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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 Recap and Some Lessons Learned - Part 2

If I seem to ramble... well, why yes, I am.  :)

2015 Cayenne Pepper Bumper Crop
  • Dried peppers
  • Made venison jerky (or any kind of jerky)
  • Learned to use a pressure cooker
  • Helped field dress a deer
  • Grew sweet potatoes
  • Started willow and hybrid poplar trees from 5" cuttings
  • Harvested and process Black Walnuts

Raised Beds - Things I knew, and new lessons learned

It takes 3-5 years for lawns, abandoned pastures, or desert sand to really start producing well.  I have seen this happen everywhere I have gardened.  So I did not adhere to strictly regenerative and/or organic methods, although I did not use pesticides.  Our pasture is clay and slabs of limestone rock.  I wanted some kind of garden.  This meant that there was quite a bit of "garden soil" brought in from "the big box stores."  Much of it laced with Miracle Grow, because it is pretty darn difficult to get "plain old garden soil."  Most of the beds were only 6 inches in depth, which was OK for most things.
  • Not enough mulch.  
    • There is never enough mulch.  But I can get the shredded wood stuff for free, and I know what the deal is.   And I still didn't get enough of it!
    • Putting a layer of mulch under the raised beds would have helped keep the crab grass from invading from below (even though I thought I killed it by black plastic tarping the areas before building the beds)
    • Not a wide enough, deep enough layer of mulch between the field and my beds - crab grass had a mere 12 inches to leap to get into my beds.  In The South, with 1-3 inches of rain a week, that is not a difficult thing for it to do.  Cardboard under paths covered in at least 6 inches of  shredded wood chips.  Where I did that, I mostly won.  Around the edges, I didn't do that.  I lost!
  • No edgings on beds.
    • Too expensive, no time, weird weather, she said.  Pounding thunderstorms eroded the edge of beds, allowing crab grass to sneak in.  (The upside - it also allowed some rouge passion flowers and honeysuckle to pop up.  Depending on the bed, that was a good thing.)
    • More difficult to build deeper beds without siding.  Sweet potatoes were yummy and of OK size, but many of them made a right angle when they hit the clay bottom, and so were weirdly shaped.  Didn't hurt their taste, but probably not what the market is looking for if I go down the path to small commercial plantings.  10" deep was not deep enough for pretty and fat tubers - but was quite enough for thinner ones to cut into "rounds" for chips or for mashing or dicing into recipes.  
    • They just looked messy by the end of summer (I say this like none of my gardens have ever been messy by the end of summer!  If I am honest, most... er, all? of my gardens are messy by the end of summer.  I blame it on business travel.  Yes, that's it!)
I know there is mulch somewhere under that crabgrass!
Good Things
  • Just did stuff
  • Planned stuff
  • The balance between just doing and planning wasn't perfect, but did lead to successes
  • Roma Tomato VF seeds from 2006 - on the edge of tomato seed viability - germinated well, and have replenished my seed stock.  I had some seed from 2011, so I knew I'd be OK in the Roma Tomato VF department - but I am sentimental - that packet of seeds has grown tomatoes for me at 3 homes.  Now it is in a place where it can be grown out for generations and adapt to the region.  
  • Trialing all different varieties of tomatoes, peppers, beans, peas, cowpeas, summer squash, and winter squash was absolutely the educational experience that I expected them to be.  And a yummy experience it was, too.
  • I spent too much on seeds.  So much fun.  So many types of beans - who knew? (You'll see this listed under the "bad things" too!)
  • Kept enough things isolated, that I was able to save seed from several toms and several cowpeas
  • Trees, glorious trees - got the first part of the orchard planted!  Extended Autumn weather meant that even though I was late in ordering, I got to put in both Spring and Fall trees!  Carolina Bell peaches, Karla Rose nectarine (had to buy my namesake!), September Wonder Fuji apples, Sweetheart cherries - what dreams are made of.  Dreams to hopefully come true in 3-4 years! (Stamps feet.  I'm not moving again.  Left the last place just as the apples started to produce.)

