December has arrived with all of her unpredictable glory. Weather, traffic, growth – no one knows exactly how either will flow. Will it rain? Will it snow? Shall I dawn a hoodie or tank? All that is certain is what has already transpired.
We tenderly cared for our Clean Start seedlings yet sadly there were not enough hours on the clock nor energy in our bodies to plant them all before signs of stress began to show. Purple leaves on our brassicas, a sure sign of nutrient uptake issues, whether it be phosphorus or magnesium, were proof we had fallen severely behind. The sooner we could find a forever home for our fledgling plants the sooner they could revive. That was the hope.
We etched out rows in our high tunnel. Each was prepared by adding soil and amending it according to the plants being installed. On row three we have planted our succession planting of Snow Peas. Planting monthly on the 14th has worked far better than we hoped. This planting included field and high tunnel locations. Currently, our first planting in the high tunnel is at its peak production. Yielding numerous large yet tender, sweet & stringless pods daily. We hope to join forces with our friends & fellow homesteaders to get a few pounds freeze-dried before production slows. Our last succession planting of Snow Peas is February 14th. Only two more sowings.
Succession sowing was the theme of our November planting as we sowed, cauliflower, onions, celery, mustards, collards, and cabbage one progression after the other. The next planting becomes even more hopeful than the foregoing.
On rows four, five, and six uniquely beautiful Chinese Pink Celery & Chinese White Celery have been established with green onions as their companion. In addition to standing guard in protection of the celery, onions have the weighty responsibility of protecting the cauliflower as well. They are doing well against common pests we face in our region. All except the horrific aphid. That nightmare will be revisited shortly.
Green & Red Mustards have been succession sown too. The rapid manner in which these mustard seedlings break the ground is indicative of the growth they will maintain. In just two months our hands will have the pleasure of reaping the benefits of the labor of love that went into augmenting these plants.
Cabbages have been a source of contention personally as I have failed to find success over the last two years with them. This just as I discovered fermenting as an ideal way to preserve them. One may say that is irony at its finest. I am hard-pressed to disagree. However, my tenacity will not allow me to wave the white flag just yet. Ergo, we have set out many cabbage plants in the high tunnel and raised beds. They are putting on new, green leaves free of deficiency as the purple ones fall off. There is a great opportunity for abundance here. Only time will tell.
There are three double rows in total left to be planted in the high tunnel. Whether we allow those to continue to rest or not remains to be seen. Potentially we could add more lettuce, arugula, and/or carrots. There is also the option to try our hands again at more challenging crops for us like Radicchio, Shiso, and/or Endive. Lastly, all three rows could be sowed with spinach, as it takes quite a bit of space to plant enough for our family to utilize AND share with the community. Considering our spinach in the raised beds acquired tip burn with the last frost, this is the most likely option.
Each year we become more and more impressed with the resilience that abounds in nature. Working closely with it to grow our food had taught us more than any book ever could.
Resilience, however, in the ownership of some will prove to be problematic for others. Take the aphid. Able to reproduce sexually and asexually depending on the season this pest had become the bane of our existence. Possibly among the insect world’s fastest reproducers, once you see them, it’s beyond challenging, if not impossible to eliminate them altogether. This is where we find ourselves for the third year.
We are not in a position to give up our produce to them. Trust us, if we could we would simply because this feels like an impossible war with odds stacked high against us. How interesting that the superior being falls to the mercy such a tint creature. Instinctively wise because the Creator made it thst way, I cannot be too angry.
The aphid finds safety in numbers. Thus, the most that one can hope to do is to decrease those numbers to a population that will result in the least damage to crops.
After alternating treatments with high-pressure water spraying, DE, & soapy spray barely reduced the aphid inhabitants we realized the need to pivot. We spoke with our friend and entomologist Dr. A. We thought that perhaps some beneficial predatory insects would be an excellent next step. However, the temperatures are prohibitive this time of year. Back to the drawing board. Dr. A suggested we try pyrethrins which we had on hand but hadn’t used because we thought it made the population worse (that is according to a previous conversation we had with Dr. A). Turns out we had it all wrong! Whiteflies tend to become worse with pyrethrins, not aphids. With this clarification, we took to the high tunnel like cowboys at showdown at high noon! Two treatments later and the population has decreased notably. Relief at last!
This will be done regularly as a part of our pest management routine to protect our crops as many are aphid magnets.
In just a few short weeks we will begin planting seeds for next Summer’s harvest. This may seem far too early to some but peppers and eggplant tend to grow slower than one would like. We have found that starting these in January increases our chances of being first to market with valuable produce. It is, admittedly, a challenge keeping the plants happy and healthy until late March when we will set them out. We have learned various techniques that increase the likelihood of that happening from trial and error.
Since January is merely two weeks away, we have already begun to map out where the Spring crops will be sown and set out. This time of year you will often find me sitting in Hoopty with my phone and tablet reviewing notes and counting rows. This is my process. It works. It results in a plan that will very likely evolve as one season ends and another begins. As draw the garden in my mind I arrange crops based on what was in location last season & the temperature zone of the row. I ask myself, “Can this be grown in a raised bed instead to save valuable space in Hoopty? What pests attacked this crop last season? Are those pests better or worse in the high tunnel?” I never trust my mind to remember these things so out comes the garden journal. It holds the answers my mind seeks. These records are our data for our corner of the earth and as such, these pages are priceless.
We recently were blessed with several fruit trees that require a home. For now, they have taken up residence in Hoopty. Finding a forever home for them has proven arduous to say the least. Our orchard area is at capacity so we are forced to explore other options for planting. Among the trees are tangerine, pear, and grapefruit. Pear trees have long been desired for the farm. We love eating them fresh and making pies and preserves. We have an existing grapefruit tree that has gone into dormancy, come out, and been moved to a more ideal location. It’s had quite the journey. We hope to have all these planted this month as January tends to be on the colder side in our zone.
We have jumped into the arena of making our own Kombucha. Since we’ve begun we have experimented with several flavors. One of our most recent is mulberry ginger. It just went into the refrigerator this morning and will be strained and bottled this evening. The prospect of using our freshly harvested fruit to flavor our home-brewed Kombucha is absolutely thrilling! For now, we are using frozen fruit from the store, dehydrated fruit and herbs from our pantry, and some freeze-dried fruits gifted to us by friends.
We have also begun breeding our rabbits. Our first experience was a little sad, however, expected as our doe was inexperienced. We bred our Lionhead Angora (Sweet Pea) to our Dwarf Angora (Domino). She had a total of 4 all of which died over two days. We recorded some footage for the channel. We have yet determined if we will share it. We also bred our Giant Chinchilla pair. We were certain that Cher was pregnant however she was not. Both does will be bred again in January. The purpose of breeding is to open up a source of income for the farm. Our rabbits contribute their manure for compost, they are companions, and if we are successful in breeding, selling the kits will supplement feed costs for rabbits and chickens.
Obviously, we have been very busy planting, protecting, and planning. There is much more that transpired over the last month. For instance we harvested our Kiwano Jelly Melons before our first frost. Our Chinese White Celery is at the beginning of its harvest period. Since we planted it in succession, it along with the Chinese Pink Celery will be maturing slowly over the next few months. As far as harvests go there is also kale and green onions. So many beautiful vegetables we have been blessed to grow over the years but harvest continues to feel new. This is a life we never knew we needed so much. While our hands seldom rest, you are hard-pressed to find happier ones. I think the ancient Bible writer King Solomon said it best at Ecclesiastes 3:13, ” everyone should eat and drink and find enjoyment for all his hard work. It is the gift of God.”