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Lessons from the 2021 Vegetable Garden

This past growing season was my best yet – and that despite my being a new mom who was squeezing in planting, weeding, and harvesting into 15-30min increments for the better part of the season!

We got more things, in greater quantities, more frequently. It’s the first year it felt like I was truly supplementing our diets with homegrown goodies. It made me feel like a superhero.

I even had enough tomatoes to make a few batches of sauce that I froze! Happiness.

We grew lots of carrots and garlic for the first time, TONS of tomatoes and green beans, rainbow chard up the wazoo, many many cabbage family plants (broccoli, cauliflower, purple cabbage, regular cabbage, brussel sprouts), lettuce, peas, herbs (parsley, lemonbalm, sage, oregano, basil), eggplants, peppers, butternut squash, winter squash, pumpkins, artichoke, asparagus, luffa, okra, peanuts…

The major exception? Zucchini. They went completely rogue and refused to cooperate. One plant – of some 15 seeds and 10 seedlings (some from my seeds, some gifted to us by a friend) even produced what looked exactly like a butternut squash right after producing the only zucchini of the season. SO WEIRD.

Peppers also didn’t do so well, but nothing as twighlight-zone-esque as the Zucchini.

That said, I think the success I had in 2021 was due to 3 main reasons:

  1. If you have a vegetable garden, you’ll improve every year as long as you keep at it. I’ve heard it takes seven years to hit your stride, but cannot confirm or deny that just yet.
  2. This year, I had high hopes but low expectations, and because of my limited time, I didn’t dwell on failures – I just replanted a new wave of seeds and hoped I could do better. I often did.
  3. I asked for help. A few volunteers did a chunk of weeding while they were with us, and I often asked F to check on the automatic watering system to make sure it was working (it was often clogged, so him checking it allowed us to troubleshoot before too much plant death occurred).

10 lessons from the veg garden

In terms of lessons learned, here are my top ten-ish, in no particular order:

  • You don’t need a greenhouse to start seeds, a window will do – but seedlings don’t just need light, they need light from above! Otherwise they will grow lanky and long and be unable to support themselves. Oops.
  • If intermingling crops, plant the front of the bed first, otherwise what’s growing in the back will interfere with the watering of the new seedlings in front.
  • Green beans (dwarf) = the gift that keeps on giving! An absolute favorite.
  • Growing things a bit longer, in bigger pots, before transplanting to the garden means they will be more resilient once in the soil.
  • Direct compost – e.g., used coffee grinds, banana peals, egg shells – attracts unwanted visitors who dig up the bed.
  • Tomato branches put into water will create roots and can be replanted as a new plant a few days later.
  • Removing lower branches from tomato plants works, and boosts them upward – got the tallest plants ever this year!
  • Cabbage family is SLOW but worth the wait, and some – such as broccoli – will keep regrowing fruit if harvested without ripping the whole plant out. Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply to cauliflower.
  • Pumpkins need calcium, so adding lime early in the process will enable them to create more fruit.
  • You can never have too many herbs, especially dill – but do your research, because some herbs grow out and spread, such as Greek Oregano.
  • Luffas aren’t easy to grow but they’re even harder to harvest and process right!
  • Seed saving takes a bit of practice, and apparently your best bet is to save seeds from the FIRST FRUIT not the last. Who knew!

Winter growing, take two

As for my winter garden attempt… I did better than last year, sort of:

  • Successes: Brussel sprouts, bok choy, endive (a Dutch version that’s basically a very sturdy and easy to grow lettuce), a first attempt at Romanesco cauliflower
  • Unconvincing results: Carrots (eaten from below!), lettuce (alive but not thriving or growing big enough to harvest), spinach (ditto), peas (look great but zero fruit produced)

The challenge is that we removed the automatic watering system to prevent busted bits from cold nights, and then got almost no rain… so winter seedlings were left in limbo.

Plotting & Planning / Potting & Planting in 2022

This year, I’m planning to grow more of the amazing things (green beans, broccoli, lettuce, chard, tomatoes, herbs of all kinds, etc.) and less of the “meh”s (e.g., purple cabbage, not as easy to prep as its cousins). Tons of herbs, and maybe some flowers.

I’m also hoping to preserve, process, and conserve more food.

And maybe I can convince F to further upgrade our watering system by burying the hose/pipe so it can be in place year-round, and to install more drip irrigation for more targeted watering than broad top-down sprinklers!

Follow my growing adventures on Instagram, where I share ups and downs and colorful harvest baskets.

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