Tag Archives: garden

The Miracle of (Plant) Birth

“As I kneel to put the seeds in
careful as stitching, I am in love.”

(excerpt from The Common Living Dirt by Marge Piercy)

Every time a seed sprouts in my garden I am amazed.

This year’s cold, wet spring delayed planting and germinating making it even more of a thrill to finally see my plants coming alive and growing throughout June.

Carrots Are Up!

Most people are more excited by the birth process in animals which is a more dramatic moment for sure. It also stresses me out. Whether it’s the goats laboring or the poultry hatching, it is loud, messy and takes time during which my attention is held and I can’t help but wonder about everything that could go wrong. In comparison, I appreciate the restful quiet of the garden, and the surprise of the seeds suddenly germinating. If it doesn’t work, I try again, without having to dispose of any bodies – literally.

When it does work, I feel triumphant because my planning and care succeeded! I also feel humbled by recognizing how little I really had to do with it and considering what else was involved in bringing me to this moment. The evolution of flowering plants, thousands of years of plant breeding by our ancestors, the work of pollinators and spring actually coming again, to name a few.

Working with rather than against nature is a foundational concept in permaculture and I experience a sense of that collaboration in this process.

Knowing the science of it only makes it more wondrous. Here’s a glimpse at that…

Sunflowers Sprouting

A seed is a method that plants developed to reproduce, sort of recently. As far as we can tell, seeds first appeared about 400 million years ago while land plants have been around at least 700 million years. Currently, over 220.000 plants – 90% of those we know – make seed. Every seed contains a living embryo with its first leaves and root in miniature. Most seeds have a protective coat and a nutrition pack that will last until its roots function. Seeds can be as tiny as dust or as big as 50 pounds with many different shapes. A seed is in a kind of suspended animation until the conditions align for it to burst into life: the right amount of water, oxygen, temperature and light for instance. Seeds can survive, waiting for the right conditions, for years, with the oldest documented living seed being 2.000 years old! Most of our garden seeds are in the 1 – 5 year range.

After 20 years of growing, maybe I should have gotten used to it but I’m glad I haven’t.

Now that we’ve hit July, there will be less seed starting and more watching the plants grow and harvestng. I’m preparing my food preservation equipment and looking forward to the abundance!

More from The Common Living Dirt by Marge Piercy in her book Stone, Paper, Knife

Beets Emerging

As I kneel to put the seeds in
careful as stitching, I am in love.
You are the bed we all sleep on.
You are the food we eat, the food
we ate, the food we will become.
We are walking trees rooted in you.

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Last Year’s Garden: Reviewing 2018

I admit it – I don’t love record keeping and have not

Summer Harvesting

always been conscientious about it, especially for garden produce. When the picking and preserving season is here, who has time to weigh and take notes?

But this year, partly inspired by this blog, I set up a scale and a notebook and tracked what came in. And now, after a few long hours of data entry, I have my final tallies from the past season of growing.

This helps me exercise the first principle of permaculture: Observe and Interact and the fourth principle: Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feecback. I can see what worked, what we struggled with, how my experimenting panned out and come to my 2019 planning more informed.

Let’s start with problems and what we didn’t grow enough of.

Seedling Trouble

Last winter I played with my seed starting mix, adding homemade products to the commercial mix. I am sure there must be a way to make my own on site rather than buying it in plastic bags, but I have not found it yet. So, my eggplant and brassica starts were not as healthy as usual. Then we had the cool start to the summer, so my eggplant never took off only yielding 5 pounds from the

Beautiful Brussel Sprouts

few plants that did survive. The brassicas, who love cool weather, did better. The 10 kale and collard plants bounced back giving me 23 ½ pounds between the two of them. I got 9 pounds of broccoli from 8 plants, 4 pounds of brussel sprouts from 4, and 1 pound of cauliflower from 2.

Rodents and Other Pests

I previously discussed this year’s excessive rodent populations. We saw the results primarily in the root crops and fruits.

Bold Squirrel Tormenting the Cat

Our peaches were hardest hit, being carried off while still rock hard by huge, bold squirrels. We picked 40 pounds of peaches, but should have had at least 4 times that. I can and dry a lot of fruit so can easily use a few hundred pounds, which this year I had to buy off-farm and not organically grown.

