Wednesday, July 31, 2013

the tomato incident

back when we had that big storm, the tomato plants must have taken it the worst. they were heavy with fruit and had outgrown their six foot stakes, and when the wind and rain got to them it pushed them to the ground. in the following week we had to gently lift many of the plants back up and restake them, and untangle the mess of limbs of them and the neighbouring plants.
one plant in the further end of the bed had fallen back over, and when we attempted to lift it for the second time, the main limb snapped right off with about a dozen full sized green tomatoes attached. i pulled the branch and saved the fruit, and hit google for some ideas on what to do with them all. the green tomato bread sounds interesting..
we also got to pick our first legit ripe tomatoes, a couple little cherries on the vine. i can't wait until we have buckets of them for salads and fresh homemade salsa! good thing there's more on the way... speaking of tomatoes, i know i had mentioned earlier that the plants got far bigger than we had expected. this gives us ideas on how to design for next year. we know now that we can afford to give them a little more space, and we may actually move them into a further extension of the garden, and keep the closer bed exclusively for herbs and flowers. just an idea for now, we'll see how it draws out.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


the food garden recovered well after the storm. it required immediate attention, but we managed to lift just about everything back up off the ground. the bed is certainly a little bit overgrown, i have cut back enough branches from the tomatoes that you can walk up the center of the patch, and see what lies beneath. as i had mentioned in a previous post, we weren't expecting the garden to get so big considering our experience in previous years.

the garden is so thick it's almost like a mini food jungle.. when you walk into the center of it you can feel that it holds it's own temperature that is much cooler than the sweltering summer heat present on the outside. the soil beneath is dry only on the very outer layer, i probed the bed with my finger and i could see that it also holds a fair amount of moisture. i bought a hose almost a month ago because we had almost a week without rain and dragging cans of water out from the basement was becoming tiresome. i used the hose all of twice, and since the garden has been able to hold it's own. we haven't gotten this much rain in years, but it has rained every two or three days which has eliminated the need to water pretty much all summer so far.

when we first put the eggplants into the ground, we were concerned that the crazy weather at the start of the season may have stunted them, as they began to flower when they were only half a foot tall, barely strong enough to stand never mind holding fruit. then we had one of those days where it just would not stop raining, and within a few days the plants had nearly tripled in size. a couple of the asian eggplants have quite a bit of fruits on them, just about ready to be enjoyed.

though the storm did a lot of damage to the garden, the damage was a blessing to the rainbow swiss chard. we didn't think it would make it this year.. at the beginning of the season some sort of slug or insect had a feast on both plants. there was next to nothing left of the leaves. after cutting it back to allow it to re-grow, much of the surrounding vegetation had gotten enormous and shaded out the chard. when the storm hit it blew many of those things aside and allowed the swiss chard to thrive.

there will be so many tomatoes! last year the summer was so intensely hot and dry, no matter how much we watered we still ended up getting blossom rot on the first round of tomatoes. this year they are plump and full, and there are many. these heirloom purple striped make some funky shapes, i love heirlooms! so much character, and flavour too. the over planting this year combined with the process we used to build the beds created a perfect little microclimate for growth in what used to be a sun drenched little patch of meadow. in the next post i'll recap the method used to build the beds, which was far less labour intensive than our methods in previous years, and much more fruitful. not to mention, barely any 'weeds'!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Storm Damage

it's been a hot week.. brutally hot. last weekend i went on retreat to a slightly northerly vacation to swim in a lake and escape the city, and when i returned the garden had had another growth spurt, and outgrown most of it's stakes. because of the heat [even at night, augmented with killer mosquitoes!] i hadn't much of a chance to fix it, especially since last week i had just tied everything up to the top of 6 foot stakes there wasn't much i could do without taller ones.

finally the weather cools down, but there are only a few moments before a frightening black cloud erupts over the peninsula unleashing one of the craziest storms we have had in the past decade. the lightning was something to behold.. the wind and rain was spinning and intense, and somewhere in the weather mash up the garden took a beating. when we went out to check midway through the storm we could see that almost all of it had been pushed right down to the ground.

