Year 1 in review

Well if the only “failure” I can count for the year is not utilizing all of those acorns I’d bothered harvesting then I’d say things weren’t too shabby for only the first year on the new homestead.

The summer was dryer than is typical for the area, so by about late July going into August it was harder to keep up with the watering enough to have the ground hold the moisture and it make any real difference.

I am rather satisfied with how much we managed to accomplish in such a whirlwind first year, working full time jobs off site and generally lacking in funds to put towards the homestead.
Certainly much of it was made easier for Don’s help and contributions, so we are forever lucky and grateful for that.
We definitely have a better sense of how to move forward and continue growing the operation after all of the observations from the first year.

My DIY rain barrel attempts, with a tarp strung up to catch water over the old dog kennel fencing, did not hold up. The weight of the water caught in the tarp tore the edges of the tarp so it would not stay up. One rain barrel’s spigot never properly sealed at all, the other sealed for the most part, briefly, enough to fill the barrel once, and eventually its seal was poor enough that the water slowly all drained out.

Planted 20 trees –
5 are doing fine.
1 Chestnut was lost to accidentally being mowed over when the weeds and grass got too tall around it and it couldn’t be seen.
One Chestnut seemed to rot out for some reason.
Others were “lost” because of not being planted in good spaces for them (those tricky paw paw bare roots!) but they could surprise us and pop up this coming year for all we know.
5 are too newly in the ground to really know if they will get through the winter and bud out come spring.

Planted 9 fruiting shrubs –
The 2 blue berries may be getting choked out by all of the pasture grass around them so I may need to uproot this spring and move them into the garden blueberry bed instead.
Of the 7 Sea Buckthorn only two marginally leafed out at all this year. 2 got accidentally hit with the mower and probably wont spring back. Of the 3 that are left, which includes the two that did show signs of life this year, it will remain to be seen if they show life again.

In the garden –
The carrots, and beets started from heirloom open pollinated seeds from local Sow True Seed Co. didn’t do much of anything beyond show little sprigs of greenery. Suspect heavy clay soils and summer drought as stunting issue. Don even said he’d never successfully grown carrots here in his years gardening the property.
The potatoes Don planted seemed to be doing ok based on their greenery growth, until the drought hit.
The sweet potatoes I planted off of old ones sprouted in my pantry, did produce a handful of edible fingerlings but that was all.
All greens, both the starters from local Red Barn Greenhouse and Garden Center, and the organic lettuce seeds purchased at Lowes, tried to grow but kept getting chewed down to a numb by rabbits living in the nearby honeysuckle thickets.
Sow True Seed heirloom honeydew and watermelon did not fair well in the drought. Honeydew did not fruit at all and vined out very late. Watermelon got no bigger than a baseball and was just fed to the chickens.
Cucumbers produced more than I could handle, and mostly malformed and unusable, awkward fruits. So many got left to rot that I imagine we’ll have volunteers this year.
Tomatoes and peppers Don planted fared decently, even despite the drought. Wasn’t a big fan of the Mexican peppers he planted, they had a strange bitter taste which was hard to work with. The green bell peppers never got bigger than my fist.
We ended up with 3 different types of green beans which all produced well. The pole beans Don planted in with the corn needed to have the strings removed for consumption, and lacked flavor. The small, skinny french style, bush green beans I planted did well and we got a couple of harvests, but they were among the first things to get ravaged by pest bugs. The tall vine heirloom variety I planted from Sow True Seed had the enormous pods and produced in great abundance. I’ve saved some of the seeds in hopes they will grow well again this year.
Edamame gave a few good harvests before I believe drought stunted their bean formation and we were just left with empty pods.
Peas made a few handfuls of a snack while working in the garden but that was all. I believe had we started them sooner and had I a better trellis design for them to climb, they would have been quite prolific.
The old lima beans Don planted on a whim to see if they would/could still grow actually did generate just enough beans for one pot full before the plants succumb to pests and drought.
The winter squash, Candy Roasters, which Don planted, ended up doing nothing.
The conventional yellow squash Don planted and the heirloom zucchini which I planted both did very well and there was much zucchini bread to be had!
The strawberries tried to produce, but as instructed by Ag. extension agent, Craig, I pinched the flowers back this first year in order to let them divert their energy into root production and spreading. It seems to have worked, because their are rooted clusters popping up around the mother plants.
The corn Don planted produced a little to be eaten by both his family and ours, but not much. The heirloom Sow True Seeds variety gave even less than that, and its flavor was very underwhelming and its ear’s growth was stunted.
A number of the french breakfast radishes from Sow True Seeds did sprout up, but most of them got too woody and slightly rotten too quickly, before being able to harvest and consume. Nothing special about their flavor, so I’m not married to  ever planting those again.
The Creasy greens/cress from Sow True Seed didnt produce. Despite claims of it being a local and perennial plant, not minding some shade, fast growing, and being tolerant of all types of weather patterns etc…
The swiss chard from Sow True Seed started slowly but ended up producing quite a good amount of very healthy leaves which no pests wanted to bother really, it is still hanging on up their in the garden even now.

Fruit –
Grapes did well, despite us having chopped many vines from it in order to start training it more properly to the current laundry-line arbor. They are very seedy and have tough skin, but have a good flavor.
The pear tree fruited despite both Don and Craig’s experience and expectations. They were good. Very crunchy.
Blueberries, the 2 new ones I planted need to be moved or have the grass around them controlled more. The two Don had established the birds beat us to.
Birds beat us the mulberries and the cherries as well.
The black raspberries did very well. More cane has spread into further shadier areas though, so we will need to consider uprooting and moving some of it to make it viable.
Wild blackberries never seemed to do anything, unless wildlife just beat me to it.
Hawthorn trees never flowered or fruited from what I observed. Could be sick or dying.
Apples: short, old tree across from garden never did anything. Of the three on the hill the sparsest one closest to chicken coop did very little of anything and what couple fruits it produced were tiny and rotted quickly. The other two trees produced a fair amount for their size and age, but most of them did have worm holes which needed to be cut or eaten round when consuming or utilizing the apples. The two baby Winesaps Don had planted just maintained, didn’t seem to fair poorly, didn’t seem to grow much more either.

Herbs –
Cilantro, still carried over from stuff Don had planted previous years, voluntarily came up in large qty.
Garden sage and white sage fared well, but didn’t grow very significantly.
Sorrel was eaten by the rabbits and chickens.
Fennel was eaten overnight by the rabbits.
Wild mug wort, mullein, plantain, and chicory abounds
Nasturtium finally kicked into high gear with its greenery near the tail end of everything else in the garden (by sept/oct), but by then it was too late to produce much flower and thus seed pods, so no chance to make nasturtium capers this year.
Borage apparently takes over everything. Even after it died back and I chopped out the rotten parts, there are currently new little plants of it popping up both inside and outside of the strawberry bed where it was originally planted.


Big plans for 2016:

Better water catchment and water accessibility right near the garden plot. May include the purchase of a small tool shed, which can then have gutters mounted for catchment, and better barrels built or bought.

Possibility of building a small structure (looking into it being strawbale methods currently) on site for some friends to stay in briefly while helping with the farm work over the summer, and then the structure would become the WWOOFer’s lodging for any future volunteers.

More fruit and nut trees planted – working towards goal of food forest being established.

Compost spread and sheet mulching begun for the garden space to amend this hard clay soil. Plus permaculture mandala design plan for the garden space being implemented.

Potential of rigging some sort of greenhouse/hoophouse structure up before the year is out.

Getting more medicinal herbs planted, and spreading more wildflower seeds for pollinators.




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