I planted 12 ½ pounds of potatoes in the spring and we harvested 69 ½ in the fall. That’s a 5.5 to 1 ratio, which isn’t terrible, but I have done much better (up to 18 to 1). The voles taking about 25% of the crop was a factor. There were other reasons for the low yield. In an effort to outsmart the Colorado potato beetles I have been planting late – May 23 in 2018. It has worked – I didn’t see any beetles – but I think the reduced growing season is causing more loss than the beetles ever did. Also, we had a slight drought last summer which potatoes suffer from.

Roots

Root Crops

For my carrots, beets and parsnips my first problem was germination. I planted a bed of carrots which didn’t come up at all in late May. I blame the cool spring soil (ideal soil temp for carrots is 75F), and my difficulty keeping the bed moist enough for their long germination. And then, the voles took 25%, even of the parsnips. I did end up with 22 pounds of carrots, 10 pounds of parsnips and 12 pounds of beets, but planted enough to have gotten double that.

The Cold Spring

Tomatoes came to 36 pounds from 8 plants. The slow start to the season meant they stayed green much later than usual, shortening the season. And, we lost a lot to the chipmunks, believe it or not, who climbed up the cages to gnaw on and steal them.

A Disease

Our Cukes Could Have Done Better

This year, our cucumbers contracted what looked like bacterial wilt so we lost some leaves and vines on our 10 plants. We still brought in 27 pounds, which was enough to eat plenty of cucumber salads (I slice the cukes thin and use in the place of lettuce) and to make a year’s supply of lactofermented pickles.

And…

We only harvested a few heads of lettuce. Old seeds made for few plants, and the voles ate a surprising number of their roots. Anyone else see that?

Our 3 pounds of sugar snap peas were not enough for us. I only planted one 4 foot row, which I will increase this year.

Successes

Maybe we learn more from our failures, but let’s still examine what did work for more clues.

Spring started with rhubarb, and our 10 plants are starting to thrive at a couple of years old giving me 15 pounds easily.

Garlic did great for us, as usual. The big beautiful crop gave us 105 garlic scapes, and 147 heads or 23 pounds of 4 varieties.

Beans were a big producer.

Snap Bean Harvest

I planted bush snap beans 3 times over the season for continuous harvest in 5’ x 3’ beds. I also did an early planting of pole snap beans, about one 6’ row trained up a fence. The end result was 118 pounds of produce. I love fresh beans (roasted in olive oil with garlic and onions with cheese melted on top), I was happy to freeze some, and the goats were wild about the overgrown ones, so none of it went to waste. However, I did a lot of picking leaning over in the heat so might grow less this year.

Homegrown Dried Beans

As for dry beans, I planted a total of about 20’ of 5 varieties and now have 15 ½ pounds in my cupboard. I’m pleased, but think I’ll do even more this year. Protein from the garden that dries on the vine and stores for years at room temperature – awesome! Plus, when you grow from seed there are so many more options than you can buy commercially, just like with potatoes.

It was an amazing squash year, as I have marveled at in previous posts. With 161 pounds of summer squash from 10 plants we had enough to share with the animals. Then there was the winter squash. I plant these wild, vining space-hogs throughout our orchards and train them into areas we haven’t planted – paths, fields, up into trees. There were 7 varieties, something like 30 plants and we ended up with 1,010 pounds. It seemed like an overwhelming, never-ending supply, far more than I was planning on and we had to scramble to find places to store it. But, we’ve been making great use of it, especially since it makes an excellent winter food supplement for the goats and the chickens. We have started to lose some to rot. Nearly every one of them had been damaged at least a little bit by gnawing critters so we knew they wouldn’t keep as long as usual.

Leeks in the Late Summer Garden

For some reason, I struggle to grow onions on this property but leeks do extremely well here. I pulled 84 leeks, totaling 48 pounds. The harvest season began on September 24 and didn’t finish up until December 22, growing sweeter and sweeter as winter set in. Yum!

Our basil was prolific at 17 ½ pounds from about a dozen plants, making a lot of delicious pesto. I overdid it with 81 radishes or 7 pounds of them. Our currant crop was our best yet at 18 pounds which I made into jams and jellies.

All of this bounty lasts us through much of the year and accounts for at least 75% of our fruit and vegetable intake.

Winter is a perfect time to have this information to review as I plan for our next garden and start seeds.

