We have not had much snow this winter, but overnight there was a bit of a dusting. I love the long February morning shadows.
The leeks got company about a week ago, when I started my kale (ten plants). I only recently realized that I have a dwarf variety. I was wondering last year why the plants stayed so short and thought it was my soil. Turns out Blue Curled Scotch is a cold-hardy, “compact” variety that only grows up to a foot or foot-and-a-half tall. Today, I will be starting Hot Thai peppers and eggplant (Diamond), four seedlings each for now.
I started my first seedlings today – leeks. This is the earliest start for me ever. The seeds are from last year. I sowed four cells (probably 8 or so per cell), which I covered with a clear plastic container and put under grow lights on the heat mat. They should germinate in about a week. Exciting!
2023 was an unusual year for me in the garden. My timing in the spring was off because of the weather and because of my travels to Germany for two weeks in the middle of May. Here in the Boston area, spring was warmer than normal, but much wetter in early spring and drier in late spring. This made the timing of direct-sowing and transplanting my seedlings difficult. With my travels and the water not being turned on in the community garden until late May, I did not want to risk my plants drying out, so I planted everything later than normal, in late May and June.
Overall, it was a great year for tomatoes and garlic. I had a decent squash harvest. Sadly, I had almost no flowers in the plot this year; none of the seeds germinated. I was sick all of September and kind of neglected the plot a bit during late summer/early fall. Lots going on this year in my life, so I did not document my garden as well as in previous years and took fewer pictures and notes. I am hoping to change that in 2024.
Fruiting crops (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants). It was a very good year for tomatoes and a decent year for cucumbers and eggplant. This year, I had 9 tomato plants (7 different varieties). There was Ailsa Craig, Black Prince, Striped German, Green Zebra, Ananas Noire, Paul Robson and Dr. Wyche Yellow. All of my favorites. I roasted some, but mostly used them up fresh. In October, I pickled the remaining green tomatoes to use as sandwich topping. Ailsa Craig was a gift. I had never heard of this tomato before. It is an early tomato, a super high (and long!) producer and really quite tasty. I will definitely plant this one again. The pickling cucumbers did well, and I made several batches of refrigerator pickles. I also had plenty of fresh cucumbers for salads. I had planted 3 pickling cucumbers and 2 slicers (Tokiwa), a good amount. For peppers, I only grew one hot Thai pepper in a container on the back porch, but the plant did not grow very well, I think, in part because it was crowded out by the three Thai basil plants in the very same pot. I therefore only had a handful of hot peppers, just enough to use for cooking but not enough to preserve any. The eggplants in my plot (I had 2 plants) stayed small, but I got a few harvests out of them.
Squash. I grew one zucchini plant and 4 winter squash (2 Butternut, 1 Delicata and 1 Honeynut). The Delicata squash plant died. Again. The others produced a decent amount of fruit. Unfortunately, the biggest and ripest Butternuts were stolen from the garden on two occasions. The zucchini did really well, and I harvested a ton from my own and my neighbor’s plant, while she was on vacation. I had so much zucchini that I donated some to our neighborhood community fridge. I discovered this zucchini grilled cheese and made it on a few occasions. I also prepped some zucchini and froze it for later grilled cheeses. I still have some in my freezer. Just last week, I made butternut squash soup with Gruyere croutons and fried sage leaves. So good! There is something about the combination of squash and cheese. I still have one Butternut and two Honeynuts left.
Root vegetables. I planted beets and radishes. No carrots this year. The radishes in the plot turned out woody and were eaten by something or someone. I should know better and just plant them in containers. Or harvest them really young. The beets did really well. I had Chiogga, Golden beets and the regular Dark Red.
Brassicas. I again only planted kale this year. I had three plants (the fourth one was eaten as a young seedling) and they stayed small. I did get enough out of them for my personal use, but I am still wondering why the plants stayed so small.
Greens and lettuce. I planted Swiss chard and lettuces in the community plot, as well as lettuces on the back porch in the spring. The Swiss chard in the plot started slow and then perked up in the fall. Same as last year. I had some good lettuce harvests from the plot in the month of June, and in May and June from my pack porch containers.
Legumes. I only harvested peas this year. Both sugar snap peas and snow peas. I had planted green beans (both bush beans and pole beans) in August, but all the seedlings were eaten by something/someone. The peas did great as the birds left them alone this year.
Alliums. It was a good year for garlic. I harvested 38 heads total, 21 softnecks (Transylvania) and 17 hardnecks (Red Russian). This is more than I use these days as an empty-nester, so I have been baking a lot of focaccia lately, serving it with a roasted garlic dipping oil, which is a super delicious way to use up a head of garlic or two at a time. For next year, I have scaled the garlic operation down a bit – but only slightly. I planted 12 hardnecks and 15 softnecks, but I also planted shallots (12 total, each of them should yield 4 to 12 shallots). I am very excited about the shallots. I also planted leeks, which are all still in the ground overwintering. I might harvest a couple over the next few weeks.
Fruit. I harvested a good amount of red currants from the bush in our back yard, which is doing really well. I used them for baking, and we also ate some (just macerated with sugar) as ice cream topping. So good!
Flowers. I had hardly any flowers in my plot this year. Not sure what happened, but none of the seeds (Zinnia, cosmos) germinated. That was a big disappointment. So, there were only nasturtiums and marigolds (and the ever self-seeding borage) in the plot. I had quite a few flowers on my back porch, which I enjoyed all summer and fall, but because of the lack of flowers in the plot I did not have the amount of cut flowers I had hoped for. Hopefully next year will be better.
