Friday, October 13, 2023

2023 recap: not the greatest year, but not bad either

I've always regarded a year's harvest a big fail when the total yield doesn't measure up to my expectations. But, as they say, it is what is. When the Black Magic grapevine died in late spring, I calculated half of 2023's yield (in weight) gone. Why did the grapevine die? My hunch is that heavy and constant rains in May turned the clay soil deep under the substrate into a dense, heavy mass that impeded drainage. The vines put out some leaves but all of it yellowed and dried up within a couple of weeks. The Sublima white grapes located directly across the Black Magic faired only slightly better. We barely got a kilo of grapes out of them. Both vines will be dug up and replaced next spring.

A lone Thessaloniki, and Sunpeach and Sungreen cherry toms from the Oishii Project

Then arrived summer and those hot hot days, interspersed with humid ones when a different weather pattern blew in. Fortunately I had saved up quite a bit of rainwater, yet the conditions were never stable enough for the tomato blossoms to set fruit on a regular basis. The cherry tomatoes did best; the slicing toms not so much. On the other end of the spectrum, tayberries and strawberries did great as usual. The Hortblue petite blueberries and pink lemonade blueberries produced more than last year, and the mojo berries put out twice the amount (about 2 heaping cups) compared to 2022.

Tayberries and mojoberries

The best garden success though was the myoga. This year it put out 13 buds, and while they were on the small side, I now know that the plant will be totally fine outside with no protection except for a layer of mulch. I pickled the buds, some sliced thin, some left whole, in a simple vinegar, water, sugar mix. They are delicious! Cross my fingers next year for an even bigger yield. There's a recipe for myoga tsukemono that I've got bookmarked to try.

Next spring the plan is to split the clump, plant half in a larger planter and the other half in the ground. I didn't give them any fertilizer except for a healthy dose of compost tea in the spring.

Another success story - the shishimai pepper plants started from seed. Five bushes were either grown in pots and grow bags. The yield was smaller than expected but I don't know if that's from having a late start or not being grown in the ground. Peppers were thin-skinned, around 3 inches in length, not hot at all, and reminded me a lot of padron peppers. Seared in a hot skillet with a bit of sea salt they're very tasty on their own. I also stirfried some with minced veal to mix in with cooked pasta.

To get a headstart next year, I pruned the plants, shook off most of the soil, and potted them up in fresh potting mix to overwinter in the house with minimal watering.

To end this post, you know you've come far as a gardener when you can color yourself happy even in the less than stellar years. In spring I was excited to create a rock garden to spruce up a dry section of the yard that's always in direct sun during summer. Put in drought-tolerant santolina chamaecyparissus (cotton lavender), Hidcote Blue lavender, California poppy (sown), and phlomis russeliana (turkish sage). Gave a good watering and they have performed phenomenally ever since.

Below is the rock garden at the end of March this year, before pulling out the erica plants. Ironically, I impulsively bought 2 more erica (Picasso Blu to the left) - a small consolation for 2023 not being the greatest, but not so bad either.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Doing the splits, self-preservation, and the ol' switcheroo

In gardening parlance, that would be division (splits), propagation (self-preservation), and this is so not what I ordered. Let's start with the 'splits'. At first, dividing plants was a task that I never felt comfortable with for fear of harming the plant. But like anything else, do it several times and you'll get the hang of it. I dug up a daylily that was planted 6 years ago and divided it into 3 clumps to plant in other areas.

The daylily was in a tight corner in hard clay and I literally had to yank it out where the garden fork couldn't reach. Planted one of the clumps next to the iris (above). Gave them a good watering and frequently checked that the ground never dried out. They're all doing well but I don't expect they'll flower this year seeing how brutal I was at digging them out.

'Self-preservation'. Propagating by seed or purchased seedlings is the easy way to go as a novice, but then there are methods like layering and runners (strawberry stolons) that I'm beginning to really appreciate because they're free! The tayberry vine puts out new canes every year but this year it grew a baby tayberry through spontaneous layering or tip layering. I prune the canes in fall as they can go on forever, so I must've missed one, the tip made contact with the ground, and during winter roots began to form.

I was surprised to see such a good-sized root ball. Tucked it into a 4-inch pot with fresh potting soil, snipped off the attached vine, and watered well. This was on April 5th; today the tiny tayberry is more than quadrupled in size. No fertilizer, just compost tea and a sheltered spot outside. I'll update the progress to see how long it takes from a tiny plant to a viable and flowering one.

Okay, it must happen at least once to every gardener, twice or even more if you're that unlucky. A specific item is purchased or ordered, but when it comes out of the ground, it's definitely not what you paid for at all. It's a switcheroo! When this happens I just hope it'll be something that I will love, but more often than not...well, that's why I never purchase more than a few of one thing at a time.

I ordered a tulip named 'Red Dress' but got this banal imposter instead. Early-blooming, very short tulip. The fringed purple one to the right is a Negrita Parrot. My husband said it looked like a deformed purple cabbage. 'Red Dress' is supposed to resemble the one below (yes I pinched it from the seller!), only more of a red than burgundy. I should've trusted my gut on this one:

The truth is that mess-ups will occur; either from the supplier's end or the eventual seller that unintentionally did a switcheroo. The important thing is that it grows, because what's the point of having a cutting garden if you can't put together your own wacky bouquet? Negrita Parrot, Red Imposter, Sunlover.