Our Best Harvest Season Yet!
It finally feels a little bit like we’ve arrived. For four years we’ve worked hard shaping our homestead into what we imagined- building orchards and gardens, planting trees, installing mushroom logs… it has been a lot of work with little reward so far, until this year. Things are finally starting to produce for us and it feels wonderful! This year was definitely a turning point.
We put in a second garden this year, which means we’ve been doing a lot of harvesting the past few months. Because of the increase in space I was able to plant more dried beans than ever before- these are beans that grow just like green beans, but instead of picking them you let them hang and dry on the plant, then harvest the dried beans inside. We’ll cook them up for soups and stews and Mexican-inspired dishes.
It was a pretty rough year for tomatoes again due to the wet weather and blight running rampant here- but we did get plenty for fresh eating, just not enough to can. Seems like tomatillos are the thing to plant here, as they don’t get blight and they are incredibly productive. I was able to make a ton of tomatillo salsa and enchilada sauce from only about 4 plants!
Squash and carrots did very well this year too- in fact, we grew some of the biggest carrots I’ve ever seen! We harvested a hundred or so pounds of potatoes, and a good bushel of purple sweet potatoes. Corn was a new vegetable we planted this year (yes, I’ve never really grown corn before!) and it did not disappoint! We planted a few different colorful varieties for grinding into flour and for popcorn- they are still drying, but I hope to try popping some soon.
What’s This Wiggly Thing in My Raspberry Jam?
This was the year we finally got around to planting raspberries- and we went big! We planted 100-row feet of raspberries, with about 10 different varieties, some we ordered, but many came from a friend.
I knew that there was a raspberry pest in the area, the dreaded Spotted Wing Drosophila… but I was hoping that we didn’t have it on our homestead. It’s a terrible pest, accidentally introduced into the United States from Asia a handful of years ago, and it has spread wildly across the country. It’s a fruit fly, but instead of seeking out already rotting and fermented fruit, it is able to pierce and lay eggs in unripe fruit, and it loves raspberries. The eggs develop and hatch into maggots, just as the fruit becomes ripe and perfect for picking. It can decimate an organic raspberry harvest like nothing.
And yep, we have it. I spent a lot of time battling it this fall- in order to stay on top of it I had to pick the raspberries clean every single day, then sort them all by hand, feeding the wormy ones to the chickens and immediately freezing the good ones to prevent the fruit fly eggs that were inevitably in there to keep from hatching. It really took all the fun out growing raspberries. Missing one day of picking meant losing over 50% of the harvest the next day, plus allowing more flies to hatch and the problem to become worse. And I know I ate a fair amount of wormy berries, which totally grosses me out.
There’s really not a lot you can do to get rid of them if you want to grow organically. I’ll be spending some time this winter brain-storming, looking into permaculture solutions, and hopefully coming up with a plan for next raspberry season!
It was an up and down year for our bees- we got two new hives this spring, and one took off and did wonderfully all summer, growing their numbers and making a good amount of honey, and the other really floundered. Truthfully, we didn’t do a great job as beekeepers this year. We should have inspected and managed the hives a little more than we did… we’ve always been more hands-off than micromanaging-type beekeepers, but this year we were a little too hands-off. The strong hive ended up swarming at the end of summer, which set back honey production for us.
The good news is that the strong hive is looking good going into winter, and we were able to harvest around 40 pounds of the best honey we’ve ever had! Our honey has always been spectacular, but this year’s was unbelievably good!
Karl had to reign me in a little on the garlic planting this year. We planted 20-something varieties last year, and got over 200 bulbs… of which I was hoping to try them all and narrow it down to my absolute favorites this year. But I think I need another year or two of using them before I can do that, so we planted about the same again this year (I wanted to plant more!).
We planted them in the newer garden where the soil isn’t as stellar as our original garden, so we amended it with tons of composted chicken manure and some fresh- which is perfect for garlic because it has a high nitrogen requirement.
We’ll keep eating lots of garlic, and I’ll keep taking notes on how good each variety is. Which is another problem… they’re all good!
October was special because Karl earned a sabbatical from his work and had the entire month off. It was an incredible opportunity for us to get a lot of things done… those little things that just never quite made it to the top of list but really did need to get done, you know the ones.
The biggest projects were finishing the insulated shop attached to our garage, installing a hardy kiwi trellis, and giving the land a makeover by clearing a lot of brush and re-grading the ground around the chicken coop. It’s pretty amazing how fast a month goes by. We were able to go into winter feeling good about the status of all our projects, clearing a lot of little tasks off our plates, and looking forward to the spring.
We are officially tucked in and hunkered down for the cold Wisconsin winter ahead. Winter is the time when we do all our planning, studying, and research… so as soon as the holidays are over, we’ll be back at it, dreaming about the season to come!
Hope you have a productive season as well! Thanks for being here with us and following along on our homestead journey!
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