What’s Going Well & What’s Not-So-Swell0
Spring is a busy time for farmers – even micro-farmers! We’ve got a lot going on around our homestead and in our lives in general. There are several fun projects I’m eager to work on and share with you, but for now my number one priority is getting plants and seeds into the ground. (Followed closely by the priority to make sure all those plants and seeds have their initial needs met so I don’t lose them!) Those fun projects will have to wait for now. Meanwhile, I thought I’d share another glimpse into spring at Arcadia Farms.
One of the key lessons I’ve learned from more experienced farmers is that every year is different. Something will always do unexpectedly well and something will always unexpectedly fail, even if it has gone well in the past. I guess that’s what happens when nature is your business partner! In that spirit, here’s a little rundown of what’s going well, and what’s not-so-swell this spring.
Going Well: Potatoes
Potatoes are rewarding to grow! I plant mine early (March) which means they almost always encounter a little frost. No worries – I just trim of the frosted (black or brown) sections and they keep right on growing.
Our potatoes are growing both in a raised bed in the main garden (with kale as a companion plant) and along the outside of the western garden fence. The potatoes outside the fence are growing in our native soil. Last year I “hilled” them with waste hay from Nacho the bunny’s hutch. This year I’m hilling potatoes in both locations with hay or grass clippings from the yard to make them easier to harvest in the summer and fall. Learn more here.
I plant my peas in March as well. Last year by this time the pea vines were several feet tall. This year the tallest of the stalks is not even a foot tall. I’m not sure what happened but my guess is that our… interesting… spring weather has something to do with it. April seemed to be either cold (30-50*) and raining or very hot (70-80*) and dry with no transitional days between. We’ll still have peas (and plenty of them!) but my succession plan (what I’m going to plant in that space when the peas are gone) was made anticipating that some of them would be eaten and gone by mid-June! Needless to say, my garden layout is getting a bit of a shuffle!
Going Well: Radishes
It’s hard to mess up radishes! Although my scatter-sowing method has them planted patchy and tight, they’re still doing well. Ryan is the only person in our house who eats radishes, so lucky for him our first annual crop of the year is already available for snacking!
Though the rest of us don’t eat radish roots, we do enjoy eating the greens (sautéed or in quiches), the blossoms (a spicy salad garnish) and the radish seed pods (we call them ‘radish peas’). Did you know that all parts of the radish are edible? Try this: Leave a couple of radishes in the ground. They’ll grow into tall, wispy plants. Eventually the blooms will turn into spicy seed pods that you can harvest and eat. But be quick about it – any leftover or dropped seed pods will surely result in “wild” radishes next spring (we have them all over now).
Not-So-Swell: Carrots and Greens
Here’s another thing I’m blaming on this strange weather: Hardly any of my carrots have germinated and nearly all of my greens have withered. Carrots are a staple in our house and while I know that eventually we’ll have them en masse, this late germinate has me disappointed with how long we’ll have to wait. I’m tempted to re-sow, but then with my luck I’ll end up with so many that I’ll be thinning out more than I grow!
I’ve also lost lots of greens. I had beautiful lettuce and spinach seedlings in the greenhouse which were transplanted in April. All of them died except one head of Grandpa Admire’s lettuce and most of my Frisee. To catch up, I did a direct-sowing (planted directly into the garden) of more lettuce, red winter kale, spinach, arugula and more lettuce. The lettuce and kale never came up. The arugula came up – and died. Thank God that half of the spinach came up or I would have been really discouraged! After a third sowing of arugula and lettuce, I’m finally getting a few to come up.
Going Well: Scallions, Leeks & Onions
The carrots might not like this weather, but my scallions and leeks have had zero trouble germinating in this climate! They look great all over the garden!
My onions (planted from sets) look great too. The pictures below are of yellow onions, red onions and shallots (in order).
Everywhere. Weeds everywhere. I contemplated whether this should be a “Well” or a “Not-so-Swell”… here’s why. Right now, the Main Garden beds aren’t terribly weedy. That’s because I’ve invested a lot of time into cleaning them up – especially the hugelkultur beds which have decomposed and settled to the point of being level with the ground. I’m proud of myself for getting so much work completed, and that feels like a job “well” done.
