Bear Swamp Orchard & Cidery


Certified Organic Hard Ciders and Apples
I thought I would share some of how we garden here. We grow all our own vegetables, which we dry or freeze for the year. This takes some effort, and every year has it’s challenges and successes. For example, the dry weather of 2012 was great for the tomatoes and peppers, but the potatoes did very poorly. In 2013, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, and cole crops (broccoli etc.) did great, but the beets, carrots, chard, cukes, and peas were getting eaten by some insect pest as fast as they could come out of the ground. 2014 was a banner year for cold weather crops like broccoli, cabbage and onions, and absolutely terrible for tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. Potato yield was ok despite late blight infection.


The three main garden beds, looking north from the barn, before our cidery addition in 2014. Bed in foreground is beans and tomatoes, middle bed is all potatoes, most distant bed is cole crops, onions, and a three sisters planting (popcorn, winter squash, pole beans).

We have several garden beds, which we manage using no-till strategies, and we rotate the crops we grow through those beds. We try to sneak in mulch when we can, since it shelters the soil structure from compaction by rain, retains moisture, and greatly reduces weed growth. However, it also can provide homes for rodent pests, and attracts chickens who like to scratch through it, to the possible detriment of the plants growing there. We usually spread a layer of compost in spring or fall on each bed

Here is a list of our current crops and varieties, with their uses, more or less tracing back through the beds pictured above:
Cranberry dry beans. These bush beans prove to be quite easy to shell, seem to grow well here, and taste good. I aim to grow a years worth, but have had interference from chickens and rabbits most years. I got about 1/2 lb beans per plant one year, which may be typical but I don’t always keep sufficient records to tell that.
Tomatoes, mostly Amish paste (for canning), Matt’s wild cherry (for fresh eating and drying for winter), and a selection of eating tomatoes, including Purple Prudens, Cosmonaut Volkov. We aim to put up 40 quarts of tomato sauce each year, which turns out to be about 35-40 plants in a good year.
Sugar snap peas, which I pick early for pea pods (good fresh and frozen for winter use), and I also shell them for freezing. This is one of our main frozen vegetables for winter. In the summer, I mostly like to enjoy the pods, stir fried.
Northeaster or Rattlesnake pole beans for fresh green beans. These are edible even pretty big and produce beans more gradually than the bush beans I have grown. Since I want to eat them fresh and not can or freeze, that more gradual harvest suits my needs. A fairly short row of these beans are sufficient for fresh eating, say 10 plants.
Potatoes include Kennebec, German butterball, and a red (Sangre this year, I think). I like to have a selection of potatoes - butterballs are creamy and delicious but don’t keep as well as the Kennebecs, and the reds are wonderful as new potatoes as well as for sauteeing - they hold their shape well when cooked. We have had anywhere from 50-300 lbs of potatoes, we plant about 20 lbs seed potatoes. In 2014 our potatoes got hit by late blight, and the red potatoes mostly rotted in the ground. The other varieties fared better.
Cole crops include broccoli, brussels sprouts, and red and green cabbage. We generally have great brussels sprouts, broccoli varies each year, and usually poor cabbage. I have tried to be on top of the cabbage worms (we use either Bt or Spinosad, both organically approved insecticides, sprayed directly down into the plant so the use is very targeted). We have tried all kinds of methods - row covers, hand picking - but nothing else works. I am not growing kale this year due to the cabbage worms, kale is harder to spray and gets harvested all season so I don’t like to spray it. Too bad, since kale grows a lot better than chard here. Broccoli from the freezer is a staple all winter, and I make some sauerkraut with the cabbages.
Onions - we plant yellow onions for storage, red onions predominantly for fresh use in salsa and salads during the summer, and shallots, also for storage. Yield varies like potatoes, we often grow very good onions.