Bad Things

So nothing really bad happened except for the squash bugs!  Luckily I got some summer squash before the attack, but really? I had no zucchini to assault people with?
  • Do I get to mention squash bugs again?  Apparently I've never before gardened where there are squash bugs?  Google is my friend - going to be prepared this season.  I know what your eggs look like, and I'm learning what your life cycle is - I'm going to be gunning for you!
  • Spent too much on seeds.  Many never got planted.  I just hoarded them.  Most will be viable for several years.  So, of course, Mom sent me $$ for my garden for Christmas and my Birthday... so what did I spend it on. Dang, you, Johnny's and Baker Creek - I was supposed to not order more seeds for this year... (but I am giggling while I type this - because I'm doubling the size of the garden for next year...)
  • I tried to start small because I know this is year one, and there are a lot of outside inputs to a brand new garden... but I, of course, over-did it.  I have never been good at starting small.
  • I am no longer 25.  This makes me, perhaps (only perhaps) a better gardener... but it does mean that the joints protest more and I am not as inclined to stand outside in cold, wet weather.  
Do more of these things
  • Dry hot peppers - they take up way less space than in the freezer - and it makes it easier to give away (or sell?)  As mentioned before, cayennes love it here.  It's too humid to completely dry without a dehydrator, but they can start off drying in the sun, and then be whisked into the dehydrator to finish off.
  • Mulch more - duh!
  •  Plant more sunflowers - the flowers face East when they mature - so a perfect screen for our suburban neighbors - lots of cherry sunflowers facing them!  Maybe I don't need a new perimeter fence next year.  Maybe I can fill some vases full of flowers for some of those neighbors.
  • Pay more attention to variety isolation for seed saving purposes.  i.e. instead of planting two kinds of cow peas around a tree, limit each tree to its own kind.  I know most cow peas will self pollinate before an insect has brought them a neighbor's pollen; however, in a garden with as much diversity as I have, in the middle of a diverse pasture, pollinator pressure is high here.  Honey bees may not be as prolific as may have been here before, but all kinds of other solitary bees, wasps, hornets, and flies love to buzz buzz around the flowers.
  • Save more seeds.
  • Pick and freeze more "shelly beans" and ripe, but not dried, cow peas.
  • Take more photos that might be more commercially viable.
  • Add 1,000 photos to my stock photo site.
  • Continue trialing things, but start ramping up production for things that worked well last year - maybe enough to share.  Maybe enough to sell a bit?  TN Yellow Cherry tomatoes, Roma VF tomatoes, Mexico Midget cherry tomatoes, Mayo Colima cowpeas, Mammoth sunflowers...
  • Continue to weigh harvest - but maybe get a different type of scale - the one I have is pretty impractical to weigh 20 or even 10 pounds of something.
  • Keep keeping good records.  Especially of things one is breeding for seed.
  • Keep improving the soil and switch to significantly more regenerative practices
Been feeling like Autumn these last few weeks
- a reminder that winter will get here.

New for 2016
  • Chickens! Need I say more?
  • Ducks - maybe not, but you know, I'm not good at starting small.
  • Fencing for the garden area - something deer will respect?
  • Expand the garden area by 50%
  • Make a formal herb garden
  • Grow herbs in pots on the back porch
  • Establish strawberries on the edge of the little woods (this may require some major critter protection for a while)
  • Haul out my All American cast aluminum canner and use it
  • Water bath can small batches in my pressure cooker
  • Beat the squash bug team!

Friday, December 25, 2015


It is 70*F with thunder and lightning and a constant pouring of rain from steel gray skies.  Christmas ham is in the oven.  Warm doggie at my feet, seed catalogs on the table (thanks, Mom, for the gift for even more seeds!), and dreams of gardens and orchards plotted on the property wall map behind me.  We've been so blessed this year.  Wishing you and yours blessings during this magical time of year, and throughout 2016.

From Our Home to Yours

Thursday, December 24, 2015

2015 Recap and Some Lessons Learned - Part 1

The good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly of  2015.

Next year's garden is always going to be perfect - it is what keeps gardeners gardening.  But I have to say, that while the 2015 season was wayyyyy far from perfect, I have been so blessed to be back on the land.  And despite 12 days of continuous rains that turned most of the tomatoes to mush, I think this may go down as one of my favorite gardening years... but I think I say that every year!

Summer Harvests

 Major Milestones
  • Purchased home with 3.8 acres - suburbia to the left, 20-50 acre lots to the right
  • Identified existing trees - black walnut, honey locust, winged elms
  • Started first large garden in 4 years
  • Had photos accepted to
  • Took way more photos than in 2014 - way more than double
  • Planted Trees
    • 11 fruit trees
    • 5 weeping willows that I grew from cuttings and that are now several feet tall
    • 6 hybrid poplar trees that I also grew from cuttings and that are now 4 or 5 feet tall
    • transplant of a cedar from the little woods to the wind break line
  • Opened up some of the woods
  • Wood mulched most of the existing trees in the pasture
  • Harvested Black Walnuts (still more to process!)
  • Gave away some of the harvest as Christmas gifts
  • Bought local from local producers for Christmas gifts and consumption of things like jam and veggies that I didn't grow or that didn't do well
  • Saved seeds from tomatoes, beans, cow peas, basil
  • Froze more than 20 pounds of tomatoes, a pound of basil, lots of bell peppers
  • Dried a lot of peppers
  • Purchased tools - for gardening, for canning, for dehydrating, for jerky making
  • Helped field dress my husband's first TN deer
  • Began planting perennials in the herb garden
  • Started most of my own vegetables from seed: tomatoes, peppers, beans, cukes, pumpkins, water melon
  • Started many of my herbs from seed: basils, lemon balm, oregano, sweet marjoram, flowering sages, sunflowers
  • Road in my first helicopter
View of South Kentucky from my first helicopter ride.

