Monday, February 29, 2016

2015 food garden review: discussion and conclusions

My 2015 garden review:  I'm completely unabashed about my lack of photos.  I know it's more fun with photos, but we're just going to go with it.

This winter has been pretty mild so far.  We've had a few more frosts than last winter (which had a few more than the winter before).  I like some good hard frosts to help kill off excess slugs.  Two summers ago we had a plague of them.  Last summer we had an infestation.  Hopfully this coming summer we'll be back to normal proportions.  I can handle slug bites in my vegetables;  it's repeated vegetable fatalities which are hard to accept.  Last summer they demolished all my attempts at root crops and cabbages.  It was dreadful, but at least it was better than 2014, when they killed everything I put in the ground.  I'm not even exaggerating.  Only a few things in my planters and two (small) raised beds managed to survive.

I decided it's no longer worthwhile to direct seed into the ground--because of slug pressure.  Mainly I have direct seeded root and salad crops in the past (up until several years ago this was fairly successful for me).  This year I will be transplanting lettuce, beets and celeriac, sown indoors in trays, and direct seeding carrots into planters.  I've grown carrots in planters before, mainly to avoid carrot fly.  Though not as big, any carrots are better than none.  My two other root crops are onions and garlic;  I planted garlic in November, and it's happily growing away, and I will soon be planting out onion sets.

My pumpkins really benefited from the heavy application of fresh and semi composted chicken manure, producing loads of growth.  However, having them in the ground saw them produce mainly vines at the expense of fruit.  I harvested one medium pumpkin, and plenty of immature ones (picked off to encourage older ones to grow big, and eaten as zuccini).  My one zuccini plant (the slugs killed the others) also had liberal amounts of chicken manure, but was more generous with fruit;  I estimate I picked about a dozen altogether.

Runner beans were planted near the pumpkins and zuccini, with a similarly generous harvest (while attempting to remove their supports yesterday, I discovered that their roots--little tubers--are still alive under the soil.  Maybe they'll grow again this spring?).  We had enough to eat fresh, and also freeze and salt.

Of my four or five volunteer potatoes, we had a great harvest!  I hadn't expected to get any potatoes, not having planted them in 2015, but we ate them fresh for about two months:  they were good sized ones, good flavor, and almost no potato scab (an issue in the past).

Kale and Brussels sprouts were hard hit by caterpillars in late summer, and did not recover well before it turned cold.  I got a few good harvests of kale, both fresh and for the freezer beforehand, but the sprouts weren't ready at that time, and we only got one meal off six plants this winter.  The chickens were allowed to self-harvest the remains after we'd had ours for Christmas dinner, though the plants themselves are still alive and trying to produce a few more sprouts.  I may let them go to seed.

Mostly unaffected by pests were chard, tomatoes, and peas.  Chard was big and beautiful, and some is still growing now;  we had it both fresh and frozen.  I picked my last ripe tomato on Christmas day;  it was growing in my uncovered raised bed next to my house.  There were still a few more orange ones after that, but the slugs found them before I did.  Tomatoes gave only a modest harvest:  enough for eating fresh, but not enough to preserve;  though a few seeds were saved, too.  I think the peas survived better than many others because they were planted quite early before pests were very active.  We mainly ate them fresh, but I also saved about 100 seeds (and the first 35 have already been sown). 

Leeks have been very slow growing, and still not very big!  I harvested the first one (sown from seed last spring) earlier this month.  At least they were not troubled by much.

The chickens have remained a reliable source of food all year;  of our chicks, raised last spring, we ate the six cockerels;  they were about two-three months old when they began crowing.  We killed them over a period of about a month:  the last three we did all on the same day, which was both easier and harder than doing them one at a time.  Two went into the freezer.  We used nearly every part of all them, including most of the innards (other than the gallbladder and digestive system).  The bits we didn't use went into our compost bin (head, feet, and the remains of the bones after making stock).  The pullets began laying regularly since late summer, and continued all through winter.  One was even laying double yolkers.  We currently have eleven chickens, seven of which are rescued hens.

Of fruit, my gallon of morello (sour) cherries in the freezer made a sumptuous cherry pie, following a recipe from the Joy of Cooking.  We had about two dozen gorgeous red Sparta apples, and a few gold/orange Laxton Fortune apples.  There were five Kordia (sweet) cherries, and 25 almonds which went into our Christmas stollen bread.  And two amazing figs, even if some other small creature had the first bite off them (the tree is just over knee height).  I told Partner it was probably a bird, but between you and me it was more likely a rodent...don't worry though, I washed them really well.  We had a few handfuls of both strawberries and blackcurrants, nearly all of which disappeared down Franklin's throat (he also got most of the peas!).

I recorded nearly all of my vegetable harvest last year by weight, though some things were missed off, including things like tomatoes and peas which we just picked and ate.  I didn't record fruit harvest either, other than the morello cherries.  Right now, that data is stuck to the side of my fridge on several sheets of notebook paper.  Time to organize and tally it up, I think.