Architecture and Strawberries

It was a wonderful Sunday on the farm.  The weather was perfect.  Paco and I got up early and focused on adding some functional scaffolding for the crops.  We completed placing and securing our homemade welded wire tomato cages on all 29 tomatoes.  We also used wooden trellises to create structures for the Zucchinno Rampicante.  We have grown this behemoth for 5 years now and know it needs some serious support.  We put in trellises for most of the cucumbers as well.

When I wasn’t helping the chef with architecture (yes that’s him in his Grinch pj’s), I was harvesting new purple potatoes, soft-neck garlic, and potato onions. I pulled all the pea plants in the main garden and the goats feasted on them happily.  I also snapped pictures to give a visible update on the farm.  Time flies in the garden and before we knew it it was 12:30.

I also dispatched about 60 lbs of strawberries this weekend.  That’s a lot of strawberries.  I will post separately about what happened to all of them, but there is a picture included here of a very happy girl enjoying some homemade strawberry lemonade.

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High Tunnel Update

Now that it is May, I think an update on the high tunnel is in order. I could not be happier with it and am so glad we have it. We enjoyed fresh veggies from the tunnel all winter. Nothing grows in January and most of February due to lack of light, but we were still able to pick spinach and carrots. It’s amazing to me that the kale and spinach I seeded last August have fed us from September to now and are still going strong. The only crops that were sown in fall and did not winter over was the lettuce and broccoli. Here are some of the crops that have done particularly well:

Spinach–sown in August and picked through the winter, still going strong

Lacinato Kale—ditto

Arugula–I planted a fall bed, ripped it out in March because it got woody and seeded another patch

Swiss Chard–fall crop did great, died back almost completely in the harshest winter weather and then some came back–interestingly enough the plants that came back were the white veined ones

Claytonia–sown 12/31 and harvesting heavily for the past month, still going strong

Strawberries–transferred “the volunteers” from the main garden in September and we started harvesting this week! The bed outside is just starting to flower.

Cilantro–I’m have blogged about this previously. Cilantro overwintered and we were able to harvest in the fall and then again in late March. Now, I am starting to rip it out as int gets overgrown and am planting new plants outdoors.

Carrots–perhaps one of the best crops. I seeded them in August and more in late September. The August planting was perfectly timed. The carrots were sweet and beautiful. I was able to harvest through the winter and the ones we seeded on 12/31 are growing beautifully. The ones seeded on New Year’s Day are getting close to harvest.

Onions–we have been harvesting bunching onions through late fall and still are. The “Bridger” onions from Johnny’s Seeds sown last fall are already knob sized and will give us a nice crop of early storage onions.

Peas—the peas seeded on New Year’s Day are producing now.

Potatoes–I planted some fingerlings in very early March and they are big and beautiful. They look like outdoor plants do in late June. Flowers will be here shortly. Interested to see how quickly we can start harvesting. Between these and the beds of storage potatoes outside, we should have a nice staggered crop. Stay away potato beetles.

And more–we also have had numerous radish harvests, have beautiful cabbages and broccoli coming along, and are picking dandelion greens, raddhicio, and chicory as well.

Lettuces–stunning and almost no bugs. Sure seems to me that one of the greatest advantages to high tunnel growing is the early start you get when the insect pressure is very low or even non-existent.

The only true fail we have had is our plastic has been badly ripped on one side.  We did not do enough to secure the plastic that meets the ground on each long side. The crazy March winds tore it badly.  I took this kind of hard until I found out that one of my neighbors greenhouses had all the plastic torn off by straight line winds.  That was the night that the tornado hit about a 10 minute drive from here.  I now count us lucky that is all that happened.

This week we rolled both sides up and took the plastic of the ends.  We ran green fencing to keep the dogs out.  The summer crops started to go in about a month ago.  It is amazing.  Here are some photos I took yesterday:

Workday in the High Tunnel


Before the work begins

It may have snowed last night, but in the high tunnel it is spring.  The photo above is the “before” picture.  Thanks to being ear infection free and Lily being back in school after strep throat, I got a very needed work day.  For a glorious 2 hours I weeded, harvested, and planted in the high tunnel beds.  It is amazing to me everything that made it through the extreme cold of this winter.  Many of the seeds Lily and I planted on New Year’s Eve are coming up now.  The very late fall sowings of arugula are now taking off.

