One Year – One Ton of Fresh Food: Spring Garden Review

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Today’s blog entry is one of a four-post series that highlights my garden favorites over the past year — one post per season. I hope you’ll come back and see more stories from the past fall, winter, and summer, highlighting my year of growing ONE TON of food for my family on 6/100ths of an acre.

 

In a funny twist of fate, I was born on what is perhaps the most celebrated day on a gardener’s calendar — the first day of Spring. I’ve always felt a special connection to it, as if the Earth and I held some special kinship since we were celebrating our birthday together. I married my Love in the spring, surrounded by flowering mountain laurel and friends at the top of a towering sandstone natural arch. I labored with our first daughter while picking mulberries in the spring, and harvested spring strawberries just hours before our second daughter arrived. For me, spring is one big celebration.

 

 

Spring’s Fruits

Nature certainly seems to say “Let’s Party!” with all of her sugary offerings of spring fruit. Starting with the purchase of our home in 2009,  I began making changes to our landscape to make sure that we have all of those sweet party favors in abundance. I planted most of our brambles and berry bushes in 2010, and so the past spring was the first year that we’ve had significant harvests from them.

Photos of our backyard berries as of May 14, 2013. Clockwise from top left, strawberries, mulberries, blueberries, black raspberries, elderberries, and currants.

Photos of our backyard berries in various stages of maturity as of May 14, 2013. Clockwise from top left, strawberries, mulberries, blueberries, black raspberries, elderberries, and currants.

This is the stuff of childhood memories.

This is the stuff of childhood memories.

Mulberry picking. Our hands, faces, and clothing are perpetually stained with berry juice in spring.

Mulberry picking. Our hands, faces, and clothing are perpetually stained with berry juice in spring.

A harvest of Pink Champagne currants, June 12, 2013.

A harvest of Pink Champagne currants, June 12, 2013.

The transparent fruits of Pink Champagne currant are mesmerizing.

The transparent fruits of Pink Champagne currant are mesmerizing.

The winter low tunnel PVC tubing does double-duty. We couple two 10-foot sections of pipe together into an arch over our black raspberries to keep the bird netting well above the plants.

The winter low tunnel PVC tubing does double-duty. We couple two 10-foot sections of pipe together into an arch over our black raspberries to keep the bird netting well above the plants.

Caught red-handed, er, red-beaked. A sneaky mockingbird made its way under the netting and was trapped.

Caught red-handed, er, red-beaked. A sneaky mockingbird kept finding a way through the netting, getting repeatedly trapped. The girls gave him a good “talking-to” and he finally left our berries alone.

 

The girls with 5 lbs each of black raspberries on June 20th. We harvested over 50 pounds of black raspberries -- all from what was originally 10 canes planted in 2010.

The girls with 5 lbs each of black raspberries on June 20th. We harvested over 50 pounds of black raspberries — all from what was originally 10 canes planted in 2010.

Blueberries galore! I planted several varieties, each with varying maturity dates to extend our harvest season. My daughters preferred the large berries produced by varieties Darrow and Chandler (left).

Blueberries galore! I planted several varieties, each with varying maturity dates to extend our harvest season. My daughters preferred the large berries produced by varieties Darrow and Chandler (left).

 

Spring’s Abundance

Even though I grow through the winter, I’m just as antsy for Spring as everyone else. Since many of my spring crops either overwinter or get a head-start in the low tunnels, I don’t have to wait to reap the reward of spring’s longer day-length and warmer temperatures.

Carrots, beets, and Bright Lights Swiss chard overwintered in the tunnel. May 1, 2013.

Carrots, beets, and Bright Lights Swiss chard overwintered in the tunnel. May 1, 2013.

These salad greens were sown in the low tunnels in early November 2012. By the first official day of Spring, they had grown into plants sizable enough for harvesting.

These salad greens were sown in the low tunnels in early November 2012. By the first official day of Spring, they had grown into leaves sizable enough for harvesting.

