Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Victorian Kitchen Garden

I am fond of 1800's history, and was pleasantly surprised to learn about the program "The Victorian Kitchen Garden". This apparently was a BBC series of the mid 1980's.

Source: Wikipedia on Harry Dodson
Back in the Victorian period (1800's) there were large walled gardens in each large estate in England. Food production was on a very local scale, and a team of people were employed as gardeners. All of this was new to me, but what I found especially interesting was to learn the tips and techniques from master gardeners of a hundred years ago. A time when there were no commercial fertilizers, few pesticides and a lot of attention to detail and the crop. There was no mono culture in these gardens!

The head gardener was one of the highest seniority staff members on the estate, and he was tasked with producing all of the food needed by the estate-- year round.

I have enjoyed the program, so I will organize links to the videos on you tube. I would caution you to beware of inappropriate content in the "suggested" videos area. It is sad to have good resources thrown in with the filth of a morals lacking society. Click the video link, and go full screen as soon as you can, and of course skip the ads if they are thrust upon you.

Note as of Jan 21, 2013, these video links are not working. The interview with Thoday is working which would give you an idea about the program.

May (first 10 mins)
July part 1, July part 2
September part 1September part 2

Friday, November 23, 2012

High Tunnel Greenhouse

We have launched into learning first hand about greenhouses. We have a lot to learn, but we are interested in experiencing an extra month+ on each side of our growing season, and doing more with some intensive gardening within the greenhouse.

Our philosophy at this time is to not add additional heat to a greenhouse, but rather to buffer the lows and shelter the plants from desiccation. We won't be trying to grow tomatoes and peppers (warm loving plants) in the winter, rather we will focus on cold hardy plants with the goal of keeping them going all year long.

Our greenhouse dimensions are 16 x 48 feet and is called a high tunnel because you can walk inside of it. In this post, I will outline the placement considerations, assembly steps and tips we learn along the way. You can DIY (do it yourself) where you can purchase fence poles and do your own rib bending and collect the needed hardware. We decided to start with a kit containing all of the poles, hardware and greenhouse grade plastic included.

Location Considerations

Your placement of the greenhouse is important. You want your site to be level, have good sun exposure, and be conveniently accessible to you, power and water.

We cast about in our minds various locations for the greenhouse, and have come to decide on our oldest garden plot, which is the most level ground we have in garden, and is also closest to our pole barn, power and water supply. There are some tall trees to the west of this location, but perhaps we will trim these down, or they may help shade the greenhouse in the summer when it will likely be too hot anyway.

We have brought in a load of well composted horse manure to amend to the soil and help level it out a bit more. It looks good as a plot and location to start a greenhouse.


The general parts are straightforward:
  • Anchor posts of 3 feet long are driven into the ground ~ 2 feet, with a 15" out of the ground. The anchor posts are driven along the perimeter of the greenhouse every 4 feet along the sides.
  • Hoop poles are set into the anchor posts, held with a connector tube.
  • Ridge pole attaches with hardware along the top ridge of the greenhouse
  • Plastic sheeting holder hardware is attached to the frame
  • End walls are constructed using 2x4s
  • Plastic sheeting is applied and fastened


1) Anchors: After selecting the location for the greenhouse, you need to layout the specific corner posts, and make sure everything is square. We wanted to square the greenhouse with the road in front and the pole barn to the side, so we took some measurements, and set the front two corner posts 16 feet apart that face the road. From these we measured out the back corners, measuring 48 feet along the sides, and 50'7" on the diagonal.

A little geometry review: We want the structure to be square. This means that all of the corners need to be right angles. The Pythagorean formula for a "right angled triangle" is a2 + b2 = c2. This means that for a structure 16 x 48, the hypotenuse would measure 50'7". You measure both sides and both diagonals and make adjustments till every measurement is right. Then you set the back corner posts.

We measured the corner posts from soil line to the top of the post 15". We will use 2x12" side boards along the perimeter and 15" will leave some room above the side board for the attachment of the connector and hoop pole to the anchor post. With the four corners at the proper depth into the ground, we strung a flexible tape measure along the long sides and pounded in the side anchors every 4' and to the depth of the tape line. There is a pounding plug shown in the image which allows you to hammer the anchor in without destroying the mating surface of the pole. Once at the proper depth, you can re-orient the holes in the anchor pipe with a screw driver as shown in the image. We had a small level to help make sure we were placing the anchors straight into the ground, a feat generally accomplished.

2) Hoop poles are mated with the anchor posts. This is a fun step, as the greenhouse quickly takes "shape." There is a connector tube of about 5" long which is just large enough in diameter to slide over and onto the anchor post. There is a matching hole for a bolt to tie the connector to the anchor post. The hoop pole, being the same diameter pipe as the anchor post, also slides down into the connector tube. There is a matching hole for a bolt to tie the hoop pole onto the connector.

3) Ridge pole. The greenhouse kit that we purchased has a ridge pole of tubing that attaches a longitudinal pole with each hoop at the center. This ties the entire structure together as one unit. Larger greenhouses may have several longitudinal poles. The connection hardware is made of two brackets with a pipe holder form. Two brackets are rotated 90 degrees to accept both the ridge pole and the hoop pole. There are 4 bolts to hold the brackets together, and the nuts should be placed downward to not puncture the plastic.

4) Corner bracing. On each corner, there is a specialized pole that attaches to the second connector and the first hoop. These have a twist in them and there are right and left bracing poles (the twist is to the right or to the left.)

5) Construct the end walls. The end walls are secured to the hoops with clamps. These clamps need to be installed before the plastic holding strip is applied to the end hoops.

6) Plastic-holding strips. These are attached along the side boards, and along the hoop pole on both ends. This will tie the plastic tight to the front and back hoop along the curve, and along the base sides. The strips are metal, and are attached with 1" self tapping screws.

7) Attach the plastic. The plastic is drawn over the hoop structure as a double layer. When it is secured, there will be two layers of plastic to contend with. This allows air inflation to add some air space between the two layers as an insulating layer. You want to attach and tension the plastic at a temperature of 65 degrees. If you attach it too cold, it would loosen as it warms up. If you attach the plastic when it is hot outside, then when it gets cold, the plastic may be too tight. When the tension is achieved, Z wire is attached to hold the plastic into place.

Remember to attach the fan motor before completely securing both layers of plastic.

8) Insulate the perimeter. We applied tar paper to the outside of the 2x12, and then piled wood chips against the outside perimeter. We plan to put building styrofoam on the inside of the 2x12 to add just a bit more insulation. These will fit nicely between the anchor posts.

9) Mark out the beds. We have a 16 foot interior, and considered several arrangements for the beds and isles. We concluded with 24" beds on each outside wall, 3 walkways running the length of the greenhouse at 18" wide, and the center beds being 42". This gives us 4 distinct beds, and rather easy access to any bed, even for Sunshine and the boys to plant and harvest from the edges. We will put a work table at the back north of the greenhouse, and will make that area our start house as well.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Soy Milk

Gadgets can fill a kitchen. We prefer items that do not require electricity, but some of our most used appliances are electric. We recently purchased a soy milk maker, and we like it a lot.

You take 3/4 cup of dry soy beans, soak them, and then put the soft beans into the soy milk maker, and about 15 mins later, you have soy milk. You pour the milk through a strainer to collect the solids, and then add 2 T sugar, 1/4 t salt and 1/8 t vanilla. That is it! We like the result, and likely this method is costing pennies on the dollar compared to purchasing soy milk from the grocery. We have made tofu from the milk as well.

