Epic Garden Update, April 2017, With Pictures!

It is time for the semi-annual “Oh crap! I need to do an epic garden update!” post. Because I know how much you all love getting overwhelmed with an 8 billion word post, with pictures, about what’s going on in the garden. However, as a lot of the blog posts serve as record keeping for me and the DreadBrewer, you’re out of luck. So here’s what’s going on in the garden in April of 2017.

First and foremost, this is how I finally got the time/energy to update the blog:

If I sit outside and stare at the garden, with rum punch and laptop at hand, then an update should be easy-peasy, no?

So on to what we’re up to, here at BeerCat Farm…

Doesn’t it look idyllic?

As regards our berries, it’s sort of hit or miss this year. We had serious issues with our raspberries last year, which we determined was due to lack of drainage coupled with poor pruning practices. In an attempt to remedy the situation, we tore out the old bushes, tilled, and then built brand new 4′ x 24′ beds (x 2!!!) for a new batch of plants. (We actually started with one 10′ x 24′ bed that I agreed to without considering the actual dimensions thereof. Once built, DB and I both were appalled at the sheer quantity of soil needed to fill said bed and agreed to split it into two beds, with a walkway, in order to make it ever so slightly less insanely large.) 

 

The canes look pretty pathetic now and we won’t get any berries this year, but it’ll be worth it if we can erase our mistakes.

Our blackberries are looking phenomenal this year…

However, they looked really awesome like this last year and then we had a semi-drought and a semi-heat wave and they withered on the plant. Hopefully we can avoid that this year and get a bumper crop of blackberries to offset our lack of raspberries. Though if the new raised bed works well for the raspberries, we may be looking at two new 4′ x 24′ blackberry beds in 2018.

Also, our blueberries are looking phenomenal:

And we have like 18 million berries. IF the birds don’t eat them when they’re 75% ripe and not fit for human consumption. Because birds are assholes like that. We’re planning on trying to drape bird netting over the plants AND making a scarecrow out of a discarded mannequin that DB acquired (don’t even ask) in the hopes of thwarting the little buggers. Because 4 years without more than a handful of berries is just too much to bear!

And I totally forgot to take pictures of the new strawberry bed but we have one! DB planted a 5′ x 10′ strawberry bed this year for the girls with about 15 strawberry plants. We might get some this year but most likely next year will be a bumper crop. (Fingers crossed!)

Next up: cucumbers!

 

Yes, this is empty. I know.

We are going to transplant our cuke seedlings tomorrow! DB is growing me a pickling variety this year, in addition to a new striped cultivar. I am really going to try and tackle the dill pickle conundrum in order to satiate our pickle appetite during the winter months without shelling out $3/jar for Claussens. However, even if we only manage to eat them all fresh, any reduction in our outlay for grocery store cucumbers will be a Godsend.

Beans!

We have two beds of bush beans going in succession, as well as our lima beans in the background of the 2nd pic. On the list for tomorrow is thinning the bean plants, a much dreaded but much needed task. Bush beans are one of my absolute favorite things to eat out of the garden but one of my least favorite things to harvest. Dang, I hate picking beans. They’re itchy and there’s a million of them and the bending over makes your back hurt… they just suck to harvest. Unfortunately, the girls all ADORE green beans, as do DB and I. And they are also insanely easy to preserve, be it by freezing or canning. So we grow oodles of them. And I curse them continuously while picking and praise them continuously while eating and it just seems to be the way of the world in our garden.

Lettuce and Spinach:

We attempted to use up a lot of old seed this year with our lettuce, which resulted in some patchy growth. The Buttercrunch didn’t germinate a bit, even through two attempts, so 2 years is apparently the limit for lettuce seed storage. I’m wresting with the problem of how to transport leaf lettuce farther then the kitchen – it gets wilty and limp so damn quickly that I don’t know how we would ever include it in a CSA (a not-so-distant possiblity if I have anything to say about it). Any tips on lettuce storage would be greatly appreciated. Our spinach, on the other hand, is awesome. I’ve been harvesting it not just for salads but also for these amazing muffins we’ve all been inhaling as quickly as I can bake them. I promise the recipe is forthcoming in another post.

Garlic: 

The garlic looks like it’s doing so well! Though DB says that he refuses to believe it’s doing great until it’s harvested and into storage… The left side of the bed is garlic we grew from our own sets and the right side is garlic grown from purchased sets; I’ll be interested to see which side wins when it comes to shelf life.

Artichokes: 

And yet again this year, DB is attempting to grow artichokes. I think this is madness for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that neither DB nor I has EVER had good luck cooking fresh artichokes for consumption. The canned, low-salt ones are much more palatable and a hell of a lot easier, in my opinion. But, I tend to give DB free reign in what he grows, as long as a few requests of mine are accommodated (cherry tomatoes, please!) so I can’t really say much when he wants to grow artichokes.

