The best part about growing vegetables is sharing it with those you care for and appreciate.
What an outstanding year we’ve had at the farm! Believe me, not all of them have been as abundant as this. It’s a great time to review the season and examine what made this year so productive and what we will be doing differently next year.
Hang in there till then end, this post is rather extended…
2022 Lessons Learned & Looking Forward to 2023
It is becoming clearer every year that the tomatoes and peppers need a little shade. It just gets too hot out here in the summer and the fruit is getting sun scald. We will create shaded areas using shade cloth fixed to t-posts that run the length of each row. It’s a new technique, I’ll let you know how this idea finalizes next year.
The Weeds Problem
I would lay mulch over my whole garden if I had access to enough material throughout the season without having to buy hay. However, it’s a pretty sizable plot and this can be challenging to get covered. The trick with mulch is to continue laying down more as the weeds and grass come through. I experimented on a section of my garden by laying down a first layer of cardboard and then covering it with grass clippings. The problem was that I needed way more grass than what I had coming from the lawn! It worked awesome for the areas that it covered, but it will need a few reapplications to make it work for the season.
No mulch, no problem. Just get down with that hula hoe and be aggressive about it early in the spring as everything is growing like crazy. There is no easy way around the fact of weeds other than to be diligent. If you have a teenager or know one, I’d pay good money for that kind of help. You could also offer a work trade system for people who are willing to put time in for produce. This is also a great way to get bigger projects done on time, such as planting and transplanting days.
I have been told that perhaps I plant too many tomatoes every year. It could be…
I canned enough sauce, salsa, and ketchup to last at least until next summer! There was enough extra to sell to our local store, to some friends who needed bushels for canning, to a fundraiser event for burger fixings, and when there were still tomatoes weighing down the vines, I opened it up to people who wanted to glean the last of what was left before the first frost.
So, I admit, it could be a bit much. I guess the reason I go so big on the tomato patch is that some years the tomatoes don’t thrive, and I always want to make sure that I have enough for canning. It does seem like I always have plenty and could probably get away with planting half the number.
It’s ok if I start too many tomato plants (this is what I tell myself). I don’t have to plant them all, and I can always find homes for the ones who didn’t make it in the ground.
The other issue with so many tomatoes is that it takes a lot of work to tie those babies up, so they don’t flop all over the ground. I also spent a lot of time pruning them and cleaning out the lower leaves that touch the soil. Next year I’ll be giving them twice as much space and using plant cages to support their growth. This should make it easier than the method I used this year, which was using t-posts and wire and then tie the branches to the line with jute string.
We had a little issue with the timing of pepper plants this year. This had to do with the fact that we were moving during early spring and had relocated my pepper starts that I grew from seed to a new spot. They didn’t like that and went into a shock which stopped growth for a long time. I ended up buying starts from the nursery because mine were looking so sad. The problem here was that by the time I bought the starts it was already well into planting time, and these plants had been sitting in their tiny 6-packs for too long. You can tell by the way a plant looks ‘leggy’ as it it’s stretching for more light and grow space. I planted them into the garden right away, but these plants also went into shock and had a very slow recovery before they started to snap out of it, root down, and put on some size. My peppers were behind the tomatoes in growth, so it ended up not being ready when I was doing all of my salsa canning. Next year should go more smoothly with no mid-season moves.
Tomatillo Let Down
Oh my tomatillos…. this is the second year of not such a great harvest after what looked to be a promising year. Last year I started them too early and the plants were huge by the time they went into the ground. Not an effective strategy because the plants are difficult to handle at this size and it’s easy to break branches. We didn’t get enough pollination last year, so very little fruit. This year I planted them later and they were the perfect size, about 1′ tall just like the tomatoes. Everything was great until the flea beetle infestation (see my previous post). The bugs eventually ran their course but then it seemed that we had other problems. Our watering system wasn’t working efficiently at that end of the garden they just didn’t seem like they were getting consistent water. They also were planted too close together, and it created a tomatillo jungle, which is not great for when it comes to harvesting unless you’re into that kind of harvesting from a ground crawl. We got enough to make a few batches of salsa, but that is nothing compared to what it should have been considering the number of plants. Again, I’ll be planting a third of what we did this year, giving them more room, bigger holes, and plant cages to sprawl in every direction like they want to.