The reason for this post is not an infomercial for a soy milk maker, but to explain something that will help in eating soybeans in any form. We have found a dramatic taste improvement if we sort beans, and use only whole, intact beans. After sorting them, we prepare boiling water in a pressure cooker. We add the dry beans to the boiling water, and immediately bring them up to 15 pounds pressure. We let them cook for 15 minutes, and then set them aside to slowly cool. The result of this effort is a product that has markedly less "bean-y" flavor.

I suspect that there is an enzyme related to oxidation that causes the "bean-y" flavor. By keeping exposure to oxygen limited (whole beans), and cooking with high heat destroys the enzyme involved in oxidizing a substance in the bean. By following these two steps, we find the end product of the soy milk is much improved, and perhaps even comparable to store-purchased soy milk.

I suggest you get non-GMO (organic) soy beans for your soy milk and tofu production.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


When we evaluate the things we regularly eat, it includes a lot of grains. Along with the bread we daily eat, we enjoy peanut butter. All of us like it, and it seems we can use a lot of it.

We tried our hand at growing peanuts for the first time this year. We planted the nuts into the newest garden plot, just reclaimed from a bramble and forest. The soil in this plot is very rocky, and has minimal organic content. It is actually much closer to a gravel pit than I had imagined. While the peanut is a warm loving, southern favorite, I think most of our low production volume was related to the soil conditions.

We planted 1 lb of Virginia Jumbo peanuts, and harvested around 5 lbs. Many of the plants simply did not survive, and several had been severely cropped back by grazing deer. Those that did survive looked forlorn and in need of something more than they had. I was not sure if it was general soil nutrition, lack of water or pest pressure. All through the year the plants were small and seemed weak. We were almost resigned to think the crop had not produced at all, till we located some intact plants, and upon digging them up, we found peanuts!

Looking at how large the plants should grow, I think plant spacing should be 10 inches along the row. I think these plants would like long, warm temperatures, and I bet they would really like sandy soil. The areas were we had a lot of clay, they did not seem to do well at all.

The peanut shells are located off of "pegs" or flowering stems and bend down to the soil and the peanut develops under the soil level. At flowering time, you may want to loosen soil to assure the pegs can easily grow into the soil for pod production.

Back to where I started this post: we all love peanut butter. 1/2 a cup of peanut butter has been known to be consumed in at a meal. We prefer to make our own peanut butter by grinding roasted peanuts. After grinding, we place the jars in the refrigerator, and have no issues with the oil separating out. Ground peanut butter is more compact than whole peanuts, so it takes around 2 cups of peanuts to make a cup of peanut butter.

When you consider the work required to plant, water, weed, harvest, shell, roast, salt, store, and then grind; you can see this process takes a lot of work. And when you eat as much as we do, well, it gives you an appreciation of how much effort is required for this food item. We are not discouraged by the effort level, but I do see that we need a lot more land devoted to peanuts if we are to be self sufficient. I also think that if we were truly self sufficient, we would have to use less peanut butter. The total work involved is quite high, and it likely should be a "feast food".

If you have not tried growing peanuts, I would encourage you to try them. They were no problem at all, and just need some good soil. If you live in the north, get them going as soon as you can, as they like a long growing season.


Monday, October 8, 2012

"The harvest is Past..."

October 8, 2012 was judgement day for our summer garden. Temps fell to 31 deg just before day break this morning. Sunshine and I went out early in the morning to see how hard the frost had been. The soft and tender tomato leaves were hard and stiff with ice. It was a hard killing frost.

In past years, we have been spared till later in October, with only very light frosts that the plants could resist. The previous two years, our hard frost date were on October 22.

We walked slowly through the garden, mourning for the burst cells and dying tissue all around us. We looked at green tomatoes, green peppers, tomatillos, late corn, late potatoes, green beans still in bloom, okra, sweet potatoes. All tender and frozen hard. Still green under the coating of white frost, but the hour of judgement had come. Death was in process. When I returned to look at the plants later in the day, the tender leaves were wilted and black.

Sunshine thought of a verse: Jeremiah 8:20 "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." There is a date at which the march of time will pronounce, "now is the hour of your judgement." It will come for you and I just as surely as this morning was a judgement for our summer garden. Our indifference or our lack of heart preparation will not stop the impending date. God's forbearance will have a point at which there will be no further time in which to prepare.

Are you ready for Jesus to come? Are you clean in your heart, and fit for translation? Has Jesus not only forgiven your sin, but cleaned your character for heaven? Judgement is coming. An example fell our our summer garden this morning.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


I do not yet have any experience planting wheat, but I do enjoy bread. We have decided it is time to learn some things about growing wheat.

Winter wheat is planted in the fall, to allow the seeds to germinate, and set some roots. Then in the spring, it is ready to go. I have read that planting wheat in the fall will offer the farmer a 3 to 4 week head start, with harvest earlier next year.

Wheat does well in the western USA with their dry early summers. This is when the grain is maturing, and a lot of rain in this time period could lead to molds and grain quality issues. Our area is not known for growing wheat, but with global warming and the midwest drought, we may be the next wheat growing belt. Anyway, we want to see how it would go.

Earlier this week, I planted a field with a new kind of wheat: Khorsan, or Kamut wheat. It is a old variety, and reportedly has low allergy symptoms for those who are allergic to wheat. We are not wheat allergic, but it may be a matter of time considering the GMO contamination in the general food supply. There is linkage to GMO foods and general increased allergy response. I am also interested in the wheat as it has a different genetic makeup, and may resist GMO wheat pollen if it were around.

I found some references that called for planting Kamut in the fall, and then another references that suggested planting it in the spring. I had a field ready, so I planted it by broadcast, and I will see if it takes and any comes up. If it freezes out, I will just replant in the spring, so no great loss. To broadcast, it is suggested to put out 1/2 of your seed volume in one direction, and then go perpendicular, and spread the remaining 1/2 of seed. This will help to give an even sowing. A small crank broadcaster is suggested, but in the old days, I am sure people just spread by hand. The more even the sowing the better.

So tuck this topic away in your mind, and we will revisit it again in the spring, and again at harvest time. I look forward to the day when I could make a loaf of bread entirely from wheat I grew. That has long been a wish of mine, like a check box on my life list of things I want to do.

Here goes!


Monday, September 24, 2012

Kitchen Tools

If you were to outfit the perfect homestead kitchen, what would you include? This was my question to Sunshine a few days ago. This post will outline some of what we have to suggest.

She asked for what setting: On grid or off grid slants the answers quite a bit. I replied that I wanted to know everything, and she rolled her eyes. Well, here is a start to the list.

Basic categories:

1) Food cleaning / prep
2) Water supply
3) Food cooking
4) Food preservation

If you are on grid, you need to consider ways you would achieve the desired goals without power. There will be extensive and prolonged outages in the future. One way would be a self powered system such as solar power or wind / hydro power.

Some of the tools Sunshine likes best use a lot of power. She likes the VitaMix blender, and a grain grinding mill.

For cooking, we have an electric cook top and oven, a portable propane double burner, and a restored antique wood fueled cook stove.

For canning, you need glass jars and reusable canning lids.

Various pots, pans and pressure cookers are useful for everyday cooking, simmering and pressure canning.

