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Garden 2020

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Oh, dear me! It’s been a while since I updated the garden chronicle. I regard the now 8-year-long project as largely successful — despite the cavils of Deep Ecologists who claim civilization as the world’s sovereign evil and anything beyond hunting-and-gathering a sin. Sorry, I like a salad of fresh arugula and watermelon, sugar-snap peas fresh off the vine, my own sweet-and-spicy cucumber pickles, and the secure feeling of a barrel full of Yukon Gold spuds in the garage in November. Who disagrees that Covid 2020 was a bitch of a year for many reasons. But all those cancelled social obligations gave me more time in the garden, so here’s the rundown on what’s what out there.

First, sad news: my splendid cat, Scooter, “The Lion of Prospect Street,” passed away the day before Christmas, 2019, age sixteen, after a short bout with cancer.  His mortal remains endured the winter outside in a wooden box until it was possible to dig his grave (right) in early April. I sprinkled foxglove seeds there and by September many of the biennial plants had established themselves.

 

I had a great “crop” of compost in the spring with my four-bin system, which included a whole season’s worth of well-cooked chicken bedding. The wood chip paths were working out great to keep weeds down, and I added a fresh layer of chips in April, getting ready to plant.

 

 

Early May, ready for planting.
Herbs (center bed) coming up nicely

 

Chives on the left, lovage on the right.

 

 

The hoop house got planted back in March.
By May, bok choy,  lettuce, and arugula coming on.

Pears and apples blossoming.
(Chicken house behind)

Oh, snap!  A freak May snowfall coats the fruit tree blossoms.
Actually the plums (right) came through pretty well.
When the snow melted, we got three days of cold and rain, which kept the honeybees down, which pretty severely affected the apple and pear crops later on. Growing tree fruit is hard!

Potatoes planted, mix of Yukon Golds and Russets.

 

Leeks and cabbages coming in.
Salad greens coming up  in far bed


More Salad and table greens
Sugar snap peas in background

 

The whole garden in June in full sun.

 

Wide shot of the whole outfit on July 4 — tomatoes coming on in boxes at right
Clematis blooming on garden gate arch

Clematis and Kale in June (left) — Lilies in Bloom (right)

 

 

 

 

Coneflowers (left) — Poppies and lovage (right)

Two new chickens, Edna and Maxine. Turns out these red hens
are much friendlier than the Americaunas.
The flock was down to two in March from predator attacks. Now back to four.


Maxine on the porch with petunias.

Chickens enjoy a dust bath.

 

Front border with mullein and sunflower (left) — Front border on the other side (right)


Sunflowers in September

Uh-oh!!!  Something’s eating my cabbages!!!

Globe thistle, a space alien looking of flower — but looks good in an arrangement!

 

Cilantro, bok choy, scallions in September

Leek-O-Rama

 

Mullein, phlox, rudbeckia!

 

The garden asleep in February, getting ready to come alive again in six weeks or so.
Lots of maintenance work to do in March

 

About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency and the four-book series of World Made By Hand novels, set in a post economic crash American future. His most recent book is Living in the Long Emergency; Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward. Jim lives on a homestead in Washington County, New. York, where he tends his garden and communes with his chickens.

20 Responses to “Garden 2020” Subscribe

  1. tomllewis February 24, 2021 at 7:25 am #

    Very impressive. You’re a smarter man than me.

  2. friartuck February 24, 2021 at 7:47 am #

    Just curious.

    What are you going to do to defend yourself when, inevitably, the more “aggressive” predators come around for more then just the “chickens” ?

    Friartuck– I have the NY State handgun license –JHK Admin.

    • Paul February 26, 2021 at 12:14 pm #

      Well, for a start, a person could feed the predators. It’s tough to stay desperate when your belly is full and your feet are warm and dry.

  3. Urinthe Village February 24, 2021 at 9:21 am #

    Great job! How do you keep the bunnies and deer from eating everything? Where I live, the rabbits can squeeze through a keyhole and the deer can clear 5 foot fences.

    Urinthe– I have an eight-foot deer fence, Jurassic Park strength, additional fortification around the garden fence. –JHK Admin.

    • Paul February 26, 2021 at 12:17 pm #

      No rabbits around here — as yet. Coyotes would probably get ’em. But the 8 foot deer fence keeps the deer out as far as I can tell. If they ever show up I’ll rig up some hoop snares out of brass wire.

  4. Richo February 24, 2021 at 11:02 am #

    It looks great but you could double or triple your production by planting closer together and narrowing up your wood chip garden paths considerably. Your potatoes especially are way too far apart. Wish I could post a pic of my garden. You can not see the ground anywhere when things are in full production. It works.

  5. laceration February 24, 2021 at 2:21 pm #

    Hey JIm, the influence of your writings certainly had something to do with me starting a garden! I have not bought a vegetable in 13 years now! I also am most of the way there with fruit and I produce a good quantity of meat too. This is the way Human Beings have lived for 99% of our history. Modernity or car-driving big box store consumerism was not an improvement. If just half the people stayed home from stupid worthless jobs + tended the homestead just about all societal problems could be solved.

