Saturday, December 23, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 18: End of Year Report

Year 1 - Winter Day 3

It's gotten cold here in Boston!  Icy rain and snow have signaled the start of a North East winter and the end of the year of planting.  It's a great time to reflect on my first year of living the Harvest Life.  It's time to reflect on how well I did and grade my success so I can improve it for next year!

So lets review Year 1 of My Harvest Life and take a look at how I did with each thing planted!

To re-read all the posts feel free to start at Episode 1: Spring Planting

First Planting

Garlic (F)

None of my garlic grew!  I think for most of the season it was overshadowed by the cucumbers, but I got no good garlic!

Improvements:  I'll get it more room and more sun and plant it earlier so it can soak up all the heat.

Red Onions (F)

Also did not get any good red onions.  Similar to the garlic they were overshadowed for most of the season.

Improvements:  Start the seeds really early indoors then transplant them, I started them a bit late and from seeds out doors and they just didn't get going fast enough.

Green Onions (D+)

I got a couple green onions, but they were skimpy. Still I was able to eat them in a meal, so that was cool.  D+ for actually being able to use some.

Improvements:  Same as Red Onions and Garlic.

Lemon Cucumber (B-)

Oh the behemoth of the season.  The lemon cucumbers were quite a ride!  My most fruitful plant but also the saddest, the cucumbers grew incredibly, and produced a bunch early on but then succumbed to mildew and struggled to survive.  I got the most out of these plants, but have much to improve next year.  I will definitely try again with these!

Improvements:  First, I'm only going to grow 3 plants instead of 6.  They were MASSIVE plants and took over the whole garden almost.  In addition I need to be more careful with my watering, and also I'll build a trellis for them to climb up and not be so crowded.  In addition they weren't tasty when they got too ripe, so I need to pick them earlier to keep the seeds small and the flesh mild.  Overall I'm very excited to attempt these plants again and hopefully we'll have an A+ next year with a very bountiful harvest!

Tomatoes (C-)

The tomatoes were almost a great success!  Instead they were throttled in a storm and I only got a few useful tomatoes.  There were some, but it was not the great success it could have been.  The plants grew vigorously early on, but since I planted them later, it started cooling down before I got a bunch of ripe tomatoes.

Improvements:  First... I'm going to tie off the main stalks to the stakes.  The biggest problem was the wind that thrashed them and bent them over.  Hopefully tying them off this year will help them withstand any bad storms.  Second I need to make sure they don't get too much water.  Some of the later tomatoes started splitting because they grew too fast.  I'm going to shoot for smaller tomatoes and try to clip the plants to help more grow.

Carrots (C+)

The carrot plants did alright.  The main problem was that the ground was too rocky and they couldnt get far enough down to grow large.  However, I did get some nice (small) tasty carrots out of it and it was decent for what I had planted.

Improvements:  Till the ground a bit more, and pull out rocks and loosen the dirt where the carrots will grow.  Perhaps I might move carrots to a raised bin separately so they can grow in a small raised garden.

Basil (B-)

The basil did alright, it grew quickly and I was able to harvest a lot of it.  The basil in the basement is still growing and has been for a while now.  The basement herb garden is nearing it's end of life, but has provided a bunch of herbs to dry so far.

Improvements:  Give it more space probably, the plants did fairly well, but I could be better at watering and harvesting them to keep them growing longer.  Also snip the flowers to keep them producing leaves.

Beans (A-)

The beans were a great success!  I got a bunch of green beans out of the bushes and ate them many times fresh and cooked.  I will definitely do them again, but I think I will try Pole Beans and build a structure for them to get more out of the plants.  The bush beans produced a lot at the start and then started to wane after a few weeks.  But still, there were a lot of them and they were delicious.

Improvements: Next year I'll experiment with Pole Beans and with a structure to have them grow on.  We'll see how that goes!

Spinach (B-)

I got quite a bit of spinach out of the Noble Giant Spinach plants that grew.  They got progressively smaller leaves as I harvested them, but they produced multiple times per plant which was fun.  I think I will stagger the plantings a bit next year and harvest them one at a time for meals.

Improvements:  Water more, learn how to harvest them in a way that lets them continue to grow large leaves and not branch off too much.  Also I need to sprout them indoors.  Only a couple of the plants grew so if I start them off indoors they'll have a better chance of surviving and I should get more plants out of them.

Sweet Potatoes (F)

Uh yeah... I tried to grow sweet potatoes like potatoes but that's not how it works so... if I try them again I will learn how to sprout them properly.

Improvements:  Don't just chop them up and stick them in the ground... yeah that doesn't work.

