Saturday, August 13, 2016

Garden update

Now that very early fall is upon us -- yes, in north Idaho we start noticing the effects of autumn in early August -- I thought it was time for a garden update.

As a brief recap for new readers, we don't garden in the ground; we garden in tires, mostly tractor tires. Long story short: heavy clay soil and too many weeds resulted in a nine-year battle for a successful garden. When we paved the garden space with tarps and gravel and installed huge honkin' tires filled with a lovely mixture of topsoil/ compost/sand, we've enjoyed a successful garden ever since.

First, corn. I got it planted late this year -- I planted it in two batches, June 15 and June 21 -- but I have absolutely confidence in this particular variety of corn.

Corn has been problematic for us from the start because of our short growing season and high winds. Tall corn simply topples over, and with few exceptions all corn varieties take too long to produce ears before the first frost hit.

So when I came across a short-season heirloom sweet corn at Victory Seeds called Yukon Chief, I was intrigued. Developed at the University of Alaska in 1958, it produces ears only 55 days after germination. This is our third year growing it, and I'll never grow anything else. It's a dwarf variety so the plants seldom get over three feet tall, and the ears are fairly small (topping out at about five inches), but it's sweet and wonderful and grows beautifully in our area.

I fully expect ripe ears by the end of August or early September.

This is the garlic. It's ready to harvest, and I'll probably pull it today or tomorrow.

I have sixteen tomato plants in smaller tires.

Nothing ripe yet, but lots of large green potential.

What Don doesn't eat fresh (he loves fresh tomatoes!), I'll strain and freeze, then make sauce and can it during the winter.

The carrots I let overwinter to form seeds are enormous, often tipping over from their sheer weight.

I've never let carrots go to seed before, and it's been fun to watch. The heads are thiiiiis close to being mature. One thing's for sure, the sheer volume of seed that comes from even one single carrot is enormous.

The strawberries are past their production, of course, and to be honest it's a relief.

Why? Because this year we harvested -- are you ready for this? -- a staggering 160 pounds of strawberries.

It was an enormous challenge to pick them all. Toward the end, we were practically running a you-pick for all the neighbors, inviting them to take what they wanted, the only requirement that I be allowed to weigh the fruit (for my seasonal tally) before they took it home.

Over the course of one month, we got 160 lbs. exactly (not counting what we snacked on as we picked). Everything we kept is washed and hulled and bagged up in the freezer, ready for strawberry desserts all winter long.

Meanwhile the experimental pineberries I planted last spring -- and subsequently nearly killed off when I forgot to water them during an early heat wave -- have branched out from the remaining plants and propagated across the tires. No fruit this year, but I'm encouraging them to send out every runner they can to populate the beds.

I grow several types of herbs. Here's sage:




(By the way the nice thing about tire gardening is I can grow stuff that spreads by roots, like mint and horseradish, without fearing it will take over the whole garden.)

Rosemary. Several of the herbs overwinter very well -- oregano, sage, horseradish, mint, thyme -- but I haven't had any luck with rosemary until this year. Sorta. You can't see it very well, but there's a small center plant that overwintered for the first time. The rest are store-bought. My mother used to grow enormous bushes of rosemary that got bigger and bigger every year, but what's possible in California isn't always possible in north Idaho.

Basil. I tucked basil in a couple of different beds, wherever there was room. This is growing with the spearmint:

And this is growing among some lettuce going to seed.

By the way, in this same bed is a heliotrope plant. I've always heard about the divine smell of heliotrope, and when I saw some plants on sale a couple months ago, I picked one up on impulse. Yep, it smells divine. A bit too strong for an indoor plant, but charming outdoors.

The raspberries are past their production, of course, but we picked and froze several gallons of berries.

The new blueberry bushes I planted last year are still in their growth phase. I got maybe a dozen berries from them (very sweet!), but they're healthy and strong and they'll start coming into their own in the next few years.

The mature blueberries gave me 18.5 lbs. of fruit this year, a nice haul.

But -- frustratingly -- I cannot control the weeds around these plants. Some readers might recall how I transplanted these long-suffering bushes from a very weedy spot five years ago, but unfortunately I also transplanted some very stubborn grasses that are spreading vegetatively.

Last year I dug up one of the bushes in winter and tried without success to tease out the blueberry's roots from the grasses. It was an utter failure, and all I did was kill the blueberry. After the newer bushes reach maturity, we'll probably take out this entire bed (saving what blueberry plants we can), tarp and gravel the ground, install a new bed, and replant. But that's several years in the future.

Red bell peppers. I bought these as seedlings. I have others I started in the house and they're also thriving, but I planted them late so I don't know if they'll produce.

However the store-bought seedlings have lots of peppers. These should start turning red shortly.

