Saturday, July 23, 2016

What's In My Garden?

Mid-June Instagram pic of baby veggies
   I don't know about you, but when I hear the word 'homestead,' the first thing that comes to mind is gardening. Then animals. But firstly, gardening. Perhaps that's why the garden is my main focus of productivity each summer we've been able to plant one. That, and I spent my entire life growing up in upstate New York growing literal acres of vegetables on my parents' dairy farm. Milk cows just aren't in the picture for us right now(though dairy goats aren't out of the question, just not this year), so gardening it is. All spring I've been Instagramming pics of my gardens, both flowers and vegetables, and it's often been the topic of conversation with friends, especially lately as I've been almost begging people to take some of my abundant cucumbers. One friend at church recently said, "You must have an ENORMOUS garden!" It gave me a chuckle. If you want me to be REALLY real, the truth is I'm an awful gardener. No joke, I have NOT figured out how to garden in central Virginia yet. I cannot even begin to describe how different the nuances of gardening are between NY and VA.
Mid-April Instagram of planting with the kidlets and pup
   Firstly, the weather. In NY, we start seeds in late March to prepare for mid to late May or early June planting, depending on the plant. Goodness, we often have major snow storms in April in NY. Here in VA, seeds need to be started in early February to be ready for April planting. If you don't have your garden in by May 1st here, you're officially late and the heat will likely kill your baby plants before they have a chance to really take root. In NY I picked strawberries in June for a local berry farm as a high school summer job after school got out. Here in VA I have yet to catch strawberry season because it's in early to mid-May and my brain is just not thinking berry picking yet! This year my garden was in much closer to "on time" for VA, but still not quite right. I swear next year I'll get it.
   Secondly, the vermin. Oh. My. Gravy. The vermin. So many bugs and pests I've never seen before, my kids could fill multiple notebooks with all the new, plant-devouring bugs and grubs we've discovered down here. Just when I thought I was beating them this year, a new-to-me beast started devouring my flourishing zucchini plants and pumpkin vines from the inside out. Root borers. I hate them. That is all. And the deer. Did I mention deer? Despite living very rural in NY, the deer never bothered the gardens. Here, they don't seem to care if you have dogs at every house, they will graze through your garden and nibble until they're physically chased away. I have discovered they are especially active late at night after an evening rain. Bambi needs to watch himself and his family in my neighborhood, because I'm on to his game. He might end up in my freezer after the next rain. Half joking. Maybe one third. 
May 11 Instagram of the garden, rapidly becoming a weed patch
   Those two are my major gardening hurdles here in Virginia. This year there was a third battle, and that was weeds. Ordinarily, I can keep up, but this year my precious Smooshy was born exactly Two weeks after we put the garden in, That meant that my garden went a solid six weeks without any weeding because before he was born the weeds were no problem, but for easily 4-5 weeks after his birth I could not physically do any weeding and my husband cannot weed at all due to his back injury. I'm still fighting the battle to get it back. 
   So what does my garden look like NOW?! Ha! It's interesting. Our radishes did so well, and we gobbled them up fresh. In hindsight, I'll plant more but in phases(a new planting once a week throughout April) so we'll have another great crop, but not all at once. Our peas had to be planted twice because half a row never grew, then it was too hot by the time the second planting came up so they never bore fruit, and the first half of the row was just snack food for my kids as they played outside every day. Yay for organic gardening! No need to wash the veg before they snack. Good, old-fashioned dirt never killed anyone. Our green beans grew well and we ate them all up fresh. In hindsight, I'll need to plant three times as much to be able to put any up. Clearly we eat a lot of beans. Our turnips, beets, and herbs just never grew. I have no idea why. Two rows the entire length of our garden just never grew. Last year turnips and beets did well, and our herbs did well in their planters on the porch. I need to figure out our root veg issue this year and just stick to raised beds or planters for the herbs. 
Cross your fingers for my newly sprouted squash babies, y'all!
   Our zucchini briefly did well, then started to die out of nowhere. I've since discovered the evil that is root borers destroying them. Next year I'll take preventative measures there, but for now I've replanted. Yep. In July. One of the glories of a long planting season like Virginia has. Really hoping this time we have success. I'm ready and armed with my diatomaceous earth. 

