Early Harvesting

Photo: two cherries and a bowl of raspberries

Well, after all my efforts with the sweet cherry trees, I harvested a total of three cherries. Very sad. That is all for the season. I had given them foliar sprays, compost and seaweed on the ground, and companion plants. I sprayed them with kaolin clay to guard against pests, put out yellow sticky paper for black cherry aphids, and hung about 50 red wooden fake cherries to deter birds coming round. I watered them when we were having this drought. We didn’t start out with a lot of blossoms, and I think there were only 10-20 cherries that started forming this season–not very many. But by the time they ripened, I could only find three. I ate one, and the other two are in the photo next to the raspberries.

The raspberries, on the other hand, I do hardly anything for–I pruned out the old canes in the fall, and they got a couple foliar sprays when there was some left from the trees. I watered them a couple times during the drought. But now they are producing abundant berries, and this harvest was just the one day’s worth. So frustrating. Especially since I like cherries more than raspberries. I’ve grown raspberries before, but cherries are still new. I do not seem to know the secret. If anyone can tell me, please comment!

I also harvested a big bunch of kale today. After the groundhog sighting, I covered that raised bed with netting and stakes. And a good thing I did! The next day, I caught sight of the groundhog standing up against the framing looking through the netting at the kale. I chased him off, and I haven’t seen him the last few days. I’ve also put urine liquid around the area. So far it seems to be working.

Today, I took off the netting, harvested a bunch of the lower leaves of the kale, did a bit of weeding, and finished thinning the carrots that are also growing there. With kale, I will sauté a bunch of it, and then immediately freeze, for use in winter. I eat kale almost every day! I’m so happy it is doing well. But if you know the secret for sweet cherries, please tell me!

Photo: kale harvest from today

Munimqehs! Groundhog!

Margy and I were chatting in the coolness of our kitchen, when suddenly I thought I saw a squirrel on our back deck, running right under the plastic “owl” that I had bought, supposedly to scare squirrels away from the orchard. That’s what caught my attention. But looking closer, we realized it wasn’t a squirrel, it was a groundhog! I ran outside onto the deck, and it ran too, but I managed to catch this slightly blurry picture to confirm our suspicions. It ran across the patio, through the back yard and over to the trees on the edge.

Photo: Groundhog running across the patio, in the shadow of the bird bath, near a chair.

Margy and I are often torn between totally loving the critters that come into the yard, but also wanting to eat the food we are growing. Munimqehs is the Passamaquoddy word for groundhog, which I learned in the fall of 2018. In Wabanaki stories, Munimqehs is the wise grandmother who has many lessons to teach us about how to be good human beings. How desolate we would be without our animal neighbors!

We haven’t had any groundhogs in the yard for the last few summers. The last one disappeared, we believe due to the intervention of a neighbor. With a groundhog in the yard, however, it is a whole new ballgame for gardening. I immediately went out in the heat, and put together a netting contraption to try to protect our bed of kale, from which I had harvested the first leaves earlier this morning. I happened to have these metal arches and nylon netting, and fastened the netting to the ground with metal stakes. There is already a wire mesh under the raised bed, so no animals should be able to dig up from underneath. We’ll see if this deters our little friend. I might have to also go back to the pee protection scheme that I used to partial success a few years ago.

Raised bed with kale, covered by metal arches and nylon netting

Meanwhile, today I am grateful for the excitement of a critter on the deck, a young one it seems. Let’s see what lessons she/he will have to teach us. We have lots of clover that we’re happy to put on her table. Let’s see if we can be good neighbors.

Hugelkultur Planting!

Yesterday, I finished planting my hugelkultur bed!  I learned some things in the process.  It is very hard to water the whole mound–the water stays on the surface and slides down the sides.  So I made small indented areas along the top of the mound in which to plant seeds so they could hold water: a round bowl-like indentation for a zucchini “hill,” and a square indentation for some bush beans.  I put the first zucchini “bowl” near one end, so that the plant could drape over the edge. I alternated zucchini, then beans, then zucchini, then beans. I found some brown packing paper to use to help block weeds between the plantings, and put some straw in my seed areas for mulch. I used little twigs and stones to hold down the paper.

