As mentioned in my spring update, this is the year of the COVID-19 pandemic and for better or worse, a time to appreciate the garden if you have one.
I am thankful that I do, especially after I was provided with some extra motivation for seeking out new career opportunities and plenty of extra time to do, well, something… That something has resulted in an ambitious to-do list for garden work. Early casualties was the willow tree back in May, which had a fungus infection and looked to be slowly dying (in the post-mortem it looked OK though) and one of the espaliered apple trees which had very low yield (plan is to replace with some pear trees), but the list also contains garden path cleanup, repairs and replacements, flower bed renovations; even a play house for the kids is planned. I am not going to share the list though – as any plan, it is unlikely to survive contact with the enemy reality).
Jun 23: Finished cleaning the garden paths. Before
Jun 24: Finally reined in the raspberries. This task has been on its way for many years, but I didn’t find the brain space to construct a proper scaffold. Now I finally did it, with five poles and 3 meters of coated metal wire. While the planning phase may have lasted 8 years, the execution took 10 minutes 🙂
Jun 30?: First cucumbers harvested in the green house.
Jul 10: Gooseberry picking day. Just 3848 g after cleaning. Much less than the 9130 g harvested last year, but that was expected after a thorough pruning.
A cleaned-up garden path. I build those myself about ten years ago and the looked great when they were brand new. Then, every spring they look at little more worn down, as time inevitably passes, but it is always great how a few hours of work can make them look almost new.
This year, 2020, has become the year of the corona virus pandemic. It is bad already and no one knows yet how much worse it is going to get. To so many people it has meant spending time confined at home, so if ever there was a time to appreciate one’s garden, this would be it and I certainly am.
However, staying at home hasn’t meant spending more time in the garden than usual. Taking care of work and children at the same time takes plenty of energy and with the pandemic hovering in the background, working the garden doesn’t get much attention. Still, the basic work that must be done is getting done.
Among the yearly spring activities is the pruning of trees. Especially our apple espalier and willow are important milestones every year because they must be done in winter or early spring, and are therefore very dependent on the weather being at least reasonable. Then we have fruit trees and bushes, and especially the fruit trees – apple, quince and crabapple – have been challenges. Not because they are intrinsically difficult – I don’t believe they are – but because I have been uncertain about how to prune them, and doing something year after year without really feeling confident about what you do, doesn’t yield satisfactory results (aesthetically, that is: fruit yield from the trees is not bad, actually, except for last year 2019 when frost in May ruined the fruit production across the entire country). And even the aesthetics I am not so sure of – it may just be that my vision of what the trees should look like didn’t match up with the reality in my garden.
But what do I actually know about the shape of young apple trees? Not much, so Youtube to the rescue. Because, of course there are videos showing apple trees, showing apple trees before pruning and after pruning and showing apple trees in the process of being pruned. Some videos also have people talking about pruning without trees. Fascinating stuff and very instructive. I was relieved to discover that pruning is not an exact science that I just don’t or can’t understand. There are general rules: get rid of water sprouts and growth follows the nearest bud; but apart from that, I see that people approach this in very different ways, so I came away with the beginnings of confidence and an idea of how to approach the task with my own trees. “Slow, but Fearless” turned out to work for me: Slow, because taking one branch at a time allows me to evaluate the result of each cut, so I stretched the pruning out over 3-4 days, shaping each tree along the way. Fearless, because some major branches had to go away before the trees were aesthetically pleasing. For example, on one crabapple tree I actually removed the central stem above a certain height. The tree is one of a pair and one tree was always bigger than the other. That, is, not any more and it looks so good. Now I look forward to see the trees row this season and doing adjustment pruning next year.
Also part of the yearly cycle is preparing plants for the greenhouse. This year we once more bought seeds from Simpson’s Seeds, and the seeds were sown on Mar 6 (chilies) and Apr 7 (tomatoes and cucumbers)
This is pretty much the same as our 2018 dates. An overview of past sowing dates:
No sowing, on vacation
Key events in the garden
Mar 6: Chilies sown:
Cayenne Long Slim
Hungarian Black (2018 seeds)
Jamaican Hot (seeds from a jar of dried chilies from 2018)
Mar 8: Pruned the willow tree
Mar 21: Pruned roses
Mar 28: First mowing of the lawn
Apr 7: Sowed tomatoes – cultivars as follows:
Indigo Cherry Drops
Apr 9: Repotted the chilies, keeping 3 of each (5 different ones – the Jamaican Hot didn’t sprout); also sowed cucumber
Apr 27: Repotted tomatoes, keeping 3-5 of each
May 23: Prepared greenhouse
May 24: Planted greenhouse
May 27: Willow tree was felled, along with the oldest espaliered apple
Garden trash is piling up during the closure of recycling stations.
I am trying out a new format for the garden updates. Trying out a new format this year, to make it more interesting to write, and hopefully also more entertaining to read.
