Saturday, December 30, 2023

Ending the blog


Twelve years ago, in January of 2012, I began this blog. When it began, I was growing a vegetable garden and experimenting with some of the traditional gardening practices that Steve Solomon describes and recommends in his book Gardening When It Counts. I had been gardening and keeping data on planting methods and yields obtained for over a decade, comparing them to the data in John Jeavons’ book How to Grow More Vegetables. While I knew that yields were generally decreasing, I did not know how I could effectively address that issue.

It was the publication of Solomon’s next book, The Intelligent Gardener, in 2013 that provided the information on how to increase soil fertility through re-mineralization that helped me understand why yields were decreasing and how to address the issue. Describing what I learned from applying that information to my gardening practice became the primary project of this blog. Over the years I have chronicled the questions I have asked the garden about the effects of the ongoing project to re-mineralize my garden soil and how that project has affected yields, taste, and pest and disease pressures on each of the crops that I grow. I’ve posted the results and my observations after the end of each growing season, sharing this data freely as my gift to my readers and their gardens and as a contribution to garden science.


I’m very pleased that my published data answers some gardening questions that I haven’t seen answered elsewhere. The yield data in pounds per square foot for each of the vegetable varieties I have grown for the past decade or so is something I would have liked to know when I first began gardening. To my knowledge, no other gardener is reporting the yields they obtain for each of their crops on the internet for all to see. I’ve also included data on when I start seeds and transplant or direct-sow each plant and the spacing I use for it in my garden, which is helpful to beginning gardeners and/or those who garden in a similar climate to mine. With that data other people with similar climates can plan how much to plant of these varieties and use the data as a first guess at potential yields for other varieties of the same crop. I’ve been able to use the data I have collected to give what I believe is the first data-driven answer to the question of how much land is needed to grow a complete vegan diet for one person in my climate and publish a plan for such a garden. I’ve also shown how the mineral content of my garden soil has increased over the years as a result of the soil re-mineralization project.


While I’ve been documenting the garden project, I’ve also described some of the systems by which Mike and I live well on less money and energy. These include our rainwater collection system, how we stay cool in summer and warm in winter, our low tech solar food dehydrator, our front porch doing double duty as a solar greenhouse, how we coped with a few days of loss of electricity (here and here), and how we managed for a week without central water heating, among others. In 2016 I documented the reduction in electricity and natural gas usage over several years through changes to the house and changes in our expectations.


Of all the posts I’ve published over the years, I will pull out two different series of two posts, one an outgrowth of my gardening work, the other on the implications of decline in energy infrastructure, as my personal favorites.


The first of these was a pair of posts (part 1 and part 2) on aspects of the permaculture movement that I believe reduce its ability to make the positive contributions to decline that many of its advocates claim for it. While I think some permaculture practices have a role to play, I advocate learning them from books rather than from permaculture design courses, for reasons I discuss in these two posts.


The other is a pair of posts on the near-collapse of the Texas power grid in February 2021. I thought then, and still think, that too few people understand how very close we came to a crisis that would have extended far beyond Texas’ borders. I wrote part 1 and part 2 to describe what nearly occurred and what its implications would have been had it occurred. The low tech, low cost strategies that I’ve included in my blog are among the better ways to withstand not only such a low probability but high impact event, but also the continuing drops down the energy and civilizational decline staircase that eat away at our wallets and our psyches. I also pointed out in part 2 that the “green” energy that the climate-emergency crowd is pushing will only create more infrastructure that we won’t have the cheap energy, economic growth, and political will to maintain.


If you’ve been reading blogs for some time, you know that blogs develop personalities. Just as people change, so do their blogs. And just as people start projects, work on them, complete them, and let them go in order to begin new projects, so blogs begin, develop, accomplish their purpose, and come to an end.


Regular readers of this blog expect it to maintain its personality. However, my interests and projects have shifted to the point where the things I would like to write about don’t fit the personality of the blog. I have already said everything I have to say that does fit its personality. Thus it is time for me and this blog to cordially part ways.


To all of you who have read or commented on this blog over the years, thank you! I hope that some of you have been able to apply something you’ve learned from at least one of my posts to improving your garden, or saving some money, or in some other way that has had a positive effect on your life.


I also extend a big thank-you to fellow bloggers and organizations who have included a link to my blog on their blog sites or who have featured my garden in posts on their blog. Please know that I deeply appreciate your confidence in the value of my blog and of my garden project!