    You garden is very nice, but given your cutting edge thought and writings, I think you may be amenable some of the techniques I use that 99.99% of gardeners have no clue about even though they are very obvious. The foremost progenitor of these ideas was Masanobu Fukuoka, he call it “Do Nothing” farming. The gist of the idea is to incorportate the patterns of nature, NOT Agriculture. No one ever had to plant a forest.

    Forget about rows and rectangles and single plant croppings. Plant complimentary plants haphazardly and let them grow wherever they come up. Why a row of bok choy and then cilantro? Grow a thicket of these with dill, onions, garlic, kale, beets etc.

    Let some of your plants go to seed and regenerate themselves. For instance, I do this with lettuces in my hoophouse and have already got a couple of salads. I am in Zone 5 or maybe 6 and it was 8 degs. a couple of weeks ago! I will be eating and giving away salad all spring and I never plant any! When it gets hot just as summer kicks in I tear out most of the now bitter salad and fill the hoophouse with the tomato + cucumber starts. You had your tomatoes outside of the hoophouse? The idea of the hoophouse is to protect frost sensitives. You will dramatically increase tomato yield if you get them in the ‘house’.

    Perennials? I am not noticing any aside from the fruit trees. They come back every year and you “Do Nothing”. Goosberries, grapes, raspberries, blueberries, sorrel, mint + other herbs, rhubarb.

    Grow clover everywhere, It fixes N into your soil and is great chicken feed.

    I think you are in a similar climate zone as I am, but I am much more arid. Much of this will probably apply. But gardening is totally local. There is so much advice given out that only works in the authors particular locality.

    • Rulo Deschamps February 26, 2021 at 11:01 am #

      laceration, to a degree all you say is true. We do incorporate many permaculture areas, we do have volunteers popping up all the time, we’re seed savers. But we couldn’t do this for a living without rows, for example. We’re not a monoculture operation, sure! But harvest times are all different, organic pest control all different, you simply cannot navigate carrots and tomatoes and cilantro all mixed together, they bolt at different times, you don’t really know what you have, you treble the time you’d have to spend in the gardens with this “do nothing” method.

      Permaculture is another thing. Yes, you pretty much leave some areas to do as they will after a little initial push. That’s do nothing, to me. But production needs do-a-lot, and since we’re organic, all takes longer than conventional chemical growing… to add hours to that sorting through chaotic growing areas… No.

      Besides, I do like a neat garden. I like rows and squares and circles and raised beds and pretty flowers.

      On 8 acres, we left over half as woods, not counting perma patches. And we’re planning to leave it that way. That’s our do-nothing.

      All said in good cheer and respectfully, from one grower to another. Cheers!

      • laceration February 26, 2021 at 2:25 pm #

        Rulo, once you are a farmer, as opposed to a gardener, the comprises ensue. I have no money to count or spreadsheets. My only only measure is what I eat. I might not do good with something in particular one year, but there is always something else. The quality and nutrition couldn’t be better, but ever year it gets better. If we were artists you would be doing something like Coca Cola logo. It is commercial, but it is handsome. I am painting a Van Gogh. Do Nothing is the ideal that is never attained, but I do not try to control every little thing, I let nature take its course. Not only is it easier, it is as if I have summoned magical powers.

  6. Chris at Fernglade Farm February 26, 2021 at 6:54 am #

    Hi Jim,

    Thanks for providing the photos and update on your garden. Sorry to read about the loss of Scooter, and he looks like a real character of a cat who lived to a ripe old age! Clearly, Scooter lived in a good paddock.

    Planting the flowers in and around the garden is a great idea for pollination, herbs and predator insects. But yeah, Brassica species are a pain down here too and I’m soon to be trialling more wild varieties (kale and purple sprouting broccoli) which apparently are less prone to attacks from the pesky critters. But until the test is run, who knows? Talk as they say is cheap.

    The paths are looking good, and the picket fence has a pleasing aesthetic.

    Go the chickens! My flock has whittled a bit due to natural attrition over the past two years. But due to the sheer craziness of last year, I was cut off from access to the breeders and haven’t been able to re-stock yet. In another note of sheer craziness, when I became concerned that I should get off my duff and begin breeding, I asked around the area, and none of my neighbours have roosters either. Hmm, that’s a problem.

    Your orchard is similar to the three orchards on the farm here in that they adjoin tall forest. Can’t quite make out the detail in the photo of the fruit trees, but I’m guessing the wood chips are pretty fresh which will be good for keeping down the weeds and grasses and this reduces competition between those plants and the fruit trees. Trees of course eat the remains of dead trees, and I too use wood chips (mulch sourced from the nearby cities green waste) and chuck in all manner of composts and mineral additives nowadays. Seems to help a lot with their growth.