Corn - Popcorn, for a great snack all winter. We also plant Calais (or another, ancient red) flint corn for cornmeal, in alternate years to prevent cross-pollination. We do not grow sweet corn since it would cross pollinate with the varieties we want to keep the seeds from; we buy sweet corn from a farm down the road for freezing and fresh corn-on-the-cob. Our location is not ideal for corn, often the season is a bit short, and weather is often so wet in the fall it is difficult to dry the corn without developing mold.
Winter squash - Most years we grow Uncle Dave’s Dakota Dessert squash, plus another variety to hedge our bets, such as Butterbush or pie pumpkins. Uncle Dave’s is probably my favorite variety, the flesh is deep orange, not stringy, sweet on its own, and they keep well. Regular butternut often doesn’t mature fully here. We also grow some jack-o-lantern pumpkins. We often have trouble with disease (and sometimes, chickens) which impact different varieties differently, so we try to grow more than one variety each year in case one type gets wiped out.
Summer squash we grow one or two Costata Romanesca zucchini plants which gives us plenty to eat and occasionally feed to the chickens. No other summer squash compares with this one, in my opinion.
Peppers. King of the North for fresh eating and freezing, and Czech black for hot peppers. The Czech black are gorgeous plants, and do well every year, even in years when the other peppers hardly fruit. They are very mild which suits my family’s gringo palate. We also grow paprika peppers, home-ground paprika is delicious. The peppers are growing on the south side of the shop and house.
Cucumbers. I grow only pickling cukes, since I like to eat them more than any other variety. We also pickle them, of course. I find it easy to get carried away making pickles; I think one small fermented batch and one batch of canned pickles is a good balance.
Yaya carrots are my current favorite variety. We grow for fresh eating and storage, though storage has been largely unsuccessful so far. Every year we try something different, but have only succeeded with carrots in the fridge.
Detroit beets are what I grow, as they are dependable and look great pickled. We also roast them for as long as they last in the fall, and they are wonderful grated in salads in summer. I try chiogga beets some years, since they are pretty in salads and I think taste a little sweeter.
Perpetual spinach and/or bright lights are varieties of chard with a mild, spinach-like flavor that I like. The leaves of the perpetual spinach are smaller than most chard though. The bright lights provides two products - the leaves for greens, and the stem for a celery-like item in soups. I like to freeze as many greens as I can for winter. This is so time consuming and tedious I find it hard to freeze as much as I would use.
Annual herbs include basil, dill, cilantro, and parsley. Dill and cilantro self seed and come up in my garden behind the house; usually when I plant that garden, I have enough cilantro and dill to weed out that I can freeze for the next year.
Lettuce we grow lettuce mixes, fairly halfheartedly. I enjoy some lettuce early in the season, but it has gone to seed and been pulled long before we have any other salad fixings to eat. I am generally unsuccessful with mid-summer lettuce, though I am working on this. I do love Greek salads with local feta, tomatoes, red onions and cukes.
Radishes, usually the cherry belle or easter egg radishes. It seems like I can only get these to bulb up if I plant them before I have any other vegetables to eat with them. I planted these around my squash and cukes this year, as they are supposed to fend off cucumber beetles. Pollinators do love the blossoms if you leave some unharvested.
Garlic a hardneck variety I bought at a farmer’s market years ago, we have been growing it (and selecting big bulbs) for years now. This is such a satisfying crop, since it takes no time in the spring, just occasional weeding and mulching, and harvest and replanting is satisfying and easy. Our garlic keeps so well we often are using the previous year’s crop when the new garlic becomes ready.
Poppies for seed. I planted Oriental poppies in several spots in my garden in 2013, and they came in as if every single seed germinated. We got a few cups of seeds from an area maybe 3’ by 3’. It’s important to heat the seeds briefly in the oven or a dehydrator even if they seem dry, to kill molds that might otherwise grow once they are in a jar. It’s fun to grow a crop that is so pretty. These poppies came from the gardens from our old house in Buckland, along with my treasured peonies. The people who owned the house before us moved in in the 1940’s and had great gardens, which had mostly returned to lawn when we got the house.

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