I won't be harvesting broccoli or Brussels sprouts, unfortunately.

That's because the broccoli has flea beetles.

Flea beetles are tiny jumping beetles that can turn a healthy plant into a lacy skeleton of its former self.

I'm going to try dusting the leaves with diatomaceous earth to see if it helps.

The Brussels sprouts, unfortunately, have aphids. I made some foul-smelling spray (water, soap, and chopped up onions, garlic, and hot peppers) to no avail; they're tucked into every nook and cranny.

I have lots and lots of lady bugs, too, but not enough to save the Brussels sprouts. Oh well, keep trying, little guys.

Aphids aren't the only thing tucked among the leaves. I saw this clever little fellow.

These are cayenne peppers. I have them planted in multiple beds.

A funny thing about the cayennes: last year I started an entire tray, 50 plants, in the house, but when I transplanted them, only 15 survived. We got a nice little harvest of peppers, but Younger Daughter goes through them pretty regularly. So this year I started 75 plants indoors in February. I transplanted about 60 of them and gave extras to neighbors. And what do you know? I didn't lose a single plant, so we're about to be buried in cayennes.

Onions. I'm growing two types. The first is just regular yellow onions grown from store-bought sets. These will be the first we'll eat, because they don't last long after harvesting (we don't have a root cellar). I have two beds of these onions.

This is the second bed. Notice the big honkin' volunteer potato plant in the middle of it. I have so many volunteer potatoes growing in so many different beds that I didn't bother planting any new potatoes.

The other type of onion I'm growing are potato onions (sometimes called multiplier onions). I had never heard of this variety before a reader brought them to my attention and kindly send me about a pound to plant. They're smaller than regular onions, but they store beautifully and have a nice bite. They're planted in the fall, like garlic, and right now they're about ready to harvest.

I'm tickled to death with these because before this, I couldn't propagate my own onions. Now, like the garlic, we can grow these ad infinitum. However since they're not as large as regular onions, we'll grow both types because larger onions are nice as slicers for sandwiches.

One of the beds of volunteer potatoes.

The second planting of peas are juuuust starting to emerge.

The grapes we planted earlier are doing well and starting to climb the trellis. No fruit this year, of course, but hopefully next year.

On a whim I also planted a single morning glory amidst the grapes, and it quickly became apparent why morning glories are considered a weed among crops -- they spread and twine onto everything, including the grapes.

I'll have to pull out the morning glory soon lest it strangle the grapes.

So how's our new baby orchard doing, you may ask? In a word, beautiful. Absolutely flippin' beautiful.

For those following our gardening journey, you might recall when we planted our baby orchard last May -- in gigantic tractor tires. This was entirely experimental and I do not know of anyone, anywhere, who has ever planted fruit trees in tires. But we've learned the hard way what happens when we plant directly in the ground.

Within each tire, at the base of all the trees, we planted wildflowers to help feed the bees. The flowers are blooming beautifully.

The trees are thriving so far. We planted two plums, and four each of peaches and apples. Here's one of the plums:

Of course we pinched off any fruit from these trees, especially for this first year, but we missed a plum and it's developing nicely.

Here's one of the apples:

I'm especially hopeful for the peaches, since peaches are, hands down, my all-time favorite fruit.

On each tire, I painted the type of tree it is, so I wouldn't forget or get them mixed up.

Meanwhile our mature pear tree -- one of two surviving pears from our original orchard attempt many years ago -- is bearing prolifically.

That's it for the garden tour. Ya'll come back now, hear?


  1. Love to live vicariously thru your gardening. Didn't get any plants in this spring due to illness, (resolved thankfully) and my deck pots got savaged by a skunk last week. Luckily my tomatoes grow upside down from hanging baskets and I still have my windowbox herb garden. Love your writing. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Teri, If you put Miracle Grow in your deck pots you will attract skunks as it has fish oil in it. The skunks think you put a fish in the pot so they go after it. --ken

  2. I am sorry to say that your "oregano" is actually Marjoram. Oregano has white flowers and it's leaf has quite a bite. It took my late wife years to find out the real herb( she had Italian Aunts), and I am still trying to remove the Marjoram.

    1. Well, I'll be darned. I had no idea. Guess I'll start looking for oregano seeds!

      - Patrice

    2. I have three varieties of Oregano. One has the purple flowers just as yours does.
      I've never been able to get Marjoram to survive the winter in Idaho.
      Neem oil definitely kills flea beetles. I had to use it in Wyoming when Weed and Pest disbursed the pests in my neighbors pasture as a "natural" way of dealing with leafy spurge. They left the spurge and came into my garden but a quick spray killed them off.