Sunshine likes two small pressure cookers to cook rice, beans, potatoes or other long cooking items. Bringing them up to pressure cooks the food much faster.

We enjoy a food dehydrator, and these foods do perfectly in winter soups.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Green Beans

No garden is complete without an ample selection of legumes. That feels like a bold statement, but there you have it-- the truth! Back in May, I wrote about planting beans, and this post is a followup toward the end of the season.

Legumes are like God sent packets of goodness and nutrition. These plants not only produce healthful food, but they add nitrogen to the soil. Growing beans is like a cover crop and you get a crop out of the process! We need to focus on plants that can do this kind of wonder service in our gardens.

Protein has been the nutritional poster child for the meat industry, and scientific studies are bringing into question our need for the copious amounts of protein on our diets. That said, some protein surely is needed, and legumes are the answer for vegetarians. Legume seeds contain lots of protein. Think about the diet of a farm family like ours who desire to eat primarily from what you grow in your garden. Potatoes are a great source of starch (carbohydrates). Green leafy vegetables are power packed with nutrients, but not much carbs or protein. You need the legumes to fill in the protein part of your vegetarian diet. So you need them, and your garden needs them as well.

Many legume crops can build associations with nitrogen fixing bacteria. This combination of plant and bacteria produces more available nitrogen than is used, and results in a net plus of nitrogen to the soil. I have seen bacteria innoculants that spread the bacteria needed for this association. If you till up a new garden plot, it may be that the needed bacteria for this association may not be present, and then you would miss out on this beneficial activity for the bean plant as well as the improvement of the soil. I don't know a lot about this topic, but there are apparently a variety of strains of bacteria, and a strain of bacteria may do best with a specific legume plant. IE, if you want to add innoculant to a new field prepared for legumes, you should add the one suited for the plant you intend to grow.

2012 Garden Experience

We planted 4 rows of 80 feet each of bush beans, and 2 rows of 80 feet each of pole beans. This has been the year of pole beans, and I am a convert! Yes, I know all about the work required to get the beans up on a structure, but it is well worth the effort. The pole beans have really produced this summer, and the length of production is much longer than the bush bean. My developing opinion is that the bush bean like the Blue Lake is cultured for mass production where there is a single heavy set of beans, and then the field is mechanically harvested and the plants tilled under. Seems a waste but this is how the bush beans seem to grow. One large heavy setting, and not a long stable supply.

Our experience this year has reminded us that the bush beans will start producing earlier than the pole beans. I think the ideal for our family for the future would be 2 rows of bush and 2 rows of pole. Perhaps 4 rows of pole if we want to try to sell some beans, but beans are labor intensive. It takes some time to pick them, and compared to the machine harvested, completely automated process, there is no way to compete in price. Just an aside, but food price is way under market labor values. The only way to compete with the super market is to grow organic and have a way to mark up the price, and then only if you sell directly to the public. I will save this thread for a future muse.

Our method of supporting pole beans is worth sharing. We have tried two methods, and both have done well for us. In both methods, we drove T-posts into the ground every 8 feet down the row. Get the longest T-posts you can buy. We needed a ladder to get high enough to pound them in the ground. The first method is that we tied a metal wire to the top of the row of T-posts, and planted the beans below in the row. As the plants developed, we tied descender string hanging down to the plant for it to climb upon. This makes columns of bean plants. The second method we tried started with the same T-post foundation, but on which we supported a netting material of plastic with 6 inch squares. In this example, we have found the plants are actually spreading out more, and making a leaf wall rather than a series of columns. I actually like the netting idea fairly well.

A friend uses the netting method year after year. When I asked about clean up, they said that they do not try to remove the old vines. In the fall, the take the netting down, and roll it into a roll. Then they leave it outside to decompose the tendrils and vines that have attached to the netting. By spring they report there is some, but not a lot of residue, and that what is left is not a problem for the next years plants to grow on. Year upon year, the rotting off of old vines leads to a stable and acceptable quantity of residue. This sounds a lot better than trying to clean all the vines off the netting! We will give this method a trial this winter.

This year we have been canning beans. For canning of low acid vegetables, you will need a pressure cooker. For our locale, 25 mins at 10 lbs pressure for quart jars is suggested. If you are above 1000 feet elevation, there is an altitude correction, so be sure to take this into account. For canning, it is suggested that you let the beans develop more of the seeds for improving the protein content of the canned bean. Wait will the beans are lumpy with the developing seed in the pod, but pick the bean before the pod becomes leathery. De-string the bean and snap to a size you want for canning. I am looking forward to some beans through the winter!

Monday, September 17, 2012


Okra is a wonder plant. It is hardy, loves hot weather, will grow and put on a wonderful crop in the north, and does not require special handling or rich soils. We find it has very low pest pressure. These characteristics put this plant into our must grow category.

When I was in high school, I had the job of harvesting okra on a farm. Those plants were so spiny, that you would end up like a pin cushion after a session of picking the slender pods. The modern okra we have been planting is much improved from what I remember of those days long ago. Clemson Spineless is true to its name, and very productive.

Okra has reportedly been cultivated for thousands of years, and its origin is not sure. Some references claim northeast Africa. It is a hot loving plant, and this is evident when you try to start seeds in the soil. Where I live in the north, I have much better success starting okra in a warm, seed house environment. These seeds just don't want to germinate in cool soil. It takes several months of growth before the plants really get large and start to produce heavily. Starting them early indoors is an effective way to extend your harvest of this wonderful vegetable.

The okra plant has a beautiful flower, followed by a seed pod which grows and enlarges as it matures. As you pick the pods, you will get a feel for how large you like them. There comes a point in the pods maturity, where the cell wall of the pod becomes hard and fibrous. We like to harvest the pods before they get hard, and we find that the rage for picking is 4 to 6 inches in pod length.

Out of an 80 foot row of okra, we will harvest around 1/8 bu two times a week. That comes to around 6 meals a week with okra as a major dish of the meal. Okra has gotten a bad name because there are ways to fix okra which extenuate the perception of slime. I have not had boiled okra, and from what I hear, I may not try it. We do enjoy it as an addition to soups, but it would not be a major ingredient. Most often we cut the pods into small rounds, and saute them. In this form, they are very tasty, and can be included in a variety of entrees for a pleasant filler. We like to add some Lawry's Season Salt as we saute them.

At times I have wished for even more okra than we presently have. Perhaps I will consider two rows of 80 feet each next year! An experience from a local friend may be instructive. My friend planted four rows of okra, and on two of the rows, they added alfalfa fertilizer pellets. The rows that were fertilized did poorer than the two rows that had no amendments. This would have to be tested more to take it out of the fluke or hearsay labels, but my experience does seem to confirm that okra does not need high nutrient soil to thrive.

I hope you try some okra this next year. Do you want any of our fall seeds pods? Saving just one okra pod will yield around 50 seeds! We would love to share with you.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Clearing Land in the West

Our family took an extended vacation to the west this summer. We spent several days in Idaho and helped friends clear some forest land for their future garden plot.

The soil of the west seems very different than the soil where we currently live. Of course it was dry the time of year we visited. The soil in some areas of the west seems very fine, and perhaps of high clay content. It would readily make billowing dust with each foot step. In disturbed areas that were dry, it seemed there was 6 inches of fine dust powder.