Herbs. In the plot, I planted basil and made a good amount of pesto from it. I also did a few succession plantings of cilantro in the spring, which was very successful. I had two parsley plants on the back porch, which I loved and used a ton of. I experimented with lemon grass, a big success. I have been making lemongrass ginger tea (from the leave bundles), but have not used the stalks as much as I thought I would. I will try to find some recipes soon. I also had three Thai basil plants in a container on the porch. I want to grow more next year to make more Thai basil pesto, which we love to use in this recipe of Thai pesto noodle bowls with crispy ground pork. So good!
Perennials. The rhubarb I planted last year was significantly stronger this year, but I left it alone for one more year and did not harvest any. Can’t wait for next year! Sadly, the asparagus I had divided in November 2022 did not come back at all.
Porch. I grew mostly herbs and flowers on the porch this year. For veggies, it was only one Thai pepper plant and in the spring radishes and lettuces. It was a perfect use of my containers. I loved the flowers (I grew zinnias and cosmos, but also nasturtium and an English lavender plant) and made good use of all my herbs.
Plans for 2024. Next year, I want to grow more flowers, more Thai basil and experiment with growing ginger (in a container). As for tomatoes, I had 9 plants this year, which was a good amount. I plan to grow about the same amount and stagger them again, so I have a mix of early, mid-season and late tomatoes. I loved all the varieties I grew in 2023, so I might just stick with the same next year. I will plant hot Thai pepper again on the porch. One plant should be enough to make my home-made Thai hot sauce again, but I will give the plant plenty of room this time. Perhaps a Jalapeno as well. I think I will skip eggplants next year. Alternatively, I might scale up the operation and have 4 or 5 plants. Those will be an Asian variety. The amount of cucumbers I had this year was perfect, so I will again plant three (or four) pickling cucumber plants and two (or three) slicers. I will grow one zucchini and also winter squash. I will try my luck with Delicata again, my favorite. Butternut of course, and perhaps Honeynut again. Radishes on the porch only (not in the plot), and carrots and beets in the plot. I plan to have three or four curly kale plants, but probably no other brassicas. As for greens, I will grow different kinds of lettuce on my porch and in the plot and rainbow Swiss chard in the plot (about six plants). I will definitely plant a fall greens mix, something I missed in 2023. I will grow snap peas and try pole (and/or bush) beans again, the beans as usual later in the season for fall harvest. I need to work on my trellising game. Maybe invest in a real system instead of cobbling together a trellis from bamboo poles and sticks. The garlic is already in the ground as are the shallots, and I will grow leeks again. I will definitely grow flowers. I will direct-sow zinnias and cosmos, and get a few dahlia tubers in the ground as well. I had no dahlias in 2023, and I missed them. Those will be my cutting flowers. As always, I will also grow nasturtiums and marigolds for pest control. For herbs, I will continue to have my container kitchen garden on my back porch (basil, Thai basil, parsley, sage, thyme, rosemary, mint), and will grow basil, Thai basil, parsley, mint lemon balm and cilantro in the plot. Maybe sage as well. As for perennials, I hope the asparagus will come back (though I am doubtful) and that I will be able to enjoy the first harvest from my new rhubarb. On my porch, I plan to have herbs, hot peppers and flowers (Alaska nasturtium, cosmos, zinnia, lavender). And lettuces and radishes in the spring. I plan to grow lemon grass again and want to experiment with ginger. I am looking forward to a successful 2024!
This afternoon, I mulched the rest of my plot with marsh hay. I also harvested some chard and kale and now have only some chard and leeks growing. I plan to overwinter most of my leeks. The plot is now ready for winter.
This afternoon, I finished cleaning up my plot and raked some well-rotted manure into the soil. Almost ready for winter now. Over the next few weeks, I still will harvest the remaining chard and kale plus a few of the biggest leeks, but will let most of those overwinter.
Today, I planted garlic and shallots. First, I cleaned out the tomato, marigold, squash and basil plants and weeded the plot (or three quarters of it before it got too dark). I scaled down my garlic amount (to 12 hardnecks and 15 softnecks) because as an empty-nester, I sadly don’t need 60 heads a year anymore. I am also trying my luck with shallots for the first time. I planted 12 shallots, each of them should yield 4 to 12 shallots. I mulched with the last mini straw bale Allendale Farm had for sale. There are quite a few seed heads in the straw (I think it was from the Halloween decor section), so I am bracing myself for some intense weeding next year.
Today, I cleaned up my back porch. It is not completely ready for winter but almost. A couple of weeks ago, I brought the rosemary plants inside and moved the lavender to the back hallway to overwinter. I will also overwinter the sage in the back hallway but toss the thyme. There are still flowering cosmos stalks in some containers on the porch, and I will need to do a final sweep after the maple lost all its leaves. And I plan to cover the folding table during the winter, but I currently still us it. I still have nasturtiums and parsley growing. Once everything has died back, I plan to cover the soil in the larger containers with pine branches to deter the blue jays from burying their peanuts and acorns (I currently deter them from making their usual mess by sticking barbecue skewers in the soil of the empty containers). I am looking forward to sitting on the bench with a cup of tea and a warm blanket enjoying the afternoon sun on warmer days.