Below is a video tour of each bed mad after the big cleanup and planting is done.  The focus isn’t always great, but it gets the job done.

Where Things Stand

Having 4 whole days without storms and downpours gave me a chance to catch up in the garden.

Done:  Strawberries, Romaine, Asparagus, Rhubarb

Harvesting now:  First few summer squash, basil, cilantro, raspberries, spring onions, handful of cherry tomatoes, broccoli

Soon:  cucumbers, peppers


Pest problems:  flea beetles on eggplants, using dustbuster


Fruit update:

Strawberries–ripped out both raised beds full of strawberries.  Added 1 yard of compost soil to top these 2 plus one other raised bed.  I will plant more strawberries in one and start second plantings of cucumbers and summer squash for late summer/fall harvest.

The strawberry harvest was light.  I had allowed them free rein in the raised beds and by this spring (year 2), they were so densely planted that the harvest was light and fruits were small.   I have enough “spillover” plants from around the beds to be able plant the new bed.

Blackberries–the vines are so loaded.  We will be able to bathe in them.  Our first year with a crop so I am unsure about when they will ripen.  Next couple weeks would be my best guess.

Raspberries–the early harvest is ripening and I have been picking about a quart a day. This is their 3rd year on the ground and they are now taller than me.  I think I am actually going to cut them back because they are providing too much shade to the tomatoes.  The placement of the raspberries is probably my biggest gardening mistake so far.  They are in the middle of the garden and there are too many of them.  This fall, we have decided to dig them up, transplant some to the southeast corner of the garden and gift the rest.  I still have many raspberries in the freezer from last fall! 

Trees:  all 4 apples, 2 cherries, 2 peaches, and the sole pear are looking great.  The only fruit we have are 2 peaches–one on each tree.  If we can get these to harvest, we will need to have some kind of ceremony around them!

Grapes–the grapes are loving their new home along the western fence of the garden.  We heavily mulched with compost and growth has been great.  We even have a cluster of grapes

on one of the pinot noir vines.

Kiwi–the hardy kiwi vines, in their third year, have yet to flower, but growth is good.  We will see.

Treasure Hunt

Everything is in and now there are daily surprises in the garden.  Yesterday, a handful of cherry tomatoes from the “Sweet 100” planted in the hoophouse in April.  Yahoo!!  Tomatoes on June 9!  Pretty proud of myself!  Also, was amazed to see baby zucchini coming on.  Days away from our first ones. 

The potatoes are doing great and, so far, no potato beetles.  I am sure they will be here any minute.  The cukes are winding their way up the trellises.  Have already harvested 3 heads of broccoli and there is more on the way.  Kale is big and beautiful and I am supplying the restaurant for soups.  I will soon dehydrate a big bunch for winter cooking. 

I started harvesting garlic yesterday.  The harvest is early due to the hoophouse and I am already scheming as to what I will plant in the empty space.  I am also planning n ripping the strawberries out and replanting those 2 beds with some strawberries and not sure what else.

What is struggling: 

  • Sweet potatoes:  my first year with this crop is an obviously irresistable bunny treat.  BUT, all that he has mowed down has come back,  so I think we will harvest. 
  • Beets—I will keep trying , but the critters are eating all the seedlings.  Perhaps I will so some in the hoophouse and cover with remay.

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Jam, I Am

Strawberry season is finishing up here at Small Wonder Farm.  Most of mine went in to the freezer to be used for smoothies or to the restaurant for cocktails, but I did get 2 batches of jam done. 