Finally, I gratefully acknowledge two people whose writings have been of particular benefit to the projects of this blog: Steve Solomon for his two books that taught me how to garden well, and John Michael Greer for his books and blog posts and for reviving the Ancient Order of Druids in America, the Druid order that I belong to.


Because the data I’ve made available through this blog is of use to other gardeners, and because more people are likely to become interested in our low-energy-use lifeways as decline continues, I will leave the blog up even though I will no longer make posts or respond to comments. I have removed the subscription block and will not email any more newsletters after this one to those of you who have subscribed to this blog.


I’m signing out with thanks to each one of you for joining this blog’s journey during its 12 years of life. Wishing each of you the best!



Friday, December 8, 2023

Achieving a mineral-balanced garden soil


One of the claims Steve Solomon made in his book The Intelligent Gardener is that after several years of re-mineralizing garden soil in the way that he describes, the phosphorus content of the soil tends to come up to the appropriate level for that soil and remain that way for several more years, even without adding any more phosphorus-containing amendments to the soil (see pp. 139-144). Since phosphorus was deficient in my garden for the first few years that I practiced Solomon’s method of soil re-mineralization, I had to add a few pounds of phosphate rock to each bed in my garden each year. None of the organic sources of phosphorus contain more than 10% phosphorus by weight, and phosphate rock sources are finite and heavily exploited already. If re-mineralization can substantially reduce the need to add sources of phosphate over time, this would be good for gardens, the gardener’s wallet, and the earth. Now that I’ve been re-mineralizing my soil for almost a decade, let’s see if Solomon’s claim applies to my garden’s soil.

Below you’ll find a spreadsheet with the results from Logan Lab’s soil testing for total cation exchange capacity (TCEC), pH, and percent organic matter and the calculated deficiency or excess of several minerals from fall 2014 through spring 2023. For calculating the excess or deficiency of each mineral I used the 2014 revision of Solomon’s acid soil worksheet and the reported values for each mineral from Logan Lab’s soil test.



Notice that starting with spring 2019, the deficiency of phosphorus has decreased to a small fraction of that reported through fall of 2017. In fact, phosphorus was in excess in spring 2019, and the past year’s deficiency was only about 10% of the deficiency prior to 2019. I can remedy this slight deficiency with more readily available soil amendments, such as the wood ashes from burning wood in our wood stove. Wood ashes also supply a goodly amount of calcium and some potassium, two other minerals that can be deficient in my soil but less so since 2019.


Given that I have a light silt loam soil (low clay content, as shown by the TCEC being less than 10) and a hot, long summer that reduces the organic matter percentage that my soil can attain, I think that my garden soil is now almost as good as it can get. It would be ideal to add some more compost to it than the minimum that I have been adding, which would help to keep all the minerals available during the full growing season. Next year I’ll try adding four 5 gallon buckets of compost to each 100 square foot bed instead of the three buckets I have been adding. With the smaller number of beds I’m now planting, I should have enough compost to go around. I will continue getting the soil tested each spring and re-mineralizing as needed to address whatever small deficiencies remain in the soil. I’ll add either cottonseed meal or urine for nitrogen; last year I added cottonseed meal and I expect I’ll do so again in 2024 because it’s easier to handle than urine is. However, if cottonseed meal ever becomes difficult to obtain, I’ll collect and apply my urine for nitrogen as I have done in some past years.


The take-home message is that Solomon’s method has done what he said it would do: it has created a balanced garden soil that grows delicious vegetables in a small space. Those of you who are interested in improving your garden soil and are willing to deal with some chemistry and math would do well to read his book, and try his method if it appeals to you.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Fruitful abundance: update on the 2023 garden



The photo above shows a few of the many apples that we harvested this summer. On behalf of our fruit trees, tomatoes, and peppers, I hereby proclaim 2023 as the Year of Fruit. Here is a look at the 2023 garden harvest so far.


Most of the spring crops did well enough. I planted the carrot and beet seeds too thinly and so I didn’t get a lot of roots, but the roots I got sized up well. The cabbages suffered from more caterpillar damage than in past years, but none of the cabbages rotted before harvest. Fortunately the bok choy matured before the caterpillars had time to eat it. I got good lettuces, until a rabbit figured out how to get into the garden to eat the rest of them.


