Spring Trials and Triumphs on the Half-AcreJul 08, 2022
Dear Friends of Half-Acre Homestead,
The photo you see above is of my beautiful heritage corn seedlings. What a blessing my corn crop has been!
This past spring, getting my garden in seemed more difficult than past years. However, I persisted and now feel things are back on track. In this post, I will share the trials and triumphs of the past several weeks and the lessons I have learned.
First Trial: SEEDLING LOSS
I recall that I was quite excited about my growing medium experiment and had already declared the "moisture mix" as the early winner. WRONG!!! While this mix had supported early germination, growth stalled at a crucial period. i am still reflecting on whether I should have done some extra feeding, because the mix claimed to already have slow release fertilizers in it. I did become concerned that the seedlings were staying too wet. I reduced watering, but still did not get adequate growth. This led to a lot of seedling loss during the transplanting stage.
In contrast, many of the seedlings in the drier growing medium did much better and experienced dramatic progress. This growing medium was called "professional" on the package and seemed like it had much more peat moss in it. Having been through the whole process, it is now the "surprise" winner.
Lesson Learned: I will now have an organic fertilizer on hand if the seedlings show signs of stalling. While I was originally more concerned about the seedlings staying damp during germination, I now see that I should be equally concerned that they get oxygen and are able to form good root systems. For many years, I had had great success with starting seeds in those little peat pods.
I now see I changed too many things about my seed starting program at once and it became very difficult to identify what was actually causing the seedling fatalities. Next year, I am going to use the professional, peaty mix and carefully monitor the early progress of the seedlings. I won't wait so long if I see stalled growth again. However, using the peaty mix should help address this.
Second Trial: DESTRUCTIVE VERMIN
In previous years, I have had perhaps one vole around the garden, with minimal impact. I have used a few plastic plant protectors and then basically forgot that the vole was even an issue. This year, the damage has been severe. Despite my best efforts and substantial time spent on preventative fence repair, I have lost so many plants that it literally made me cry.
Every year, I grow beets for a dear friend of mine. They were doing quite well. One morning, I came out to find that the tops of the tender seedlings of an entire row had been nipped off at the base. Argh! I have replanted, and will continue to add more features to my pest control repertoire: more dog hair and some other sound repellents in addition to the plant protectors I still keep in place overnight.
Lesson Learned: Some years may be worse than others for critters. I will likely put more deterrents in place right at planting time in future years. I don't think I can assume that I will have the easier time of it in future years than I have had in the past. Sigh!
Third Trial: UNLUCKY PLANTINGS
I was so pleased the day I got my carrots and parsnips planted. There was a light rain forecast for the next day, which i thought would be fine. Imagine my dismay when it turned out to be torrential downpour that absolutely blew my seeds away! At that time, i thought I would wait to see what came up to judge the damage. Now I know better!
Lesson Learned: When one of these rain blasts comes just after little tiny teeny seeds have just been planted in sandy soil and are just a few millimetres below the surface, just replant. I won't wait to see what's there. I will make sure I have back up seeds on hand and will just pop out and redo. This actually happened more than once. I wonder if I could hire myself out to bring on torrential rains by planting carrot seeds in other regions in need of rain?
And now, I will share some of the wonderful triumphs of the past several weeks:
First Triumph: HEIRLOOM CORN IS THRIVING
This was a special year on the homestead: the first year I planted my corn crop completely from my own kernels from the previous harvest. I was nervous! Would they germinate? What percentage? Because I wasn't sure, i planted two to three kernels per location. As you can see from the photo above, three healthy corn seedlings came up. This was the case for every location. 100% germination. I was ecstatic. I thinned them. They are now doing fantastic. I look forward to watching them grow higher and higher and enjoying the formation of the corn ears.
Part of the magic of enjoying my corn this year was taking the kernels off the dried ears, grinding them up and making traditional corn pones. Below, you can see a few photos of the process. The taste is incredible. The feeling is magical. Now my corn is a full circle. These same kernels that feed me are now in the earth, creating new life. Wow!
