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State of the Farm: May, 2024

Now that it’s May, we can attempt to start work on our garden without a high expectation of weather damage.

Of course, that’s a hope. Last year we got a hard freeze in May and lost all of our stone fruit. Other years, we get a Hammer of God heatwave. New England isn’t the easiest place to garden in the US to begin with. Global warming has made it much more… interesting.

We finished the cattle fence arbors and now have a sort of T structure: two cattle fence arbors next to one another—think of it as an 8 foot by 5.5 foot wire tunnel—bordered at the end by two more such arbors at 90 degrees. It works very well and there are now bud on the grapes. I have high hopes for the future on this. The arbor is much more open and much easier to manage.

The adjacent arbor is essentially a square with a mesh roof. The square itself is about 10×10 feet and the height about seven. Originally, we intended it as a grape arbor as we saw at Lookout Farm a while back when we went and picked Saturn Peaches. I fell in love with this variety and we’re trying to grow some ourselves.

If you look here, and browse through the pictures, you will see some grapes. The farm is quite large and there are small paved roads between the sections. These roads are shaded by grape arbors. I was quite taken by this and attempted to recreate it with the square arbor. We didn’t have much luck with grapes and it has now transformed into a kiwi arbor.

Kiwi has a different structure. Instead of little tendrils holding onto the support, it wraps like bittersweet. We’ll see if it eventually rips apart the wire “ceiling” of the arbor.

We’ve made a heavy commitment to the Birdie’s metal raised garden beds. We bought three kits a few years ago. This translated to three large beds and two smaller beds. Last year, we set one up as a strawberry bed, used two for potatoes, one of the smaller ones for mint and one of the larger ones for peppers and eggplant. They did quite well.

We found with the first set that rodents love to turn such beds into hives. The mint bed was riddled with tunnels and, this year, the innards are collapsing. We filled the bottom of subsequent beds with drainage rock and that seems to have kept the rodents out.

We bought three more. One we finished today. It now requires only the last foot of soil. We plan to fill the next one with the contents of the mint bed, then line the bottom with drainage rock. We’re taking our time and not planning to have all three new ones ready until the end of the season.

They have a couple of big advantages. One, they are quite tall—about three feet. This means very little bending to manage the bed. That’s a big advantage for someone that’s getting less flexible as they age. The other is longevity. Because they’re metal, they don’t degrade the same way. We’ve seen no corrosion in the years we’ve had them. We got the idea from Self Sufficient Me and his beds seem to be going fine.

We’ve been having a very good blooming of the fruit trees. At this time, we have almond, apricot, peach, apple, Cornelian cherries, pie cherries, and pears either open or passed. No freeze.

If we have a good harvest, I’m going to have to revisit the solar dryer. I built it about eight years ago with the collector being only black sheet metal. It was an experiment to see if I built a porch of the same construction, it could be used as a heat collector for the house. The experiment failed. It kind of works in that it does capture some heat but nothing like the clear collectors.

The problem is that we’ve been getting too good. I have to dry many pounds of beans and other produce. We will still dry truly wet produce—like peaches or bananas—in the electric dehydrator. But drying beans swamped us last year. Hence, revisiting the old solar dryer.

Last year we had a very good crop of blueberries. We made a hoop structure using the cattle fencing and covered it with plastic netting. The plastic netting was an incredible pain and when we took it off for the winter it because irretrievably tangled. In addition, the structure itself collapsed over the winter. The width of the structure was too much for the steel and it fell in. We propped it up with some poles. The plan is to make those poles permanent—probably using galvanized pipe. We haven’t got to that part yet.

We used knotted netting this year. It was much easier to handle and we hope it will keep out the birds. However, it doesn’t fully cover the structure. We’re going to make permanent end caps. The idea is we remove the netting every year because of the snow load. The blueberry flowers have just opened so we have until the first of June or so to get it up.

Not all of the blueberry bushes are under the structure. For those, we’re trying bird scare tape. We saw this being used up in Vermont. The bushes seemed to have a fair crop of blueberries so we will see.

I planted some peas and they didn’t really take. I think I planted them incorrectly. Wendy planted peas a couple of weeks later and they are coming up fine. Also, fava beans and radishes. We have started sugar beets and melons in the greenhouse. We’re planning to try peas again in the fall after we harvest the beans. We’re planning on bringing them out around Mother’s Day. In the same garden, I planted schisandra and it is coming up well and covered with blossoms.

This week I will finish clearing the main garden and prepare for planting in the next two weeks. We used to plant Memorial Day weekend—and a lot of cold sensitive stuff will be planted then. But, with global warming, planting season comes two weeks early and harvest season ends two weeks late. A small benefit from the coming catastrophe.

Coming? Hell. It’s here. The best we can do is adapt to it.

 

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