Wednesday, 30 December 2015

2015: My Year in the Vegetable Garden

This is an opportunity to share my thoughts on some new experiences that I had this year growing vegetables; which worked, which didn't.  Looking back on my 2014 "year in the garden" review, I had a mix of failures and successes and similarly so this year - all part of experimenting and trying new things in the organic vegetable garden!

The most exciting experiment has been the new greenhouse.  But 2015 was only my first season with it and I wasn't prepared for spring planting inside (I had failed to fill the bed with dirt before the winter).  It certainly helped to extend the season a little bit at the back end, but I think I'll hold off on sharing my thoughts for another year.  Here are some other things I did in 2015:

Tracking and Weighing Harvest.  Verdict: Partial Success

As you can see from the main picture, I used an excel spreadsheet to track the weight of all harvests.  This is a fantastic way to track harvests and compare year to year and I am glad that I have started to do this.  But I think yield-per-plant or yield-per-foot would be a much better measurement to determine what plants are performing well or not.  Yield per plant might be easy as I just need to pop the # of plants that I'm growing of each variety into a column in the spreadsheet, but I'll see how things go in the new season.  Just having the weight doesn't really help without knowing how many plants I had of each.  And I lost a few weeks of data when my computer hard drive crashed and I hadn't backed up for a couple of weeks plus I forgot to weigh many of the small harvests later in the year.

I'll probably break down some of the categories in separate posts, but you can see that I ended up with 186 pounds of food with 30% coming from cucurbits in the month of August (mainly a few cukes but mostly summer and winter squash).  It's silly to have peas in their own row as I get so few and I tend not to weigh most herbs when I use them throughout the week.  So I'll look at rearranging the categories but I have all of the detail at the individual variety level which is really great to have.

Wordless Wednesday.  Verdict: Thumbs down

I might still do this now and then but it was meant to be a chance to show off various plants or fun things around the yard without having to actually write a post. Turns out I didn't take very many pics in between regular posts so just didn't have any to show off.  Ah well ...

Garden Planning.  Verdict: So-so

I eventually made some fairly elaborate plans for the 2015 garden but I'm not sure it helped me much.  When the time came, I still threw seeds in here and there wherever they fit.  So long as I track my bigger crops that require rotation to avoid disease / insect infestations (e.g. move potatoes around to avoid Colorado potato beetle), I think I'll go back to my loosey-goosey method of figuring things out.

New Vegetables. Verdict: Awesome

Aside from different varieties of the usual (pumpkin, tomato, etc.), the main new items in my garden for 2015 were escarole and kohlrabi, both of which I loved!  The escarole grew like crazy and I probably gave more away than I ate.  The kohlrabi did not grow as well as I would have liked but I really enjoyed having it fresh from the garden so I'll look into my methods and will try again in 2016.  I also loved the Jimmy Nardello peppers so will order a specific seed packet to have more of those.

Testing the "Planting When Soil Can Be Worked" Concept.  Verdict: Success

I started a number of greens (kale, arugula, lettuce) and radish in April as opposed to other years when I had not started anything until the usual outdoor planting time in early June.  So it was great to get a head start on some greens and was actually harvesting in May, at least 6 weeks earlier than I normally would!  But I got a bit excited by the warm weather and planted many cucurbits in the ground just before a late frost in May so this is a reminder to myself to leave the warm weather plants for June.

Pest Management.  Verdict: Depressing

I had a really tough time this past year with pests.  First I struggled with my first ever infestation of the leek moth which destroyed a lot of my garlic - by the time they were discovered, the only solution was to handpick them off.  I was able to save about half of the garlic crop.  Row covers would be needed for the entire year until harvest but that means taking them off and putting them back on every day for watering, etc.  I've already got garlic planted for next year, so will have to figure out my plans by March or April.

Then there were the cucumber beetles and squash bugs, both of which took a serious toll on my cucurbits.  The neem oil treatments are probably the best solution but I started too late.  I am going to move any cucurbits I grow far away from my main garden area as the squash bugs will have overwintered nearby (I've already killed several in the house) and I'll simply grow less winter squash to make sure I can fully manage the pests next year (assuming I might have to handpick them).  And for summer squash, I'll grow tromboncino as the plant is supposed to be a vigorous grower - once a plant is hardy enough, the bugs can't do as much damage.

