Thursday, 25 April 2013

Late April 2013 - freezing weather persists in Iceland

A very cold spring!
Things are more hard than in previous years. This spring is surely very cold. Still no sign of spring, snow every few days, hard frosts every morning, and sometimes freezing nights down to -10ºC.

This, and a series of failures, made me write what is probably the most pessimist post of this blog in recent times.

I also lost plenty of the rye I have sown, but thankfully not the perennial rye and hulless oats, because I prepare the soil as light as possible, with sand and compost and I protect each and every rye seedling with peatmoss, a double fleece and a thick plastic over it. The soil almost did not froze with such a protection after a night frost of -10ºC.

I received seeds of barley and wheat but I haven't started them yet. Its already quite late, but weather is also not cooperative. I am going to try them, but I don't think I am going to have a grain harvest, because the season will be too short, and also my garden does only have partial sunlight during the day (but at least one part of it is sheltered from extreme and cold winds which can destroy any grain crop)

Now I can understand why people had so many famines on the past medieval times. It is easy to have crop failures when weather is unexpected and plants die.

Seedlings are like babies: they demand constant attention
Indoors I am losing seedlings of squash, sunflower, tomatoes and peppers because of a lack of space and plants are being neglected and lacking plenty of sunlight. Any careless with moisture and light can quickly weaken these warm-loving seedlings and then they eventually die. Aphids also contribute to the weakening of seedlings.

I lost a few seedlings of broccoli, beets outdoors when aclimatizating the plants and after the temperature dropped so quickly that soil promply froze hard in a few evenings, even before sunset.

Because it is so much work to garden in Iceland, I think gardening with annuals is really not worth the effort and one ought to work with perennials, because they are much easy once established! Once again, permaculture has the solution.

I also think plants in general do not like to grow in greenhouses. Plants suffer much more from diseases, need much more watering and fertility, and the temperature and light profile is unnatural. Therefore, it costs much more money and effort to keep them, and it is way easier to grow them outdoors.

Outdoors however the garden is looking nicer. The broad beans, peas and recently planted broccoli and spring onions are now surviving these hard freezes. They have peatmoss to protect the root from freezing, where it encounters the surface. Above it, a double fleece and thick plastic sheet, ensure that soil remains only lightly frozen. Still most spring bulb flowers I planted last autumn are very delayer and I think some will never come out.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Mid April - delayed plans but new hopes

Peas and Broad beans survive a freeze down to -16ºC under a cold frame
This last week was the coldest temperatures of the winter. But nevertheless the broad beans and peas survived well! Although some broad beans seedlings died; these were the ones that were just at the edge of the plastic sheet covering them during the hard freeze. They froze hard and therefore died. But they were 3 out of 30 seedlings. The remaining stood a constant -3ºC and frozen soil, but not deeply.

The next ones to be moved outdoors
Now that the worst seems over, and the spring temperatures returned (although with night frosts still down to -6ºC) I decided to change the coldframe and cover a new area of the garden, where I planted some garlic (and which apparently survived the deep freeze). I will now plant the remaining of the garlic and also multiplier onions, and possibly some parsley, lettuce, leeks, broccoli and kale. They were seedlings but in principle should stand frost and snows under the cold frame. I plan to let them there between now and early May.

Most of the spring onions seedlings, that were outdoors, died. I had planted them before the deep freeze; they were 10, only 4 survived but damaged. They were too small and only covered by a light fleece. I guess they would do much better under the cold frame. My plan for them is to let them grow more indoors, and then transplant them outdoors next month, together with some larger broccoli and other vegetables.

Potatoes are doing fine even with significant frost
To my surprise, some potatoes which were sprouting and were set outdoors, are fine even after these last 3 days of night frosts. They even stood some snow, but they were next to a wall and covered with plastic. Some shots showed some frost damaged but this was little.

Cereals for self-sufficiency: delayed plans
About half of the rye I have been diligently transplanting outdoors died during the several freezes of the last two months, especially the one in more exposed areas. In my experience, it was not only the freezes but also the extreme wind that created very dried soil. I still only have a little more than 2 m2, far from the desired 10m2. Several problems occurred recently: first the grain I bought in a store is all old (near expire date) and therefore only about 5% of the grain is viable seed. I haven't found fresh grain nearby where I live. Second, I tried ordering grain through the internet but most companies do not ship to Iceland, or they charge large sending costs. Third and worst, much grain seed I have ordered online is stuck at the customs. It seems I cannot grow enough grain this year.

However I had a few seeds of hulless oats and perennial rye and I did a few trays of these. Not enough for the desired grain area but enough for perhaps an extra 2 m2. Because young grain is tolerant of frost but sensitive to freezes, I am waiting one or two more weeks with the trays indoors.

Quinoa and amaranth
Unfortunately quinoa and amaranth are a little complicate. When just sown, seedlings rapidly emerge but are sensitive to temperature, light and moisture changes, or aphids. I often had sudden losses of many seedlings without reason other than root rot or insufficient bright light. I tried quinoa seedlings outside but they were also damaged by frost; however the plant seems very hardy when acclimatized and big enough. I am sowing more quinoa and amaranth today.

Beans indoors
I have peas, cowpeas and dried beans indoors. The cowpeas were greatly damaged by aphids and I lost most plants I have been trying, but peas are giving their first pods yet also suffered by excessive moisture and root rot. Both suffer in greenhouse conditions and prefer outdoors, but the cowpeas are obviously a warm weather crop. I have also a large box with red beans and they are forming many pods now! We also are excited with our growing plants of pigeon peas, lima beans and winged beans. Overall, with the remaining broad beans and peas outdoors, I should have enough pulses to eat for a month or two.

