Monday, September 28, 2020

The Moment of Truth - Sweet Potatoes

 This past weekend was absolutely gorgeous.  Friday through Sunday, clear, dry, sunny.  Warm.  Breezy.  Perfect.  The coming week will be cool, cloudy and drippy.  So I've been hustling around making sure everything that you would want to do when it is dry is done.  Soil sifted and stored.  Containers cleaned, dried and put away.  Row covers folded and put in bins. 

I dumped all of my potato grow bags, stored the soil and packed up the bags.  I knew from watching the internet not to set my sights too high for this year's harvest.  I have plenty of potatoes but they are all small.  That's not necessarily a bad thing but makes the yield very low.  

What I was looking forward to is the Sweet Potatoes.  The vines were huge and thriving.  They went through the fence, put rootlets down into the gravel and still demanded daily watering.  And I was careful to listen to them and give them what they wanted.  I was still afraid I had all vine and no tuber.

That's the thing about roots crops.  
You never know how well you did until the moment of truth.

Oooo I see something in there!

Lots of somethings

The sifter above contains the harvest from one container
I got plenty of large baker sized and some that are more suitable for cubing.
I still have some vines tucked into ornamental plantings that need to be dug up.

This is the combined harvest from both of my containers.
I cleaned them off and set them on the strawberry cage  
to sort by size and ready them for curing.  
I plan on prepping them and putting most of them in the freezer.

Here is a Joe Gardener video about harvesting, curing and storing sweet potatoes.  

And an article on freezing them to store.

The last tomato plant.  I picked all of the tomatoes, pulled the plant and 
repurposed the soil into a bed which needed amendment. 

This bed got all of the tomato soil and some of the potato soil because both of these were topped with shredded leaves which made a nice combination.  Next year my Dahlias will be planted here but I also planted some of the smallest potatoes to see if can get an early crop in the spring.  Because I only grew in bags there would be no missed spuds to sprout as volunteers.  So I volunteered them.

My meager lettuce crop.  Better than nothing!

Brussells Sprouts.  I've removed the insect netting and put that away.  They can't do much damage at this point.  The sprouts really haven't done much despite being watered every other day.  I'm hoping some cooler wet weather will stimulate some growth.

The Nasturtiums are at their peak and the bees and even hummingbirds are loving them.

The Dry Creek bed grasses are also at their peak and are giving some autumn color.

This Strawberry Marigold is right outside the garden shed door and I admired it each time I walked by.

Another "more fun when it's dry" project is compost.  I turned my existing piles and dumped out one of our compost tubes which we used over the winter for kitchen waste and which has been sitting since early May when we emptied the other tube and began filling it.  From left to right - the tiger lilies, the cornstalks and the kitchen waste.

The strawberry bed has been weeded and mulched in preparation for spring.

And finally the Clematis Vine which I cut back to the ground in early August has outdone itself in the second blooming.  The variety is Rebecca and it always has a few blooms late into the season but nothing like this.  The other side has just as many blooms.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Days are Numbered

The days are numbered and so is the harvest.  Just about the time you get sick of zucchini and pull out the plants leaving lovely tillable soil in place of a mass of failing vines, you realize that the half dozen zukes you have sitting in the basket on the counter is all there will be until next June.  Then you start counting how many tomatoes are left on the vine and estimating that in terms of sandwiches (which you also thought you were sick of but were wrong).  The garden days are numbered.  This morning there was patchy frost on the roof but the garden temperature was still 36.

I still have a beautiful bed of pole beans, two decent tomato plants, the sweet potato vines and the brussels sprouts.  I'm trying to get lettuce started but the other things are being dealt with one by one.  Soil is being returned to the dirt locker and pots are being put away.  The fences are on the landscape shrubs, and leaf blowing has begun.

Here is the Clematis Vine I cut to the ground in Mid-August.  
It is big and beautiful and blooming again.

The Nasturtium are doing pretty well this year.  I pulled out some scraggly ones, but about half of them remain.  No sign of aphids this year.

