Saturday, 25 May 2013

Late May - Spring has finally arrive but its a rainy one!

Hello everyone,

May has been a much expected month. After a mild winter, almost without snow or freezing temperatures, March and April had the worst to come, with severe freezes without snow cover and a few blizzards. But May has seen mostly mild temperatures, the first half was very sunny, mild afternoons but with plenty of night frosts, with some days with very windy and drying causing loss of many seedlings, whilst the second half of May has been very rainy, with a general lack of sunshine.

Still, we have the first flowers of the year: crocus and tulips. Very late for their normal flowering time.

The first tulips. They flowers last only a short time because of the rainy and windy weather

Losing seedlings for birds, drying winds and minor frosts
The broad beans and peas have been growing nicely, as well as the different grain crops (barley, oats, rye and perennial rye and wheat). Birds sometimes cause trouble when they go digging stuff for their nests, and sometimes eating seedlings of leeks or peas. How to keep them away? I don't know yet, but the fleece or the cold frame seems to be the best solution.

The seedlings of walking onions, spring onions, leeks, pak choy and kale, have endured the first few weeks after transplant outdoors, under a fleece. However many seedlings (about a third of them) having been lost for ocasional harder frosts or during strong and very drying cold winds. I also lost about a third of the garlic that has rotten during the last two very wet weeks!

The multiplier onions and chives are doing great but they surely cry for warmer and sunnier weather. I have gathered some wood to build a raised bed and cold frame, in our garden beds, but I am not sure how it will end up. Even after decades of experience, I am still an impractical and inefficient gardener. Still I have lots of fun developing skill mistake after mistake. This is my sobering conclusion.

The salads have been a total failure when sown outdoors. Often seedlings dry during windy winds (even if I water them twice a day), then birds mess up with the soil and eat the remaining seedlings. One solution was to grow salads in trays first indoors, then outdoors.

Perennial hopes
I am now very excited to try perennial crops, rather unconventional, just to overcome the troubles of having to grow always every year, plants from seed trays, which is a lot of work! These are the key for a self-sustainable garden in the Icelandic climate. This is an extremely important insight. Basically, these will be roots like scorzonera, multiplier onions, chives, walking onions, groundnut and chinese yams; pulses like the siberian pea and honey locust; cereals like perennial rye, ricegrass and lyme grass; greens like miner lettuce, good king henry, asparagus, perennial broccoli and crambe; and a few fruit trees and berries.

Experiments outdoors
The big attraction is planned to be the painted mountain corn and siberian tomatoes, but will also include food production from sunflowers, squash and cold tolerant varieties of watermelon and melon. Second is trying to keep the trees I am growing since last year (mulberries, pecan nut, honey locust, etc). These trees were not enjoying being indoors (too warm temperatures, pests, messing up with their natural cycles), so I moved them outdoors but they were burnt during frosty winds, but are still alive. I also bought a 3 year old and flowering "Stella" cherry tree (that I will place in the most sheltered and warmest spot in the garden); its a big gamble whether or not we will be able to have cherries this summer; I also have plenty of flowers ready to plant outdoors (mostly viola, tagetes, clematis), and plenty of turnips and swedes. Some plants will surely be a failure but with so much diversity something will probably work!

Moving the cold frame around protects young seedlings from birds and cold drying winds

Experiments indoors
The largest bets are for several varieties of millet, teff, trying to get an harvest from quinoa, having a larger harvest of amaranth; as well as the experiments with pigeon peas and jícama. The best growing plants are the tiger nuts, turmeric and passionfruits (I have one plant flowering and even setting the first fruit, after 2 years from seed), the worst were the lima and winged beans lost recently for spider mites. Complicated is also to keep the macas, good king henry and chenopodium paudicaule (the non-saponin quinoa) past the seedling stage. I got a new variety of ocas after losing the ones planted in late winter (basically to a lack of sunlight and aphids). I also have stone age wheat, ready to transplant outdoors.

Community garden
Here at Sólheimar we are proud of continuing our new project, a community garden that will also be based in organic and permaculture principles. We planted raspberries, red clover and mints the other day, in addition to the spring flowers already there, as well as cherry and apple trees that survived since planted last autumn. I hope to carry a few perennials from my garden to the community garden, which will be labelled to any visitor interested in discovering them. As well as some of the broad beans and cereals.

More to follow in soon.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Mid May - cereals, legumes and other permaculture species have survived freezing weather!

Hello everybody!

The freezing weather has just ended!

Spring has arrived!
In fact it has lasted on and off since mid March until the first days of May, with about 3 separate periods lasting about a week, where the temperature dropped to almost -15ºC at night, for a few days in a row. And the first day of May marked a record low of -14ºC for May since records began. But in the last week, we had temperatures almost always above zero, and a mix of sunny spring days and rainy cool days.