  3. That is a beautiful garden. And on the whole very successful. Well done Patrice. Did you put the tires on top of the tarps, or tarp around the tires ? Next year I will try your good idea of herbs in tires to contain them as I don't grow herbs because of that spreading issue. Your blog is always a good part of my day.--ken

    1. Always -- always -- put the tire on top of the tarps. Some of our earlier tires have the tarps cut and fitted around the tires, and we're forever getting weeds growing at the bases. We didn't realize it until later, but the gravel is essential, not just because it anchors the tarps, but because it offers drainage for the tires.

      - Patrice

  4. I have had success in killing aphids with a mixture of water and liquid soap (I think Dawn). The aphids just die on the spot as they have no protective hard skeleton and the soap clogs up the holes through which they breathe. This may work!

  5. A note on the Pineberries. I had bought and planted a few plants a few years ago. Pulled them up after deciding I didn't like the fruit. I swear I pulled them up. There were certainly no Pineberries in the patch last year......clearly though I didn't get all the roots. This year there were several plants of Pineberries mixed into the regular strawberry patch! They tasted much nicer this time around, maybe they just needed to mature more!

    The hot peppers. Donno how you usually store them, but I found that hot peppers dehydrate quite nicely (though thats not a dehydrator load you want to run in the house!), and then can be ground to create a course powder for seasoning. I do this for my husband with the "left over" hot peppers from the garden and he loves it.

  6. A fine looking and productive garden, folks. Mine is slowing winding down. I sell root crops, carrots, Walla Walla onions and beets. (Sold over 200 lbs. beets) if the weather ever cools will dig spuds. Tomatoes are just getting a good start producing. Peaches & pears have been canned. Corn is all in the freezer. When you take time, to stand back and look, a person can be so Thankful.
    Best to all at your farm. Stay cool.

  7. A truly impressive amount of produce. The weed suppression is what I envy the most. I tried black ag cloth this year and it was only a minor speed bump for the weeds.

  8. So impressive. I see a homestead gardening ebook in your future, with all of these wonderful photos, soil prep how-to's, watering guide, scads of bug shots...???

  9. Your garden is amazing! I had success overwintering rosemary when I planted it in a corner with one side being the house foundation and the other side being the cement steps leading up to the house. The plant grew beautifully even through some very cold winters. Cheers, SJ in Vancouver BC

  10. Love your garden!
    I've never had any luck growing rosemary from seed. We live in SE IN. We don't care for the taste, but we love the smell! Last year, I got my store-bought rosemary plant to survive in the house (after spending the summer outside) long enough to flower. Then, one of the children tripped and sat on the plant. :-/ End of rosemary.
    As for the cayennes... String 'em up! ;-) My husband decided that he wanted to grow cayenne peppers a few years ago. So, I had to come up with a way to preserve them. This video from "Off Grid with Doug and Stacy" shows the same method I used. The peppers are still hanging in my kitchen. They're very decorative and, if I ever run out of the crushed pepper flakes I purchased years ago, I have some more hanging on the cabinet door. :-)
    Your fruit trees are so cute! I want to have some dwarf fruit trees, some day. :-)
    Thanks for the trip through your garden!

  11. I never had anything attract bees like flowering oregano! Stand back..they love it!!
    I wonder if genetic dwarf fruit trees could live in truck tires? Not tractor tires...too big for our yard. I cold maybe find larger truck tires? My yard is small as is the family, so the smaller trees usually work. Tires may be too short but the tree would have more soil area round than a big pot. ?? Now I wonder...
    With the potato onions do you keep some of them then replant like sets next fall?? I am not clear on how to reuse them... Are they also called bunching onions or is that something different?
    Thanks for all the pictures and explanations. Loved it!! Sarah

    1. I think the truck tires would be too shallow. However you might try digging down and amending your soil, then mounding up good soil into a pile and planting a tree in the pile. You can even "box" in the base of the pile with brick or cinderblocks. Planting trees in mounds is well known.

      Yes, the potato onions are planted in the fall like garlic. You just separate the onions, then plant one of the onion "cloves" like you would garlic. These are not the same as bunching onions.

      - Patrice

  12. Not tires, necessarily, but I have a Red Damsom Plum, 3 different varieties of elderberry, a North American Cranberry Bush, and a Brown Turkey Fig planted in old cattle mineral tubs (the tall kind, that held 200 lb of mineral or protein block or something). They've been in those containers now for 3 years after being transplanted as 6 ft. seedlings (except the elderberries...they were only about a foot tall) and they're doing wonderfully. I had a plum harvest this year (19 fruits!) and so many elderberries I won't use them all, and a handful of figs. Each year I top off the soil in the tubs with composted manure from our chickens. Not sure how long they will do well in the containers, but for now it's working out...your tires have much more soil volume, I'm betting your trees will do well.