Things that love The South

I guess I could have predicted this, but it is good to have the observations any way
  • Sunflowers - even ones planted in straight clay with competition from "weeds" grew and flowered.  Seeds from the same packet of Mammoth sunflower that barely made it to 5 feet tall in the desert with a 10" head grew 8 - 12 feet tall with disks that were nearly two feet across, with stalks 2 inches in diameter.  Bees, praying mantis, and all number of insects partook of their abundance.  I harvested some for seeds for 2016, and I left some standing for the birds.
  • Cow Peas - Trialed several varieties - planted around my fruit trees for nitrogen, but also in quantities for eating and seed saving.  I don't think I will have to ever buy seeds for them again. The climbers - easily scaled the sunflowers, and even toppled two of the sunflowers from their weight.
  • Basil - Grew nearly 4 feet tall - Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil being my favorite
  • Peppers - had not grown a lot of peppers before.  Some of them didn't like all the rain, and some went bonkers, even with the rain.  Cayenne peppers - they loved it here.

Last of the Cayenne and Arroz con Pollo drying.
Squash Bug Hell

So I went on a two week business trip seconds before the Squash Bug Hatch. I came back to two acorn squash fruits and one black tail watermelon - the plants themselves were almost completely consumed.  All the cukes and pumpkins were dead, gone, kaput.  Have to tell my boss - no travel during Summer Squash Bug Battle season.

One of two survivors.  Teach me to go on work travel in August!

Next post to include more recap and plans for the future.

Black Walnut Tree (with view of neighbor's home)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Permaculutre Elements: Apple Trees

The Apple Tree: malus domestica 
The Graphics Fairy
Today's post is going to be a little different than my usual photos or updates around the little farm.  In this post and in an on-again, off-again fashion, I plan to run a series of element analysis from a practical permaculture perspective.  So here we go....

For those of you who might have read my High Desert Gardening Blog (pre-permaculture), you will know that the three little scrawny apple trees sitting out in my field are not the first apple trees that I have planted.  The reason is that they are easy to grow, I like to eat apples, and a number of livestock species also like them.

The Apple is a fruit tree and a member of the rose family. There are several thousands of cultivars, and it is commonly used as food for livestock and for people.

Family: Rosaceae    Genus: Malus        Species: Malus domestica

Sample Cultivars:  Arkansas Black, Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith, Holstein, Pink Lady, Virginia Winesap

Intrinsic Characteristics
  • Permaculture Zones: All
  • Layers: Understory or overstory tree
  • Placement: in orchards, gardens, food forests, wild wooded areas, and as specimens in ornamental landscaping. Also grown in containers and as espalier. 
  • Size: cultivars range in size from 6 foot tall or less on dwarfing root stock, or upwards of 30 feet tall on some standard (own root) trees.
  • Tree Type: Deciduous – loses leaves in the dormant season 
  • Longevity - dwarf trees on root stocks may begin fruiting years earlier than own root trees, but they also pass away sooner

Note that while some outputs don't need any additional inputs and can stand on their own, many of the outputs may or could.  Where space, time, and interest intersect, I will include them.
  • For the Bees - nectar and pollen
  •  Beauty - spring time flowers in shades of white from pretty dog-goned white to creamy white to pink
  • Fresh food for - People, chickens, hogs, horses, goats, deer, and other wildlife
  • Preserved for People - frozen (as sauce or pie filling), dried, as part of cider or rumtopf
  • Leaves - composting or to leave around trees
  • Scion wood - to graft onto root stock for new trees
  • Seeds - to start new trees on the cheap to see what new variety you might discover
  • Wood - for fires, smoking chips, building
Note: some of these inputs may not be needed for your situation, but I'm listing a list here, so work with me.
  • Wood mulch and/or compost
  • Understory nitrogen fixers - peas, field or cow peas, clover 
  • Stakes - for staking young trees
  • Tree Wrap - for protecting young trees from sun scald or rabbits or to help keep trees dormant as long as possible during early springs
  • Wire fencing - or other protection, especially in zones 3, 4 and 5 where there is deer and rabbit pressure
  • Compost tea - to inoculate wood mulch and to spray on leaves to protect against various mildews and fungus, and as a type of foliar feed
  • Pruning equipment - pruners, loppers, knives, saws, something to sterilize them between cuttings
  • Harvesting equipment - long handled picker for taller trees, ladder, basket, cart or wheel barrow
  • Other apple tree(s) - for pollination.  If others are growing apples near by, or if you have crab apples, this might not be an issue; however, you still may wish to plant a known pollinator just to be sure.  To find out what apples pollinate each other, check out this Online Pollination Checker.  They check other fruit pollinators, also.

Other Things to Think About
  • Climate - are you in the hot, humid South where it rains "all the time"? Then you will need cultivars that are fungal disease resistant.  Are you in a "warm winter" area? Then low chill apples may be what you need
  • Tree Size - do you have acreage where you will keep your trees 20 feet apart or more? Or will you be growing two trees to a hole in a densely planted suburban yard?  Or will you be somewhere in between?  What kind of trees do well like that?
  • Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees -  you may wish to succession plan for trees that may only be at their peak for 15 - 20 years - planting a new set every few years ensures continuous production