Vegetable garden highs and lows

I’m going to go a bit corporate today. Have you heard of a SOAR analysis? It’s a business planning exercise where you look at the strengths, opportunities, aspirations and results for a particular project. It’s a bit friendlier than the old-school SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats).

Today’s project is the vegetable garden.

Vegetable garden in October 2016

Matt and I officially harvested everything last weekend. We have more clean-up yet to do, but I feel like I’m ready to look at what worked and what didn’t… or, more positively, what opportunities there are for next year.

Strengths

Soil – We have a great garden, and I can’t really take a lot of credit for it. Our soil is fabulous, and I’m doing everything I can to keep it healthy (see opportunities below).

Trellises – I’ve written about growing our raspberries, tomatoes and squash vertically. It totally worked. We got great yields in much less space than we would have without the trellises.

How to grow squash vertically

Watering – This was a very, very, very dry summer. I was very thankful for our well, so that we didn’t have to pay municipal water fees. We watered every other day–more than is recommended by most gardening how-tos–but I think it made the difference between losing most of our plants (which didn’t happen) and harvesting a very impressive crop (which did).

Crops – In terms of impressive, the key successes this year were peppers and beans, which last year did next to nothing. Two new crops–sunflowers and watermelon–were also great successes. The watermelon took forever to ripen, but finally made it thanks to the hot summer weather continuing well into fall.

Watermelon harvest fall 2016

Our potatoes, tomatoes and zucchini were crazy prolific as usual, and the new versions we tried–ridiculously giant Sicilian Saucer tomatoes and Russian Blue potatoes–were fun additions.

Russian blue potato

Opportunities

Raised beds – Argh the raised beds. I love having the perimeter beds in the garden, but the soil we bought for them was not good at all. Weeds didn’t even grow. The asparagus, hollyhocks and some of the herbs eventually got some traction, but it took all season. The carrots, beets and onions were nearly complete failures. Some of the herbs just shriveled up and died.

Pathetic carrots

Dead lavender plant

I’m not sure what we need to do to remedy this next year. The soil was triple mix which is supposed to include compost, peat moss and top soil. However, our triple mix is very sandy and seems to be deficient in nutrients. I’m thinking all kinds of compost and manure might revitalize it.

Black raspberries – My attempts to domesticate the wild black raspberries that grow elsewhere on the farm was also a big fat fail. These plants can only be described as brambles. They’re thorny and floppy–and when they flop over, they root themselves into the ground making a big tangled mess. I channeled Sleeping Beauty’s Prince Phillip and dug them all out last weekend. I’m looking forward to finding a new kind of berry to plant in their place next spring.

Weeds – One of the things I wanted to try this year was using a deep layer of straw as a mulch over the garden to smother the weeds. Matt and I brought an old abandoned bale of straw up to the garden, but I never got around to spreading it over the garden. We didn’t keep up with weeding by hand, so the garden was very, very weedy. The deep mulch method is still on my list for next year.

Weedy garden

Plant the whole garden – Our garden is big. Last year we planted just half, but this year we made it up to three quarters . I ended up mowing the weeds in the empty quadrant all summer. Not the best use of space. I’m hoping that we can use the whole garden next year.

Aspirations

Maintain the soil – I’m learning that gardening is about growing soil, more than growing plants. Last fall I added ash and manure to the whole garden. This year, I’m aiming for more manure and some compost–especially in the raised beds. I’m also trying a cover crop for the first time, seeding one quadrant with winter rye. Crop rotation is another consideration that I’m realizing takes lots of advance thought–as in years in advance.

Slow-growing crops – Asparagus and grapes were two additions to the garden this spring. Both are going to be long-term commitments, and I’m hoping that they make it through the winter and thrive next year.

First year grape vines

New additions – I’m looking forward to adding more herbs to the raised beds and putting more thought into how they’re clumped around the perimeter of the garden. Another consideration is maybe a cutting garden, or at least dressing up the vegetables–and filling some of the vacant spaces–with a selection of flowers.

Results

Infrastructure – There’s another corporate, distinctly non-garden word for you. But I don’t know how else to describe the base structures that form the garden–and that as of this year are all done. Last year our big accomplishment was the fence. This year, we added the curbs, raised beds, trellises, gate and waterline. I’m looking forward to not “building” the garden next year and just planting it.

#Harvest16 – Once again, the garden was super, duper productive. We had more zucchini, tomatoes and watermelon than we could use–to the benefit of our families and co-workers. We’re hoping that our squash and potatoes last well into the winter. Any storage tips?

Garden harvest fall 2016

Preserving – I feel like growing your own garden soon leads to preserving your own food, and this year Matt and I dove in to canning. We pickled about 10 pounds of beans–I was skeptical, but they’re so good I can eat a jar on my own–and made nearly 12 litres of our own ketchup–Matt is a big user of ketchup and is very particular about his preferred brand… although he has now switched allegiances to our homemade version. We’ve also loaded up the freezer with beans, roasted tomatoes, grated zucchini and plan to add peppers.

I’m not quite ready to call this year’s garden completely done, but I am ready to call it a success. In fact, we have also fulfilled every single goal I had for the garden in my original Home Goals 2016 post. That’s an achievement.

How did your garden grow this year? Any tips for storing potatoes and squash? Or favourite recipes to share? Anyone have ideas for the soil in our raised beds?

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8 thoughts on “Vegetable garden highs and lows

  1. I know there are scientific ways to determine how to amend your soil, but I garden halfhazardly, so usually I throw in some manure and call it good. Hopefully other readers have more precise tips.
    As far as storage, I never grow enough potatoes to last very long, but on her blog, The Art of Doing Stuff, Karen has a lot of tips:
    http://www.theartofdoingstuff.com/long-term-produce-storage-how-well-does-it-work/
    It looks like your garden did very well, and all of your hard work is visible….I love your fence, gate, and the water spigot you recently installed! I look forward to seeing how it works out for you next year as well!

  2. How did my garden do this year? Well, what wasn’t eaten by deer (tomatoes, green beans), withered in the extreme heat and lack of water (onions). The green peppers were very slow – when I pulled out the plants after the first frost, they were covered in tiny peppers. The potatoes did OK, but there were a lot of small ones. I haven’t pulled the carrots yet. I always plant some marigolds in my veg garden, just because I like the look of them. I also get volunteer portulaca every year and I let them grow.

  3. I love your garden. What a haul!! I would think compost and manure for the raised beds. Also maybe some straw over the soil to keep the moisture in? They could be dryer than the rest because they’re raised. As for storage, do you have a cold room? I think that would help keep things longer.
    Enjoy your bounteous harvest!

  4. I find that putting the potatoes in a basket and forgetting that you placed them in the entry closet works very well at preserving the harvest! We had purple finglerling potatoes that made it until April when we recovered them from the closet with 8 inch sprouts springing from the eyes. Unfortunately we failed to eat them, but we did have stock for planting this year. Lets see what happen this year.

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