Tomatoes and Marigolds: 

We planted our tomatoes and marigolds over the last few days. I think we have at least 8 different cultivars of tomatoes, which we can hopefully narrow down into favorites for next year. DB being DB, he grew a ton of seedlings of each, so my dad and mother-in-law were both recipients (willing or not) of multiple tomato seedlings. Even after giving those away and planting a bunch in pots to put on the front porch, we still have a bunch we won’t be able to use. We also grew some nematocidal marigolds this year and put those in the tomato bed in an attempt to cut down on root-knot nematodes. We’ll see if they have any impact.

Napa Cabbage:

So I realize that these plants look nothing like the Napa cabbage one sees in the store. I’m not sure what cultivar DB grew or what went wrong (or right) with the type we planted, but they look like they’ll be delicious whenever we eat them.

Brassicas:

Today we planted our broccoli (Aspabroc and Tender) and cabbage (Wakamine). We are SO CRAZY LATE on getting these in the ground, especially considering it was 90 degrees here today but better late than never, right? Unless, of course, all of your brassicas bolt and go straight to seed and then taste like bitterness embodied in brassica form… and then yes, late really really sucks. Fingers crossed that we have enough cool days before the hammer of summer in North Carolina pounds down on us with a vengeance. (In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a lot of “plant it and hope” that goes on at BeerCat Farm.)

Leeks and Onions: 

Leeks and onions are looking amazing! Except for the ones DB tried to grow from seed, which are looking pretty pathetic at the moment. I’m not sure what it is but the man can grow every single crop imaginable from seed except for leeks and onions. Those he can only manage to sprout and kill. But even Achilles had a vulnerable spot, so I guess this is DB’s. Thank God for Dixondale and Natural Gardening, because they can grow leeks and onions from seeds. And again this year we planted ridiculous quantities of both but whatever. Why mess with an overabundance of alliums if it works?

Okay, I’m fairly certain that covers most of what is going on in the garden. We did get 10 cubic yards of cedar mulch delivered and have spent quite a bit of time putting that down in between the beds. We got cedar in the hopes that it would help keep bugs down, since it works that way for clothing. It may be a baseless supposition but at least the garden will smell really good for a while.

That’s a LOT of mulch

Crazily enough, we have used nearly all of it just filling in the walkways between our beds. We have just a bit left that we will use to fill in between the raspberry beds and then we’ll be all out. We could probably have used another 5 cubic yards if we wanted to do all the places in the yard that have (and need) mulch but oh well. We’ll most likely get another 10 cubic yards delivered next year to re-up the paths and then mulch the yard bits.

And there you have it, the most recent epic garden update. If you ever wonder why I don’t update as frequently as you (or I) may like, you can simply reference this page, add in three children 5 and under as well as a full time job and running for physical and mental health, and you’ll understand. But I am so so glad we do it. Even if just for the savings in cucumbers….

Let’s do this like a Band-Aid

It’s been so long since I’ve posted anything that it keeps getting harder and harder to actually post something. Like a phone call or a text message that you keep meaning to return and keep meaning to return until so much time has passed that you’re more embarrassed to return the call or text than you are to just forget it.

So let’s just do this as quickly, briefly, and painlessly as possible, just like taking off a bandage. Let’s get an update out there and then I’ll be able to work on longer posts without the guilt.

Here’s a quick picture recap of what we’ve been up to lately:

Building and filling a new raspberry bed -an ordeal which deserves an enormous post of its own!

Taking our second annual (we hope!) trip to Hilton Head and introducing Itty Bitty to the joys of the pool

Getting to be such a big girl! 6 months old tomorrow!!

Sister love in Hilton Head

Getting the garden ready for spring

Practicing bike skills

Spending quality time with Daddy looking for grubs

First tutu! I die from cuteness.

As you can see, we’ve been pretty busy. But a garden update is forthcoming. As are ones on the girls, because they’ve been up to some pretty awesome stuff lately.

And now that I’ve taken the first step and finally posted something, hopefully the next post won’t be quite so daunting.

Garden Planning is under way!

Because what better way to spend a day like this

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So cold!

than doing this!

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Dreaming of sunshine

I am very lucky that the DreadBrewer derives such pleasure from cataloging and comparing and cross referencing to make sure that we are going to have an awesome garden come spring. And all I have to do is provide some of the sweat equity when it gets warmer to reap the rewards of his diligence. Though the beer that usually accompanies the arduous task of garden planning makes the experience less onerous, I’m sure…

I did help out this year by making a spreadsheet of what cultivars we grew for the last three years, where we got the seeds, and how many we ordered. I like stuff like that. Poring over garden catalogs and debating whether we should grow Procraft versus Carolina Wonder peppers or hard neck versus soft neck garlic is not my cup of tea. (The answer is we are going to grow both peppers. And we are probably only going to grow hard neck garlic from now on, in case you were wondering.) If it were up to me, I would probably choose what we grew based on how pretty the pictures are, which means that we would order everything from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds because their catalog is gorgeous.)