    Fruit set can be a right royal pain, and yeah snow in May. Yup. A late frost followed by a hail storm put an end to my apricot and plum crop a few months back. But other trees came through just fine because they produce blossoms a bit later than those early fruit trees.

    This stuff is very complicated and takes far more practice, knowledge and attention to detail than most people realise. Respect.

    Cheers

    Chris

  7. Rulo Deschamps February 26, 2021 at 10:33 am #

    Bravo, Mr Kunstler! I missed those reports, keep them coming!

    A neat, well-planned, sustainable operation, a thing of beauty. You have farming chops, that’s obvious. You do the same things things my wife & I do in both of our Florida farms (North & South FL – two different worlds) You are evidently a hard worker and a man that wants his work not just to be barely adequate, but to be the best it can possibly be. You know as I do that it’s many extra hours, after the hours bent over the soil, to go the extra mile, make it not just productive but aesthetically pleasing as well, add and improve. Going that extra hour is the whole zen of work. The extra hour is the toughest, and the sweetest.

    Our scale is larger as it is our livelihood, but other that, methods are very similar. Seasons are not. Yours is an alien world to me, that would take years to understand, the harshness of the cold months.

    Here in S FL we’ve had everything you grow since october, and it will be april before the main season is over. Our gardens are bursting right now (Lacinato kales looking as good as yours, celery having a great season), there’s always some fruit in season (mangoes, citrus, lychees all blooming, eating papaya and starfruit now, avocados getting ready). Chickens are laying like crazy, bees are in a frenzy of foraging as Spring is in the air, and swarming and requiring supers and clean boxes for a late summer harvest. We’ll have some rabbit porn soon, increase the meat factory.

    We do many market crops, but I think we agree that arugula and lettuce will not get you far in terms of calories for the lean season. So we’re ready to switch at short notice to sustenance crops only, and livestock feed. You grow potatoes and cabbages, we’d do sweet potatoes, carrots, cassava and others if necessary. As you, we do grow a patch of those things constantly, to keep in practice w them & have a fresh supply of seed. For when things get dicey. Just in case.

    Manures, bedding, biomass all get composted & fed back to the farm.

    What ate the cabbages? Deer? Here we deal with many pests, for crops and for livestock: coons, possums, rats, squirrels, coyote, iguanas. A giant horned owl took a bird off my flock the other night. I left her alone, I’m not going to kill her, or a Fl panther, or a bobcat no matter what. All others are attempted to get live trapped and relocated, but failing that, shot.

    We grow many areas of flowers, mostly natives, for pollinator attractors & bee forage. Only zinnia commercially.

    Sincere congratulations.

    Thank you for the good writing over the years.

  8. brb February 26, 2021 at 10:59 am #

    “I have an eight-foot deer fence, Jurassic Park strength, additional fortification around the garden fence. –JHK Admin.”

    Hmm…makes one wonder if Biden should be planting a national garden on the National Mall now that DC is surrounded by a fence.

  9. Paul February 26, 2021 at 12:27 pm #

    Now that you’ve logged the 2020 garden report, Jim, I’m feeling tacit pressure to do the same. Since bugging out in 2018 and relocating here in 2018, I’ve got three years’ worth of notes in support of the argument that I’ve been able to ‘fail better’ each year. February before last, the local grocery store set out bunches of California celery for $7.98 a piece. That sealed the deal for me. But our pantry has lots of home-canned Beets, Collards, Potatoes, squash, and other vegetables that will tide us through not only the Winter but right through hunger-season.

  10. snagglepuss February 26, 2021 at 7:33 pm #

    Wonderful photos of the garden and the little wilderness behind it all. Scooter was a lucky cat to have landed in such a beautiful and peaceful place. Thank you for giving him such a wonderful life, JHK.

  11. mumbai February 26, 2021 at 10:04 pm #

    Truly glorious – I don’t know how you can tear yourself away to write.

  12. Myrmecia February 27, 2021 at 6:49 am #

    Jim – that’s fantastic. I know from experience that making and maintaining a productive garden is a challenge, requiring planning, commitment and daily dedication. But to see the beautiful classic lines of your garden is a rare delight. Thank you for thinking of us throughout the year and taking photos for us.
    You can feel darned proud of the way you have nurtured this little corner of the planet. I am tickled pink to think that – through Patreon – I might have contributed in some minuscule way to this work of art, horticulture and gastronomy.

  13. Chippenhook February 28, 2021 at 6:22 pm #

    Beautiful garden! I can appreciate the amount of work that went into it. Of course it makes me feel somewhat guilt over the weeds that make a major presence in my garden.

  14. olmec March 2, 2021 at 8:03 pm #

    If you want to help the fruit trees I would recommend trying to emulate the natural environment / eco system in which trees of this type and age would naturally occur. That is generally surrounded by other more mature trees, lots of rotten logs on the ground and little to no grass (fruit trees hate grass).

    Look into forest gardening and support species. You have to be ok with a different kind of look, perhaps less controlled.

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