It was a lot of work, and that’s “not-so-swell”! And even for all of my effort, one bed is still entirely un-weeded (and thus un-planted). The beds that I invested so much time into weeding are, naturally, starting to accumulate unwanted plant guests again. And the aisles… oy, don’t get me started on the aisles!
On top of that, there are still large patches of garlic mustard lingering in The Woods that have not yet removed. Maybe I’ll get to it sometime in June…
Going Well: Paddocks
I also debated how to rank this one… We still have a lot of planting to do, but overall, I feel good about the progress of the East Paddock. The blueberry bushes are thriving, the strawberries are doing well, and the dandelions are thoroughly enjoying the no-mow, no-grazing conditions at present. I’ve planted beans (which are just starting to germinate) all along the eastern fence. I’ll also be transplanting a couple of sunflowers today.
Soon we’ll let the chickens free-range in the backyard so that we can start planting in the West Paddock. As you can see, it’s just as barren as it was last fall. The only difference is that I’ve been littering it from all the weeds plucked from the Main Garden. It’s a decent arrangement… the garden loses weeds and the chickens gain a salad bar without having to leave the yard.
We’ve recently had a significant drop in egg production (6 eggs a day down to 2-3). My fear is that water and feed are part of the problem. (I discovered the other day that water I thought would last 2-3 days only lasted 1… yikes!… I felt horrible). I’m closely monitoring both food and water levels to see if that helps our hens correct whatever is causing the lack of egg production.
Going Well: Blackberries
In my Spring Update post I shared that the blackberry canes weren’t faring so well. I was surprised because these perennial plants are so resilient, I thought for sure we’d have new growth – and maybe even berries! – yet this year. I guess I just didn’t wait long enough. After the very thorough pruning I gave them this past fall, they’re bouncing back with new growth on both sides of the fence. Yeah!
Not-So-Swell: Turkey Broth
At Thanksgiving time we purchased a 20 pound turkey on super-duper sale. We just recently ran out of freezer beef so I decided it was time to thaw the big bird! Wow! Twenty pounds is a lot of turkey! The carcass, along with a gallon freezer bag of vegetable scraps, created a whopping 11 quarts of turkey stock!
At this point maybe you’re thinking “Where’s the Not-so-Swell in this?” Well, here it is… I was planning to can all of this beautiful broth. Canning stock or broth requires the use of a pressure canner, a tool that I own but have never used. The alternative, for me, is freezing my broth, and that’s what I’ve been doing for a couple of years now. But 11 quarts requires a lot of freezer space! It was time for me to start canning (and blogging about canning) my stock.
As I mentioned, we’ve been very busy lately. And I’ve been very tired… maybe even a little fuzzy-headed… and by the time my broth was ready to store, I decided that tired and fuzzy-headed and pressure-canning-can-be-dangerous were not a great combination for my first experience. (Especially given all the trouble I’ve had with canning in the past!) Fortunately we have a second freezer/refrigerator in the garage. It’s currently full of turkey stock.
Going Well: Cucurbits, Tomatoes and More!
Back to plants. I may be missing some carrots and greens, but boy do I have a lot of cucurbits and tomatoes! Between the garden and the greenhouse I currently have 12 healthy Roma tomato seedlings and 8 vigorous Beefsteak tomato plants. We also have gobs of cucumbers (including pickles), zucchini, pumpkins and watermelon. Broccoli, cabbage and many other things are doing well!
Though almost everything grown from the greenhouse has done well, I’m sad to say that my peppers are not on that list. This is not a new trend… peppers are notoriously difficult to germinate and I struggle with them every year. This year I’m growing jalapeños, banana peppers, sweet peppers and paprika peppers. The paprika peppers have germinated nicely, even if they are slow to mature. Everything else has been spotty. I’m tempted to just purchase seedlings from a greenhouse, but I think I’m gonna ride this thing out.
Going Well: No Pressure
Some of the Not-so-Swell things listed above are a bummer, for sure. But the beauty about this year is that no CSA means no pressure. Last year I would have cried when I lost my lettuce (all three times). This year I shrugged and tried again. As much as I will miss serving my customers (and honestly, the dependable initial capital of the season) this laid-back approach to starting my garden is well worth it. I’m looking forward to a stress-free, a thus more enjoyable, season of abundance.