 The forest we were clearing was almost entirely conifer. There was a mix of young and old trees in the span. Based on several days of work on it, I estimated that there were about 20 trees in a 20 x 20 foot grid. We were able to process around 4 trees per hour not counting the stump. These 4 hours included the felling of the tree with a chain saw, getting it dislodged from nearby trees and on the ground, de-limbing it, and rounding the trunk to specific lengths for stacking. The effort involved in working with the stump is much as in the East. The larger the stump, the more effort required to pull it out of the ground. With light to medium equipment, I would estimate that you could extract a stump and hour.

So to total this up: for a 20 x 20 plot, you would need to spend 5 hrs removing the trees, 1 hr for stacking the logs, 20 hrs to remove the stumps and smooth the ground. If you could keep this up, to clear a 90 x 90 garden plot would take around 10 weeks.

Our experience in the West matched what we found when we cleared land in the East. The more machine muscle you can put into the process, the faster it can be done. Now is the time to get available land cleared and ready for garden production, while you have the potential of getting large equipment in to assist in the hard tasks such as stump removal. It is possible that in some areas you could swap the equipment work for the trees / lumber removed from the land, lowering your costs.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Garden Record - 2012

Aug 6         Most everything from the garden is coming on for harvest now. Large tomatoes, okra, corn and beans. Picked about 1/2 of the first planting of corn, with a frozen yield of ___ qts. Picked 2 bu of string beans, with a frozen yield of ___ qts.

July 26         Counted up the potato early harvest: 560 lbs. This represents 6/10 of our harvest (the 15 bushels picked on the 17th.) We sorted all of the potatoes and only the firm, uncut and completely dry potatoes went into the seller for longer term storage. Our rows are 90' and 6 rows equals 540 feet, yielding just over a pound of potatoes per foot of planted row.

July 17         Harvested 15 bushels of potatoes from 6/10 of our plantings. (4/10 was planted later and is still maturing.)

July 4           We have almost completed install of our drip irrigation system. We have needed it with all the heat and dry weather! Our corn is knee high on the 4th of July.

June 1          Planted more lettuce in the shaded garden. Finished planting water mellon and cucumbers in the field.

May 20        Picked up 7 round bales of old alfalfa hay to use as mulch. With a week of no rain, and hot temps into the lower 90's, we need mulch to keep moisture in the soil. We planted 5 rows of lettuce in our forest garden plot.

May 17         We planted 12 of 15 fruit trees to complete our small orchard. We planted our beans plot, and are looking forward to see when some of them will poke through the ground. We have tilled a garden area under the forest canopy for salads and tender greens to thrive in the cooler temperatures and shade through the summer heat. We hope to plant in this area soon.

May 11         Started our orchard. Planted 3 of 15 trees. Two cherry's and one peach tree.

April 24         Bees have arrived and are installed in their two hives. First load of compost for this season: 6 yards, wet. It did not want to come out of the dump trailer, so lots of shoveling.

April 18         Planted 55 lbs of seed potatoes, 500 onion plants, 20 grape vines. Used our "middle buster" tractor implement for the first time, and like it. It makes a nice deep furrow, perfect for planting potatoes.

Chitting watermelon seeds just prior to planting.
April 17          We now have on hand 80 lbs of seed potatoes to plant. We have 500 onion plants ready to set out. We ate our first meal of morel mushrooms this year. News reports confirm our fears of weather related fruit crop damage. "Michigan Fruit Production Devastated by Bizarre Weather" is one current news title.

April 13          Planted the blueberries and strawberries today. Thanks to some friends who helped us plant!

April 10          We had snow falling today, but all melted on the ground. The wind is cold and has a bite to it! Tonight is predicted to be a hard frost, so we pray for the fruit farmers. We do not have any sensitive plants out right now, but all of the trees have leafed out, and fruit is in flower or has set. Today we pick up 300 strawberry plants, 30 blueberry plants and 30 grape vines. We trenched for the planting of our blueberry plants. Planting will be on Friday when it is predicted to be warmer.

March 29        We have beets and mach to transplant to the garden. These were started in 288 plug trays. The Lord answered, and a killing frost was averted in our immediate area. His will be done for the month of April. It may be that if the fruit trees pass the delicate flower stage without a freeze, that the setting fruit may be slightly more hardy to a light frost. Today we have been blessed by the gift of MANY raspberry plants from friends who cleaned up their patch.

March 26        Tonight, a killing frost is forecast. All tender plants need to be covered. How does a farmer cover acres of orchard? We may likely loose all flowering fruit in the next 24 hours. Pray frost damage will be minimized. We could easily loose all tree leaves this spring due to frost. Trees would be forced to reform leaves if the tender tissue is frosted. Not all trees have leafed out in our area, but April is a long month. There will likely be another or many more frosts before our normal last frost date in May arrives.

March 22         We continue to have unusually warm temps. The local fruit trees are in bloom, and this is too early, considering the likelihood of an April frost. Field seed beds are coming along nicely. We would like to get some leaf compost before we finish all seed beds. Plants started indoors: beets, lettuce, brocholli, swis chard, cabbage.

March 13-16   Transplanted lettuce and arrugula to formal 4 foot beds. Chitting peas. 1 lb of dry peas rendered over 1/2 gal volume of soaked seeds. This volume planted 2x 4 x 60 foot beds. Each bed had 2 fences of 2 rows each. (4 rows total per 4 foot bed.)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Honey Bees

Beekeeping is sweet. Twenty years ago, we had up to 10 hobby hives at one time. Back then we got started with bees by capturing free swarms to start our hives. We are planning to work with bees again, a first for our northern homestead. So we revive the hobby again. Double sweet.

The process of working with animals is fascinating. We enjoyed searching out the queen bee and watching the entire colony interactions. We even created an observation hive, a three frame hive in our dining room. It was glassed on both sides, and one frame thick, so you could easily watch the bees and the queen.

2012 Experience

Today (April 24) we installed our bees, and they are doing great. The weather was sunny and temps in the lower 60's. We got a call at 7 am that the truck was 30 mins out, and to meet them at our pickup location. We got there just before the box truck pulling a trailer eased in behind us. They had driven non-stop from Florida and the vehicle was packed full of bees. Our stop was the fourth for them, and they had two more to go.

We had ordered 2 nucs, and they were at the top of the stack. The rest were packages of bees in the load. We helped them unload the 50 packages for this dropoff location, and then gently headed home with 50,000 girls in the back seat.

Two boys watching the bees. How fun!
Normally when you install a package of bees, they are calm, as they do not have a "hive" to protect. They are just happy to get out of the box and into a normal hive. I found that installing a nuc is not the same. I spritzed them with sugar water, but in retrospect I think some smoke would have been better. The 5 frames of the nuc came out ok with a frame extractor, and I was careful to not roll and kill the bees as I extracted the frames and installed them into their new home. You set the frame in with some space to spare, and then slide it up close to the nearby frame. We were able to locate the queen bee in both hives, so that was nice to be able to see them! The nucs have a good brood pattern, and we saw several new workers hatching out as we inspected the frames.

When the nuc box was empty of frames there remained several hundred bees hanging inside. I gave the box a rap onto the hive box to knock them out. That just made them MAD. They came out with stingers barred. I was expecting very docile behavior, but these guard bees meant serious business. They did have an active hive to defend. Within moments we were all running and wishing we had tightened down the access points of our clothing. I had bees inside my bee hat and veil, inside my shirt pockets and inside my shirt. Our dog was a victim as well. She was standing nearby and soon was a bee target, and she ran with good reason as we all retreated. The wiser, we approached the second hive with more preparation and better clothing.

