Saturday, January 14, 2017

Lessons from Kitchen Garden, Orchard, and Yard, 2016.

This is my summary of what did well and what did not, and general progress, from 2016.   It was a great gardening year!  I learned a lot, had great food, a few failures, and the best kitchen garden ever!

January -
Transplanting /Dividing Bamboo.  A Sawzall is about the only way I can figure, to cut away bamboo starts from an old colony.  It worked. If I had to do it over, I might have cut them back by 1/3 or 1/2, to reduce summer wilting.  Still, all survived and put out new canes.

I watered several times during the hot summer, but not as much as I expected.
It helps to apply a thick layer of mulch.

I started seeds for pepper plants in Mid January.  They did fine, but I don't think they did any better than plants I started in February or March in previous years.

I started okra seeds in mid January.  They grew, sulked, and did not thrive.  Starting okra seeds in June worked better, but nothing like, say, growing it in Alabama.

I transplanted a seed-grown ginkgo tree, about 12 feet tall, mid January, and many lilacs that were taller than I am.  All did fine, not with major growth but at least survived, produced some new stems, and made it through the year.  I expect them to need another year to fully take off.  They got extra water, using the 5-gallon bucket method 1/4 inch hole in the bottom of each, 2 per tree or bush, once weekly during the heat.

Using black plastic to start a garden bed works really nice.  Leave it in place for a few months, that kills all of the grass and weeds.  Then dig in the plant remnants and moss, a month before planting.  I think voles lived under the plastic for the winter, but maybe they fed the owls and cats.

I planted Favas Feb 27.  They did great, grew well, produced great, and were delicious.  But for some reason, I didn't eat them all.  I don't know why.  Sometimes I need to try something a few times, for it to kick in.

Growing potatoes from tall sprouted potatoes, didn't produce much.  I did get some, but not worth the effort.  Compost them.

Planted primocane, thornless blackberries from tissue cultured starts, in Feb.  They started slowly, then took off.  I got a few tastes.  Deer love eating these, as well as other cultivated types.  Other than the weed Himalayan blackberries deer eat them all to the ground.  I have a spot for them, to move them later this winter.

I think cement block raised beds worked better for peppers, compared to wooden beds.  These were repurposed blocks.  Compared to wood, the cement blocks give a warmer bed.  They worked well for Chinese chives too, but those are not particular.  This year I want to try these for okra, and move some of the Chinese chives to a less picky spot.

Dandelion greens make for great, healthy, nutritious, free chicken food supplement.  The chickens love it and the eggs have more orange yolks.  Dig a few dandelion plants and transplant them to a coddled vegetable row, and they make more tender, bigger, tastier greens compared to the ones from the yard.

I gave up on apricots, and container peaches.  Too much trouble for the peaches, although it did work well.  Apricots just don't grow for me here, despite many tries.

At least for me, grafting kiwi and persimmons were pretty easy.  I waited until the rootstocks were growing, while storing scion in plastic bags in fridge.  Grafting ginkgo was not hard, but they were slow growing.  We'll see this year.  So far the only total grafting failure is lilacs.  I got one of three fig scion to take, so that's not easy for me, but not impossible.  Grafting tomatoes works, but is a lot of trouble.  They need a lot of attention to humidity.  I lost about 2/3 of them.  Not sure they were worth the effort but it's fun to try.

Potatoes do great here.  Productive, deer don't eat the plants, and harvest is like a treasure hunt.

Tart cherries make the most amazing pie, whether from a wild tree or Montmorency.  100% worth the effort.  I hope the Montmorency tree is happier this year, I neglected it too much.

First crop ever of Methley plums, awesome too.

Milkweed has a wonderful fragrance.  It's a unique and pretty plant.  Honeybees love them.  Grown from seeds, they need a year to bloom.  I think they transplanted OK in the fall, but won't know until this Spring.  They are late to come up.  I gave up on them, then was surprised.

I can't believe how well sweet corn did.  Planted every 2 weeks, blocks of 4 rows each, 5 feet by 5 feet. Trinity, Bilicious, and Bodaceous, were all great.  Mirai was too sweet and watery, I didn't like it.  For me to not like a sweet corn is saying something.

I discovered it is possible to germinate and grow 10-year-old bean seeds.  We had seeds that old in the basement, stored cool and dry.  Planted directly in the soil, none grew.  Keeping them in plastic zip-lock bags, on moist paper towel, changing the paper towel if starting to mildew, we got maybe 5% germination.  Of those, some were mutants but there were plenty for a great crop of Chinese green beans, and seeds saved for 2017.

The summer kitchen garden was my best ever.  Lots of sweet corn, tomatoes, greens, green beans, plums, peaches, pears, apples, potatoes, onions.  Keeping ahead of it was a challenge at time but I loved spending the time outside.
Had the first taste of Sweet Treat Pluerry.  Nice flavor.  We'll see if the tree produces this year.  Bloom is early, might not pollinate well. 

Zucchini fritters are great for breakfast and a good way to use that prolific summer vegetable.

I really love mulberries, Hollywood plums, and every kind of fig.  All produced OK.

This was a bit of an off year for plums, compared to 2015.  I may have let them over-produce in 2015, or the bloom time vs. frost time were not favorable in 2016.  Either way, we had enough.

Gravenstein apples are delicious, found these apples then bough a tree in the fall and planted it.

Summer fresh  fruit is heaven.   I also enjoyed my first taste of Summerred apple, which was refreshing and a little spicy.

