Monday, May 23, 2016

Garden update : 2016

This past year has been an extremely busy one, with me going back to work teaching science and math in a French school about 82 km away from where we live, and Craig working full-time but also doing a placement for his social work program.  Our homesteading activities have been rather limited, compared to where I had hoped to be, but life sometimes makes the decisions for us and we do the best we can while we pursue other responsibilities and try to just spend time together as a family when we happen to all be together.  I intend to write a few posts over the next couple of weeks to bring any followers up-to-date on where we are currently find ourselves.

Food and Garden

  • I planted a perennial herb garden last year in a small garden bed outside our side door.  I dug up hostas, spiraea, and a few other plants and shrubs that were the original occupants of the bed and planted Hidcote and Munstead lavender, French thyme, Italian oregano, lemon balm, peppermint, chives that I found in the backyard (yay!), tarragon (which I am rather unconvinced has made it through the winter), echinacea, as well as rudbeckia and monarda to fill up some space and attract and feed pollinators.  Today, I went out early in the morning and gathered some chunks of sandstone to make a path throughout the herb garden so that the kids and I (and the oil man) don't compact the soil too much when walking through.

  • In the fall of 2015, I used every leftover cardboard box we had from the move to this property and laid them out over a perennial bed in the front yard along the front path.  It was a little sad to cover up the perennial bed, because it was beautiful out there, but it's the only really truly sunny part of our yard, the soil was quite compacted and heavy with clay, and tomatoes are first priority!  I borrowed my father's truck to go fill the back with horse manure from an old school bus friend from when I was little, and spread that all over the cardboard. I continued piling on compost from our backyard compost pile, raked up leaves, and threw over it all random chunks of veggies, coffee grounds, and eggshells and whatever odds and ends that I found that seemed as though they would make some decent soil after having time to break down.  This spring, I can see that the volume of the material has really decreased, and I intend to continue building the soil throughout the growing season and especially next fall. I still see the odd worn-out looking avocado pit and there's one still-huge brussels sprout stalk, but it broke down really well over the winter.
    • The one problem I had to deal with is a really resilient and determined patch of astilbes that had broken through the cardboard and compost to raise its little leafy heads.  I wasn't able to dig those out before putting down the sheet mulch because the root mass so was strong, so I spent much of Saturday afternoon going through all the soil and digging it all out.  I was really pleased to see that being under all the sheet mulch had weakened the perennial root masses enough that it was a lot easier to dig them out.  It was also good to see that the cardboard had really broken down, I wasn't sure about how that would work and was worried it would remain intact for a long time.
This bed doesn't look like much now, but I'll update as I like to believe it will be positively teeming with life in a few weeks!
  • I have a few plants already growing on the windowsill in my classroom and am a little late getting others started but have planted a few with the kidlets, and will probably just buy seedlings for this year.  I'm focusing this year on the most important plants for our family : tomatoes, basil, garlic, and yellow beans but will be putting all sorts of other things in as well to fill up space and experiment.  I'd like to continue building the soil in the front bed and fighting weeds and other perennials that are still fighting to keep their sunny home, and plan to expand the veggie garden next year.  We have perennial beds lining the whole perimeter of our front yard so there is no lack of work to be done!
  • Our fruit and nut plantings to date include two female and one male hardy kiwi vines, a pear tree, two hardy pecan trees, two hazelnut shrubs, three pawpaw trees, and a red currant bush.  At some point I'd like to get raspberry plants in along the border between our house and the house next door That might happen this year but I'm leaning toward next year for those.  We still have the two plum trees out front, but they didn't really bear anything last year.  I was told by an acquaintance that they alternate between heavy fruiting years and sparse fruiting years, so I'm hoping for a more plentiful harvest from them this year.  One fell over during an early winter ice storm this past winter, but the trunk and roots seem intact so we've already started shouldering it up and I hope it will make it.  It seems to be doing well from what I can tell, and is budding so hopefully that "every second year" rule will work in our favour.  Yesterday I planted ten Ozark Beauty strawberry starts in a small patch near our herb garden.  They were just tiny sad-looking crowns and roots stored in soil, and looked rather like minuscule dead octopi, but I will keep my hopes up to see signs of life in the next few weeks.
Flower buds forming on our little four-in-one pear tree that we planted last year.

Our hardy pecan trees look pretty good this spring as well.

These are the buds on the plum tree that was knocked down, keeping our fingers crossed!

  • Finally, last month I harvested a bunch of young but long willow branches and took them home to attempt making a willow dome playhouse for the kids.  You can read more about that in my next post. :) 
  • Because of our rather uninspiring vegetable gardening effort last year, I continued to be a part of an amazing organic veggie CSA that we've subscribed to for a few years now.  Additionally, we were thrilled to find out that there was a new veggie CSA opening up through the winter months that included eggs and locally made cheese.  That was a really bright spot in our winter as the selection was surprising considering the winter months.  I expected a lot of rutabaga and cabbage and carrots but there were greenhouse-grown tomatoes and cucumbers and there were sprouts and all sorts of great yummy items!
Yay for Island-grown, nutritious food.  Hopefully I'll make progress this year in growing more of my own, but I love the awesome veggies we get from our super farmers too. :)

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