Alternative roots
I am growing a lot of tiger nut tubers. They are easy to grow if temperature is warm but moisture is kept on the low side. Oca strongly dislikes the greenhouse. I try often to freshen plants outdoors. It is tolerant of chilly weather but I haven't tested by frost, which probably would damage the plant. I also have a pair of rampant jicama growing indoors (a tasty root is expected by the summer, after 9 months of growth).

Corn, sesame, sunflower, melon, squash
I have small plants of these. I had a few losses of sunflower when a slug ate some seedlings indoors. Sesame is also another of those sensitive to excessive moisture. I plan to plant all these crops outdoors, by June, when frost is gone and plants are big enough.

Failures and hopes
Besides this I have been unlucky trying to grow luffa, okra and snake gourd from seed.  Not only the seed can be tricky to germinate, but seedlings grow intially slowly and are rather sensitive to light, temperature and moisture. Another thing that I have tried and also failed were sweet potatoes and peanuts. The sweet potato died over the winter, and a new root is still yet to sprout. The peanuts also got stuck in their growth a couple of months ago and I haven't tried new seeds since then.

Yes, there are a lot of failures and delays, but also a lot of hopes and wishes. I plan going larger this summer on turnips, beets and other roots like scorzonera. Roots can feed you well, so I want to include them in our self-sufficiency experiment.

Next post we will speak in more peculiar crops we have been growing. Stay tuned for updates!

Monday, 15 April 2013

Permaculture in Iceland - Videos

This is March 2013 and its snowing heavily outside in south Iceland. In this video we will see how we are growing seedlings indoors to later plant out. We have a wide variety of annuals and perennials: first hugelkultur indoors: peas, millet, spring onions, pak choi; bamboo; followed by siberian pea shrub, hulless oats, lima beans, broad beans (fava beans) (also planted outdoors, under plastic and snow), avocado, radish, cowpeas, kale and perennial broccoli 9 star, and oca.

In this video we will see: tiger nuts, winged beans, galangal (thai ginger), broccoli, indigo root (blue dye), groundnuts (edible roots), amaranth, peas, millet (a drought tolerant alternative to corn), chenopodium paudicaule (non saponin type of quinoa), asparagus, neem (natural insecticide), okra, siberian tomato, rocotto chili pepper, luffa, corn salad, rocket salad, spring onions, walking onions and leeks, rye, jícama, passionfruit, chilean mesquite, date palm, teff (drough tolerant cereal), oca, siberian apple, silverberry (elaeagnus), pigeon peas, moringa (dormant), tiger nuts, runner beans, princess tree, mulberry, honey locust (dormant). Also a short explanation about our outdoors cold frame.

Videos were done in March 2013.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

early April 2013- We are back to the winter

14 April - Early April
The weather outdoors has been fine, with mild days, except in the last few days, where the temperatures went downhill and we got the coldest freeze of the year yet!

The survival of siberian tomatoes!
The major news was the survival of the siberian tomatoes tested outdoors. Not only they were unaffected by the brief frosts down to -3°C but also they survived an entire day below freezing with snow, at the same temperature. One plant showed irreversible stem damage but others only had minor leaf burn and quickly recover when brought indoors. And yes, the entire plants (around 10cm tall), with pot and soil included, froze solid hard. The siberian tomatoes only experienced a little bit more than 24 hours of a constant freeze at -3ºC. I did not want to submit the plants to the freeze we got yesterday down to -16ºC.

Surprise were also some pumpkin sprouts. I test them outdoors during a few days with frost and even snow, and a third of them survived. I moved them back indoors, but those will be my selected seedlings.

The cold frame ensured most peas and fava beans survived the -16ºC deep freeze
Under the cold frame, the peas and favas enjoyed the warm temperatures when there is a calm spring day (outdoors can be 10°C and inside the frame goes up to 25°C). During a minor frost, the soil does not freeze there, and during a day around -3°C the soil barely freezes. This is no problem for the peas and favas. Now, during this second deep freeze, they seem to have mostly survived.

A small seedling of broccoli and brussels sprout was totally unaffected under snow and mild freezing. In my experience from last winter, if the seedlings are more woody, then will survive even a long term deep freeze, under mulch. A kale seedling also survived this deep freeze, but most spring onion seedlings were seriously damaged (they were too small and soil was rather naked - no mulch was a mistake).

I have started many seeds in trays.. Alpine strawberries and more asparagus; more spring onions and leeks, calendula, snapdragon, perennial flowers,  and some fancy stuff I have got in the post: potato onions and perennial rye. One great development are the first pods forming in the peas and lima beans, also the bush beans are putting their first flowers. They are not affected by the aphids as their companions, the cowpeas. One worry is the oca which is showing some leaves dropping in their stems and then the stems start to die. This apparently is because of both warm nights and excessive moisture. The ocas seem to enjoy the chilling days outdoors, a mild frost is ok, but not too much cold. Likewise for the groundnut. The jícama showed some slowth in their growth and needs transplant. What I have transplanted were many of new seedlings of siberian tomatoes, after I was so happy with the performance of this variety. I also transplanted more broccoli and mini chili peppers.

On the self-sufficiency plants, I did some frantic sowing of grain: namely perennial rye and hulless oats. I would like also to try the buckwheat but I sown quinoa and the chenopodium paudicaule. I might have done a few changes to my 100% 1 month food self-sufficiency plan.