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A Year in Our Garden - 2017
December 23, 2017

Our 2017 gardening season was typified by either too much or too little rainfall at various times. But even with some adverse growing conditions, we were blessed with bountiful harvests. We canned, froze, and stored a lot of food for this winter besides enjoying fresh vegetables all summer as they came into season.

I decided for this year's review to focus on harvests, good and bad, with anecdotes about the various crops we grew well and otherwise.

Cauliflower almost ready to cut Violet of Sicily cauliflower Four heads of fall broccoli

It seemed like we both started and ended our gardening season with great harvests of broccoli and cauliflower. Actually, our asparagus came in first. Our spring brassicas produced a rather concentrated early harvest, leading us to freeze a lot of broccoli and cauliflower. That freed up our fall harvest, which was much more spaced out, to be used for lots of delicious steamed broccoli and cauliflower with cheese. Our most productive varieties were once again Premium Crop and Goliath broccoli and Amazing and Fremont cauliflower, both spring and fall. As I cleared and composted the broccoli plants on December 20, I still found good sideshoots growing on some of the plants!

Freshly picked asparagusBagged garlicOur asparagus harvest started towards the end of March and continued through early May this year. I try to encourage first time gardeners to start a small asparagus patch. Once properly started and cared for, a good patch should produce for many years. We picked asparagus from a patch over 25 years old (Bonnie's Asparagus Patch) and our eleven year old raised bed of asparagus. We once again had all the asparagus we could eat, share with family, and give away this year. By mid-May, my wife, Annie, and I were sick of asparagus. By mid-June, we found ourselves craving it again!

Our fall planted garlic produced a bumper crop. While getting started growing garlic is a bit expensive due to the cost of good garlic bulbs, once you get started, your "seed garlic" is free from the previous year's crop. Fall planted garlic remains one of our easiest and most productive things we grow in our garden. After sorting out culls, we stored twelve and a half pounds of good garlic produced in just four, tightly spaced, fifteen foot rows.

Some large carrots drying
Carrots ready for storage in green bags

Getting back to early and late crops, our spring carrots did fairly well, but suffered a bit from my lack of thinning and weeding. I got our fall carrots seeded a little late, and then they got held back by dry weather. But a late fall allowed us to dig our carrots late (November 16) and store a good amount (14#) of incredibly sweet Bolero, Mokumicon, Scarlet Nantes, Nelson, and Laguna carrots from two, ten foot double rows.

A few of our carrots showed damage from carrot weevils, so I was careful to clear all carrot trash (and mulch) from our main raised bed as I did our End-of-Season Gardening Chores. Such bugs can overwinter on leaves, stalks, and even mulch. Our spring carrots usually don't show such damage, possibly because we grow them between rows of onions.

PeasOur earliest direct seeded crop, peas, again produced a good crop. Our Champion of England and Maxigolt tall, early peas excelled growing on and between a double trellis to prevent wind damage to the vines. Our later planted short peas didn't fare so well. Hot, dry weather conditions had us just saving seed from the plantings to preserve the old varieties we grow.

A houseguest with whom we've shared produce with frequently recently commented, "You don't share peas, do you?" My wife, Annie, and I responded in unison, "No!" While we share lots of our garden bounty with family, neighbors, friends, and our local food bank, homegrown peas are a treasure too hard to come by. In Another Garden Delicacy: Homegrown Peas, I describe how we grow our peas. It's a lot of work for not a lot of peas, but we think the flavor of our peas is unmatched by anything available in groceries or local markets.

The stars of this summer's garden were our tomato plants. Since I built a bunch of new tomato cages in the spring, I tried to plant enough tomatoes to use them all. I didn't quite get that done, but we did have six caged Earlirouge tomato plants in our main garden and twelve tomato plants of various varieties in our East Garden.

Earlirouge tomatoes still producing in mid-October

Tomato and pepper row with buckwheat in the foregroundI transplanted our Earlirouge tomatoes a bit too early and paid a price for it. Cold ground appeared to have stunted the plants. But despite their small stature (They only half filled our five foot tall tomato cages.), they produced lots of good tomatoes right up until the first frost. I transplanted the tomato plants in our East Garden almost a month later than the Earlirouges. Those plants filled and overfilled their cages, producing a bounty of tomatoes.