The real disappointment was the potato crop. I planted the usual 25 pieces, from which I have gotten 20 to 25 plants most years. But this year I only got 6 plants. We’ll miss potato-leek soup made from our own leeks and potatoes, as we’ve already eaten the potatoes that those 6 plants produced. We still have leeks to harvest, but we’ll have to buy potatoes to make soup with them.


In my February 2023 post, I discussed my experiment on waiting to plant all the potato onions until early March. As it turned out, the yield was no better from March planting versus the usual early November planting, even though more plants survived. This year I’m going to plant the onions a little earlier, in the middle of this month, to see if that helps them to survive the winter better.


I planted the summer crops a little earlier than usual, especially the pole beans. We enjoyed many weeks of bean dishes during the summer and just ate the last of the beans! 


A tree frog found a home in and near our garden shed this summer


The tomatoes and the ‘Italian Frying’ peppers were very productive. Then the warmer than normal September weather and late rain led to a new crop of peppers that I just harvested, over 4 pounds!


Whatever else failed in the garden, the apples, pawpaws, and persimmons have more than made up for them. The apple trees out-produced the squirrels this year. Especially the ‘Eddie April’ tree, whose apples, shown above, are yellow with a red wash. I harvested about 45 pounds of them!


Pawpaws were as productive as last year. I harvested about 60 pounds, until the freezer was full. Our ‘Early Golden’ persimmon tree had its best year ever, about 16 pounds so far (that’s a lot of persimmons!), with most of them in the freezer to keep us eating our own fruit until well into 2024.


For once I actually thinned the autumn root crops, and it shows. I’ve already harvested some large turnips, with more of them to come. There will be daikon radishes as well. But some critter ate what little kale germinated.


That’s it for now. Next time I plan on sharing the latest info on the soil re-mineralization effort. Till then, the best to all of you!



Tuesday, August 15, 2023

The 47 hour learning experience



The weather headlines this summer have been about heat, heat, and more heat. But it hasn’t been hot everywhere, and one of the places where it hasn’t been particularly hot is where I live. Which is not to say that summer weather has been uneventful.


We often found ourselves on the northern periphery of the heat bubble that affected the southern tier of states during most of the summer. At times the mixing of hot and moist air with cooler, drier air resulted in outbreaks of severe thunderstorms along portions of the periphery. We’ve experienced four of them so far, on June 1, July 1, July 14, and July 29. Each time we lost electrical service as a result of downed electrical lines. Living in an area with overhead lines and many large old trees, any episode of high winds brings down limbs and sometimes entire trees onto the lines, cutting off electrical service for some people. We’ve become accustomed to losing electrical service during severe thunderstorms. Usually it remain off for a few hours, and we have a routine established for such short-term outages. But the damages in our area from the July 14th storm were so severe that it took our electrical utility 47 hours to restore our electrical service. We were without electricity from about 7:30pm on the 14th to about 6:30pm on the 16th. The photo above shows one reason for our loss of electricity: two houses up the street to the west, a trunk of a silver maple tree fell on the overhead electrical lines and across the full width of our narrow, two lane, low traffic street.


The last time our electricity had been out for so long was in 2006, following two severe thunderstorms about 36 hours apart. We had no electricity for 6 days after the second storm. What we learned then had already been incorporated into our power-out routine. To make things easier, our nearest grocery store and some of the local gas stations installed generators as a result of the 2006 storms, so we could readily obtain ice and groceries after this storm. But I hadn’t fully accounted for another change since 2006, which came to the forefront during this 47 hour outage.


In this post I’ll discuss how we fared during the recent outage and what we learned for the next one – because there will be a next one, and another, and another. That’s what decline looks like. I hope you can learn something from our experience that helps you the next time an electrical outage happens to you.


Air conditioning


Most of the people we told about our 47 hour outage expressed the most discomfort about not having air conditioning during that time. For us, that was the least of our concerns.


Granted, the few days before and including the day of the storm featured some of the hottest and most humid weather we’ve had this summer. We had our air conditioning on, set at 80F as we prefer, when the storm hit. Along with the high winds, we received about 2.3 inches of rain.


Rain cools the air. Immediately following the thunderstorm, the temperature dropped from the upper 80sF to the low 70sF. We responded by opening the windows to let in the cooler air. It was more humid air than the air in the house, but by living our lives in the house, we raise the humidity just by breathing. With all of the windows open wide, we cooled the house enough to sleep comfortably that night.


