Friday, July 23, 2021

Half(ish) Through 2021 Update

Farmer with Squash
James with the first of the squash from the 2021 harvest.  Squash make up the majority of what I eat in the winter.

It's official, I have made it 1 year on vegetables that I grew in my very own backyard and with plenty to spare!!!

Let's not misconstrue that though, I have most certainly been to the store and I have most certainly eaten out.  However those are both optional for me now.  I don't have to go to the store unless I really really really want that tub of ice cream or chips or chocolate or whatever my latest craving is.  I also don't have to eat out unless I want to, which makes eating out much more enjoyable when I do partake.

Food security is what I now have!  Your average chump has to go to the store and/or eat out whenever they are hungry.  I do not, I can cook my own meals from my own vegetables whenever I want or I can eat out if I want, it's MY choice.  Now that is what food security is all about.

I generally opt to not go to the store unless I need a non-food item, which usually results in me impulse buying a tasty food item that I do not need (bah humbug, but I am getting much better about not doing this as much).  I also usually opt to not eat out unless I really want to or there's going to be good company at the restaurant.  I've gotten pretty dang good at cooking my meals so whenever I eat out my usual reaction is "I could've made that better myself, why am I paying for this?"  The exception are the 5 star restaurants that make crazy dishes.  However those restaurants are usually so tasty because they use mass amounts of butter and cream, both of which I usually do not use in my cooking.  I'm getting way off topic here though...

I also need to point out that the food I grow is not just for me, I rent out the spare bedrooms in my house and they have free range of everything I grow.  They actually get first dibs on it, they just have to harvest what they want themselves.  I eat what they do not.

I've also discovered that I eat a hell of a lot more vegetables than your average American from my very small sample size that have been my past and present housemates as well as just talking to people around town.  It appears that what is "normal" is to have a handful of vegetables a month (at most) and have every meal be largely meat.  I go the opposite (and better) route, my meals are largely vegetables with a few pieces of meat a month (GASP).

How do you live like that?  Where do you get your protein from?  You must be so deprived!  Is the usual reaction when people see or hear about how I eat.

Those are different subjects for different days but I'm most certainly not deprived at all and I very much enjoy the food that I'm currently growing and eating!  

Having said all that, I should probably get to the actual point of this particular post, an unfiltered half(ish) year update on what in the world is actually going on in the urban farm...

The year was off to a slow start and all of the crops are currently delayed about a month based off of prior years.  This is frustrating as I have set timeframes in my mind of when everything should be ready and when I should be harvesting each crop.  It drives the OCD part of me nuts for everything to be about a month late but hey, that's how life goes and I shall deal with it and learn from it.

This delay is likely due to an unusually cold and snowy April.  It's normal for the front range in Colorado to get a few snow storms in April but they're usually short-lived.  It'll get cold and snow for a day then warm back up to 60 or 70 degrees then maybe snow again a few weeks later.  This year the month of April seemed to be one snow-storm after another and it didn't really warm up.  I think this kept the soil cooler for longer than normal thus causing everything to be delayed.  Or maybe there's something else entirely at play here, I don't really know.


The greens did fairly well this year and they've stuck around for much longer than normal.  I'm actually still harvesting some of the spring greens.  They're still pretty tasty, only some of them have gotten really bitter and inedible.  The remaining greens are just about done but I also just planted the fall crops so I may have a few weeks gap without greens but maybe not.  Orach remains the key to my never-ending salad supply.  I love orach, it's amazing.  It tolerates the cold and the heat equally well, the leaves get gigantic, you just pull them off and throw them in with your salad greens.  When the lettuce greens are on their way in or out my salads are largely orach.  The cooler weather in April probably helped the greens stick around longer than normal, which is awesome.  It could also be attributed to my further diversifying of the crops but I need to be able to repeat it in the coming years when it's hotter earlier in the year for that to be the case, time will tell.  For now I'm going with the cooler weather in April.  Forellenschluss lettuce is a new variety I tried this year that did really well.


