Let's look at what succeeded:Growing Rhubarb from seed.
Everybody said you should only buy plants or divisions of mature rhubarb plants. Planting seeds was a fool's errand. Well....
I bought 15 heirloom Victoria rhubarb seeds on ebay for $3. I planted almost all of them (10) in a tub in the greenhouse in early spring. I ended up with 9 seedlings. Two of them died during the initial move out of the greenhouse. Two that were planted deep in the forest also died.
That left me with 5.
Here is the best one:
It looks great! Ironically, it is right next to another rhubarb that failed miserably. They were transplanted together since they were so close to each other in the tub. I thought maybe they would both make it - they still might. I'm going to leave them as-is until next spring. If one is stronger, I will move the weaker one. If one dies... well, then at least one will still be going well. These are planted at the corner of the forest, in a semi-shady area surrounded by grapes, a large oak, and black raspberries.
|Growing right next to the big rhubarb|
This one is barely hanging on - it is in a shadier spot under the oaks and prickly ash.
This one is doing surprisingly well - it is deep in the forest beneath a quaking aspen. I have never had success growing in this area.
This one has it's ups and downs. It is planted in pure clay in between the raised bed boxes inside my garden. It gets partial sun due to the shrubs and asparagus that are nearby. It grows well but seems to constantly get infected and drops leaves.
I will probably plant the other 5 seeds next year, wait for them to get larger than I did this year, and transplant them to some difficult places...
To be honest, I only have difficult spaces. Crowded and shaded by trees. Full of hard, hard, hard clay. Next to the road!!! So, I'll plant out the seeds just so they have a chance. I may or may not move the rhubarb between the garden beds. I probably will.
Growing flax has been so much easier than I expected. It grew through our worst weather and put on tons of flowers and seed bolls. The actual harvest and productivity remains to be seen. But.... I only planted half a teaspoon of seeds and I am sure to get quite a bit more than that.
In the future, I will plan on buying flaxseed (because it so much cheaper to buy than dedicate the garden space!) and will be sure to always keep the seeds on hand so I can grow them in an emergency. I may also grow a small bunch of flax each year (like 6 plants!) just to keep fresh seed going. But I won't plant whole rows again just because of the space and utility. I have realized that I need to focus on growing high priced items (like blueberries and organic tomatoes) so I can save money at the grocery store. I will still grow plants for experimental purposes, but in small quantities.
Potatoes came out roaring like a champion. They looked fantastic for the first few weeks. I might even plant them in pots around my house just for how great they look...except that they get gross after awhile. Whether it's the challenge of keeping a full sun pot adequately watered or fighting off blight and bugs, they just get beat down.
|Maybe I should have fertilized these potatoes? Or maybe this means they're almost ready? Or diseased? It's my first time, so I don't really know.|
We have wire worms here, and that's why I planted them in boxes. I am worried that wire worms could have climbed the drainage holes and found their way back in. Time will tell.
It is NOT cost effective to grow your own potatoes unless you have tons of land and you save your own "seed" each year. I have neither. But, if this experiment worked out, then all I have to do is keep a steady supply of potatoes in my own home (easy enough) and if there is an emergency, I can plant a few of the potatoes in my pantry.
All of the potatoes I planted this year were from the grocery store. If they produced well, then that plan will be sufficient and apart from ornamental value, I will not grow potatoes again (unless there is a worldwide emergency/food shortage.)
|Young buckwheat in early spring - a very sparse showing from the asparagus|
We successfully grew buckwheat from seed, harvested it, ground it up, and made pancakes. It was a very short time from seed to harvest. Each plant produced 8-20 seeds. So 1 seed became 8-20. The plants were short, they are good for mulch/green manure, and could withstand cool temperatures (but not freezing.)
Unfortunately, each seed is very small and does not produce an excess of food. It's also difficult to dehull. The taste was okay plain, but I did not really like the buckwheat pancakes. They were okay, but not great.
I will keep buckwheat seeds on hand in case of emergency and may plant a few here and there to replenish my seed stock and attract bees. I will not dedicate a ton of space to them.