Hugelkulture planting

I planted three kale seedlings in the next area, then a “bowl” for cucumber seeds at the other end.  I really could only plant in the very top across the mound, because nothing else was stable enough to water and keep the soil.  I did tuck a couple of borage seeds lower into the side, in case they might grow there, since they are good companion plants for all of these. I tried to pick spots that had some support, and under where the beans would be. But it is very hard to water the sides without the soil sliding down. I imagine that if someone made a hugelkultur mound in the autumn, it might settle enough over the winter to be more usable on all of its surface area.  But that idea of planting up both sides didn’t really seem feasible to me, though it was part of what appealed to me in the first place. Right now, planting the squash and cukes which like to spread out with a lot of vines seems the best idea.

hugelkultur Kale

Meanwhile, I planted other kale seedlings tucked into spots around the peach and cherry trees circles in the orchard, along with some lettuce and carrots.  I love the polyculture feel of the food forest.  I now have a total of 13 kale plants thanks to friends Mihku and Sylvia.  I think of them as my tried and true veggie for the year–easy to grow, pick and eat, and freeze for the winter. So far, they have grown really well in our food forest.

Meanwhile, we also have sea kale, a lovely perennial kale that we have already been harvesting in early spring, along with our chives and oregano and thyme. The asparagus has been disappointedly spindly this spring so far. I had been hoping I might get a bunch to eat since this is its third year, but I only had a few spears worthy of snacking on. I guess they need more compost to keep them well fed.  However, I am excited about these new zucchini, bush bean and cucumber plantings.  Wish me luck!

Sea kale

Sea Kale–a bit more pungent than annual kale, so I often mix the two for my own taste–plus sea kale also has little “broccoli” florets that can be eaten as well. This picture is from May 11th. It is best when very new, so we are almost already at the end of its season.

 

 

Hugelkultur, part 3

Continuing to build a hugelkultur garden bed, yesterday, we added some brush to the top and sides of the mound, over the cut grass layer. Margy pounded some branches into the ground on the side as stakes for further stabilization.

hugelkultur Margy stakes

Next, today, I covered it all with dried leaves, one full wheelbarrow plus a big garbage bag full, saved from last fall.

hugelkultur leaves added

Finally, I added about 3 wheelbarrow loads of yard waste compost, and watered all of it. But this stage of adding compost is going to need many more loads before it is finished.  I should be adding several more inches of compost.  The mound is about 15 feet long, and will be 4 1/2 feet wide when complete. I had one of those moments when I thought, “Why did I make it so big?” I think this stage is going to take a while.

hugelkulture Tuesday

Meanwhile, I was pondering the fact that I often feel anxious when I am trying new things in the garden. I was realizing that my parents and grandparents were urban or suburban people. My dad wanted to get back to the land, and was a cowboy for a while, but mostly he worked as a draftsman for the auto industry. His parents tried to homestead in Wyoming, but that fell through and they came back to Detroit. My mom’s parents came from Linz, Austria and Quebec near Ottawa, Ontario, and lived most of their lives in Detroit.  She had flower gardens while I was growing up. So I didn’t learn how to grow food from my family. It has only been as an adult that I’ve tried to learn about food gardens, off and on as circumstances allowed it.

The more I learn, the more aware I am of how much I don’t know. Each plant is like a stranger to me, then perhaps an acquaintance, and I hope in a while it might be a friend. It is hard to believe that we could be relatives to each other.  (Well, except for kale–kale already feels like a relative, since I have grown it for a long time.)  But I try to remember to embrace this beginner’s mind, to be present and attuned to the process. It is good to be outside, to feel the spring, to forget for a while the grief and fear that this pandemic is unleashing.

Winter Kale

winter kaleI just have to say it once more:  kale is amazing! I picked this kale yesterday morning, leaves frozen on the stalk, snow on the ground.  I had already picked most of the kale–just leaving a few tiny leaves that didn’t seem big enough for anything.  But they must have grown a little in the meager sunlight and freezing snowy weather we’ve been having the last two weeks of November.  I don’t know how they do it, but that is why they are so amazing.  The plant just isn’t willing to succumb to the freeze/thaw weather that has killed off most of the other plants.  So when I was walking through the winter orchard, I found several small frozen leaves, broke them off, and cooked them up for breakfast–they taste great!

Kale in snow

Update on Kale

Kale choppingSo right after my last post, I went outside, and cut about 40 big leaves off my kale plants–always from the lower part of the stems.  In between making and eating breakfast and washing dishes, I washed the leaves in groups of ten (by variety), and chopped them up, then washed them again in a salad spinner, which they filled up.

Kale washAfter doing the first batch, which used a lot of water, I figured out that I should save the wash water and bring it out to the garden, where I put it on the kale plants! Then I spinned the kale pieces to dry them, and sautéed them in our big cast iron pan.  I had to start with about half of the batch, then add the second half after the first had cooked down a bit.  I had green curly kale, red or purple curly kale and a double batch of lacinato kale. After sautéing, I cooled them in a bowl in the refrigerator before putting in bags. On the recommendation of other online gardeners, I used a straw to pull out all the air in the bags.