Spaced amongst the tomato cages in our East Garden were a variety of caged bell pepper plants. A few of our old tomato cages with rusty parts cut off served to hold the pepper plants up off the ground. While the soil in our East Garden is good enough to grow great tomatoes, it's just doesn't produce very good peppers.

Earliest Red Sweet PeppersOur main planting of peppers, seven caged Earliest Red Sweet plants more than made up for our disappointment with our peppers in the East Garden. We had all the green and red peppers we could use, freeze, and give away. And that was with one of the plants inexplicably dying early in the season.

Our spring planting of spinach flourished. We saved lots of seed from the relatively new OSSI introduction, Abundant Bloomsdale spinach. We love the stuff. But our fall seeding never got enough moisture to germinate well.

As I shift from spring and fall crops to main season and fall-only crops, I'll share a table I've kept all season. Doing so sorta refreshes my memory and keeps me honest about what worked and what didn't.

Successes In Between Failures
  • Spring and fall broccoli and cauliflower
  • Early, tall peas
  • Garlic - another bumper crop
  • Onions
  • Spring and fall carrots
  • Spring spinach & lettuce
  • Red potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Kidney beans
  • Cucumbers
  • Herbs and herb garden
  • Kale
  • Kidney beans - a great crop
  • Tomatoes - the best tomatoes we've grown in years, both in our main and East Gardens
  • Zinnias - our eighty foot row of zinnias along the east border of our East Garden were spectacular this year. Zinnias are easy to grow, and I had lots of saved seed to make the planting economical. I had to seriously weed the row just once early on. I later was able to hold back weeds with grass clipping mulch.

  • Yellow squash - We got some.
  • Sweet corn - stunted stalks produced better than expected
  • Green beans
  • Peppers - ERS did well, but peppers in East Garden were poor
  • melons - I planted just one row of melons and later regretted that choice. But we got some nice watermelons well into the fall from a late direct seeding where some honeydews and cantaloupe vines had failed early on.
  • Eclipse and Encore peas
  • Butternut squash and Pumpkins - squash bugs decimated the vines
  • Kennebec potato starts mostly rotted in the ground
  • Fall lettuce - Some 90° F days caused most of our fall lettuce to bolt. Interestingly, some our head lettuce didn't bolt.
  • Fall spinach - drought got it
  • Kennebec (brown) potatoes - mostly got drowned out

Carrots, onions, and lettuceIn a cruel twist of fate since doing our somewhat extensive (for us) onion trials in 2014, I've become somewhat intolerant to onions. I can still eat some of them once a week or so without distress. And since I like growing onions, I continue to do so. But long gone are the days when I could top a cheeseburger with a thick slice of Walla Walla onion.

We grow our onions in double rows outside our double rows of spring carrots. It's said that onions help deter insect pests in carrots. That seems to work for us, as our spring carrots are pretty bug free, while our fall carrots this year showed some slight weevil damage.

Onions curing in garageAnyway, we had a good, but not great, harvest of storage onions. Our sweet Walla Wallas were planted at the south edge of our main raised bed. That area dries out more quickly than the rest of the bed. I also got the Walla Wallas planted too close to our spring broccoli which eventually shaded out the onions. We got a good number of small (golf ball sized) Walla Wallas, but not the usual huge bulbs we crave and use to season our canned green beans and Portuguese Kale Soup.

Having mentioned weevils, we also had them in our potatoes and sweet potatoes. We got a good harvest of both red potatoes and sweet potatoes, but our brown potatoes pretty much drowned out in some heavy spring rains. After re-purposing the Kennebec potato row for sweet potatoes, three Kennebec plants emerged and eventually produced a few baking potatoes for us. Our Red Pontiac potatoes and Beauregard sweet potatoes had shallow weevil damage that has to be cut out when cooking them, but both produced nice crops.

