What a good year in the garden! We had plentiful rain (except for a few weeks in August) and a cooler-than-usual summer made gardening far more enjoyable. A newborn, born in April, did complicate gardening. It seemed that I would only have begun working in the garden when she woke up! But maybe that was God's way of making sure I didn't overdue it!
Most of my gardening was done in tiny segments of time, frustrating at times but taking lots of breaks probably wasn't a bad idea! Really, I was just thrilled to be able to bend over again and enjoy the outdoors with my children! Gardening is just a joy to me and the produce is just an bonus - though a very nice bonus!
I thought I'd take some time to think back over the year and record some of the things that worked (or didn't)! I may even link this to the Organic Gardening Carnival over at Keepers of the Home. I love hearing from other gardeners and gaining tips for future years.
First some background:
Our garden is in USDA zone 6. (If that means anything to you!) We have been gardening all the seven years since we married and moved to our almost three acres. Most of our property is pasture and a huge lawn, I don't even know how big our garden actually is.
Each year we tackle a few new projects. About the time we think we are about finished making changes - we get a new idea! I couldn't possibly garden without my husband's help. Ed does the bulk of the "grunt" work (tilling, mowing, planting, turning compost). I just get the fun of caring for the plants and harvesting! Oh, and the cooking! And we all help with the eating!
If you want to take a garden tour from back in July, go here.
Best new plant -
'Amish Paste' tomatoes! This was the first year I planted them and I was totally impressed. This is an old heirloom variety. The tomatoes are a paste type tomato similar to Roma but much larger in size. I was so tired of peeling Roma tomatoes for sauce making and the Amish Paste tomatoes made the job much faster.
But there was more then the size to rave about. In the past we've had problems with tomato blight. I expected that this variety would have worse problems since it isn't a fancy new hybrid. But even though we had a wetter then usual summer and I heard of others in the area having problems with blight, our tomatoes were beautiful! The plants grew over six feet tall and produced abundantly. About the only complaint I could think of was they are not an early variety and I was a little impatient for the first tomato. Of the three varieties I planted, all were late bearing. Next year I'll know to plant at least one early plant to enjoy some early tomato eating. But I plan to plant mostly Amish Paste tomatoes for preserving!
Best new perennial-
We couldn't eat it but I also loved this aster 'Monch'. I planted it in May and it bloomed non-stop and is still blooming now in November! I guess the real test will be if it can last through the winter. It is supposed to be hardy in this area. I am not planning to do any coddling. If a flower can't make it in my perennial bed on it's own, then I'll replace it with something that can! I wish there were more flowers this easy to grow and blooms this well!
We grew pumpkins/winter squash for the first time this year. The varieties we grew were Baby Pam, Red Kuri, Green striped Cushaw, and Sweet Dumpling. All were chosen because they were supposed to be good eating, and long keeping - plus look nice for some fall decoration! All the varieties grew well and produced abundantly. My favorite for eating was the Red Kuri. I couldn't really tell much difference between them for flavor but the Red Kuri was such a nice dark orange color and the others were more a pale yellow. But the Red Kuri did not keep as well. While the others are still hard and good, the Red Kuri has slowly been going soft. I have just been keeping my eye on them and when one get soft around the stem, I quick cook it up before it goes bad. I used up the last of them this week, so they still lasted several months.
Worse new plant-
I already wrote about my non-head forming broccoli. I did contact the company and they said they've heard of other with the same problem and offered me a new pack of seeds or my money back. It didn't help me have broccoli this spring but I did appreciate their effort to make it right.
What I learned-
Never plant a new variety without planting some of the old tried-and-true. If I would have planted some of my old broccoli as well as the new variety, we could have still had some broccoli this spring.
What I would do differently -
Start with larger blueberry plants. We planted six small plants. Two are growing well, two are surviving, and two are about to expire. We are new to blueberries, so it could be that we are making other mistakes!
Best spent morning -
We love the simple three bin compost pile that Ed built this spring. With the help of our chicken bedding, we've been churning out compost at much faster rate then ever before! And we can NEVER have too much compost! You can see how simple it was to build here.
Repeated problem -
Keeping onions. I've talked to many other gardeners about how to keep onions. I've tried many of their tips, but still have no success. Our onion crop was beautiful this year. I braided them and hung them in the wood shed. I had plenty of onions for canning pizza sauce but they are now beginning to rot from the inside out. Every time I go out for an onion, I throw several away. It is so discouraging. I am wondering if it has something to do with our clay ground. Our garden lays low and has deep rich soil. We rarely need to water and it hold moisture well - but maybe onions don't like those conditions. I'm just guessing because I've talked to several gardeners who have wonderful success with onions who have sandy or slate ground and much drier conditions, even though they live near us. I may try a raised bed next year. Also the onions I picked first when the stalks were still green are keeping much better. Anyone have other ideas?
Repeated success -
Once I did get broccoli (this fall) I've enjoyed worm free vegetable without sprays, thanks to row cover! I wouldn't want to be without row cover in the garden as it has so many uses. I've written about this simple method here.
I'll do this again -
Covering our strawberries with a simple bird netting was Ed's brilliant idea! It saved so much frustration! See photos here.
Maximizing garden space -
I'm guessing that sometime in the future we'll extend our garden into the pasture. But for now, I'm trying to make the best use of the space we have. I wrote about this year's successes here.
Children's Garden -
We all really enjoyed the Children's Garden. It was fun to grow some unusual plants in their garden like the Rainbow Inca corn and Rattlesnake beans. You can read about it here and here. I'm dreaming up ideas to make next year's garden even better for them.
Gardening for Chickens-
Another new project was gardening for our chickens. The goal was to grow some food (not all) for our new chickens to cut on feed costs. I was told to start when their young to teach them to eat food scraps. Our chicks were only days old when we started giving them grass to scratch through. We've learned what things they enjoy, and what just lays in their pen untouched. Apple peelings are some of their favorite.
I grew mangle beets, swiss chard and kale specifically for them and they enjoy them all. I'll know next year to plant far more. Each morning when I visited the hen house, I would either take kitchen scraps (if I had something they would enjoy) or pull something from the garden on the way out. They also enjoyed overgrown zucchini and cucumbers, old sweet corn (we left some just dry on the stalk) and sunflower seeds.
It was a bountiful year and in some ways I hate to see it end, though I have plenty of inside work that is waiting for me! We are already dreaming of next year. Ed would like to try planting some grain and is already preparing some experimental plots in the pasture. We also talk of adding some more berries, though our blueberries are hardly encouraging this year.
Every year is a new chance to learn about God's creation and enjoy His provision is a very tangible way! We are trying to take some extra time this month and "count our blessings". Certainly our garden this year was one of those!