Friday, 28 June 2013

Late June updates - the coldest summer, but still some happy news

Nothing is colder than Icelandic summer (well, except Antarctica and Greenland)

Once again an update. June is just finishing and there was no summer weather until now. Except for a few rare days, the temperature has barely risen above 10°C and weeks of constant rain. Best case scenario, in a few sunny days, the temperature has risen to 17°C, which is still little, compared to the 20-22°C recorded in many days of the last years, even in colder months like May or August.

Today we had even a little bit of ice shower, with daily temperatures just above 5ºC, while at night they dipped to 3ºC, here and down to 1ºC at a few spots near the coastline and by the mountains. It has been the coldest summer day for a long time.

General view of garden. Lots of flowering going on

Still the Siberian tomatoes are growing

The Siberian tomatoes have flowers on them - these flowers were totally obtained outdoors. It was a 2 month tomato seedling about 8cm tall, at the first week of May (after the last major frost). It survived many minor frosts and is now a dwarf 15cm tall flowering tomato plant. In theory, if I would had started in a larger container, with a warmer greenhouse temperature, I would need only 1.5 months to transplant a larger plant outdoors by June.

Newer flower-free tomato seedlings have not flowered yet. However they seem to grow way faster than the conventional varieties of tomatoes (which actually do not grow at all in such chilly weather!) Transplants that had already began to set fruit (inside the greenhouse), are setting gradually larger fruit but which has not ripen yet. 

Siberian tomatoes grown first indoors, transplant out and slowly setting fruit now

These siberian tomatoes were very young when they were set outside during snowy and frosty weather, they survived well, and are now flowering.

Other vegetables in the garden

Most vegetables are growing very slowly (compared to previous years), and even wild flowers have been quite late. Flowers typical of April have been flowering in June.

Still, we are seeing quick growing Broccoli and Pak Choy (damaged a little by slugs due to such moist weather), and the first flowers outdoors of peas and broad beans. Interestingly, all of these seem to prefer a sunny location, even if exposed to the winds and chilly nights, than a more sheltered spot, with less sunlight.

A line of pak choi was planted. To the left, spontaneous seedlings of pak choy and kale appeared.

The walking onions, leeks, spring onions have been growing slowly but steadily. The carrots have just germinated. The multiplier onions and chives are very nice. Actually anything that overwinters in Iceland (and stores reserves in their bulbs) fares very nicely during the cool Icelandic summer!

"Perennials are the key" - I repeat my mantra, i got this insight a few months ago. Thus I have an excellent patch of rhubarb, Scottish lovage, strawberries, scorzonera, raspberries and currants, good king henry, crambe, perennial 9 star broccoli, and self-sowing siberian kale.

Multiplier onions and chives

The wonders of Huegelkultur in Iceland

Some heirloom peas were planted from seed at a huegelkultur at the sheltered spot, in a part shade location. However they have been growing very quickly! Same thing, for all the vegetables (peas, swiss chard, nasturtium, letttuce, fennel, carrots) sown in a huegelkultur container tray. It was an excellent idea, since it provides maximum fertility, maximum soil aeration, maximum soil life, maximum moisture, and maximum soil temperature, since it is a raised "bed".

The potatoes are in a sort of huegelkultur, but with only a few wooden branches and plenty of seaweed, compost, green manure (the lupins around), and a lot of clipped grass! Sown in May and they are up to 40cm tall. Excellent, despite the chilly summer.

Potatoes growing in a bed full of branches, compost and cut grass

This is the sheltered spot behind our house, facing a forest to the east side. 

Broken promises

The cherry tree is a failure. The guy that sold us the tree (and it was quite expensive) said it was possible to have cherries cropping in Iceland, with some patience and shelter. He said the tree had a lot of buds that would flower. Only 7 flowered, and in my most sheltered spot, only 3 buds remain now. Obviously this summer has been lacking sunshine, and it has been chilly and rainy, and even windy at times. Even this Stella cherry variety is not going to crop anything!