As we always do in the summer to minimize air conditioner usage, we left the windows open the next two mornings until the temperature rose outside to above the interior temperature, then closed them. In the evenings, after the outside temperature dropped below the inside temperature, we opened the windows again. Two other improvements to the house that we’ve made over the years, sealing against air leaks and adding insulation in 2005 and new windows last year, combined with the strategic opening and closing of the windows, kept the temperature inside the house at 76 to 78F. It helped that the weather cooled off as well, with highs of 89F and 92F on the 15th and the 16th. Even if we hadn’t lost electricity, we would not have run the air conditioner after the rain cooled the air, nor did we turn it back on after our electrical service was restored. We spent most of the two days of the outage, as we do during the warmer months of the year, on the roomy and breezy back porch rather than in the house.




We have collected quite a few sources of off the grid lighting over the years, which we employed during the hour or so we were awake in the evenings after the sun went down. Among these are two oil lamps that sit on the low shelf separating the two largest rooms in the house; multiple flashlights, including the one on a headband that I use for reading and seeing my way around the house during outages; and a candle for light in the bathroom. We have two battery-powered lanterns as well (we keep their batteries sitting next to them so they don’t corrode and install the batteries only when we put them to use), but with it being summer the days were long enough that we didn’t need to employ them. We ate meals on the back porch instead of in the kitchen as we usually do, because it was brighter on the porch.




With scattered severe thunderstorms predicted for the evening of the 14th, we chose to eat dinner earlier than usual so that any leftovers would be in the refrigerator and cooling down if not already cooled before a storm hit. After the storm, we implemented our don’t-open-the-fridge rule to keep the contents cool enough that we wouldn’t need to worry about them until the next morning.


I know that “experts” claim that the food in refrigerators only stays cool enough for safety for 4 hours. Let me unpack what I think are the factors that go into that advice.


First, it seems likely that the “experts” expect someone in the house to open the refrigerator door at least once, if not more than once, during that four hours. Opening the door lets some of the cold air out, replacing it with room-temperature air. If no one opens the door, this exchange of air takes place much more slowly, allowing the contents to stay safely cool for a longer period, especially if the contents are all at refrigerator temperature at the time the electricity goes out. That’s why we keep aware of our local weather and the local NWS weather radar when severe weather is predicted, and why we always eat any meal that we would normally eat around the time of expected severe weather well before that time, so that we can keep the refrigerator closed for several hours in case of an electrical outage.


Second, the “experts” most likely have lawyers advising them. Lawyers are paid to be risk-averse and advise their clients accordingly. I am NOT advising you to do what we do! We are willing to take some risks as long as careful thought suggests that for us the risk is minimal. All readers need to assess their own situations carefully and act accordingly.


The next morning, the electricity was still off. I checked for news about the outage on the emergency radio because we don’t have internet service when the electricity is out and neither Mike nor I have a data plan on our cell phones (more on this in the communications section). The brief local news report on the major local FM station didn’t mention the outage, suggesting it was restricted to a relatively small area, but a look at our street showed that nothing had changed since the night before. We began to suspect that we might not have electricity for at least several more hours and that it was time to get some ice and transfer the contents of the fridge to coolers. After visiting a local donut store for donuts and hot coffee and tea, allowing us to add some charge to our cell phones (see the communications section), we bought ice and transferred all the food that needed continued cooling into coolers with ice. We left cheese, butter, and the garden vegetables in the fridge since they didn’t require being cooled to stay safe. We transferred the food in the freezer compartment to the chest freezer along with another bag of ice to keep the food in it from thawing. Having done this, we could eat from the foods in the cooler as well as the various canned foods and the pretzels and crackers that we keep for eating during shorter-term outages when we aren’t opening the refrigerator.


On the 16th, when electrical service still hadn’t been restored, we emptied the bag of ice in the chest freezer into the coolers and bought two more bags of ice, which we put in the freezer unopened to keep it cool. If the electricity hadn’t been restored by the morning of the 17th, we would have considered getting dry ice for the freezer, but we hoped that wouldn’t be necessary. We would have then used the ice in the freezer for the coolers. After the electricity came on in the evening of the 16th, the bags of ice in the freezer became available for future electrical outages – and we used one of them during the outage on the 29th, because the electricity had already been out for about 5 hours before we went to bed. The second bag is still in the chest freezer, ready for whenever we next need ice.




