Wednesday, January 21, 2015

End of Season Review - Berries, Fruit Trees & Herbs


My final review!  I must say, when I started my end of season reviews back in November, I thought it would be more of a sprint than a marathon.  In hindsight, there were so many changes this year and I learned so much that I should have realized my reviews would be on the lengthy side.  And of course, looking back at the 2012 & 2013 garden (pre-blog) also added to the length of each post.  But as I mentioned previously, it has been a much more rewarding experience than I originally anticipated, so I’m happy.

Berries

The only berries in the garden so far are strawberries.  I have two varieties growing in a single 4’x8’ bed, with each variety taking up approximately half of the bed - Fort Laramie and an unnamed variety that I received from a neighbor (which I have since named CV for “Connie’s Variety”).


Fresh Strawberries
Right about now, the winter is seeming mighty long...
 
CV was grown from runners pulled from Connie’s plants in late September 2011.  The very late planting, together with the fact that I didn’t take the best care of them after transplanting (Water?  What water?) resulted in many of them (but thankfully not all) dying over the winter.

In 2012, I did get a handful of strawberries – and I do mean a “handful” - from the surviving plants.  The harvest was so small that I didn't even bother weighing them.  That’s also when I discovered that the birds were enjoying the strawberries too.  They probably ended up eating the other handful ;)


Only 5 more months!
 
Connie places her strawberry plants around the perimeter of her bed and grows some vegetables in the middle.  I initially tried this method, but it didn't work well for me.  That's not surprising as her bed is significantly larger than mine - probably in the neighborhood of 10' x 20'.

So, after my plants had fruited, I decided to transplant them into their own 4’ x 4’ spot.

In 2013, I harvested 607 grams (1.34 lbs) of CV.  Not a huge harvest, but definitely an improvement over 2012.  Giving the plants their own spot & protecting them from the birds with netting helped a lot.

That spring I also purchased a single Fort Laramie plant.  I let the runners from both CV and Fort Laramie go crazy all summer, pinning the new plantlets to the soil.  In the fall, I took all of those baby plants and transplanted them into their current bed.  I already had a plan in place for all the new beds I was going to put in the following spring, so using a full bed for strawberries wasn’t an issue at that point.


 
 
We had a good harvest this year.  Not great, but acceptable.  I was, however, disappointed with the Fort Laramie variety.  It's supposed to be an everbearing strawberry, but after the first flush in June, it only produced a couple of stragglers (and I do mean 2!) at the end of the season.  These berries were so tiny that I didn’t even bother including them in the tally.


Overall Impressions and Plan for Next Year

Although the Fort Laramie were just as delicious as CV, they were not as well formed or prolific.  I’m going to give Fort Laramie another try next year, but if it still doesn’t give me that second flush of berries in the fall, I will probably pull it & plant a different variety in 2016.

However, since next year will be the strawberry beds 2nd year, I'm hoping for a larger harvest overall, even if that second crop of berries never materializes.


Fruit Trees

I only have two fruit trees so far - a sweet cherry (Vandalay) and a 5-in-1 plum.

The cherry tree is a semi-dwarf.  It sits at around 6' right now and is self-pollinating.  The plum tree is about 7' tall and has the following varieties grafted to it:  Shiro, Burbank, French Prune & Santa Rosa.  There is one other graft on there, but I took the tag off as it was growing into the bark and now, of course, I can't find it.  I think it may have been an Italian plum.  I will take some photos of the trees once they leaf out in the spring.

Some of the grafts on the plum tree are decidedly more vigourous than others.  Santa Rosa is a mere twig on the side of the tree.  It died back almost completely last winter, but did grow back again this summer.  The Shiro is by far the largest section.  I have done some pruning but I definitely need to do more as I don't want one variety to take over the others.

Both trees were purchased and planted in June 2010 and our first small harvest was in 2013.




The numbers shown are for fruit that was actually eaten.  Quite a few fruits from both trees were discarded as they had become infested with the plum curculio.  I didn’t note how many of the plums were discarded, but for the cherries, we tossed about 350 grams, so about 1/3 of the harvest.

This past year, I was so excited thinking that, with both trees in their fourth year, we would be getting a nice sized harvest.  Sadly, not one cherry nor plum was harvested.   The severe, record breaking cold last winter likely killed off all of the fruit bearing spurs.  Hopefully we don’t have a repeat this winter.  Update:  I have since found out that the more likely culprit for the lack of fruit in our area last year was a late spring frost, rather than the January temperatures, although each area and even each garden is different - so who really knows?