Growing Onions from Grocery store onions
I planted a few onions that sprouted in my pantry (3 to be exact.) They all took off like crazy. They grew over 4 feet tall. They put out big puff ball seed heads. I googled what that meant, and everybody said that meant they were going to be producing seeds and no bulbs. I left them up so I could save the seeds but was disappointed.
Then I bumped into one of them and broke the flower head off. My daughter tried to repair it with a wood splint. The flower did not make it. Since they were being saved for seed, the body was not longer needed and I pulled it out.
Lo and behold! There were 3 onion bulbs (sets???) under the soil. They were reasonable size for early July and probably would have gone to be at least half the size of grocery story onions. So 3 half sized onions, plus seeds! Not bad!
Plus, I must say they are some of my favorite flowers. Like big dandelions, unique, completely spherical....
I took them in and we cooked them up in a delicious stew. I will definitely plant any onions that sprout again!
Severely pruning an old blueberry bush
|The main stem was removed from the plant on the right. I kept a few side branches "just in case" but removed a full shrub.|
I made the mistake of not pruning my blueberry bush for a few years. Then I started pruning it when it "overbeared" then dropped all the flowers. After that it was just weak and struggling. So I did the unthinkable. I chopped off the whole head! Or that's how it felt. The plant had withered down into one large old trunk with bunch of smaller growth on it, and 2 small green shoots.
|The "new bush" is in the front right, the "old" is in the back and is more yellowed|
I was so scared to cut the big trunk down, especially because the 2 smaller green shoots had been broken off during winter! But the 2 shoots came back with a vengeance. And they brought friends! In fact, it feels/looks like a whole new plant grew out of that side and left the old plant for dead. I will cut through the "old" section and chop it out this winter, moving the new plant so it's once again centered in the bed.
|The first time I have had clean fingernails all summer...|
Growing leeks from seed early in spring, and dibbing them in deep holes
I have had success transplanting leeks and direct sowing. This year, I decided to create transplants and individually dib them into deep holes. This causes more of the white, edible stem, and makes for bigger plants.
It was scary to take each seedling out of the soil on it's own. Long stringy roots, long stringy plants. But I dibbed out 3 inch deep holes all over the plot and just started dropping them in. Then I watered them so the soil would collapse down and bury the leeks.
They didn't stand up straight and some of the stems bent over. I thought it was going to fail, so I planted seeds beside each one just in case.
A few weeks later, I had a very crowded leek bed. I pulled out my extra seedlings and made potato leek soup.
The rest look great. I did pull out some of the dibbed leeks too because my spacing was a little tight. They were Sooooo hard to get out of the deep hard clay. But I should have bigger, whiter leeks in the end. Not grocery store big (this is zone 4, after all, and we only get one 4month season!)
Tying asparagus fronds
That was a huge mistake and the asparagus was very weak this spring. So this year, I tied them up. I grabbed two bunches of fronds and put a zip tie around each one - like a pony tail. They stood up straight and stayed off of other plants. Yes!
But...they are also huge and unsightly. They are the #1 plant that strangers and neighbors comment on. Is it dill? Is it mint? What is that monster?
So I am moving them this fall. I am going to dig them out (successfully I hope!) and transplant them to the back side of the garden (near the blueberries again, omg!) Last time it was the blueberries that moved!! The asparagus just keeps chasing them...
I am afraid of the root system. I can only imagine how large and spread out it might be. But the blueberry bed is now going to be 80% perennial so I can stop trying to work around the perennials and I can full amend/change/experiment in the 2 annual beds.
|This perennial blueberry bed will look much different with asparagus growing toward the back of the left side.|
I bought 10 bulbils on ebay and planted them last fall. I only planted 5 in my yard and all of them came up. In fact, they were the first things to come up in spring. The other 5 were spread around the forest in various areas. I forgot their exact locations and did not "see" them among all the other forest growth. If they start walking, then I'll eventually find them.
We had a warm spring followed by a quick freeze. This tricked a lot of plant into thinking they were 2 years old. Even the walking onions. Most of them put up seed heads.
