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Vegetable Garden Lessons from Year 3 & Plotting and Planting for Year 4

In 2020, it was my third year managing our vegetable garden. (As a recap, here’s a summary of Year 1 and lessons learned from Year 2.)

A lot of things went right this season; it felt like I went from baby steps in the right direction to taking a leap forward. There were still blunders and learning curves, but then that’s something I don’t anticipate ever changing!

We continued making overall improvements: adding raised beds, improving the soil by mixing in aged goat and donkey manure, and an automatic sprinkler system set to water the garden every morning bright and early. The boys also upgraded the access to the garden from ankle-twisting to a gorgeous ramp and stairs with an actual door, win.

The veg garden early 2020, still wild after a hands-off winter

The new entrance to the veg garden – isn’t it gorgeous? Ramp on the right, stairs on the left. I love it!

Overview of what grew in 2020

This season, I planted: tomatoes, zucchini, sweet peas, purple beans (no idea what they are called), fava beans, okra, potatoes, sweet potatoes, basil, Piri Piri peppers, chickpeas, cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, lettuce, onions, beets, sweet peppers, eggplant, carrots, nasturtium flowers, pumpkin, winter squash, artichoke, asparagus, rhubarb, raspberries.

Everything grew, but some produce was more successful than others. Fava beans, for instance, I should have planted WAY earlier as it can be one of the first crops in our climate. Oops.

Overall take-aways include that:

  • I’m better at looking up what growing conditions things like, but can still improve (peppers were in a shadier spot than ideal, so we only got green ones #oops #stilldelicious);
  • timing remains tricky both in terms of how to best manage waves of planting seeds as well as the ensuing harvests;
  • artichoke plants, even when happy, take much longer to produce fruit than expected – nothing at all the first year;
  • flowers are way harder than I thought (so far, I can only manage sunflowers!); and
  • I’ve yet to find a way to label what grows where, which means anyone other than myself working in the garden is very difficult or ends up in things being weeded or bushwhacked when they should not have been.

Such a view makes me so very happy

Five lessons from the garden in 2020

First, I managed to grow herbs. Previous years, seeds sprouted but never really grew or thrived. At best, I got a few basil plants that produced a handful of leaves – better than nothing, but far from what I was hoping to achieve. This year, I managed to grow dill, basil, and parsley. Dill grew waist high, and the parsley is so happy, it never died – it lived through the winter and is about to gain the status of “bush”!

Bonus lesson on the herb front: All the beds that had herbs mixed in remained pest-free! Next year, I’ll be planting herbs EVERYWHERE to see if they really are magic like that.

Second, I finally got red tomatoes! That happened to some extent in the previous two years, but they would barely start blushing before something would interfere – their bottoms would go black, they’d crack, or temperatures would drop just enough that they would not really mature. In 2020, we got a better harvest in quantity and quality than ever before, and of more varieties. That without a doubt qualifies as being on the right path.

Third, we once again planted potatoes and sweet potatoes. We got a better harvest than before, but it was still a bit meagre. Francois tried planting potatoes in beds of cut grass that he added to once or twice during the growing season. When I harvested both kinds of potatoes, it felt like the ground was too “shallow” (i.e., the area we broke up before planting was too small) which stunted their development. Not sure if I’ll try again or take a break for a year.

Fourth, ah the glory of Brussel sprouts! I finally managed to grow a few gorgeous plants that produced enough for quite a few meals (as a side). I suspect that my timing is still a bit off – I may have sown the seeds too soon, which led to them taking forever to mature and develop properly – but the results were very encouraging. And tasty!

Fifth, chard loves this climate as much as spinach doesn’t. I’ll keep trying to grow both, but I suspect I’ll continue to replace spinach with chard in many a recipe.

Me, in one of my many happy places here at Casa Beatrix

A first almost-winter harvest

For the first time in 2020, I tried my hand at fall and winter crops. It started off well, but a brutal few days of cold annihilated most of my efforts. Still, it was encouraging to think that we could produce cabbage, lettuce, carrots, peas, and maybe a few other delicious things year-round.

I may need to find a way to protect these crops just a bit in case of sudden extreme temperatures, as mulching wasn’t enough.

P(l)otting and Plan(t)ing for 2021

If I had to summarize my strategy for this year in one word, I’d say MORE.

In part, I have more types of seeds because I collect them everywhere I go. I also want to do better, and get higher yields over a longer period of time. And I need to get better at mulching!

I want herbs everywhere, and hope to expand from dill, basil, and parsley to also include cumin, and oregano, among others.

It would be wonderful to start growing flowers, too.

The automatic watering system is still in place, but we may add a third sprinkler and some drip-irrigation. Fingers crossed, as that would be yet another game-changer.

Last but not least, as I am writing this so late, I can say that I have expanded my growing area from just the vegetable garden (same number of beds as last year) to a few new beds by the Tiny House – but the latter are in full sun and within easy access for chickens, so unless I set up a shade tarp or netting, we may lose more crops to the sun and birds than is worth it.

I’ll be sharing progress as well as trials and tribulations on Instagram, and as our profile is public, you can view our posts even if you’re not on the platform.

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