Potatoes (B-)

The potatoes, however, did fairly well!  There are a few improvements but overall I got a bunch of decent potatoes out of it and made some tasty meals.  I still have a few potatoes to use before they go bad.

Improvements:  Use actual potato starters (not just store-bought potatoes), and get the ground tilled a bit more and remove rocks to give the potatoes room to grow.  Some of the potatoes had black rot in the center so I should be able to keep them a bit healthier.

Late Planting

I also tried planting some Kale and Winter Spinach but neither of those did well.  The Kale gets an F because none of it grew (was squashed by the tomato plants and eaten by something) and the Winter Spinach gets a D because it wasn't planted early enough and I only got some small amount from the harvest.  I'll try to coordinate a late planting this next year but it'll take a bit more organization.

Overall, it's been a great learning experience and I've learned a ton and... *DING* I've leveled up from the experience!  😂  This next year I'll go into it as a level 2 gardener!  I'll have to get to planning soon for all the wonderful things I want to grow in the spring and add some new additions.

I'd love to try:  Lettuce, Watermelon, Strawberries, Broccoli and Jalapeno peppers this next year so I'll have to find room for everything!  There might need to be a 2nd garden area for the fruits.  We'll see it's a little ambitious, I'll admit.

Well that's all, it's a sad time that I can't work out in the yard and work on a garden, but the winter makes for a wonderful time of tasty food and drink, reading and relaxing.

- Level 2 Gardener: Jace -

Thursday, November 9, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 17: Putting the Tomato Plants out of their Misery

Year 1 - Fall Day 50

This year was not a great year for tomatoes.  A couple months ago we had a terrible windy storm that thrashed them pretty hard and I had not taken the proper precautions to protect them.  So this past weekend, I finally tore them out of the ground and stuffed the poor, poor plants into bags, meeting the same fate as their cucumber brothers.

The Sad Plants

What Remained

I learned some lessons though, for starters, plant them earlier so they harvest earlier.  I did not get very many tomatoes from the plants before it started getting chilly.  Second, I need to tie the tomato stalks off to the poles to keep them upright and secure.  I have a bunch of twine, I just didn't think to tie them off.  But I got a new book on tomato plants that talked about making sure to tie them off to stakes to protect them from wind, so next year I will do that.  It's all been learning.  This year has been insightful so far.

I still have some onion, garlic and spinach growing (and Kale but the fallen tomato plants pretty much crushed them) so we'll see if I can get anything out of them before it gets too cold to grow anymore.  I believe the spinach has survived one frost already so we'll see how far in it can go.  This year has been pretty warm, first frost was supposed to be October 10, but it's already November 9 and I think we've only gotten one frost.

Things are winding down for the year, outside of the basement herb garden, which is a little sad, it's been fun working in the yard.  It's going to be a long winter before we get back to planting and gardening again in the spring.

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -

Saturday, October 21, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 16: The Potato Harvest!

Year 1 - Fall Day 31

Today I harvested the rest of the potatoes!  There was a nice small bags worth from the 3 to 4 potato plants that produced.  I didn't get a ton of potatoes, and I also didn't let the skin harden enough for long term storage, so we'll have to eat them relatively soon.  There were a bunch of medium and small potatoes as well as some really large ones.  Above is one of the bigger ones that I got.  It was neat since these were just red potatoes from the store that I used to start the plants, and next year I plan to get some fancier, rarer brands of potatoes to grow.  In addition I will also dig up the ground before planting to give them some broken up earth beneath to easily grow down into.  The ground is a bit hard and I think that contributed to the limited potato supply.

Other than harvesting potatoes today, I also planted 200+ flower bulbs in front of my house.  For 25$ on Bulbs Direct I got 2 large bundles of various bulb flowers and planted them around our feature plants in the front.  Some of the flowers included:

Liatris Spicata Purple

Anemone Coronaria Mr Fokker

Muscari Armeniacum

Gladiola Nanus Mix

And there were a bunch more varieties of flowers as well from white and purple flowers to yellow flowers.  So I am looking forward to seeing these all bloom next spring and seeing them fill in the front of the house.

Next year I will be sure to photograph the beautiful displays of color!

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -

Saturday, October 14, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 15: First Potato & Lunch

Year 1 - Fall Day 24

Today I got my first little red potato!  The potato plants were dying and getting eaten up, so I cut down the tops and will let them sit for a week or so before harvesting the rest of the potatoes.  I'm curious to see how many the plants produced in the rocky ground.  There does appear to be a couple large ones near the surface, so hopefully there are a bunch more deeper in.

