Happy New Year, everyone! My conscience has been nagging at me to follow up with results from several things I've written about over the last year or so. I'm not good about getting around to posting about things I say that I will. So I figure I'll clear my backlog with the first post of the year and then I can get back to semi-regular posting.
Last spring I tried a somewhat fiddly method of starting leek seedlings, with the aim of encouraging them to grow long and tall before they were transplanted out. The idea was that a long seedling, transplanted deeply, wouldn't need hilling to make the plant develop a nice long white section, which is the best part of the leek. Well, it worked and it didn't. The seedlings indeed grew long and tall. I duly transplanted them with just a couple inches of their full length showing above the ground, and then ignored them for the whole growing season. Disappointingly, when I dug up a few this fall, they had very minimal white parts. It seemed to me as though the plant turned anything planted below the soil line into root. So this was a bust. Hilling seems to be required to grow beautifully long white leeks. I'm still looking for the best way to do this in my long narrow garden rows.
Remember my enthusiasm to try a new tomato growing technique that I learned about at last year's PASA conference? I've got results. The trellising system worked fairly well as the plants grew tall. It took some diligence to keep up with pruning extra branches and clipping the remaining ones to the wires. The problem came when the plants started setting fruit and bulking them up. I had all my trellises in short rows, which meant that only two 7' stakes were holding up three tomato plants each. Gradually the weight of the plants pulled the stakes in towards each other, making all the wires sag. This could be only minimally remedied by adjusting the wires at the stakes. Next year I plan to grow my tomatoes in longer rows, with stakes every ten feet or so. Since all but the end stakes will be supporting plants to either side, the growing weight of the plants should exert equal pulling in both directions, so that the stakes remain upright. I may try angling the stakes outward at either end of the rows to give them more resistance. The sagging wasn't a disaster, but it looked kinda shabby and cut down on airflow around the plants, which might have been a very bad thing in a blight year.
I've become a fan of burdock, aka gobo, for its delicious flavor and its soil amending properties. When I wrote about them more than a year ago, there was some question in the comment section as to whether or not the parts of the taproot left in the ground would regrow in the spring and form a new plant. The results this spring were negative - in the sense that I saw no plants emerge above ground where we'd dug out the roots. This is a positive as far as I'm concerned though, because it means we can have our soil amendment and eat it too. Those portions of root that are too deep to dig out rot in place, adding organic content to the subsoil and greatly improving our clay soil in the process. So burdock is not forever once you plant it, provided you harvest the root. Those roots we didn't harvest definitely came roaring back this spring, ready to set seed. And this is not a plant whose seed I want to save for myself, thank you very much. It took more than one severe cutting down to the ground to encourage the plants to call it quits. Burdock produces a fair bit of biomass in the second year, and the greens are marginally of interest to the chickens.
Acorns sprouting and different oak species
This one is owing for quite a while. In fall of 2010, I aggressively gleaned acorns from oaks in parks and off my own property to use as feed supplement for my laying hens. I went for a certain oak species that produced beautiful, large, meaty acorns, and I managed to gather some 60 pounds of them. Unfortunately, it was mostly wasted effort. The acorns that looked so big and worthy to me did not pass muster with the hens. They pecked rather half-heartedly at them after I crushed them by hand. It was my mistake. Since they obviously enjoyed the taste of the small, poorly looking acorns produced by the oak tree at our property line, I assumed that the acorns that look so much better to my eye would please them just the same. Not so. There are more than five hundred species of oak in the world. And there's enormous variation in the tannin content of the seed of different sorts of oak tree, and even between individual trees of the same species. Tannins give a bitter flavor to foods. These compounds can be leached out of acorns well enough to make them palatable to humans, but that's not a process I'm willing to go through for the chickens' sake. Some acorns are naturally "sweeter" than others, and obviously the oak on the edge of our property produces tasty ones. So I've gone back to only collecting these rather sad looking acorns, which the hens do appreciate. My advice is to definitely run a test on any acorn available to you before you go to the trouble of collecting more than a handful. See if your livestock will eat the acorns from any given tree, and don't rely on appearance as an indicator of feed quality.
A note too about storing the acorns you do collect. Do not keep them in plastic bags or buckets, even if left open and uncovered. The acorns give off enough moisture so that the ones on the bottom will start to sprout in just a week or two. A canvas or burlap bag will breathe enough to prevent this, as will baskets made of wire or natural fibers.
If there's something else I promised to report back on and have forgotten about, please remind me. I'll do my best to follow up!