Warning….this post is pretty long and all about gardening stuff. Skip if that bores you. I’m a nerd and love it.
Today I pulled my tomato and pepper plants. The fruits that were trying to ripen were just rotting so I took all that was left and will utilize it as best as I can.
It marks the end of my first summer garden at this house. I want to remember everything that happened so I can take all the lessons learned into next year’s garden with confidence.
I’ll start with the bad stuff so that we can end on a good note. Nothing horrible, but definitely a lot of take away.
1. Soil is the number one most important thing about gardening and prior to early summer this year I did not take this fact nearly as seriously as I should have.
My tomato plants suffered most with compacted soil issues but thanks to some help and advice from my dad a few good ones survived and I still was able to get tomatoes. The herbs were practically dwarfed (my dad called them atrophied, so that’s how bad they were) in certain parts of my garden where the soil was most compact and filled with clay.
When I first started turning over the soil in early spring I had no clue on how to recognize that sort of soil problem and because of that I didn’t amend it enough or correctly, before planting. I’ve worked hard ever since to improve the soil and will be starting out next year in a very different place. More on the amendments in my ‘good’ notes:)
2. My garden was designed to have a LOT of unused space. I changed that just before planting fall crops but as you can see above, the pathways are quite large. I want to be much more efficient with the small space I have and I just didn’t do that.
3. Not knowing the forces against me. I knew we had squirrels but I didn’t know they had a tendency to dig up loose soil. I knew we had chipmunks but I didn’t know they burrowed in dirt. I didn’t even notice the large hare like bunnies running around until AFTER they ate my sugar snap pea plants. I had no clue what cucumber beetles were but guess what? Now I totally do. Learning to deal with all of these pests is quite the curve for me but I’m getting the hang of it. The most important lesson is that apparently everything likes beet seedlings and I’m not sure I’ll ever get a crop of them at this rate.
You may remember the massive tomato loss I had in a matter of two days before putting up my bird netting.
4. Don’t plant all the different seasons of plants in the same beds. It makes it extremely difficult to plant fall crops when summer plants are still in full swing….but if I’d put spring plants and summer plants in different beds I would have had an easier transition. Spring/fall plants go in the same beds and summer plants get their own.
5. Impatience is my enemy. Like most novice gardeners I craved that lush, overgrown and heavy producing garden……in May. Patience in gardening is really key to your sanity. You won’t harvest tomatoes til probably August, you won’t get orange bell peppers in June. Those plants you put your entire being into caring for might die along the way whether from pests, disease or weather. You can’t win them all. But you can be patient and give everything compost tea, learn about companion planting and set up barriers while you wait. Mourn your losses and move on because successes are all over the place.
All the Goods
There are so many positives about my garden this year. Happy accidents, hard worked for harvests, growth and growth and growth.
1. Reading all the books. Throughout spring and early summer I read books. Garden books, homestead books, soil books, mushroom books, permaculture books, and companion planting books. I learned a lot.
Every week or two I’d bring home a haul from the library.
I pulled whatever information was relevant to my small, urban garden in zone 5b and soaked it up like a sponge. There was a lot of other fascinating information that I stored away should I ever be in a different situation as well. Mostly I was just inspired by the diversity possible on a small lot like mine that has so many shaded areas. I love knowing that I can use more of my space than I ever imagined and learning how to do that was empowering. This year, being pregnant all of the garden seasons definitely limited the projects I was going to be able to take on but I’ll be doing what I can each year to utilize all my property.
2. Herbs herbs herbs herbs. I worked for my parent’s business this spring doing social media. Every time I’d do research on an herb I photographed at their greenhouse I’d be completely floored by the incredible uses, beyond culinary, that were unknown to me. Because of this I tried a lot of new to me herbs like borage, comfrey, and nasturtiums.
Comfrey is my favorite of all of those because it’s a triple threat. Not only is it a nitrogen fixer (pulling a key nutrients for fruiting plants like tomatoes from deep in the soil up to the surface) but it has medicinal qualities and attracts pollinators! The few plants I put in were all ‘unsellables’ from my parents (meaning they were ugly and going to be thrown out so I rescued them) and they grew at an incredible rate to look like large, jungle plants. Their leaves are great for mulching around fruiting plants due to the high nutrients, and because they produce so many leaves you can really pack them around. But Anyway, enough about comfrey….
3. Companion planting. I read enough before planting to find some really awesome companion combinations that I used and loved. My favorite is basil with tomatoes. I mean, we all already know that’s a culinary match made in heaven, but what does it do for the plants? Well, they attract/repel complimentary bugs, they intensify eachother’s flavor and share beneficial soil nutrients. I’ve never had such glorious basil! Also, the few tomatoes plants that did survive made lots and lots of tomatoes. Another thing I tried was planting my comfrey strategically to support fruiting plants I learned too late that beet seeds interspersed amongst radish seeds keeps the bunnies away, an accidental method I’ll be using on purpose next time.
See the red stems and veins on those leaves?
Yeah, the rest of my beet crop looked like this.
4. Fall crops. Oh my goodness the joy of fall crops. Any of you gardeners out there that don’t do this, start. You plant most of your seeds in August or so (wait till a cool or rainy week to get the seeds out), and magic happens. Look at one of my fall beds now!
These are cover/soil building crops of diakon radishes and regular radishes as well as fava beans for nutrient amendments. Basically that means I’m growing these to leave in all winter and turn under in the spring to the benefit of my soil. However, if I was going to eat them, I’d be eating them now…..already.
Actually I did plant these to eat but they are unbelievably spicy for some reason (must research why) so outside of some sort of pickling I don’t see myself eating very many. There’d be plenty for eating as well as leaving in for the soil though.
Avery thinks they’re cool but waaaaay too spicy.
I also planted the beets and spinach. The spinach never germinated (I planted some in another bed and so far I have four plants….out of like a billion), and you saw what happened to the beets. Not good. In another bed I planted much later, because of pregnancy in general, I put lettuce, spinach and more radishes.
They’re still babies but will have a good start before the cold sets in and then I’ll cover them and for the winter and harvest them early spring when they start growing again. Nothing better than late starting lettuce for an early spring crop. It’s awesome.
However, with the shadier part of my garden I was able to get a great crop of lettuce for the first time in my gardening career.
I plan on doing a lot more lettuce next season and will keep trying on the darned spinach. I have always had bad luck with germination.
Next year I hope I can build on a lot of the knowledge and experience I acquired this year and have an even more productive garden. I’m not complaining about my success this year as I had a large spaghetti squash harvest, plenty of tomatoes and peppers as well as basically unlimited greens and herbs for my family with some to share. I’m blessed to have the backyard I do an so excited to optimize it.