Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
We're about to start on a new page here — to close the hostel for the season and go back to being just Dennis and me and the self-sufficient homestead.
My fourth year ever as a gardener brought the coldest June, the hottest July, a rainy August. What can I say? There are unknown cards in every hand but one has to make the most of it. The learning opportunities and chances to improve are as endless as the changing weather forecasts.
Each year I seem to advance in one way or another, this year being no exception. Our tomato vines usually grow 6 feet long, so finally I scrapped the flimsy tomato cages and put the plants along the fence where they could be easily tied up. Last year’s infestation of cucumber beetles took me by surprise but this year we started to patrol our plants long before the plants were damaged. But why oh why did I plant basil where it would be shaded by the pepper plants and why on earth did I grow my beans where they would be such easy prey for the slugs? But life is forgiving to dedicated gardeners; there's always another season to correct mistakes.
It's mid-September and I've seen the first signs of fall — the yellowing leaves, the brown grass, the pond that's getting too cold to swim in. Still, we're merely in the middle of the gardening season. For a few years my focus was on expanding the footprint of the garden, now I'm improving the ways to make the most of what I've got. Even as far north as Maine I can harvest organic produce from March to December with parsnips to dig from under the frost in February without the use of row covers or a greenhouse. A Maine summer is as short as it is sweet and plants like tomatoes and peppers are already compromised because of that. Starting in late August I cut the tops of the plants and snip off any flowers as soon as they come so that the plants will put their energy into finishing off the fruit that's already there rather than forming new ones that won't have enough time to mature. Last year I cut the tops of the Brussels sprouts to encourage the plants to put the energy into the sprouts rather than more top growth and ended up with golf-ball-sized sprouts.
Some crops have already been harvested. The garlic and the onions are all drying in our attic right now and that left a substantial piece of ground open in our garden. Previous years we've just covered all that ground with seaweed for mulch and called it good, while this year I thought I'd make something more of it. In early July I planted rutabagas and a 52-day variety of Chinese cabbage in the plots that opened after our early lettuce bolted. In late July after the garlic was harvested I transplanted those seedlings to some of the former garlic beds and in others I started short seasoned turnips and even more Chinese cabbage. A month later we picked our onions and our early potatoes and quickly filled the new grounds with more Chinese cabbage seedlings and new rows of short, cool weather crops like radish, spinach and lettuce. All this will mature and be picked before winter — the Chinese cabbage “replanted” in boxes with damp sawdust and enjoyed deep into the winter. In a few weeks it’ll already be time to start thinking about next spring. I'll get my wooden cold frame with recycled glass panes out and plant kale and spinach to close the circle— fresh food year-round without the taste of fossil-fueled plastic.
Photo by Dennis Carter
Anneli Carter-Sundqvist lives with her husband Dennis on an island off the coast of Maine on a highly self-sufficient, off-the-grid homestead. In the summer, they run the Deer Isle Hostel on the very same farm, providing budget accommodation, positive-impact living education and a unique experience for hundreds of travelers. They recently got awarded 2013 Homesteader of the Year by MOTHER EARTH NEWS and the Best Budget accommodation in Down East Magazine.