Removing the kernels for grinding (or planting!)
Grinding the kernels by hand
Frying up Traditional Corn Pones made of my beautiful purple and yellow corn. Yum Yum!
Second Triumph: POTATOES GROWING GREATLY
This spring, when I reached into my utility room for the seed potatoes I had set aside, I wasn't sure what I would find. While the utility room is fairly cool in the middle of winter, it is definitely not a root cellar (Oh, I can't wait until I build my root cellar!). i opened up the bags. Uh Oh! What I saw was some pretty dried up looking, shrivelled ummmm seed potatoes????
Can you imagine all of these grew???!!!???
Well, I love my Irish Cobbler potatoes so much, I decided to try these, even though I couldn't believe that some of these were still alive. I planted every single one of them. I was absolutely AMAZED that they came around. Another crop has come full circle. I will make some efforts to take better care of my seed potatoes this winter. Perhaps I can put a humidifier in the utility room and use a plastic shower curtain over the door? I will see. However, it is such a good feeling to see the rows of potato plants growing so nicely. They will harvest right at the end of the season, which is what I want: a crop to store and sustain me over the long winter. Although these seed potatoes don't look like much, I was actually able to plant almost 70 linear feet of potatoes with these. This is more than 3 times my crop last year. I am so excited!
Potato plants starting to grow (three of the four rows are visible, reaching back towards the corn. In the foreground, a milkweed plant for the Monarch butterflies. On the left hand side, marked with a flag, a broad leaf plantain plant (medicinal and edible!).
Third Triumph: BUMPER CROP OF NETTLES, ONION, AND GARLIC
It amazes me that my side garden bed has no fencing at all, but I guess bunnies don't like onions! This year, I planted as many yellow onions as I could squeeze in there, and kept my nettles on the end. In the back row, I have some garlic. This bed is doing great. They all seem to like the sandy soil. I added a bit of manure this spring, but not a ton. Can you imagine I started last year with just one nettle plant??? I love to slip a leaf of this powerful plant into my oat straw tea when I feel I need some extra energy. This fall, I will collect some of the roots to make a tincture.
Nettle on the left, onions and garlic in rows reaching towards the right hand side milkweed plants (for the butterflies, of course!). In the main garden, you can see my scarecrow Mathilda taking one of her many breaks. How I wish she would help with the weeding!
Fourth Triumph: GIVING TO OTHERS
I was so pleased this spring to make donations of seedlings to not one, but three local community gardens. I will continue to develop these partnerships in the coming years. Half-Acre Homestead also offered information online to local community members concerned about the destructive LDD moth, sharing chemical free ways to reduce its population in early spring.
In another community outreach activity, Half-Acre Homestead shared the news about the new Tick Bite Prevention Guide that I had published on my How to Guide page. At last count, that posting has been seen by over 5,000 people. It is my dear hope that this document can help people avoid tick bites and stay healthy, avoiding Lyme disease.
Reflections on this Spring on the Homestead
This past spring was a real mixed bag in the garden. I faced many more challenges in getting my garden in than I had in past seasons. I allowed this to make me feel grateful for the easier seasons I had enjoyed! Now I can really appreciate them. As always, I tried to gain some lessons learned from every challenge so that I can face the next season even better than before.
This spring was also a sad one, as I faced the loss of one of my Kenny cousins, Darlene, who was only in her early sixties. Darlene was a beautiful woman who gave selflessly to others her entire life. I always admired her strong character and giving nature. Sometimes, it was hard to get myself out to chores and the garden, as I just felt tired and sad. I tell you this because I want to be honest about my life here on the homestead. I think a big triumph this spring was that I just kept going and had the faith and strength to plant those seeds.
I hope that, whatever challenges you are facing in your own life, you are able to rise to the occasion and find yourself stronger than you knew you were. I hope that you are able to plant good seeds for yourself and others, whether they be literal seeds or seeds of kindness.
Until next time!
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