Spring has finally arrived in Iceland. Crocus start flowering.

The broad and beans under just a double fleece and a black plastic sheet, have nearly all survived! Fleece rules! Sometimes I lost up to 10% of the seedlings during those freezing spells, but then I planted new ones. These will be indeed a selection of the most cold hardy seedlings I could ever have! And now they thrive!

Inside the cold frame, peas have survived several deep freezes. And we have now planted many more crops!
The perennial rye, hulless oats, spring onions, garlic, multiplier onions and broccoli, also survived under such a protection. This ought have been the most challenging spring gardening I have ever had!

Broad beans and perennial rye have survived deep freezes, under a fleece. Notice the moss mulching that ensures survival during a severe freeze.

Cereal party!
I planted finally a field of 4 types of cereals: perennial rye, hulless oats, hulless barley and kamut wheat. And some rows of pak choy, walking onions, red siberian kale and carrots (sown). I planted a plot 2m by 3m, enough for 15 days of grain for a person.

Our cereal bed for a 1 month grain harvest. It has hulless oats, perennial rye, hulless barley and kamut wheat

Fleece covering the cereal bed. When weather is very cold, one of two plastic layers were put over it.

Everything seems nice outdoors, although the awakening of plants is just starting and slowly. I therefore moved all my tree seedlings outdoors since they were in such bad shape or still asleep, while growing indoors.

I have now ready a large amount of seedlings of more brassicas, onions, beets, celery, fennel, turnips, and less known species such as scorzoneras, the siberian tomatoes, the painted mountain corn (both tolerant of frost and snow), the perennial species of multiplier onions and walking onions, and more warm loving crops such as squash, watermelon, sunflower and quinoa.

Often I lost seedlings that become weak due to improper soil or watering or insect pests or unnatural temperature.

One thing is sure, growing plants indoors is a lot more effort, due to the unnatural growing conditions of a greenhouse, especially for most species which are more used to temperate climates.

Growing seedlings indoors, requires a lot of sunlight. A thin transparent plastic creates extra moisture, and then you don't need to water as much.

A renewed wish for perennial crops....
But growing outdoors is a lot of work! So I have been thinking more lately of slowly introducing more perennial species as food staples, for the cold climate outdoors, rather than the common annual crops that demand so much effort and attention!

These will be: siberian pea, honey locust, mesquite; groundnut, chinese yams and arrowhead; scorzonera, skirret, perennial onions, good king henry, crambe, perennial broccoli, indian ricegrass and perennial rye.

Apios americana, groundnut. I think this can be a good potato-like crop to grow in Iceland.  They are very cold hardy, when dormant (the aereal part dies in winter). They have survived -15ºC without snow cover.

Chinese yams are another hardy perennial root crop to grow (experimentally) in Iceland. Their "tropical" like leaf growth stands minor frosts.

Tiger nuts produce plenty of tasty tiny tubers. They are frost sensitive,  but easy to grow; they are a perfect indoor crop.

Bean troubles
Another sad topic has been the infestation of beans with red spider mites that devastated my lima beans, red beans and winged beans. I thought it was a viral disease or a nutrient defficiency, but apparently the cause for their demise was just spider mites, due to low humidity.

The lima bean crop was severely damaged. A nutrient deficiency? A virus disease? Spider mites? Irregular watering?

Quinoa, amaranth and chenopodium
These were affected by root rot and also something eating the seedlings. But I am protecting the containers and having a lot of them, just to assure that I will have some crop saved. However, these crops are way better to be started outdoors, if the climate would allow.

Survivors of cold! 
The painted mountain corn survives well an ocasional frost outdoors, down to -3ºC, just as well as the siberian tomato. The chinese yam, good king henry, crambe and maca, also survive well minor frosts.

Normal corn is severely damaged by minor frosts (left), while painted mountain corn is fine (center). Siberian tomato has survived several minor frosts and shows new growth, despite minor leaf burn.

I will keep more updates in soon. Especially new videos!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Early May - videos showing the latest permaculture updates!

I did another set of videos on the latest updates of our indoor and outdoor garden!

Part I. Beans, siberian tomatoes, quinoa, lima beans, rocotto pepper, corn salad, winged beans, groundnuts, almond tree, jícama, teff, yams, mulberry, squash, corn, scorzonera, and other crops

Part II. On a cold freezing day in late April, broad beans and peas grow under a cold frame, while a few other perennial species remain dormant. I also show a few tulips coming, our cereals plot, our newly made huegelkultur and also kitchen compost.