Annual Garden Update

Today, in the category of “Better Late than Never”: we present my annual garden update.

With photos from four weeks ago. When my garden flourished. Before the brutal summer heat and an extended dry spell descended up Maryland.

WARNING: Very, very photo heavy post ahead. Consider a high speed internet connection and computer, rather than a smart phone, to read this post.

My garden theme this year: defensive measures. Against predators of all varieties. Behold, our beautiful new solar powered electric perimeter fence to keep out pests like rabbits, squirrels and deer.

My garden in 2021
My garden in 2021

For the record, the electric fence doesn’t work against rabbits. Or squirrels. And maybe not deer – I lack proof either way!

Garden Bed A1. Butternut squash (Burpee’s Butterbush variety) trellised over green beans (Bush Provider). With a random lettuce.

2021 Garden Bed A1
2021 Garden Bed A1

I didn’t intend to plant bush beans originally, but there was open space under the butternuts and I felt compelled to fill it. And I’m glad I did because neither the pole beans nor my scarlet runner beans have set much fruit. Pro tip: plant different varieties of the same crop so if weather conditions or predators plague one type, another one may still thrive.

The two “outside” butternut squash were started indoors and transplanted to the garden after a long and tedious hardening process. The center butternut squash was direct sowed in the bed when the other two were transplanted to test one of Steve Solomon’s premises from Gardening When It Counts – that the hardening and transplanting process was so hard on plants, that direct sowing is generally preferable. At this stage (four weeks after this photo) the center plant looks no different from its transplanted brethren so in this case at least, Solomon appears to be correct.

Garden Bed B1. A mix of summer squash (zucchini and yellow crookneck), bell peppers (Bell Islander variety), holy basil, and Thai Butterfly peas at the base of the green tomato cages.

2021 Garden Bed B1
2021 Garden Bed B1

Since this photo was taken, squash vine borers have invaded and the weight of the leaves and stems of the largest zucchini dragged it down over the side of the bed and tore the stem open. This is one of the disadvantages to raised beds!

This stem broke when a top heavy squash flopped over the edge of its raised bed
This stem broke when a top heavy squash flopped over the edge of its raised bed

Despite the ravages of bugs and gravity, these squash plants are still producing. (Compare to the fate of A4 below.) I suspect the aroma of the holy basil camouflaged the squash from the predators until the plants were large enough to survive the onslaught.

The carnage squash vine borer caterpillars cause to hollow squash stems
The carnage squash vine borer caterpillars cause to hollow squash stems

Garden Bed C1. One of my three double decker beds, thus preferred for root crops. Bunching onions that have decided to develop bulbs, salsify, parsnips, and a random red sorrel and radish.

2021 Garden Bed C1
2021 Garden Bed C1

The metal hoops and row cover serve two purposes. The more traditional use: keeping insect pests from finding the baby plants when they are most defenseless. (Defensive gardening theme this year, remember?) It also works as a squirrel deterrent. They love burying nuts in the softest, most giving dirt they can find – which generally means the beds I have prepped for planting, or just planted in. They don’t notice or care about the seedlings they maul in the process. The row cover and wires make the bed less appealing to the squirrels; even once they outgrow the row cover, I generally leave the wires in place.

Garden Bed A2. This year, I completely relocated the tomatoes to be not-in-the-garden, which freed up a few 4′ x 4′ square beds for my kids to try growing their own crops. I let them choose the crops and the varieties, and provided suggestions about how to lay out the beds. This bed features Glass Gem corn, cucumbers and a variety of weeds my youngest decided to adopt.

 2021 Garden Bed A2
2021 Garden Bed A2

If you’ve read up on intercropping or permaculture, you might recognize a shadow of the “three sisters guild”, where squash provides shade / living mulch for the corn’s roots and the corn provides a trellis for pole beans which in turn adds nitrogen to the soil. Except it’s a bit crowded, and I didn’t realize how important the beans were, due to how much nitrogen those massive corn leaves need! But firsthand experience is the best way to learn (for kids and parents alike).

Garden Bed B2. This is another kid-bed. The eldest decided she wanted to be a carrot farmer, and planted two varieties of red carrot. As you can see, a large number of them bolted, perhaps due to the erratic weather, perhaps due to the compacted soil.

