lessons in the obvious from last year's garden

This summer was a tumultuous one for me and the garden. I avoided it until I had friends visiting and quite nearly forcing my hands into the dirt. I felt mostly shame and anxiety whenever I passed her. But, by Labor day Nick and I were overwhelmed and humbled by the amount of food she had produced. The resilience of the garden gave me a good boost of growing confidence. Now that the inaugural year of gardening-on-my-own is safely behind me I find myself anxious (in the very best sense of the word) to start planning this coming year's garden. 

After closing out the garden last year I took some time to write in my journal about things I would and wouldn't do again. Here is a sampling. Most of it will seem painfully obvious so please forgive me my naiveté. 

I will not include eggplant for 2013. We had four lovely plants dripping with purple and white fruits and we didn't eat a damn one.
I will refrain from sowing the entire packets of not one but two pickling cucumbers. The little suckers were terrifically prolific and their stamina outmatched my own by tenfold in the processing kitchen. 
We do not need 9 different cherry tomato plants. We are not a pickyourown free-for-all. We are a civilized home garden. 
I will plant radishes on a pre-determined schedule. This is to avoid being overwhelmed with them one week and searching in vain for a pair the next. 
I will never again conflate the growing season in Vermont for the one in North Carolina.
Thus, I will plan winter squash in early June not in July. 
I will order seed potatoes in the winter and not wait until Memorial Day. 
I will plant more cabbage, more broccoli and more brussels. 
I will write-up an actual plan for a fall garden. 
I will build a modest hoop house for the late fall and winter greens. 
I will not allow the garden's foot paths to go to the weeds. That was a rather poor choice. 
I promise to more faithfully worship the practice of stringing tomatoes. We will cut stronger saplings for stakes instead of the lazy cheap ones they sell at the garden center.
I will plant more flowers, for a purely utilitarian garden is a somewhat boring one to the eyes. 

There now. The 2013 garden can't fail. I'm sure there are hundreds upon thousands of don'ts and dos for the summer garden. I hope my journal will be overflowing with them in a decade's time. For this is  the only way I will meekly progress to feeding my family well. 

I'd be curious to hear if you have any lessons learned from your own gardens this year?


  1. My mother-in-law has a vast garden and she totally over planted peppers! She had an insane amount by late fall. In order for them not to go to waste, she put them in the freezer!

  2. I plan to blog about my garden this year and plant in succession so that I don't end up with everything all at once. I also will be planting my fall garden crops earlier.

  3. All I learned from my mothers garden was that I need my own, now! This year I am slowly starting to build something my own. Eagered to see what comes of it!

  4. I only had a bunch of five-gallon buckets this past year...it's really the best for a small space. Something I learned:

    - just forget about cherry tomatoes. Five gallons is just not big enough to get a prolific yield.
    - every kind of basil is indestructible with plentiful sunlight and even infrequent waterings
    - I suck at cilantro
    - augment your expensive potting soil with anything else you can scrabble together, especially those little packing peanuts. They save a lot of weight and are so important for drainage

    I really love the photo of the peas in the colander.

  5. The most valuable things I learned this year (our first year gardening at 8000ft) is that first of all the soil will always and forever be terribly rocky no matter how many times you get down on your hands and knees to pick up rocks and add soil- you will never be able to get them all, and consequently- you will never be able to grow carrots or beets.
    We grew all of our tomatoes in containers and started the season off by moving them inside the house each night and out into the sun during the day to prevent them from freezing. As the summer went on, our 8 hours of sunlight a day increasingly diminished and by late August, our tomatoes were far too big to move and were only managing to get 2-3 hours of sunlight.
    Our first frost came the first week of September on our hundreds of tomatoes still unripened on the vine.
    Goals for this year's garden: Move out of our mountain side cabin on the dark side of the road and into some sunshine. Learn to can, grow more greens, and build a greenhouse!!

  6. I have a tiny urban garden in Montreal, but still, I have learnt a few things again this year.
    -Arugula grows fast and I can easily sow it MULTIPLE times, like, at least 4 times. Yes.
    -Be afraid of neighbours, put some sticks, mark things and put a fence around everything.
    -Screw you, radishes. You'll never grow until I leave this place.
    -Give up the zukes for now They mold no matter how much I try. Better get mom to give some to me instead of trying so hard / wasting so much space for 2 zukes total.
    -Garlic! YES I love you. Porcelain is still showing no sign of sprouting right now, keep this variety! So easy to grow too.