I accidentally uprooted one during the strawberry renewal and found a glorious shallot like bulb beneath the soil! I was tempted to try and eat it, but with only 5 known locations at the moment, I replanted it and hope it will survive.
Planting peas twice
Amazingly, this is the first year I have ever planted 2 batches of peas. The first batch was planted at the end of March and did a great job of producing. As they were waning (but still very much alive!) they started to badly shade the rest of the garden. So I pulled them out and used their bodies to mulch the tomatoes.
I pulled off any unripe peas and we stir fried them into a taste Asian pasta. I then immediately, planted another set. This time in my renewed strawberry bed. Hopefully, they will grow well in the shadier/cooler area and will fix nitrogen for next year's berries.
|New peas planted in July - in the shady strawberry bed|
Cutting the tops of off black raspberries in early summer
As soon as the black raspberries got to my chest height, I chopped the top. I mean to do this every year, and I often forget until winter, which is much too late.
But this year I remembered. And guess what? I got to see the lateral growth push out below the cut. The height had stopped and the sides were growing. That should mean more berries, less tangling. It was cool to see it actually happen!
Many of my plants made seeds this year. I feel like I've saved enough to even share. I love collecting seeds and if I finally have enough to share and trade, it just makes me happy.
|Bok Choy loaded with millions of seeds....before the birds came!|
What didn't work so hot???
Rabbits got into my garden through at least 7 holes. I repaired them and was vigilant about fixing any new holes every few days. They seemed to really like the buckwheat, and maybe that's what lured them in?
All of my beans - runners and bush - were devastated by flea beetles. Because of these beetles, I had to plant multiple sets of beans. Next year, I may experiment with diatomaceous earth at planting time and upon seedling emergence to see if I can get any of the beans to survive the beetles.
No Mulch to prevent slugs
I have been battling with slugs for years. I thought the mulch was bringing them, harboring them, feeding them? So I decided to leave both annual beds without mulch. They still got slugs and the plants were weaker than normal.
I am experimenting with lava rocks to prevent slugs from demolishing my strawberries and will experiment with diatomaceous earth as well.
Every time I looked around, those babies would bolt! I left two of them to make seeds and the plants were heavy with seed pods. I waited too long and birds pilfered most of the seeds. I still wound up with quite a few seeds and I will plant them again this fall and next spring. However....I will pick them as babies. Really small babies. I will probably never get the temperature perfect enough to get the big bok choy like you see at the store, and I am finally okay with that.
Maybe it's because of the cool weather this summer? Maybe a lack of water while our sprinkler system was not functioning? Or maybe it's the heirloom varieties that I started from seed in an unheated greenhouse? Maybe it's blight? My tomatoes this year just seem so much less robust and so much less productive. I'm ashamed of them.
No matter what, I know that it can be done. I just know that it may not be done with the best in productivity. I will try again next year, selecting the best varieties from this year's harvest (still to be decided.)
I will plant them indoors. Some with lights. Others without. Then we'll try again.
Using grass clippings as mulch
Without using mulch, all of our plants just seemed so much weaker. I had read how great grass clippings were for mulch and our compost pile had a HUGE stack of them.
So I placed them all around my tomatoes.
Then I remembered (DUH!!!) that my husband uses weed and feed on our lawn. OFTEN! I did some googling and realized that pretty much nothing (except fungal action over a really long time) gets rid of the horrid herbicides in weed and feed (2,4D). Only clippings that have been mowed at LEAST twice since herbicide was put down are semi-safe. I'm sure he puts down fertilizer every other time he mows.
I started panicking. I immediately went and stripped the ground of the grass clippings. Some of it was unable to be removed. I was devastated.
None of the plants have died yet and that was a few weeks ago, so I think I got lucky. I was stupid and lucky.
My dwarf sunflowers sucked. They made itty bitty heads that got full of mealy wetness and barely made any seeds. They were weak in the wind, many of the seedlings were eaten by animals (not their fault, I realize,) and they weren't all that great looking. I just hated them.
