Growing Season Recap: Catching Up With the Garden

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So much to talk about … where to begin??? The last time I posted here was waaaay back at the end of June!! I know, I know, it’s unforgivable. “Bad Blogger … Bad blogger!!”

So then, now that the self punishment has been doled out, what say I start trying to get you up to date? You may remember that I mentioned that my wife and I went through our local extension service’s Master Gardener program this Spring. It was a pretty long course that consisted of 40 hours of classroom instruction spread out over 10 weeks. But it didn’t stop there; the second part of the program, and one that must be finished if we were to actually be counted as “graduates” of the program was to provide 40 hours of garden-related service to our community. That took a surprisingly long time to do working on it only part time but was truly one of the most rewarding parts of the process as well.

One of the things that I did a lot of was to teach beginning gardening classes to different groups in my area. It was so fun to get to share my passion for the garden and the many fruits of that sort of labor with my neighbors and community groups. I can only hope that I was able to affect at least one person or family. We also spent a couple of afternoons at our county fair manning a Master Gardeners booth and worked together to answer phones at the extension service office; both times providing knowledge and “expertise” on some of the typical garden problems that arise in our area. They’re called diagnostic services and its amazing how much you can learn just by looking up information for others. I heartily encourage anyone who is seriously interested in gardening, of whatever sort, to check in with your local extension service to see if there is a Master Gardener class scheduled for your area. Now is the time to check too since they usually start at the beginning of the year.

And speaking of the garden, a lot of good things came out of it this year. This spring we added a new garden bed to the side-yard area of the front of our house. It’s not a common site in our suburban area but we hope it will be soon! You can see that new garden area in the bed below.

The low lying plants are the potatoes that I talked about planting earlier this year, but as you can see they weren’t the only thing that did well in this area. Let me take this opportunity to tell you about how many sun flowers of varied and prolific numbers that we had. The sunflowers you see here – both the large ones and the small – are naturally seeded ones that came up as volunteers from last year. I did thin them out quite a bit, but the ones I left did great and brought us lots and lots of bees and lady beetles. Of course we know that the lady beetles showed up because we had an abundance of aphids.

In the back yard we had some more positive developments. The Lasagna Garden Beds that I started at this time last year and planted for the first time this summer did better than I could have expected! (That’s it above.) Watermelons, tomatoes peppers and cukes all did awesome in the fertile, nutrient-rich humus. I’ve decided that this fall I’m ammending all my raised beds with my last clippings, leaves, coffee grounds and chicken bedding to break down over the winter and enrich the soil. I am sold!

Also in the back yard I finally got the rest of my side yard cleaned up and added four more 4-by-4 raised beds to it. That’s them all the way down at the end of the row. The soil is still a little bit neutral for my liking, being that it is just a basic soiless mix of peat, vermiculite and compost. I’m ammending it this fall and look forward to growing in it next year.

One of my big successes this year was with okra. (You can see the early growth in the picture above, it’s in the second bed from the right.) They are really an interesting plant. Before the familiar pods in the picture below form, this relative of the hibiscus and rose of sharon sports a quite beautiful flower. Better keep an eye out though, they’re only there for about a day. I’ve learned that they don’t like any cool weather, nor do they care to have wet feet. Otherwise a pretty easy plant to work with.

With all the talk of the good things going on you must be wondering how the harvest was. Quantity isn’t the sole measure of a successful garden mind you, but it sure does help an urban farmer to know how he’s doing. I’m glad to report that this was our best season yet! Of course that was bouyed by the added garden areas that we developed this year but I also felt a little more organized than I have been in years past.

Here’s one of only a few harvest pictures that I took this year. It was after we had pulled our mid season potatoes and a half bushel of tomatoes; along with some other stuff, too, of course.

Ever wonder what 135+ pounds of tomatoes looks like? OK, I never did either, but now I know … and here it is. One of the things that we decided to do a little differently this year was to plant a good mix of indeterminate and determinate tomatoes. Of course wanted to have enough tomatoes trickling in to keep us in fresh ones (indeterminate), but this year we also wanted to have those big single harvests (determinate), too, so that we could can and put up more tomatoes for this winter. Mission accomplished.

After all was said and done we ended up with just barely shy of 810 pounds of food from our 0.25 acre suburban lot, not counting the eggs we got, which I stopped counting at somewhere past 750. To say I was pleased would be an understatement.

Of course all was not successfull, as is the way in the garden, or we would likely have topped 1000 pounds. Pumpkins, watermelon and some zucchini plants were completely decimated by an abnormally large number of squash bugs. Our green beans also did miserably, I think due to the long cool spring that we had this year, and were plagued by a rust not long after emerging. I had to plant them twice and still needed a fungicide. Time to rotate beds for a few years I’d say.

Well, I think that almost catches you up with me. Still a few more recent developments, but I think I’ll try to put those in another post. Hope all your gardens did well this year. For my part I’m looking forward to relaxing just a little and getting ready for the holidays.

Best to you all!

Paul Gardener~