So I guess my unannounced summer break from blogging is over. In the past few months I have just been two busy living life to write about it. With school for the kids officially back in session as of today, things should start to calm down. One of the things that’s been keeping me away from the keyboard is our garden. Its getting into peak harvest time and I’ve been weeding and picking like mad. Here’s a recap of the good and bad from this year’s garden so far. First the good:
- The mixed lettuce seed packets that I bought this year were a big hit. They made the first harvest from the garden way back in April and they kept us in fresh salad for a few months, until the weeding got away from me (see the bad below). Highly recommended for anyone who buys those bag salads and is looking to try to grow some of their own food – they are just like the advertisements say: a salad bad straight from the ground.
- The eggplant exceeded all expectations. I put in 5 plants, figuring 3 would flourish and all 5 have. Really flourished. So far I’ve taken 20-25 pounds of eggplant and will no doubt exceed 100 pounds by the time it shuts down for winter. If you have any good eggplant recipes, please leave them in the comments. I love eggplant parmigiana, but there is only so much of any one thing I can eat. Also, if you’re local and want some, let me know…be happy to share the wealth.
- Everything I put in a raised bed has done really well. I decided to try a few things in raised beds this year – strawberries, asparagus, bush beans and pole beans. They have all done really well. I should have a really big crop of strawberries and asparagus next year, and I have had more beans than I know what to do with.
- The kale and collard greens have been a big success. If you like greens (I know they are an acquired taste – I really do love them) you really should try growing your own. I started mine from seed and they have taken over the bed they are in. You can’t kill these things! I have cut almost all the leaves back on some of them and then 2-3 weeks later they’re back to the same size. Really good slow cooked with some jowl bacon…oh, I guess I let some of my southerner show there, eh?
- With all the extra production this year, I have learned a lot about putting the food from the garden by. I finally invested in a pressure canner and have put up more than 30 quarts of lime pickles, southern style pickle relish, green beans, and mixed greens. Not to mention about 10 pints of blueberry, peach / cantaloupe and blackberry jam. I have also been experimenting with my vacuum packer and have put up 20-25 cups of blanched then frozen green beans, some frozen blackberries (whole) and even a few packages of frozen baba ghanoush (something else I did with the eggplant abundance).
- I decided to take a stab at reseeding some of my beds for a fall crop. While its a little early to say what I will get, so far the peas, beets and turnips all look to be doing well. The peas especially.
- I banished the water melons from the garden plot this year (they just kept taking over everything) but still left some room for some musk melons (what we call cantaloupe in the US, that actually have nothing to do with real cantaloupe mainly grown in Europe). They just started getting ripe a few weeks ago (all at once unfortunately) and they are a million time sweeter than anything you can get in the store.
- Although I was a little dubious when I first got my slips via mail order, the sweet potato vines have overgrown their plot. Now there is no guarantee that there will be a correspondingly large number of tubers when I start to dig them up in a month or too, but the odds are in my favor. We first tried sweet potatoes in the garden last year and they are much tastier when home grown. With all of the landscapers using them for ornamentals this year, go find some when they start to die off and dig yourself up a treat ;-).
- I think I finally cracked the code on carrots this year: they key is to really weed them intensively when they first sprout. I was out there every 3 days picking out the weeds for the first few weeks after the peaked out of the ground and they have done well the rest of the year. Trying to decide now what to do with them – I can harvest some and can them or cut the tops off and leave them in the ground with some straw on top. A sort of root cellar in place. May try some of each to see what works.
- They got off to a slow start, but my pepper plants have really kicked into high gear in the last month. We’ve already had one round of stuffed green peppers and will probably have a second round in a week or two. I should also have plenty to chop up, vacuum pack and freeze. The two jalapeno bushes are working overtime too and I may take a go at drying some and using them that way or grinding them into powder.
And now the bad:
- Not sure what happened, but the two varieties of corn I put in (one hybrid and one open pollination) are both only about 3-4 feet high and have already tasseled out. I think I will get reasonable production out of them, but not the bumper crops that some of my neighbors will get. Maybe I put it in the ground too late or maybe it was the soil?
- I got hit by blight from all sides this year. The early blight started on my tomatoes and kept most of them from ever really getting off to a good start. Then late bight pretty much finished them off and jumped over to my potatoes (note to self: don’t plant tomatoes and potatoes next too each other next year). The cherry tomato plant did the best overall and in fact produced more that we could eat fresh. But other than that it has been a pretty sad year for tomatoes. There will be no more homemade spaghetti sauce or salsa going in the pantry this year. The potato plants thrived for a few months before the blight took them, so when I was digging in that patch over the weekend I did find a good number of potatoes. I would guess I have 60-75 pounds of red and gold in the ground. So not a complete loss.
- Despite my best efforts the weeds did get the best of me this year. I have the 4 raised beds and although they were pretty easy to control inside the bed, the weeds really took off in the paths between them. Next year I need to lay down the newspaper and straw between them too. I used the newspaper and straw trick in the pathways between all the other regular / double dug beds and it worked really well. Only problem was the edges between the path and beds very quickly got overgrown. I think the source was the horse manure mixed with the soil over the winter – it never aged enough to kill off the seeds that are in it naturally. Next year, I will be pulling from one of my older manure piles.
- While it wasn’t as bad a problem as the blight, I did spend some time fighting off potato beetles, which by the way also love to eat tomatoes and egg plant. I ended up squishing a lot of them, and in the end it was blight that took the tomatoes and potatoes (they don’t like eggplant that much I guess) so that sort of eliminated the problem.
- I mentioned above that I moved the watermelon out of the garden because they took up too much room. I moved them to a spot in the pasture and the pretty much immediately died. Not sure what happend (guess the horses or other pasture critters could have had a snack) but I do know I will have to find a better spot for them next year.
Its definately been a learning process and one that has produced great dividends – not just the ‘free’ food, but seeing the kids put it all together when they pick a bean or dig up a potato.