Our first year of veggie gardening comes to a close. And what a year it was! Some thoughts and meditations on our crops, pests, techniques, etc….
First, the crops:
- Basil: nearly dead when we put it in the ground, we didn’t think that the basil was going to make it at all. And then this thing flourished like the weed it is. It got huge and bushy and we could scarcely keep up with it. Seemed to need no special care. Perhaps it is the leading candidate for a special section of herbs next year. Many a tasty dish prepared with these leaves.
- Beet: had more luck with these than expected … but also had lower germination rates than expected. The seed packet was promising germination rates in the 60-80% range. We got more like 20-40%. Which was a bummer because these were extremely tasty. So much so that we decided to do a second round. Too bad those didn’t really get much bigger than quarters (if they got that big at all).
- Broccoli: not sure if we’ll do these guys again next year. They were reasonably successful. I would say that (pound-for-pound) we got a great return on our investment in seedlings. And the florets were certainly good. But considering that we planted them in May and didn’t get anything edible from them until August… Well, it seemed that we could have used the space better. Jury is still out on broccoli in ’08.
- Carrot: a big winner for this year’s garden. If not the biggest winner. Rows and rows of crisp, tender, gold-orange carrots. Germination rates were high, yields were high (even with thorough bed thinning). And they needed next to no care. Just keep the bed clear of weeds, eh? Done and done. They’ll be back in ’08.
- Cucumber: another big winner for 2007. We planted 8 seedlings in our cuke row expecting relatively low yields overall. I don’t know where we got that expectation. We were practically drowning in cucumbers for a couple months there. We juiced them, we put them in Hendricks & tonics, we put them in ice water, we made cucumber salad, we put them in “regular salad”, we used them for salsa, we made pickles1… Definitely doing these again next year. But I think next year we’ll look specifically for pickling cucumbers as we’re convinced our pickling experiment failed because of the fruits. And maybe the salt, too.
- Garlic: a no-show, for all intents and purposes. Of course, didn’t see to many other folks having any success with garlic up here either. Skip this one all together next year.
- Onion, red: well-enough-done, these guys. Something seemed not quite right about them, to me. Like they didn’t get big enough or like we pulled them too soon or something… I’m judging them harshly though, I think. The sizes were all across the spectrum and all of the ones we’ve eaten so far have been good-tasting. I’m just being unfair to the onions. We’ll do them again.
- Parsley: another high-performing herb. Not at all fancy but effective. Another candidate for a patch of herb garden in ’08.
- Peas, sugarsnap: dismal failure. Maybe we planted them too late. Maybe we were just at the mercy of that damn rabbit. In any case, we got limited germination and what germination we did get got chomped down my tiny buck teeth. The pepper spray helped for a day. And then it rained. And the pie plate trick helped for a week. But that was just long enough to get our hopes up. If we do peas next year, it will be out of some kind of hubris.
- Pumpkin: alas! If the garlic tragedy had yielded even one cured and edible bulb then the pumpkins would have been “the big loser”. That said, the pumpkins were the garden’s big heartbreak story. Being a winter squash, we go into the deal knowing that it’s going to be a long time start-to-finish before we get anything useful from these vines. But to get the starts of so many tiny fruits (we knew they were supposed to be small “pie” pumpkins but still) and then to have the vines start to drop off like that… Going every day, plucking off those damn squash bugs, spraying down everything with the pepper spray, and then spraying for the mildew with the baking soda spray… All that work and then all we take home is a handful of pumpkins the size a racquet ball each? Crushing.
- Squash, Butternut: jury may be out on this one for a few weeks more still. Good yields overall. Good-sized fruits. They seem to have cured well. But we’re told that they take time to reach their peak flavor. Hopefully by Thanksgiving we can revisit that point there. But we didn’t lose any of these vines (unlike the pumpkins) and though they were sleepers all summer, they really came to life starting in late-August. Debating whether/not to do them next year, though. It’s a lot of space to commit for something that doesn’t give up fruit until right at the end. But like I said, the jury is still out on this one.
- Tomato, big kind: more intermittent heartbreak. Some jerks took it upon themselves to periodically loot our plot, making off with about a dozen of these Mountain Fresh and Celebrity tomatoes in all. The punks! What’s most irritating is that it did not seem as if any of the neighboring plots were similarly looted. Granted: (1) I would not wish that fate upon our neighbors, it just sucks to feel singled out like that and also (2) I cannot say for sure if anyone else got hit or not (I wasn’t keeping track of their tomatoes). That said, the output was okay but not great. These seemed to take too long to mature (even when they weren’t getting sniped). We got our money’s worth out of the seedlings (output-wise) but I think next year we’ll try a different variety (Romas, perhaps). We mostly use these for sauce-making and from what we saw in neighboring plots, the Romas seem the way to go for sauce tomatoes.
- Tomato, cherry: holy crap! Six of these plants definitely put us over the top. Next year we’ll be looking at a maximum of three of these plants. No more. We were inundated with these cherry tomatoes. We couldn’t keep up; so many went to waste — just falling to the ground. And that’s even with us going every day, pulling all the ripe ones, making as much salsa as we could manage, and giving away the rest. Tremendous. Awesome. Prodigious. Frightening and overwhelming.
- Zucchini: we planted six of these seedlings. Everyone said that we would be sorry. But we got screwed by those damn bugs and the powdery mildew here, too. Of the six that we planted, one of them died pretty quickly, not sure why. Of the five that remained to bear fruit, the bugs and the mildew retarded their growth enough that the fruit yields were low. And I don’t care what anyone says — the smaller fruits may supposedly be tastier — but the finger-sized ones that we got were stunted midgets. Questionable if we’ll do these again next year.
What else is there to say? It was great to get out in the open air, meet some folks from the city, other gardeners. Great to get tips on how to keep things growing, how to tease more fruits out of something, also fun to get competitive about who had fewer weeds or more carrots. Fun to trade cucumbers for lettuce or even just give away the handfuls of cherry tomatoes that otherwise overwhelmed us. It was amusing to improvise trellises from bamboo poles and twine — especially when those bamboo poles started to lean and tip under the weight of cucumber vines pregnant with future aborted pickles.
Of course, there was the bit of heartbreak snuck in there, too. Dealing with the squash bugs and the powdery mildew the ravaged the pumpkins and zucchini (and yet left the butternut squash mostly alone). The realization that some jerk-off was thieving our tomatoes. The grim reality that a wild rabbit was helping itself to our baby sugarsnap peas.
But that all comes with the territory, I suppose.
And now we have all winter to figure out what we’ll do come spring. Step up to a full plot? Or is that, too ambitious? What crops to repeat? Which ones to abandon? Which new ones to try? And in the meantime, we have a whole season’s worth of pictures to help us remember. And more than a few jars of cherry tomato salsa.
- Well, we tried to make pickles. [↩]