Summer came and went, the most exciting time in the garden, and there was not one update. Common excuses of a mom of two who gardens, reads a lot and cooks from scratch: life happened. You did miss it, but it was fulfilling and exciting and saturated and very very warm. So here it is, this is what our abundant third year yielded:
Plans for 2023:
Ok, well first, let’s look back at our end of the year goals for 2022 and what we hoped to achieve in 2023:
- More peas: We did indeed grow more peas, nearly 1,000 plants! When I set this goal, the intention was to add nitrogen to every bed in early spring, and have a ton of peas. Our limiting factor was our trellising. Looking back, I recognize that I can easily make a bamboo trellis for our short spring season. That being said, it was more than we even wanted to shell.
- Direct sow zinnias: While direct sowing did result in a slower arrival of flowers in the spring, I think this is my method moving forward. I struggle with “flower overwhelm”. This is when you recognize that not cutting flowers means they will stop producing, so you cut them and they produce even more thus resulting in an overwhelming amount of cutting to continue. A slow start was welcome.
- Carrots: A true highlight of the spring! Last year we had mild success with carrots in a raised bed. This year, I risked it and planted in the garden and had a 30 ft. row of thick, delicious, long carrots!
- Lettuce succession: I managed three rotations of planting which easily fed us until mid May. By then, my focus was elsewhere. I have definitely missed summer salads and have some regrets. Swiss chard is not our favorite substitute.
- Peppers: This year I swapped out pepperoncini peppers for Baker Creek’s mini bell pepper varieties. I took note that mini bells were what I gravitate toward in the grocery and we had great success!
This was the year that made me feel like I really knew what I was doing. We lucked out on a wet spring and a hot summer which made the garden burst. There was more to harvest than I could process, or we could eat. It was a joy to participate in a farmer’s market, give loads to others and sell bundles locally!
- Tomatoes: Our bumper crop with just 3 varieties and 38 plants. Ok yes, in retrospect, 38 tomato plants is insane. I started my seeds at the end of January (!) and the seedlings were so wonderfully healthy, even when thinned and transplanted, that I just kept watering all of them. I had 90 thriving tomato seedlings come end of March and ended up participating in a farmer’s market to sell plants. I gave away more and settled on 30. A neighbor moved and let us know we could manage his garden beds during the process, so 8 plants moved next door. It was a banner year; more later!
- Black berries: We had transplanted our 12 blackberry bushes every year due to flooding so this was the first year we had a true harvest! Blackberries truly are native to this area (Zone 8a) and we picked 1-2 quarts of berries daily for nearly a month.
- Cucumber arch: a neighbor gave us a rod iron arch, and I used this for trellising my Boston Pickling and Katrina cucumbers. The cucumbers appreciated the circulation and I so appreciated the ease of picking!
It wouldn’t be a true gardening season without a few setbacks. Thankfully, most of ours were due to neglect!
- Too many tomatoes: Becky, from the Seasonal Homestead blog, writes that you need only 10-12 plants to feed a family of 4 for a year. I grew three times as much. I took the overflow as opportunity to learn to can: canned sauce, paste, diced tomatoes, salsa and more. While this isn’t technically a loss, there were many days and evening spent in the kitchen processing tomatoes. At one point, we had 200 lb. of fully ripe tomatoes waiting for action. Help!
- Caterpillars, stink bugs & squash bugs: These were our three major predators this year. Lime green caterpillars were after our cabbages (which were thankfully easy to spot). Texas army worms went for all forms of greens: namely kale, spinach and then lettuce. Stink bugs swarmed the tomatoes in the heat of summer, which I was ok with. And squash bugs covered the baby butternut plants before I could even remember what I had planted there.
- Zucchini /pumpkins: One of my silly goals is to have the notorious overproducing zucchini plant that annoys the neighbors with its abundance. Namely, lots to share. However, all zucchini plants planted very much died before they had a chance to begin! I haven’t exactly pinpointed the problem, but I do believe it has to do with stink bugs.
- Small garlic: Our mistake with garlic was a simple one. We had failed to add compost to the raised bed in the fall. When we spread compost on the garden in the spring, we added more to the bed while the garlic was already growing. This constricted its growing space and led to small heads. Thankfully, I noticed before the growing season was over and removed soil, redeeming most of the garlic!
Changes for 2024
Because of such an inspiring year, the gardener has reignited hope to increase what was already grown. That blind hope that weather and bugs and growth will certainly be the same as last year, leads to expansion and increased efforts. I too feel the excitement! Though, truly I am ready to plant the fall crops and have my break November-January.
- Tomato trellising: Even with fewer plants, we will need a better plan for trellising. We do not grow in a hoop tunnel, and had far too many plants to use cages so we recycled our pea trellises. Disaster.
- Increase fruit production: I love seeing the decrease in produce purchased during the summer, but have remarked on the amount of fruit we continually will consume. Currently, we have blackberries, persimmons and one lone banana tree. Next year, I plan to put in true roots with blueberry bushes, raspberries, plums, peaches and jujubes.
- New crops: These will include other foods we commonly purchase such as soup beans and garbanzo beans as well as experimental peanuts and lisianthus.
Phew, I need a nap just remembering all the work, sweat and ant bites from this summer. That being said, does anyone really know of a way to keep ants out of the garden? SOS! While we hibernate mid-summer, my fall seedlings grow. We’ll see if the baby pumpkin plants survive their fourth week without rain and 100 degree days. Texas; it isn’t for the faint of heart.