I am not going to walk through the jam making process here.  It’s quite easy and the how-to is in every box of pectin, but I do want to point out how easy it is to add your own touches.  I am not a huge recipe person and like to change things up.  At the restaurant we serve a great cocktail called the Strawberry Basil Mojito.  Like any mojito the base is rum and club soda, but instead of mint use basil.  We muddle the strawberries and basil and add a bit of strawberry liqueur and Rose’s Lime.  I decided to make a strawberry basil mojito jam. 

Here’s what I did:

While crushing the strawberries, I added fresh lime juice, basil leaves, and very thinly sliced limes–rind and all.  I cooked that all together.  Right before putting it in jars I added rum.  It is great!!!

Berry Avalanche and a Better Berry Basket

Strawberry picking time is finally here. I got 2 gallons yesterday and 1 today.  I am so thankful that the strawberry harvest comes in early summer.  If the blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries all came at the same time there would be no way I could keep up.  Last year, I canned all the berries–turning them into jam or into strawberry sauce for pancakes.  I still have sauce left so most of these will go into the freezer to be used for smoothies throughout the year.  I will make a batch or 2 of jam. 

first strawberry

Lily invented her own “yogurt” this evening using frozen strawberries and frozen mango.  We added just enough water to be able to blend it and she ate it with a spoon. 

Strawberry plants need to be reigned in. They spread by runner prolifically.  I was giving away plants this spring as I was tearing them out by the handful where they had escaped from the raised beds.  A friend reported that 2 of her children picked berries from this gifted plant they had planted in their yard.  They declared them to be delicious–the best they ever had.  Exactly!  They grew it, they saw it ripen in the sun, and were paid for their efforts with an amazing strawberry.  Top that Kroger!  I  think we have forgotten to appreciate our food.  Growing some or most of your food gives you a real sense of their value.  There is no way I would let my hard-earned strawberries go bad. 

Last fall as I picked and picked and picked and picked and picked raspberries, I dreamed of a berry picking basket that I could hang around my neck.  I finally found someone thinking like me.  I  going  to need this. the blackberry harvestis going to be amazing.  Now, to get my McGuyver-esque hubby to perfect this:

berry back porch still life

Year in Review: Fruits

Since so much of the installation was in 2008, 2009 was our first big fruit harvest and it kept me busy.  Here is the run-down in chronological order:

Strawberries:  I spent three weeks in May doing literally nothing but picking and processing strawberries!  The harvest was huge and picking of them quite labor intensive.  I had to pick every other day in order to keep up.  They got turned into strawberry syrup (agave, not sugar sweetened) and canned or got turned into jam.  We were making strawberry basil mojitos at La Scala and so they went there too.  I turned that idea into strawberry basil jam–yum.  This coming year I would like to turn some into pie filling.  Planting all the strawberries in 2 of the raised beds was a serendipitous choice.  Strawberries spread like wildfire.

Rhubarb:  this was the first harvest year so the yield was light.   Turned into a batch of strawberry rhubarb jam, a couple of rhubarb cakes, and a pie or two.

Ground Cherries:  The plants are in the same family as tomatoes and tomatillos (nightshade family).  These plants stay low to the ground and trail a bit.  VERY prolific.  It produces a small golden-colored “berry” in a paper husk (think tiny tomatillo).  They have a great vanilla citrus flavor.  Very easy to grow, tedious to pick.  Made several pies and froze quite a bit and still left most of them sit there.  Still have lots.  Will not plant this year.

Raspberries:  we had a small spring crop and then they came on heavy late summer all the way to frost.  I picked and picked and picked and picked……..  I froze lots, made jam, and we ate plenty fresh.  So delicious!

Blackberries–picked a handful only since they were planted fall 2008, but the canes went crazy and I am expecting this year will be a great crop.

Blueberries–planted this spring.  Takes 6 years to get a real crop. 

Apples–4 trees planted in 2008.  All doing fine, but we will need to move them this spring.  Much too close together and too close to the garden.  Live and learn.

Peaches–2 planted in 2009

Pear—1 planted in 2009.

Our grapes–6 planted in 2008.  Only 2 survive.  Likely will plant more this year.