2021 Garden Bed B2
2021 Garden Bed B2

Because the carrots were planted somewhat… erratically … I can’t prove, strongly suspect, that one variety was more inclined to bolt than the other. Also, this is the same carrot-crop-gone-wrong that gave us Queen Anne’s Lace jelly, as well as food for this year’s rescued swallowtail caterpillars.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly
Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Garden Bed C2. Mixed brassicas and sugar snap peas.

2021 Garden Bed C2
2021 Garden Bed C2

I’ve never had a successful cauliflower ever before this year, but the “Candid Charm” cultivar did quite well transplanted into this bed and one other. I also enjoyed a plentiful broccoli harvest (“De Cicio”) because after cutting the flower heads, I allowed the plants to live on and they produced several additional flowers per plant (although smaller than the original crop).

Garden Bed A3. Another kid bed. Mostly weeds and volunteer crops.

2021 Garden Bed A3
2021 Garden Bed A3

This bed had garlic planted earlier in the year, but much of it had succumbed to onion maggots. Two more Bell Islander bell peppers are nestled in amongst the weeds (including a volunteer tomato). Is it still a weed if you permit it to remain?

You may have noticed the bed itself is hard to see thanks (?) to the amaranth in the paths … oops. I mentioned in previous blog posts about my amaranth and lambsquarter “crops” growing in the pathways. In several cases they have completely blocked the narrow aisle between boxes!

Pathways obstructed by my lambsquarter "crop"
Pathways obstructed by my lambsquarter “crop”

Garden Bed B3. Mixed brassicas and shelling peas; very similar to C2, except these peas were planted in a more timely fashion. (AKA earlier in the spring, so they had time to grow to maturity before the summer heat moved in!)

2021 Garden Bed C3
2021 Garden Bed C3

See the bungies around the pea trellis? This is what happens when a) last year’s pea crop was decimated by rabbits and deer (prompting you to install an electric fence this year) so b) you don’t thin the pea shoots when they sprout “just in case” and c) the fence works just well enough that they ALL survive, and the weight drags them down to rest on the other crops in the bed.

Garden Bed C4. Asparagus (as always, since it is a perennial).

2021 Garden Bed C3 - Asparagus as always
2021 Garden Bed C3 – Asparagus as always

Garden Bed A4. Summer squash, butterfly peas, and bell peppers all cozy together. Since this photo was taken, squash vine borers decimated all three squash (two yellow crook neck and one zucchini), before they ever produced viable fruit.

2021 Garden Bed A4
2021 Garden Bed A4

This year, I started a strategic set of backup squash which will be transplanted in this bed soon. Of course, everyone in the house is sick of squash already, so this may not have been my smartest plan.

Garden Bed B4. When I took this photo, it was a delightfully intercropped mess.

2021 Garden Bed B4
2021 Garden Bed B4

This bed is (was) similar to C2 and B3, except the brassicas here were direct sown rather than transplanted, and not a single one of them (napa cabbage, savoy cabbage, cauliflowers and mini broccoli) reached a harvestable size by the time I ended the bed to prep for fall planting. This is an interesting counterpoint to my comment on bed A1 – about the direct sown versus transplanted butternut squash. But this example also involved different varieties, so that may have had as much (or more) to do with the crop failure as transplanting or direct sowing.

Speaking of failures… How do I know the local rabbits completely ignore my electric fence? Less than a week after I cleared this bed to prep for fall planting, it became occupied by a rabbit’s nest! I found a random clump of grass in the middle of the bed, and when I went to move it found it covered in rabbit fur. And me being me, I can’t / won’t take the harsh steps necessary to protect my garden form the enemies within. Consequently, I am reluctant to move forward with my fall garden plans, since those voracious little vermin will be venturing from the nest right about the time my radishes and lettuce start to come up.

Garden Bed C4 & 5 – Raspberries, also perennial. Except this year, they almost weren’t.

2021 Garden Bed of Double-Cropped Raspberries
2021 Garden Bed of Double-Cropped Raspberries

The whole reason I installed an (ineffective) electric fence was to protect my raspberries from the ravages of long-toothed critters that laid waste to them over the winter. In last year’s garden update, I mentioned my two-season raspberry crop method, which depends on having healthy floricanes (second year canes) to produce the spring crop. This winter, however, the rabbits cheerfully dined on the stems of my floricanes, completely gnawing them off in some cases, and in others chewing so far through the bark that the cane had no chance of survival.