Collard greens are delicious, cut into strips and stir fried.  Collards grow very well here, but cabbage worms and slugs leave many holes in the leaves.

Sutton Beauty is a good, very old fashioned apple.  The columnar apple trees, NorthPole, Scarlet Sentinel, and Golden Sentinel, are all quite good and  fairly early.

Tomatoes, peppers, and okra were all late summer, but really good when they came on line.  I think the cement block raised beds were ideal for peppers.

Summer planting in July, was perfect for turnips, Chinese radishes, and Daikon.  Some salad radishes did well then too.  I did not get any success with kohlrabi or broccoli.

We grew more pumpkins, zucchinis, and squashes than we knew what to do with.  Some we gave away.  Some we processed and froze for later use.  I need to learn more ways to cook them, especially savory instead of sweet.

I learned how important it is to bare-root container trees for planting into native soil.   I did that with this Gravenstein tree, and with a Dawn Redwood.

I  loved those persimmons.  Nikita's Gift was more productive, more vigorous, and had a more interesting taste, compared to Saijo.  This was the first year that either produced fruit.  Saijo was nothing to sneeze at - delicious, sweet, juicy, and big.  Basically, I fell in love with persimmons this year.

On the negative side, I gave up on honeybees.  They are too much trouble, to expensive, and it's too disappointing when they die off - this year was the 3rd year and 4th colony that I lost.  That's it for those.  I'm about to give up bearded irises, but not yet.  Most of the year the plants are just plain ugly, weedy, and tend to rot.  On the other hand, they are durable enough that I might leave them growing in the fence row. 

I don't know what I loved most about gardening this year.  Every time I ventured into the yard and garden, it felt like an adventure.  Sometimes it takes many attempts to get something to do well, then it does and you don't know why.  Maybe random chance, or this was just a good year.  The summer fruits were amazing, the sweet corn made it all worth while.  Even the potatoes were a treat.  Those pumpkins and squashes are delightful, even if I didn't know what to do with all of them.  We tried many new ways of cooking many of our crops.  Learning that I really do love persimmons was a delicious adventure.  There were foods or varieties that I've never tasted before in my life, and they were wonderful.  I can't say that 2017 will be as great, but I'm grateful for a year where I got to enjoy so much time in the garden, experience so many new treats, and nurture myself, my household, and the land itself.    I'm ready are rarin' to go for another year of digging, planting, pruning, grafting, hoeing, transplanting, propagating, harvesting and savoring.


  1. Nice summary of 2016. You reminded me of tart cherries that I used to have, and may try again. They were resistant to fruit flies, and tasted good.

    1. Thanks Spud! I checked the Montmorency tree today, it looks still alive after our big freeze. Already anxious for the gardening season to start for 2017!

  2. Wonderful post, Daniel - and encouraging. Kohlrabi was the only thing I planted last year, in 4' long trough containers made from fence boards. Wifey didn't want them on our deck (n. side of house) where they did so well the year before and Dad said things did well on the driveway (s. side of house) where they failed, miserably. In 8' of box, planted every 3", I think 4 kohlrabi made it to the table - and then were about 120 days from seed to harvest? I never saw that in the midwest! ;) Jack

    1. Thanks Jack! Maybe your kohlrabi were too close together? Maybe, mine too. I do that all of the time. It takes a lot of self discipline for me to separate my garden plants widely, and it is often a good idea.

  3. Thanks for the re-cap of your yr long effort in the garden. I really enjoy reading it and I feel like you have bring us along on your adventure. My 2 cent is don't give up on your iris. They look good when they are blooming. I think maybe you can try putting gravel on the surface mix with grits or maybe even elevate the bed another half ft. and fill the medium to the brim for better air circulation. Maybe change the location of the box so there'll be better air flow away from edges of walls. Like what you say about trying again and again to get something done right. I'll once again attempt that plum graft this yr.

    1. Lsnce, thank you! I really appreciate your input! I will see what the irises do this year. Your thoughts about stone mulches sound like a good idea. Good luck too with the plum grafting - I usually use whip and tongue for plums, which gives me a good success.

    2. The expert at the scion exchange highly recommended whip and tongue and this time, I'll make sure the Asian match with the Asian and Euro match the Euro. Thanks

    3. Just be careful with your method, since whip and tongue is more likely to cause bad finger cuts. A sharp knife is better than a dull one, because dull ones tend to catch then give when you are exerting pressure, causing faster and harder, less controlled movements.

  4. I thoroughly enjoy your review of 2016 garden successes and failures, your description of tastes, your spirit of doing what you love, and at your own pace. You give an excellent example of observing the plants and their growing conditions. The dandelions and yellow eggs made me smile. Your writing style pleases and inspires me.

    1. Joan, thank you! I love that you read my rambling. Pacing myself is important so I don't overdo and become frustrated, but it also is my puttering meditation. I looked for dandelion seeds, for a more establish culinary type, but the catalog offerings for "Dandelions" or "Italian Dandelions" are really chickory, which is even more vigorous, tougher, and easily distinguished from dandelions by the tall stalks with blue flowers. This year if I am in the mood, I'll transplant the tenderest and biggest leaf dandelion plants into the greens row, and see if the leaves are even more tender and larger. Plus, they are perennial, so the ones that I transplanted last year should come up again. Selecting seeds from the most desirable ones could lead to a nice culinary strain, as well. Certainly, there is not shortage of source material!