Another year of gardening is upon us. Here in September the efforts of our labor are producing a bounty of food for us to can, freeze, dehydrate, store, brine and eat. As with every year, some crops did very well, some did okay, some not at all. I am always amazed by what and how nature delivers.
The value of conversation with other local growers is of the utmost importance when evaluating the whys of both successes and failures during a growing season. As an example, I had no blossoms on my peach trees this year, not a one. Was it something I did or the effects of something other than my gardening practices? Conversations with local growers reveals that, in general, peach trees at my elevation did not flower this year. It was not just me! Perhaps it could have been the very mild January temperatures followed by the – 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-23 C) temperatures in February. Anyway, there is no need to second guess what I might have done.
May offered up a heavy frost to the entire east coast of the United Statyes, 26 degrees F ( -3 C) here in Southern New England, which decimated many crops. Peach blossoms in Georgia and the Carolina's were wiped out as were the leaves and fruits of my grapes and many other plants. Cool temperatures and fog also kept many pollinators away effecting pollination of many fruit trees. Pollination of tomatoes and peppers was slow during much of June as well and the 12.5 inches of rain we got in July ruined many crops for those with poor soil drainage. Despite all this the blueberries, potatoes, cabbages, beans, tomatoes, garlic, squash and many other fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers have done remarkably well. Thus, is the nature of working with nature.
Keeping something growing on all garden spaces throughout the growing season is an important aspect of feeding the soil. It is the plant root exudates and the degradation of soil biology and plant roots that nurtures deep into the soil. Garlic is planted in October and harvested in July. I sow oats, collards and allow the weeds to
grow in the space the garlic is harvested from and allow the squash planted next to the garlic to expand into this space as well so that it will remain covered for the entire growing season. The greens on top and roots below will then decompose throughout the winter months and a new cycle of sustainable regeneration begins the following spring.
Another example is the bed of carrots planted between rows of onions. After the onions were harvested the carrots quickly filled the space and will grow late into fall. This space will be mulched with crushed leaves to protect the soil during the winter months.
The lush green that the July rains produced also brought large numbers of frogs and toads onto the lawn. Frogs would continually jump out of harm’s way in front of the lawn mower.
Collected rain water was used for foliar feeding only and not needed to water an otherwise parched August bed. Despite all the rain most crops produced a bounty and the opportunity to store for the year to come. As an example, the cabbages that we grew produced much more that we could eat when ripe. By growing two kinds of cabbage we were able to stagger the time of abundance of each. Using fermentation as a low cost tool we made sauerkraut that will be eaten long into next year and a fermented plant juice that will be use to feed cabbage plants next year.
Pressure from local animals has been minimal this year. There seems to be predators around that has kept the raccoons, squirrels, mice, voles, moles and chipmunks at bay. Unfortunately our cat was also victim. A kestrel and sharp shinned hawk have been patrolling the yard as well. We have a naughty bear that tried and failed to get into the bee apiary in the tree fort, but did damage the hoop house and blueberry netting.
A most remarkable recent event was saving a three-foot-long black snake from certain death. The poor leviathan had gotten stuck in a thin nylon meshed trellis. It had been stuck for a couple of days before we were alerted of the situation. The snake had wriggled well into the mesh which was causing sever constriction in many parts along its body from the middle up to its head.
The key to success was having the snake leave without any constrictions that would prevent digestion of its next meal. We calmed her by humming and whistling simple tones bringing about a state of comfort, its writhing stopped, its tongue stopped interrogating the surroundings and her body went limp in our hands while cutting away the nylon constrictions. The goal was to prevent her from darting away at the first chance with some constrictions still intact. Having a pair of surgical scissors enabled the delicate snipping of the nylon strands close to the skin without hurting our new found friend. After the final cut, which released a constriction around the middle of her body, the snake lay calmly in our hands for a few moments before slowly slithering away. She knew we were just trying to help.