Lessons in the Garden

IMG_5598Wow.. time flies when you have a lot of things going on. So much has happened in the last few months and there is still so much more to do. And if that isn’t enough the weather here in Texas is creating its own chaos. We have had tons of rain and flooding as well as several storms dropping hail. The garden really took a hit with the hail and we are now dealing with Texas heat. As with everything in life, the garden is giving me some lessons in the results and we are making notes for changes in the fall and for next year.

IMG_5755 (1)The garden was really doing very well and we were eagerly awaiting a harvest. The tomatoes were huge and starting to get ripe. Then we got some serious hail that did a lot of damage.. most of it to the garden. The tomatoes lost most of their leaves and the leaves and stems that remained all had damage. Most of the ripening tomatoes also were bruised and cut from the hail and so most of the tomatoes were lost. I picked many and tossed them into the chicken pen for them to enjoy. The ones that were not damaged I allowed to remain then had an open house for some black beetles and we lost a lot more. And if that was not enough the birds also started to make holes in them. The tomatoes were also ripening on plants without the cover of leaves and we also had some scald. It was time to throw up my hands, trim up the damage and just hope when weather cools some they will get back to producing some tomatoes.

IMG_5757 (1)I did get to enjoy a few of the tomatoes along the way. The first one I got to taste was the Black Prince. I did enjoy the flavor and thought the darker skin made them really neat looking in a salad. I also did get some of my Brandywines. As always their flavor is delightful and I wish I had got more of them before everything was destroyed. The striped German was slow growing and I got a huge tomato. I brought it in to finish ripening and it got mushy and rotted. So disappointed as it looked really delicious. Once again the chickens got to enjoy my garden tomato. We also got a few of the Cherokee Purples and they too had a really neat flavor and I loved the darker tomato coloring. Overall the Black Prince was a good producer and had lots of tomatoes before the hail. It got pounded back pretty hard and is struggling to come back in our heat. The rest were not as productive but who knows what I may have got if they hail had not come.

Also coming back is the Brandywine. I have hopes that all these will get some leaf growth and when the temps cool will get back to producing tomatoes again. With the heirlooms I was not expecting huge crops, I was just wanting to see what would grow well here in the south. You definitely need to start early and get a good crop in before the heat sets in. I am going to keep this bunch going and see what we get when things once again cool in a few months. I also am wanting to start some new plants and grow them into the fall to see if I get any better results with these heirlooms. I plan on ordering some heirlooms that are better designed for the south, and over time, the goal is to see what does the best down here and the best way to grow it to get a great harvest. We may even try to do some crosses and see if we can get a heat tolerant tomato with great flavor. We did manage to save some seeds even if we did not get the desired harvest.

IMG_5753When the hail stopped falling I opened the front door and stepped outside. It was still dark and we were still getting rain.. and I smelled onions. I knew the garden had probably been destroyed and was not far wrong. Aside from the damage to the tomatoes everything else also got pretty much pounded as well. The next day I surveyed the damage. The onions and lettuce were all beat down and shredded. I let the lettuce go a few days then trimmed them up. I removed the plants too far gone and out to the chickens they went. The rest I decided to let go for the seeds and that is where we are right now. I will be cutting the tops off this weekend and removing the seeds for a fall crop. I did like growing the lettuce in these tubs and will grow them this way again. It kept them from the rabbits and I did not have too many pests to deal with.

The onions I pulled up most of the big ones and dried them out a few days then dehydrated them for storage. I do have some sitting on the counter to use in cooking that are fresh. The really small onions I have left in place and will see if they get better next year. I was hoping to allow some to go to seed and the hail pretty much destroyed the onions to the point that did not happen. The onions also did well in the tubs and I will once again start seeds in the fall then place out the young plants in the tubs to finish growing. I also want to try growing some under some of my trees in the soil with the wood chips and ocmpare harvest  notes next year.

