How did your garden grow this year?
Every year is different, that’s for sure, and vegetable garden 2012 was somewhere in the middle of fair and good.
Some blame the unusually warm temps in March, the heavy rains in May and very little moisture during the prime growing season in late June and July. At least the vine crops didn’t mold, as they did during the summer of 2009 – THAT was a wet year.
The insect pests were a nuisance, but not as bad as some years. No tomato hornworms and few ugly squash bugs. But, an early blight hit my tomatoes and the lack of moisture significantly affected my potato crop.
These two crops are of paramount importance in my much-too-big-to-properly-care-for garden. Some plum tomatoes made it, but so few compared to past years. And the regular, canning-type tomatoes were far fewer this year than last. No jars of tomato juice to enjoy during the winter months, and not quite enough to last through the year.
As for potatoes, it seems that I planted as many seed potatoes in May as the number of potatoes I harvested in July and August. And they were small.
But some vegetables did very well – sweet dumpling, acorn, butternut and delicata squash, plenty of cucumbers to make all the pickles my family and friends like, a reasonable number of cauliflower, turnips and cabbage, cayenne and chili peppers and garlic, and wonderful lettuce, beet, carrot, spinach and herb crops.
In fact, the late spinach crop is still going strong and tastes so wonderfully fresh and delicious. Someone once said that early spinach and lettuce, and late spinach and lettuce, are the best tasting. I think that’s right.
A critical look
It’s almost time to clean up the garden and put it to bed for another year. But first, some assessing is in order.
* Should the same seed varieties be used again next year? The Lutz beets, Danvers half-long carrots, Provider beans, National pickling cucumbers, and Incredible and Sugar Buns corn are a 'for sure.' All did extremely well.
* Perhaps the soil lacked a mineral. I’m thinking the cruciferous crops would have fewer leaves and more fruits if I do some research over the winter months to learn what they like.
* If blight is a problem, look for blight-resistant tomatoes. And do not put the diseased plants in the compost. The bacteria live very well over winter.
Prepare the garden for next growing season.
* We try to grow as organically as possible. Before tilling the garden for the last time, spread on a thick layer of manure. Or spread it now and till it in spring. Although snow may be the poor man’s fertilizer, manure works a whole lot better.
* If compost is ready, spread that on, too.
* When composting, chop up the stalks, such as corn or sunflower, add fresh grass clippings and dried leaves, and chop up kitchen plant wastes. And stir as often as possible.
* The seed catalogs start arriving in only a couple of months. Take some time during the cold winter nights to think about what are the most important vegetables and herbs to grow for your family.
* Not every vegetable should be harvested before or soon after the first killing frost. Carrots and beets can stay in the ground all winter long if they are well mulched. And if you don’t mind digging through snow, either can be harvested fresh for most of that time straight from the garden. If not, store them in a dark, cool place.
* The same holds true for parsley. I always dig up one of the larger parsley plants from the garden once the weather turns cold and keep it in a large pot on my porch. It will also reseed itself in the spring, particularly if it is well mulched. I have fresh parsley for soups or garnish for many months after the season. Of course, parsley, basil and some other herbs can also be successfully grown inside during the winter. Having these growing on a windowsill is like having a little bit of sunshine and spring when the ground is covered with snow.
* Parsnips taste their sweetest best when they winter in the garden. Again, mulch well, then dig them up and enjoy them in early spring.
Some final thoughts
* The sunflowers that self-seeded seemed to do even better than the ones I intentionally planted. One year, a beautiful maroon sunflower seed germinated in the nearby raspberry patch. All of a sudden, in early June, which is many weeks earlier than sunflowers blossom, it poked its lovely head up above the raspberry briers. So at the end of this season when the seed heads are dried, give some to the birds, and spread others in a mini-meadow. Some are guaranteed to grow.
* Be sure to clean up all the garden refuse in the fall. If left to overwinter on the sides of the garden, the heavy snow and wet will transform the piles into messy, hard-to-pick-up patches.
* Save seeds from the vegetables that did really well. Let them dry completely, then store in a tightly covered container. And most of all, reflect on the successes of your garden. Think of all the healthy food eaten by your family and that you know exactly what went into growing it. The same is true if you preserve some of the bounty. No BPA or preservatives, only what you did to grow the vegetable and preserve it.
* Remember: For the things that didn't grow that well this year, there’s always next year.
* And, be thankful.