A winter-time photo of a partially gnawed raspberry floricane
A winter-time photo of a partially gnawed raspberry floricane

Apparently rabbits will eat raspberry canes when they get really hungry. The same critters laid waste to my blueberries and strawberries as well. Since the electric fence is ineffective, this coming winter the raspberry floricanes will be protected behind a temporary wire fence.

Garden Bed A5. Perennial onions (potato & Egyptian walking varieties) and garlic.

2021 Garden Bed A5
2021 Garden Bed A5

Well, all the garlic had been harvested by the time this photo was taken. Last year I harvested the garlic too late, and most fell victim to root maggots. This year, I erred on the early side and had much, much smaller bulbs to show for it!

The onions have also been harvested now too. I filled the bed with the dead, dried pea stems and leaves from Beds B3 & B4, hoping the decomposing stems would boost the nitrogen in the soil. We’ll see how this goes! This bed is another double-decker, so fall crops might be safe from the baby bunnies.

Garden Bed B5. Potatoes, Keuka gold variety.

2021 Garden Bed B5
2021 Garden Bed B5

This was my first year saving potatoes to plant in the ground the following year. Yes, I know all the gardening guides say not to do this because you can accidentally introduce or encourage infections by saving your own seed potatoes rather than buying certified stock from a nursery. But centuries ago, there were no potato nurseries providing certified stock and somehow all those gardeners raised potatoes just fine! I figured it was worth a shot.

Garden Bed A6 & B6 – Blackberries

2021 Garden Beds A6 & B6
2021 Garden Beds A6 & B6

I’ve got a blackberry problem. Plants keep dying. This bed also features volunteer cilantro and marigolds, which dwarf the two new canes in the center and lower left of the photo. The one mature cane (upper right) has since died as well. My primary suspects: too much moisture and shade – this bed being the closest to my neighbor’s towering windbreak that shades my garden much of the day; or inadequate water, since the bed is at the end of the irrigation lines. Here I’ve been gardening for mumble years, and I still have so much to learn!

Garden Bed C6. Otherwise known as “the bed the gardener forgot.”

2021 Garden Bed C6
2021 Garden Bed C6

This was supposed to be my “perpetual salad bed”. You plant the lettuce, and harvest all but a few plants which bolt, self-pollinate, drop seeds, and then germinate into your next lettuce crop. Until you start feeling bad for the dandelions, purslane, lambsquarter, and wood sorrel also in the bed, and it just becomes a feral mess.

“Nursery”. This is a collection of trees I am saving to plant on our own property in West Virginia, assuming they all survive in pots long enough!

2021 Tree Nursery
2021 Tree Nursery

OK, so the red maple and oak in my nursery didn’t really need my help for survival. But my youngest found them as seedlings and insisted we keep them. Yay, more trees….

Trellis. Currently inhabited by pole beans (Kentucky wonder) and ridged luffa squash. Yes, descendants of the seeds Digging Food shared with me years ago.

2021 Garden Trellis
2021 Garden Trellis

As I’ve put more yard under cultivation, it gets harder to draw the line between “garden” and “not-garden”.

Hugelkultur Bed. Sorta. It wasn’t the best designed or executed, but the gourds appear happy!

2021 Hugelkultur Bed
2021 Hugelkultur Bed

The bed is dominated by calabash gourds, a mix of birdhouse and bowl shape. There’s a few goblin eggs gourds in there as well, struggling for air under the crushing weight of the calabash. What will I do with them all? No telling. You may have guessed both gourd varieties were picked by my kids!

The hand pump for our well, surrounded by rhubarb.

2021 Rhubarb Patch
2021 Rhubarb Patch

The rhubarb plants look terrible, don’t they? “Hot” tip – do not plant rhubarb in open sun like this. Rhubarb prefers partial shade, and every year it broils under the heat of the afternoon sun.

Hardscaping. A chaotic mess of edibles and ornamentals.

