I love gardening, I really do.
This was a bit of a different year for me, though. I went into the spring already late in my 2nd trimester of pregnancy, and finished up the summer with a newborn baby (plus two other children under 5). Ambitious as I am, this proved a challenge for me!
I considered the season that I was heading into as I planned and planted my garden. I opted for 8 tomato plants instead of 12 (and only 6 really produced anyways) and very little re-planting for the fall. I chose not to stress out about filling each and every space as something in the garden finished up. I decided to be okay with the natural look (aka weeds) and focus on harvesting just to keep plants producing and doing the bare minimum of work once I hit mid-summer and started really slowing down.
My poor garden was ignored for a good, solid 6 weeks after Johanna was born August 12. All I did was walk out there to pick what needed to be picked, and walk back inside. I think I might have picked a few weeds that happened to just be in my face, but really, that was it. Even after that, I did the minimum amount of work necessary to finish up with the harvest and clear out the garden to get it ready for the winter. Currently, it still has some kale, lettuce and carrots growing. I haven't dealt with the very last plants, the tomatoes and squash which are dead but still sitting there. The rest has been tilled and had some annual rye grass planted, and the garlic has gone in. And that's all, folks!
Honestly, it was harder than I thought it would be. I did pretty well with the gardening while pregnant, though I definitely slowed down a lot in the final weeks. It was summer and the kids enjoyed being outside, as did I, and I just let myself work at a slower and easier pace. I'm glad I still did a really good spring/summer planting and we ate (and I preserved) a lot of amazing veggies before baby came along. The tough part came with a newborn, and a midwife (and husband) who kept telling me to slow down and rest. I had to choose to basically ignore the garden and that was hard for me. The reality was, I just didn't have time or energy for it (see my post on 5 Steps to Being a Lazy Gardener!).
The good thing is that gardens can be forgiving creatures. Even with the weeds taking over, almost everything kept on producing pretty decently. Yes, some things would have done better with more weeding, more fertilizing, more careful staking and tying up, and even some hand pollinating. Nonetheless, all was not lost. We still continued to eat from that garden until, well, we're still eating from it! The work I had done earlier paid off in many regards.
I've considered many times how I would do it again with a summer due date, and I think I would do it almost exactly the same. I'd plant heavily for the spring and early summer and just get everything out of it that I could. From then on, I would plant more lightly for the late summer/early fall, but I would still plant some things. I would feel free to let the garden go as I needed to, and just relish in the fact that it would still produce something and something is better than nothing! I can't tell you how many times I was so thankful that despite my neglect, I could still go outside and harvest food for dinner, to put up for the winter, and even some to give to others. Truly, my garden blessed me this year.
A New Method
I discovered a great book last winter as I was thinking about the upcoming gardening season and that book is Joy of Gardeningby Dick Raymond. It is such a clear, explanatory book. The photos are fantastic. He clearly loves gardening and his passion comes through. His aim is to help you grow the best vegetables possible, with less work. Definitely up my alley! The focus is not on organic growing, though many of his methods are definitely in line with organic methods.
One of the best things I picked up from the book was using a wide-row planting technique. The idea is that rather than making rows and little holes and planting seeds individually, you plant an entire area (usually a wide row or else a large square patch) by spreading seed as evenly as possible over the whole area (there's a bit more to it, but that's the gist of it). It means that you will have to do some thinning, but it allows you to grow a very significant amount of food in a smaller space, and the thinning will let you start eating young baby veggies just as soon as they're ready to be picked, leaving room for the others to grow more before picking. It helps to control weeds and definitely makes planting faster and easier. My only complaints were that the germination was a bit uneven and some things didn't grow as big because I didn't keep up on thinning enough, so I would rather just plant them in a purposeful grid next time (like turnips and beets).
New Foods I Grew
I definitely branched out into a few new areas this year. I tried garlic starting last fall and harvested it in July. It was far, far easier than I thought it would be and my yield was enormous- probably enough for the whole year (and to give away a bit), plus some for planting again. I also added in kale this year, a dark blue Tuscan variety which grew very slowly through the spring/summer but has really shot up through the late summer/fall.