I saved the seeds they produced and I'll keep them for.... I don't know. They really sucked. Next year, I will plant full sized sunflowers only.
I just cannot get rid of this pest. I follow all the hygiene rules, pick every day and early. Then I was walking through the forest checking all the wild berries and realized that ALL of them were infested with SWD. Even if I keep them out of my yard completely, they will always exist in the forest, winter in the leaf cover, and be here forever.
I am going to experiment with netting. I will am also planning my fruit product to come before July 10th whenever possible. That seems to be when SWD starts to really pick up.
Depending on how this year goes - I may rip out my fall raspberries and plant Prelude - the earliest summer raspberry that can grow in our zone and hope for the best.
I am planning to plant a Northstar cherry tree in the front of my house. This cherry tree fruits in late June and is done by July 18th (by a long shot - I checked a bunch of trees at a nearby orchard and they were completely empty of cherries on July 18th) while other varieties were just starting to ripen.
These are the cherries I bought at the orchard - AFTER I pitted them by hand, without a cherry pitter. I wish I had taken a picture when they were beautiful....
The honeyberries I added fruit in June and the currants fruit in late June, done by July 10th.
I replanted my same-old early variety strawberry in the renewed beds instead of an everbearer, to avoid SWD. If that variety can not pull it's weight again, then I will select an early June variety and start over.
Strawberries are only good for 3 years. What a crappy deal. I thought I could stretch that out. Our strawberries were at least 5 or 6 years old. They were matted together and the berries (when there were berries!) were small and spindly. Or totally eaten by slugs.
So I demolished the whole thing. I took a few runners out and put them in planters. Then I ripped up all the plants.
I had made the mistake of "barely planting" the original strawberries. I had a rock outcropping covered with an inch or two of clay, then covered in heavy landscaping fabric, then covered in 3 or 4 inches of mulch. I planted them in the mulch.
To my surprise, they lived and multiplied. This whole thing reminds me of that whole "stitch in time" saying.
But in my defense, my husband would not have allowed the removal of the landscape fabric. In fact, if he knew I planted the strawberries at all, he would have been mad. It didn't fit with his idea of suburban beauty.
So they were kind of incognito, kind of half-assed.
Not anymore. Now the main section is ripped out. I left any that traveled the fabric/mulch continuum outside of the main area. They are all struggling and awful, but they are ground cover and I can always redo them later.
So I took out the plants, took out the fabric!!!!, and added compost to the clay. Once the mulch, plants and fabric were gone it was astonishing how little was there. Just big boulders and a smidge of clay.
I then replanted the runners and a few wild strawberries my daughter collected from the forest (we had our first berry this week from a wild strawberry! It was so small! Like pumpkin seed small - but not as wide!)
I mulched around them with leaves (slug bait!) and lava rocks (slug death!) I also replanted the uprooted walking onion and a few herbs - thyme, sage, parsley, and dill.
I had heard of fertilizer burn. I just never experienced it before. Well, I was at the very end of my very last bottle of FishRich (sighs!) and I was pouring it out in the cap. Since rain was expected, I thought I could just put a cap of the heavily concentrated sediment at the bottom of the jug near each of my plants and the rain would water it in. Brilliant, right? I just saved annoying mixing time.
I put a capful around each plant. I then left and went on with my life. Well, the rain didn't come that night. It came the next day. Unfortunately, I had a few plants where I got the fertilizer on the plant. These were of course my melons and cucumbers. They oozed up and died in short order.
Rain did eventually come (the next day even) and the other plants did fine. But I lost over a month of growing time on the cantaloupe and cucumbers! My second attempts with both plants were devoured by flea beetles and I am so far behind on melons that we may not get a single one! I am planning to cover them in a cold frame and try to get them to fruit/mature. We shall see!
