(Continued from Part 2.)
Little marvel peas were the usual variety planted for shelling. They also had a bad year in 2020 for some unknown reason. Some of my dry field peas were picked while green and shelled to substitute for this bad year. They are a satisfactory backup to the garden varieties. Shelled peas can be stored frozen or dried. Rehydrating dried ones has been acceptable but is not yet perfected.
Oregon sugar pod peas for eating the pods have been planted. They generally produce acceptably, but suffered this last year with the other garden peas. They taste great fresh, but I am not as pleased with them when frozen or dried so I grow only a smaller amount of them.
Cylindra beets have been grown almost exclusively rather than other varieties. They are named because their roots are huge long cylindrical things rather than the normal round balls. They produce more than I need from even a relatively small plot. They taste about the same as other varieties, and they store well in the ground. This storage method is nice provided voles do not destroy them before they are used, and provided I dig them when the ground is not frozen. They can be impossible to extract from frozen ground. They may store in wet dirt in the garage, but this has not been investigated fully yet.
Yellow onion sets were purchased from the garden store each time I attempted to grow them. These have been very satisfactory with big size and much more production than I can use. They last until spring when stored in mesh sacks in the garage. White onion sets also have been grown but with less success. Since they do not store as well as the yellow onions and have similar taste they will not be grown again. However, it will be necessary to learn how to raise onions from seed that are not purchased as onion sets from a store.
A variety of carrots have been tried. They often do not do well in my clay soil, but have done better in a raised bed with top soil from a landscaping business. This soil needs to be screened to remove stones. It is hoped this will allow carrots to grow straighter. They also can be stored in the ground with the same issues mentioned for beets.
Tomatoes are very important. I now grow Roma and Nepal tomatoes. Both are heirloom varieties, and I save my own seeds. I tried several other varieties in the past including beefsteak, big boy, Amish paste and others. Blossom end rot was less troublesome with Roma and Nepal. I now spray the blossoms with calcium solution to hopefully make end rot even less prevalent. Tomatoes are dried in a 9-tray Excalibur food dryer and subsequently ground into powder using a food processor then stored in small canning jars under vacuum. Their taste is not quite the same as fresh tomatoes, but is quite satisfactory.
Oregon Homestead squash have become the favorite. They are somewhat larger than many and have a slightly sweeter taste. They are heirlooms and I save seed. More seeds must be planted to get the production that probably comes from fewer seeds of a hybrid variety, but each squash produces more than enough seeds for next year anyway. They are harvested just before frost time in the fall, and they store well in the basement. In late winter they can be baked and then frozen after space has become available in the freezer because other stored items have been eaten. (Shown are the elevated beds that I constructed. Though much easier on my back, this lumber-intensive design is probably too cost-prohibitive, given today’s stratospheric lumber prices.)
Fruits & Nuts
Attempts to grow fruits and nuts met with mixed success.
Four red haven peach trees were planted, but only one appears to have survived. Voles girdled one tree so I had to use screen at the base of another peach tree to protect it from them. The other two perished for unknown reasons. Perhaps they had been watered too much. Peaches were not as susceptible to pests as apples in my experience so I expected more success than this. The struggle with voles came as a surprise.
Storing peaches will require canning, freezing or drying. I will need to experiment.
An Italian plumb has successfully been grown and is starting to yield fruit after four years.
No attempt to grow apple trees was made because my experience on my father’s farm with apples indicated that extensive pesticide applications were required. Missing just one pesticide application could give pests an opportunity to create wreckage. Furthermore, the professional growers claim that the “back yard gardener” is a hazard to their production because apples require too much attention for a part-timer to match. Consequently, part-timers frequently incubate large quantities of pests that infect the real farmers orchards. Growing apples organically is not something I know well. I suspect it requires even more attention and produces fruit that is less than perfect but still edible. Perhaps I should have tried apples anyway since no orchards are nearby, and I use apples quite frequently.
Pears were not considered because they do not keep well.
The only nut tree that was recommended for Eastern Washington is the black walnut. This tree was a disgusting tree on my father’s farm. It was regularly infested by tent caterpillers, and the nuts were so difficult to crack that they were neglected. An Ambassador walnut has been planted instead. It is similar to an English walnut and is supposed to be productive here, but has not done very well. Other nut trees require a warmer climate. The trees may grow here, but often do not produce crops.
Hazelnut bushes have been planted and are growing but have not yielded nuts yet after about 4 years. They are supposed to do well in this area. Their taste is good but inferior to walnuts.