I did my first attempt at pole beans (though I've done bush beans before) and they were really fun to grow. I made a simple teepee, which turned out to be too short so the beans attached themselves to the wild rose bush and the fence! :) We loved the fresh beans and also the beans I blanched and froze. I used a tri-color heirloom mix- purple, yellow and green. I also added to my squash repertoire with Delicata, a squash that I love to buy. It's smaller and grows on a bush rather than a long vine, so it's an ideal winter squash for those with less space. It was definitely less all-consuming than the pumpkins, butternut and spaghetti squash I grew last year! I didn't get a huge yield (should have hand pollinated) but what I did get is really nice.
One of my favorite things I tried this year was cauliflower. I did try a broccoli called DeCicco (an Italian heirloom) and I wasn't too impressed. It didn't seem hardy enough to handle being put out in the cool, late spring weather. Most of my seedlings didn't make it. The heads didn't get too big, though I did love that the plants continued to produce small sideshoots for weeks and weeks after. But I really loved the cauliflower! I used a variety called Purple of Sicily. It really was purple, though it turned green (looked like broccoli) once cooked. It seemed very hardy and actually perked up a bit when I brought the seedlings outside and got them planted in mid-April. All but one plant survived (out of 12) and I got a head from each of them. Some bolted too quickly because our summer warmed up quicker than I expected, but it was still great!
Lastly, I tried potatoes this year. I experimented with growing them both in the garden and in a garbage can. The ones in the garden definitely produced way more potatoes. I think this might have been because I wasn't careful enough about keeping the soil level high as the plants grew in the garbage can. I'll try both ways again next year. I grew two varieties, Blue Russian (yes, they're really blueish-purple) and Sieglinde (a yellow potato). Both were good, though we preferred the yellow. Can't wait to grow more next year! I just need to be more on the ball with hilling up the dirt as the plants grow, because I think that's what really makes a difference in the harvest that you yield.
Seed Choices (How I Love my Heirlooms!)
There's not too much different to say than last year. I've decided I don't love Monstreux de Viroflay spinach and will choose something new next year. I enjoyed the addition of Black Seeded Simpson to my lettuce patch. I'm looking for a new broccoli to try next year, because the DeCicco didn't do well for me. I still love Nantes carrots but will also add something more interesting next time. I'm bored with French Breakfast Radishes, and my hubby wants me to grow White Icicle Radishes instead. I've given up on corn altogether, because my corn utterly failed both times in 2 years, regardless of what seeds I tried. I love Bull's Blood Beets. Still haven't found the tomato that really makes me go "wow", but enjoyed trying Tigerella (small but pretty and flavorful) and Pink German (a bit firmer and deep reddy-pink), and decided that Marvel Striped might be my favorite so far (larger, yellow with orangey-pink stripes and very juicy).
Pests and Problems
I had some of the same issues with powdery mildew this year, but it was after Johanna was born, so I didn't do too much about it. Tried to cut off the leaves before they infected others, but it still spread to all my squash plants, though thankfully they still produced. I really noticed the lack of bees again this year, with poor pollination and next year I will be particularly vigilant to hand pollinate my cucumbers, squash and zucchini. Weeds were a large problem again this year, as I think I added weed seeds through some hay I used for mulching last year (oops!). I just worked with them the best I could... sigh. Hoping the annual rye grass helps with the problem at least a little.
My Apple Tree
It's not quite part of my vegetable garden, but I bought an apple tree this year. It's a potted one, as we don't own the house we're currently living in. At one point in the summer it seemed to have been shocked (by a brief cold, rainy snap I'm guessing). All the leaves blackened and fell off, and I thought it was dead. But new leaves started to grow back a few weeks later! This fall I replanted it in a bigger pot, put some manure and the placenta under it (I saved it from my birth- I know it's gross to some, but many gardeners swear by doing this for all the nutrients), pruned it well, mulched it and added a weight to one branch to help improve the tree's shape. We'll see how it does next year! We didn't get any apples off it this year, but I'm hopeful it will produce for us soon.
It was a good year. Really. Pregnancy, new baby, weeds, mold, corn failure and all. :)
This was my 3rd year of real gardening and I definitely produced more food than ever before. I only had one crop that was a total failure and everything else produced at least something, if it didn't do really well. I was amazed at how much I could get out of my small, suburban backyard plot, and that was without pushing my garden to it's maximum capacity for the late summer and fall. I could have grown more if I tried to, and that just thrills me.
Hopefully that encourages those of you just starting out, that the longer you do this, the better you will get at it and the more that your garden will produce for you! It gets a bit easier every year (even though it's still hard work), and I learn to love it more all the time.
Want to hear from other gardeners about how their year of gardening went? Check out the Annual Organic Gardening Carnival!