Even without the fertilizer burn drama, my squash and melons still sucked. I started them in the greenhouse and the squash did great. The melons were horrible. Slow to germinate, struggling for life out of the greenhouse, still not producing anything!
|Somehow the watermelon survived this!|
|The watermelon today. Alive, a little yellow, with flowers and no fruit|
The peppers took forever and a lot of coaxing to germinate. In the end, I got two plants. They were doing great until one just died for no reason, and the other was stolen by a rabbit (who also chowed down the parsnips!)
|A rare pepper plant sighting - down by the blue butter knife|
The squash (and I'm going to lump cucumbers in here too) are just not very robust. They have put on copious flowers but no fruits have formed. I am aware that they put out mostly males first. Makes sense, right? But still!!
The crookneck squash (from seeds my son found on the road during a charity cleanup!!) were the best performers. They have put on at least 10 fruits already. But ALL of them have shriveled before maturing. Maybe its a potassium deficiency? I think this is due to improper pollination. I have 3 plants going so that should not be an issue, but I have noticed fewer bees. Perhaps it's wet and cold when the flowers are open (the morning) and the bees are not active. Or maybe it's because I have very few flowers in the garden this year.
I hate flowers because they spread, are unproductive, and waste space. But maybe I really need them to get those bees to come over! Buckwheat is supposed to be a bee favorite, but I rarely saw any bees on our flowers.
I think some perennial bee-faves are in order. I am thinking about planting them at each of three garden corners (sorry rhubarb, that mean's you'll have to move) and maybe I'll plant another garden patch in the perennial bed next spring. I just might have to.
I put up two trellises last year and got major flack about how conspicuous they were. I was convinced they would prove their awesomeness once they were loaded with butternut squash and cucumbers.
I have been training the butternuts and cucumbers up the trellis and so far they are obeying, but their growth is sloooooow and of course they are fruitless. Time will tell, but as of right now the trellis is looking like an "I told you so" but not in my favor!
So my soil must just be the most infertile place on Earth. I joke with people that I don't have to pull weeds, but it's with a heavy heart. Because that just underlies the fact that I have to fight anything to grow in it.
I put up 4 permanent raised beds to help with erosion and improve the soil on the clay hill where my garden sits. I put the clay back into the garden and mixed in compost, leaves, top soil. I have added to this garden every year. Leaves all fall long, compost in the spring, etc.
And still it is so difficult to grow in. It is way less hard and compacted. I can grow root crops and actually get them out without breaking now (I still have to "DIG" them out, not pull) but it's improvement!
|Months of growth for wild purslane. Really, this is all!|
I was at an orchard this weekend and I found purslane mountains! The same purslane that grows wild here (and I was only 30 minutes from my house.) It's an annual so all that growth came in one season. What the heck!!!????
It should be noted that even though I garden organically, I didn't always and even with chemical fertilizers my garden has always underperformed. My husband likes to tell me that all bug and growing issues are due to my "organic @#@#"
It's simply not the case. Maybe if we didn't have herbicide riddled lawn clippings I could use our compost.... Never mind that, I have already started my own compost area away from the clippings so I can use it to help the garden out.
Miracle grow soil
|A weed finally sprouted in the miracle gro soil after every seed planted for 4 weeks straight died.|
Last winter, I bought a few bags of ecoscraps potting soil from Target. It was on clearance and I knew I would need it for starting seeds. It worked great. It didn't dry out horridly and the plants all grew (some great, some not, but it was winter in zone 4, and they all grew outside!)
But then I ran out of the ecoscraps and I bought the Organic Miracle gro soil at Costco. Every single thing I have planted in it has died. I have now used half the bag and it has proven to be a killer every single time. I added some to the pot I already had growing Casa Blanca lillies because the pot was low and I wanted to add flowers around the bottom. All the flowers that were added in that pot got sick and died, the Casa Blanca lillies yellowed!
Come on!!! What is wrong with this soil? Plus it dries out immediately and refused to re-wet. I really hate it and if I can find my Costco receipt, it is going back. Even though it is half used, I don't think the first half even counts. I will never buy it again!
Maybe it was all the Miracle Gro soil, maybe it was timing, or maybe it was just bad luck, but all of my container plants have looked ugly and disappointing this year.
I started Shasta daisies in the house in brand new soil and somehow they were riddled (I mean every leaf plastered, end to end) with aphids and some white bug.