IMG_5751Also destroyed were the cucumbers and beans. I did get a few beans to harvest but I  have come to the conclusion the gutter garden will not allow me to plant enough to get a really good harvest and will be looking to plant the beans in the ground this fall so I can plant much more. I did get a few cuckes before the plants were destroyed from the hail and will now replant them and see if we can still get enough of a harvest to make some pickles. I had picked three before the hail storm and dehydrated them to use in my soap making so really need to start over on them. This one plant going crazy on the top of my trellis is the lufa gourd. It had struggled to get started and I think I planted it too soon. After I cleared out all the other plants and the weather warmed it has taken off. Next year we will not get so excited to get these started in the cooler weather and will wait until summer is almost here to plant these next year.

The peas did well and I got a small harvest before the hail. Just like the beans, I could not plant enough to get a really good harvest in the gutter garden so will be looking to grow these in the ground as well. I will need to come up with a trellis and may have to figure out a way to get another cattle panel or two. Otherwise we will try a variation of what we used on the tomatoes. I am hoping the wood chips we are putting down in the Back to Eden style garden will be ready for fall planting and will will try both the beans and peas when the weather cools.

I still need to setup some more cat litter buckets as reservoirs for water in more of the gutters. I like the covered cat buckets as they do not get mosquito larvae in them and the water stays relatively clean. Because of my focus on the veggies I kinda let the herbs go. I will get more focused on them as the weather cools. Most right now need a trim to get them to bush a bit. We have several basils, mints and stevia. The stevia is doing very well this year and I have several containers of it. I need to prune it back and dry more leaves soon and also find out how to best use it for sweetening.

IMG_5591 I must admit I have been a bit impressed with the Comfrey this year. I got little crowns and put them in buckets in the gutter system to get through the winter. Then planted them out in the Spring. They do need to be planted where you want them.. forever.. as any piece of root will produce more plants. I did not get all the pieces from the buckets and now have comfrey growing in my tomatoes and other plants. Will be finding a more permanent home for them in the fall. But the ones I put out in the spring have really taken off and gotten established.The hail punched holed in all the leaves of all the Comfrey and they actually looked really bad after the storm. You can see some of the holes on the bottom leaves in t he photo above. They continued to grow like nothing happened and I just pulled these battered leaves off and fed them to the chickens as the new growth continued to come. Every day I still pull the bottom leaves off the plants and put them out for the chickens to snack on during the day and the Comfrey continues to just keep growing bigger and m ore lush. I also pull leaves and dehydrate for my soap. Some leaves are also used to make a Comfrey tea that I have used to help heal the wounds the feral cats get when they fight and it also is used in my soap making. I love this plant.

IMG_5754The garlic got beat up but has pretty much kept on podding. It has thrown up some seed heads and I am really not sure how to grow and harvest at this point. I pulled a few up and the cloves were very small. I am waiting till the tops die back and will pull up some more. It may be that I need to cut off the seed heads to get the cloves to get larger. Guess I need some Google time to see what needs to be done to improve the harvest. The plants did well in the gutter garden and will grown them again in the large barrels. But I also want to try some in the ground like the oinions and compare harvest results.

The strawberries did not produce much in the way of fruit this year. They did however, run like crazy. I have the entire half barrels pretty much covered with plants and have runners hanging over the sides. I expect a better harvest next year but now am considering putting these in the ground as well. My concern is the rabbits I see in the yard often. I do not want another area of fencing yet do not want to have the bunnies eating my crop.Something to ponder during the heat of summer so will be ready this fall to do something different. I might try some in the ground as well as keep the ones in the barrels and see what happens at the end of next year.

So here we are working more inside because the heat has set in and the garden is kinda on auto pilot. I did get some good results and also some results that are changing the way we do things going forward. I think a garden is something that takes a few years to get kinks ironed out and producing at top capacity. I am looking at low work yet high harvest so the dead ends or wrong turns are just ways to help me perfect my garden. I am looking forward to the cooler temps so I can take the spring and summers lessons into the fall.

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