Tuesday, August 13, 2013
The Perennial Prepper Garden
When we bought our property ten years ago one of the first things we did was to start planning our perennial prepper garden. We researched all the fruit trees, bushes, and plants that would grow here in our zone, and spent hours dreaming our way through all the seed catalogs. It was July when we closed on the property and we had much to do before winter, so we didn't do any Fall planting, with one exception. We dug up part of the root of a rhubarb plant at the property we sold to move up here.
That one piece of rhubarb root did well, and over the years we dug off more of the root as the plant spread, and we now have at least a dozen bushy plants that come back every year. The downfall of rhubarb is that it takes a lot of sweetener to make it pleasant to eat.
When spring arrived we happily ordered fruit trees and berry bushes. We bought 3-year asparagus roots and strawberry plants from a local nursery. Our climate is too cold for most nuts, and the ones that will grow here have been hard to obtain. The years when we had the money to order them, they were out, and the years when they had them in stock were years we didn't have the money to order them. Those are hazelnut and chestnut. We did plant an English Walnut tree but it came back from the roots every year and still does, nine years later. It's never made it taller than a foot.
What we did plant was two varieties of apple trees (four trees total), three cherry trees, blueberry bushes, raspberry bushes, and the previously mentioned asparagus and strawberries. We spent the summer clearing brush, rocks, and stumps for a garden spot, and hauling manure, old hay, and old leaves to compost. We enclosed the entire garden and orchard area in a fence 7' high, to keep out the deer, rabbits, and bears, with an electric wire around the bottom and top, powered by a solar fence charger.
This far north and this high on the mountainside, the fruit trees leaf out around June 1st and the leaves start turning by the first of September, so it's a very short growing season. We have blossoms around the second week of June, and they've frosted more years than they haven't.
The apple trees grew well, and six years after planting them we had our first few apples. That winter rabbits got through the fence and girdled three of the apple trees, damaged the fourth apple tree and all three cherry trees. The damaged trees recovered, the girdled ones died. That was really heartbreaking. All those years of carrying water to those trees in 5-gallon buckets, watching them grow, and anticipating apples...and *poof*, with the nibble of rabbits, 3/4 of our apple crop was gone.
We replanted them and we're waiting again for apples. That was three years ago, so we've got a few years to go. The apple tree that survived is producing well.
If this was a post-SHTF situation we'd have been in serious trouble to have a blow like that to our food supply. It's not the only thing that didn't produce as planned. We've re-started the asparagus three times and we finally have a good patch growing. We've planted blueberries twice and I think this time they're going to make it. The blueberry plants are now in their fourth year, still less than two feet tall, and have never produced or had a blossom.
The cherry trees are nine years old and we've only gotten a handful of cherries. We planted two more of another variety and in their third year they started producing. The Manchurian apricot bush we planted kept growing up from the root every year, so after about five years I pulled them out. Same with the elderberries. I planted four elderberry bushes and they're for cold climates at least one zone colder than ours, yet they also came back from the root each year instead of growing into nice tall bushes.
What has done well here? Number one by far is the red raspberries. My bushes are 6' to 7' tall in places, and I have three official patches. The plants keep coming up by the dozens all over the place. I've given away hundreds of new-growth raspberry plants, and continue to do so. They're thornless, which is wonderful. My blackberries are thorned and they're so bad it's like they reach out to grab your clothing.
For about a month I pick at least a gallon of raspberries a day, and during the peak of harvest, which is the first couple weeks of August here, I've picked more than two gallons a day. I haven't found a good way to dehydrate them, so most of them get canned. When I dehydrated them I ended up with hard little red balls.
Second best is strawberries. The Tristar ever-bearing do fantastic here. They're definitely not everbearing up here, but during the few weeks they produce, the berries are large, sweet, and plentiful. The junebearing strawberries I planted did not produce well and eventually died out.
Blackberries grow well here but the berries don't ripen until Fall and most don't make it before we start getting serious frosts. Grapes never have survived here, even the 'cold' climate grapes. We do have wild Oregon grapes that are tart but make great jelly.
There are vegetables that will reseed themselves and they're bi-ennial. We leave some of our carrots to go to seed the next year, and by having different patches in different years of their life cycle we usually don't have to buy seed or plant carrots. The problem is that they come up among everything in the garden and we have to be careful weeding when they're little.
So what's the bottom line here? Well, for one thing, do your homework and plant carefully. Select the plants and trees that will grow best in your climate. Watch out for micro-climates. Our property is 500' higher in elevation than the valley below us, and about a zone shorter in growing season. It's not just cold that you need to watch for. It's the number of days in the growing season too. Cold nights, even when it doesn't frost, will slow growth and production.
Start as soon as you can so you can make sure your plants will do well. Just because a nursery says it will grow and produce in your area doesn't mean it will do well in your garden. And that's something to watch out for too. Just because something will grow doesn't mean it will produce. One of our neighbors planted a nectarine tree because the store insisted it would grow here. It did. For almost a decade, and it's never had anything but leaves on it.
Another reason to get started as soon as possible is in case you have to try again, like we did with asparagus and blueberries. I'm pretty sure the problem with the blueberries was the soil, but I'm not sure what went wrong with the asparagus. We followed the directions to the letter. The first time, most didn't come up and the few that did really struggled. The second time most of them came up but died back and didn't re-grow the next year. The third time most send up a few spears, and they came back the next year with a few more, and now in their fourth year, we have an abundance of asparagus. We did the exact same thing each time.
If there are serious gardeners in the area, try to ask them what varieties do well in your area. Sometimes they'll give you "starts", like I do with my raspberry plants. And if anyone out there wants some raspberry bushes, I'll send you plants for free if you'll help with the postage. I've pushed about as many as I can on friends and neighbors, and they run like people in other parts of the country do when someone approaches them with an armload of zucchini! Gee, if I could I'd trade a few gallons of sweet, organic raspberries for an armload of zucchini!
I very much welcome comments. It would be nice to widen the information base and hear from other parts of the country. Though even if you're my neighbor down the road and have something to add, I welcome that too!
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