stopped.  If you raise baby chicks, never let them roam in an area you do not want them to roam later.  I do have to say that the roosters of this bunch have been destined for the freezer from the beginning, but I am now going to feel much better about that fate.  I will get to eat my ripe tomatoes after all.

Also, although the hugelkultur experiment went well in general, I learned that using green cottonwood branches was a mistake.

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The branches sprouted all over in my raised beds!  A cottonwood forest was trying to grow in my raised beds.  Almost every day I had to weed out the sprouts of baby trees trying to grow out of my beds.  By mid-summer, when it was dryer, the rockets of sprouts slowed down.  In hindsight, however, I’d not use freshly cut branches again.  Find stuff that has sat out long enough to not want to sprout.

By the end of the summer, I also just fell down on the job.  I went from part-time to full-time work in May, and felt the change.  I struggled to keep up with the house and garden, I cried a lot (this concept of work/not work for moms deserves its own whole blog….I’ll do that one next).  And mostly felt like the garden didn’t quite meet up with the ideals I had for it this spring.  Much of my harvest got eaten by chickens.  I didn’t can a single thing.  I should have dressed everything with compost at some point in the summer and never got to it, so some things were not as prolific as could have been.  AND YET, I must remember that I made totally new raised beds from scratch, tried new techniques, grew new varieties of crops, discovered pickling radishes, and raised up 12 new chicks hatched from my own hens, all while moving up to full time work .  I did OK.

And now I am ready for the rain, for pulling out the dead stuff from this year and putting in a conservative fall crop.  For taking a deep breath and resting.  Resting until the spring brings back more hope and new life…..

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Oh, I know about battling with chickens… it’s so depressing to lose veg to them. I always think about the eggs when ours do it!
    You have achieved loads, so don’t feel blue and you will have more successes next year!

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    1. k8latte says:

      Thanks! Yes, having amazing eggs is very worthwhile…..

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  2. emily says:

    i’d love to know what you’re trying out for fall! i need some inspiration and motivation. our summer garden did ok even with mountains of weeds choking it out. so thankful for oregon and its kindness to inattentive gardeners.

    don’t feel bad! we just did our first batch of canning yesterday. having a baby in canning season has just thrown me all off my game. i bought an entire extra freezer for produce so that i can do some canning this winter. 😉

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    1. k8latte says:

      You mean you weren’t canning the day after giving birth?? 😉

      I have never done great at the fall gardening thing, other than some kale and swiss chard that have survived. But I was inspired by this Territorial Seed planting chart. I think it’s not too late to sow carrots, onion seeds, lettuce, fava beans, snap peas, arugula and radishes. According to their chart, it may be too late, but I’m also going to try sowing some kale, swiss chard, and beets and hope they make it.

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  3. really a wonderful post! Did you have any issues with deer and your berries? That is a concern I have for next year or so. Any advice is appreciated!

    Like

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