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.