We have an electric stove so we couldn’t use it during the outage, but we also have several means to cook food without electricity. Had the weather been sunny I would have employed the sun oven to heat water for tea and coffee and to heat foods from the cooler as desired, but conditions were too cloudy for its use. We could have heated water or leftovers or cooked on the propane grill or the charcoal grill, but as it turned out, we didn’t do this. Instead, we got tea and coffee from the donut store and a local gas station, ate out the evening of the 15th, and got a rotisserie chicken the late afternoon of the 16th from the local grocery store because I wanted to eat hot rather than cold food for dinner. Otherwise we ate leftovers out of the coolers.


Next time, we’ll do more to employ non-electric sources of heat for cooking, as I am not fond of a continued diet of cold foods, and meals out are increasingly expensive.




This was our biggest challenge during this outage.


In 2006, while we lost internet service once the battery backup lost charge, we retained landline service because the phone was hard-wired into the phone network. Neither of us had cell phones then. Not having internet service wasn’t a big issue, as our service was slow and used primarily for email, which we could check on the computers at the library.


For several years our battery backup module for internet service has been inoperable, probably due to failure of the battery inside. We knew where we could take our unit to get the battery replaced. We just hadn’t done it and accepted the loss of internet during electrical outages, knowing that if we really want or need service, we can take our computers to the library to read and respond to email and to read some of the websites we frequent. I’m a reader rather than a video watcher and I always have multiple projects in progress that don’t depend on the internet, so I’m never bored. Mike likes to watch short videos on the net but he likes to read as well, and we play our own music rather than listen to others play music. In short, we enjoy internet but don’t require it to make our lives bearable, and we have more than enough to do when it isn’t available.


On the other hand, since most of our electrical outages are for less than 8 hours, and because our electrical utility forces us to stay abreast with information on outages through its website, it would be good to have the battery backup module working again. I’ll take our old module in for battery replacement soon.


We still have the landline phone but now it’s connected to the fiberoptic system and we supply the electricity to run it, so it is inoperative during electrical outages. Our cell phones work during outages – as long as they are charged. Our standard procedure when severe weather threatens is to charge up our cell phones well before severe weather hits. But I neglected to charge my phone before this storm. That was a mistake, as I had less than two days’ worth of charge on my phone when the electricity went out.


Mike wasn’t as affected by the lack of electricity for charging his phone, because he could take advantage of one of our alternative means to charge the phones, via an adapter to charge it from the car battery. He had two events at the Zen center he belongs to, and it’s far enough from us that he could get a good charge on his phone by driving to and from the Zen center. However, the only riding in the car that I did was on much shorter drives that did little to charge my phone. My only alternative was to limit phone time. Even then, my phone dropped to near zero charge before the electricity came back on.


Our other alternative means to charge the phone is from our emergency radio, which has three different ways to power its internal rechargeable batteries: solar cells, a hand-cranking system, and an AC adapter to charge it from our electrical service. It has an adapter with a USB port on one end and a jack into the radio on the other for charging cell phones. It also accepts three AA batteries, so it doesn’t need to use the rechargeable batteries for radio service. We got the radio in 2016, when we were still relying more on the landline phone than our cell phones, primarily for its function as a receiver of FM, AM, and weather broadcasts when we don’t have electricity. While I knew it could be used to charge our cell phones, I hadn’t tried to do so.


When I realized that my cell phone didn’t have enough reserve charge to remain usable through the expected length of this outage, I remembered that in theory I could charge it from the radio. But I didn’t remember where I had stored the adapter for that purpose, and I began to fear I’d lost it. Even if I had found it, the rechargeable batteries would not have had enough charge to add much charge to my cell phone.


Earlier this month, I consulted the website for the radio’s manufacturer and discovered, much to my relief, that the cell phone charging adapter was offered for sale as a replacement part. I promptly ordered one. Then, before it arrived, I got it in mind to look again for the adapter and discovered it in the tray of a desk drawer, hidden under a pile of rubber bands. So now we have two adapters. In the meantime, I found the manual for the radio and read it more closely, learning that the AC adapter would charge the rechargeable batteries more quickly than either the solar cells or the hand crank. The AC adapter doesn’t come with the radio but it can be purchased from the same website. After checking our collection of spare AC adapters and not finding a suitable version, I ordered the AC adapter from the website. It’s arrived and I’ve charged the internal battery with it. I also found a small cloth bag to keep the cell phone adapters and the AC adapter in and put the bag next to the radio, so we can find them the next time we want them. When the cell phone next needs charging, I’ll try charging it from the radio.