Long row o' tomatoes. 8 plants in all.
   Tomatoes have been another major battle for me to grow. Last year they were doing so well, and just as they began to ripen I woke up one morning to a garden filled with deer prints and every single tomato stripped from the plants. You see why I'm only one third joking now, right? Bambi and his peeps have had it coming for more than a year now. This year I have mostly beat them at their own game by picking the tomatoes just as they begin to turn orange, and putting them in the sun on my porch for a couple days to finish ripening. it seems, though, that they've joined forces with the gross horned tomato worm. I have, though, been able to kill a couple of those, and get a tomato or two a week with plenty of green fruit still growing. 
   With all this battling of the elements, you might think my garden is a total fail. Well, maybe it's a half fail. There's been a lot of learning(with plenty more to go), and actually a lot of success. 

Cucumbers. So. Many. Cucumbers. When I initially planted cucumber seeds in April, nothing sprouted. Not one. So I used my remaining three seeds and planted a hill with them, then bought two seedlings from Southern States(for all you northerners, that's Agway down here ). One seed sprouted and has done well, as have my purchased seedlings. In mid-June, the kiddos and I upcycled a piece of plastic trellis and made an arch for them to climb over. 

So cute, right?! The cucumbers agreed, and in a month took over 1/4 of the garden. Not kidding. This only shows where they were planted. The vines have crawled 6-10 feet in every direction. 
Note to self: Maybe two vines is enough next year.
We eat so many cucumbers every week- easily 2-3 daily, I make another batch of Garlic Dill Pickle slices every Saturday, and still I have been taking 10-15 cucumbers to church every week to give away what we have left before it goes bad. At this point I am harvesting 4-6 cucumbers each day. 

Pumpkins planted where the peas and beans once were

Aside from the one casualty to the squash vine borders, my pumpkins are doing well, too! Hoping that continues. We love pumpkin everything in the fall, and it'd be awesome to be able to freeze homemade, organic pumpkin puree for use for the next year instead of spending a pretty penny on the 28-oz cans of it.

Other successes have been broccoli, but in hindsight I'll plant it in July or August next year for an October harvest to take advantage of the cooler nights. Peppers have done well- though jalapenos far better than the bell peppers. Marigolds have done well, too! I've always been taught to plant them around your squash to keep beetles away. Let me tell ya'- Virginia beetles don't care!!! I'm not kidding. The squash bugs down here have orgies directly on my marigold blossoms.

We have two new projects we're growing as well! The first is watermelon. Four vines and they're going wild. Admittedly they've bee neglected in the weeding, because, well, they're the kids' request and they're doing just fine among the grasses to my scant weeding time is spent on the more essential produce. I'm not sure if you can see it, but those yards of vines wrap all over each other, and there are at least six good-size fruit ripening in there. 

Our other new trial is yams! I guess they grow here? We'll see. We eat tons of sweet potatoes, and though I've never grown them before(It's not a 'thing' in NY), we decided to give it a try. I think they're growing. It's hard to tell. They look like they're doing well from the top, but admittedly I have no idea what they're supposed to look like. Guess we'll see when the leaves start to turn yellow(Google tells me that's when they're ready to pull up) and we give them a tug. 

So there you have it. That's what's in my garden. I am nowhere near a mast gardener, nor is it huge and thriving. Okay, the cucumbers are thriving. Perhaps I have a talent as a very specific kind of gardener? Unless it's raining and too soggy to walk in, I spend at least a few minutes out there daily, pulling some weeds and dusting for bugs with DE as needed. We're already researching, trouble-shooting, and planning for next year's garden. Joel Salatin(homesteading superstar if there ever was one) says, "Anything worth doing is worth doing wrong first." So we're doing it all wrong and learning along the way. Our goal is to one day grow enough to be self sufficient- eating fresh what we need spring through fall, and being able to put up via freezing, canning, and drying enough to sustain us through the winter as well. Any extra we want to feed the community. Starting with cucumbers. And a fence. Or venison. I'll take either or both. 

The whole garden- empty rows, dying pumpkin, weed clumps and all!

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