As a younger man, I can remember wondering whether I would make it to the change of the century – 2000. Well, I think I have done a pretty good job of hanging in here and credit my good fortune on working hard, especially in the garden, and eating many of my fruits and vegetables without the poisons so attractively presented to us in the grocery stores.
I am looking forward to another good year in the garden as I have Davis and Kathy and my son, Cam, to help an old man get the work done. We have had some setbacks this year via the weather. It started with an unbearably hot summer which ran me into the house and this fall we were visited by hurricane Matthew. Luckily, we had no damage done to the garden but the surrounding acreage suffered. We lost 40 large Live Oaks from the frontage along the marshes of the Coosaw River as well as two Laurel Oaks that fell across the garden shed. There were an additional 60+ oaks of various type that went down in the maritime forest around the ten acres we use as our homestead. We will leave these forest oaks where they fell to serve as nurse trees for the forest regrowth but we will continue to cut and remove the debris along the salt marsh and drive. It took us a day to cut our way back into the property and it will be a good year before we remove all the evidence of our losses close to the house. The surprising thing is that our environment still looks like a dense forest.
The jest of this is that we have a lot with which to become preoccupied before we can “play” in the garden.
I must report that we lost five langstroth, double brood box hives. Matthew’s winds (120 mph) or the small tornados that it spawned turned the hives over and destroyed the bees and comb. We have one active hive in one of the new top bar hives I have built. These hives are screwed to the supporting tables which have their legs buried in the ground so they will not turn over. This spring I will order four more queens and bees to populate the other four top bar hives. I had planned to place the langstroth colonies into the top bar hives this spring but Matthew changed that plan.
We did get six raised beds planted with a variety of green crops which are growing well and will produce heavy crops this spring. I have already harvested some small turnips and greens to add to a mutton stew (very good by the way). It is always a joy to go to the garden in mid winter and find bell and banana peppers still on the plants. If we don’t get a frost, the plants will become large pepper plants this spring and summer and give us more than we can consume. Our citrus crop is light this year but we can certainly claim that we had one. Here it is January first and we have not eaten all the oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, Myers lemons and navels not to mention the large group of bananas growing on one of the two year old trees next to the house. There are some short term benefits to our warming weather. I even have four pineapple plants doing very well in the garden. These should produce pineapples that are better than anything you can find in the grocery store and then we can plant the tops and get more plants while the original plants start to bear a new crop.
Unfortunately, the artichokes (globe) did not make it through the summer. I will not plant them in the tall raised beds as they dry out too much. This spring I will place them is a low raised bed and mulch them heavily. The hay bale tomato bed grew wonderful tomato plants but the crop was moderate to disappointing. I’m glad I planted 40 plants in the regular raised beds as they exceeded expectations. I had thought I could use the decomposing hay bales as mulch this spring but they have disappeared into the soil. We have a very healthy population of earth worms. I have filled out the blue berry bed (went to south Georgia and picked up some special high production hybrids which I can’t remember the variety name) as well as filled in a few spaces in the fig hedge. I have to purchase 12 thornless blackberry vines this spring as we had some plants that did not get through the summer heat.
I went to Lowes in October and found that they had one of their 8 foot rolling trays loaded with plants at a discount price (all 10 layers for ten dollars) so I filled the trays with dianthus (120 plants) and 800 ornamental kale. I had learned that ornamental kale was edible like regular kale but it was a little tougher and required longer cooking. I decided that I would grow a large crop of it and use it as a winter and spring cooking green. Well, I can only say that the garden looks like rows of colorful “flowering” kale. I decided to cut a couple heads and try them. They are not tough nor do they have a stronger flavor that regular kale. I took the heads, which are loose unlike like cabbage and cut them up with scissors and cooked them for an hour in water. I then drained the water off and cut in a half stick of butter and three crumbled slices of bacon and seasoned with salt and pepper. Fantastic cooked green side dish. Rachael Ray has a great Portuguese Kale Soup recipe on line which I am going to try next (google it for details). This is a grand discovery as you might be able to find the starter plants at an affordable price in a local store after the planting time draws near to its end. I had often wondered if you could eat the ornamental but did not know if it was safe to harvest from an old flower bed due to any poisons that may have been put on the plant. Getting the rejected starter plants is a safe way to go. You can always buy the kale seed and star them yourself if you can’t find them cheap somewhere.
I will keep you posted on our planting progress.