The cold resistant painted mountain corn is very sluggish. A few plants have died, most have been growing slowly. It fares ok in sheltered spots but it lacks that kick of mild sunny days. I wonder whether it is going to crop at all. Indoors, this corn is growing nicely but has not tasseled yet. It should by the end of July. The outdoors corn must tassel at latest by early August (since the first frosts will arrive within a month), so I really don't expect anything from it.

Painted mountain corn, survived frost and snow, and is growing well, but slowly

Even the squash has been very slow this year. It does not have flowers yet. When it usually starts cropping fruit by now. Guess that the melon and watermelon are not growing at all, and that the pumpkin seedlings are near to their demise!

Grains - barley and oats are the easiest in Iceland

Indoors, I have been having the heading of teff and pearl millet (the fastest growing grains of all - heading in 4 months since sowing in February). Outdoors, rye is heading, 3 months later, after it was transplanted after 2 weeks of growth in a tray, in March, in plain frosty weather.

The overall view of our grain bed (3m x 2m). From nearest to furthest: oats, rye, barley and wheat. These are also growing under a fleece to the left side. Two potatoes appeared between the rye.

Kamut wheat, the slowest growing of all grains here

The hulless oats were even faster! They are now heading in the sunniest location, just 2.5 months after they were sown (but they were growing 1 month in a tray, during the month of April).

The perennial rye shows fantastic multi-tillering, but hasn't head yet. The wheat is rather slow and I doubt that it will crop, even if it was sown in late April.

The barley is near heading (but not yet), it is still ONLY 2 months after sowing, although it was growing in a tray indoors during the last week of April.

   Clearly, the barley and oats are the easiest grains to grow in Iceland! Rye seems to produce more heavily, though it needs to overwinter, and the problem is finding a variety that does not break with the severe winds.

In the southwest side, oats is already heading. Its much more exposed and sunny here

Rye is also heading, in the southwest side. It is intercropped with broad beans. Both grow well and support each other, during windy weather.

More pictures!

Beautiful garden....

Broad beans and peas in nearest bed, more distant are flowers, brassicas and some perennials

Pink tulips

Nasturtium, growing in a container

Black tulips!

Black tulips, and garden in background

First time I cooked with moringa, galangal, and nasturtium flowers

The rhubarb

Seed balls germinating...

Perennial rye, in close-up

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Mid June- things are very slow, it's the coldest spring in many decades

It feels like the Little Ice Age
And it has been raining, raining, and raining. It is the coldest June in many decades, after the coldest May for a long time. Guess that it is almost late June and the dandelions are only now starting to bloom, as well as the daffodils and tulips!

With an average daily temperature of 10ºC for the past weeks, I cannot hope for a bountiful harvest.

In fact, everything is growing slow, except perhaps the peas in the huegelkultur, the volunteer kale seedlings from last year self-seeding plants, and for oats and barley grown in the backyard of my house, in a place sheltered from the winds, but not that much sunny.

Potatoes are just sprouting, as are the sunchokes. I have no idea whether their harvest is going to be a fine one, with such a short season ahead.

Same for beets, carrots and salads. I had to buy larger transplants, because the ones I had were still tiny.

Last year the squash was already giving fruits by mid May. This year it hasn't even flowered in June!

Guess this is what people endure through the climate of the little ice age, when rivers froze in winter in Europe and fairs were held in such solid frozen rivers. In iceland, famines were frequent as oats, rye and even potatoes were complicate to grow. What can you eat in such conditions other than fish? Of course, animals do also grow, but only if there is an effort of providing them enough food and this summer food grown in such crazy climate must be stored for the 9 month winter ahead, when no food is available.

An explosion of color
The good news is the explosion of color in the many newly planted tulips and daffodils.

The cherry tree is blossoming, so perhaps I could have some cherries this autumn. That is a big unknown.

Cherry blossoms. The hope for the first cherries this far inland in Iceland (and still outdoors).

The siberian tomato is also flowering, and that is a major improvement over the experiments with conventional varieties last year, but the painted mountain corn still looks stalled in growth. The same goes for many small trees in containers outdoors, beans, the groundnuts outdoors, the asparagus, the maca, and the chinese yams.

Some of the nice experiments include tossing seedballs around, and tossing seeds in unprepared soil beds and seeing what happens there (especially under such chilly summer).