Some Early Potatoes on the Surface

I've also harvested a bunch of tomatoes: a lot of little ones and a few big ones.  They're full of tomato flavor and have been good cut up on sandwiches and in other dishes.  I also finished picking all of the carrots, as they've stopped growing too much in the rocky soil.  Their growth was stunted, as the rocks beneath the first few inches of soil stopped them from getting big, so next spring I'm going to till up those rocks and pull em out so that the carrots can grow deeper.  I wonder if that will affect the potatoes as well.

Final Carrots and First Bunch of Tomatoes

Tasty things have been made with the tomatoes and the first medium sized potato above.  Today I made myself a scrambled-eggs-cheezy-hashbrown thing that looks horrendous but was pretty tasty!  I sautéed some onions and made the hash browns from the first big red potato, and then added some sliced tomato and topped it all with whipped eggs and cheese.  Was a bit of a goopy mess, but was actually pretty good.

Delicious, despite looking like mush

The basement herb garden has been going okay, but all of the herbs seem rather stunted, so I decided to pick half of them to allow the other half to grow bigger.  I also transplanted a few of the lemon mint plants outside in one of the flower pots so that they could get some room to breath and grow.  This should give the rest of the herbs in the basement growing area a bit of breathing room and space to stretch out and thrive.

For the ones I picked I created a little place to hang them in the kitchen window.  The fragrant aromas of the basil, oregano and thyme are a pleasant experience and in a few weeks they'll be dried and ready for storage.

Fresh Herbs and Tomatoes

The spinach continues to slowly grow despite my dog, Max thinking the garden is an area to jump into and stomp around.  He's knocked over the barrier a few times, and I've had to fix it and staple it back up.  The kale however... we'll see what happens but this one seems to be a failure.  Something, either rabbits or my dog, keeps getting in and eating all the leaves.  (Maybe caterpillars?)  And the tomato plants have fallen over where the kale was planted, so they're not getting much sunlight.  However the onions and garlic are finally making a resurgence after removing the overbearing cucumber plants.  They're finally starting to thicken up and grow a bit, hopefully they can finish growing before winter sets in.

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -

Saturday, September 30, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 14: Fall Tomatoes

Year 1 - Fall Day 9

It's officially fall!  A delicious time of year, filled with apple cider, warm stews and tasty treats throughout.  Things are slowing down in the gardening aspect, with the weather starting to get colder and wetter.  Tomatoes are starting to ripen and the bean plants have been cleaned out of the garden with a final, small harvest.  Soon the potatoes should be ready to start prepping for harvest and the kale and spinach continues to slowly grow in the cold, wet fall weather.

Tearing out the Bean Bushes

As the bean plants waned in their production, I made the decision to finally clear them out of the garden and bag them up.  We got some tasty beans out of the plants, but I think next year I'm going to go with the pole variety and see if I can harvest more out of each plant.  In addition we've gotten a few small tomatoes, but many have stayed green, and are slowly starting to darken.  I also brought a few green ones inside to ripen on the windowsill and after a few weeks they're just starting to turn red.

Ripening Tomatoes and Last Harvest of Beans

There is a wide spread of tomato sizes, the small ones seem to turn red relatively quickly and I've gotten a few of those so far, but the big green ones are slowly turning red in the garden.  One lesson learned is that the twisty poles I got for the tomato plants do not protect them very well from wind.  We had some very windy rainy days for a while, and the tomato plants are all bent over and got damaged by the poles bending the main stems.  So they're a bit of a mess.  Next year I will build a sturdy wooden structure to let them grow in to give them a lot of support.

Struggling Tomato Plants

But some reddening deep inside!

I'm still learning how to prevent nature from destroying my garden, so next year I'm looking forward to better yields.  However, I've picked a ton of basil from the basement garden so far.  It's been growing incredibly quickly and I've been able to harvest quite a bit and take the extra basil to work.

Delicious Cinnamon Basil

The basil is quite delicious with a earthy flavor (cinnamon-y to some I guess?)  I've made some tasty drinks with it so far and blended some of it up into tomato soup, which was great.  That said I can hardly use all the basil I have growing, so I've given a lot of it away to coworkers, who were glad to take free, fresh basil.

Things are coming along slowly, I look forward to harvesting the potatoes eventually and am looking forward to seeing if the spinach and kale plants take root and start to flourish, as they're still struggling.

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -
Next Episode 15: First Potato & Lunch

Saturday, September 16, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 13: Woodcutting Level 2

Year 1 - Summer Day 87

Well, it's getting close to the end of the summer, and with the cool fall weather I've begun to chip away at the wood pile, racking up that sweet, sweet exp.  Today I leveled up, and gained access to a new tool that lets me break apart the giant logs much easier.