It sure took some trying, but the pole beans are beautiful now.  This is the third planting.  Both the Monte Gusto and Carminat are topping the trellis and producing super long, straight beans in yellow and purple.  I have Jade planted at their feet.  Not performing spectacularly as last year, but still good.  The beans were the only thing I was concerned may be touched by frost, but the dew was heavy this morning and they seem OK.

Above is the cleared out zucchini bed.  
Even after the plant is gone, the roots are still doing their job.

I am trying to get some fall lettuce started.  Last year it didn't work.  This year is a bit touch and go too.  After I shot this photo, I transplanted half a dozen romaine seedlings and a nice oak leaf plant that I started in the house under grow lights.  I will have a little salad, but it might not be a lot.  In years past I have been very successful and had lettuce into December when the plants just stopped growing and were eaten to the nub.

This year I am trying burlap over the seed bed to keep the birds out ( I have very efficient purple finches) and keep the soil moist and cool.  The weather has been hot and dry but we are getting temps in the high 60s all this week, so not good lettuce sprouting weather before now but still some hope.  No matter how well we plan, how hard we work or how clever we think we are, we are always at the mercy of the weather to some extent.

Also, I have already ordered the bulk of my seeds for next year.  Some things like potatoes will naturally have to wait, but the larger, long lasting seeds (like peas and beans) are all sorted and ready and the list of remaining seeds (like Sweet Corn and Lettuce) will be taken care of as soon as they are in stock.  I hope everyone is getting their harvest stored.  Canning lids and freezer bags are hard to come by these days and only natural hoarders like myself have extra.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

And a River Runs Through it.

We live on the wide, level top of a large hill.  Our house is on a small raised area and there is decent grade in every direction, but we still have flooding issues.  Our back lawn, which traditionally had two boggy spots along the tree lines where the sun rarely shone, had, in the past five years, turned into an unmowable swamp.  

We don't know what happened to change our lawn into a swamp.  We have a couple of theories.  Maybe when we hooked up to the city water and left our water well unused, we stopped moving the water out of the water table.  Maybe that winter when it was -30 for two weeks and the frost was 48 inches into the ground, the shale ledge fractured opening up new springs?  Whatever it was, it was fast and dramatic.  And it has caused a lot of misery.

There comes a point in June when you figure you are just going to have to chance mowing for the first time, before you have to resort to the brush hog.  In some areas you can get through, and others are softer than they look.  A whole section of lawn felt like a waterbed.  

The sod layer ballooned up away from the hard grey clay below.  There were areas of the backyard that were left unmowed almost all last summer.    I had to put tall boots on to access my cold frame which sat on the patio with the open side to the lawn.  Sometimes the pressure of the mower deck alone would rumple up sections of sod like an area rug that isn't stuck down right. 

To the west of my garden, there was a strip of lawn where the mower has been getting stuck for decades.  When we chose the spot for our garden, we also decided this would be a good time to put in a driveway along that terrible wet spot to get past the garden and back to an area we use for staging materials, storing equipment, and burning brush.  The construction of this driveway only moved the wet spot a little further east.

There would be standing water along these RR ties all year.  When we got a hard rain, the driveway itself would be ankle deep in water.  During really hard rains (I'm talking an inch an hour for more than one hour) the water would back up into the raised bed garden.

The first thing we did last spring was to put a dry well into that sunken wet spot, and we dug across the driveway to connect a drain pipe from the drywell to the overflow pipe from our rainwater collection system.  This pipe runs the center of the wooded area, picks up the water from half of the next door neighbor's downspouts, and runs out behind their barn and into the woods.  Now the driveway, and the section of the lawn to its northwest, stays dry and does not hold water.

The next thing we did was turn the worst part of the swamp, directly south of the garden shed, into a gravel pad.  If you can't mow it... build on it.

We laid down road stabilization mat over the grass, and bordered the area with RR ties pinned into the ground.  Then we began adding #2 washed stone.  A lot of stone.  Loads and loads of stone.  We filled it eight inches deep to match the top edge of the ties.

The plan is to build a greenhouse here.  And add some storage.  With a shady porch to sit under and admire our hard work  The hard part is deciding how to do this.  It would be great if I could choose a picture off of Pinterest, put it in my shopping cart, and have UPS deliver it tomorrow.  But we all know there is a lot more planning and hard work that goes into it than that.  Also this building project will incorporate rain water collection and eventually solar power.  All ambitious ideas.

