Sunday, March 1, 2009

Bucketville Update

Quickie update on the status of the backyard bucket garden since The Three Freezes.

1. All citrus --- seem A-O.K. There was some blossom loss, so the harvest this year may be scant.
2. Tamarinds --- appear to be a complete loss. I think we had about a dozen of them. We will be leaving their brown remains undisturbed, however, in hopes there will be some sign of life coming from the roots up (we don't know), but we will plant 2 bush beans per bucket beside them in order to not waste so many pots (well, buckets)
3. Lychee --- Again we think they're all dead. Like the tamarinds, we will plant 2 bush beans per bucket right beside their remains, in hopes a few may revive. I have less hope of this with them, however, since they were much smaller and more tender.
4. Gynura --- These died back to a brown paste, but amazingly, there are signs with some of them of new leaves coming from the root, yay!! We'll let them get some more oomph and then trim back the brown stuff and let it mulch itself.
5. Papayas ---Weeping, mourning, gnashing of teeth...The 8', two 6', two 4', and rest of the 30 plus papaya plants all appear to be casualties of the freeze. These plants simply hate cool weather but can't withstand those lower 30 temps. We plan a trip to visit the reknowned "papaya man" in Sarasota to see how he manages to have so many fruitful plants in such a small space in his backyard...he and his wife eat only food that they grow, and most of it is fruit, namely papayas. We just really need to know how to keep ours alive without ultimate pampering, since they're SO hardy all the other times of year here and seem to thrive on punishment that would kill most other plants.
6. Malanga --- remember those plants that look like elephant ear plants, with the starchy taro-ish root? They're our pleasant surprise! We did cover them loosely during the freezes, but not with much fuss. They got good and frozen. And the green leaves did die back...BUT...they've all reappeared! This makes them a GREAT keeper for us, and means we can concentrate on propagating a lot more of them. They send out side shoots that Jack carefully separates and starts more from, with seeming success at this point, yay! This is a much-underutilized crop for this region, and just really doesnt make it to the markets locally in large quantities. We've noticed a lot of market malanga comes from central or south america, but we're not sure why since it's very hardy here. Note to selves: Grow it!
7. Sunflower starts --- another surprise. I'd started some mammoth sunflowers from seed in the salad bins, and they were already about 4" tall when the first freeze hit. They survived all three freezes with no problems...uncovered! That really surprised me. I guess our day temps get warm enough to keep them from going under, but for whatever reason, their night-temp cold-hardiness is duly noted! :)
8. Mustard, komatsuna, and radishes did not die back, and were not covered. Yay!
9. Carambola/Starfruit tree sapling --- may be a complete loss :( It was so hardy during those hot, hot days. We'll still keep it watered and such till we know if anything choose to sprout from it in the weeks to come.
10. Jujube sapling --- did not like the freezes, but is greening up again since. Let's's hoping!
11. My cocoplum bushes --- wahhhhh :( All 6 are either dead or having a dickens of a time deciding to hang in there. They are brown and crunchy, but were green and loaded with fruit before the 3 freezes. Double wahhhhh :( We'll see...
12. Bush Cherry --- It may make it, but it's so stressed. Part of it died back to completely brown, but a couple places at the bottom stayed somewhat green. Let's just see... (sigh!)
13. Western soapberry saplings --- these went dormant in early winter and are deciduous. I suspect they'll survive the freezes and will leaf out when they decide spring has sprung. Again, let's see...I still have hopes for them :)
14. Mangos --- it hurts too much to admit we may have lost them all, especially the beautiful 6' Carrie mango we brought onto the porch for more protection. The ones grown from seed by Jack, in pots, all seem to be lost. The Carrie is brown and crunchy...let's see if it decides to put out growth at all.
15. Pineapples --- these are all starts from crowns, and all have turned yellow and mostly limp, but are still with us. Let's see if hot weather revives them at all. We're hoping they will, but are not giving them any special treatment since we want to know what will remain hardy to our locale, and which things aren't our best choices. They've been troopers so far, so they may hang in there and if so, we'll keep propagating more.
16. Yerba Buena mint --- This one takes a licking and keeps on ticking. In fact, it seems to have GROWN during the freezes! It's not a particular plant, not finicky. So we need to find all the ways to best use's a keeper for sure.
17. Feverfew ---another of the herbs that has just grown great guns during hot and cold. I need to find out how to utilized's great!
18. Rosemary ---it revived during the cold, and hangs in there in the heat. I'm lovin' you, rosemary!
19. Thymes --- I have a couple that have done great during hot or freeze, and they're keepers. If we're able to move to our homestead, they'll have a spot of their very own, possibly in an area with birdhouses near the house. They continue to be one of my most favorite :)
20. Basils ---nah, they hated the freeze, but withstood the cold up till that time. I'm not worried, though...we let them all go to seed in the fall and there will be enough volunteers coming up all throughout the other plants' pots they'll be back :)
21. Cassava/Yucca --- These did ok till the freeze, then they died back. I don't know if the root is enough to restart more in the spring when it gets warmer. We're leaving it there just in case. We had barely started our experimentation with these, but they should be hardy to this area...let's see.
22. Coffee tree saplings --- They hated the freeze. I'm not sure how they'll do...they're struggling right now. They're up on our back porch protected from extremes, but Jack's more invested in their survival than I am. If they don't thrive, frankly I want to stay away from things needing babying. But he's right in that we have no mature tree cover right now, and if we did, they might be totally in their element. So, we'll see. If they don't thrive, I'll try my hand at growing chickory or romaine in order to have a coffee substitute (from the dried or roasted, ground roots)

