2020 in Review

Plot September 8

Time for another gardening year review and for laying out the plans for the next year. This year was like no other, as COVID-19 changed life as we know it for everyone. Thankfully, our family made it through the year healthy, though my high school senior/now college freshmen daughter and my now high school sophomore son had a hard time with remote learning and with missed milestones and cancelled school sport seasons. For our community garden, the pandemic meant that for a long time we did not know whether the gardens would open at all. Finally, at the end of May, we got the green light and our water was turned on, so I got a very late start in the garden. As the garden coordinator, I put rules and measures in place to keep our gardeners safe. Everyone had to wear a mask inside the garden as long as other people were around and wear gloves at all times. Also, everyone had to disinfect the garden gate before entering and the shed lock and the water spigot and nozzle before use. I put a bunch of cloth rags (that I took home to wash after use) and disinfectant in the shed so gardeners could disinfect tools and supplies. All gardeners adhered to the rules and our season went smoothly. The plots looked the best they ever have, with tons of veggies and very few weeds, in part thanks to the pandemic, because almost everyone worked from home and had to socially distance and therefore had extra time on their hands.

We had a very cold and wet spring, so the growing season was delayed in general. The spring rains were a blessing for our gardeners who had planted spring crops. Again, I had been cautious and apart from sowing radishes, carrots and peas, I did not plant anything in the spring.

Eggplant, August 25

Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplant, Cucumbers. It was a good year for tomatoes, but unfortunately I did not keep a good record of the varieties I grew. I started with four different types from seed (Break O’Day, Dr. Wychee Yellow, Green Zebra, Eva Purple Ball) and bought a couple more plants from the Neighborhood Farm in June (Green Zebra and two other varieties). I lost a couple of plants, not sure which ones. Dr. Wychee and Green Zebra plus some other “red ones” did well in the plot. For peppers, I only grew Thai hot peppers, and they did well, both in the plot and on my back porch. Eggplants did well in my plot, for the first time. I grew both Ping Tung and also a regular variety (gifted by another gardener) and while they had a late start they did well. The eggplant on the porch (Ping Tung) remained very small-fruited, so I am not sure I will repeat this next year. The two cucumber plants (one pickling, the other one a slicer) had a stellar start but then quickly wilted, I am not sure what happened.

Carrots and radishes, November 6

Root vegetables. The porch radishes were amazing; the radishes grown in the plot had some “damage”. They clearly were eaten by something. The carrots were delicious, but it took a few rounds of sowing before they came up successfully. As usual, the fall crop did much better than the spring crop. Beets did well, in particular the Chiogga beets – I planted two rounds of seedlings (one gifted, one bought). The ones I grew from seed (golden beets) did not do very well. They were small when I transplanted them and most of them were eaten by something. I did not plant potatoes this year.

Baby butternut framed by kale and Swiss chard, August 16

Summer and Winter squash. First time planting zucchini. Because I grew them from seed (late) and planted them late, I had a late harvest (August through October) but it was a great one. I really enjoyed harvesting zucchini this late in the season. The butternut squash did alright, I harvested three pretty big ones, the Delicata squash sadly died along the way. Somehow the stem was cut/chewed. Anyway, I love them and will definitely plant both summer and winter squash next year.

Pole beans”, August 13

Legumes. A disaster. Both peas (I sowed three rounds) and pole beans (also three rounds) never made it past the tiny seedling stage before the resident rabbit got the better of them. The porch peas did well, but it wasn’t a big amount, just a small bowl for snacking.

Lettuces, June 23

Greens. The lettuces did amazing this year. I planted a lot of lettuce in the spring (grown from seed and transplanted) and then fall greens (direct-sowed in August), which I harvested well into December as baby greens. The Swiss chard had a stellar year as well. I could hardly keep up with harvesting. They did have some leaf miner damage, but it was manageable.

Garlic harvest, July 18

Alliums. Great year for garlic (51 heads)! Some of those heads were humongous. The leeks did well too, I left an entire row for overwintering. And I have those Egyptian walking onions that show up all over my plot. They always do well and are delicious, shallot-type onions.

Kale, December 6

Brassicas. The only brassica I grew this year was kale. I started with three varieties: curly, Tuscan and Red Russian. I pulled the Red Russian because it was infested with flea beetles but the other ones did well. I only had one plant each in my plot, which was enough for my family’s needs as with my daughter now in college I am the only kale eater. There were some aphids, but very manageable. The Tuscan kale on my back porch stayed very small, I guess it need a bigger pot.