In 2015 I plan to get a few more fruit trees.  I think I’ll leave that discussion to my next post when I talk about my overall plan for the coming season.


Herbs

Up until this past year, the herbs had been scattered throughout the vegetable beds – a good idea in theory, but working around the herbs, especially the perennials, was a bit tedious, especially when it came to prepping the bed for a new crop.  So, as part of my expansion this past year, I built a small herb bed.  The bed is 8’ x 2.5’ and uses only one row of 2x6’s (vs. the regular beds which use two rows & are therefore twice as deep).

Cilantro & Dill in Herb Bed
 
This year I grew the following herbs in the herb bed:
  • Common Thyme
  • Lemon Thyme
  • Purple Sage
  • Chives
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Basil
Most of the perennial herbs were newly purchased as I had issues transplanting them from the vegetable beds.  The only herb that survived transplanting was, not surprisingly, the chives.

All of the herbs did very well, with the exception of the basil.  It died an early death after it was infected with Basil Downy Mildew.

After harvesting many sprigs of dill & cilantro in the early summer, I let the plants go to seed.  They grew much taller than I had anticipated, both of them reaching around 5’ tall or more.  I was able to harvest a good amount of coriander seed (which I talked about HERE) but the dill developed some sort of mildew in late summer, so I didn’t end up harvesting any dill seed.

The parsley was fantastic, as always.  I grew two different varieties of flat leaf parsley but unfortunately forgot to label them when I transplanted them into the herb bed.  One of the varieties still had plenty of fresh leaves in December & ended up giving me a nice harvest for our Christmas dinner, but I have no idea which one.  I’ll be more diligent in my labeling this coming year.  I have left both plants in the ground to overwinter so that I can harvest some fresh leaves in early spring before the plants bolt.


Fresh Parsley
 
I also created a couple of additional spots for herbs when I added the new beds.  Each of my original 4 beds had an angled corner on one of the sides.  When I positioned the new rectangular beds in the garden, I placed two of them directly against the existing beds.  Then I screwed 2x6’s to close off the gap created by the angle to create a small, triangular planting area.  I didn't think to take a photo at the time, but you can sort of see what I mean here:

You can see the original angle on the top right corner of this bed;
I added wooden planks to the outside edge, joining this bed with
the new bed that I placed behind it,
creating a triangular spot for the oregano.
 
I did this with two of the beds, creating two small planting areas.  I planted oregano in one spot & rosemary in the other.

Speaking of rosemary, it does not survive the winter in our climate, so I plant it outside over the summer and then bring it inside for the winter.  I’m pretty much a brown thumb when it comes to indoor plants (although I’m working on it!) and unfortunately, the rosemary has already succumbed so I will have to purchase a new plant come spring.


Rosemary during happier, healthier times in the garden
 
Last in the herb lineup is mint - I grew both regular & chocolate mint this year.  I only grow mint in pots - for obvious reasons.  I, of course, had to learn this the hard way.  Way back when, in my first garden, I planted mint in the ground - BIG mistake #1 - and then let it go to seed - BIG mistake #2.  Whoever owns that house is probably still cursing.


Chocolate Mint
 
I have left the mint pots outside over the winter.  Even though the pots are not that large, I have found that mint is pretty indestructible, so I'm hopeful that it will survive.


Overall Impressions and Plan for Next Year

Other than the basil issue, I was very happy with how the herbs did this past year & I’m not planning any major changes.  Thankfully, Basil Downy Mildew (BDM) does not overwinter in our climate, so I should be safe in using the herb bed for basil again this summer.  I do plan on purchasing new seed.  Since this disease is easily transmitted through the air, however, there is still no guarantee that the plants will not get infected if a neighbor purchases an infected plant at a big box store, this being a major source of the outbreak this past year.

Recently, I discovered a BDM resistant variety of sweet basil - Eleonora Sweet Basil.  I noticed that this variety is available both locally at William Dam Seeds and in the US at Johnny's and High Mowing Seeds.  It was one of the first items on my seed list this year (which I've finally finished, btw, and will post about soon!).

