Little Garden Victories
It was a bit of an unusual year in the garden, filled with trials and tribulations, but in the end it was a good year with plenty of surprises and successes too. Have you heard the saying “Mother Nature always bats last, and she always bats 1,000?” The longer I farm, the more I realize that it’s true. You can do all the research, planning, and preparation that you want, but ultimately your success or failure will be determined by many factors that are out of your control – temperature, rainfall, and garden pests ranging from the tiniest viruses and insects up to four-legged critters with ravenous appetites. In the successes column this year were several of the early crops that I can usually depend on including peas, lettuce, New Zealand spinach, Swiss chard, kale, potatoes, and garlic. I was happy to have a good harvest of all of these things, but let’s face it, they are not the most exciting of the garden goods! Unfortunately, about halfway through strawberry season I realized that the chipmunks were able to get into the chicken wire cage that covers our strawberry patch with no problem whatsoever, and they soon took their toll on the remaining strawberries, so it’s on our garden to do list to redo the chicken wire cage with hardware cloth to keep the chipmunks out next year. But even so, we still had a pretty good berry season, with lots of blueberries and raspberries in the freezer for making jams with when I can find the time and for enjoying in desserts over the winter.
Let’s continue with the successes shall we, before going down the path of garden failures! Despite being really busy this summer, I couldn’t resist going a bit crazy with my entries for the county fair. I entered 33 items – a combination of veggies and flowers from the garden, preserved goods, honey and other beehive products, eggs and my feather wreath. I came home with 28 ribbons, mostly blues and a few second and third place ribbons as well. My most exciting win was the big purple Champion ribbon I won for my display of extracted honey, comb honey, and beeswax. It was a really fun time, and despite my ribbon board getting a bit overcrowded between last year’s and this year’s winnings, I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to resist going overboard next year!
The summer was slow to warm up, and over the course of the summer we didn’t have as many warm days as we usually do so the warm season veggies were slow to start producing. After a bumper crop of cucumbers last year, I decided to put in a tall arch trellis for the cucumbers to grow up instead of sprawling all over the ground, and I also didn’t plant as many since I had so many cucumbers last year. As Murphy’s Law would have it, I hardly got any cucumbers this summer and my beautiful arch trellis remained mostly barren all summer! This is partially due to the increase in burrowing rodents in my garden beds this year. In addition to the usual voles, the ground squirrel has been a problem for the first time ever this year, and I think they are what lead to the demise of most of my cucumber plants. I guess next year my strategy will be to go back to planting too many cucumber plants just to make sure I get enough. I’m not sure what to do to prevent crop loss due to burrowing rodents next year, it’s one of those problems that happens fast and seems hard to prevent. I had so-so luck with my zucchini and yellow crookneck squash this year due to some problems with blossom end rot, so instead of the usual problem of being overrun with too many to keep up with, I actually found myself wishing I had a few more at times. An early hot spell caused most of my broccoli to bolt this year, although we still got several meals of smaller heads and side shoots. After a disappointing first attempt at growing cauliflower last year, I actually grew three small heads of purple cauliflower this year. It does take up a lot of real estate for a pretty small harvest, so I’m not sure I’ll grow it again next year.
The tomatoes seemed to take forever to ripen this year, so we spent Labor Day weekend visiting a few local farms on Sauvie Island and brought home piles of beautiful tomatoes, apples and a few other things to supplement our harvest. In the end, my tomatoes finally came as well, and I was able to put away about a dozen batches of roasted tomatoes in the freezer, and I also canned 10 quarts of marinara sauce between what I grew and what we bought at the local farm. I’ve also got about 10 half-pints of pesto in the freezer. The tomatoes and pesto are two of my favorite quick and easy pasta meals over the winter, so I’m happy I was able to get those preserved. My onions and green beans did well, and I also got a few butternut squash. My Three Sisters planting with popcorn and beans did better this year than last year due to earlier planting and providing early supports for the beans, and I’m excited to harvest them both which will be any day now. Without a doubt my biggest garden success was the 22 pound Hubbard squash that I grew! I’ve never grown it before, and every year I like to grow something new just for fun since I always get a lot of interesting seeds in various seed swaps that I participate in, so the Hubbard squash was the biggest winner this year! I already have next year’s new garden experiment in the planning stages, which is to put in a small Hugelkulture bed for growing pumpkin, which I’ve never been very successful at growing. So all in all I guess the take home message from the garden this year is to be thankful for the harvest you do get, don’t give up, and don’t be afraid to try new things, you just may be rewarded in the end.