I got sick of trying to grow potatoes in my wood potato towers, this year I'm trying out grow bags and so far so good.  The plants are exploding out of the bags, well the greens are anyways, I don't have the slightest idea if there are any actual potatoes or not, but I hope there are.  I really enjoy homegrown potatoes, they're a million times better than store bought as they are a flavor explosion.  The potatoes never did that well in the towers and the tower concept I haven't been able to get to work properly, I don't think it does work.  I think the biggest downfall is how the towers are made out of wood.  The wood absorbs the water from the soil.  This wet wood starts rotting while attracting bugs that like to feast on the potatoes I'm trying to grow.  All in all probably not the best environment for potatoes.


The strawberries started out strong this year, again probably due to the cooler weather in April.  There were loads of strawberries early in the year.  Recently they've been in a bit of a lull but I expect them to pick back up in a week or two and to once again be exploding with berries.  The weeds and fake strawberries that are trying to overtake the strawberry patch probably don't help anything.  I need to get in there and weed but I have higher priority items on my list.  The second strawberry patch became completely overgrown with weeds, I did weed it and the strawberries are alive and doing well, I even got a single alpine strawberry, hooray!  Keeping the weeds out of this area is going to be tough and I'm not looking forward to that.


I tried out quite a few varieties of radishes this year, some did really well some didn't do anything and went straight to seed.  This is to be expected with radishes and most vegetables.  I like to take the shotgun approach to finding which varieties grow well where I'm at.  I buy several varieties, plant some of each and see what happens.  Repeat next year with different varieties.  Then you slowly narrow in on the varieties that grow well for you.  With this approach I've found several varieties that are not normally grown in this area that do well.  My radish variety winners for this year are:

-Purple Plum
-De 18 Jours
-Pink Beauty


The peppers started out strong with some very early peppers, then they stopped producing for a bit while the plants grew a lot, now they're starting to produce again.  Some of the pepper plants I put next to the strawberry patch, they got covered with strawberry plants and weeds which caused the bugs to gnaw on them like no tomorrow.  Not great but we'll see what happens.  I got a single shishito pepper the other day, I didn't want to cook it since it's a loner.  I stared at it for a bit pondering if I dare eat it raw.  I landed on there's no way it'll be a hot one as it's a loner so I ate it raw, in one bite (only about 1 in 4 shishito's end up being hot).  It ended up being the hottest shishito pepper I've ever eaten, and I've had some hot ones before.  That was miserable but fun and it taught me a lesson, always expect the unexpected, which you would think I would know that by now.  Apparently not.

Cauliflower, Broccoli & Cabbages

The cauliflower, broccoli and cabbages are all doing pretty well.  I did spot a few aphids on one of the cauliflowers about a month ago.  I let them be as I spotted ladybug larvae on the opposite site of the leaves (ladybugs eat aphids).  The aphids disappeared and haven't been back, go ladybugs!!!  I thought for sure the aphids were going to explode across everything but they did not, there are also a fair amount of marigolds planted around which are likely helping to keep the aphids away.  No pest issues with the broccoli and there have been a few small heads but they just don't do well in the heat and bolt.  The cabbages are in a shady area of the yard and have been growing much slower than prior years but they seem to be strong.  I haven't spotted any aphids on them, which is surprising since they are bordered by weeds and sunflowers but again they have lots of marigold friends.  The slugs on them have been minimal but noticeable this year.  Last year I was constantly picking slugs off the cabbages, this year I've only picked a handful off.  The slugs are few and far between but there are still holes in the leaves which may be from slugs or grasshoppers or something else entirely, I'm not sure.


My cucumber bounty is abysmal and basically non-existent.  The seedlings would sprout then get eaten, slugs are the primary suspect as I spotted a slug on one.  I replanted like crazy over and over and some plants made it through but only a few.  I'll happily be supporting my favorite local farmer by buying cucumbers from them since mine have basically failed.


I didn't plant a single dill seed this year and yet I have harvested 20 pounds of dill so far and more to come.  It's all volunteer dill from last years dill that I let go to seed.  I decided I'd happily let it grow but it ended up being a bit too much, I should've thinned it out as it started crowding out anything it was growing with.  However I did discover that growing dill with greens is a fantastic idea.  The dill shades the greens, keeping them nice and cool which lets them last longer.  I will certainly be doing that again, and on purpose!  This is the type of thing you discover when you just let things happen and observe.  There's no way I would have otherwise learned that.  The universe and nature have such a good sense of humor sometimes, 20 pounds of dill and nothing to pickle (SIGH).  After crowd sourcing some ideas on Instagram of what to do with this much dill, I settled on dill pesto (with sunflower seeds, not pine nuts).  I made 30 + jars of this, which is insane seeing as last year I ate 1 jar of pesto.  There's much more pesto eating in my future this year, which is fine by me.  I also gave away a large amount of dill.  For a while I was asking everyone I talked to if they wanted dill.  "Hi my name is James, do you want some dill?"  Turns out that is usually met with a very confused look.  I also made sure to enunciate when I asked that so it did not get mistaken for something else.