Strawberries have been productive for me. They grew in my backyard garden when in the suburbs, and Fort Laramie variety are doing acceptably now in this clay soil. They produce great-tasting fruit early in the season but must be frozen or dried if not eaten fresh. Drying them produces pleasant-tasting results, but definitely not as good as fresh. Thawing frozen strawberries produces mushy treats. This is fine for sweetening breakfast cereal which is my main use for them. A procedure for freezing and thawing them that improves their taste and texture was found in https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0570178314000116. It uses citric acid and calcium citrate. The citric acid that is commonly used in fruit preservation and can be found in canning sections of grocery stores. Calcium is readily available for prevention of osteoporosis. This procedure helps considerably but the result is still not equivalent to firm fresh strawberries.
Blueberries are very fussy plants to grow. I tried growing them twice when living in suburbia without success, but now have some plants growing in my present location. It was necessary to grow them in an enclosed bed with special soil. Their soil must be acidic. It is futile to try other soil conditions. I maintain the acidity by adding pH Down which really is sodium bisulfate obtained from swimming pool chemical centers. Because of my biochemical training I can titrate the soil to determine how much of this chemical is required to achieve a desired acidity. This required obtaining a crude pH meter from Amazon. I have found it difficult to overdo the pH down application because my soil requires lots of it to decrease its pH below that desired by blueberries. Unfortunately, acidity adjustment seems to be necessary every year because the soil gradually returns to its neutral value. Providing this much care for blueberries is possible now but might be unattainable in catastrophic situations. Consequently, I do not recommend relying on blueberries for the general gardener.
Raspberries are not nearly as fussy as blueberries, although I have struggled to get mine going well. I expect them to do well, but preserving them will likely face the same issues as strawberries.
Fats & Oils
A cooking oil crop has eluded me so far.
Black oil sunflowers are thought to be a good source for cooking oil, but they require a long growing season and have not ripened reliably for me. Those seeds that do ripen are eaten by the birds, and the unripe ones defy my efforts to harvest them. I will try Rostov, another sunflower oil variety, and perhaps flax seeds. These supposedly mature earlier than black oil sunflowers. Canola is grown locally for oil. Perhaps an heirloom variety exists that can be tried. Meanwhile, I have tended to modify my cooking methods to be primarily water based so minimal oil will be needed.
Sugar production also has not been conquered. Sugar beets grow well, but I have not managed to produce anything from them that resembles sugar. Perhaps suitable methods for this are not easily obtained by the amateur gardener. Raising honey bees has been suggested as an alternative, but it requires special equipment. This is not the highest priority either since sugar can be stocked and stored dry for years.
Getting decent yields from wheat has been impossible without fertilizer. Even then I get the equivalent of about 30 bushel per acre instead of 60 like the real farmers. Currently, I try to apply 40 lb phosphorus per acre in the fall at the time I till the ground. I plant about 120 lb wheat seed per acre, and subsequently fertilize this with about 15 lb/acre of nitrogen and 15 lb/acre of potash. This is followed in the spring, usually March, with another 85 lb nitrogen/acre plus 45 lb potash/acre. This should give perhaps 60 bushels per acre. I don’t know why I got half this yield in 2020.
Legumes do not require much fertilizer, but field peas produce only about half as well as wheat. And my lentils have produced really poor yields, so far.
Another deciding factor in these decisions was the deer. In my experience deer did not bother grains much, but legume plants (beans and probably lentils and peas) were attacked by them. Consequently, when testing just a small planting of legumes the ravages by the deer were discouraging unless the area was fenced. I did not have fences up for the first year or two in many cases so this contributed to the decision to not pursue some crops. Large plots of legumes may produce enough foliage that losses by deer are tolerable. I may find out in the future.
Potatoes do not appear to be bothered by deer until late in the growing season by which time the potatoes are about ready for harvest anyway. The deer must dislike the foliage enough to eat it only when other foliage is scarce.
Fences are problematic when tilling the soil with a tractor. I use steel T-posts for my deer fence so I can disassemble two opposite ends of a fenced area to allow easier use of the tractor prior to reassembling the fence. As troublesome as this is it still is the easiest procedure I have found, and it gives impetus to grow crops that do not need to be fenced. I use 6.5 foot-tall deer fence from a North 40 farm and ranch store in Spokane. Whitetail deer which are common in my area have never jumped it that I have noticed. I understand that deer are more likely to squeeze through some opening than to jump such a fence. Only when they are discovered or the dog barks do they become desperate enough to jump the fence to escape. Perhaps mule deer would be different.
(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 3.)