Well, with night-time frosts banging on the door, we harvested everything harvestable in the big garden (the test garden, which, if you’ve been following had four beds with different soil treatments: buckwheat, mustard, black plastic and nothing). And in the interest of completing as ‘scientific’ an analysis, the DH and I hauled out big cardboard boxes which I dutifully labeled and set them at the ends of the appropriate rows. Everything that got taken from the buckwheat row ended up in the buckwheat boxes and so on. When we got everything home, we washed it all carefully, counted items, weighed them and tabulated the results.
Now, some things just did not do well – actually some things did not do anything at all and that was basically all the varieties of the beans. They got nibbled down almost as soon as they germinated. No beans.
Butternut squash for some reason was a giant failure as well, which is really interesting because the other winter squashes and pumpkins did fantastically. Sweet corn was nothing to get excited about either. But here are the results, in the order of the position of the beds, in terms of their proximity to the woods (and we’ll discuss that later):
Buckwheat: 11 pounds of pumpkins, 20 pounds of spaghetti squash, 2.5 pounds of pontimarron squash. No sweet corn, no popcorn.
Mustard Treatment: 8 ears of popcorn, 12 ears of sweet corn, 38 pounds of pumpkins, 22.7 pounds of spaghetti squash, 3.3 pounds of pontimarron squash.
Black Plastic: 4 sweet corn, 27 pounds of pumpkins, 10 pounds of spaghetti squash, 3.3 pounds of pontimarron squash.
No treatment: no popcorn, 4 ears of sweet corn, 48.6 pounds of pumpkins, 64.5 pounds of spaghetti squashes, no pontimarron squash.
So, what does this mean? I bit more information: It’s not as if the buckwheat bed only produced 20 pounds of pumpkins: it only produced 20 pounds of harvestable pumpkins. Ditto for the Mustard-treatment bed. We discovered something: Deer really like pumpkins and squash. I went into this thinking that the deer would go after the corn, which they did early on but then as the summer progressed, they abandoned the corn (which then tasseled and formed ears as long as the original corn plant had not been savaged too badly) and went after the pumpkins and squashes in the buckwheat and mustard treated beds. Why those beds?
Those were the beds closest in terms of access to where the deer hang out: the edges of the woods. Ahhhhhh. Take a bit of a nap; get up at dusk and dawn and go over to the buffet for a bit of nosh. We found the remains of at least three pumpkins in both the buckwheat and mustard treated beds — big ones, too. And the deer went after the squashes in the mustard treated bed. The one type of squash that did not get savaged too much was the spaghetti squashes.
So, why did the No treatment bed do so well with pumpkins and and spaghetti squashes? That’s the bed farthest away from the tree line – the deer were very content vising the buffet closest to them. Considering the number of squashes and pumpkins which we found the remains of, and estimating what they would have weighed if they’d gone to full maturity, I think we would have added at least ten pounds of pumpkins to the buckwheat bed and the same for the mustard bed, which would have made it an equal of the no treatment bed – except that the corn did best in the mustard bed and we did get a good amount of the pontimarron squashes in the mustard bed as well.
Another factor we were testing was sheer amount of weeds and the mustard bed won that test handily – just scanning the beds once all the pumpkin and squash vines, the corn plants and so on were taken away and it was easy to see a major difference in terms of weed populations and sizes of weeds. So the suppressive effects of the mustard treatment lasted throughout the growing season. Another aspect was the size of the plants. All of the vegetable plants – the corn stalks, the squash and pumpkin vines, the sun flowers and so on were bigger, healthier, faster to flower and faster maturing (see the pop corn and sweet corn figures on that) than the plants in any of the other beds. But what about all the squashes and pumpkins in the ‘no treatment’ bed? See Damage, Deer above: it’s easy to end up with more and bigger veggies if you don’t have voracious chompers going after the plants. The fact that the mustard bed produced the second highest poundage of pumpkins, despite losing probably a half dozen pumpkins and squashes is an indicator to me that given a different set of circumstances (9 foot fencing, no deer), the mustard bed probably would have done even better than the ‘no treatment’ bed.
So, as with all investigations, what are the plans for next year?
Well first thing, is that today, I sowed all the beds with a combination of buckwheat, tillage radishes and oats as a cover crop. These will grow until they are killed by a real killer frost – which will probably be at the end of October or early November. In the early spring, we will sow all the beds with mustard and perform the treatment as prescribed (that is: let it grow until it flowers, wait until the weather predicts rain, chop it down and till it in; wait two weeks after the rain and then start putting in vegetable seeds).
Oh yes — we’re looking at 9′ fencing. With a ‘hot wire (that is, we’ll have a solar-powered battery to provide electrical fencing) to discourage the deer.
Hope your gardening was successful this year!!