One of the nucs was bulging at the seams with bees, the other was mostly full, but not crowded. As soon as we set them up the workers were out and looking for pollen and nectar. There was no wasting time looking around at the "new house." They got to work! We could see streams of bees coming in with pollen sacs on their back legs loaded with bright yellow pollen. It is fun to see them have something local to enjoy on their first day in their new home.

July 4, 2012 update: The bees have been busy! We have added a hive body a little faster than 1 per month. We are now at 4 hive bodies on each hive, and the bees are bringing in loads of nectar. We have entire hive bodies full of capped honey. In the two upper bodies on each hive, we have placed 9 frames, and spaced them evenly with a 9-frame spacer tool. This allows the bees to draw the comb out a little longer per frame. This is beneficial for honey extraction, as there are 2 less sides to uncap per hive body for the same total volume of honey obtained.

July 26, 2012 update: The bees have filled all four large hive bodies. Rather than go up and make the stack 5 bodies tall, I chose to remove some of the super honey frames, and replace them with new frames of un-drawn foundation. We have pulled 24 full sized frames, capped on both sides of honey. It is a lot of honey, and we will be extracting this first batch in a few days. The honey flow seems to be continuing even through the heat and drought. Lots of bee activity each day!

July 30, 2012 update: We extracted the honey from the 24 full sized frames using our 9 frame radial extractor, and obtained 12 gallons of honey.

Colony members
  1. Queen - her primary duty is to lay eggs, around 1500 a day. She also secretes pheremones that keep the workers happy. Queen bees can live for 3-7 years. A queen will emerge from a queen cell in 16 days.
  2. Drones - the drones only duty is to fly out and mate with a queen. I believe queens need only mate once. Drones take 24 days to emerge from the drone cell.
  3. Workers - as the name implies, the workers do all of the work. They are non-fertile female bees and they have a very structured life from the moment they emerge from their cocoons. Throughout their life they will serve as nursery bees, construction bees, storage bees, guard bees and foraging bees. They live, on average, only 20-30 days from the time they emerge from cocoon. The time from egg to capping is 9 days, and the bee will emerge in a total of 21 days.

Hive construction

I have removed swarms from hollow logs and under houses. Bees can enter a hole and build a hive within a wall (making extraction difficult.) While bees can make their own home, it is more convenient for them to have the bee keeper construct a hive to their exact preferences. Bee hives, or boxes, have a specific size, and are slotted to hold the frames, suspended from a ledge at the top of the box. This gives the bees free access to the frames. The frames are "started" with a foundation sheet, imprinted with the honey comb pattern, and it jump starts the bees into comb production in an organized way.

Bees rear their young, and store honey and pollen in the wax comb, so it is a wonderful multipurpose structure.

I found it easier to purchase tools and hive parts and assemble the hives myself. If you have wood working tools, I don't think it would be difficult to construct the wood parts from scratch, but I would still suggest following the time proven patterns that bees prefer. If you wanted a home based business, producing hive parts could be a viable small income option.

The bee box is made of wood, painted on the outside and left bare on the inside. The bee box comes in three heights, the 12" box and the 6" super (or honey box) and I have seen reference to an even smaller height box. I used 12" boxes through out my bee system. A hive body full of honey (wood parts plus honey) can weigh 80 lbs. The 6" super would weigh in at around 40 lbs, and would be easier to lug around. My view was that if I can handle the weight, it would be half the work and parts, to use the full size or "deep" frames for both brood as well as honey production. The full sized frames yield 40-50 lbs of extracted honey per hive body or super. This yield equals 4-5 gallons of extracted honey per super.

For overwintering, a hive in the north where we live should have two deep hive boxes of honey stores, and they should be checked periodically on warm winter days to make sure they are not running low on honey. It is possible to feed your bees sugar water or sugar candy to keep them alive through the winter.

Protective clothing

You need to assume that you will be stung when working with bees. Generally they don't sting, especially if you do not rush and have a calm spirit when you work with your hives. Bees do crawl, and when they get under your clothing, it can create some excitement. As you move around, you may start to squeeze a bee, who likely was not in the best mood to begin with, resulting in a sting. Excluding the bees from clothing is a good plan. I found them rarely able to sting through denim. I would wear one pair of jeans, double socks, and rubber band the socks outside to the jean legs. Long sleeve flannel shirt, or double shirt. If it was cool I would wear a bulky sweat shirt. Their stingers are not all that long, so you just need to hold them away from your skin a bit. Bee gloves and a bee hat exclude them nicely.


Start up costs

It has been several years since I have worked with bees. I have kept my deep boxes, but other than that, I am basically starting over. When we moved prior, I sold all my frames and bees. My smoker was rusted through, and by bee hat and gloves destroyed by mice. I just placed my order for the needed frames and equipment, totaling around $500.00. I am planning on purchase of 2 nucleus hives at $100 each. If I was starting from scratch, I would guess it would total close to $1000. With that investment, you can start with two active hives, and grow with not much more cost up to 10 hives. In a good year, a hive could offer $400 value in honey.

Time required

Bees generally do very well just being left alone. There are some cases where it is good to know what is going on, but it does not take a lot of time to assess how the hive is doing. If the hive fills all the available space with honey and they need more space for the flow of nectar into the hive, they will prepare to swarm. If left to their own devices, they will swarm, and you will loose a strong productive hive. You would check for disease, pests, and queen cells signaling a coming swarm. A good management practice is to inspect your hives every two weeks. This should only take about 15 minutes per hive. For two hives, that could be an hour a month.

Extracting honey takes more time, but wow, you are richly paid for that time investment! With a few hives, you can definitely work with bees as a hobby. You don't have to be on a strict schedule, and they are busy working while you leave them to their own activities.

Bee Facts
  • It takes 12 bees their entire lives to produce one teaspoon of honey. (web)
  • A honey bee can fly up to 15 miles per hour. (web)
  • A bee will visit 50 - 100 flowers per foraging flight. (web)
  • Bees will visit two million flowers and fly 55,000 miles to produce one pound of honey. (web)
  • Bees generally forage within 2 miles of their hive, but could travel further if needed. (web)
  • A teaspoon of honey contains 22 calories (sugar = 18), and a table spoon of honey contains 64 calories (sugar = 46). (web)
  • The queen will lay 1,000 - 2,000 eggs per day with warm temperatures and honey flow. (web)
  • A strong hive will have 70,000 - 100,000 bees. (web)
  • There are around 3,300 individuals in a pound of bees. (web)
  • Bees will fly 150,000 miles, the equivalent of 6 times around the earth, to produce one pound of beeswax. (web)


Varroa mites to a bee are like fleas on a dog. Only the mites do more damage to the overall health of a hive if they get out of control. They are flat, saucer shaped red colored insects that bite under the honey bee scales. Watching the bees it is obvious that the bee is bothered by the mites presence. The bees are sometimes able to flick the mites off, and they fall to the bottom of the hive. There are screens that you can place in the bottom of the hive that will allow the mites to fall through to a sticky pad, trapping them from climbing back up to find a new bee victim, but the screen keeps the bees away from the sticky pad. Treat with 1 cup of powdered sugar all over the tops of the frames (1 cup per deep box). Perform this treatment exactly once a week for three weeks. The bees become covered with this dusty sugar, and so in an effort to clean themselves up, they also clean off the mites.