I still have plenty outside on the plants, but now I have these in the freezer.  Ten leaves only filled half a bag, at about 1/2 an inch thick.  That would be about three or four servings in our house, so this is a total of 12-16 servings.    This winter, I will see how they taste.Kale to freeze

Abundance

Myke with kale

[Photo by Margy Dowzer]

The kale has gone crazy this year! I eat some every day, and we’ve given a lot away, but it is still up to my waist in abundance. Not to mention the basil plants, also a few feet tall. Harvesting has always felt like the most challenging part of gardening–how to keep up with everything the earth is producing. I see posts of friends who are canning and drying and freezing–that is all still something I need to learn more about.  I search online for instructions, so information is not the main issue–just the time and energy to keep up with it and carry it out.

Most of our garden this year isn’t even to that stage yet–the fruit trees and bushes are still babies, the asparagus is in its first year.  And perennial herbs will keep coming back each year, whether I harvest them now or not.  In fact, I’ve got thyme drying in the basement, and will probably do some oregano after that is done.  I finally dug up the garlic that I had planted as companions to the fruit trees to help keep away pests.  But I especially feel a responsibility to the annuals like kale and basil.  This is it for them. And they are shining.

Last week, I experimented: I sautéed a dozen large leaves of kale, which cooked down quite a bit, and then I froze it–it only filled a small part of a plastic freezer bag.  I should be doing that with whole bunches of it, but it takes time to wash and cut and sauté and cool and bag.  We’ve been eating basil this week–especially yummy with an heirloom tomato we bought from the coop.  I learned not to put it in the refrigerator, but to keep cut stems in a vase with water.

For now, I just want to say thank you to the earth for creating such abundance!  Give me the strength to receive and cherish and preserve your gifts.  I’d better get outside and harvest some more!

Cherry Tree Guilds

Cherry Tree GuildsToday I almost finished soil work and guild plantings around each of the cherry trees–still 1/3 to do around the second tree.  First I aerated the soil with our garden fork to a five foot radius around the tree. (The soil was already covered with mulch from last fall-wood chips, cut grass, sea weed, and dead leaves.)  Then I put down newspaper or cardboard along the outer half of each circle, and covered it with compost.  I planted the companion plants for each cherry tree guild.  Guilds are plants that work together so that each does better than if they were planted alone.  In this case, the primary focus is the health of the cherry tree.

The plants I used and their functions:

  • Comfrey is a nutrient accumulator–its roots go deep and bring up calcium and other vital nutrients, and then the leaves can be cut several times a season, and used as mulch. It also attracts pollinators and other beneficial insects.  It can be used in herbal medicine. It was recommended to plant it at least four feet from the trunk.
  • Chives accumulate nutrients, deter pests, are anti-fungal and attract pollinators… They bloom at the same time as the cherry will, and are also a culinary herb.  I had enough to do two per tree.
  • Oregano is an aromatic pest confuser, is anti-fungal, can take some foot traffic, and of course is a culinary herb.
  • Thyme is another insect pest repellant and culinary herb (my favorite.)
  • Chamomile accumulates nutrients, is anti-fungal, and attracts beneficial insects..
  • Rhubarb is another perennial food, and can be cut in place for mulch.
  • At the outer edge of the circle around the Lapins Cherry, I also planted a row of annual kale.  The cherry tree won’t reach that far for a couple years, so it works okay.  I mulched them with egg shells, which I understand will deter kale eating pests.
  • That guild also got one Sweet Cicely plant, which attracts beneficial insect predators to kill insect pests. Plus I hear it tastes like licorice/anise.
  • The other tree guild also got Lemon Balm, and maybe a Bee Balm plant–I haven’t planted it yet and I’m deciding if it will get too big–if so, maybe it will go nearby.  The Lemon Balm was from the plant swap, and attracts pollinators and repels ants and flies.  I just read that it will spread.  Bee Balm attracts pollinators.
  • Between all the other plants, I planted Red Clover seeds–they are a nitrogen fixer, and this variety is best for a fungally dominant soil.  It is a good ground cover to keep weeds away, easy to walk on too. I put some straw mulch on the seeds to get them started, but I think I will add wood chips over it all.

Later in the fall, I plan to add daffodils in a ring about 2 feet from the trunk, to deter munching pests.  I also ended up designating two paths into the tree for each circle–so I can get to the center easily.  Once again, I end the day with sore muscles, but so happy.