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State of the Farm, March 2024

I like this time of the year. We’re just starting to pull together what we’ll be doing this year. We’ve been going over seed catalogs and looking at plants since the first of the year.

But, even more than that, there’s a certain blasted look to a New England landscape after winter. The snow has flattened the grass. The rot has settled into the garden where we didn’t prepare in the fall. This is the time of year where we start to remedy all that. In that blasted landscape lies infinite possibility.

In the two pictures above, the first is a before where I pulled out an old arbor—visible as a black structure—and cleaned up a pair of grape vines. The after picture is the resulting new arbor made from cattle fencing panels.

We’ve been doing a lot with these panels for a few reasons. For one, there are a lot of things we like to grow that benefit from trellising and cattle fencing panels make good trellises. Last year we grew beans, cucumbers, and melons on them with good success.

For another, we’re moving away from perhaps the more attractive wooden trellises and arbors in favor of metal. This is mainly because metal structures outlast wooden ones. The wooden arbor in the background is about twenty years old and  needs to be replaced. The cattle fence arbor in the foreground of the second picture should outlive me.

We’ve decided against doing runner beans again. They grew well but I’m not happy with the taste. We’ll replace them with more pole beans. In addition, we want to grow pinto beans. We found a source of good beans with Baer’s Best Beans. Pintos can be raised as either a half-pole bean or a bush bean. We tried them last year without success but I think that was because I asked too much from the plantings inside the arbors.

We’re going to try a succession planting with early spring peas, followed by beans, followed by fall peas. I very much like pea soup. This will give the trellis double duty.

We’re going to try sugar beets again—in spite of the failure from last year. We tried to make sure from them but the impurities in extract made it hard to manage temperature. I ended up with a taffy that tasted like grass. Not great. This year we’re going to attempt to filter the syrup and see if that helps.

We have two new fruit plants, a goji berry and a new kiwi. We’re still talking about where to put them. Turns out Wendy had ordered a new kiwi for the kiwi/grape arbor and I’d forgotten when I picked one up at Tractor Supply. The goji berry will replace a Manchurian apricot that wasn’t doing well.

We finally processed the medlars we harvested last year. In previous years we would get one or two. But last year we got more than a dozen. We tried to turn them into jam but the temperature got away from us and they ended up being a very tasty soft candy—more of a taffy, really. Maybe this fall we can bit the bullet and make hard candy out of them.

One experiment we’re trying is goldberries or groundcherries. These are a member of the tomatillo family only much, much sweeter. More like a berry than a tomatillo. We had some this winter from the market and they were quite tasty. More to try.

One thing we’ve been trying to do is move away from hybrid seeds. Hybrid seeds come from cross breeding two different varieties. Often, the result is quite strong but they do not breed true in the second generation and consequently are no good for seed saving—which we are trying to do. Heirloom seeds are usually not hybrid.  We have to be careful, though. The reason people generate hybrid seeds is they often have good disease resistance or other valuable qualities the varieties themselves don’t have. It doesn’t make sense to get a nice heirloom cabbage only to see it eaten by pests because it has no resistance.

The alternative is called open pollinated seeds. This means that they breed true when pollinated with each other. But that has its own issues. If you plant one open pollinated variety of corn next to a second open pollinated variety, the result can be a hybrid—defeating the reason you started this confusion. We have a couple of varieties of the same vegetable and we’ll have to plant them far enough apart the wind and insects don’t cross between them.

We invested again in more Birdie Beds this year. Two more big ones to replace a long raised bed that has finally rotted away. We like them a lot for many of the same reasons we’ve been moving to metal trellises and arbors. In addition, they are tall enough I don’t have to bend down to work them. I’m getting less flexible every year.

That’s the news. Now, it’s time to go out there and start preparing (ripping apart) the garden for spring.

 

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