I’m in denial that sweaters and slippers are starting to come out of the closet, we haven’t swam in the lake for weeks, and the air conditioners have come out of the windows. Fall is here y’all. And while I love fall and all of the upcoming holidays and traditions, I’m secretly mourning the end of summer.
This year has truly been the year of the garden for our family. We’ve spent a ton of time this spring and summer expanding our vegetable garden; all of us, including Rowan. As we’ve been working to harvest all of the vegetables in the beds and prepping them for winter, I wanted to go through and share a little garden tour. I like the idea of having a garden tour each year so we can look back on past gardens and see how the garden has grown. Without further ado, the great garden tour of 2019.
First, let’s give a little overview of how the garden has evolved. Here’s a sketch of the 2018 garden:
And a sketch of the 2019 garden:
I told you we were busy! And here’s a run down of what we planted in each bed. Columns left to right, then top to bottom.
First Column: (1) zucchini squash, (2) summer squash, (3) peas, (4) peas, (5) lettuces/spinach, (6) lettuces/spinach.
Second Column: (1) green peppers, (2) jalapenos, (3) poblanos, (4) banana peppers, (5) black beans/green beans, (6) peas/lettuces/spinach.
Third Column: (1) banana peppers, (2) black beans/green beans, (3) kale, lettuces, spinach.
Fourth Column: (1) roma tomatoes, (2) broccoli/kohlrabi, (3) swiss chard/radishes/scallions.
Fifth Column: (1) roma tomatoes, (2) spaghetti squash, (3) roma tomatoes, (4) broccoli/zucchini squash, (5) carrots, (6) rhubarb/basil.
Sixth Column: (1) roma tomatoes, (2) winter squash, (3) peas/cucumbers/lettuces/basil, (4) broccoli/summer squash, (5) peas/green beans, (6) grape tomatoes.
Seventh Column: (1) cherry tomatoes, (2) cherry tomatoes, (3) cherry tomatoes.
I am mad proud of the progress that we made in the garden this year. We sunk a lot of time and money into the garden expansion. Building about 20 new raised beds including surrounds to keep the groundhogs (and Merle) out of many of those beds. Investing in trellis systems, stakes, and other supports. We even built a grow room in our basement complete with grow lights for seedlings. Even with those additional costs, we made it back and then some. The last time I checked my spreadsheet, we had harvested almost $1800 worth of vegetables with many more harvests still to do.
Colby and I have officially had a vegetable garden each summer for about 7 or 8 years now. You would think that by now we would know what we’re doing, but we definitely don’t. I considered us novice gardeners until this summer. This year’s garden has been by far the largest we’ve grown and we definitely learned our fair share of lessons for growing on a larger scale. We have an ultimate goal of growing the majority of our vegetables for a year. This year’s garden was the biggest step we’ve made so far in figuring out how to do that.
I thought it would be fun, since we’re at the tail end of the gardening season, to look back on the lessons we learned this year.
Single Stemming Tomato Plants Is The Way To Go
This has easily been the biggest growth moment for me as a gardener. For years, YEARS, I was buying determinate tomato seeds and using tomato cages. Note: determinate plants grow to a fixed height and indeterminate plants just keep growing taller. I have notoriously crammed as many tomato plants as I could into a single bed. My plants were always unhealthy and the harvests were pretty minimal considering how many plants there were. Most of my roma tomato beds this year started off with tomato cages. Then two things happened that changed my tomato gardening life forever. One, I found some free indeterminate cherry tomato seeds at a yard sale. Two, I came across the MI Gardener on YouTube while researching how to stake indeterminate tomato plants.
You guys…game changer! As an experiment, I planted one bed of my roma tomatoes (which are determinate plants so it wasn’t the fairest experiment) using cages and another bed of single stemming. I planted the same amount of tomato plants in each bed. By picking off the suckers and encouraging the plants to grow more upward than outward like a bush, I easily harvested twice as many tomatoes from the single stemming bed than the other. Sold! Plus my plants looked healthier, tomatoes ripened faster, and I could more easily pick off pests…I’m looking at you tomato hornworm! Speaking of…
Tomato Hornworms Are The Worst
Yes, yes they are THE WORST! I hate these things with every fiber of my being. They are ginormous, they are gross, and I want chickens next year to eat these things so I don’t have to stomp them in discreet locations to keep our dog from eating them. So gross!