Here are some of the ideas we are batting
around as we search for the perfect solution

So for now, the gravel pad sits empty.  And dry.  Very dry!  It is beautiful in its dryness and its potential.  And the best part - when we first mowed the backyard in early May, we didn't get stuck.  We didn't even leave a rut.  Not even a muddy stripe!  That means we diverted a lot of water.

But now that there is a road stabilization mat under all of that gravel, water will run off of it instead of soaking into the sponge that was pretending to be lawn.  And we needed to get that water 60 feet downgrade to that drywell at the edge of the driveway.  What we wanted, was rocks.  A whole lot of rocks.  Something that would not have to be mowed.  Something like the Dry Creek Bed nearby.  What we needed was something along the lines of a Rain Garden.  And we really do like rocks.  There is so much beauty there if you look.  Every time I walk through our man made riverbed I marvel that such a wide variety of material all ended up in one gravel bank to be harvested for our landscaping.

And so it began.

This space is half as wide as it is long.  So at some points of its development it began to look more like a landslide than a riverbed.  But we kept working on it.  This main drainage project spawned a lot of side projects.  I wanted tall grasses and plants that attract butterflies, so I took advantage of late season sales last summer and bought carloads of grasses and transplanted them into fiber pots.

Which led to digging SIXTY holes.  Moving the stones aside, cutting into the road fabric.  Burrowing into the nasty, hard, nearly pure clay.  The fiber pot and potting soil method I used on the last dry creek bed has proven quite successful.  The daylilies, irises and grasses thrive and grow bigger each year as the pots disintegrate and the roots find native soil below.  When the grasses are filled out, they add a lot of texture and as they mature they will add height making the winding creek bed itself look narrower.  I plan on adding some low shrubs as well.

Connected the drainage project was the Firepit project.  The fire pit located itself in a deep void that developed from driving the tractor back and forth over an area where a stump had been deteriorating underground.  The tree that belonged to the stump that made the fire pit is now a counter top in my kitchen.  When a hole develops, we put it to use!  We have had several fires, both last fall and early this spring.  The west side becomes shaded around 1pm so we've put a variety of chairs around it.  These chairs have been moved so many times before they found a home!  And they're HEAVY.  And awkward.  They used to have to be moved every time we mowed the lawn.

See all of those little orange flags on the chairs?  Those are to keep the birds off.
The flags look a little silly but trust me, I'd rather look at silly orange flags than scrub bird poop off of the chairs every day.  And there was a lot!  And some of it was berry purple.

The last thing we did was add a walkway and finished off the south edge of the gravel pad where it joins the lawn.  We need to keep this area accessible and undeveloped until we build whatever it is we are going to build.  It is easily reached by the driveway making construction relatively easy.

This spring the creek still looked a little bare.  
I've kept adding plants, and now it looks much more interesting.  We get a lot of butterflies which love the three butterfly bushes I planted

As most things do, this project has evolved in its own way.  Without any thought being put into it, the color scheme has gravitated towards purple and yellow.  There is no shortage of yellow or orange day lilies that need to be divided so I've added some of those, and in a few weeks I will transplant black-eyed susans and salvia.  

Growing up I spent many many hours playing in the creek.  Now I have one running through my own backyard.  And yes, when it rains, the water does run down the center towards the drain. There is something very peaceful about the creek bed with the swaying grasses and the dragon flies.

Above is my favorite view of the dry creek bed.  It is a nice transition between the structure of the garden and seating areas and the natural areas beyond.  It is full of fossils and quartz and flint.  The rocks themselves are worthy of landscape arranging and the plants only enhance their beauty.  

We live in the Great Lakes region which was covered by the Laurentide Ice Sheet until about 14,000 years ago.  That glacier pushed a lot of rocks across Western NY.  It isn't unusual to find boulders the size of a stove not far under the surface of your lawn or pasture.  The rocks are worn smooth by waters and ice.  I wonder how far some of them have traveled before they were deposited together in a creek bank to lay buried for thousands of years..

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. 
~Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It