In all honesty, I really love this plant. Unfortunately, aphids and little green caterpillars also love this plant. I’ll tell you what I’ve learned so far in how to get better results. Hands down, your spring and fall kale are going to be more vigorous and tastier because it prefers cool temperatures. As weather warms, bugs thrive, so its immunity is weakened during the summer. Start your seeds in late winter, transplant to larger pots as needed, get them to a nice healthy size (6″-12″) and transplant out into the garden in early spring. Give them several early rounds of different types of spray (B-1, Spinosad, Monterey BT) before transplanting them into the garden. Clean the plants up often, pick lower leaves that are damaged and continue to spray once a week. You can also use Dr. Bronner’s soap diluted in water to kill any bugs that are showing up. Don’t give up, kale is worth all the effort!
One of my favorite and fast-growing vegetables to grow is green beans. They are fantastic as a ferment, eaten fresh, or sauteed with butter and garlic. We planted several rounds of beans throughout the summer, and it was such a treat to have them in the veggie mix throughout the season. They are easier to grow than many other crops and you get a few harvests on each planting. We tried the Royal Purple beans this year, and although they are slow to get going, once they do it continues to produce for a long time and even seems to thrive under cooler temperatures.
Beets in Blocks
I have always understood it to be the case that beets don’t transplant well. Just like carrots, beets are a root crop, and their tap root cannot be obstructed in its reach down into the soil. Well I tried it anyway because we were having some issues with germination using the direct seed method. Mice were getting to the little seedlings and the soil could have used some more compost to lighten it up. I tried starting the seeds using the soil blocking method. I thinned them to be only three to a block and transplanted them as soon as I saw the first set of true leaves. The results were a success! Our beet rows were more evenly filled in because all the transplants lived.
Winter Squash Happiness
My goal with the winter squash is to grow enough to last all the way through to the very end of the season, right before spring crops start to come in. It’s nice to also have some extras to give away to your friends and neighbors. Well, we knocked it out of the park this year and grew several hundreds of pounds! My goodness these plants just partied this summer and we had some of the largest spaghetti squash I’ve ever seen. So what’s the secret? Big holes, plenty of nutrients, and a layer of decomposing hay with dried out cow patties on top. We also gave them several rounds of compost tea. One other thing I noticed is that there were lots of bees doing the essential work of pollination. I’ll be writing a Squash in Review post soon after we have our tasting party! Stay tuned…
Flower Power Pollinators
After last year’s noticeable drop in bee population (partly due to the previous year’s devastating forest fire), we decided to plant more pollinator attracting plants such as buckwheat, borage and assorted flowers. It was a huge attraction and there were significantly more bees all over the garden. I did not have an issue with pollination this year, even with crops such as squash and corn which can at times require hand pollination with a paint brush.
Lastly, the winner for all around best key to happy plants, is give them plenty of your finest brew of compost tea. There are different types of tea you can make, and they all are easy to get going and require minor setup. There is a recipe and instructions in my new 2023 Gardening Calendar, and you can also start digging into some YouTube videos and learn all about the amazing world of soil microbiology.
There is nothing more rewarding to me for all this hard work than to prepare a meal for myself, family and friends using vegetables grown on our little farm that I personally cared for from seed to harvest. I can honestly say that for the last year, I was not dependent upon the grocery store for produce. All home grown, all the way, for the rest of my days! This is true wealth that feeds.
Thank You for Reading
I wish abundance for all during this time of harvests, reflection and sharing…
Keep on getting down and low with the Earth and start planning ahead for 2023, it’s not too early!
Shauna Mayfield – Thera Phase Art