April 8, 2017

Garden Review 2016: Berries and Compost

Another great year in June bearing Strawberries, plus significant contributions from the Alpines. A few tastes of other berries were had, but mostly still waiting for them to do anything. Compost is steaming ahead full bore.

June Bearing Strawberries
As a reminder, we have about 3.5 square meters each of Sparkle and Earliglow. They have were not quite
as tasty and prolific as the first year they bore, but they were still great. As usual, the plants came in profusely starting in spring.

Oriental poppies, garlic, and peas in the back. Strawberry plants (Sparkle) in front.

Here we have Comfrey to the left, lovage, sage, egyptian onions in back. Earliglow to the lower right.

Too robust sea kale in the center, pathetic asparagus patch in lower half.

Child 3 inspecting his garden patch with grandma, with strawberries crowding in by his peas.

We picked lots of berries almost every day for weeks in June, and had plenty to give some as gifts and even freeze a few bags for winter eating.

I think Child 3 and Child 1 are crushing some below up for homemade ice cream, which is wonderful made with homegrown berries.

Next year, I'm planning on replanting big strawberries down in the grain maze beds, using new plants from Nourse. We will try Rutger's Scarlet, a June bearer which I've read good things about, as well as Mara des Bois, an everbearing variety with strong recommendations on GrowingFruit. I was surprised we had too many strawberries to eat with all June bearing from our small patch, so on the second iteration of planting these short lived perennials I wanted to put in some everbearing to spread out the harvest. My hope is that the strawberries, which can take a little shade, will do better than other plants down in the grain maze. It is an area that takes a bit of shade from a nearby sycamore maple and the house, where annuals have generally underperformed (right side center in below picture)

So this coming season (third harvest) will be the last for Sparkle and Earliglow in their current locations. I'm looking forward to having that space for annuals starting in 2018.

After the berries were petering out towards late June in 2017, we did the yearly bed renovation. The plants were cut down with the scythe and raked off.

Ah, kids look cute using a scythe, right?

My mom tried the scythe too when she was visiting in May, but she thought it would be a hard sell to get her husband Jerry to cut the grass with it :)

Plant stubs were thinned severely, then compost was shoveled in and topped with salt marsh hay.

Last summer was atypically dry, and especially on the east side beds (Sparkle). I think this set back the strawberries badly when they were growing back from the bed renovation. I spent quite a bit of time watering with a hose through June and July, but it is hard to actually water properly with a hose to the degree necessary when there is no rain. So anyway, Sparkle filled in very sparsely and I anticipate a reduced harvest from them this coming season.

In future, I'd like to get my drip lines down so I'm less sensitive to rainfall and it will be easier to water well when needed.

Alpine Strawberries
Alpines are making an excellent groundcover, and providing a steady small volume stream of tasty treats all season. This walk down the side yard is all alpines along the immediate border.

I'm starting to have second thoughts about planting Atilla, a runnering variety, since it is taking over and proving unruly. While making a good groundcover, finding and picking berries from a thick carpet of overcrowded Atilla plants is not easy.

Other plants I have in this bed like dwarf monarda and coneflower are getting out competed by the spreading Attila plants. The grape vine is above the fray enough to not suffer.

As with many perennials, these guys are doing too well in some areas but refuse to colonize a long bar of bed along the east side of the yard.

We planted some Yellow Wonder alpines from StrawberryStore in beds created in 2015 for apricot trees and a grape vine. They grew well but didn't make many berries. Hopefully they are gathering steam for a good showing in their second year.

Though alpines produce all season, ours peak in June about the same time as the June bearers. You can see the take from our best day of picking the alpines in the lower left bowl below, along with the day's big strawberry picking and a harvest of spring greens in the shopping sacks to the rear.

Other berries
We ate a couple red currants from Jonkheer van Tets (left), a couple gooseberries from Hinnomaki Red (right)

one Goumi berry from this bush:

There might have been one Cornelian Cherry that fell off long before it was ripe. Or was that last year?

Nanking cherries are slowly sizing up, but blossoms were done in by frost; they do bloom very early in the season so I anticipate this will be a continuing issue.

The hardy kiwis managed to not die and grow a little. I finally got to taste some of these from a grocery in California; they were good! It is nice to not have to peel them like fuzzy kiwis. I hope we get fruit from our vines one day.

Blackberries were not too prolific and had a large percentage of inedible berries, though the birds ate almost everything before it was ripe anyhow. I planted a boysenberry my mom sent (it may die from cold in winter).

and a Prime Ark Freedom which I hope will succeed.

The kids enjoyed picking a few raspberries,

but they continue to not thrive for some inscrutable reason. The raspberries that is, not the kids.

We made a couple new tiny raised beds in the front side yard for more berries.

We planted two grapes in these from One Green World: Marquis and Seedless Blue Muscat. Also put in mint, chives, alpine strawberries, and two little Top Hat blueberries from Indiana Berry.

The frames are 2x rough cut local(ish) green oak from Brightman Lumber.

I was looking forward to eating some grapes this coming season from my Mars vine, which is entering it's third season in the ground and was looking good last fall.

But a late fall construction project broke the vine about 20cm above ground. Rats! I hope it will grow back from the roots in a couple years.

We continue to throw everything in the compost, including bones and small animal carcasses. In the fall, when I finally got my anti-squirrel system figured out and running smoothly, the compost got a little stinky for a few weeks when I was putting in a squirrel every day or two. Otherwise the compost system is just remarkably trouble free.

When we cut down the strawberries toward the end of June, we shuffled the compost down the bin line. My sister and her kids were visiting at the time and were happy to help with scything the strawberries and sifting compost.

So the bin that had been mellowing for a year with no additions was screened into the next bin down to await spreading in the garden.

The screened out big chunks were returned to the bin receiving active new material to have another go at breakdown.

Things that seem to need more than a year are avocado skins and seeds, some bones, mango seeds, and thicker woody debris from the garden. I must have picked out a thousand little produce labels, and resolved to take more care removing these when they are used in the kitchen rather than having to pick them out of the compost.

Actually it is surprising that most bones break down in a year. My compost is not particularly hot, but almost all bones get turned into stock before going out with compost. Spending a day in boiling water probably makes them break down faster once they go into the pile.

We crushed up some hardwood charcoal and threw it in, after I got excited about biochar. It didn't get that small though and it was a fair bit of work to crush in our haphazard setup.

Plus buying lump (not briquette) charcoal is not much cheaper than buying biochar. I bought a few boxes of biochar from Wakefield this year and was impressed with the product at least at time zero. It was fluffy and of a nice particle size; not so small as to be dusty, but still finely divided and without big lumps. Even though it is expensive to buy, my garden is small enough that it isn't such a problem, and of course I seem to love maximizing the money spent growing a little food.

For the last few months I've been collecting used coffee and filters from work. I put out a 20L pail with a sealing lid in the kitchen and told people they could put the used coffee from our communal machine in there if they wanted to support composting. I can bring home a bucket of coffee about every two weeks, which boosts our additions to the bin from the household by about 50%. I think this coming year will see roughly:

- 1 m^3 of garden waste (low density when put in the bin)
- 1 m^3 of kitchen waste (veggie scraps, bones, food scraps)
- 1/2 m^2 of coffee and filters from work
- 1/2 m^2 of hay (put in as layers with other stuff when it seems too green and moist)
- some potting soil, charcoal, ashes from the grill

This cooks down to about 1/3 m^2, which isn't much. I've been buying 1.5-2 m^3 per year the last few years.

I think for the next few years I'll still need to buy in compost, but maybe at some point I can get production on site up to meet my needs. Just need to collect more animal carcasses from around the neighborhood...