We have a lot next door that is complete concrete-tough hardpan. Our great neighbor with horses down the street has been giving us (free!) liberal truckloads of stable cleanings, which usually is a mix of manure/wood waste/straw. Jack has spread 1/4 of the lot with it to a depth of about 6 inches, and two more loads were just delivered. He's also been leveling our existing lot (the one our house is on) with this mix, too, which will decompose over the very hot summer, and has been mulching the front bed and under the trees, etc.

Collecting boxes of the quantity and frequency needed to layer on the lot next door over such a big area is more than our work schedules can accommodate just now, so it's going to have to remain manure&shavings on top of hardpan, and we're trying to figure out how to grow something in that.

I really want us to grow a large quantity of a few plants there, ones that will make great green manure even if they don't succeed well the first year for a harvest. (but that will stand a good chance at both). I want to plant pink-eye purple hull peas, okra, a couple different bush beans, and bush green beans there. It takes an awful lot of purple hull plants to bear enough of a crop for a good harvest, so I hope we start with those and that they do well. The problem is all that manure and wood chips/straw, and the fact there is very little available soil to sow directly into (the hardpan is sand, sand, sand). That said, I think we may start with a section, mark it off into rows that can be planted at least 3 deep (wide rows), make narrow furrows with a broomhandle and tap out some lines of topsoil mix right in those furrows to get the seeds off to a good start. I have no idea if this will work, but tilling it all in will require renting a tiller and will jumpstart all the weeds that lurk over there, plus we'll be battling that stinking concrete-hard soil. I'm thinking layers of biomass at this point will more quickly transform the soil than any tilling will. And though we just don't have the time to layer carboard over it, etc, maybe just adding green manures to the layer of manure&wood/straw may encourage microbes and worms...let's see!

I still feel us holding back. There is still a semi-detachment in our efforts till we know for sure how long we'll be here, or whether our homestead will come together elsewhere. That's our unknown, so THE first priority is what it has been the last two years...getting out of debt.

Here's my mindset on what we should grow:
1. Keep what's done well for us now...all things we thought would do well in our zone. Those that THRIVE are at the top of the list to keep, propagate, and utilize. We want to only add in other plants we think have this potential.
2. We need to grow what we can use for our diet, ultimately to eliminate the need for the store for essentials. I see our needs being
A. Fresh greens
B. Shell Beans
C. Green beans
D. Potatoes, malanga
E. Medicinal herbs
F. Other---tomatoes, okra, summer and storage squash (in other years, these will be farther up the MUST HAVE list)
G. Fruits

This year, I think we can work on trying A, B, C & D on a small scale, hitting that learning curve. This is "on the side" when not working at our jobs.

So far, all our attempts have been full of surprises, setbacks, and pleasant successes. It's on a very small scale. But later larger scales will be based on our best successes during these days and their limitations. Some things such as fruit trees are a matter of time...they take time to mature and fruit on a bigger scale. But we're having fun trying :)

And those are our simple goals at the outset at this point in 2009.


Brenda@View From The Pines said...

Well, anyone will tell you that I am "nutty for the herbs." Absolutely love them all!

Paulette said...

I've decided there isn't anything you could do to get rid of rosemary even if you wanted to. Love that stuff.

San Diego Farmgirl said...

Girl, we're on the same wavelength. I've got my own bucketville growing in both the front and backyards. Why? Because of the sand that passes for soil around here. Not deadpan, at least, but not fertile soil, either. That manure sounds like heaven!

We're also focusing on growing a lot of just a few things. Our needs are beans (snap, shell & edamame), bell and hot peppers, tomatoes and summer & winter squash. That's what we'll focus on, though I'd like to add corn and root veggies to that, too. We'll see how much we accomplish building raised beds out of sand this spring! :)

Killi said...

I've just found my Jekka McVicar book. On Feverfew, she says: pick leaves before the plant flowers, dry if to be used medicinally. Pick flowers just as they open, dry nupside down. Use young leaves sparingly in salad (very bitter). Eat 3-5 leaves between slices of bread (NO MORE)every day to reduce migraines. Decoction or infusion of the leaves is a mild disinfectant & the leaves in sachets repel moths.

I have herbals that may have other ideas, so yell if you want more info for usage. Jekka says they love being container grown outside (she's the herb grower that lives & runs courses on herbs by Bristol, UK: she LOVES herbs & edible plants).