Porch herbs, May 24

Herbs. I had basil and parsley (and borage) in my plot. The parsley turned yellow after a while and died. This is the second year in a row this happened and I really want to know why. Another community gardener had the same experience. The porch herbs did great as usual, I had a ton of parsley and all the other common herbs. In late fall, I moved the two rosemary plants and the thyme inside to my kitchen and I still use them in my cooking.

Rhubarb, April 12

Perennials. There are only two: asparagus and rhubarb. I have only a tiny asparagus patch but it did well. The rhubarb was very anemic and I did not dare to harvest any. I am not sure what is happening.

Baby Ping Tung eggplant, July 25

Porch. This year, as in previous years, I grew a lot of herbs on my porch. It is so nice to have your culinary herbs just a few steps away when you make dinner. I grew parsley (underplanted in two big pots growing tomatoes and peppers), sage, thyme oregano, rosemary, nasturtium (did not use them in cooking though), mint, chives. I also had radishes (which were amazing), lettuces (good), kale (not so great), hot peppers (great), eggplant (meh), Swiss chard (meh), tomatoes (meh). Next year, I will focus on herbs, greens, hot peppers and flowers.

(Mutant?) dahlia and asparagus greens, September 6

Flowers. Dahlias, cosmos, nasturtiums, marigolds in the garden; some dianthus and nasturtium on the porch. The dahlias were really late this year, so I was not able to enjoy them as long as in previous years. I will definitely plant more flowers next year.

October 30

Plans for 2021. I had a total of 8 tomato plants and that was a great number. I picked the varieties so they were fruiting at different times and that seemed to have worked well. I do need to amend the soil as some of the plants only had a few fruit. I will definitely plant more hot peppers next year, maybe some shishitos as well. Definitely Thai and jalapeno and perhaps some other varieties. I love eggplant, and I will have another two to four plants in the garden next year, maybe two Asian and two Mediterranean varieties. Definitely will be planting cucumber again, one slicing variety and one or two pickling (those pickles were delicious!). Definitely carrots and radishes next year. The porch radishes were great, so I will do those again, maybe more and in a bigger container. For carrots, definitely rainbow. One zucchini plant was enough, so that is what will happen next year, plus two or three winter squash. I love sugar snap peas and pole beans, so I will try them again next year. Fingers crossed the resident rabbit has moved on. Lettuces from seed and transplanting them worked well, I should try to stagger them better so I have a constant supply. One row of Swiss chard is plenty. The garlic is in the ground, the Egyptian walking onions are doing their thing. So, I will plant one or two rows of leeks in the spring, from purchased seedlings. Two or three kale plants are enough. I will likely not grow any other brassicas because of the aphid problem, but maybe I will change my mind. I will have the usual assortment of herbs on the porch, but would really love to have more parsley in the garden. I will research the yellowing issue and hopefully find a solution. Also, as always, tons of basil in the plot, and this year I will make pesto again. I am hoping, the rhubarb will recover but I think it has to do with my pill bug infestation. They just are having a feast eating all the roots. I am not mulching with straw this year and over the winter and hopefully that will make them go away. The asparagus will just give me a few handful of spears as every year and that will be fine. On the porch, I will have culinary herbs, hot peppers, flowers and lettuces. That just seems to be the best use of the space and my pot sizes. As for flowers, there will be more dahlias in the plot, I will try sunflowers again and cosmos (maybe zinnias?), and of course nasturtium and marigold.

2019 Review

Garden plot on August 1

We are in that slow time between Christmas and New Year’s when people reminisce about the year that was and make plans for the year to come. Time for me to recap 2019 in my garden.

Tomato harvest, August 25

Tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, eggplant: I had a good (not great) and long run of tomatoes from my 6 plants. I loved the varieties I selected (in particular the new-to-me Pineapple tasted delicious) and will plant the same or similar ones next year. Mixing early (Paul Robeson, Cosmonaut), mid-season (Dr. Wychee Yellow) and late varieties (Pineapple, 2 Green Zebras) worked well. In hindsight, I think the home-grown Paul Robeson (labeled Poll Robson by Sand Hill Preservation Center as they were not sure) was a different tomato as it produced heavily but only small and very even fruit, so I think it was some sort of hybrid. The porch tomato (true Paul Robeson) sadly died because I think I over-fertilized. The blossoms just shriveled and fell off. I got a total of two tomatoes of it. I had one plant each of pickling and slicing cucumbers. They both did very well, the slicer more so than the pickling. Sadly, I never got around to pickle them and we just ate them like is. I will need to rethink my preserving goals for next year. The peppers in my plot did not do very well (I think they were shaded out by the tomatoes), the Jedi jalapenos on my porch on the other hand took off. I will either need to plant peppers in a fully sunny spot in my plot or plant them only on the porch. The baby eggplant on my porch did very well. I’d like to repeat that next year with a not-so-baby variety such as Ping Tung.