To address the tracheal mite naturally use a grease patty in the hive. Mix 2 parts powdered sugar with one part Crisco vegetable shortening. You can add a bit of honey-b-healthy or lemon grass oil extract. Compact this mixture between two sheets of wax paper to the size of a hamburger patty and lay on the top bar of each deep brood body. The grease patty cuts the tracheal mite population by disrupting the mite life cycle. It makes it more difficult to for mites to pass from older bees to younger bees either physically or by masking the scent of younger bees. It is ok to leave grease patties in the hive year round.

I once found a mouse carcass in the bottom of a hive. It appeared stung to death, and was encased in the bees propolus glue. Pests best not mess with a strong hive.

Consider working with bees. You will find is a rewarding study, and oh so sweet!


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Blueberry Pie

Our blueberry plants are doing well. All have survived so far. I can only hope for the future to include a lot of blueberries! We picked / purchased 150 lbs this year. We froze most of them, and canned some as well. Our canning method was unique to us, being recommended by a friend. We took sterile jars, and dry packed them with fresh, cleaned blueberries. We pressed them down as much as we could to completely fill the jar, yet without smashing them. Then place the jars into the oven, and bake at 250 for 30 mins. The berries cook down inside the jars, and the end result is about 1/2 full of canned berries. The jars seal, and stay canned. It is a simple way to preserve blueberries. Sunshine says the skins of the berries are slightly more tough with this method, but the ease of processing makes the method a winner.

With fresh blueberries, I suggest you make a blueberry pie. I just did, and mmmm, good! I got this recipe from Sunshine's sister, so credits to her and thanks for the great recipes. I love crusts, and now that I have made a few pies, I know why. They are not all that healthful ;)


mix well dry ingredients:
  • 3 1/2 C white flour
  • 1 1/2 t salt
mix well wet ingredients:
  • 1 C oil
  • 1/2 C cold water
Mix dry and wet ingredients together. Stir into dough quickly, but don't stir too much as that would make the crust tough. You want a consistent texture to the dough. Separate out 1/2 for the bottom crust, and the other half will be for the top crust. Roll out on a dough sheet, and set the pie pan on the dough, and flip it over. Remove the dough sheet. Roughly trim the excess off the pan, and settle the dough in place. Roll out the top in preparation for placement over the filling.


6 C fresh washed blueberries
4 T corn starch
3/4 C sugar
1/8 t salt
1 T lemon juice

Place the filling in the pie pan, and place the top crust on the pie. Crimp the edges to join the top and bottom crust. Poke some decorative holes (fork pricks) into the top crust to allow steam to escape. Fashion some strips of aluminum foil to wrap around the crinkled edges of the pie (to keep them from getting over cooked.)

Bake at 400 for 45 mins. Remove the edge foil, and finish baking for 15 more minutes.

If you need any help eating the pie, just invite us over ;) Happy eating.

P.S. Apple Pie Filling:

For this fall when apples come on (we hope there are some apples that made it through the spring frosts), we suggest apple pie! Use the same crust and method. The filling directions are below. I tried it with canned chunky apples, and it was hailed a success:

5-7 large apples, or 1 1/2 Q canned

3/4 C sugar
3 T white flour, or 3 T starch
1/8 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg (optional)

Place cut apples in the pie pan, mix ingredients over apples, and top with 1 T lemon juice.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Fruit Tree Pests

I have been told that one of the hardest areas in farming organically is fruit trees. Pests love fruit trees, and especially the developing and mature fruit. Insects and animals can pose serious challenges. Let's explore these, and suggested treatments.


A relative has in the past had extensive damage from several insects in his orchard. He has developed some creative solutions. He uses an electric zapper with two types of light source (florescent and incandescent.) Below the zapper he places a small wading pool of water, and wets the water with a detergent. In his experience, many moths and insects will be attracted and stunned, but not be killed. When stunned, the insect will fall to the ground, and with the wading pool below the moth kill is dramatically increased. Helpful insects are not strongly attracted to the zapper, while moths are strongly attracted. Moth pupae are damaging to many crops on the homestead. One person told me they could not think of a beneficial moth-- all are destructive to something. They love to fly at night, and if you have electricity, you can zap / drown a lot of them.

Another promising control measure is a clay product called Surround. It coats the tree and fruit in such a way as to confuse insects and camouflage the fruit which limits infestations. This product can be washed off with rain, and has to be applied weekly.

Peach Tree Borer

Traps can indicate the presence of adult moths, and once present, you will soon have eggs on the lower part of your peach trees. The eggs hatch in 7 days, and the larvae descend to ground level and burrow into the bark. Control measures applied to the tree need to be precisely timed to catch the eggs or larva before penetration below the bark.

Some farmers are convinced that the bug zapper has eliminated the peach tree borer damage. This moth is active in the day, but I have read reports that they mate at night, and therefore would be susceptible to the bug zapper.

Plum Curculio

This small snout beetle, 1/4 inch long, dark brown in color with patches of white or gray, lays its eggs on developing fruit, and the larva will burrow in and often destroy the fruit. Home gardeners can help reduce future problems from the Curculio by picking up the damaged apples as they fall off the tree and destroying them before the adults emerge. In apples, the larvae will only complete development in fruit drops.


Birds can quickly ruin a crop of mature fruit. I have a friend who watched a bird go from peach to peach throughout an entire tree taking one gouging bite from each nearly mature peach. The bird was doing great damage, and not eating hardly any of the fruit to become satiated. In a short time, such damage will rot and spoil the entire peach. Netting the entire tree is suggested if you have this type of damage. It is almost impossible to keep the birds out otherwise. Select a netting size that will not entangle the birds that land on the netting.

Strings draped through the tree foliage has been reported to discourage crows from staying in the tree.

I have seen electric wire around the trunks of fruit trees to discourage squirrels and similar from climbing the trunk to destroy fruit.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Watering Systems

This year (2012) has been hot across much of the USA, and much less precipitation in our area than normal. Where we have in the past been able to rely on our 3200 gal roof catchment cistern, it has been of no help this year. In the past month we have had around .25 inch of rain, which just enough to send a brief trickle into the cistern. We have had to use well water to keep the garden going this summer.

Last year we used 3/4 inch PVC pipe with regularly spaced small holes drilled, per the Mittleiter method. Our garden land has a slope to the row, and we found that we did not have enough water pressure to pressurize the PVC system, so the water just ran downhill, watering the lower end of the row too much, and no water at all at the top end of the row. This turned out to be a complete failure of time, material and effort.

This year, we have installed the commercially common T-Tape drip system, and we love it! The T-Tape system comes to pressure before the water is released from the in-line emitters, and we are finding consistent watering along a drip line with descending slope down the row. The system is simpler to construct and deploy than our PVC pipe system of yester year. These components are used by commercial farmers across the USA, and the system works well.

The watering is done with drip rather than a spray, so less water is lost through evaporation in the air. Some farmers may bury the drip lines and water under the soil.


Our feed line is a garden hose. There is slip connectors that join the main line tubing with the hose connection.  From the main line, you punch a small hole, and insert a T-Tape fitting that allows you to connect the T-Tape to the main line. At the end of the main line, you insert a plug. At the ends of the T-Tape lines, we tie the tape into a knot.