our last garden patch was completely surrounded by a wooden fence which acted as an excellent wind break, and saved the garden from damages like this. the more wild, almost entirely freestanding method from last year's place doesn't work here, as the field next door is an open invitation for the wind. this is the first time all year we have felt it's wrath, and this has been a key learning point for next year's garden.

i hadn't expected this patch to get as enormous as it did, big thick healthy stocks and tomato plants and vines far taller than i am. the land is fertile, our bed building method worked like a charm, and we've gotten far more rain this spring/summer than we have in the last five combined. it was just a mash of all the perfect elements to help the bed quickly overgrow and get out of control.

i suppose the fact that we weren't expecting to have a garden this year [and then built one last minute] is a contributor to the minimal staking method we went with.. after all was said and done support structures were minimally in the budget. many pieces were recycled. we had expected that the only way we would get to grow anything this year was going to be in minimally maintained patches cached away around the town, we wanted to see if it was possible to build small patches that require minimal support and care. our findings conclude that with proper wind break, it is completely possible, as long as the bed is built well in the first place.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

early summer fruits

first to the finish line, some pickling cukes! they started flowering not very long ago, and already these are just about ready to pick. we have a large supply of our own fresh dill, and will be trying our hand at makin' pickles. the next thing that will finish seems to be the bush variety zucchini, the plant has almost a dozen fruits taking off under it's enormous leaves.

i'm excited for the zucchini, i'll most likely trade a few of them to a baker in exchange for a fresh zucchini loaf. otherwise we are beginning to see tomatoes, and there's also quite a few mature peppers coming through. i was also surprised to find along the back fence that the wild grapes are actually producing fruit, we will have to see if they will end up being edible.

 the beds are looking beautiful, so far the cardboard garden experiment is going very well. there are next to no 'weeds', and if there are they are usually only along the edge so that they are easy to pull. there are a few blades of grass here and there, but considering i didn't pull many of the roots out, that's not bad. not a problem as of yet, and the vegetation has certainly become thick enough to shade out any 'intruders'.

you can barely see the path! but there still is one, it's a good thing i made it as wide as i did, or there would be no walking space. we will have to go through again and re-tie a lot of the tomatoes, they're growing so fast they need some adjustment. the beds seem to be keeping very moist on their own, they require no watering until the third day of heat without rain, it mostly stands up on it's own so i don't have to worry if i go away for the weekend. it's nice! there's a lot planned for next year based on this year's overall success, possibly including fruit trees and shrubs.

Monday, July 1, 2013

growth explosion

we have been getting a lot of rain the past couple weeks, which has helped the garden catch up to where it should be growth wise. we have been getting some crazy weather, [really hot, then really really cold] which stunted some of the plants, especially the peppers and the eggplants. the peppers went into flower mode immediately and so did some of the eggplants.
now you can actually see the little eggplants hiding amongst the other plants, they're finally more than twice the size they were when i put them in the ground. i was afraid they were permanently stunted. i may still end up with miniature eggplants if any at all, i know a couple of them had already started to flower.
...and check out these figs! i wasn't sure we would get fruit the first year, it is but a tiny tree. but the lady at the farmers market told me as long as it's well watered and fed it should produce something this season. and voila! there's about a dozen fruit started on the tree. how exciting!
the zucchini plant has to be the biggest thing in the garden by mass and volume.. the thing is just huge. the stalks are almost as big around as the finished fruit should be, and there's half a dozen fruits coming through already. the leaves are bigger than my head, and the bush has to be over five feet across. i gave it three, and i also put it in a low spot hoping the extra water accumulation would help it survive the summer heat. it also helped it to take over that entire corner of the garden..
the closely planted food polycultures are proving to work well so far. now that the foliage is almost covering the beds completely it is easy to see that the plants help one another by confusing pests, shading the soil to keep in moisture, and shading smaller more delicate plants from the harsh sun, thus allowing them to thrive in the moist microclimates amongst other palnts. this also crowds out potential 'weeds' from flourishing as there is little room left for intruders.