Garden Year 2013 in Review- Part I

As the seed and bulb catalogues start piling up in the basket, it seems that this is a good time to review the ups and downs, successes and failures of our gardens in 2013. Where to begin? Well, it wasn’t the best gardening year, nor was it the worst.  Just different. One of the main differences was the absence of a cutting garden. In the past, we’ve had a separate, fenced garden, approximately 65′ long by 25’wide, that was largely dedicated to annually planted cut flowers; dahlias, sunflowers, cosmos, china asters, gladioli, zinnias, larkspur, Bells of Ireland, tall marigolds, nicotiana, and the like. This space was shared by espaliered apples, which line the fence, a fanned peach tree, asparagus, and vegetables that we couldn’t fit into themain kitchen garden. Last year, we rooted cuttings of red, white and black currants, blueberries, wine grapes, raspberries, black berries and gooseberries and these were all planted in that garden, and which we now refer to as the Fruit Garden, along with space-consuming strawberries. This was a great success. We produced loads of delicious jams and jellies, stuffed the freezer with raspberries,strawberries and blueberries, and are now enjoying muffins and ice cream in the dead of winter. This left us with no choice but to plant the ‘cut flowers’ into the borders and in a small, 20′ x 20′ un-fenced annex garden and the results were a dire failure. DEER! They ate everything in sight, all of the annual flowers were chomped down to nothing and many, if not all of the perennials. Deer pressure is reaching epidemic proportions in our neck of the woods and even at 20 feet away, they are fearless. They watch me feed the chickens, turkeys and ducks, they chomp away at the apples in the orchard, maintaining eye contact with me as if I were their friend, and now they’ve discovered the poultry feeders and learned to share! Yes! While the chickens and ducks and turkeys are snacking at the feeders, the deer are right there with them, nibbling away as if they were all one big happy family. The birds appear to have embraced them. The fowl seem perfectly fine with these cloven hoofed behemoths nuzzling their beaks at the feed source. (It’s almost as if they LIKE them, or worse, ADMIRE them)!!!! They gaze up at their eyes, and carefully, nimbly, negotiate around and between their legs with a generous sense of plurality and the cloven-hooved ones respond with gentle, careful movements. Not a peep or cluck or quack of alarm or concern. “Excuse me, but you don’t mind if I just grab this bit of cracked corn, do you”? “Certainly not, please, help yourself, and I hope you won’t mind my having a few of these delicious and nutritious layer pellets”.  ” Oh, not at all, help yourself, there’s plenty where that came from….the bipeds with the opposible thumbs always keep it full and fresh. Oh no, no need to go down that slope to the pond, the fresh water is over here, just follow me”.

Geez! What’s next? Fine, we’re accustomed to the chickens pecking at the front door asking for their treats of Cheerios or Carr’s crackers, but shall I now expect to hear hooves tapping at the threshhold demanding tortilla chips?

So, in short, there were no cut flowers for us this year, and very few roses, for that matter. More in the next post.

Greenhouse Action

Tomato Seedlings

Heirloom tomatoe seedlings in the greenhouse

With so many other things on my To-Do Lists, I had a very late start in the greenhouse this year. I didn’t get to sowing seeds in flats until mid April and some even later and I think the plants are better for it. We have fewer pests than ever before, (white fly, green fly, aphids) and, so far, no damping off of tender seedlings.

Another thing I did differently was to rely on the normal fluctuating daytime and nighttime temperatures instead of artificially controlling the germination environment by supplying bottom heat to the flats. The results have been surprising. We’ve had some seriously hot days, when the temps in the greenhouse rose to 95 F and above, and some frigid days and nights where the mercury barely rose above freezing and we haven’t noticed any negative effect on the germination rates or times.

One of the rules I’ve been wanting to break for a very long time is that of starting seeds in soilless mix, instead of potting soil. I had the opportunity to do it. We ran out of vermiculite and peat and so I used potting soil. I’m tempted to say that I’ll never worry about using a soiless mix again. (Of course, this may come back to haunt me). I have experienced no problems with this alteration. Au contraire, because potting soil contains nutrients the seedlings seem to be healthier than ever before, and, perhaps I’m speaking too soon, but, those that are subject to damping off have not done so at all. The obvious advantage to this new discovery is that ‘potting on’ is not as urgent as it had been previously when using a soiless mix; there are enough nutrients in the growing medium to encourage healthy growth without having to force-feed with emergency dilutions of fish emulsion.

Seedlings in the greenhouse

Vegetable seedlings in the greenhouse

Purists may want to give this a try.