Our main hose to the garden has a flow rate of 5.5 gallons per minute. With this flow, we are able to pressurize and water up to 15 runs of T-Tape at a length of 90' each. This equals a row run of 1,350 feet. When we turn a zone on, it will take a few minutes to fill the main line and tape with water, and then build to pressure. All lines start to drip at the same time when there is pressure in the zone.

The links below go to the online store were we purchased our components.

Main line. We use 3/4 inch mainline
T-Tape: 8 mil, 8 inch on center
     3/4 inch connectors, including hose connectors
     3/4 inch barbed plugs
     Main line to T-Tape fittings
Tools: Punch for a .400 barb
Hold downs

We are experimenting with a few additional components: an in-line particulate filter, a fertilizer injector and tree drip line circles.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Recipe: Squash Patties

In the summer, we joke that friends at church start locking their car so their back seat is not filled with squash. Once squash comes on for harvest, it comes on all at once!

We get a lot of squash mid summer. We have found the perfect way to preserve squash and use it throughout the year. We make squash patties. This is like a meat substitute patty for sandwiches. We have also had the patties stacked on edge covered by a sauce as an entree.

You can make up these patties in the summer, and freeze them. We have done this with success, but have found that over time the patties can become freezer dried, and the texture is not as good as fresh. What we now do is shred the squash, and freeze the shreds in freezer bags. Then we make up the patties fresh as needed.

Zucchini Patties Recipe:
  • 9 cups grated squash (zucchini, yellow or zucchino Rampicante)
  • 4-6 cups quick oats
  • 10 tsp McKays Chicken style seasoning
  • 2-3 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup Nutritional Yeast
  • 4 Onions, chopped
  • 2 cups cashews 
  • 1-3 cups bread crumbs or croutons
Mix ingredients together. Bake on skillet on Medium High heat and brown lightly on each side.
1/3 cup batter = small patty
1/2 cup batter = Large patty

May chop onions, bread crumbs and nuts in food processor or blender. Patties freeze well.


Substitute for Cashews and Bread crumbs (makes a Gluten Free recipe)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cup Rice Flour (Blend dry uncooked Brown Rice until fine)
  • 1/2 cup Flax Seeds (Blend dry to flour consistency)

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Garlic was the first thing we planted for this season. You plant garlic in the fall for a mid summer harvest the following year. Our garlic sprouted early and has been growing strong. We selected stiff neck garlic for our planting, and it does have a wonderful taste!

Some say no vegetable is easier to grow or harvest.


Plant the garlic in the fall, in rows spaced 18 inches apart, and set the cloves into the row about 8 inches apart. Cover with one inch of soil and mulch for winter. See our 2013 planting garlic article.

Garlic Scapes

Early June, our garlic started producing seed scapes. These start off straight, and then curl into loops as in the following image. We remove these when they curl, and use them fresh in garlic pesto and other recipes. They are really good, and just as powerful as clove garlic. It is a great to have fresh garlic even before the cloves are ready to harvest.

Note: Garlic scapes are fantastic baked with a little oil and salt. We ate them like finder food. Mmmm good.


When the garlic leaves lower (and outer layer covering the bulb) are dead and dry, and the rest of the plant appears dry, the garlic is ready to harvest. Gently remove the bulbs from the ground. You do not want to smash or damage the integrity of the bulb and enclosed cloves. Let the entire plant dry out of the sun for several days. The stem and leaves should become completely brown and dry. The roots under the bulb should be completely dry as well.

At this point, you can cut off the stem leaving a few inches above the bulb. Keep the bulb intact till you plan to use the garlic cloves. Select the largest bulbs / cloves for your seed cloves. These will be planted in the same fall for next years harvest.


Monday, May 21, 2012


Lettuce plants grow in cool weather, and with a little protection may overwinter. Most dark greens are good sources of Vitamin C and other nutrients. The rule of thumb is, usually, the darker the greens, the more nutritious the leaf.

For a market garden, you will get more income for leaf and lettuce crops per square foot of garden space.


Early spring is a great time to plant your lettuce seeds. Lettuce likes the cooler temps, generally 40 to 60 degrees F. In warmer climates, you can likely grow lettuce until it reaches about 80 degrees F. If you plant seeds in the spring, you should try to get started at least a month before the hot weather hits your area. You can also plant in the late summer for a fall harvest.

Something new that we are trying this year is the planting of lettuce in a shaded garden under a part of our forest canopy. The trees are large, and tree trunks are spread far apart. This area that is significantly cooler than our open field gardens in the heat of the day. A friend has reported good success with this type of forest planting. We will see how it goes for us this year! (UPDATE, this did not work for us in 2012. I think you have to get the plants started in the early spring. There just was not enough light in this plot to get the lettuce going.)

We make a shallow furrow, and sprinkle in the seeds. Then we cover with the slightest dusting of potting soil to help hold moisture. Some seeds need light to germinate, so don't bury those kind of seeds.

You should see seedlings sprouting in 7 to 10 days. When your lettuce is about 1 to 2 inches high, you should thin the plants a bit so that there is about eight inches of space between each other. If you want to have lettuce growing throughout the season, you can plant different types every few weeks (about 10 to 14 days apart). This is called successive planting. (web)

Planting Record 2012

This late winter, we noticed some small lettuce volunteer plants coming up from the Black Seed Simpson leaf lettuce patch. Last year we allowed the patch to go to seed, and new plants were growing even though there was snow outside. When we could work the soil, we transplanted these into a lettuce bed, and they filled the bed of 4' by 60'. We have been eating this lettuce all spring, and it is just now starting to rise up getting ready to bolt. For the past week or so, we have noticed this lettuce becoming a bit bitter as our temperatures have been rising.

From this experience, we can see that lettuce can really grow early in the season!

On May 21 we planted 5 rows in the woods consisting of:
  1. Lettuce Sangria MTO
  2. Lettuce Beleah Rose
  3. Lettuce Cimmaron
  4. Romaine Lettuce Red Amish Deer Tongue
  5. Romaine Lettuce Parris Island

As of June 10, we can conclude that we waited too long to plant in the woods, or that our woods are too dark. There are some small weeds growing, but the lettuce planted does not seem to be doing well.


Lettuce can be attacked by a variety of insects and animals. I have seen small lettuce plants in a green house covered by aphids. Insecticidal soap can be effective deterrent for aphids.

Rabbits and deer could also be attracted to your offering of salad. Fencing is suggested if animal pressure is high.


We suggest you harvest in the early part of the day. I think lettuce plants are crisper and a bit sweeter in the early morning as compared to afternoon harvests. Cool lettuce quickly and store them in a cool location. The crop should be cleaned, and then dried to prevent spoilage.

  • Pests of Lettuce (web)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Creating an Orchard

Fruit is wonderful, flavorful, and healthful! If you get fruit varieties suited to your climate, you will have a much easier return on the investment of time as compared with vegetables. Fruit trees do not have to be coaxed to life each year.

Just as in my article: Creating a Garden, you have to prepare the ground of your orchard before you plant. Take special care to add mineral nutrients to make your soil a perfect location for a tree to thrive. In addition to these suggestions, I want to provide some planting guidelines and spacing suggestions for your orchard.

