Celebrate Harvest Season

Celebrate the Summer Harvest

Once again, it is my favorite time of the year! Time to celebrate harvest season. The leaves change color and fall, and it is time to put the garden to sleep for the long winter. But first, we take some delicious veggies to the kitchen.

Summer veggies!

Reflecting on the summer garden, I realized that we have actually made a lot of progress in a relatively short time.

Celebrate Progress in the Garden

First there was a late frost, and then significant competition for our produce from the deer, squirrels, and birds. Now that the harvest is wrapping up, here are a few of the successes after a couple of years in progress:

  1. Increased the number of raised beds
  2. Added mulch (and learned how to get a truckload of free mulch for the asking)
  3. Added compost (accelerated by adding the birds’ used bedding to the pile)
  4. Blackberry bushes grew well and so produced more berries
  5. Tomato vines were enormous
  6. Peppers and onions grew better than expected
  7. Herb garden expanded to include rosemary, parsley (2nd year plants!), mint, garlic, onions, cilantro and coriander
  8. Planted some new flowers that seem to be doing well
  9. Perennial garden including hazelnuts, cranberries, and elderberries continued to grow well
  10. Added a couple of trees
  11. Kept my potted lemon tree alive another year and it produced two lemons
  12. Indoor garden added a few plants and propagated a few plants

Celebrate Positive Reflections

This year I felt like the garden had setback after setback, but when I actually reflect on it, there were a number of areas of growth and success just because of things set in place in the first year. The soil improved. The perennials are more established and more productive. Time to celebrate the harvest season and the transition from summer to fall.

Reflections on 2020

Never has the garden meant more than in such a wild year 2020!

Tiny Beginning Summer Harvest

The very first harvest at the beginning of summer is here! A few pods of red beans. I am going to cook these up, but hopefully will dry and save some as well.

Update: Saved about half of a mason jar from last year and they work just fine in early 2021. I made sure they were completely dry before storing them.

One use of a pantry stock of dried beans is to plant them. If intended for sprouts, the pantry version should actually be used. Seeds from a seed packet are often treated to prevent spoilage and enhance germination.

As one of the easiest garden plants to sprout and grow, plain dried beans germinate just fine. In fact, we had pretty well neglected our vines. Yesterday I checked on them. Here are the results!

We have a seemingly limitless supply of squirrels and deer. So this year, I planted these vines in terra cotta pots as close as possible to the back door.

Whenever I thought of it, I would shift them so that every few days they were in a slightly different spot. The critters did not damage them nearly as much, although we still lost a few leaves here and there.

I may pan-roast these pods or just chop them up and add to a stir fry. We will have a lot more coming. I planted a second batch last week and they are already producing leaves.

To dry them, I would just dry the pods until they split open, then remove the beans and dry them completely before storing. Beans and legumes are amazing in that from one seed, even a poor yield produces many more. You can then eat them or dry them and store them. Chickens love greens and the raw green pods too.

Interested in growing red beans? Check out this guide from Heirloom Organics.

Ripening Blackberries

I am eagerly awaiting fresh ripe blackberries from the first plant from three years ago. Last year, there were a couple of handfuls of berries and they were delicious. This year, we will add bird netting and see if we can keep more of the blackberries for ourselves.

Berry-producing shrubs amaze me because in the proper environment, they get bigger and better every year with minimal input. It’s a good thing, too. Birds and squirrels enjoy them almost as much as humans. Hopefully with enough berries there will be a chance to make crumble and compote and syrup. Fingers crossed.

The two big takeaways from last year?

First, the blackberry grows the cane the first year, and produces fruit on it the second year. After the cane has produced fruit, it is important to remove the spent canes. This helps to prevent the plant viruses that raspberries and blackberries tend to suffer from.

Second, I have read that if you prune the tips of the primary cane, the plant will put much more energy into growing the lateral canes. These are the ones that bear fruit.

Given the deer population, it is no surprise that they did the pruning for me! They ate the tips of the canes wherever they could reach. As a result, the plant is all lateral canes, and covered with unripe berries which have now started to change color.

(I later learned that this is an actual technique for better yield, from this youtube video… The more you know.)

Today I went out and added bird netting to the fortifications. Fingers crossed!

Ripening blackberries, equally enticing to humans and every other creature.

Berries in the Backyard

Food berries: Raspberry and Blackberry.

Both raspberries and blackberries are hardy and productive. In the wild these berries create large brambles. They can be susceptible to viral diseases, especially if they receive too much moisture. I have seen conflicting advice regarding applying mulch.

The biggest thing I have found helpful: Know your varieties. Many plants produce a primicane, or first year cane, that just grows the first year, then becomes the productive cane the second year.

The deer ate the top off of the primicane last year, which led it to send out a bunch of lateral branches. The lateral branches are the ones that bear fruit, so this year, it is now covered with bunches of green berries. I may throw some bird netting over it. Last year our total harvest–after the birds and squirrels were done–totaled about two handfuls of berries. They taste amazing.

Native berries:

Cranberry (highbush).

Several of these have been growing since last summer. They produce white lacy flowers in the spring, and now have green berries. These will eventually turn red. Over the winter, the birds really like the dried berries. I have noticed the stems are reddish, and the leaves are also reddish when young.

Deer eat what they can reach, so there are usually some red-edged leaves.

Elderberry.

These have also been growing since last year. The cranberry and elderberry bushes are about 4 feet tall, although I think this may have more to do with the deer eating anything that gets taller than the cages.

Elderberry is famously used in syrups and wines. Supposedly, it boosts immune function.

The berries are extremely tart. The birds harvest ours diligently, and will continue to until the shrubs get much bigger and more established. We enjoy trying to identify the various wild birds that like these for both berries and habitat.

Happy growing!

I hope you enjoyed reading about our backyard blackberries and their friends. Try growing berries of some kind. They are fun plants. Native species can help increase biodiversity too. They really do bring all the birds to the yard and with little to no effort.