Remembering the Summer Garden

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December at Living Land

Holly Berries Brighten December’s Dark Days

December in the north… the natural world is quiet, dark, cold. Meanwhile, we humans whip up a frenzy of activity! Would we be better off letting go of our plans and our plans and resting, too? Or maybe we need all the excitement we generate to distract us from a primeval fear that the sun won’t return this time? I don’t know, but for us this year, our home lives were quieter while I spent more time out joining in activities, some of which did feel like they were making my world brighter.

Our Work in December

Outside

Thanks to the trees whose wood will keep us warm.

Here on the homestead where we are tied in to the seasons, we didn’t have a lot to do outside. We had two days when the snow melted enough and conditions weren’t too harsh that allowed us to nearly catch up on splitting and stacking wood.

Animal care chores of feeding, watering, milking and door and gate duty were as always. We also continued to give attention and thought to goat breeding. November’s pairings didn’t end up with pregnant goats. So, I gave up on trying to hit the exact right moment and just put Honey and Luna with Marley and Cocoa with Pan for most of the month. I don’t love doing this because the does seem unhappy not being together, and they get stinky living with the boys. Milking a stinky goat is less fun! But, I think it was more effective. This means I’m expecting May births again, rather than my preferred April. Well… next fall will be another chance to work on my timing.

Goat Romance

I reshuffled the goats Christmas Eve, putting all the girls back together and integrating the boys. The bucks, Pan and Marley, did spend a few hours pushing each other around. Literally – they would bring their horns together and just push each other back and forth. I guess it was a test of strength. Pan is bigger and seems to have proven himself in charge, so took over the prime girl-watching station. This made it hard for the other guys to get into the stall for water or shelter, so it spurred another project. Steve widened the stall and put in another entrance. We have since found them all inside together a number of times, so it is a success so far. Understanding caprine psychology is a big part of our job!

Last Leeks of the Year

I made one foray down to the garden to harvest the last of the leeks. They were wonderfully sweet and delicious after all the freezing weather we’ve had.

 

 

Inside

I caught up on some of this season’s harvest processing – cleaning up our dried beans, and canning the frozen strawberries.

Seminole Pumpkin Pie

Pie making continues. The winter squash are holding up well, despite the many gnaw marks on them. When they do start to show signs of rotting, we move them along as human or goat food. Very little has gone to waste.

I also spent time on the computer, planning 2019 programming for Seacoast Permaculture, True Tales Live, and NH Peace Action, and catching up on correspondence, reading and writing.

Off-farm

Over the past decade a number of deaths reduced my family commitments. Some of those family events were admittedly more stressful than fun, but somehow I still miss them this time of the year. So, it was worth it to venture out into the crowds of holiday-stressed people for a few meaningful programs. I was part of a True Tales Holiday Live broadcast, a NHPA sponsored showing of The Christmas Truce, I drummed for a Solstice Service at Portsmouth’s South Church, and I held my annual Winter Solstice Sacred Circle Dance. This is my “social permaculture” work – creating connections and building resilience in the human ecosystem.

December’s Harvest

Chickens Laying Again!

We brought in 5# of leeks, 16 chicken eggs, and 5.3 gallons of milk.

We collected three 5-gallon buckets of seaweed to feed to the animals. While at the ocean, we also brought home a 5-gallon bucket of sea water which became our first pint of homemade, wood stove dehydrated salt of the winter.

We made 165 kwh from the PV solar panels. There were more sunny days in December, but the sun is just so low and quick to leave the sky it couldn’t produce much.

Stored food that we relied on: winter squash, carrots, beets, parsnips, potatoes, garlic, honey, canned peaches, blueberries and strawberries, dried kale, summer squash, nettles, beans and peaches. In the freezer we have: eggplant, broccoli, string beans, salsa, pesto, cheese, various kinds of berries, chicken, duck and goat meat.

Looking Ahead

A year ago I committed to posting twelve monthly reports of work and harvest totals and this is the twelfth! I hope that it has been interesting and helpful for those of you reading to get a better idea of what it means when we tell you we are “homesteading.”

For this coming year, I plan to keep up with monthly entries, but on more varied topics (I welcome your suggestions!). I do have a plan for my next one – a summary of 2018 harvests, including reflecting on successes and failures. This will help me as I put in orders for seeds, seed potatoes, trees, and bees over the next few weeks.

Until then, Happy New Year! I hope 2019 brings us all good health and harvests, continued learning, and satisfying work building healthier communities.

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by | January 7, 2019 · 8:58 pm