The other issue I may address is the lack of a data plan on both of our cell phones. Mike has an Android smartphone but doesn’t have a data plan with it, so he can only talk or text during electrical outages. I have a flip phone that doesn’t have a data plan option, so I can also only talk or text in that situation. I’m considering upgrading to the smartphone and data plan that my provider offers, because it would be helpful to have the ability to access our electrical utility’s website during electrical outages.


I hope you all enjoy the rest of summer (or winter if you are reading from the southern hemisphere)! I expect the next post to be a quick update on this year’s garden.


Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Results from the 2022 garden and plans for 2023

Every year at about this time I write posts on what I learned from the previous garden and what I want to learn from the new garden. This year I’m combining them into a single post.


In the tables below you’ll find the yields for each crop I harvested in 2022.



Our last spring frost date (low of 32F or less) was April 19th, with a low of 34F on April 26th. Despite the late cold snap, the average temperature for the month was about normal. Precipitation was less than normal but adequate. May was warm and wet, while June was hotter and drier than normal. This weather pattern favors the spring crops like lettuce, cabbage, and bok choy. A look at the data shows that while none of these crops broke yield records, each of them did well.


The hotter and drier pattern in June continued through July, with one exception: record-breaking rainfall on July 25-26. August was about average in temperature and rainfall, while September was about average temperature but very dry. October was very dry till the last week, with the first autumn frost occurring on October 18th, with a low of 29F (the low was 25F on the 19th). The dry conditions combined with hot weather in June and July led to pepper flowers not pollinating well, reducing their yields considerably. The bell pepper plants didn’t set any peppers until well into August, and the plants suffered more from disease than did the ‘Italian Frying’ variety. Tomatoes withstood conditions better and the muskmelon yield would have been higher but for one fruit that a critter found before we did. The vining beans had decent yields and the bush lima bean yielded better than the pole lima beans that I have tried, but the squash and cucumber plants died early and produced poorly. The combination of dry autumn conditions and lack of thinning led to poor yields of autumn crops – and the critter(s) that ate the lettuce and kale didn’t help matters any. I did a better job of thinning the beets, and they, carrots, and leeks produced a decent yield.


For the fruits, the strawberry plants would have yielded more, but I was unable to pick them for a week during the height of their ripening. The plants did not come back after I mowed them in June, following the end of fruiting. Apparently the combination of age and inadequate watering on top of the stress of being mowed led to their deaths. Because the raspberries were newly planted in the spring, they did not yield, and critters ate all the apples on all three apple trees. I don’t know why the persimmon yield was low. On the other hand, the pawpaw trees yielded magnificently! We’re still eating pawpaws that I froze from last summer!


One of the questions I wanted the 2022 garden to answer is how well a six-bed vegetable garden fits in with the other interests and commitments of my life. As it turned out, the answer isn’t yet clear. On the one hand, it was less work than the nine-bed garden, and we had a good variety of fresh produce from the vegetable garden from late May through early December. In fact, we still have daikon radishes in storage, waiting to be eaten. On the other hand, the garden work still got ahead of me, especially in summer and autumn. Certainly the heat didn’t help, but it seemed to be more than that. It may be that I need to re-think the amount of time I give the various activities of my life if I am to keep up with the weeding and thinning of a six-bed garden. Or it may be that I need to consider a further reduction in the space devoted to vegetable gardening. I’ll consider that as I work in the six-bed garden this year.


Another question I asked was how the bush lima bean variety I trialed in 2022 would yield and if it would be a good garden citizen and not overgrow the space allotted to it. On both counts I’m very pleased with it. We haven’t eaten any of the crop yet, but I will grow it again this year and hope that we like the taste of the beans when we get around to cooking them.


In 2022 I asked the potato onions if planting the 1 to 1.5 inch diameter bulbs in early March would lead to better survival and yield than planting them in early November. Those were the onions planted in 62 square feet in the data tables. The answer: yes, planting them in early March resulted in greater survival and higher yield. In fact, they out-yielded the 1.5 to 2 inch diameter onions that I planted in early November (the onions planted in 27 square feet).


