Amazing! I had no concrete plans this weekend, so other than a soccer game, dinner out with the family and swimming with the kids, we spent the entire time in the garden. I knew I’d be out there a bit – a long-range trend shows cool, wet weather coming, so it may have been the last truly nice weekend of the year. There were a couple house-keeping tasks, but the majority of work was harvest and winter-sowing.
My wife was annoyed by our corn, so I started there. (It was so tall, and starting to lean, so she felt it looked un-tidy.) I should have left it another month, but I got a little excited and saw some cobs sticking out of the husks and thought I better get them protected.
The results were spectacular. If you recall from my post A Sample Veggie Garden Rotation – what I’ve got thus far. I planted two types of non-gmo corn. One was a simple yellow-dent, and the other was an ornamental variety. Both crops had many cobs that failed to mature, but the yield of mature corn was sufficient enough for me to consider them a success.
Look at the colour!
I’ve harvested San Marizano tomatoes twice. This second time I filled a 5 gal bucket. I then made 5 L of marinara sauce (our onion, celery and carrot, tomatoes, fennel and fresh herbs). I used the rest to make 10L of salsa (tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and jalapenos)
All of that was canned along with a tomato and green apple chutney, mustard, and straight crushed tomatoes (from the harvest a few weeks ago).
I also harvested 3 gal of Brussels – most of which we’ll sell, and one bed of parsnips that had been amongst the onions.
Still up on the road-side-stand we’re consistently selling flowers, brussels, cherry tomatoes and kale. We’ve added parsnips, potatoes, and we’re deciding whether (and how) to sell our ornamental corn. My idea is to bundle with a wicker basket or cornucopia small pumpkins, amaranth, ornamental corn, a stem of Brussels and some seasonal flowers and call it a festive or harvest centrepiece with a premium charge. Of course my wife doubts that will sell, wanting to sell it all individually – which is fine, but fails to achieve the “added-value” that often gets a better price. Haha now I sound like a real farmer. – The stand is not intended to be a money-maker, just a way of reclaiming cost while avoiding waste, so maybe she’s right….she’s often right.
I had planned on harvesting sunflower seeds, but those went to the birds – quite literally. At one point I had 9 steller jays fighting over the crop. There are nothing but shells and hunched-over stalks left. I’m fine with this. I had even thought of hanging bird-feeders over the beds to try and get as much bird poop into the crops as possible. The only downside, is that many of the seeds that fall become volunteers in the garden or may attract rodents. And some birds are fine, but too many will leave me netting berries and fruit and hoping to get replenished by larger beneficial insects that may get eaten. So, ultimately, I think it’s fairest just to let the birds come and get what they need naturally with the harvest – then they can go somewhere else.
It’s hard just to talk about harvest without speaking about how some crops were grown, and why…which leads back to crop rotation.
I should note that the yellow dent was mulched with straw, and the south side was interplanted with marigolds (to promote beneficial insects and provide shade to the soil as the corn grew tall.) The ornamental corn was also mulched with straw, a few marigolds went in, but they were choked-out by the black-beans I planted below the corn, which was also a huge success. Removing the husks was interesting: under the first one or two leaves were hundreds of dead black aphids, along with ladybugs, (larva, pupae and adults) and syrphid fly larva. I feel bad removing all the plant material, as it looks like my good bugs were planning on overwintering, protected, in the tight corn husks. Maybe I’ll find a corner to leave corn up all winter for the bugs next year.
Corn planted with beans is not a fluke. I borrowed the idea from the First Nations traditional Three Sisters planting, which partnered a stand of corn for food and as climbing apparatus for beans, which were grown for food but also to fix nitrogen for the corn and winter squash, also for food, but also to shade the edge of stand and prevent weeds. Brilliant, really. I dropped the squash because of the lack of space and used a non-climbing bean…just for preference.
I have lots of beens harvested too – chickpeas, kidney beans and black beans!
Next year, I will space the corn out more and plant beans with both crops. But, my wife still wants sweet corn (for corn-on-the-cob). I resisted it this year, stressing the need to find a non-gmo and begin selecting for a variety that grows best in our climate. And we can’t do all three because if they are too close they all cross-pollinate and I’ll have less control over our selection. The “Corn-Battle” will likely continue right until we plant it next year (it was April this year.)
Next was the pumpkins. The vines had died back several weeks prior, so they had been “conditioning” until this weekend. Also in the “squash beds” were summer-struggling zucchinis that seem to be doing better now, and acorn squash. I never got any butternut squash or cucumbers (although I didn’t care for that bed much.)
I removed all of the rye, dried it and shook out the seeds. Not enough to make whiskey, but enough to reseed a few beds. Under the yellow dent corn I removed the mulch-hay, sprinkled winter-wheat seeds and replaced the mulch. (Update: How did the winter wheat grow? Growing Backyard Wheat.) Next year it will be a tomato/potato garden, so I’ll likely have to turn the wheat into the soil early in the year to accommodate the early-season potatoes. I also put winter rye below the Brussels – one bed will be tomatoes (so I may harvest the grain before the tomatoes go in) and the other will be the ornamental corn again. I’m waiting for the Amaranth to finish to put winter grains there as well. The squash bed will turn into the spinach/beets/chard and amaranth garden for the winter and next year.
My other winter gardens are Lettuce/carrots in one, Rutabaga and arugula in another, mustards (with winter fava beans) is one bed that I’m unsure of. I also have two brassica beds, Kale/cauliflower/broccoli in one and Brussels and cabbage in the other. All of these winter beds are now planted and ready to go.
One tomato bed has winter rye in it because it won’t get squash until late next year, the other tomato garden will be replaced by the yellow-dent corn so I’ll likely do grains there as well.
I have two onion family beds. Garlic will go into one soon. The other will be primarily onions in the spring, so it’ll be fava until then. In the meantime I had been successively planting lettuce, cilantro, beets and carrots in that bed. I will see how long they go into the winter and probably poke fava beans amongst the crops in the meantime.
I intend on doing more winter legumes (like fava) to help the soil, but I seem to have leaned more towards the grains this year – if I end up tilling all the grains into the soil and I get no seeds, I will likely replace most of the winter crops with legumes. I want the beds to benefit from a cover crop (returns nutrients, adds organic material, enhances soil structure, prevents leaching and erosion, prevents soil compaction…etc.) but I also want to smother some left-over weeds and help make the beds look alive and cared-for even in December.
(Above: Chutney and Salsa – I’m going to need a bigger pot)
There is still a lot to do in the garden, and I am still experimenting. I have some brassicas and rutabagas in the ground that are several weeks old, but small and subject to many things eating them – will I get a winter harvest, do I need to reseed or should they have been planted earlier? Unfortunetly, even consulting other local growers leaves me knowing nothing except for the major impact of soil type and microclimates. So, I’ll continue to post and if nothing else, I hope to inspire other home growers.