Overwintered lettuce, April 28th.

Overwintered lettuce, April 28th.

 

Endive, arugula blossoms, and kohlrabi greens. March 25, 2013.

Endive, arugula blossoms, and kohlrabi greens. March 25, 2013.

The overwintered kale is bolting was bolting in early April, but who cares... kale raab is a spring delicacy!

The overwintered kale was bolting in early April, but who cares… kale raab is a spring delicacy!

Even though fall-grown broccoli is FAR superior, I have to grow it in spring to keep up the demand from these two gals.

Even though fall-grown broccoli is FAR superior, I HAVE to grow it in spring to keep up with the demand from these two gals.

Heirloom lettuce and romaine form a beautiful border along the sugar snap peas.

Heirloom lettuce and romaine form a beautiful border along the sugar snap peas.

Spring peas are right up there with summer tomatoes, fall broccoli, and winter carrots!

Spring peas are right up there with summer tomatoes, fall broccoli, and winter carrots!

 

Flowers for dinner? Yes, please! Clockwise from top left, sautéed kohlrabi blooms, a spring salad dressed up with arugula and kale blooms, winter squash gnocchi accented with arugula blossoms, and raw kohlrabi blooms for munching.

Flowers for dinner? Yes, please! Clockwise from top left, sautéed kohlrabi blooms, a spring salad dressed up with arugula and kale blooms, winter squash gnocchi accented with arugula blossoms, and raw kohlrabi blooms for munching.

My first year growing fava beans -- it won't be my last.

My first year growing fava beans — it won’t be my last.

Spring’s Seeds

This spring, I discovered an unexpected side benefit of winter gardening — accelerated seed-saving! Many garden vegetables are biennials, setting flowers and seeds in the second year of growth. These vegetables, like beets and kohlrabi, produce flowers not so much in response to a certain time-period elapsing, but after exposure to a period of chilling temperatures (a process called vernalization). Biennial vegetables in the low tunnels produced seeds for me when they were only about 8 months old. It was fascinating to see this part of their life cycle, and a fun challenge to learn the isolation distances and other seed-saving requirements for each crop.

Once covered by a low tunnel, the protected winter vegetables began flowering in early April (photo April 15th).

Once covered by a low tunnel, the protected winter vegetables began flowering in early April (photo April 15th).

Seed pods on overwintered kohlrabi.

Seed pods on overwintered kohlrabi.

Swiss chard beginning to flower, May 14th.

Swiss chard beginning to flower, May 14th.

Spinach is unique among garden vegetables in that it is dioecious (produces male and female flowers on separate plants). Left, male flowers. Right, spinach seed pods.

Spinach is unique among garden vegetables in that it is dioecious (produces male and female flowers on separate plants). Left, male flowers. Right, spinach seed pods.

 

A Fresh Start

Because I garden in all seasons, Spring officially marks the official “start” of each gardening year.

Although most of the beds are managed with minimal tillage, the BCS tiller comes in handy for turning under winter cover crops.

Although most of the beds are managed with minimal tillage, the BCS tiller comes in handy for turning under winter cover crops.

Ducklings hatched by a friend from eggs that we provided. We need a bigger backyard. Sigh.

Ducklings hatched by a friend from eggs that we provided from our backyard badling. We need a bigger yard. Sigh.

Spring hive inspections. The bees are very gentle, and it is often easier to work the hives and observe them without hat and gloves.

Spring hive inspections. The bees are very gentle, and it is often easier to work the hives and observe them without hat and gloves.

Pa Hubbard captures a honeybee swarm in early June.

 

Spring Fun

Seeing Spring

Seeing Spring

As fun as an unpainted canvas...

As fun as an unpainted canvas…

Never, ever, leave your poly-line for trellising unattended when in the company of a 4- and 2-year-old.

Never, ever, leave your poly-line for trellising unattended when in the company of a 4- and 2-year-old.

Little Bo Peep caught sight of a rabbit in the garden, and shot through the fence and up the hill to chase it away from her veggies.

