Let’s jump straight from how-to-start-your-garden to well-that-was-fun! I failed to provide updates throughout the spring and summer, but I’m happy to report that the garden was mostly a success. Some things did VERY well, others failed to produce, but our small garden on 3rd Street produced a bunch of fresh veggies and will continue to do so through the winter. Click through to read about some of our successes and failures.
- Lettuce: Our spring planting of lettuce enabled on-demand salads until it was too hot to maintain tasty greens. We planted a variety of lettuce where our peppers and tomatoes would eventually go. I can’t recommend this strategy enough. Plant lettuce throughout a bed, remove (and eat) the lettuce where you need to plant your warm weather seedlings, then continue harvesting your lettuce until it’s either too hot or your new veggies need more room.
- Peppers: We planted a few different types of peppers. Long and thin sweet peppers, standard bell peppers, hot chinese ornamental peppers, and jalapenos. The sweet varieties (we opted for banana peppers) produced a copious amount of yellow and red peppers best enjoyed fresh in a salad or on a sandwich. They can be picked at any time but are most flavorful when allowed to ripen to red on the plant.
- Herbs: As expected, the herbs proved to be a solid supply of flavor for any summer cooking. Dill and basil were our favorites. You can never have too much basil. We have a few very large plants that we’re about to turn into pesto for the winter.
- Cucumbers: This was our first season of successfully growing cucumbers. We trained our plants up a pair of tripods made of bamboo so they took up much less space than if they were allowed to meander across the ground. Home-grown cucumbers are a world apart from store-bought cucumbers, and just a few plants will produce more than you’re able to eat. We made cucumber dips, ate them in salads and on sandwiches, and even made fresh refrigerator pickles. We were often guilty of leaving them on the vine too long where they get large, seedy, and eventually bitter, but so as long as you pick them before they become bitter they can always be seeded and enjoyed in any number of ways.
- Tomatoes: Our tomato bed was mostly a success–our tallest plants grew to be over eight feet tall–but I think we were a bit over-zealous. In an attempt to squeeze as much productivity out of our tiny yard as possible I think we crowded our tomato plants. This resulted in disease-prone plants that didn’t produce as long as they could have. But while they were going we had a steady supply of tomatoes for ensalate caprese, homemade marinara sauces, and deliciously fresh sandwiches.
- Green beans: These were so easy! They love to climb and will produce fresh, crisp green beans all season long. Two warnings: (1) stay on top of your harvests, otherwise you get tough, stringy green beans and your plants will stop producing, and (2) watch out for slugs! Slugs loved our green beans, so we could often be seen with a flashlight at midnight, picking slugs off of our tender seedlings, or setting beer traps (slugs love beer and will drown themselves in a shallow tray of beer). Once your plants establish themselves you can stop worrying, but it was touch-and-go in the beginning.
- Mulching with shredded straw: I ran a few handfuls of straw through my leaf shredder to produce an ideal mulch. A good mulch retains moisture, keeps the ground cool in the hottest weeks, keeps down weeds, and eventually supplies the soil with additional organic matter. Shredded straw did all of this and practically melts into the soil by the time you’re done with it. The resulting soil is dark, crumbly, and perfect for an organic garden. Unfortunately my shredder died halfway through the season, so I wasn’t able to mulch everything this way. If you don’t want another single-use power tool, a weed-whacker and a trash can could do the trick.
There’s no doubt that our garden was a success, but a number of experiments didn’t turn out as we had hoped.
- Our backyard: Veggies need sun. Our shady backyard proved to be a hostile environment for anything we tried to grow. This fact combined with the general swampiness of our backyard resulted in a very large garden pot storage area and composting space. Lesson learned: abandon the backyard.
- Topsy-Turvy hanging tomato planters: The neighborhood kids recognized them from the infomercials, and I know other people have had great success with them, but we had some of the saddest looking tomato plants you’ve ever seen growing from our three upside-down tomato planters. Lesson learned: keep it in the ground.
- Squash: We planted squash as an afterthought. As such, we didn’t give them enough space and constantly forgot to harvest their bounty. Those plants that produced gave us gigantic squash, bereft of flavor and full of seeds. Those that failed to produce tried to climb across our front fence and eventually locked our gate shut. Luckily I am stronger than squash vine tendrils.
- Watermelon: Again, watermelon likes to wander. I thought I would be able to grow them up a trellis like our cucumbers, but they weren’t having it. I’ve heard that it can be done, so I’m not sure whether to blame the trellis attempt or the lack of space.
- Early season broccoli and brussels sprouts: I think it was a lack of space again. Either way, no kid’s-worst-nightmare veggies for us.
- Potato bins: We used dedicated potato bags that allow you to pile more soil on top of the plants, thus producing more potatoes. The harvest was embarrassingly small, but those potatoes we did harvest were amazingly tender and flavorful. Again, it would probably be a different story with more space to put them in the ground.
- Our treebox: We didn’t give the soil out there enough attention, so nothing did very well out there. It was kind of an afterthought, and it showed.
We’ve now pulled out our beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers so that we can get a headstart on our fall/winter garden. Everything is much lower to the ground now. It’s as if the plants cling to the ground in anticipation of a cold winter. After ripping everything out and amending the soil with more compost, we planted swiss chard, kale, tat soi, carrots, radish, spinach, lettuce, green onions, and arugula. If last winter was any condition, much of this should survive through the winter. We’ll be using some row covers during the coldest weeks, and some plants may suffer through a hard freeze, but much will survive and provide an early spring harvest.
How did your garden fare?
5 thoughts on “Fall Garden Update”
this is an awesome update for our wouldbe gardeners, thanks patrick.
Loved your garden story, Caryn. I don’t have much space but am going to try tomatoes next summer as I have plenty of sunshine…Will you be able to harvest any of the veggies your are planting through the winter before Spring?
Carol, This was an awesome article, but unfortunately, the only thing i planted were some herbs which did fine, and some tomatoes which wilted in the shade of the back yard. Oh well. Patrick and his gf Ama live a few doors down from me and they are the supremo gardeners. Another front yard mega gardener is Kristin, who lives on 3rd, near Bates.
Patrick, what grows and harvests in the winter?
We regularly harvested lettuce, spinach, and radishes through most of the winter. Some of it froze completely during late December and January, but by March a lot of it had sprung back.
This year we plan to use some row covers to see if we can’t prolong the harvest, and a few new (to us) crops like kale and tat soi are actually supposed to taste better after a frost.
My lessons from this summer:
1) pumpkins will take over the garden
2) my squash did well, and seemed to flourish once other flowers were in bloom to attract the pollinators
3) my cherry tomato plant trained along the fence and produced at least a quart every week. i finally cut it down because it was getting a little unruly and i want to repurpose its container
4) okra does not do well in containers. i moved some to the ground late in the summer, but next season will just start with the ground
5) turkish orange eggplants are beautiful, but actually taste better the sooner you pick them (i.e. still mostly green)