Overall, I had my usual fun in the garden and I'm already planning the crops for next year!

Monday, 28 December 2015

Harvest Monday: December 28, 2015

I can't believe I'm posting an actual harvest (small as it is)!  Some snow finally came down yesterday and more on the way tonight so I am very happy to get this last harvest of the year following the warmer than seasonal weather we've been having.

But I would like to make a point to my fellow Ottawans (um, I think that's what people from Ottawa are called??) who insist that it is not a "Canadian" Christmas unless it's a white Christmas.  How about the millions of Canadians living in Southern BC who rarely experience a white Christmas?!  I lived in the Vancouver area for 3 decades and experienced, at most, 2 Christmases where there was any snow on the ground.  I'm quite satisfied with a green Christmas now and then and still feel perfectly Canadian!

So on to the mini harvest ... a bit of arugula and some radish were pulled from the garden on Saturday before the several hours of freeing rain covered everything later that night.

And the beans were harvested quite a while back but were finally removed from their pods while I was cleaning up the gardening baskets that seem to be all over the place.  They include more of both scarlet runner beans and Tarbais.  I still have the original harvests of these beans remaining although the black bean harvest was used long ago.

I have already received 4 seed catalogues in the mail so lots of fun reading and planning for next season coming up.  I'll pop on over to Our Happy Acres to see what others are harvesting, or doing with their harvests, this week!  Check it out.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Marina di Chiogga (Winter Squash) and Apple Soup

I love the brilliant orange of this squash!  The flesh from the Marina di Chiogga squash is a much brighter orange than the usual butternut or acorn squash. 

The orange juice also adds a bit of colour to the soup, but it is mostly from the squash itself.

A quick and hearty winter soup!

I was looking back at previous soup recipes including this Acorn Squash Soup with bacon and sage crisps and, once again, realize that every soup I make is some pureed vegetable.  I think I need to work on my soup variety.  :)

2 Shallots, diced
2 Tbsp Butter
2 Apples, chopped (I used Cortland)
4 cups cooked Marina di Chiogga Squash
4 cups Vegetable Stock
3/4 cup Orange Juice

Add the butter and shallots to a large heated pot and cook until shallots are softened.  Add the apples, squash and stock.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook 20-30 minutes then puree until smooth.  Add the orange juice, taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Garnish with raw or toasted pumpkin seeds.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Harvest Monday: December 14, 2015

I've been somewhat absent recently from the blog as my computer died, again.  It's been a troubling year technologically for me ... it's the second computer I've lost in about 5 months.  When will I remember to back up my files?!  Ah well, I have most important things backed up but I forget about all those photos I take each week.  Overall, I've probably lost half of 2015 gardening pics between the two computer crashes.  But at least most of them made it to a blog post.

As it turns out, I didn't bother to harvest anything last week anyway since all I have left is the kale.  So I waited until this weekend and here it is shown in the main photo ... not quite the last of it but not sure how much more it will grow.  The wonderful weather we are having has to turn colder at some point!  As much as I love the better-than-average conditions, I worry that it means winter is just delayed - meaning that when it does hit, it will stay later into the spring. That won't be good!!

Also not good right now is my car!

I hit a deer :(.  I'm totally fine as I was able to slow down a bit before impact but not so fine for the poor little deer that I hit.  Deer-vehicle collisions are unfortunately all too common in this area - especially at this time of the year; with the rutting period and hunting season, the deer are running all over the place and generally less cautious about their movements.  This is not the first time I've hit a deer, sadly to say.

But back to the kale.  I have lots of kale in the fridge from a previous harvest and now this new batch.  Luckily, I have treated myself this holiday season with a new blender to make up smoothies!  It hasn't arrived yet, but I hope to share some fun smoothie recipes in 2016 once I've figured it all out.

As always, I look forward to seeing what other folks are harvesting, or doing with their harvests, this time of year so I'll be popping over to Our Happy Acres for the weekly Harvest Monday submissions.