Thursday, October 30, 2014

2014 Garden Year Thoughts and Pictures

I am definitely a victim of my own good intentions with this blog. I was shocked to realize it has been over a year since I last updated folks on our gardening endeavors. We have chosen to use our time this year to expand the garden (and enjoy it) instead. But as our first real frost is looming at the end of the week and our main garden season is coming to a close, it is time for an update so that next year we can remember what we learned from this one.

Big 2014 Accomplishments:
  • Broke new ground that expanded the garden by a 1/3 and required removing a very ugly and oddly placed Magnolia tree. 
  • Planted three apple trees and one plum tree (more on them in another post). Espaliering was involved. It's hard to tell what you are looking at in the pictures so I'll include better ones in our fruit tree post.

  • Expanded our compost bin into a second bay and moved them 90 degrees to a southern orientation. 
  • Successfully transplanted three red rhubarb plants from hubby's childhood home in the upper Midwest.
  • Brought our existing green rhubarb plant back from the brink of death. (It got much worse than in the pic. Rust every where. It just needed some fish emulsion. Who knew?)
  • Bought a shed and had it installed, but built a gravel foundation for it ourselves.
2014 Good Discoveries and Surprises:
  • We have wild garlic! Why bother planting it when you can find it all over your yard and neighborhood?! It's tiny, but it is the real thing.  
  • We are a little late to the party, but it turns out the Brandywine is an AWESOME tomato! The Black Krim is also fantastic. Between the two, our formerly beloved Cherokee Purple pales in comparison since it is a weak producer and all the fruit is prone to cracking. Not so with the Brandywine. While it is still huge, some are a more manageable size and a prolific producer. The Black Krim is also a good producer and provides smaller, more sandwich-able black tomato slices.  Between the two, I think we can phase out the Cherokee next year.
  • We can grow eggplant! Our previous eggplant problems were likely the result of the community garden flea beetle infestation and not us. Huzza! We planted three kinds under the row cover, including the lovely Rosa Bianca that I have tried to grow for 4 years unsuccessfully, and we had more eggplant than we knew what to do with. And although the Rosa Bianca was lovely, it turns out we liked the Chinsese Ping Tung better because it is a uniform size that is super easy to cut up and cook with. Tasty too.
  • Planting sunflowers next to your Swiss Chard keeps those f^&*ing caterpillars under control. To be fair this is an unscientific assumption of causation with correlation but last year it was a caterpillar plague and the plants were in more or less the same spot. This year, the birds practically lived on the sunflowers (and constantly battled each other for the) and we had no caterpillars. Not one. Zip. Zilch. So, you be the judge, but I'm thinking it helped. 

  •  Baker Creek peas outperformed the Burpee seeds, and our toddler likes eating peas right off the vine. 
  • Thinning your beets is overrated. We have taken to growing mostly cylindrical beets because you can sow and forget them. They crowd each other out but still seem to grow fine and shoulder their way up when they are ready.
  • Found out that kale and mustard are surprisingly resilient. We planted it somewhere out of the way last year and forgot about it. Not only did it come back and produce well (while being totally ignored) when it eventually went to seed it gave us tons of fresh kale seed. I don't think we need to buy kale seed ever again. 
  • Learned that fresh parsnip seed really is better. We have a parsnip plant in our kitchen garden only because its flowers are umbrella shaped and the bees love it. It is really pretty. It gave us tons and tons of parsnip seeds as well which we planted in the fall garden and...........they all germinated and right away. None of this wait two months and see if anything pops up. It's too early to say how the parsnips the seed produces tastes, but I'm hopeful. 
2014 Blunders and Disappointments:
  • A hard winter and late frosts really put a damper on a spring garden. We had our last snow storm at the very end of March and all of April was pretty frigid. Needless to say we didn't really get our ducks in a row to have a great spring vegetable garden and some of the cold weather stuff we planted (mainly brassicas) didn't have enough time to grow before it was blazing hot. 
  • Having neighbors down the block with cedar trees  is enough to bring cedar apple rust to your apple trees during a rainy spell. Luckily, hubby noticed the damage fast and we were able to limit it to one tree. Next year we will treat with copper fungicide BEFORE a long rain spell is forecast.
  • We planned 2 ft between our tomato lanes because we didn't want to feel like we were walking through a tomato tunnel come July. What we didn't realize was that we had measured from trellis to trellis without taking account for the actual hilled lane the plants would live on. This reduced our lanes by at least half a foot and a whole foot in some places. Next year, we will measure 3 ft between the trellis to make sure we have enough room.
  • The Dick Raymond "Joy of Gardening" Mixed Crop Row doesn't work for us (although it was a good way to get our carrots to germinate). We forgot it underneath a row cover and then everything went to seed. The radishes got too big, only one kind of lettuce took hold from the mix I planted, and the onions just fizzled out. BUT our carrots are beautiful and NO carrot fly damage whatsoever.
  • Kohlrabi that is set out late and then forgotten under a row cover during a very hot summer gets even more pungent than usual and when you cut it up in your kitchen, your house smells like rotten garbage. No bueno. I think we are taking a break from that for a while.
  • 13 cherry tomato plants produce barely enough to keep up with a toddler's voracious tomato appetite. Next year we will plant 20.  
  • Broccoli and cauliflower from seed is more work than it is worth. I think we will have a brassica break next year.
  • Starting 40 tomato plants inside is hard. Potting them out once before outside transplant is even harder. Next year we will start them in larger cups that they can live in til they go outside because honestly, I haven't seen any evidence that the second potting makes the roots stronger. Experiment for next year.
  • We didn't get around to planting pumpkins, squash, watermelons, or cucumbers this year. And let me tell you it killed me to pay $5 for a pumpkin at home depot but what can you do. We had to prioritize and this just didn't make it. We had a number of Pontimarron winter squash come back from seed (pic below) and go wild at the bottom of the garden but something, likely cucumber beetles, gave it powdery mildew and that ended that. It is still out there limping along, but the squashes are only the size of softballs.

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