Crop rotation is the best preventative for weevils, but I'm wondering if I'll have to resort to using some kind of pesticide to protect our carrots and potatoes next year.

Butternut collapseWhile discussing failures, our plantings of butternut squash and pumpkins outside our East Garden both succumbed to squash bugs this year. A warm winter that didn't kill off many of the overwintering bugs, plus my use of mulch under the plantings pretty well doomed them despite several applications of some really nasty, non-organic bug controls. I'm hoping for some extended hard freezes this winter!

Yellow squashOur Slick Pik and Saffron yellow squash did a bit better than the butternuts and pumpkins. We had a good harvest of yellow squash before the bugs got too bad and the plants wore out. A late planted yellow squash without any mulch under it seemed to do a bit better than our mulched squash plants did.

Trellised Japanese Long Pickling Cucumber VinesAnother annual success was our succession planting of Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers. Transplanted in the same double trellised row where our early peas had grown, the cucumber plants put out lots of good fruit for fresh use, canning, sharing, and seed saving. We canned bread and butter pickles, sweet dill chips, and sweet relish from the planting. The canned relish is good, but I'll use lots more pickles in it next year.

Drying kidney beansI've had mixed success growing kidney beans over the years. This year, with space available, I planted a fifty-five foot long row of them in our East Garden. We got good germination from the seeding, and I mulched the beans with grass clippings. Some 85 days later, 15 days short of their days-to-maturity figure, the kidney bean plants overwhelmed us with good, dry beans. We canned most of them, but also kept about two pounds of them in dry storage for table use or planting. I really have to attribute this good harvest to good weather conditions at the right times and just plain dumb luck.

Our green beans were a mixed bag this year. We canned them, but I was late picking some of them due to some physical problems. We canned enough to last us over the winter, but this crop, grown in the good soil of our main garden, really wasn't a smashing success. I also must admit that the stoop labor involved in picking beans is getting beyond me in my advancing years.

Other than keeping the cabbage looper and small white cabbage worms out of kale, it's an easy crop to grow. We plant ours in July. Such plantings take a lot of watering to get started during our annual dry period of July and August, but they produced an abundance of nice kale leaves. We enjoyed kale boiled with garlic and bacon repeatedly through the fall. Leftover kale got frozen, something we've not done in the past. We're careful to only use canning salt in seasoning our kale that may be frozen, as iodized salt can discolor the kale and possibly add an off flavor to it.

Early sweet corn tasselledOne crop that was disappointing, but still produced a lot was our sweet corn. It got planted in some hot dry weather. We got it up out of the ground, filling in bare spots in the rows with transplants, only to be hit with more hot, dry weather. The sweet corn plants stunted, only growing about three or four feet tall. But they still produced usable ears of corn that we gratefully froze and enjoyed as corn on the cob. The quality of the sweet corn was definitely impacted by the weather. It still was sweet, but all of it was a bit crunchy like immature corn, and it didn't have the full sweet corn flavor we usually get.

Lots of watermelons still on the vinesOur melons were another crop that was just so-so this year. I dropped back to planting only one row of them, something I later regretted. The hot, dry weather impacted the melons despite their heavy layer of grass clipping mulch and frequent waterings. Two hills of melons died out early in the season, so I replanted the hills with some watermelon varieties we hadn't included in our garden plans. They ended up producing as many melons as our spring plantings, as they matured once rain had returned to west central Indiana. We got some nice cantaloupe and watermelons, but not nearly what we usually get in a season.

Even with weather and critter problems, our best garden photo of the year turned out to be a Farmers Wonderful seedless watermelon that tasted as good as it looked.

A seedless watermelon that tasted as good as it looked

Both our sweet corn and melons were also attacked by critters. We may have found an answer for at least the deer predation.

Not Tonight, Deer!

Not Tonight Deer! packageOne apparent breakthrough this year was our homebrew of Not Tonight Deer deer repellent. The excellent commercial product went off the market several years ago, and we'd been at a loss until this year to find an equally effective product. The old product package of the nasty smelling (and presumably, nasty tasting) stuff listed rotten eggs and white pepper as the main ingredients. For our brew, I mixed eighteen beaten eggs, a small jar of white pepper, a bottle of habanera sauce, and several cups of buttermilk together, straining the resulting mixture into an old milk carton and adding a bit of water. (I actually made one batch with and another without the buttermilk and didn't note any difference in deer deterrence between the two.)

