The three main garden beds in 2011, looking north from the barn. Bed in foreground is beans and tomatoes, middle bed is all potatoes, most distant bed is cole crops, onions, and a three sisters planting (popcorn, winter squash, pole beans).
We have several garden beds, which we manage using no-till strategies, and we break up the beds into smaller beds we plant in each year. For example, one bed has 8 rows of potatoes in it this year; last year it was subdivided into 3 beds, for onions, cole crops, and the beet-chard-kale-carrot grouping. Every fall we lay organic matter on all the beds so the soil isn’t bare all winter. We use whatever we have - one year we had giant wood chips, another we used old hay, last year we had composted chicken bedding. This helps prevent erosion and weathering of the soil and protects the creatures living in the soil from extreme cold, thereby allowing the soil structure to develop rather than diminish each winter. The organic matter also replenishes nutrients in the soil. Come spring, we either rake off the covering, or plant right through it, depending on the crop and the cover used. Ideally we would keep the soil covered in the growing season too, but we have too many escapee chickens most years to risk that. Chickens LOVE to scratch in hay or other mulch material searching for bugs and worms, often scratching out my plants in the process. Yes, we have learned this the hard way. You may notice the hay in the garden bed pictured above looks well-mixed - some chickens scratch in it every day. I think the poles the tomatoes are tied to have protected the plants. We try to sneak in mulch when we can, since it shelters the soil structure from compaction by rain, retains moisture, and greatly reduces weed growth.
Here is a list of our current crops and varieties, with their uses, more or less tracing back through the beds pictured above:
Cranberry dry beans. These bush beans prove to be quite easy to shell, seem to grow well here, and taste good. I am aiming to grow a years worth, we’ll see if the amount planted this year will work. The chickens dug up some of the plants this spring so the number I carefully determined would be good was reduced a bit. I got about 1/2 lb beans per plant last year.
Tomatoes, mostly Amish paste (for canning), Matt’s wild cherry (for fresh eating and drying for winter), and a selection of eating tomatoes, including Purple Prudens, Cosmonaut Volkov, and Rose de Blanc. We aim to put up 40 quarts of tomato sauce each year, which turns out to be about 35-40 plants in a good year.
Sugar snap peas, which I pick early for pea pods (good fresh and frozen for winter use), and I also shell them for freezing. This is one of our main frozen vegetables for winter. In the summer, I mostly like to enjoy the pods, stir fried.
Northeaster or Rattlesnake pole beans for fresh green beans. These are edible even pretty big and produce beans more gradually than the bush beans I have grown. Since I want to eat them fresh and not can or freeze, that more gradual harvest suits my needs.
Potatoes include Kennebec, German butterball, and a red (Sangre this year, I think). I can’t wait to have our first potatoes, since we ran out of potatoes early this past year. I like to have a selection of potatoes - butterballs are creamy and delicious but don’t keep as well as the Kennebecs, and the reds are wonderful as new potatoes as well as for sauteeing - they hold their shape well when cooked. We have had anywhere from 50-300 lbs of potatoes, we plant about 20 lbs seed potatoes.
Cole crops include broccoli, brussels sprouts, and red and green cabbage. We generally have great brussels sprouts, broccoli varies each year, and usually poor cabbage. I have tried to be on top of the cabbage worms this year (we use either Bt or Spinosad, both organically approved insecticides, sprayed directly down into the plant so the use is very targeted). We have tried all kinds of methods - row covers, hand picking - but nothing else works. I am not growing kale this year due to the cabbage worms, kale is harder to spray and gets harvested all season so I don’t like to spray it. Too bad, since kale grows a lot better than chard here. Broccoli from the freezer is a staple all winter, and I make some sauerkraut with the cabbages.
Onions - we plant yellow onions for storage, red onions predominantly for fresh use in salsa and salads during the summer, and shallots, also for storage.
Corn - Popcorn, for a great snack all winter. We also plant Calais flint corn for cornmeal, in alternate years to prevent cross-pollination. The flint corn seed is special to me since we got it from my uncle, so I don’t want to cross it with anything else. Thus, we do not grow sweet corn; we buy sweet corn from a farm down the road for freezing and fresh corn-on-the-cob.
Winter squash - this year we are growing Uncle Dave’s Dakota Dessert squash, Butterbush, and another C. moschata species to try something new. Uncle Dave’s is probably my favorite variety, the flesh is deep orange, not stringy, sweet on its own, and they keep well. We had some Butterbush seeds left though and butternuts are easier to peel, so its nice to have some of those too. Regular butternut often doesn’t mature fully here. We also have some jack-o-lantern pumpkins.
Summer squash we grow one Costata Romanesca zucchini plant which gives us plenty to eat and occasionally feed to the chickens. No other summer squash compares with this one, in my opinion.
Peppers. King of the North for fresh eating and freezing, and Czech black for hot peppers. The Czech black are gorgeous plants, and do well every year, even in years when the other peppers hardly fruit. They are very mild which suits my family’s gringo palate. We also grow paprika peppers, home-ground paprika is delicious. The peppers are growing on the south side of the shop and house.
Cucumbers. I grow only pickling cukes, since I like to eat them more than any other variety. We also pickle them, of course. I find it easy to get carried away making pickles; I think one small fermented batch and one batch of canned pickles is a good balance.
Yaya carrots are my current favorite variety. We grow for fresh eating and storage, though storage has been largely unsuccessful so far. Every year we try something different.
Detroit beets are what I grow, as they are dependable and look great pickled. We also roast them for as long as they last in the fall, and they are wonderful grated in salads in summer. I might try some chiogga beets next year, since they are pretty in salads and I think taste a little sweeter.
Perpetual spinach and/or bright lights is a variety of chard with a mild, spinach-like flavor that I like. The leaves are smaller than most chard though. The bright lights provides two products - the leaves for greens, and the stem for a celery-like item in soups. I like to freeze as many greens as I can for winter. This is so time consuming I find it hard to freeze as much as I would use.
Annual herbs include basil, dill, cilantro, and parsley. Dill and cilantro self seed and come up in my garden behind the house; usually when I plant that garden, I have enough cilantro and dill to weed out that I can freeze for the next year.
Lettuce we grow lettuce mixes, fairly halfheartedly. I enjoy some lettuce early in the season, but it has gone to seed and been pulled long before we have any other salad fixings to eat. I am generally unsuccessful with mid-summer lettuce, though I am working on this. I do love Greek salads with local feta, tomatoes, red onions and cukes.
Radishes, usually the cherry belle or easter egg radishes. It seems like I can only get these to bulb up if I plant them before I have any other vegetables to eat with them. I planted these around my squash and cukes this year, as they are supposed to fend off cucumber beetles.
Garlic a hardneck variety I bought at a farmer’s market years ago, we have been growing it (and selecting big bulbs) for years now. This is such a satisfying crop, since it takes no time in the spring, just occasional weeding and mulching, and harvest and replanting is satisfying and easy. Our garlic keeps so well we often are using the previous year’s crop when the new garlic becomes ready.
Poppies for seed. I planted Oriental poppies in several spots in my garden last fall, and they came in as if every single seed germinated. This is a test year, to determine how much space we would need to get a few cups of seeds, and also how to harvest the seeds. It’s fun to grow a crop that is so pretty. These poppies came from the gardens from our old house in Buckland, along with my treasured peonies. The people who owned the house before us moved in in the 1940’s and had great gardens, which had mostly returned to lawn when we got the house.