The first snow of the year fell recently. We had our first night with temperatures well below freezing (I think I heard 12 degrees). The growing season is coming to a close. On top of that, I have less than a month until the community garden insists that my plot is fully cleaned out.
This was my first time growing a full-size garden. The plots at the community garden are around 16’x25’, for a total of about 400 sqft. Prior to this, I had never had more than a few containers and window boxes, so there was a relatively steep learning curve. In spite of many foibles early in the season and many seeds that were planted and never showed, by the end of the season I was drowning in produce. This fits the emotional roller coaster that I have experienced every other time I planted anything as well.
When I grew things in my indoor winter garden I would get comments all the time about my green green thumb. But that is never something I considered myself to have. I would plant my seeds and worry about them constantly until they properly took hold. And once that happened, they usually withstood any mistreatment or neglect I threw their way. These plants want to survive and reproduce like any other living thing–it is not so hard to create an environment in which they flourish if you pay a little attention.
The garden turned out the same way. I worried over it nonstop in the early season, and many things did not work out as intended, but by the end of the season I had more produce than I knew what to do with. Those plants wanted to grow just as much as I wanted them to.
So, my garden succeeded. For months I have been eating tons of vegetables out of it and more recently I have begun putting up lots of nice things for the winter. I’ve learned to can a few things, and what I can’t water-bath can (like greens), I have been cooking and freezing for the winter.
It was a good year in the garden and I learned a ton. While it did all work out in the end to provide me with plenty of delicious vegetables, there are a number of things that I will do differently next time. Here are a few:
Ground cloth and mulch over a significant area to deter weeds:
One of my neighbors in the community garden built up raised beds and covered everything else with ground cloth and mulch. They overdid it in my mind, leaving way too little growing space, but their garden was much lower maintenance than mine. Somewhere in the middle would be perfect, with enough coverage to reduce my weed problems, but not so much that I am cutting down on my available growing space.
Raised beds with better soil:
Again, this was neighbor envy. I am putting some of my germination problems down to low quality soil, and raised beds seems like a way to add the good stuff particularly for germination. The other solution would be to just spend a bit more time and money amending my soil before next season.
Trellises for cucumbers and cages for tomatoes:
I decided to see what would happen if I just let my cucumber and tomato plants grow without any support. Both worked out well and produced lots of fruits for me, but I think next time around both of these will get some support. The biggest issues here were slugs getting at my tomatoes and losing track of cucumbers under the foliage until they had been on the vine too long and were too bitter to eat. The dense foliage of the tomato plants created a moist environment conducive to slugs and the tomatoes were sitting on the ground in easy reach. I lost lots of good tomatoes to the surprising appetites of those slimy little bastards. I think the plants would’ve been happier and I would have lost many fewer tomatoes if I’d supported the tomato stalks.
Solid tomato starts (and others) to get in the ground early:
My indoor starts this year just did not work out. A few of the pepper plants made it, but most of them either died before I had a chance to put them in the ground (due to my forgetting the tray outside one day), or were rootbound when I did plant them. Next year I will pay more attention to getting seeds started at the right time and protecting them during the plant out. It is very nice to give your plants a head start like that and I really hate buying my starts.
I saw a lot of folks protecting their young tomato plants with some sort of wrap-around plastic thing that kept bugs off and slowly dispensed water for them. A few of those seem like they’d be a good investment. But I would likely also implement some row covers for my seedlings to keep off the flea beetles.
Herb garden for deterrent plants as well as specialties like mint, lavender, etc.:
I have read a lot about herbs deterring insect pests from the garden. I would love to plan a garden surrounded by things like mint and lavender, both to have those herbs on hand all the time and also to keep some of the pests out of my garden space.
I was foolish and did not set up my automatic watering system until very late in the season. There was an advantage in that I was in my garden to water every single day, which allowed me to more closely observe how everything was growing. I think I learned a lot by seeing the plants every day. But it was an enormous hassle to have to go every single day for fifteen or twenty minutes. Next time I will definitely get the sprinklers out much earlier.
Add a chair and some shade:
I cultivated nearly all of the 400 sqft in my garden plot this year. As it turns out, that produces more food than I can reasonably eat. I didn’t waste much, but I think next time around I will set aside a bit of space for a couple chairs and an umbrella. It would be nice to have a comfortable spot to sit and enjoy the garden.
Those are just a few of the action items for next season. The list is too long to write out in full here.
All in all, it was a great season. I grew way more than I thought I would and I learned so much. Next time around will be much easier, though I am certain I will continue to make many mistakes and learn just as much each year.
Near the end of the season, with snow in the forecast, I was out gathering a large harvest to dispense to my friends in town. As I was filling old paper grocery bags with greens and root vegetables, I had a moment where I was struck by the magic of gardening. If I hadn’t put those seeds in the ground, that crop of food would not have existed. It was the plants that did the real work, I simply put the seeds in the right place and gave them what they needed. But the land in the front range is not particularly productive–without someone working it, it likely would have been grassland. Instead, with a little guidance and the introduction of a bunch of seeds strange to the area, this little plot of four hundred square feet gave forth many delicious meals. And there is a certain magic in that. It is a wonderful thing to tend a garden, nurturing and encouraging plants as they perform their own alchemy to bring forth nourishing food for you.
If I were to look at the amount of time and money put into the garden versus the vegetables I brought home, it likely did not make financial sense. Vegetables are cheap, and my time is relatively valuable. But that feeling of connection to nature and the creation and collection of nourishment for myself and those I love supersedes money. You simply cannot put a price on something like that.