I let the stuff sit outside in the sun for a couple of weeks to cure before straining some of it into a sprayer. Our stuff smelled just as awful as the commercial product used to, and it seemed to work. But...

Nite Guard Solar Predator Control Light...I also liberally spread chunks of Irish Springicon bar soap around our corn and other crops and hung four Nite Guard Solar Predator Control Lights. And something that works one year in the garden isn't a guarantee that it will work in the future. Deer and especially raccoons seem to find ways around the best of controls after a year or two.

Absolute Losses

I should add that our fall lettuce and spinach were complete failures. The spinach with many waterings just didn't germinate in the hot, dry conditions of late August and early September. Most of our transplanted lettuce bolted early on.

Canning - Cool Storage - Freezing - Drying

Pantry 1
Pantry 2

Amazon - Debbie Meyer Large Green BagsWe canned green beans, whole tomatoes, kidney beans, pickles, applesauce, and Portuguese Kale Soup this year. We froze lots of early peas, kale, and more sweet corn than our stunted plants would have suggested. I didn't freeze any fall broccoli or cauliflower, as we'd frozen a lot in the spring. We gobbled up all the fresh fall broccoli and cauliflower!

We have garlic, onions, red potatoes, and sweet potatoes in cool storage in our basement. The basement runs a bit warm and dry for such storage, but we do okay with it. I have to frequently check our onions for sprouting and rot. I also chose to split up some of our saved seed, storing some of it in our basement pantry instead of freezing all of the seed.

Our carrots are stored in Debbie Meyer Green Bags in the vegetable bins of our refrigerator. I finally composted the last of our spring carrots, as they were getting hairy (short white roots growing out of them) and rotting in spots. Our fall carrots at this writing still look great. We usually can store them well into spring this way.

Seed Saving

We save seed to cut our costs in the future and to help preserve some good, but endangered vegetable varieties. Our main targets for seed saving this year were Abundant Bloomsdale spinach, Earliest Red Sweet peppers, Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers, and Earlirouge, Moira, and Quinte tomatoes. The spinach variety isn't endangered, but all the rest are.

We also saved Eclipse and Encore pea seed (both of which are PVP protected, so I can't sell or share seed, but can grow and save enough for us to re-plant). We also collected some dianthus seed and lots and lots of zinnia seed. And even after canning two canner loads of kidney beans, we still had a two-pound bag of them to save for future plantings. Re-planting ones saved seed can help the variety to adapt to ones local growing conditions.

Our distribution of saved seed may change considerably in the next year. After supporting the Seed Savers Exchange for many years, I've become disillusioned by their lack of support for their seed saving members and Seed Exchange. I've shared my concerns with the board and director of SSE without much effect. In a letter to SSE's Board of Directors, I wrote, "Not all of the Seed Savers Exchange’s work occurs at the Heritage Farm. It’s happening every day on the farms and in the gardens of SSE’s members. To me, it seems that the leadership of the exchange has forgotten that."

The Seed Savers Board of Directors meets next month.

Our raised beds - August 1, 2017 Our East Garden - August 1, 2017

Comment

I'd decided a month or so ago to just abandon this garden review file. Previous reviews don't get read much. But more then the hits on the site, writing this stuff refreshes my memory about what we did right and wrong in our garden plots this year. So I got started writing the text again a couple of weeks ago. Having said what I wanted to, I then turned to adding photos to the review. I may have overdone it a bit, but had a lot of fun adding pictures to this review.

As with most growing seasons, there are successes and failures. We celebrate the successes and try to learn from the failures. This year was no different with dry weather and some physical problems making our gardening efforts more difficult. But we really had a wonderful summer.

I thank the Lord for continued good health and the chance to enjoy gardening and share it with my readers.

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From Steve Wood, the at Senior Gardening


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