September 2019 garden and orchard update

2019 has shaped up to be a big year for expanding our orchard and garden, and we have really begun to realize some of the plans that have been in the works these past few years.

The biggest piece of new infrastructure this year was to put an 8′ fence around about 1/3 of an acre, making a rectangle that is 80’x160′. This fence is there primarily to keep out deer and cattle, and is so tall because deer have little trouble jumping a 4 or even a 6 foot fence. A few months in, we find that we are still getting woodchucks, raccoons and skunks coming in, but we have some thoughts about discouraging them in the future with a strand of electric fence set low to the ground.

Newly completed garden fence in May

The other big change this year was the addition of an irrigation pond. To make this happen, we brought in an excavator to dig out the head of a spring. This spring trickled down the hill all year long as a small stream, but in order to pump the water we needed an actual pond. After a few hours work, we ended up with a pond about 20′ long, 15′ wide, and 6′ deep. Once the spring was opened up it filled the hole in just a few hours. As the pond is less than 100 yards from the garden, we will be able to easily move this water to the garden, the orchard, and the cows. Putting water into a trough for the cows will let us keep the cows completely away from the stream and any of the more sensitive wet terrain.

The new dugout pond just hours after excavation was completed.

We had both successes and failures in the garden this year. In November of 2018, we put down a layer of aged manure followed by hay mulch on about 2000 square feet in the garden to try to kill the pasture grasses without having to fully plow the land. Most farmers plow the land by flipping over the top foot or so of dirt to kill off existing plants, but work in recent decades on soil health and regenerative agriculture suggests that going to low or no tillage of the soil is a better way to farm. The manure/hay combination did a wonderful job in killing the turf, which was great, but did little to control new weed growth as the season progressed. Lesson learned. So will do more weed control going forward, and will hew closely to the weed control measures found in Jean-Martin Fortier’s book, “The Market Gardener“. This book outlines a more ‘human scaled’ way of commercial gardening with little mechanization, and he mostly sells his produce directly to consumers.

For this year, we went exclusively with direct seeding. We did not grow any seedlings indoor, nor did we purchase vegetable plants from a nursery. This prevented us from planting a few things that we would have liked such as tomatoes and peppers (which require a longer season than they could get with seeding straight into the fields), but there were still plenty of things to choose from. We waited for conditions to be warm enough for germination, meaning that most of the seeds went into the ground in the first week of June. Things came up nicely in the first few weeks and we had our first harvest of radishes around the first of July. However, trouble arose with a long-planned trip to the United States for much of July, as we were not able to tend the garden during the height of weed-growing season. Considering this insufficient weeding, and the fact that we did no watering beyond rainfall, we have still had a pretty good harvest. Those things that did survive really thrived. We have had all that we could handle of summer turnips, green bush beans, corn, lettuce, carrots, and radishes, as well as some production of rutabaga, sunflowers, winter squash, cucumbers, sugar snap peas, garden peas, dill, and swiss chard. With proper irrigation and weed control, we should have several times as much produce coming out of the garden in 2020.

An August day’s bounty from the garden.
Time for a corn roast is fast approaching.

In the spring of 2018, we planted the first 32 trees of the orchard, apples, pears, plums and peaches. Through the winter and spring we lost 5 trees, due to some combination of a very cold winter and some vole damage around the bases of the trees. Four of those trees are coming back from the roots; we will probably look to graft new cultivars onto those trees next year.

We added 39 new trees along the roadway this year. Sixteen of them were honey locusts that were interplanted with the line of trees from 2018, making for 13 of the ‘trios’ that Stefan Sobkowiak promotes with his permaculture orchard. Using trios allows one to keep trees of each type further apart and reduces pest pressures, while the locust trees act as nitrogen fixers, fertilizing the trees (at least somewhat) on either side of them. The other 23 trees were planted on 10′ spacings along the road, 9 sour cherries, 6 mulberry, and 4 apricots. Unfortunately several of the cherry trees died within weeks from transplant shock – we’ll have to try again another time.

Finally, within the protected realm of the new garden, we put another fifty shrubs and vines. The fruiting shrubs include blueberries, hascap, elderberries, goji, gooseberries, cranberries, choke berries, red currants, black currants, service berry, manchu cherry, and cornelian cherry. The vines include hardy kiwis and several varieties of grapes. There are two varieties of hazelnut shrubs, and a nitrogen fixing Siberian pea shrub. As with most of our other plants, these went in as 1 to 3 year old bareroot plants, put into the ground in May. Textile fabric was put down all along the fenceline to keep the weed pressure off of the new shrubs and vines. Four months in, most of these are doing well, but we did lose half a dozen of these new transplants. The harvest for the year from these newly planted shrubs consisted of a few handfuls of blueberries, and just a few currants and service berries. We expect that this should ramp up nicely in 2020 and beyond.

New bare root shrubs and vines planted into landscaping fabric

The biggest orchard surprise of the year is that one of the apple trees from 2018 was quite precocious, giving us 6 apples just a year after planting. We didn’t expect to start to get tree fruit for another two or three years.

The very first apples from the orchard.