Betsy- This year we have tried so many new things. I’ve been encouraged by Elliot Coleman to just start doing something! So, I did. I planted all sorts of new things, some I hadn’t ever heard of before. Some plants succeeded and some were a total bust. But if we hadn’t tried, we wouldn’t know, not from first hand experience anyway.
So here are some of the things we tried… and the result!
We tried raised beds and companion planting for the first time. I LOVE the raised beds. They have barely any weeds, are easy to plant in, and are just really nice looking. They have been great for lettuce, radishes, carrots, turnips, celery, and kohlrabi. The struggle with raised beds is irrigation.
Keith – We don’t have 4 hrs a day to water plants, so virtually everything, except the hanging flower baskets on the front porch, is irrigated from one controller. Our raised beds are 4′ x 36′ so we use pop-up spray nozzles that spray a 4′ x 4′ square pattern. This seemed like a great idea, until a plant next to the spray nozzle got 6″ tall and became a wall, blocking any water from getting to the plants further from the spray nozzle. Once a plant is germinated and established this isn’t a big issue, because the soil below more evenly holds moisture regardless of where water is landing on top. But ‘adventurous’ as we were, we also companion planted and while companion planting sounds really good in theory, plants working together to create the best growing conditions while also fighting off pests, irrigating this ‘cluster’ was a nightmare. Sooooo, since all the plants were mixed, sometimes we were trying to germinate seed in an area of the raised bed that wasn’t getting any surface water due to a larger plant blocking the water. On top of that some plants needed a lot of water and some very little. We ended up over or under watering one way or another, things weren’t getting germinated, and we were still hand watering from time to time. Next year, we will divide the raised bed into 4′ x 4′ sections and plant the same plant in each section to avoid some of the challenges we had this year.
Keith – Tomatoes… Why we would try so many new things with tomatoes in the same year is beyond me, but we did. Here are the methods we tried this year and how we’ll use them in the future:
- Stringing them up – This is the first year we tried this and it was pretty successful. To string a tomato up you’ll need some kind of an overhead rail. The ideal height for this rail is as high as you can reach, but not over that. You’ll also need string. I would get the cotton string as the twine stuff is going to rot before the seasons up and all of your close to being ripe tomatoes will be laying on the ground. We used the Rollerhook from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Then you need to watch a couple youtube videos on it. Simply hang the hook on the overhead rail and pull out enough string to wrap around the tomato plant a few times and tie a LOOSE knot around the stem at the bottom of the plant. It is ideal to prune a tomato plant that you string up. To do this just prune off the suckers to keep the plant to one main stem. You can also prune off the leaves up to the first cluster of tomatoes. As the plant grows, keep the main stem weaving around the string and keep it sucker free. The stringing method is best suited for indeterminate tomatoes, meaning they will keep growing up to first frost; unlike the determinate varieties that will only grow to 3′ or 4′.
- Cage – This is what we’ve always done in the past. It’s tried and true as long as you don’t decide to prune them like a plant you’d string up, which is what I did… (long pause of disgust…. To build a cage get a roll of 6′ concrete wire (6″ x 6″ squares). You’ll need to cut the concrete wire in to sheets in order to create 20″ or so diameter circle, I think this is around twelve 6″ x 6″ squares. Then fold each sheet into a circle and use you’re cut off ends to hold it in a circle. After that it’s simple, plant the tomato, put the cage around it, and stake the cage down. With this method you don’t want to do much pruning because the tomato needs some of the extra growth to hold it upright in the cage. If you prune it like a tomato you plan to string up it will collapse on its’ self. Which is what all of mine did…. idiot! This resulted in very limited fruit production and a plant basically coiled up at the bottom of the cage like a snake. The cage will work for indeterminate and determinate varieties.
- Florida Weave – I am in the process of doing this for the first time. All I’ll say is that it is best suited for determinate varieties like a Rutger (which is what I’m planting). It looks promising, give it a youtube.
Betsy – I’ve learned that while seeds are really very very small, they will in fact turn into a large plant really quickly! I planted most of my seedling much too close together and learned the hard way that they need room to grow. Some things like carrots and turnips didn’t even produce any type of root when they were too close together. Some things I started much too early inside and so it ended up taking longer to grow outside.
On the other hand, some plants worked out even being close together like my celery, cabbage, and some of the carrots. They weren’t pretty or up to size, but they still produced a nice little crop.
Next year I will start my seeds a little later, direct sow a lot more things in the raised beds, and start a lot more plants under the lights for things going out in the main garden. Small seeds were hard to keep track of and were quickly overtaken by weeds out in the main garden.
A few of my favorite new things that I’ve tried this year are Radishes, Kohlrabi, and Rutabaga.
Betsy- Greenhouse! The greenhouse is awesome, but kind of irrelevant in the summer. I threw all sorts of things in there this spring thinking we would get early tomatoes. We did not. Everything grew just like it did outside. I may use that space next year for starting seeds and dehydrating. Another new experience!
Keith- On any homestead the art of pruning can be a little frustrating. If you prune a plant/bush/tree back too far you won’t get any fruit and if you don’t prune enough you’ll end up with lots of really small fruit. As Betsy often reminds me, I prune things back to far. Case and point, from far away our orchard looks amazing. The tree trunks are thick and the foliage has a nice circular shape. However as you get closer you’ll notice something missing, the fruit. Most plants fruit from new growth. So all of the new limbs growing on the tree this year will be the limbs that new fruit will grow on next year. While this isn’t a hard and fast rule, if you prune all of your previous years growth off each year to preserve the shape of the tree, you won’t have any fruit, or very much anyway.
So going forward I’ve made a few rules for myself:
- Fruit Trees and Blue Berries – it’s always a good idea to prune of any limbs growing back towards the center of the tree. You want to encourage growth away from the trunk. It is important to prune back the previous years growth, but in the future I’ll only be pruning back 1/3 rd of that growth.
- Black Berries – the first year of planting you’ll want to prune shoots to 2 or 3 feet in late June or July. You’ll notice that once you prune these shoots they will begin to grow limbs off the side of the shoots, so you end up with a ‘T’ shape. This entire ‘T’ shape will produce berries the following year. Where the limbs come off the shoots and touch the ground they will root and start another plant, to which you will again prune in late June or July. Once a shoot/limb/plant fruits, it will never fruit again. So once you pick the berries from your patch, you need to work your way through and cut any plant that fruited from the patch out. Also, it is good to have some kind of a 3 or 4 wire trellis to support the plants.
- Tomatoes – I do encourage pruning tomatoes as it will keep your plants and fruit healthy. Just remember you need to make sure the plant is supported via a stake or string before you go hacking it to pieces, or it’ll fall over on ya. If you grow in tomato cages, you’ll need to leave some suckers and bottom leaves to support the plant. If you’re growing on a string, lose those suckers and bottom leaves (assuming you’re not running suckers up a neighboring string).
Betsy- Some things that are going great:
Our compost pile is doing awesome. We should have it packed by the end of this season which will make for some really great fertilizer next year. We’ve harvested a lot of squash, peppers, tomatoes, onions, and potatoes. We also got a good amount of blackberries this year and should get apples. The chickens love their new home and the solar fencing system is working great and isn’t too much of a headache to move, or at least Keith doesn’t complain too much about it. Oh and we had some hats made! That’s it until next week when we’ll do “Trial and Error Part 2 Chickens”.