The squash are doing well?  I think?  Since everything is delayed by about a month I'm not too sure, the plants appear to be doing well and I just harvest my first few zucchinis the other day, they were delicious.  I did have 4 squash plants bite the dust, they were the same variety and I haven't looked at my garden journal yet to figure out which variety it was.  It basically looked like they got powdery mildew early on but it didn't spread to any of the other varieties so I'm not sure what it actually was, it was weird.  The plants didn't fully bite the dust, they're actually still alive but they look like a sad excuse of squash plants.  A normal person would pull them but I want to see what happens when I leave them in the ground.  Will they still produce squash?  Will they effect the other squash plants around them?  Will they bounce back?  Time will tell and I will find out.  Squash is a large part of my winter food so I hope they do well and I bet they will.  I think I successfully spaced them properly this year, which would certainly be a first.  I also planted beans along with my squash plants.  There are several reasons for this.  The OCD part of me can't stand leaving a bunch of unused ground when planting squashes, even if you know it's needed.  Planting beans along with them helps me feel like I'm better utilizing the space.  Beans grow nice and tall vertically.  Squashes do not, they grow horizontally.  Combining them seems like it should be a good combo.  Plus beans generally fix nitrogen into the ground.  Squashes use a lot of nitrogen.  Seems like a match made in heaven to me.  So far so good and they're all doing great (more or less).


The beans outside of the squash patch are growing like crazy.  I haven't gotten any actual beans yet but I think they're doing well.  The snow peas are just now dying off and I got a great harvest this year, they were sssssssoooo tasty.  It's very odd for them to be around this late in the year.  I delayed planting them with the snowy April and I also had other things I wanted to plant first so they got planted really late in the year.  I'm very happy they did as well as they did.

Other Notable Notes

The mascot of the urban farm this year is Fluffy the bunny.  On a Saturday I was sitting in my basement writing something for this blog and I kept hearing a loud thump through my headphones, I kept looking around wondering what in the world was going on.  I finally got up and walked around and realized it was coming from a window, I opened up the shade and in the window well of this basement window was a baby bunny who was trying to escape by jumping through the window.  I enlisted the help of one of my housemates and this bunny was freed from the window well.  We released it outside of the urban farm but it promptly found its way back to the urban farm where it was found munching on orach and broccoli.  It's been about a week since Fluffy has been spotted and I'm not sure if one of the birds of prey got to it (I was really hoping I'd see this happen if that was going to happen), or if a garter snake did something to it (they were spotted pretty close to the bunny a few times), or perhaps the bunny found a better home, who knows.  Maybe Fluffy is still around but has gotten very elusive, maybe I'll magically see Fluffy again one of these days, time will tell.

Fall crops were just planted the other day.  I cleared all of the spring greens that bolted and went to seed, I stuffed the plant carcasses under the landscaping fabric for them to go back from whence they came.  I harvested the garlic (which was a slamming 70 pound harvest this year, woohoo) which was right next to the spring greens.  This gave me a nice sized area to plant the fall crops.  Rutabagas, lettuce, spinach, greens, some more pumpkins (as an experiment) were planted.  I'll plant more in a few weeks along with the radishes.  This will hopefully give me a nice fall crop of greens.

If I get some time I want to build a cold frame of two so I can experiment with growing greens during the winter.  I hope I get time to do this because I desperately want to try this out.  Fresh greens during the winter would be baller!

There it is, your unabashedly and unabridged update on what is actually happening in the urban farm.  Some things are going really well, some are not, and some are in-between.  Which is to be expected and is normal.  We'll see if I can go another year on the food I have grown in my very own backyard, I sure hope so because creating my own food security is pretty freaking awesome!!!

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