Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bad Beans and Black Locust


I can’t believe its late July already. This is the week where reality set in for me in terms of what is going to grow and what isn’t going to grow. The good news is, my three sisters garden is thriving. I only had one hill where some pumpkins didn’t come up, the rest at least have some. The random gourds I threw around between the sunflowers and the broom corn are also growing great. The main garden is okay, but my fancy onion sets are disappointing. I may even write to the company I got them from to mention that they were disappointing. My onions from seed are coming along slow, too, but they also didn’t cost like those sets cost, and I’ve already gotten my money’s worth from just green onion tops and little baby onions.

My sister’s husband planted carrots and onions in flowerpots this year, and they’ve been eating fresh onions and carrots for weeks and teasing one of uncles about it mercilessly. They just used potting soil and any old seed from Home Depot and leftover pots from the hanging plants my sister kills every year, and, viola, instant carrot snacks. I work and work, and my uncle has a garden you could take a picture of and put in a magazine it’s so nice, and neither of us have seen a carrot yet this year. It’s kind of funny. Just recently, I was having a conversation with a gentleman who lives and works on an organic farm in Panama, New York, and we were talking cropping systems and raised beds and soil building techniques and cover crops and all that stuff, and another girl joined in and was really proud of her garden, too, and she was like: “I just put miracle grow on it! It works really well!” So, there’s more than on way to skin a cat!

Unfortunately, it looks like all of my melons are going to be a wash this year. Nothing wanted to grow! They have little tiny buds on them , but I just don’t see how the plant is going to be big enough ever to support fruit. That is a shame because I had lots of heirloom type melons I was trying, and I ‘ad ‘opes, I tell ya. I ‘ad ‘opes. But I’ve never had anything like luck with pumpkins before, and it looks like they are going strong.

Speaking of dashed hopes, it looks like my beans are also too damaged by bunny rabbits to bear this year. Luckily, I saved the seeds for my fancy French beans that I didn’t plant. Bean seeds should last three years, so I probably won’t have to rebuy French bean seeds, though I’m going to have to start over with bush beans. I tried a new variety last year, and, unlike the original beans I planted my first and second garden years, the seeds didn’t breed true. They were Burpee Kentucky Wonder, and they bore well last year, but the saved seeds were no good. I have noticed that Burpee seeds don’t even keep from year to year in the package which is why I don’t have any salsa peppers this year. I had a whole half package of them, but they never grew. Makes me reconsider whether I will buy many Burpee seeds next year.

Anyway, my large task of the day was to cut back and clear the black locust sprouts away from the pond edge. When we moved in here, three years ago, the previous owners had allowed the pond edge to grow up in black locust. They also let the landscaping escape, and trees that should have been trimmed back to shrub size had really sprung up.

The problem with having trees on your pond dam is pretty simple. The roots infiltrate the dam. In the short run, they hold back erosion and the trees keep the pond from getting too hot, after the trees get big, the roots start breaking things apart. And if you cut the trees or the trees die or fall down, the decaying roots can weaken the dam.

For this reason, maybe it was a mistake to cut the locust trees around the pond, but they were also obscuring the view, which is very nice. When we first came to look at this house, my mother figured there would be a view, but it took imagination.

This is a picture of two of my many cousins fishing by the pond the first year we got here:

This is a picture I took this afternoon after chopping down the sprouts off the tops of the locust stumps:

For clearing brush, I use a pair of by-pass loppers, and I would say get a good pair of by-pass loppers, but I’m now convinced that there is no such thing. We started out with Fiskars, and they were okay. They chopped a lot of stuff and had a lifetime guarantee, which was good because my mother destroyed her first set inside of a year. We’ve had them replaced twice, but we eventually gave up. They have a design flaw where the handle just keeps breaking, and instead of fixing it, they just started making them in China. The loppers wore out and broke quicker, and they just made them cheaper so that they were cheaper to replace rather than making better loppers. We gave up, and I’ve been using a pair of Martha Stewart loppers with solid wood handles. They don’t that well, but there are fewer parts to break!

Anyway, I have at least one more day of chopping to get the sprouts from the swamp side of the pond, and I ended up with about a truckload of branches to give the goats. I’ll wait until they eat down what I gave them a little.

Other than messing up the view and possibly ripping the pond dam apart, I think that black locust is one of the best trees you can grow. It’s a fast grower. We counted the rings on the trees we took down, and most of them were less than ten years old. I don’t know if the locust was deliberately planted around the pond, but it does spread really well and has these pretty, feathery leaves. It also has really wicked thorns, but that is beside the point.

Most fast-growing trees, especially ones that grow in wet or less than ideal areas are just junky, but locust is a pretty hard wood. You can use it for firewood after it dries, but the best use for locust is as fence posts. It grows nice and straight, and when you cut it, you can peel the bark right off like a banana peel. If you miss the really wet stage though, it will com off easy after it completely dries, as well. Locust fence posts will last anywhere from twenty to forty years in the ground with no chemical treatment whatsoever.

We got a lot of use out of the locust trees we cut that first year. Most of them went into the snake rail fence that appears in some of my other posted pictures, though we did burn some. Even though the sprouts are a nuisance, they make good fodder for the goats. One year, before I had hay and snow was setting in, I drove the goats into the swamp and had them eat the leaves still on the locusts for their roughage.

One of these days, I’d like to have a locust stand farther down the hill where they won’t be in the way, but right now, the woods are almost all evergreens.

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