Will’s bees are doing really well, even the older hive which should be experiencing some varoa mite pressure. Perhaps their success is due to their adaptability: this bee has discovered magic plastic flowers that give nectar (though no pollen) and keeps coming back for more!
Our herb garden receives little attention so only the strongest, most determined plants survive. The hollyhocks are one of my favourite and they reseed themselves every year. The oregano and hyssop are in full flower and are enjoyed by the bees. I have one borage plant, given to me by a CSA member, and its vigorous self-seeding habit will ensure us having borage for many years to come. Wormwood grows behind the box and it is cut and dried to make up one of the active ingredients in the goats’ herbal wormer. THe honeysuckle on the right is recovering from a very hard winter. It’s growing slowly but is now looking much happier and starting to flower. It is a favourite of the hummingbirds and we think they sometimes nest in there.
The Oxheart tomato is by far my favourite. It is everything a tomato should be: vigorous plant, high yielding, disease resistant, early ripening and great flavour. It is a big, red, meaty tomato and ugly as sin. The largest one we weighed came in at 3.3 lbs. It is delicious in a sandwich and makes the best tomato sauce. It is an heirloom that came to Cocagne via Italy and I managed to get some seed from my Aunt a few years ago which I’ve been saving and propagating ever since. I think we have to enter this one into Seeds of Diversity’s catalogue and make it available to more people!
We are trying eggplant for the first time and it seems to be doing really well. I hadn’t expected to get fruit so early and the plants seem to be planning a long production season. They are about as easy to grow as peppers though their one big drawback is they are loved by the potato beetle. I pick beetles off the plants daily and still more come. Fortunately the plants still seem to produce fruit, even with bug pressure, but the bugs chew on the fruit, too. We tried two varieties: long, thin Asian type and a more typical, bulbous Italian. The Italian variety, Traviata, seems to be doing the best and the fruit tends to be better shaped with fewer abnormalities. We are eating lots of eggplant these days!
We are having an amazing growing season and almost everything is doing really well. The garlic is still late (it never did get caught up!) and we’re hoping to harvest within the next two weeks. The potatoes also grew slowly, due mainly to a lack of rain, so we ran irrigation to field #4 and gave them a timely drink. They are yielding quite well now and we’ll soon mow down the tops. The alliums are doing well though they usually do. We planted storage onions in groups of three instead of individually so as to reduce their size and hasten their maturity. The drainage we did last year in field#3 seems to be doing its job and we are finally, for the first time ever, successfully growing crop in that end of the field. Instead of doing a third broccoli planting I tried a gailan x broccoli and I’m very happy with the result and the timing of yield. Will has been fertigating tomatoes to try and improve ripening characteristics and it seems to be working, too. Usually, when we try to correct a problem we try many solutions, and of course, every season is different. We can only hope that some of what we are doing is working.
This is another small experiment we’re doing just for fun: the sunchokes were planted last fall and they’ll provide some late season variety in the CSA baskets and at the market. The Scarlet Runner beans are a wonderful old variety that produce beautiful flowers beloved of pollinators and very tasty beans. I wasn’t sure whether the sunchokes would be tall and strong enough to support the beans however they seem to be doing the job so far.
We’ve finally done it: ploughed up another piece of land. We’d talked of doing this before because we’re running out of rotation space in field #4 (lots of land but not enough that’s ready to plant in in May, hence potatoes too close to one another in rotation). Field #5 was tested a few years ago by a soils expert and found to have a deep gravel layer that made for excellent drainage. We always knew that if we expanded production, this is where we’d go and this year, with Sarah joining our farm team, the time seemed right. The soil is slightly different here with a bit more clay than in other fields. We will cover crop it for the winter and then next year, put half in buckwheat and half in crop. Sarah and we will share it and field #4 so that our wide variety of crops will allow us a better rotation.
We have cucumbers growing in the screened coldframe and the project has great potential! Unfortunately the screening hasn’t kept the cucumber beetles out completely, however we hope that maybe it has reduced the numbers a bit. We have planted four seperate plantings of cucumbers (3 different varieties) and have gotten some decent yields. The plants do eventually die from bacterial wilt (carried by the beetles and exacerbated by the transmission through pruning wounds) but with multiple plantings, we do seem to be able to continue to maintain production. It is an interesting project and I think we should continue fine-tuning it next year. I find the extra work of pruning and training the plants is offset by the reduced time spent harvesting cucumbers. The fruit is in good shape for the most part and I like the seedless varieties.
It was a struggle but we did finally get sweet potatoes planted in our field. The original supplier sent us slips via UPS. The first batch were destroyed by UPS so the supplier sent more which were then lost by UPS. They had no more to send and I really hope UPS covered those losses. We looked all over and finally found another supplier in Ontario who were able to send us rooted slips, more expensive but more developed so we wouldn’t be as far behind the season as UPS’s screw ups put us. We planted 300 Georgia Jet slips into Biotelo biodegradable plastic mulch and they seem to be doing really well. Hopefully we’ll have accumulated enough heat units for a decent yield and we’ll have sweet potatoes for everyone!
We planted about 1200 row feet of Peredovik oilseed sunflowers (Russian heirloom) and the flowers are gorgeous! We are hoping to harvest most of the heads, dry them, remove the seed and press the oil from them. Another grower nearby has a small, hand-powered oil press which we’ll borrow and use this winter. We’re hoping to hand harvest the heads before the birds eat all the seeds, store them and dry them in the hayloft and then use a friend’s thresher to seperate out the seeds. The grinding, heating and pressing will be a winter project which we can do in small increments as time allows. It will be easy to warm the meal on the wood stove and hand cranking oil will be a much needed winter exercise!