Basically the layout out there is still the same: 8 m2 of grain, 4m2 of potatoes, 3m2 of broad beans and peas, 1m2 of broccoli, spring onions and garlic, 1m2 of turnip and swedes, 1m2 of pak choy, leeks, carrots and walking onions. I haven't planted much of anything else except for a few perennials and some experiments.

The 6m2 of grain in the picture is growing nicely, despite being mostly shade. But the climate has been very cloudy, rainy and chilly. The question is: how strong will this harvest be?

More updates, in gardening in the 2013's year without summer, in soon

Friday, 14 June 2013

Early June - Summer moods, rushing towards growth

A quite cold summer weather
Finally summer has arrived after a freezing April and a very wet and cool May. We had continuously rain in the last few weeks and cool weather (always around 10ºC). But now the first days of sun and warm weather (up to 20ºC) are just starting!

Colorful Flower edges
I planted many flowers outside, lining the edge of the garden beds, to make it beautiful and attract wildlife and repel pests. Mostly pansies and tagetes! Besides that, we just have also an explosion of color from all the tulips and other spring bulbs planted last October!



Flower edges!

Experiments outdoors
I transplanted out (to the garden soil) the cold resistant varieties of painted mountain corn and siberian tomatoes. They are doing fine even with cool weather.

I also planted many perennials outside (the siberian pea, good king henry, indian ricegrass, crambe, and groundnut). I transplanted out the sunflowers (one dwarf variety is doing much better than the common one), and I am about to transplant out also the squash, melon and watermelon. I digged holes and put a lot of compost and seaweed on them. But these plants are sown quite late. Guess the most important thing about gardening in Iceland is growing the strongest possible transplants until early June, when it's time to plant out.

This is the sheltered spot, south oriented, where broad beans and rye grow stronger,  and where we planted siberian tomatoes and painted mountain corn.

Speaking about seaweed, it has been a party of fertility on the garden. Last summer I refrained of adding any ammendments because I wanted to see how far non-input I could go in my garden with poor soil. This year I am building heavily on the fertility side, with seaweed I picked from the coast some 50km away, and plenty of compost, green manure from the rampant lupins, and of course, the experiments with huegelkultur. Actually, many vegetables seem to thrive way better in huegelkultur than in normal garden beds.

The best thing outdoors has been really the discovery of our self-seeding kale and pak choi last summer. I let those plants flower last year and drop all their seed back into the garden beds. Now I have literally a thick forest of kale volunteer seedlings everywhere in the garden, even spreading across the nearby lawn! The pak choi is not pure variety, it seems rather a mix of turnip and pak choi. The intention now is to create an even further self-sustaining garden.

A forest of kale seedlings, growing wildly. This is Fukuoka's farming!

Finally, we have our newest flowering cherry tree, "Stella" self-fertile variety, growing outdoors still in a container. Hopefully, we will have cherries this year. At least that's one of our main goals.

Experiments indoors

Indoors I transplanted a lot of quinoa, into medium size containers, and it's doing great because I added there plenty of compost, branches and a mix of sand and rocks to provide good drainage. And I just move them outdoors because quinoa seems to need cool temperatures in order to flower and set seed.
Quinoa growing very happy, with cool weather and a fertile soil

But I am still failing with amaranth. I know now that the spider mites and mice are to blame. I also had to took the corn and millet outdoors to prevent the spider mites. It's also because I haven't been watering my indoor plants as much as I should, so the room atmosphere is rather dry. Best to have a moist environment to grow your plants indoors.

Other than the thriving tiger nuts, I have not so much to report from indoors. I am moving almost everything outdoors this summer.

Community garden

We planted a lot of vegetables there, mostly using companion planting and mulching. There were also a lot of colorful flowers there and a small emphasis in perennials (such as asparagus, chives, strawberries walking onions, raspberries, rhubarb). Today we chose a perfect spot, the most sheltered one, and we planted the painted mountain corn, squash and siberian tomatoes there, with plenty of compost and a wooden wall, to provide extra shelter.

Beautiful flowers!

Pansies and tagetes, lining the garden edges

Less known tulips

Beautiful color now in our garden!

General perspective of the garden

Daffodils, also coming into bloom

More to come in soon!