This is a strange winter. To anyone concerned about climate change (and anyone should be) it must look like confirmation that something is horribly wrong. And confirmation it may be, but I will leave it for meteorologists to make the conclusions. At least it looks like we are finally getting over the rain deficit from summer 2018. I am sorry for everyone who is suddenly threatened by flooding, but also personally happy that my house is on the top of a hill and has no basement (so while I have no extra storage space for stuff I don’t want to look at but might someday need, i not only do not have a lot of old crap lying around – I also avoid a flooded house).
In the garden I am behind with the key tasks of pruning the apple trees – mostly due to a sprained ankle which has troubled me since early January and bad weather. The ankle is better now though, so hopefully the weather will be OK in the coming weekends.
So far I have pulled my self together and ordered fresh seeds from Simpson’s Seeds and this year the experimental focus will be on cucumbers. I also intend to put squash in the elevated bed.
Key events in the garden (2020)
Feb 8: Started pruning the apples (a sprained ankle and bad weather is slowing me down)
Feb 11: Ordered new seeds for the greenhouse
I asked for some extra top soil and for my sins they gave me, well, a small hill. Actually the local water works is servicing pipes in the area and digging up here and there. For a moment I hoped they would dig up the entire foot-walk which really needs renovation, but looks like its is just 3-4 meters. Oh, well.
Update Dec 23: Now that it is all over for this year and the cycle ready to repeat it self. Final notes are:
Nov 13: Final mowing of the lawn
Oct 16: Picked the last chilies and wrapped the garden up for winter
Update Sep 15: I emptied the greenhouse today, except for the Chocolate Habanero, which isn’t ripe yet and may as well get some extra time to see if it ripens.
After a good long working day in the garden I see in the green house that fall is approaching, with several plans being cut down already now, either because there is no fruit left to ripen or because of beginning gray mold infection. Such is the cycle of the year, and so it is time to start capturing what went well, what can be done better and what we might not do at all next year.
All in all chilies have worked well, herbs were more than great (next year do more chive and parsley, less basil). Tomatoes a bit disappointing. I know I didn’t care as well for the plants this year as I usually do, but also I didn’t have the best varieties this year. The plants I bought from Gartneri Toftegaard did well as always.
Toftegaards Sweet Crunch was a fine red cherry – too bad I accidentally broke the top and stopped growth.
Toftegaards Gule cherry – one of the best performers this year
Tomato Cavendish: Ripens too late (same as last year)
Green grape: Bad growth, low yield (same as last year)
Cucamelon: fun, but that’s it
Cucumber – One plant is enough, since I get all the fruits at one time which is too many, but after that there is none.
Rocoto chili: Probably placed badly, just one half-rotten fruit
Chili Lemon Drop: Fine yield
Chili Habanero: Fine yield too
Chili Cayenne Long Slim: Not a good year, probably the plant suffered from being squeezed between other, larger plants. Lesson noted.
Chili Jalapeno: Fine yield
Chili Lombardo: OK yield, but at the end of day we are terrible at using these mild chilies.
Chili Habanero Chocolate: Finally picked on Oct 16. OK ripe, but I didn’t get to use them before they went bad.
As written previously, berry week 2019 fell at an inconvenient time this year, so at the time I focused on just picking and cleaning as much as possible and store it in the freezer until it could fit in my schedule and (more difficult) on our jam shelf. Thus with a freezer full to the brim I went back to eating up last year’s produce. Right up until last week, when the freezer was urgently needed for other purposes and I came home from work to find about 8 kilos of laboriously cleaned fruit melting in a box – clock ticking. Now, it always was my intention to make syrup out of at least some produce, so that instead of overproducing jam I would have new options for fruity drinks, so now was the time to re-google for a recipe and get going. Here is the one found (check it out for better pictures and opinions and to give credit where credit is due), but in essence it takes 1 kg berries, ½ L water, 400 g sugar and ½-1 lemon. The berries should boil in the water for 15 minutes, then be filtered for 1 hour (if possible apply extra pressure and squash the berries), reheat with sugar and lemon. Pour into sterilized bottles and store in fridge. Taking the time to filter I got a bit more than 1 L per kg fruit (also, trying to filter more than about a kg means that its more difficult for the juice to run out and I got lower yield). The end result tastes fine, though perhaps a bit sweeter than generally I prefer. Moar lemon, eh? For a first attempt I am happy and satisfied, and have a base from where I can experiment and tweak to taste. It also mixes well with whiskey and rum.
The rest of the gooseberries went to jam according to the usual recipe, except I added a fresh habanero chili for about 5 minutes and had to substitute the vanilla stick(?) with vanilla sugar. Fine result with the chili adding a little extra edge. Not berries, but noteworthy is that after I emptied the greenhouse last weekend I also had to deal with this year’s chili harvest. Knowing that we have never run out of dried chilies, I decided not to spend time cleaning fruit that won’t be used. Instead I brought a bunch to work to share with colleagues, then cleaned the rest and put them in the windowsill to dry (that is a key downside of my new aquarium – the LED lighting does give off enough heat to dry anything and the lid must be opened when feeding frozen food), so putting stuff on top for any duration is just not an option).
This featured image shows gooseberry heating up to make syrup.