Porch fingerling potato harvest, September 15

Potatoes: Super disappointing. For two years in the row now, I harvested only a couple of handfuls of potatoes. My back porch experiment failed as well. I had high hopes for that one as there are no pests in the soil that I could have blamed for a meager harvest.

Butternut squash, August 24

Squash: Exceptional! One plant of butternut squash gave me 14 (34 pounds total of) squash. A great side effect was that the squash foliage completely covered the soil inhibiting weeds without hindering the growth of the other well-established plants. A great success.

Pole beans “Kentucky Wonder”, September 25

Legumes: Great year for pole beans. I also planted them late, which was a good idea as I was able to harvest well into the fall and the beans did grow a bit slower, which prevented them from ripening to fast. The bush beans were okay. I just don’t like the flavor as much and will not grow them again next year. Peas did well.

Lettuce, June 7

Greens: I had a great harvest of butterhead lettuce. The leaf lettuce did not do as well and my fall greens mix was sown too late so I did not get to enjoy the greens. I had a great Swiss chard harvest despite the leaf miner problem. No kale this year, which will need to change in 2020.

Golden beets, harvested August 24

Root vegetables: This year, I planted radishes, carrots and golden beets. The beets were great, the radishes were eaten by something. They showed a lot of bite marks and were woody, the carrots were an absolute no-show. Very disappointing.

Garlic, harvested July 26, braided August 22

Alliums: Good but not great garlic harvest. I harvested a total of about 40 heads, half of them softnecks (Transsylvania), which I braided and the other half hardnecks (Red Russian). Such a difference compared to store-bought garlic. They are very fresh and juicy and have a much stronger taste. The leeks stayed small this year. I think they did not have enough sun, as I planted them too lose to the chard. I decided to overwinter them. I still had volunteer onions and shallots all over the garden and enjoyed them throughout the year.

Brassicas: I planted purple cauliflower but it bolted and had bug issues so I sadly had to compost them. Never had much luck with brassicas.

Thyme on my porch

Herbs: In my plot, I planted parsley and basil. The parsley died and the basil never took off for some reason. It stayed tiny. I heard from other gardeners that they had a very bad basil year as well. I also had a ton of volunteer mint and lemon balm. The herbs on my porch did much better except the basil, which also never took off. The parsley was great as was the sage. The thyme was great in the beginning and then grew leggy and dry despite watering. I also had mint, lavender and rosemary on my porch.

Perennials: My rhubarb looked very weak and small and I did not harvest any this year allowing the plant to recover from whatever ailment it is suffering. The asparagus did well given the small amount of plants I have in my plot.

Grapefruit, mini eggplant, parsley and basil, chard, August 30

Porch containers: This year I grew potatoes, mini eggplant, tomato, lettuce, jalapeno, chard and herbs on my porch. The eggplant did very well, the tomato did flower but did not set fruit (I probably over-fertilized), the lettuce and jalapeno did great. The chard was sown too late I think and the container too small, so it stayed small. I harvested almost no potatoes. The grapefruit had a lot of health issues from a mealy bug infestation to black spots on the leaves. I decided to get rid of it.

Flowers: Of the four (or three?) dahlias I planted, only one flowered. Luckily it was my favorite one. On the porch, I grew Astilbe, osteospermum, lavender and mums. It is nice to have flowers on the porch, definitely will do more of it next year.

