Sunday, December 19, 2010

Taking stock and looking ahead

Yes, it's that time of year: the vegetable garden looks a sight, thanks to a fall clean-up that didn't quite get finished, a flock of chicken tourists that made themselves at home before the construction of Chicken Alley, and the usual ravages of a soggy and snowy winter. But the first seed catalogues arrived in the mail last week and in my mind this garden is already next summer's verdant landscape of healthy and productive vegetables, herbs and berries.

First, though, a moment of reflection on the growing season past:
  • Most spectacular success: the carrots. They were fabulous. Row covers are definitely the way to go.

  • Most spectacular failure: the potatoes. For every chunk of potato I planted we got one or two small little nuggets. The plants never flowered, and withered and died way sooner than they should have - both in the two beds they were planted in, and also in the ten big tubs. I can only think it must have something to do with the fact I mulched with straw - apparently a standard practice in the east, but Carol Deppe says in The Resilient Gardener that it doesn't work in the Pacific Northwest. I won't do that again.
  • Most conspicuous absence: the summer squash. We harvested two small zucchinis. That's it.
  • Most ubiquitous presence: the peas. After the mice's shenanigans, we found them sprouting everywhere.

  • Bye-bye to: (1) Radishes. I don't much like them, and neither does Kim. I think I was only growing them because they are something to harvest from the garden in the early days of the season when I'm just dying to harvest something. (2) Artichokes. We won't do away with them, but they're taking up a huge amount of valuable real estate for very little food pay-off. So we'll transplant them to the perennial garden where they can look beautiful, defend themselves against the deer, and we can still eat the occasional artichoke when the fancy strikes us.
  • Newcomers: I tried growing cucumbers, peppers and melons for the first time. Then we had a record-breaking cold and wet spring and early summer - not so good for plants that need heat, heat, heat. We harvested a couple of small cucumbers - and they were tasty enough that I'll try again. I also grew cabbage for the first time, and even though the outer leaves had to be discarded because of disgusting slug-like things, what was left was great.

  • Kim's 2010 food obsession: blueberries. Our first year it was potatoes. This year it was blueberries, with two new long stretches of bushes, and newly pampered and productive older bushes to show for it. It was a good year for blueberries, but not for blueberry preserves, because we ate them all. Yum.
  • Lessons learned: (1) It's really important to cure winter squash properly if you want them to last in storage. Our delayed growing season meant the winter squash needed every possible day to ripen, which meant I ran smack up against the start of the cool, wet autumn, which meant I should have brought the squash inside to cure where it was warmer and drier. But I didn't, and they went moldy. Fortunately we could eat them before they got too bad. (2) Don't believe everything you read in a book, and if you must, be sure it's written by an author in a growing region similar to your own (see spectacular failure, above). (3) Don't overplant the peas, or you'll end up with a beautifully tendrilled chaos that makes it too hard to actually find the peas for picking.

"Now onto the new," she says, rubbing her hands in anticipation. Introducing the 2011 Mucky Boots Vegetable Garden.
  • What I'll plant more of: winter squash, cabbage, dried beans and yellow storage onions. I devoted half a bed to the yellow onions this year (as well as additional space for red onions, green onions and leeks), and even though we harvested a whole bunch of them, they're almost all gone. Onions are dead cheap to buy in the grocery store, but there's no comparison to home-grown. Two years in a row ours have been crispy, juicy and incredibly flavourful. We want more.

  • What I'll plant less of: summer squash. Even though I was initially disappointed that our summer squash went AWOL this year, I realized I didn't actually miss all that zucchini and patty pan squash. So this year I'll plant just one of each.
  • New plants for 2011: broccoli raab, Brussels sprouts and Napa cabbage, plus some winter squash varieties I haven't tried before.
  • Best recycled gardening resolution: fertilize. All the beds get treated to lovely fresh compost in the spring, but after that the plants have had to pretty much fend for themselves. You might remember I resolved to do a better job with fish fertilizer, and compost and nettle teas, and I did do it this, maybe once.
  • Most eagerly anticipated crop: the gooseberries, which is pretty ironic given they were this close to being dug up. But the lone 3/4-filled jar of gooseberry and lavender jelly I made has changed my mind forever about these berries.
And now I'm off to the garden to clean up after the chickens and dream of spring.


Natalie said...

This is a good read. Some of your conclusions and summaries match my own thoughts and experiences in the garden. I love the anticipation... we shall garden once more!

jeanives said...

Nice year-end recap of an odd weather year that resulted in so much learning. Are you shocked that it is the winter solstice again? Living as a gardener one can relate to the "old" religions that revolve around the seasons. In my world the first day of spring is the day after the solstice, and definitely when the Christmas gear has been dismantled - we all have our delusions.

Toni aka irishlas said...

Thanks for posting this. I find it interesting how other gardener's fare.

If I can ever get organized enough I'd like to do a year end summary myself. Problem is, I make more "mental" notes rather than taking the time to jot it down in my gardening journal.

Paula said...

I'm with you on the summer squash- only one. Please try kale, if you like brassicas. You get a lot of food out of one sowing because you can cut and come again. I find that by sowing twice a year, I can get kale pretty much year 'round, and considering that I'd never eaten kale before a year or so ago, we eat a LOT of kale, which has turned into my favorite vegetable.

Good luck with next year's garden. I think if there are any takeaways from Deppe's book for surviving weird weather, they are early varieties and diversity, diversity, diversity.

And I'm also with you on fertilizing.

Flartus said...

Wow, you sound so organized! Our garden is also a mess, having somehow missed its fall cleanup, too. And we don't even have any snow to cover the ugliness.

I look forward to seeing how your brussels sprouts do. We grew them in 2009 with pretty good results. They take a fair amount of room, but they were also pretty well productive for us. Mostly, though, they were cool to watch develop! :)

Tracy said...

I loved your informative 'catch me up' to your blog and being a techer I noticed you were a teacher and began a new life: Good for you! I hope to do that as well with writing and leave teaching behind. I've been doing it for 29 years and it is just not the same anymore; it's not about kids...
anyway, I admire your courage to begin life anew doing something totally different! It was nice meeting you; I'll be back!

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