    We are moving next july with possibly only a balcony garden so I feel like I might have to start all over in the things I've learned. :(

    Ahem ;)

  7. I love this! I go crazy every year in the garden - with the planning, ordering seeds, and growing things I have no idea what to do with (ground cherries anyone?) - and I am promptly humbled every year by the simple fact that damn, growing your own food is hard. ha. but lessons learned from last year's garden:
    - just because you get 25 free sungold cherry tomatoes plants, does not mean you have to plant every single one (it was a tomato jungle!)
    - agreed on the cherry tomato bit - I ignored the utilitarian romas, and I am left with no tomato sauce this year :(
    - conventional gardening has some major faults (thus, I have become even more passionate about permaculture principles!)
    - basil should be planted everywhere, even if it's just so that I can stop to smell it as I'm pulling weeds or shoving manure around some plant

    Thanks for sharing more of your garden (and it's faults) - I can't wait to see your plans for this coming year!

    p.s. I love your blog, and have been silently following along for quite a few months now! :)

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  9. I love this post~ your first entry made me laugh so hard! I had the same experience with my eggplant the first year and didn't grow it for many years because of that. We'd amassed a number of eggplant recipes so tried again this year and I'd say we used half. The one thing I know for sure is that, no matter how much lettuce I plant, it's never enough for us. And I will NEVER be able to grow a radish. I'd be happy with just one at this point. It's so sad! I planted a lot of flowers amongst the veggies last year, at my young daughter's insistence....and it made me love my garden that much more! Will definitely do that again!

  10. Our biggest failure last year was letting the weeds run rampant. We kept putting it off, then before we knew it, they overtook the garden. We plan to do some different things, like raised beds, to help combat the weeds.

  11. I only have a mini balcony garden (my mom's the pro). I grow cherry tomatoes and herbs (basil, cilantro and mint in summer; rosemary and thyme year round). My lesson is to be more attentive to varieties of cherry tomatoes: in '11, I had a great plant to tomato ratio and had a bountiful and frequent crop. This summer, I just had a gianormous plant that just kept growing all over place (and requiring all sorts of creative stringing/staking) and not producing much fruit :(

    p.s you just need some great eggplant recipes! I <3 that stuff...

  12. Some of the major things we learned this year (our 4th year growing but only our 1st growing for a CSA):

    - Nothing combats pests better than just squishing them all by hand.

    - Brassicas are much better left for the fall. It just gets too hot here too quick.

    - Brussels Sprouts - we must plant loads of them. Its such a shame that I've only just learned to appreciate them.

    - Set aside one day each week through out the whole season to harvest and preserve. If I don't schedule it, it doesn't get done.

    - Chickens are super easy to take care of, but a huge challenge to keep alive. we lost every. single. one. this fall (26 total) and we won't get more until we have constructed a fortress around their yard. Chickens need multiple lines of defense.

    - Ruby will sleep outside all summer to help keep the chickens safe.

    - Try to plant a few rounds of sugar snaps as an experiment. Their season is just too short.

  13. So nice to learn more dos and don'ts from your gardening feats and trials.

    @moonflowercsa, I sowed to plantings of sugar snaps. The second was certainly an abbreviated fruiting but still delicious.

    @erin gardenAndgrub I certainly agree with plantings of basil, likewise a good mint plant scattered around will waft deliciousness all summer long.

    @tarasjourney, I can only imagine the difficulties gardening at 8000ft can throw at you.

    @emily, packing peanuts is a great idea!!

  14. for us:
    there is never enough lettuce
    there are always too many sungolds
    there are always always always too many cukes! lol- but the seedlings are so cute you just want to plant so many.
    SPREAD IT OUT- it looks so sparse at the beginning but then everything fills in
    there are never enough onions and garlic and anything else that stores well
    One eggplant is fine because babaganosh is sooooooo good!
    HERBS are our dear dear friends and I have a sage plant that has come back three times for me! (Westernmass)
    Contain the strawberries- i was dumb and didn't, now my whole front yard is over run!
    Cover the other berries- birds are hungry too!
    Micro greens are the BEST
    grow beans for sprouting- sooo good.
    a greenhouse is my dream! as I said, never enough lettuce!

    I love love love your blog btw and sorry to go on and on!

  15. Only by the learning can we know who are really into gardening, which applies to any other activity actually. I’m wishing you all the best for this! Growing a garden is hard work, but it’s a process we have to undertake to become a master! :D


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