We have had quite a few emails over the last month inquiring about our 2015 garden experiments.  Many wanted to know how the red plastic mulch in the tomato rows worked out – while others were curious about the method of growing all of our potatoes in crates.

So we thought for today’s Sunday Farm Update – we would take a little time to go over the results and share some of the winners – and losers of the 2015 garden experiments.

We have a lot of fun trying out new things each year in the garden, and just like in life – some work out perfectly – while others you simply chalk up to a lesson well-learned!  But as the old saying goes, when you stop trying – you stop learning – and where is the fun in that?!

So with that said – here is a look at our 2015 experiments:

What Worked:

The Potato Crates

After successfully experimenting last year with growing some of our potato crop in home-made wooden crates – we went “all-in” this year, planting our entire crop with the crate method.

The crates growing in Mid June
The crates growing in Mid June

We planted them in a loose mixture of straw, compost and dirt – filling up the crate with more soil mix as the potatoes continued to grow.  I was a little nervous planting our whole crop with the method – but it worked out beautifully!  Yields came in at about a bushel-full of potatoes (about 25 lbs.) for every small crate we planted. Not bad for just a few pounds of cut potatoes planted in each, and very little work in planting, maintaining and harvesting the entire crop!

One additional note on the experiment – we used two sizes of home-made crates for planting : smaller crates measuring  36″ long x 24″wide x 18″, and a few large ones that were 8′ long x 24″ wide x 18″ high.  Although the longer crates worked just as well in growing the crop – they WERE NOT as easy to flip and harvest with all of the weight by the end of the season!  For next years crop – we will simply use a series of the small crates to plant our potatoes in.

See: Growing Potatoes Vertically – How We Made Our Potato Crates

Simple Raised Beds For Small Crops:

Over the past few years, we found it a little harder to grow and maintain our smaller crops like lettuce and kale in our long raised rows.  With the small seeds, thinning and weeding process – sometimes the open edges made it difficult to keep the rows maintained.

Growing our small crops in raised beds has been a huge success!
Growing our small crops in raised beds has been a huge success!

This year, we constructed 6″ high, 8′ long x 18″ wooden raised beds in a few rows of the garden for the sole purpose of growing those smaller seed crops.

We still love our raised rows for the remainder of our crops, but the simple edged beds made from inexpensive untreated pine lumber made planting and maintaining small crops a breeze. We added a total of 8 raised beds – and all of them were filled multiple times throughout the year with ready to harvest crops of lettuce, arugula, kale, onions, carrots and radishes. Without a doubt – the raised beds were a Big Winner!  See : Creating Simple Raised Beds For Small Crops

Natural Bark Mulch For Walking Rows:

We have always used straw and leaves in our walking rows to control weeds – but this year we decided to switch to a heavy coat of fresh bark mulch in the pathways.

The bark mulch in the walking rows kept weeding to a minimum
The bark mulch in the walking rows kept weeding to a minimum

The straw / leaf combo had always worked well – but had to be re-applied often throughout the year – and when we ran out of leaves – the straw could start to get costly.

We found a local sawmill that had a supply of freshly shredded bark as an inexpensive by-product of their lumber operations. It was 100% natural with no additives or treatments – and it worked perfectly for creating permanent walking rows to keep out the weeds.  In fact – we spent no time at all weeding in our walking rows this year – and it looks like it will easily hold up for another year or two without having to reapply at all.

What Didn’t Work:

Red Plastic For Tomatoes

Over the last few years, we had continued to read about the benefits of red plastic for tomatoes and it’s promise of a higher yielding tomato crop. This past year, we planted a few of our rows with the red plastic to see if it really works.

Tomato red
The red plastic tomato growing experiment was certainly not a winner in our garden this year

For us, it was simply a huge disappointment! Not only was it hard to install (taking nearly 45 minutes to plant a row – a process that usually takes about 5 minutes), but it also required the use of metal pins every 12″ or so, making it very difficult to remove later.  As for the yields, they were actually way less than in our traditionally grown rows – with no early ripening detected at all. Last but not least – they simply looked ugly in our rows! 🙂

Our verdict – there is no need to hassle with it!

Growing Popcorn Out Of The Garden:

Like the growing of our tomatoes without red plastic – sometimes, it’s simply better to stick with what works well!  We decided this year to plant our popcorn in a newly landscaped bed area at the top of the entrance – hoping that the ornamental look and feel of the corn stalks would add a little texture to the bed space.

This year's popcorn harvest will not be enough to carry us through our winter snacking!
This year’s popcorn harvest will not be enough to carry us through our winter snacking!

The top of the hill area proved to be too windy and unprotected – and the popcorn crop was damaged by an early season windstorm.

The resulting crop was about 15% of our normal yield – and needless to say, next year, the popcorn will find a home back in the friendly confines of the raised rows in our main garden!

In the meantime, it looks like we will be purchasing some organic popcorn to get us through our nightly winter snacks at the farm!

Happy Gardening! – Jim and Mary

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