It's called a wood grenade (or a splitting wedge as a less fun name) and I picked one up recently and it works great for massive logs.  Not that it makes it totally easy,  but it starts in the center of the giant log and you beat it with a sledge hammer until the log splits in half.  It was recommended to me by a coworker of mine who, in addition to being an awesome engineer, is also releasing a book in January on using hand tools, and is a phenomenal reference for useful tools powered only by aching muscles and sweat.

The Wood Grenade

After 3 Hits

Wood Rack #2

In addition I've also split enough wood that I needed to get a second wood rack started.  The rack is very basic, all you do is get four cinder blocks and lay them evenly spanning 10 ft.  I then ripped a 2"x6"x10' piece of Pressure Treated wood in half and used that as the base.  Then four 5ft 2x4s were placed inside the cinderblocks sticking up and voila, no nailing, screwing or any binding needed for a nice wood rack to keep the wood off the ground and let it cure.

Also the basement herb project is coming along nicely.  I overwatered it a bit and some neat fungus started growing, so I toned back the amount of water I was dumping down there and it seems to be a bit better.  The basil is absolutely thriving and the other herbs are all about evenly paced in growing slowly.

The Kale and Winter Spinach have also started sprouting, but the bugs have been at them a bit it seems as well.   They seem to be doing well in the cool weather, only the tomatoes seem to be lagging a bit and not ripening.  There are a bunch of giant green tomatoes, but none of them have turned red yet.  I've done some reading and it seems likely that the windy, cool weather we've had is the cause.

Things are slowing down, but it's still fun to get out and see things grow and I still have a bunch of wood splitting to do.  I'm looking forward to the quickly approaching fall and all of the delicious beverages and foods it brings.

- Level 1 Gardener, Level 2 Woodcutter: Jace -
Next Episode 14: Fall Tomatoes

Saturday, September 2, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 12: Death of the Vine

Year 1 - Summer Day 73

Today I murdered my Cucumber plants, brutally and quickly.  Not maybe this time, but for sure - they are dead.  It was intentional though, the plants had been suffering and dying slowly, but were still sprawling and choking out other plants.  My own lack of experience is the cause - if they had more room to grow upward and thrive, they would have done much better.  Next year I will give their descendants more room to grow upward and will plant fewer of the massive sprawling vines.

The Dying Cucumber Plants

Slowly I chopped away all the vines and leaves and untangled them from my fence and tomato plants.  They were starting to intertwine with the tomatoes and since the tomato plants are very healthy and doing well, I decided to end the cucumbers short time of being overlord of the garden.  I cut away all the plant, and ripped out the roots.  I also decided to work the ground a bit, adding some fresh, bottom of the pit compost and worked it into the stony ground.  Unsurprisingly the technique is called digging, and you basically dig rows across the land you want to work, turning the dirt over and mixing it in.  I worked a bunch of fresh compost in to help replenish the nutrients the cucumber plants pulled out of the ground.  There are 2 packets of seeds, some hardy Kale and a cold weather variety of spinach that should be able to grow before winter sets in.

Ripping out the plants and stuffing them into bags

Fresh Compost

The freshly tilled ground

Note the Onions that haven't seen the light of day in months

There was also one final harvest of the cucumbers with a bunch of small ones that we'll see how they taste!  The tomato plants also have a bunch of large, plump, green tomatoes, and I'm very excited to harvest them once they are ready!

The Final Harvest

 Plump Green Tomatoes

In addition the basement herb project is going along nicely.  It's amazing to me just how much faster growing and hardy basil is compared to the rest of the herbs.  The basil plants are already well set in and are growing steadily while some of the other herbs are slowly starting to pop their way out.  Notably I've only seen one tiny rosemary plant peek it's leaves out so far and two of the parsley have sprouted out of about ten.

The Herb Project

Cinnamon Basil

So today has been a little sad, it's tough to see the plants I spent so much time prepping for get ripped out, cut up, stuffed in a bag and stuck on the street corner.  Hopefully next year once I'm a level 2 gardener I'll be able to keep my plants alive and producing longer through the season.  The bean plants also look like they're starting to slow bean production, so they might be coming to an end as well.  Next year I do want to try pole beans, as they're said to produce per plant more than bush beans.  Those as well will require some poles to climb up, so I will adequately prepare for that as well.

Fare well first year cucumber plants, it was fun!

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -
Next Episode 13: Woodcutting Level 2