Harvest Festival 2016

This has been an interesting year in the garden. In looking at the Harvest Festival 2015 post, I see a year that offered me what I would call the standard garden items. Not so this year. The problems began with a late frost that wiped out my grapes and pears. In fact, it nearly wiped out my apples as well, but I learned a curious lesson with the fruit this year because of the apples. All the outer apple trees had no fruit, but those in the center of the orchard did have some fruit. In other words, the trees on the outside protected those on the inside. I didn’t get a lot of fruit this year, but it isn’t a big deal because my larder is setup to provide multiple years’ worth of any particular item. The lesson I learned was not to prune too heavily when the weather is uncertain (as it was this year). In fact, the reason the apples survived as they did was because I didn’t have time to prune them much at all.

The garden also behaved quite oddly this year due to the weather. The Wisconsin winter was semi-mild this year without nearly as much snow as normal, so different bugs survived than normal. In addition, the weather was either hot or cold, without a lot of in between this summer. It has also been the fourth wettest summer on record. All these changes produced prodigious amounts of some insects that I don’t normally see and the vegetables didn’t produce as expected.

As an example of odd behavior, I normally have a hard time growing cauliflower. This year I grew huge cauliflower and one plant is attempting to grow a second head, which is something that never happens here. On the other hand, broccoli, a plant that always does well, didn’t even produce a head this year. All I got were some spikes that didn’t taste good (they were quite bitter). The rabbits didn’t even like them all that well. The cauliflower is usually plagued by all sorts of insects, but this year there was nary a bug to be seen. The point is that you need to grow a variety of vegetables because you can’t assume that old standbys will always produce as expected.

Two other examples of odd behavior are okra (which normally grows acceptably, but not great) and peppers (which often produce too well for their own good). This year I’m literally drowning in beautiful okra that gets pretty large without ever getting tough, but the peppers are literally rotting on the plant before they get large enough to pick. I’m not talking about a few peppers in just one location in the garden either—every pepper plant completely failed this year.

Location can be important and planting in multiple locations can help you get a crop even if other people are having problems (and I didn’t talk to a single gardener this year who didn’t have problems of one sort or another). One example in my case were potatoes. I planted six different varieties in six completely different locations in the garden. Five of those locations ended up not producing much of value. A combination of insects destroyed the plants and tubers. All I got for my efforts were rotting corpses where the potatoes should have been. The last area, with Pontiac Red potatoes, out produced any potato I’ve ever grown. The smallest potato I took out of this patch was a half pound and the largest was 1 ¼ pounds. I didn’t even find any of the usual smallish potatoes that I love to add to soup. The potatoes were incredibly crisp and flavorful. The odd thing is that this patch was in an area of the garden that doesn’t usually grow potatoes very well.

A few of my garden plantings didn’t seem to mind the weather or the bugs in the least. My peas did well, as did my carrots. I grew the carnival carrots again because the colors are so delightful and even canned, they come out multiple colors of orange, which dresses up the shelves. I also grew of mix of yellow wax and green beans this year. The two beans work well together canned. They have a nicer appearance than just yellow or just green beans in a can. However, because the two beans have slightly different tastes, you also get more flavorful meals out of the combination.

I still stand by the statement I made long ago when starting this blog, every year is both a good and a bad year. Because I planted a wide range of vegetables and ensured I didn’t plant all the vegetables in a single location in the garden, I ended up with more than enough vegetables to can or freeze. No, I didn’t get all of the vegetables that I had hoped to get, but I definitely won’t starve either. My larder is quite full at this point. Let me know your thoughts on ensuring a garden has a significant variety of items in it to ensure success at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Appreciating the Value of Microclimates

There is probably something odd about your house and you might not be aware of it. In fact, there was something odd about my house and it took me a while to discover it. Houses create microclimates in the right conditions. Such is the case with my house. The thermometer on the back porch is often warmer in the fall months than the thermometer on the front porch. Given there is no sunlight hitting the back porch, the only explanation I originally came up with was that one thermometer was off. However, moving the thermometers around proved this assumption wrong. The temperature really was higher in the back where the sun didn’t hit. What I was seeing is the effect of a microclimate.

The temperature differential isn’t very large. On a really good day, it can be up to five degrees. It also doesn’t last indefinitely—the differential between front and back temperatures eventually evens out. The microclimate is formed by a combination of the house and the overhanging trees. It’s almost as if there is a kind of blanket over that area so that it stays cool longer in the summer and warm longer in the fall. The rate of temperature change is slower, which creates a condition favorable to certain kinds of growth.

An interesting part of the microclimate is that I just finished picking the last tomato, radish, and green pepper from my container garden on the 23rd. Yes, there had been several frosts before this time, but the microclimate kept the temperature at the back of the house just warm enough to prevent these container vegetables from freezing until this major frost. Everything in the main garden and the areas outside this little microclimate had died out for the winter long ago. So, microclimates can help you continue producing vegetables long after everyone else has stopped picking for the year.

The microclimate is also the reason that I think herbs do so well behind the house. Instead of suffering the extremes they would encounter in other areas of my property, the herbs are treated to a more or less constant temperature that makes them grow well. The constant temperature also reduces stress, so I have fewer pests and it seems to intensify the flavor of the herbs. In short, microclimates can improve whatever you’re growing as well as allow it to grown longer.

A lot of people have microclimates available to them, so they could grow items far into the fall. Good candidates are items that have a longer growing period after pollination (such as green peppers and tomatoes) and items that don’t require pollination (such as radishes). The items also need to be able to grow in a container so that you can move them as needed. To find these microclimates around your house, use thermometers to measure the temperature at a specific height above ground. Make sure every thermometer is at the same height or you won’t get a true reading. You may be surprised at what you find.

The best place to find a microclimate is an area that is sheltered somewhat like the area between my house and the woods. Look for overhanging trees. You could also check south facing areas of the house where the sun can provide a heating effect in the fall months to extend your growing season. Appreciating the value of your microclimates is one way to get more out of your investment in plants. Let me know about your microclimate experiences at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.