I think I will grow two stands of both dill and cilantro this year.  I found that the extremely tall plants made the other herbs in the bed difficult to harvest.  The first planting of dill and cilantro will be sown at one end of a regular bed instead of the herb bed.  I will harvest leaves from these, but then let them go to seed in the summer.  During the summer, I will do a 2nd sowing of cilantro & dill in the herb bed, but this will be strictly for leaf harvest.

This year, I also want to grow some chamomile – I have always wanted to try growing herbs for tea and I figure that chamomile, together with the mint, is a good place to start.

And lastly, I am hoping that this will be the year when I finally get a dehydrator.  I would love to dry my own herbs (amongst other things) & a dehydrator would make that so much easier.  My birthday is coming up in a few months....let's see if my husband really does read my blog ;)

Till next time...

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

12 comments:

  1. Strawberries: I just pulled all strawbs from current 10x10 and planted only a 4x4. Good to see what you had, so I know what to expect. Plum trees: I planted 3 trees (Satsuma and Santa Rosa) in 2013 - nada so far but I have done nothing to help them. :) Ooh, sorry to hear about your rosemary although you indicated it likely wasn't going to last. The rosemary I brought indoors looks well enough for now, keeping my fingers crossed.

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    1. I think that fruit trees usually take at least 3 years or so to start producing any fruit, although you may get a few fruit next year. Not sure if this is normal, but my plum trees produced a bunch of tiny immature plums (the size of olives) in their second year, but they all fell off. Initially I was worried but then read that this could be because the root system is not mature enough yet to support a crop. Since I was able to get some mature fruit the following year, I'm thinking that this was indeed the case.

      And that rosemary plant made it through two winters under my care, so I guess I was pushing it hoping for a third!

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  2. A very interesting review - particularly because I think your garden has a lot of similarities with mine. When you grow small quantities you look at the results in more detail, I think. Like you, I would also like to have a dehydrator... I'm just in the process of renewing some of my raised beds, so yours are of interest to me too.

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    1. Thanks Mark! I really do want to make the best use of the limited veg. growing space that I have. My memory isn't the best so taking lots of notes and then going over them at the end of the season really helps.

      I'm actually planning on adding 4 new beds this spring...can't wait to get started!

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  3. I planted strawberries from crowns purchased from Nourse Farms in Massachusetts last spring. I didn't really get a crop last summer but I'm hoping that this year will be different. Some of my plants suffered as well through neglect and lack of watering. This year, I'm determined to feed, mulch and water!

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    1. We both have relatively new gardens and with so much time spent getting things set up, it's no surprise a few things get neglected. Here's hoping that we both a bountiful strawberry harvest this year, Thomas!

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  4. That bowl of strawberries sure would be tasty now in the middle of winter!! We have a dwarf sweet cherry tree. Do you spray or fertilize yours at all? You must have a huge garden with all you grow!! Nancy

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    1. We don't spray our trees but I do pull back the mulch and spread some compost around the base; then I put back the mulch, usually adding a bit more. I try to do this each year, but I think that last year I forgot.

      Our garden is pretty large, but a big chunk of it is taken up with the septic bed, so, unfortunately for me, I can't plant anything over it other than grass.

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  5. That plum tree with several grafts is cool. I've seen that for apples before. Interesting that even though they're on the same root stock they still grow with different vigour.
    I'm moving some of my strawbs around this year so probably won't get as good a harvest as this year.this week we had a tub of strawbs from the freezer, to put on our breakfast each day...a real treat. And I think I've got two more tubs left..ooh.
    I wish I could grow cilantro and chives as well as you. The last couple of times I tried chives they got decimated by aphids.

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    1. Lucky you having all those strawberries left! We only have a couple of small packs left in the freezer which I had been saving - I think it may be time to stop saving and start eating!

      That's so sad about the cilantro and chives. I've never known chives to be bothered by pests or disease but it seems that every geographical region is different when it comes to those sorts of things.

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  6. I don't even plant dill anymore. It just comes up all over the place. In fact I never planted it at all at this house. I brought over compost and the seeds were in there and they spread. Such a weed. I love it though. I let it grow in the paths and when they get big it is so hard to walk around.

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    1. I suppose that's why they call it dill "weed" ;)

      Since this was my first year growing it, I'm not sure how readily it will self-seed in my garden. I guess I find out this summer...I'm crossing my fingers on that one as it would be nice not to have to allocate a specific spot for it.

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