(Picture from our little paw paw tree.)
It started out promising.
The weather was just awful. Hot May. Dry June. Record breaking rain July. Normal August—oh, yeah. Hurricanes. There is black rot on my Concord grapes and even the pears have cedar apple rust—something I usually only have to worry about for the apples.
It doesn’t help that we lost our previous two cats to coyotes. We’ve been keeping our new cat indoors which gives the bunnies, chipmunks, and voles free reign.
One last impediment: we’ve been redoing our kitchen and building a new front porch. I had no idea how projects like that could take over my life.
So: garden didn’t work out so well. Tomatoes never got going. Melons a lost cause. We tried the hot peppers outside of the fence, figuring the deer wouldn’t eat them. Wrong, again. We are getting squash and higher pole beans. The lower bush beans fed the bunnies—next year we have to run hardware cloth around the bottom of the garden to keep them out. Maybe dig the fence down a bit. Or trap the buggers.
Our aquaponic systems are working great, though. Until summer we were having fresh salads two or three times a week. The goldfish are at one end of the system and crayfish at the other.
Last year we added a couple of koi to the mix. They’re pretty and edible—being carp. They grew very well and were pretty soon bigger than the old goldfish.
The goldfish are getting long in the tooth. We were breeding them—which basically means giving them a spot and letting nature take its course. But we got out of that habit since we didn’t really have any need for young goldfish. The koi idea was to get a couple, breed them up and we could either sell the excess on Craig’s List or eat them.
We tried to move them to a different pond that would be more conducive to breeding but failed. The net we were using was okay for sluggish goldfish but completely unsuitable for rocketing koi. The stress was too much for them and they died. We still have a couple left in the main aquaponics pond. The problem we had with the gentle net is the mesh was too fine and therefore slow. We moved to the chicken net—a large fishing net we had around and used to catch chickens—but that caused them to get caught and be heavily stressed. It’s an operation we’re still working out the bugs on.
The crayfish are a huge success story. Four or five times a year we make a crayfish bouillabaisse that is to die for. Right now, there are twenty or so big ones in the refrigerator cleaning themselves out.
The crayfish are at one end and the goldfish/koi are at the other. The stream goes through growing beds in both directions and we harvest the result.
The aquaponics and most other greenhouse products work best in the fall/winter/spring time frame. During the summer we have to put up a shade cloth and that pretty much stops the plant growth in its tracks. The plants still grow and live and, in the case of the aquaponics, turn evil ammonia and other vile products into plant tissue. But it’s not vigorous.
The other greenhouse plants—the guava, bananas, papaya, pineapple, etc.—are doing well. We’ve been using the papaya as a noodle substitute. It gives a nice sweet/sour flavor and isn’t quite as caloric as pasta. It also goes well in salads. Bananas are coming in but won’t be ready until fall some time. We ate our yearly pineapple at the beginning of the summer. They’re just a fun crop.
We don’t have the guavas under control. They’re vigorous and produce many flowers but usually during the cold months when we don’t have many greenhouse pollinators. It’s a PITA to pollinate them by hand so we don’t get much of a crop.
Speaking of pollinators, we had severe pollination problems this year. We didn’t order orchard bees as we did in previous years and the Cornelian Cherries, honeyberries, and other early fruits suffered. So, we didn’t have much. Curiously, we have a hardy persimmon that is self-fertile. Typically, it needs very little in the way of insect intervention and it looked like it had lots of flowers. Then, the July rain happened and we lost all of them. There might be a half dozen fruit when we normally get tens of pounds.
We did get apples on a couple of the trees. Little in the way of pears—something ate what we had on the espalier and the rain killed the fruit on the larger trees. Some rodent got the peaches on the smaller tree and, I think, killed another. But we had a good harvest from the Ancient Peach. Peaches are only supposed to last a dozen years or so but the old peach is past double that and still producing.
On happy notes, the corn is doing well. The thornless blackberries have been a joy. It looks like we have two new varieties of grape coming in and they don’t appear to have a black rot problem.
And we have paw-paws.
Paw-paws are a big deal. We planted paw-paws starting over a decade ago. One lived. One didn’t. We replanted five years ago. Nothing since. Paw-paws are notorious for taking a long time to flower. The first one has been flowering for years but none of the others. This spring, two of the new paw-paws produced, maybe, a dozen flowers. Not much. But it was enough: 4 paw-paws on one tree and 2 on the next. We are watching them carefully.
We bought some chicks in the spring and they have grown out well. We’re now selling the excess hens. The roosters? …well, they will serve us, too.
Not a great year but it could be worse.