Little Bo Peep caught sight of a rabbit in the garden, and ran like a shot through the fence and up the hill to chase it away from her veggies.

2013 was a year of box turtles. Miss Muffet painted numbers on their backs to keep up with them all, releasing them back into the garden for natural bug control and fun.

2013 was a year of box turtles. Miss Muffet painted numbers on their backs to keep up with them all, releasing them back into the garden for natural bug control and fun.

 

 

 

12 Comments

  1. Little Mountain Haven

    March 10, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    What a cute video with the girls & mockingbird!..and your girls in the garden in general. 🙂

    I’ve often wondered if seed saving would be easier if overwintered in terms reducing the miles needed for potential cross pollination. In our location we’re quite isolated, but I check the surrounding neighbours garden to see if they have anything is flowering that might cross pollinate. I’m still learning to save seeds, there’s so much to learn!

    You’ve made me anxious for spring planting! Luckily its going to be warmer this week with rain so it can melt that snow away. I’ve got some experimental overwintering in the garden, I’m curious to know if they will produce anything after our colder than normal winter.

    • Ma Hubbard

      March 11, 2014 at 9:40 am

      Thanks, Isis. Spinach and beet pollen can travel 3-5 miles — we can’t check all of the gardens in the vicinity, but my bet is that I’m the only one producing seeds at that time of year (but hopefully that will change in the future!). Fingers-crossed for you that you get some production from those experiments this spring! Enjoy the warm-up!

  2. Kim

    March 11, 2014 at 2:24 am

    How great! I really enjoy these posts. Fruit is something I have a challenge growing but I haven’t given up yet!

    • Ma Hubbard

      March 11, 2014 at 9:37 am

      Thank you, Kim. Wishing you sweet success with your fruits this year!

  3. samuel koger

    March 17, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    My wife and I were at your seminar on 3-15-14 at The Center. I have farmed and gardened all my life, never had researched winter gardening. Our main hobby is being self sufficient, canning and freezing our food form home, raising organic chickens, turkeys and ducks along with our jersey cross breeds for milk/cheese. We both are avid hunters, taking 4 deer and a bear this past year, which we processed ourselves, into steaks, burger, roasts, and summer sausage.
    We were both very excited, cant wait to put in a winter crop this fall, instead of trying to get everything in by fall and done! We were the couple 2 rows from the front, asked questions a couple of times.

    • Ma Hubbard

      March 25, 2014 at 10:31 am

      Wonderful! Thank you for the note!

  4. patricksgarden1

    March 22, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    If I wasn’t a quadriplegic, I think I’d have to track down your address and runaway to volunteer to work for food just to be in your wonderful setting. As a kid who always wanted to runaway to my pop’s farm on the edge of the Outback (I’ve lived in Kansas for the last 35 years), I really envy the wonderful experience you’re providing your children. They are very blessed.

    • Ma Hubbard

      March 25, 2014 at 10:33 am

      Thank you!

  5. sweetgum

    March 25, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    I so enjoy seeing the incredible success you are having with low tunnels; it’s something to aspire to. I’ve been using them two winters now and they’ve been nowhere near as booming as yours. For one thing, hot summers (NW Arkansas, zone 6b/7) make direct seeding unreliable. The other thing is, as your mention in your introduction, you have incredible soil, but here in the Ozarks we most definitely do not. Could you expand at some point on how you get winter gardens off to such a good start (pre-sprouting? transplants?), and how you replenish the soil that is in such generous production?

  6. HebrewHippie

    April 1, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    This was an inspiring read…thank you for sharing!

  7. Anna Christy

    April 15, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    I just found your blog via the Gluten-free Funnel cake recipe. What zone are you in? I am in southeastern Missouri and wondering how much of your experience will be translatable here.

    Thanks!

    Anna

    • Ma Hubbard

      April 17, 2014 at 9:08 am

      Zone 6b. Thanks for visiting.