Dear Friend of Half-Acre Homestead,
Every year, fall seems to arrive too soon. I get busy harvesting and processing the herbs and vegetables, and then all of a sudden, that first hard frost is here. And every year, I look over what has been a major focus of my work and sweat for several months and think, “What happened to my garden?” Even though my recent harvests have been good, there’s always a tinge of sadness as I look over the slumbering garden. It’s like saying goodbye to a friend who’s heading away on a long trip…..I’ll miss you!
I hope you like this photo of my “Russian Mammoth” sunflower head. The seeds were a gift from a friend. Because this sunflower bloomed late, it was free of the usual insects that like to bore into the seeds. I was delighted with these large seeds and will eat some and plant some and share some with my bird friends this winter.
Hmmmm. Speaking of winter, it’s only November 21st as I write this, and we have already had a couple of snow falls, with the second one bringing unseasonably cold weather with it.
In this blog post, I am excited to share the ups and downs of my fall harvest (vegetables, and foraged plants for my medicine cabinet). As well, I have a special project to share with you: I have experimented with extending my growing season as much as possible this year with low tunnels. While I have had some success with these in previous years, this year, I decided to get pretty serious about them this year. In my region of Canada, which is Hardiness Zone 5B, if you want to be self-sufficient, I would argue that some knowledge of extending our growing season (Late May to around October 10th) will come in handy.
So, in this post, you will learn both what did happen to my garden after harvest, and also what is actually happening right now to my garden, as I strive to squeeze every last bit of possible life out my already pretty short growing season. So far, it’s pretty exciting!
What did happen: Here is a photo of what I call my “Harvest Table” on September 29th. My Harvest Table is a large piece of plywood on two saw horses. I need this space to allow tomatoes to ripen, herbs and corn to dry. Herbs drying include golden rod, nettle seeds, nettle leaves and green amaranth. On the wax paper, tomato seeds from a very popular beefsteak heirloom tomato are drying.
Fast forward to November 3rd, and the harvest table looks very different: On the left are the Russian Mammoth sunflower seeds. In the centre top is Yellow Dock root and centre bottom is milkweed root. These have both been drying for two days. On the far right is some extra dandelion root I collected and chopped and tinctured.
I also collected and roasted some chicory root. I will share more on this in a later post. It makes such a delicious coffee-like beverage…so earthy tasting. An interesting side note about this herb is that is has a reputation of curing headaches that goes all the way back to Egyptians hieroglyphics. What’s not to love?
In addition to getting the last of my carrots out of the ground, I also harvested around two pounds of mostly pinto beans with a few red kidneys. I continue to expand my production of protein. They keep well, and are bound to come in handy!
Finally, potatoes did well this year. I used companion/weed planting and allowed another plant, Clammy Ground Cherry, to live across the garden fence from the potatoes. They attracted many of the troublesome insects and my potatoes were practically bug free this year. I got around 35 – 40 pounds, which is quite good for me. Here is a photo of my first taste of them, oven roasted basically right from the garden. Oh, yes, I chopped a bit of turnip in there, too. I found that by making the turnip pieces smaller, they balanced well with the potatoes. This was so tasty!
What did not do as well this year was the corn. I learned an important lesson about crop location and fence shading. This photo shows how the taller plants got more sun and that the more shade they got from the fence, the shorter they got! OOPS!
While I normally get over 40 pounds of Waltham Butternut squash and some of them are HUGE, I only got about a quarter of that this year. I was disappointed. I think the main reason for this was that I changed my planting method and delayed the timing based on some advice I got. I learned: It is ain’t broke, don’t fix it! I will go back to my previous method of starting seedlings indoors for earlier transplantation. My fingers are crossed for next year’s harvest. Thankfully, there is an organic farm next door. I bought their butternuts at only $1 a pound bulk price to replace my “ghost” harvest.
What is Actually Happening Right Now: Yes, it’s November 22nd and I still have lots of veggies alive and in the ground….and it’s not all KALE. (Don’t get me wrong….I love kale). I decided to use low tunnels on my late crop rutabagas and some of my turnips…then I covered my late cabbage…and my kale, and some brussels sprouts.
Here’s the before (October 27th) of the turnips and rutabagas, with a couple of small brussels sprouts plants on the bottom left. I have watered them and then mulched with straw. Two larger brussels sprouts plants are already separately watered, mulched and covered in the back:
Here is the after photo. I am using 6 mil vapour barrier plastic, as I have not one, but two rolls left over from the eco-cabin build. While it’s not made for greenhouses, I have found that it stands up pretty well outside.
My scarecrow, Mathilda is watching over the whole setup. She lost her head in a big windstorm, and I’ve been too busy to make her another one….Sorry Mathilda! So far, the results of this simple set up have been promising. The brussels sprouts plants in the back: one has matured and the other is one its way. All of the turnips and rutabagas are alive in the main tunnel. This means I can pop open the low tunnel and grab some greens when I want them. I believe this is also helping me prolong the storage life of all these vegetables. If food is scarce for any reason, I think a simple set up like this could make a BIG difference.
This trial cost me nothing but some time. I used a few hoops I already had on hand, and when I ran out of those, I cut some of my extra bamboos stakes to a good height. It has snowed twice and the tent shed the snow well.
I also have a tent over the rutabaga transplants that I made when I thinned the main row (above). These are smaller. I am quite interested to see if I will manage to get any growth out of these smaller plants. There are also a few carrots inn there: more experiments! Here’s a photo of this smaller row before I covered it. You can really see the difference in the size of the plants:
Here is that same row today, November 28th. Current temperature? 2 degrees Celcius or around 36 degrees Fahrenheit. The covers were off last night for a major rainfall, which is why I had a chance to snap this pic before publishing the blog:
What is amazing about this trial? My main challenge is that the tunnels are TOO HOT!!! The other day, the temperature was a few degrees below zero (Celsius) and the temperature in the main tunnel was almost 20 degrees! That is a huge temperature swing. That was NOT a bright sunny day, either. All of the plants I chose for the trial like it a bit cooler than that, actually. So, I try to check the temperature and open up the low tunnels a bit so that they don’t all cook in there. I think I still have a lot more to accomplish here, and I will keep you posted.
So, THAT is what happened to my garden
I hope this inspires you to think about something that you might like to try in your own life. Maybe it’s related to gardening, but maybe it’s not. You won’t know just how far you can stretch yourself until you try.
Until next time!