First Year in the Garden
According to my (spotty) records, I planted the first vegetables in the garden on 23 February last year. So it’s time to assess.
That day I planted a row of lettuce, a row of spinach & three potatoes. All but one of the lettuce plants and all of the spinach became bird food. Darn! Two of the potato plants were also lost. But the third one did eventually give me a dozen potatoes, and they were the best-tasting potatoes I’ve had in years!
After the debacle with the greens, it was time to plant beans. The instructions said to plant a few beans every week for a month or more. This is supposed to spread out the harvest so one doesn’t end up with 25 gallons of beans all within one week. Well, my dirt wasn’t all that productive, and only once did I even get enough beans to make a decent side-dish. The rest of the summer I got one or two or sometimes three beans a week, and they didn’t even make it indoors because I munched on them while doing other things around the garden. But again, they were the most excellent beans!
Side note: the wax beans did better than the green beans. Both were bush-type plants, because I didn’t feel up to building a trellis for the runner kind. I’ll plant more wax beans this year.
Once the hundred-degree weather arrived in May, and with an evil eye out at those birds, I started covering everything for most of the day using an old bed-net. It probably cut out less than 20% of the sun, but the plants seemed happy to have it. In June I planted a bell pepper plant, which said it wanted full sun but also seemed happier under the netting.
Then, in July it started raining. Up to then, I had been watering with untreated water from the well. I used a (black) soaker hose and watered in the evening around sundown. By that time of day though, the water coming out of the hose was pretty warm(!). The water wasn’t really spraying on the plants, and they didn’t seem to mind much. But they really liked the water that fell right out of the sky! Everything looked so much happier with the rain.
Finally, I planted cucumbers, sunflowers and tomato seedlings. I got six tomato plants, but only had room in the bed for three. They were determinate-type, and were caged; the other three were planted in pots, but they didn’t like that and died. I think the dirt in the pots didn’t have enough organic mulch and had too much sand — it baked up pretty hard and the plants just didn’t like it. The three plants out in the dirt did fine though, and eventually there were more tomatoes than I could eat. The cucumbers also did well, and the sunflowers were pretty to look at. They weren’t the eating kind though, and I think I’ll get that kind next time. The ones I have got to be about four feet high, and provided a nice support for the three cucumber plants, which eventually took over half the garden bed.
In October when everything was about finished (except the tomatoes), I planted “winter garden” things: peas, carrots and more lettuce and spinach. The spinach did not sprout. The peas and lettuce sprouted but didn’t do anything much. A surprise potato appeared — apparently I hadn’t pulled quite all of them. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long — I think I over-watered it.
Winter came, and there was a freeze in late December. I covered everything and left a little light on under there, but the light didn’t really produce enough heat. The tomato plants were puddles of black mush by morning. Fortunately I had picked most of them in preparation, so there wasn’t really much lost there.
We ended the year with just a smidge over our average 13.5 inches of rain, so that was a good thing. The deeper part of the tree moat gets a regular puddle when it rains, and that’s also a good thing. I’m still digging on that — at least when the temperature is above 60°F. I hate being cold.
So, to sum up: I got a dozen potatoes, about 50 green and wax beans, a bit of lettuce (from the one plant that wasn’t eaten by birds), 5 bell peppers, 6 cucumbers and about 25 tomatoes. Back when I was surveying the burnt and beaten dirt in my yard, I set my expectations for the garden pretty low: a handful of beans and a dozen tomatoes. I definitely beat that, and (re-)discovered how great vegetables taste when they come out of your own yard!
Now, how can I do this better? First, start the potatoes at least a month earlier. Also, I didn’t “hill them up” properly last year, so I did it differently this time. (Pictures maybe next week.) The bed-net will need to be replaced, but the shade cloth I’m seeing around here looks too shady, so I have to think of something else or maybe look more diligently for 10-20% shade cloth. The head lettuce didn’t “head”, and the leaf lettuce I have going now isn’t quite what I wanted either, so I need to keep looking at new varieties there. Plants need less water in winter, so I need to cut back earlier than I did. And, of course, I need more room — which means I need to keep moving on the tree-moat and finish it so that I can start digging the other garden bed. I’m planning to have that bed ready by next January.
In unrelated news, I got my driveway graded! My neighbor has a front-loader, and after it rains he sometimes goes out and scrapes our road. This is much appreciated by (probably) all 20 people who live on this road, heh. Last time he went out, I caught up with him and asked that he have a scrape or two at my driveway, and he was nice enough to do that. The meter-reader will probably appreciate it too.
Lastly, have a picture of a Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis) butterfly: