In some ways, my garden this year was a pretty big disappointment. I planted so many beets over the season but I've really only gotten a few pounds. The ones I planted in July keep getting eaten by something. The early ones were stunted by my idiocy (i.e. compacted soil). We didn't get many carrots considering how many seeds we sowed. And our pumpkins and squash plants were nearly killed.
But there were some successes. The best was the celeriac. Well, not the celeriac I tried starting way back in March. Those poor, stunted things have only survived and haven't produced so much as a hint of a bump. But the celeriac starts I bought did very well. Tonight I rushed to harvest the last 10, and the final tally is 18 roots for a total of 22.75 pounds, including the greens; I feed the leaves to the chickens and freeze the stalks for flavouring stocks. Celeriac seems pretty disease and pest resistant. While everything else wilted under the onslaught of powdery mildew and squash bugs, the celeriac kept going through it all. I think it was their kind of season: cool and wet. Even though we had lots of slugs, they never appeared to suffer at all.
By the numbers, zucchini was the real success, which I harvested at least 27 pounds of (I'm pretty sure I forgot to weigh and record a few too). I planted two plants of the variety Costata Romanesco, at the recommendation of Carol Deppe. When I bought the seeds last January, I thought I would try my hand at dehydrating foods, including squash slices like Ms. Deppe, but life went in other directions. My main desire for the zucchinis were to eat them grilled, which I discovered last year. But the first zucchinis I cut off the plant tasted absolutely terrible grilled. I still don't know why: if it's soil (truth be told, none of our vegetables taste as good as local farmer-grown vegetables) or the variety or what. But after that I stuck to grating them for baking, freezing them for future baking, and using them in chutney. Even so, I'm ashamed to say I couldn't keep up. At least a couple of them rotted before I could get to them. The plants did pretty well, especially compared to the delicata squash and sugar pumpkin plants. I did see a few squash bugs hanging about the zucchini and thought they'd be goners, but they didn't seem to struggle too much.
I'm still declaring the pumpkins a success. We only harvested four out of the seven fruits that formed (one withered and two got eaten by pests so I fed the remnants to the chickens) but that made for nearly 12 pounds of food. I will definitely try squash and pumpkin again, but I'll give them more room.
Some volunteer potatoes sprung up and we got 7.5 pounds of potatoes from them - just tonight we found two more big Norlands when we dug up the celeriac. Let it be known: volunteer foods are welcome to turn up in my garden any time and I will let them live until I can eat them at the first opportunity.
My husband spent most of today insulating our chicken coop and buying a heat lamp in preparation for tonight's forecasted -5C. We had a chicken mentor assess our coop the other day, and it needs some work to keep the birds warm. We're not really ready for -30C nights, but we'll chip away at it and hopefully have a long while before we need to be ready for it. We turned the light on tonight but they were all still awake at 9 o'clock, so I think it weirded them out. We turned it off, hoping they would be able to relax and the new insulation would keep them warm overnight.
We still have a lot to learn. But they are really lovely to have around. I love having creatures who eat our vegetable scraps with gusto and will eventually turn it into eggs and compost. And they're lively and adorable and sing some pleasing songs. Tonight a bunch of them gave themselves dust baths for the first time (that we'd seen anyways), which was fascinating. But the best is when they jump up to get the wee berries from our burning bush (at least I think that's what it is). A couple of experienced chicken keepers I know were surprised to hear that chickens would do this, so maybe it's just ours, but they are adorable. It's my new mission to try to photograph them jumping for berries, but with the days getting shorter and me at work for most of the daylight hours, I don't know if it will happen. In the meantime, I offer some of these.
Now that I've seen what fun they have when we let them loose in our backyard, I am struck by what cruelty it must be to contain hens four to a cage for their entire lives. I'm so glad we're having this chance to get to know the pleasures of chicken keeping beyond fresh eggs.