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The ManyTracks' Green Thumb
Four decades of Growing
in the Northwoods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Welcome to my online
garden! I can't take you into my garden in person but I'll do my best via online
bytes. Gardening is as much fun
now as it was when I started over forty years ago. I am a new
gardener every time I step through the gate and onto the mulch; it is always a
wonder. As a long-time organic gardener, I enjoy
a cooperative and simple approach to growing food. I garden because it is my
passion; it is also our food.
September 18, 2020 - First Hard Freeze of the Season
Night before last there was mention of scattered frost, which meant frost for sure in our frost-pocket little valley. It wasn't the first we'd had this month so the blankets were ready at hand and the necessary plants covered. It got down to 29 in the orchard, and would be warmer in the garden near the still warm ground. All was well. But yesterday they got a little more serious about it - Widespread Freeze - with possible 20's hinted. And a red warning box on the NOAA forecast page. That wasn't really necessary - if you'd lived here long enough you could feel it - but I certainly took them seriously. As usual I'd hoped for a few more growing weeks since, as is often the case, it's supposed to warm back up after this cold spell. But not to be, so yesterday, while Steve went out to cut firewood, I harvested. And they were right - it got down to 24 degrees out in the open. Cold enough!
A really nice full sweet pepper crop with many ripe, red peppers filled up their spot along two walls of the root cellar, plants with their fruit hung where the under-ripe peppers will continue to ripen and keep surprisingly fresh for quite awhile. A small basket of cherry tomatoes at various stages of ripe will brighten our salads for many weeks to come. The grapes had done their best in spite of buds being frozen twice in the spring, with a small crop with enough ripe for a batch of juice. If there had been more I would have covered them but instead I harvested. NEXT year I'll remember to cover them in the spring so they can get that needed extra long growing season. Grapes are an iffy crop here but I keep trying.
Squash had a late start getting going this year, maybe due to the unusual record heat so I didn't know if there would be any ripe ones. But I had detected some orange amongst the very lush large leaves so I hoped. Turns out there was no need to worry, they loved this over-hot summer and made record time ripening. I think we'll have enough squash! There were five not quite ripe good sized fruit left in the plants so I double-blanket covered those to see if they can make it.
Apples! I wasn't too concerned about the apples but the Beacons were about done anyway so I harvested the rest - a light but very nice crop. And my one and only Goodland - big and beautiful. My trees all seem to be biennial bearing so each year is different as to what varieties we have. This year it was Haralson's turn to be top dog and it seemed to know it. It put out with great enthusiasm. I did some thinning early on (definitely should have done more!) and it did its own thinning later by early dropping damaged or too crowded fruit but it hardly looked like it. They're a keeper and will get milder and sweeter in storage, keeping well into late winter so it's a good one to have. As the fruit is real close to ripe (and keeps better if picked before really ripe) I picked the bottom half, what i could reach without the ladder, and got almost 2 bushels! Probably nearly that many still on the tree. I hope those hang on for awhile because the root cellar is not very cold yet. But it's fun to have it filling up.
Of course, though the garden looks pretty wilted and done-in today, there is still much out there - potatoes and carrots, parsley, spinach and lettuce to move into the greenhouse when the cold really sets in. Meantime, there will be many warm days yet, and likely frosts, and the woodshed is cleaned out and ready to start filling. Autumn is a great time of year.
June 29, 2020 - Summer!
Summer for me begins when the garden is all planted, growing and mulched, hopefully (and usually) by the end of June. And this year the garden came through right on time; it's happily settled in for the summer, feeding us well. But the coming "hot weather of July" that we usually plan for is a bit hard to figure since we've been getting those 80's July temperatures since the end of May! A strange year indeed. It's hard to guess just what July, and the rest of summer, will bring but we intend to enjoy it all the same. The mosquitoes, black flies and ticks are easing off, stacks of firewood are drying in the field, the orchard is looking good. Steve put the final touches on his Row Cruiser and it went for its first row of the season yesterday, along with my kayak, for a beautiful evening on the water. Other spring chores are finished so we're changing gears, planning to do some major work on the house and spending more time on the water. I think we're ready for July. We're ready for summer.
June 15, 2020 - A Bit of Cool, a Lot of Sunshine
We've had a short spell of frosty nights and some truly beautiful warm enough/cool enough sunny days for great working out of doors. Thankfully the frosts were light though it did require covering a good portion of the garden for four nights. It's a bit late in the month for frost but not all that unusual. Many plants are still in their protective cold frames; easy to manage. But this year with the very unusual heat (we just don't get 80 degrees in June!) (well, we didn't used to...) things like potatoes and beans and corn, a good portion of the garden, were up and running, spurred on by the heat and the rain, and not at all up to being frosted. So the stack of old garden blankets and sheets were brought out, with not one extra left over, and everyone made it through with no damage. Today they were dried and back in storage as the temps are again rising, with more 80 degree days forecasted. What a roller-coaster ride.