I hosed them off and put them outside. There, they magically recovered. Will they grow well from this point on? Who knows.
I already discussed the calla lilly containers - but the myriad of death that went through them was astounding - sunflowers, cosmos, marigolds, bachelor buttons, coreopsis, and pansies!
I planted these last year and the plant was beautiful. Big, robust, and loaded with berries. Of course, the berries tasted like poisonous death. Even after cooking with sugar, they made the most beautiful purple syrup ever and tasted like toxic death.
But I love the plant and I'd rather plant them every year, than buy a large tropical plant from the nursery that's just going to die each winter.
So I let the berries fall into the pot where they overwintered, so they could come up and fill the container once again.
Except that they never did come up. I then used some of the seeds I still had from the first planting and they never came up. In an act of exasperation, I sprinkled ALL of the seeds I had into the container, watered it deeply, and walked away in disgust.
They are finally growing. And I am out of seeds. I hope there is enough time for them to set viable seeds. VIABLE seeds! They follow the tomato timeline. At this point, they are still seedlings. No flowers, no fruits, no seeds.
If started a tomato now, I don't think I would get fruit. Not ripe fruit. So I am worried.
I forgot to mention that I hand pollinated all the flowers last year. This plant is inside our porch where there no bugs (or supposed to be no bugs) so the job falls to me. I am going to be aggressive about it this year if I get the chance.
I do not want to have to buy seeds for a plant that I should have been able to collect seeds from.
Tin Can Herb Garden
I had so much hope for this. It was made of recyclables, it was free, it was cute at first. Then the cans started rusting, and some of the plants started struggling in their little pots. I decided to recycle the whole thing and move half the herbs inside, the other half moved in with the strawberries.
These grew great. A little slow in cold weather, but they put on lush green growth. I ate the leaves. Raw they were a little like spinach. Cooked they were a chewier - rougher bitter spinach. They still have no seeds but did finally send up little flower heads. Itty bitty for the size of the plants and no sign of petals or anything else. I don't think they will set in time to be harvested so that makes amaranth a wash in zone 4. Perhaps, they would be worth it for the non-bolting greens and so I will save the seeds I have left and will grow it in the future if all my other greens give out.
Usually one of my favorite plants, this year swiss chard has struggled to stay alive. My first batch died in the spring frost. The second has battled Japanese beetles and has been losing. I have eaten it twice, but barely. So, so sad.
The Following items are on the fence - time will tell if they are a success or failure
Massively thinning fall raspberry canes so only the largest survive
Planting garlic from grocery store cloves
Harvesting Flax seeds
Covering raspberries with net to keep out SWD
Espalier grape pruning
Additional Blueberry Plantings
More articles from this year's garden:19 Tomatoes and counting
Growing Heirloom Tomatoes without electricity
2015 Garden Part 1
2015 Garden Part 2
2015 Garden Part 3
2015 Garden Part 4
2015 Garden Part 5
2015 Garden Part 6
2015 Garden Part 7
2015 Garden Part 8
2015 Garden Part 9
2015 Garden Part 10
2015 Garden Part 11
Keeping Slugs off Your Strawberries Forever!
Growing Flaxseed in the Home Garden
Growing Potatoes from the Grocery store
Growing Espalier Grapes on a Fence
Can Tomatoes Survive temperatures below 28 Fahrenheit?
A full list of the edibles in our garden as of July 2015:
4 Varieties of Blueberry
3 Varieties of Red Raspberry (2 summer, 1 fall)
Red, White, and Pink Currants
2 Varieties of Gooseberries
Dill, Sage, lemon balm, thyme, parsley, cilantro, basil
6 Varieties of Tomato
2 Varieties of Potato
2 Varieties of Grapes (1 red, 1 white)
2 Varieties of Strawberry (1 june, 1 alpine)
Snap peas (2 types)
Cucumbers (2 types)
Pineapple Ground cherries
Purslane (2 varieties)
Scarlet Runner Beans
Honeyberries (2 varieties)