Sunday, July 18, 2010

Behind the Curve

I have not been blogging in far too long – not because nothing has been happening, nor because I have nothing to say – but rather because I am once again sliding down the back side of that elusive curve, drowning in things that MUST be done, and getting “more behind” each day.

To this year’s credit, though, I must grant it that the process is somewhat slower this year than last. Despite more on the plate, in the form of two days market in Brewer for starter, the addition of the tractor tiller and K’s mechanical help in the garden is helping to slow the incoming tide of weeds. And despite the excessive heat and my having lost a couple of days last week to heat exhaustion, I have yet to feel the first stirrings of the “Big D” that plagued me during southern summers.

I am going to characterize this as a “learning year,” in hopes that the next few will be “fine tuning years” as I put into practice what the land teaches me through these seasons.

With the mechanical tiller, we should be able to put the garden to bed properly this year, perhaps even with a cover crop. Having it ready to rock and roll when the ground first becomes tillable will hopefully allow me to get the earliest of the early crops and allow for smaller, succession plantings through the spring. This year, the first early plantings went in pretty close to on time, but because of mechanical difficulties with Tilly Milly we were not able to follow up.

Also, this year, the first planting of lettuces was WAY too large. Even though some customers at Brewer market wanted lettuces by the head (Bangor shoppers still prefer a mixture of leaves) we could have easily supplied the markets and ourselves with a much smaller initial planting.

Most of the indoor started lettuces are bolting now and must be pulled and composted. Also, many of the varieties I bought were included in the summer blend. Now that I know most of them by name, though, I think I will likely concentrate on planting that same blend, and including some seeds of the other varieties that I liked that were not in there, as a blend, next year. I need to remember to do smaller plantings, also, when starting seeds inside, and in the spring and summer for my succession planting. Making/using a blend will help keep the numbers under control I think.

Late summer should bring some clarity to the timing of planting for late crops of lettuce, spinach and the like, as well as my ability to lengthen the season with covers and a makeshift cold frame. I am going to try placing the old swing set frame in the garden, over some specially planted (more closely spaced) rows of spinach and the winter lettuce mix and will cover it with heavy plastic.

I need to figure how to get beets to come earlier, too. I am thinking about experimenting with over-wintering some b eets (the root would not be usable, most likely, but they might make some early greens, I am hoping) and will be trying to over-winter some leeks.

I need to plan to plant some old fashioned gr een chard, in addition to the bright lights blend; some of the older shoppers prefer the older varieties.

I also have had request for yellow beets, which normally I plant.

Need to put in more sugar snaps and more peas, with succession plantings as well. I am still not sure about whether I want to standardize on the Waverex “petit pois” or to plant them primarily for us and plant less expensive, larger peas for market. The petit pois are actually pretty easy to pick and easy to tell when they ar e ready to go, but very short vines. The regular garden peas I planted the last two years also have pretty short vines, which means bending. On the other hand, the Sugar Snaps need much taller support than the 2’ fence that I used this year.

I need to get the corn in earlier, ditto beans.

Shoppers, on account of the wide availability of shipped in food and the increasing popularity of greenhouse growing by both amateurs and larger small farms, do not have a sense of proper seasonality for produce . They call for corn as early as Memorial Day – and expect it by July 4. With th e onset of hot sum mer temperatures, it seems, folks are expecting to instantly see the “summer veggies” in quantity. To their credit, most of the farmers at market are meeting these requests at least in limited amounts. Our early struggles to get the ground prepared hurt us badly in this regard this year.

On the other hand, the early – and for that matter not-so-early – sales of plants went really well. There seems to be a need for individually potted vegetable plants. Everyone wants to grow a garden, and many folks do not want to waste the extra plants they do not have room for if they were to buy a 6-pack. I am wondering if this niche would also appreciate buying seed in smaller quantities as well.

This coming fall will see me doing some major division of the herb plants in the garden, so as to increase my production in some varieties and be able to offer well started, second and third year herb plants for sale next spring. The succession plantings of dill and basil are doing well, though the initial planting of basil – transplanted from the indoor starting shelves – has struggled for some weeks. We have begun offering common herb blends often found on grocers shelves as dried product, but in this case offered as a selection of fresh herbs – fines herbs and Italian blend for starters. And yes, at least one of these blends includes fresh, locally grown bay leaves! I need to acquire and begin wo rkin g with more little bay laurel trees, as well as more rosemary (a slow growing herb) and lavender.

I also plan to move the berry bushes from their original location – random holes dug into the “lawn” in the general area of the west garden – to actual rows in the tilled area which K has been working. If they are planted at proper spacing, he will be able to continue to work between the rows, as he has been in the later plantings of the east (vegetable) plot. More berries are on the wish list. The strawberries seem to be surviving despite having been neglected after planting. I had a chance to scythe down m uch of the weed cover and hope to complete that job this week, as well as taking the time to rake the weed stalks out of the berry patch and mark – with bits of paint on the ground – the location of the berry plants in hopes that K can first mow the stubble, and then do some tilling between the rows. It will be close, as the strawberries were planted before we got an accurate measurement of the row spacing needed for the big tiller, so the paint should give him a easier time in spotting the plants that must be kept.

Blueberry and cranberry bushes need soil amendment to support acidity, asparagus needs side dressing with compost or manure and the strawberries need mulch. I am hoping to begin hauling straw and manure this month, as the farm truck goes into the shop tomorrow for inspection (and likely work… hopefully wit hin my meager budget. Meager is good compared to the empty purse of last year!)

The flower and herb beds are terribly riddled with runner grass, and I am considering various ways to deal with this. At this point, I am considering moving the majority of the perennial herbs – when I divide them – to rows in the west garden and using weed control fabric in this area as well as putting it down in the herb circle once that area is clear.

I will likely use the fabric as well for the garlic that I plant this fall, and if it were less expensive, I would put it in between the strawberries as well.

We have yet to get the chicken and duck tractors made, but they are still on the project list. Currently they are running being the construction of a ramp at the back door for our elder Saint Bernard, Brandi, who is having increasing problems climbing the stairs. I am thankful to my collaborator, Anne, who continues to keep and care for our fowl.

This extreme heat, though, is delaying lots of projects. K cannot work in it and, after last week, I know that even taking proper precautions, I should not either. We remain hopeful that the temperature and humidity will abate.

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