Garden Barrier #2 - August 10, 2017
Gardening is certainly one of my passions and it keeps me well occupied, but summer is full of other fun and interesting things to do so I've been looking at reducing some of the chores that don't please me so much, such as keeping the surrounding vegetation on its own side of the line I've drawn between garden and mowed area.** We've tilled around the garden, I've mulched around the garden with various materials, I've let it go and then spent hours pulling grass and sorrel roots out of the garden beds. There had to be a better way. One was to put in a barrier and this year we finally did that. Well, I decided and Steve did the putting. Most trips to Escanaba included a stop at Menards to pick up our quota of 20 inexpensive paving blocks. That was all we could safely haul in the Prius at one time. The stack grew and grew until Steve finally did the job, first along the south border in front of the raspberries. That seems to be working well so he dug in and went up along the east edge along my new Border Barrier Bed. (the west edge is waiting for more pavers to arrive, and the north border will likely wait until next year).
Years ago I had a patch of rhubarb growing behind the compost bins between
them and the yard. It did a great job of keeping the grass back by heavily
mulching that space with their large, thick leaves. I figured rhubarb had to
be the ideal barrier plant but I really didn't want THAT much rhubarb.
Surely there were other plants that would do, so the idea of a border
barrier bed grew. I researched possibilities, imagined outcomes, made lists,
bought a few plants but mostly ended up using what I had. One of the most
challenging areas was along the asparagus bed which is along the east side
of the garden. The grass and sorrel loved to make their way into that
fertile soil and it was hard to get out. So I made a new adjacent bed,
taking some of the asparagus space (there was more than we needed)
(asparagus does not give up its space easily I soon found!) along with the
current path, digging, raking, weeding, reconfiguring the space to suit me -
6 feet wide, half of the width for the asparagus, half for the new bed - so
I can easily reach across to care for both from their respective sides - 45
GARDEN - Looking Forward - January 7, 2017
I enjoy looking back at last season’s garden but mostly I’m looking ahead to the coming season. What do I want to change, what do I want to do different this year? Some decisions I don’t make until I’m standing in the garden with plants or seeds in hand, looking for a good spot for this or that, or a bit of extra room for just one more whatever. But I do write out a general plan; it helps me to have an overall idea. Most of what I grow has settled in nicely based on many years of what we like, what we eat, what grows best, what works here. But there’s always room for something new. And my biggest change this coming season will be to add more flowers and herbs and to mix things up a bit. Nothing exotic, just something more for the pollinators, and for fun.
I’ve been swimming in a sea full of ideas for the orchard, adding diversity,
looking for understory ideas for the fruit trees, growing towards what some
are calling nowadays a “forest garden”. And I realized I could easily do
more of that in my vegetable garden. The two aren’t really separate, the
roughly 50 x 80 ft vegetable plot being in the middle of the orchard, with
berries in both, but on paper they are separate. And on paper my vegetable
plot is very organized. Some things even stay that way in the garden --
corn, squash, potatoes, tomatoes tend to be in their own 4 x 32 ft plots.
Except for those that end up elsewhere, leftovers when the main plot is
full. And mostly the other crops are in smaller blocks, one next to another.
It’s not that I don’t care for the companion planting idea, or ideal. It’s a
practical thing, that often has to do with frosts.
2016 GARDEN YEAR - January 5, 2017
A new year is here with infinite possibilities! There’s nothing quite like imagining working (playing) in the garden to warm you up on a cold winter’s evening. It may be zero degrees outside but in my mind it’s warm and sunny with green things growing all around as I look over my garden plan. What happened this past season? What worked, what didn’t, what seeds do I need to grow out this coming year, what do I need to buy? And I wonder anew at the abundant food that garden gave us. It’s always amazing but this year was over the top for some of the more heat loving crops.
Every year is different; that is one thing I can always depend on! And this
past year it was record warmth. I usually figure, roughly, a frost free
growing season from about the 2nd week in June till the first or second week
in September. This year we had a mild spring, with a last frost mid May,
then just one freeze June 7. Then we didn’t have another frost (freeze
actually) until October 9. In between was unusually warm with plenty of
rain. The corn and squash were beside themselves with joy and enthusiasm.
And the sunflowers turned into trees that I almost had to get out an axe to
cut down. The squash I grow is a relatively short season buttercup variety I
got from Kathleen Plunket-Black of Plum Creek Seeds, a long time and very
experienced seed saver in Arkansas WI. It’s rich, sweet and nutty, and I
usually get a reasonable crop with maybe half the fruit maturing before
frost. So I plant with that in mind. But this year not only did the vines
grow with abandon setting fruit right and left (thankfully along the edge of
the garden so they could sprawl out over the grass), every single one,
except for one half grown late specimen, fully matured. Wow, did we have
squash this year! I make a bit of squash soup but our favorite is to have
plain cooked squash with our luncheon salad, almost every day. We never tire
appreciate links to our site www.ManyTracks.com from appropriate sites, and we thank you for
Have you read "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener" ? A fun short read.
or "Homesteading Adventures" Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.
and "Growing Berries for Food and Fun" A journey you can use in your own garden.