  13. your garden looks fabulous! once again i'm super jealous but i wouldn't even know how to start my own garden, nor do i have any space that gets any sun without my dog or my daughter getting into it!

    However im still trying to do canning when i GET THE STUFF BOUGHT, UNFORTUNATELY! I am buying some elbertas peaches & gala apples hopefully coming in next month sometime. Also will probably buy a bag of juicing carrots to can later in the fall.

    Just curious how long did it take for your blueberry bushes to grow? I was wondering if the dwarf blueberry bushes from gerneys might grow in the bigger planter pots but have never tried.

    once again congrats on your very productive garden
    from SE Idaho

  14. your garden looks fabulous! once again i'm super jealous but i wouldn't even know how to start my own garden, nor do i have any space that gets any sun without my dog or my daughter getting into it!

    However im still trying to do canning when i GET THE STUFF BOUGHT, UNFORTUNATELY! I am buying some elbertas peaches & gala apples hopefully coming in next month sometime. Also will probably buy a bag of juicing carrots to can later in the fall.

    Just curious how long did it take for your blueberry bushes to grow? I was wondering if the dwarf blueberry bushes from gerneys might grow in the bigger planter pots but have never tried.

    once again congrats on your very productive garden
    from SE Idaho

  15. My Great Grandmother always used shredded, cheap cigars soaked in water to extract the nicotine for aphids. Worked like a charm. Though I'm uncertain what it would do to other good insects like bees and lady bugs.

  16. For anonymous in case this helps any:
    I live where it is hot and wanted to grow blueberries. So many of the kinds for here are big tall varieties. I was told by master gardeners that I can put three plants in one big ..say 24" pot. Three! You can keep them cut back and keep them the height you want. Also in the hot areas they need some shade. Don't always go by what the package says for sunlight. We have took much here! They said I could set it under our avocado tree where it gets some light but some shade part of the day too. Worked great. Keep them moist but not over wet and make sure the soil is kind that drains well and have a hole in the bottom of the pot. Remember they like acidic soil. You can plant three different plants or three of the same I planted different ones for a slightly different harvest dates. Sarah

  17. I remember when you put in this tire garden. I guess it was you. Actually, I shook my head and thought you were just a little nuts. Hey, it was your garden, so no judgment, really. This has really turned out well for you.

    To get rid of the grass, cut it off with scissors really short. Then, cover it all with plastic so the grass cannot come up again. Some will try to sneak through near the trunk of the plant, but you can keep cutting it off. Cut it off the first time before it sets seed.

    You are having tremendous crops!

  18. I am totally impressed with your garden, congrats on all your success.

    This has been a funky season in the UP of Michigan. This an off year for apples and my tomatoes and peppers didn't seem to want to hold fruit. Last year was a banner year for everything and I managed to put up enough to last until next september.

    Carl in the UP

  19. Your garden is doing wonderful! You have beat your black thumb that you had!
    I love Yukon Chief corn. Found it 8 years ago and it is all I grow here (north of CDA). You may want to pick your garlic earlier next year. My first year, I harvested in August and some were popping out of the wrappers. Now, I harvest in July when about 1/3 to 1/2 of each plant is brown, then I lay them on wire racks for about 1 week, then tie them together in bunches of 10 and hang in a shady place, under my upper deck, for 3-4 weeks. Then I cut the tops off and trim the roots and store them away, setting aside enough to replant for next year!
    I let my first carrots go to seed this year too. How funny is that? They are quite interesting.
    Last year, I just spread out my excess hot peppers and let them dry naturally. I turned them every couple of days and threw out any bad ones. It took weeks, but now I have dried peppers to grind up.

  20. This is my second year at gardening and I planted too much. I got scared I would lose the tomatoes in my raised bed garden and so I planted more and now the tomatoes have overrun everything. Next year I'll plant the tomatoes in some tractor tires like Patrice suggests.

  21. Wonderful bounty to be enjoyed during the off season!

  22. To increase the varieties of fruit in your orchard without planting more trees you can graft scions. Stone fruits are mostly compatible with each other. Use some scions from your favorite peach and graft onto the plum tree to give you a back up in case something happens to the peach trees and vice versa. This winter you can trade scions with other fruit growers in your area. I've grafted almost a hundred varieties on my 12 trees now! I'm addicted!

  23. Well done!
    After 5 years, we are getting close to a 2017 move-in to our homestead. The garden is walled, barn and coop built, shed made, 100 year old house remade and updated.
    You have been educational and an inspiration. The pictures have been so helpful. Thank you!

  24. Where can find some multiplier onions? I had some in the 70's ,but lost them. But I planted them in the spring and harvested in the fall . I always kept the little ones back to replant . it was so nice to have these,

    1. There are a number of places which sell them. This is the first one that came up online:

      - Patrice