2021 Hardscaping
2021 Hardscaping

Sunchokes, milkweed, and my adopted prickly pear (left side) are all thriving in the heat, dryness and poor soil conditions. To the front, thyme provides an edible creeping ground cover. The ornamentals…. yeah, I don’t remember most of their names!

Here is a closeup of the pots also inhabiting the hardscaping.

2021 Hardscaping Pots
2021 Hardscaping Pots

We have habaneros and petunias together in a few pots, as well as horseradishes.

Chicken Run. Home of our tomatoes. This is our second year planting tomatoes along the chicken run, and this time around we decided to do so in a more orderly and structured fashion.

2021 Chicken Run
2021 Chicken Run

I planted nasturtiums for an edible ground cover / living mulch between the tomatoes but they haven’t flourished like I had hoped, perhaps to the hot, dry conditions.

While the tomato plants have been larger and overall healthier than when we planted them in 4′ x 4′ raised beds, the hens themselves have been an absolute nuisance! I had to install extra chicken wire along the fence so they wouldn’t damage the plants by yanking on the leaves while eating them. Um, ladies? All the guides on feeding you kitchen scraps say that tomato leaves are poisonous! And that they shouldn’t be fed unripe tomatoes either. My barred rocks beg to differ. We lost a substantial number of tomatoes because I didn’t realize their beaks fit through the openings just fine!

My chickens love unripe tomatoes... alas
My chickens love unripe tomatoes… alas

Low Bush Blueberries. With some additional random pots that needed protecting from the squirrels!

2021 Blueberry Bed
2021 Blueberry Bed

The chicken wire fence, again, is to ward off the rabbits. The PVC and bird netting keep the birds from consuming every single berry the bushes produce. The side to the left has a flap opening that lifts over the deck railing, providing just enough room for me to climb in and tend to the crop.

As a bonus, the blueberry cage doubles as protection against the squirrels. Not that the blueberries need protecting – rather, they love digging in the soft soil of newly potted plants. I have my baby hazelnut and cuttings of gooseberry and blueberry cuttings nestled in for safety.

Deck. A handful of plants remain on our back deck, despite the threats of squirrels.

2021 Deck / Container Plants
2021 Deck / Container Plants

I prefer not to pot most crops because veggies and fruits need room for their roots. Plus many plants (tomatoes for instance) will suck all the nutrients from a confined space. But after many years I learned that eggplants MUST be kept out of the garden. I buy a mini variety for container gardening because otherwise flea beetles decimate the leaves to the point where the plant dies. On the deck, the eggplants still suffer some damage but survive long enough to provide a modest crop.

Note the chicken wire on top of the pot to deter squirrel digging!

Potting bench next to the shed: my token scarlet runner beans.

2021 Potting Bench
2021 Potting Bench

I say “token” because they’re covered in flowers, to the delight of our small collection of pollinators, but there’s no sign of beans at all. Luckily (?) I rarely eat dry beans, so won’t miss the harvest too much. As long as the wild solitary bees are happy!

An Eastern carpenter bee enjoying the scarlet runner bean flowers
An Eastern carpenter bee enjoying the scarlet runner bean flowers

In front of the shed: New Zealand spinach.

2021 Shed Bed
2021 Shed Bed

Funny story about NZ spinach. When germinating indoors, in carefully controlled (ish) settings, they almost never germinate. When I leave them to their own devices outside, they drop seeds and come back even more aggressively the next year! I’ve never tried starting them inside again after the first year.

Around the corner, the herb wall.

2021 Herb Wall & Companions
2021 Herb Wall & Companions

The wall features chocolate mint, mint, Genovese basil, holy basil, cilantro, parsley (aka swallowtail incubation station) and oregano. Below, we have two gooseberry plants and (barely seen), lemon balm.

And last (but definitely not least), the strawberries outside our front door.

2021 Strawberry Bed
2021 Strawberry Bed

I’d previously tried the red-painted rock strategy to confound the birds. You paint the rocks strawberry red, then put them out before any fruit actually sets; the birds learn that pecking the bright red objects hurts, and the real crop is spared. Let me tell you. The only one who was fooled by the red rocks was me. This year I gave up on them and opted for the more conventional – and reliable – bird netting.

Have all these defensive measures, and all this work, really made a difference? To be determined!

2 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s