Most nights when I get home, Rowan and I head up to the garden to plant, pick, water, or sometimes just admire our handiwork. There was a month-long period in which we spent most of our early evening gardening time picking tomato hornworms off our plants. Rowan loved it. She collected them in a bucket that our dog kept trying to steal tasty hornworm snacks from. I despised tomato hornworm eradication and squealed every time I plucked and stomped one.
One night after a hornworm massacre, Rowan starts having a complete and utter meltdown for no apparent reason. We’re in the living room and she’s crying, “hornworm bite me, hornworm bite me” over and over again. She was convinced that a hornworm had bitten her. Poor Ro Ro. Maybe I shouldn’t let her play with hornworms anymore?! What do the parenting books say about that?!
Canning Jars Break
So you guys, here’s a little tip for you. Canning jars break if you store them in your crazy hot attic for five years and then use them to can banana peppers. AND it’s seriously heartbreaking. You spend all this time growing a ridiculous amount of banana peppers because your family eats an equally ridiculous amount of pickled banana peppers throughout the year. You use some of your precious vacation time from work to spend the day canning the ridiculous amount of banana peppers. Then about half of the jars you painstakingly filled break while processing in a hot water bath leaving you with a ridiculous mess to deal with. I may have cried. A lot. So learn from my mistake, do not store your old canning jars in a hot attic.
Peppers Produce So Much More When You Start Them Early Under Grow Lights
I didn’t really intend to grow as many banana peppers as I did. It was kind of a happy accident. Here’s the story. In the past seven or eight years of gardening, we have always tried to grow peppers. Living in a Northern climate, we knew we had to start them early and inside in order to get a harvest of peppers. In years past, a few weeks before I started tomato seedlings, I would start our peppers. The plants sat on windowsills and grew until the small seedlings could be planted outside. We would tend our little pepper plants but would only get 2 or 3 peppers per plant, typically in mid to late September, before a frost would come along and put a stop to that.
Fast forward to this year. I wanted to can the banana peppers for the winter, factored in the 2 or 3 peppers I anticipated getting from each plant and then determined I would need about 60-ish plants to get about two dozen jars worth. What I didn’t factor in was what the grow light system would do.
I started my peppers mid to late February like I did the year before not anticipating the grow lights would make the plants grow SO…MUCH…BIGGER. And bigger they grew. I definitely started them too early since I was transplanting them outside at over a foot tall with blossoms on them.
We have had prolific harvests of peppers this year with each doing so well. In total, I have picked hundreds of peppers, barely keeping up with how much each plant produces. There are already about 30 jars of pickled banana peppers on the shelf with a few more canning rounds to go. It’s almost a good thing we’ve had so many exploding canning jars. Almost.
Kids Love Gardening Too
This. This right here has been the BEST lesson. I have absolutely loved spending time with Rowan in the garden. She’s at that great age where she loves mommy and wants to do everything mommy does. I’m just over here soaking it all up!
I love it when she pulls out her own set of gardening tools, gloves, and a kneeling pad and sits down beside me to help weed a garden bed. Or when she “spoils” her dinner by picking and eating cherry tomatoes right off the vine. Heck, she’s even been known to chomp down on a head of broccoli freshly picked from the garden.
Gardening with my daughter has been a blast and we’ve created memories I will forever cherish. I adore picking green beans with that child and how excited she gets to pick them and put them in her own harvesting basket. I treasure these days and hope she remembers them as fondly as I will.
My sister-in-law Liz or “Aunt Tiz” as she’s affectionately known by her nieces and nephew, came to visit this summer with some of her friends from NYC. I wasn’t in the best of moods that day as I was struggling with other, completely unrelated things (curse you work stress!). I was giving everyone a house tour when one of the tour-ies, who had just come from our vegetable garden, commented on what an idyllic childhood Rowan gets to lead.
That comment stopped me dead in my grumpy tracks as a wave of gratefulness washed over me. I thought, “Yes, it really is a great way to grow up.” I take it for granted that Rowan’s norm of growing most of what you eat and spending most of your days outside (even her daycare goes for daily nature walks in the woods), is not most kids’ norm. It’s that gratefulness that helped me get past my garden failures. Where are my fellow enneagram 1s?! Like when the vine borers annihilated my spaghetti squash. Or when I waited too long to pick the green beans. Or when I planted WAY too many beans on the bean tower.
On that note, I’ll end our little garden tour. It’s high time I get back to canning those banana peppers while sending up “please don’t break” prayers to the harvest gods while processing my jars.
Pssst…For those of you who tended a veggie garden this summer, what was your biggest lesson learned?