Thursday, November 03, 2016

The Last Few Harvests

It's gotten to be Fall, and Winter is just around the corner.  I've managed to bring in a few more colanders of tomatoes and peppers over the past few weeks.   I covered my pepper and eggplant bed with some floating row cover in the hopes of coaxing one more pepper crop out of it, but the cover has partly blown off even though I keep clipping it back onto the poles.  Oh well.  Some things work, some don't.

I got a surprisingly good harvest from my volunteer Peruvian Ground Cherry.  I had to take it down because it was taking over the pepper and herb beds with its shade, but I got about a quart and a half of fruit from it.  Also called Poha Berry, the husked fruit has a sweet-tart tropical taste and makes a great sauce for fish or an unusual salsa.  I take it out of the husks and freeze the berries.  They are slightly waxy to the touch, and freeze well.  

I grew one of them in a pot this year, and it's quite a large plant-- I'm going to try to keep it going through the winter, though I may plant it into a half wine barrel for longer term growth.  We've had them overwinter in the ground as perennials, and get unmanageably large-- I'd like to have one around but don't want to sacrifice 9 - 16 square feet to the huge bush it becomes.  We'll see if this works out.

I've had a fabulous year with peppers, and a good eggplant year.  The yellow bell pepper plant was incredibly prolific, so much so that I had to harvest peppers early from it to keep branches from breaking.   I was using the v-shaped eggplant/pepper ladders from Gardeners' Supply for the first time this year, and had mixed results.  I had several branches of both eggplant and pepper break off due to heavy fruit loading.  The open side of the v has no support, so it's necessary to use twine to tie off to the frame and support vulnerable branches, which I realized only after a few losses.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Pre-Spring Cleaning

Today I brought in some veggies, and threw out some dreams.  But it had to be done.

Let me explain.

I have maintained an extensive seed collection for many years-- many more years than some seeds stay viable for.  Today I sat down and went through the whole collection, and tossed out (almost) everything older than 2013.   The discards filled a full-size paper grocery bag.  I am ashamed at the waste.

I've shared seed and gone to seed swaps and done my part to help bring the joy of organic, open-pollinated seeds to friends and neighbors and garden club members.  But I bought more seeds than I had room to plant, and hung onto them.  I thought "I could plant this next year!" but I ended up planting something else.   Or I planted it, and enjoyed it, but because I have a small garden there was half a packet left, even if I planted it two years in a row.  And because I like to try new things, it's unusual for me to plant the same variety more than two years in a row.   This went on for many years.

I had seeds that were packed for 2003 in my collection.  I had winter cover crop mixes that I put together in 2009 and 2011.  I had half and third and quarter packets of this and that from 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, etc.

I've learned the hard way that while older seeds often germinate, the plants can be less vigorous and the yields poorer than expected.  In addition, they can germinate sparsely, leaving holes that need to be filled in with replanting.  If I'm going to all the trouble to try to have fabulous organic garden soil and spending precious water on the plants, why would I want second-best?

The seeds I discarded also told a story of my maturation as a gardener-- the varieties were more practical and the packets more used up as the dates got newer.   Many of the 2011 & 2012 discards were 3 - 5 seeds in a clear ziploc bag that I had gotten at a seed exchange.  Not all were practical-- how would my 2-person household use a 12 - 15 pound Queensland Blue Hubbard squash, and what percent of my garden would the vines take up?  I don't have a mill that will crack corn, so why did I collect Native American flour corn varieties, and in quantities too small to plant out for pollination?  And so on.

Taking a year or two off from gardening due to the drought has been a good thing for me.  It's renewed my interest in my garden, and refocused my intentions on what's practical.  The squashes I've selected for my 2017 garden are 1 - 2 person portion sized, for instance.   But I'm growing a 3 sisters garden with dry shelling beans on my cornstalks, despite the fact that I'll get maybe a pint of each kind of bean.  It's still fun to grow beans that you can't buy, or can rarely buy affordably.  The beans' primary job is to fix nitrogen for the corn, getting dry beans to eat is a bonus.  

I've organized this year's seeds into a single bin, and sorted them by what time of year I'll plant them.  A bunch of seeds are still incoming, orders from Kitazawa, Baker Creek, and Kitchen Garden seeds.  They'll have a place to go where I can find them without rummaging through the bins.

More seeds?  Yes, but.  They're things I'll want to grow for a couple of years-- and I'll do more outreach to my local community garden to share them out before they get too old.   No more seed hoarding.  Now if I can just do the same for my fabric collection....