My plans for 2020: Tomatoes: I am going for 6 heirloom plants, a mix of early (such as Paul Robeson) mid-season (Dr. Wychee Yellow) and late (Pineapple, Green Zebra). I will likely also plant two hybrid tomatoes and make to prepare and monitor the soil better this year. Cucumbers: One plant of slicers is enough for my family, and I will rethink the pickling cucumber. Peppers: I will plant hot peppers on the back porch again, maybe two different varieties – a jalapeno type and a Thai hot pepper. I may plant a bell pepper as well. Eggplant: An Asian variety on the back porch. I will likely not be able to grow any of the fruiting plants from seed so I will keep my fingers crossed for the Neighborhood Farm seedlings from our farmers market come May. Potatoes: None in 2020. Squash: Two types, butternut and delicata. Legumes: I will plant pole beans again late in the season. No bush beans but I will definitely plant peas again. Greens: Mix of head lettuces and leaf lettuces. No spring greens, no arugula etc. because of the flea beetles. Maybe fall greens. Definitely two or three kale plants (I missed having kale this year) and a row of rainbow chard. Root vegetables: I will order different carrot seeds and/or test my existing seeds. I had not a single seed germinate in the soil, so there may have been an issue with my seed batch. I will plant golden beets again (more than one row), but probably no radishes. Alliums: I will plant a couple of rows of leeks again. I planted 2 rows of hardneck garlic (saved from my biggest heads of Red Russians of 2019) and 4 rows of softneck garlic (Inchelium Red from Johnny‚Äôs). I will definitely plant garlic in the fall again and maybe shallots. Brassicas: Not sure if I will grow cauliflower again this year. Herbs: In my plot, I will plant parsley and basil. I will also very likely have some mint and lemon balm. On the porch, I will have parsley, basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, lavender. Perennials: I will monitor the rhubarb hoping it will make a recovery. Fingers crossed. Porch: Hot peppers, one eggplant, one cherry (or small-fruiting) tomato, one or two pots with lettuce, plus herbs and flowers. Flowers: More in the plot and more on the porch. For the plot, I will go with dahlias and try sunflowers and Zinnias again. On the porch, I will have one or two flower pots. Let’s see if the lavender comes back.

Midsummer Porch

The herb/tomato/eggplant/potato/pepper/lettuce/chard corner of my back porch

The plants on my Southwest-facing back porch are doing well for the most part. We had plenty of rain lately and last week we had a couple of really hot days so those tiny chard and kale seedlings are finally catching up. I am very impressed with the potatoes and the lettuce.

Potatoes
Leaf lettuce
Baby kale planted after head lettuce harvest
Eggplant
Swiss Chard
Astilbe (on our Northeast-facing front porch)

Porch Potatoes

Banana fingerling seed potato

I had some seed potatoes left over from the garden plot and decided to try grow bags this year. I planted three potatoes (with 2 to 3 eyes each) in a 7-gallon grow bag and put them on the back porch. It is getting crowded there so I will likely move the bags to the front porch in the near future.

I added 4 inches of potting soil to the bag and planted the potatoes on top.
I then covered the potatoes with another 4 inches of soil.
Now I wait for the sturdy little plants to emerge and will add another 4 inches of soil.

Spring Garden Day

I spent three hours in the garden today. What a beautiful spring day! I pulled some weeds, cleaned my rock & brick collection that I keep at the fence, and weeded out my stakes and supports. I thinned the spinach and the radishes and trellised the peas. I also planted: fingerling potatoes (finally!), more peas, more carrots, more Swiss Chard. I transplanted the cauliflower, parsley and lettuce I bought earlier this week. Towards the fence, I planted dahlias (Star Elite and Rip City), sunflowers, zinnias and cosmos.

Garlic (with a cauliflower plant)
Potato patch

Potato Leek Soup

Eating from the garden in November – potato leek soup. Leeks, garlic and parsley are home-grown.

Last two cloves of (volunteer) hardneck garlic. Now onto the softnecks.

Leeks and garlic sauteed in butter.

Add potatoes …

… and water , salt and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes and puree. To be served with chopped parsley, bacon bits and homemade croutons. Yum!

 

Potatoes

This morning, I spent a couple of hours in the garden cleaning, weeding and harvesting potatoes. This year’s yield was pretty meager and I noticed a good amount of soft and rotten potatoes in the ground. We had a lot of rain in the past couple of weeks and I probably should have harvested them earlier. I am not sure I got all of them, in particular the purples ones, who looked just like clumps of dirt and were hard to spot in the soil.Overall, I harvested 3 lb. 12 oz. of Banana fingerlings and 1 lb. 8 oz. purple Magic Molly. I had planted two rows of six plants of fingerlings and six plants of Magic Molly. Of the fingerlings, only seven plants total grew and only four of the purple ones. I laid the harvested potatoes to dry for a couple of days and will then gently rub of the dirt and store them for a few days until the time is right for a nice dinner of roasted potatoes.

I also harvested more cucumbers and more tomatoes and my first Kentucky Wonder pole beans. My eggplant is finally bearing fruit. I am very excited!

My plot this morning. A lot of bare space where I harvested the potatoes (left side) and took out the bush beans (right side in front of the pole beans). Time for fall planting!