This year’s question for the potato onions is if I can hold the larger onions in storage until early March (larger potato onions don’t survive as long in storage as smaller ones do) and plant them out then to obtain a higher yield with them as well. In order to minimize rotting I laid them out in a single layer on a wire shelf suspended from the basement ceiling. As of today, only a few of the smaller onions have sprouted, but close to half of the larger onions have sprouted. I’ll plant all of the un-sprouted larger onions and as many of the sprouted larger onions as seem to be firm enough to catch on and grow. I’ll keep the harvest from each part of the bed separate so I can compare the yields from the area planted to larger onions from the yield planted to smaller onions. I’ll also observe the plants as they grow and take notes of any differences between the areas.


What about last year’s experiment with seeds from Lisa Brunette’s potato onions? Well, they produced seedlings that I planted out, and the seedlings grew well. The plants went dormant in June, at the same time as the potato onion bulbs go dormant and I harvest them. Unlike the case with the onions in the documentation I read, the seed-grown onions did not grow larger than the bulb-grown onions. Rather, the seed-grown onions were smaller. So I left them all in the ground. In retrospect, I should have harvested half of them then and left the rest in the ground, because most of them rotted over the summer. But six of them revived in early autumn. Rather than leave them to the ravages of winter, I potted each of them up and moved them to the front porch. All have survived the winter on the front porch. I’ll share half of them with Lisa and plant the other half in my garden (making sure to harvest them in June along with the crop from bulbs!). Meanwhile, I stored the rest of Lisa’s seeds in the freezer and planted some of them in a flat for this year’s bed. I stored the seeds in the freezer rather than in the basement where I store the rest of the seeds because onion and leek seeds are not supposed to be long-lived, perhaps only a year or so. The colder and drier they are stored, the longer they live.


For the three beds that I used to plant in corn, my current plan is to move some plants from elsewhere in the yard that need more sun or need dividing into that space. This will include daylilies, purple coneflowers, and peonies. I am also considering other perennial herbs for any space remaining. I will mulch as much of these beds with autumn leaves as I have available to reduce the weeding needed. Thanks to someone who dumped 20 or 30 plastic bags full of leaves into the creek down the street that Mike and I salvaged, I already have some of the mulch in place. As I continue with garden clean-up I’ll rake more leaves for these beds.


This year I’m planting a new strawberry bed with new plants of the same variety, ‘Earliglo’. If I have enough autumn leaves I will mulch this bed as well and do the best I can to keep competing plants out of it.


While I plan to continue the blog for the time being, expect posting to be occasional and at irregular intervals. In the meantime, enjoy life!

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Citrus for cold climates and warm homes


I’ve described our glassed-in front porch aka solar greenhouse in a previous post, but I haven’t talked about the citrus trees that I keep on it during the winter, aside from the time that the weather outside became so cold that some of them died. Here’s what I have learned about the varieties of citrus that I can grow successfully in containers on our front porch, for those of you in cold-winter climates who may wish to add home-grown citrus to your diet.


The 2014 cold spell was much harder on the citrus plants than I had realized when I wrote that post. It turned out that the only citrus tree on the porch that survived was the ‘Meyer Improved’ lemon, and not without damage. Because the satsuma tangerine was small enough to move into the house, it survived as well. I replaced the dead trees with a ‘Lisbon’ lemon, a ‘Bearss’ lime, and a ‘Meiwa’ kumquat. This set of trees grew well.


By early 2019, the tangerine had fruited a couple of times, though not profusely. The ‘Lisbon’ lemon sported its first crop of 8 large lemons and we were looking forward to their ripening! But then an ominous weather forecast prompted me to move the kumquat, lime, and Meyer lemon into the basement to avoid potential sub-freezing temperatures. The Lisbon lemon and the tangerine were bigger, enough so that it made it difficult to move them into the house. I chose to leave them on the porch. Both froze to death. (We did juice the frozen lemons … the juice was delicious.)


With this many years of experience I feel confident that I can now provide recommendations on the best citrus to grow in containers for those of us who are forced by cold winter conditions to move them inside our homes for part or all of our winters. These trees are easy to care for, are attractive especially when in bloom or when covered with ripe fruits, and provide excellent fruits that ripen in winter to add some freshness to winter meals. They are small enough to be placed in a basement or in front of a good-sized window inside the house, if you don’t have a greenhouse or a space like our front porch that can be made into one.