It makes it a little easier to cope with snow and temps in the 20s when I know that seed starting will begin in a few short weeks and we’ll be planting out in the garden sooner than I think. I am really looking forward to getting out in the sunshine and getting my hands dirty. Because dreaming of and planning for our 2017 garden is all well and good, but actually being able to get out there and do it is awesome.

Building A Produce Storage Rack

Over the long Labor Day weekend, the DreadBrewer and I were able to conquer one of the garden projects that has been on our To Do list for far too long: building a produce storage rack.

Until now, we’ve had to store our onion, garlic, and shallot crops in bins and boxes in the guest bathroom, not to mention the fact that our tub was totally full of onions. Not only did this present a problem if we had guests who had the crazy notion that they would perhaps like a semi-usable bathroom in which to brush their teeth, but it also seriously shortened the self life of our root crops due to lack of air circulation. We ran the vent fan fairly frequently to try and keep some of the moisture out of there, but we still lost about 25% of our harvest due to rot.

Pre-Rack 1

Yeah, I’d consider these less than ideal storage conditions

I looked into all sorts of storage possibilities in an attempt to find something that would help us preserve our harvest. The easiest option would’ve probably been just to buy a ton of panty hose and string the bundles up from the shower curtain rod, but panty hose are actually kind of expensive when you think about the fact that you use them once and then cut them up. I tried to find something we could purchase and use, but again, everything was more money than we wanted to spend. Finally I found these plans from Ana White that looked awesomeThe plans only called for unfinished pine, which is pretty cheap, and were labeled as intermediate, which should be well within our capabilities, so DB and I decided that we would build our own food storage rack.

I have to say that the girls were so good while we were putting the rack together. They waited patiently in the morning for us to make the sides so we could go out and play in the yard.

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They put Curious George to shame

They waited patiently in the afternoon for us to put the frame together so we could go out and play in the kiddie pool.

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Look at these paragons of patience

I didn’t get a picture of it, but they entertained themselves with baby dolls and play dough while we built the shelves. All in all, they were champs while we worked at this. We also couldn’t have done it without my mother-in-law coming over and reading them books while we cut the 108 pieces (!!!) needed to build the rack.

Rack 1

Very pregnant BrewsterMama, hard at work

We finally finished the rack at lunch time on Sunday and everyone in the house was pretty darn excited.

Rack 3

I think she’s almost as proud as we are!

The original plan was to put it in the guest bathroom but the stupid doorway is smaller than a standard doorway and we couldn’t get the rack through, at least not without dissassembling the front supports (which involve wood glue, finishing nails, and screws) and then reassembling it in place. So plan B has it in the spare bedroom for the moment until we decide where to put it for the duration. (I would like to point out that when we were confronted with the fact that the rack would not go through the door as planned, the DreadBrewer just laughed and moved on. I was tempted to throw a complete and utter shit fit and would have totally understood if he had done the same. I was very impressed with his poise.)

Rack 4

SO much better than a tub full of onions,

As soon as conditions outside cool down to less than 80 degrees, which makes it cooler than what we keep our thermostat set at, our plan is to move the rack out to the garage and reclaim the spare bedroom for Wally.

For anyone who is interested in perhaps building a produce storage rack of his or her own, a few things that the DreadBrewer and I learned along the way.

  • The purchase list on the building plans calls for 14 1x3x8 boards; this is wrong and we learned this one the hard way. You need 18. There are at least two comments on the plan’s website pointing this out but the website author has yet to update the purchase list. (Perhaps 4 years hasn’t been enough time to figure out how to fix the list?)
  • The purchase list also recommends that you buy pocket hole screws, as well as regular 2″ screws for the project. You don’t need pocket hole screws. (I never even knew these existed and they’re stupidly expensive, in my opinion.) Had we used them, we would have used a max of 4. Instead, we used 2″ straight finishing nails and the end result looks and functions just as well. The regular screws work perfectly fine wherever you need to screw two pieces of wood together.
  • Read all the way through the directions before you even start cutting the wood. The X-braces are very confusing to make if you try to do it based off just the cut list and easy to mess up, which we learned the hard way as well. If you read the step for assembling the sides, which includes a diagram with measurements, it is much, much clearer how to cut your 2x2s.
  • Plan on spending about $150 on supplies and about 5 hours total assembling this project. We were lucky enough to have a cut saw, a nail gun, and two electric drills at our disposal, as well as a couple of exceedingly patient little girls, a star mother-in-law, and two reasonably savvy workers. If you’re trying to do this on your own, you will certainly need clamps or somesuch set up to help you with holding things and it will most likely take you longer.

Depending on how ambitious DB gets with garlic and onion planting next year, we may actually need to build another rack to store everything. It would be interesting to tweak the plans a bit, maybe make the rack thinner and taller. (Then at least we would know it could get through the bathroom door, right?) Regardless of whether or not we end up building another rack, I am inordinately proud of the one we made. Not bad work for one weekend, eh?