Orchard considerations
  • Some trees need partners to pollinate well. Some trees are male and others female, and these surely need pairs to be successful.
  • There are different tree root stocks which will help control the size of the tree. You need to plan your orchard spacing with this information in mind.
  • How you plan to cultivate weeds, irrigate and harvest your fruit may influence your inter-tree spacing within the row, and the space between the rows. Orchards take a lot of ground, so plan out the grid and prepare the holes before you purchase trees.
  • If you are wanting to go organic, or at least avoid toxic chemicals as much as possible, consider purchasing disease resistant trees. (See this reference also.)
  • Orchards need attention at specific times of the year. An orchard is not something you plant and forget till harvest. There is something to do each month and some months, there are a lot of things to do. You need to be able to devote time to the trees for watering, training, insect control and pruning.

  • You may want to propagate free stock. Any tree cultivar less than 17 years in production may be under trademark, and should not be propagated without permission and payment of royalty.
  • Starting fruit trees is not hard. Root stocks are selected for their vigorous growth. The grafted stock, or scion is also easy to grow. With one root and one scion tree source, you could have hundreds of grafted trees in a period of a few years.
  • Some trees and bush varieties grow directly on their own root stocks, and are easy to self propagate and share with others.
  • Vines, berries, and all of the trees are readily propagated. Find examples to take terminal clippings from. The normal pruning process will yield a large quantity of new starts if wanted.

Apple tree just after planting.

I have enjoyed walking through surrounding orchards, and observing the pruning methods, and orchard layout. The spacing would depend on the type of root stock which determines the size of the adult tree: dwarf, semi-dwarf or regular.

Fruit trees need a fair amount of space. For the small orchard like ours, I would assume you will be looking for semi-dwarf root stock varieties (where possible.)  I do not suggest you work with dwarf stock unless you really have no room for any trees. Dwarf root stock stunts the tree so badly, that you have tree health issues ongoing. We chose to lay our orchard out on a 15 foot grid. This will be just right for the semi-dwarf trees, and a bit small for the regular sized cherry trees. We decided to place the cherry's on the north side of the orchard plot so as they grow they will not shade the other trees too much. Some full sized apple trees could use a diameter of 25 feet, so know your root stock, and plan your spacing accordingly.

Orchard Planting 2012

When looking to plant our orchard, we decided to focus on trees that were hardy and disease resistant. We wanted trees that would offer a low chemical spray requirement. Our selections are as follows:
  • Pear: Moonglow, Starking Delicious
  • Apple: Freedom, Crimson Crisp, Galarina, Goldrush x2, Gala-like Resista
  • Peach: SunHaven, Contender, Cresthaven, Glowhaven, Stellar Glowingstar, Stellar Blazingstar, Stellar Autumstar
  • Plum: Sugar/German, Mount Royal
  • Cherry: White Gold Sweet, Black Gold, Stella

Orchard Update 2016

The Apple trees and peach trees had their first real year last season. This year the peaches have come on thick, and it has taken days to thin out the thousands of extra peaches. The peach tree borers have been hard on the peaches. Several trees are affected, and it seems also that some of the early limb angles were not enough to prevent bark being impacted in the growing tree bark, making for what looks like very weak crotches. I will have to support these, and watch this closer with any future trees planted.

In May 2016, I planted three more threes on the west end of the rows. This will make the three rows from North to South:

1) Royalton Sweet Cherry, Sugar/German Plum, Mount Royal Plum, White Gold Sweet Cherry, Chinese Apricot, (dying) Stellar Autumstar
2) SunHaven Peach, Contender, Cresthaven, Glowhaven, Stellar Glowingstar, Stellar Blazingstar
3) Liberty Apple, Crimson Crisp, Galarina, Goldrush x2, Gala-like Resista

Orchard Update 2018

The tree layout for 2018 is by row:
  • 1: Pear: Moonglow, Moonglow
  • 2: Pear: Starking Delicious, Starking Delicious
  • 3: Apple: Freedom, Crimson Crisp, Galarina, Goldrush x2, Gala-like Resista (not doing well)
  • 4: Peach: SunHaven, Contender, Cresthaven, Glowhaven, Cresthaven, Cresthaven
  • 5: Royalton Sweet Cherry, Sugar/German Plum, Mount Royal Plum, White Gold Sweet Cherry, Black Gold Cherry (new), Stella Cherry
In the perspective of time, I would not plant any apple trees again (in my area). The diseases and pests make organic apples not worth eating (in my opinion), and conventional apples are readily available in our area.

Tree planting principles
  1. For maximum production, trees need deep soil ~ 3 feet deep.
  2. Many areas have a clay or hardpan under the surface, and this needs to be broken up and penetrated so the roots can develop and allow for proper drainage. Prevent a hard layer or clay glaze around the hole you dig. You want the roots to penetrate out of the hole into the ground beyond.
  3. When preparing the planting hole, care should be taken to not include so much mulch that the tree settles and the crown sinks below the surface of the soil line. The tree needs to be planted at the same depth as it was grown at.
  4. Do not let the roots dry out in the planting process. If bare root trees can not be immediately planted, the roots should be protected from drying out, perhaps even temporarily being planted.
  5. Add to the hole: mulch (leaf mould), top soil and the soil from the hole. Add some kelp powder or a small amount of sea salt for micro-nutrients. Do not fertilize a new tree.
  6. Deep in the hole, place a plastic pot upside down, a section of drainage tubing, or some object which can form an air / water cavity. This is not as needed in well drained soils such as sand.
  7. Add some rocks deep into the hole, but not a solid rock layer.
  8. Mound up the soil contents in the center of the hole, preparing a base for the tree roots to rest on.
  9. In windy and exposed areas, consider placing a large rock on top of the mound, around which with tree roots could rest and grow. The rock would serve as an anchor for the tree.
  10. Plant the tree to original soil depth, filling in around it with the soil mixture already prepared.
  11. Plant the graft union notch to the north east to help prevent sunburn on the graft.
  12. The soil line around the tree should be 1-2 inches above the surrounding soil. This is a slight mound around the tree.
  13. Water the tree with 5 gallons of water after planting to help remove excess air from the roots, and provide moisture.
  14. If the soil is heavy loam or clay, care should be taken to not drown the roots with too much water. Mixing soils as mentioned should remove this danger because of the mixture of the top soil and compost into the planting mix.
  15. Water the tree regularly (2 times a week may be a minimum in hot / dry weather.) The tree must be nursed to life and its roots will not be able to stand much stress. Make a circular watering basin around the tree at the perimeter of the roots and beyond to water the planting area. Do not have the water pool around the trunk.
  16. Mulch the tree 3 feet around the trunk to prevent competing weeds and hold moisture. The mulch can be wood chips or other mulch material, around 6 inches in depth. Do not mulch right up to the trunk as this could encourage crown rot and harbor pests that could damage the tree.

Initial Pruning and Training

Mail order trees may be initially pruned for you. If you buy local, the initial pruning will not be done, and you must prune the trees right after planting, so the branches and leaves are cut back to the level the disturbed roots can support. Bare root trees must be pruned to survive. How you prune depends on the type of tree. You want to prune to select the apical bud that will grow outward from the tree, rather than inward to the center.

On almost all fruit, it is important to train for wide crotch angles of at least 45 degrees. This measurement is from the trunk to the branch angle. A narrow crotch angle is weaker and more prone to break under the fruit crop load. Good healthy trees have crotch angles of 45 to 90 degrees.