My ‘Meiwa’ kumquat tree, shown above, is covered with small fruits that pack a much larger taste than their size suggests. In my opinion, kumquats are the best choice for anyone with limited space that allows for only one plant (my 9 year old plant is about 3 feet wide and tall). Because you eat the whole kumquat except for the seeds – in fact, the peel is the sweetest part of a kumquat! – there is little waste. Like other citrus, the flowers have a strong floral odor. It blooms later than the lemon and lime trees, in the summer rather than in the spring. I just harvested the first four kumquats and should be harvesting fruit for the next few weeks as each one ripens. A kumquat tree may live through a very light frost but should be moved out of the cold when temperatures drop below 30F.


For those of you who like limes and have room for a somewhat larger plant, I suggest the ‘Bearss’ lime. My lime tree (above, with the yellowish fruits) is about 4 feet wide and about 4 ½ feet tall at 9 years old. The juice from a ‘Bearss’ lime has the classic lime flavor. My current tree has withstood temperatures a degree or two below freezing, but I bring it into the house when the porch gets any colder than that. I’ve picked 8 limes so far this winter, with another 5 to pick later on. They are ripe when the skin turns light yellow. Each lime weighs 2 to 3 ounces.


‘Meyer Improved’ lemons can weigh up to a half-pound each and have a good lemon flavor, though not quite as good as the Lisbon lemons. My ‘Meyer Improved’ lemon, above, is going on 20 years old and is about 4 feet wide and 5 feet tall. It only bore 5 lemons this year but each lemon weighed 6 to 8 ounces! It can stand a much colder temperature than the lime or kumquat trees, down to 20F or even colder, though temperatures that cold can damage it.



The photo above shows the trunk damage that my lemon tree sustained in the 2014 cold snap.


In my experience, navel orange, satsuma tangerine, and Lisbon lemon trees all eventually grew so large that I could no longer move them from the porch to the house when we experienced a cold snap. This doesn’t mean that they might not work for you, but if you choose them I suggest that you have a good pair of pruners on hand and learn how to prune them to keep their size small enough that you can move them into and out of the house when you need to.


Caring for these trees is similar to any houseplant. In between your last spring frost and first fall frost, they enjoy living outdoors in a sunny spot. Keep the soil moist but not wet and fertilize them on occasion so that they will have enough nutrition to fruit. I like to pot mine in a mix of garden soil, compost, and earthworm castings and fertilize them with diluted urine once every week or two when they are outside. When they are on a porch or inside the house, they grow so slowly that they don’t need any extra fertilizer. The soil can be drier when they are inside, but not completely dry. If you start to notice drooping leaves and stems and the soil is dry, they need water. They do not seem to be especially attractive to insect pests except for scale, and the scale that is on the lime tree doesn’t seem to bother it that much. A good time for potting them on and for pruning is when you move them outside in the spring, so that they will have time to regrow their roots and branch framework before they go dormant. Lime and lemon fruits often drop off the plant when they ripen, but picking them first will ensure that they don’t bruise where they hit the floor. The fruits keep for weeks in the refrigerator and can be used in the same ways you use lemons and limes from the grocery store. We also candy the lemon and lime peels and coat them with melted chocolate for a homegrown treat!


I wish all of you a happy 2023! When next we meet, I’ll report on the 2022 garden.

Sunday, August 28, 2022


Orchids flowering

Hi readers,


To those of you who are new to the blog, welcome!


It’s been a busy few months, as spring and summer tend to be at Living Low Acre. I plan to have a new post up by the end of September. In the meantime, I’m picking pawpaws from the pawpaw patch, gathering the black walnuts that fall onto our yard from the neighbor’s tree, and taking a bit of a break after harvesting the potatoes and planting that bed with greens and roots for harvest in autumn.


While you’re waiting for a new post, please check out the post my friend and fellow archdruid Dana O’Driscoll put up on her blog about my garden. She visited while on her way home from Dancing Rabbit, an ecovillage in northern Missouri. While she was here, she interviewed me on my garden and the ecological art of living low that is reflected in the blog’s name. Please enjoy the beautiful pictures she took while you learn more about the garden design and how it’s worked out, and why we live low.


Thank you to everyone for reading, and meet you here again sometime in September!