Harvest Times

EEk! Sorry everyone - I missed September entirely. Oh well, at least I have a lot to say about the garden.

As you may remember, I've been growing my first real attempt at a garden this year, with a 12x4 foot raised bed. Last time I wrote I was complaining about the water ban, but that's certainly not a problem anymore! I've harvested just about everything now (a little less than I was hoping). What remains is to pick the carrots, beets, and turnip, and to prepare the garden for the winter.

Good news first!

The tomato plants grew wonderfully all summer, and a few began to ripen in August. By that time, whenever I visited the garden I would pluck off any new growth on the plants to make sure they devoted their energy to the tomatoes already there. I became worried as it got into September and I still had a lot of rock hard green tomatoes. I extended the season as best I could by covering them (with a bed sheet) one night there was a frost warning. In the end I had 9 lbs of mostly green tomatoes in my last harvest, and I probably picked 2 or 3 lbs before that. I know from past experience that many of them will ripen on the windowsill, but the ones that ripen on the vine are tastier. Another method for coaxing green tomatoes to ripen is placing them in a container with other ripening tomatoes or a ripening banana or apple. I've had the most luck with leaving them in the sun, near a window. I believe it's the heat which is important. I'm planning on canning some kind of green tomato chutney this weekend :). I didn't have much of a plan for staking my tomatoes, and I think next year I'll try those wire cone things.

I had three different kinds or tomatoes planted, and the ones that best managed to ripen early were a variety called Latah, whose seeds I bought from Mike Rabinowitz. A lot of them looked pretty funky, with spiky bits growing out, but I picked a big one and am currently saving its seeds.

The potatoes were quite successful! They required no work at all, and produced about 4 lbs of medium to small potatoes per Rubbermaid (52 litre containers, I think). I harvested when the leaf part died back. Next year I'll try the stacking method, and maybe growing in rows right in the ground as well. Unfortunately I didn't really know what kind of potatoes I had planted. Some were the ecospuds they sell in the supermarket, and the others were some seed potatoes given to me by a friend. Both did fine. I know a bit more about the different potato types for cooking, and will order exactly what I want next year.

Bad News

None of my summer or winter squash produced much of anything. I have one little something that might be a spaghetti squash. All the plants grew wonderfully, but with disease and lack of fertilization nothing stuck. Lots of promising looking zucchinis rotted. The pumpkin plants grew very far, but seemed to never grow any female flowers. Oh well. I think I would try to avoid buying any from a nursery again, as they all had some kind of squash fungus. The cucumbers were exactly the same.

I'm living at a new house with a backyard(!) (this garden is at my father's), where I've already built two 4x4 raised beds. I think any squash plants really need to be on their own, where they can't shade out anything else. I think I might try some zucchini again this year, but all together in one 4x4 bed. I may also try planting flowers to attract pollinating insects...

What else...? I only ever got one little head of broccoli (only one plant, of course), but it trampled over several other plants, so I think staying away from it next year. The poor onions were all knocked over and covered by zucchini and that one broccoli. As a result of that and planting them late they didn't get very big, but I still ate them :). I never had much luck with any of the greens I planted, which is pretty surprising. Some of the seeds were bad (last year's). Again, I think they were planted too late, and it was too warm for some of them. I'm also not sure about where I planted them. I tried a late planting, and that didn't work too well. Not warm enough? Not enough compost? Definitely needs some work.

What was I thinking planting corn!? Haha. The stalks grew pretty well (half size, anyway), but when it came time for the corn to actually start growing out of those... not so much. I know pretty much nothing about plant biology. Every time I look something up I'm totally amazed. The flower bits from the top of the plant have to make their way into the little crevices made by the leaves coming off the stalk, which is where the corn cobs will grow, if fertilized. The chances of that happening when you have only four plants seems low. Perhaps corn is best left to farmers with vast fields of the stuff. If you do grow corn in your backyard let me know!

Planning and Design

I think most of my problems have to do with not planning out the layout of my bed well enough. I actually did plan, but I made some bad decisions. I decided to put the tomatoes in the sunniest part of the garden (good), where they would shade half of the other plants (bad). Tall things should go in the back. This was my first time planting a lot of this stuff, so now I know a lot more about how it grows. I wouldn't put squash next to anything else it could trample. I have 2x2 sections of carrots, beets and turnip in a row, in that order. The beets came up the shortest and get crowded out by the carrots and turnips. Next year I would make sure the shortest vegetables grew on the southern edge of the bed.

At any rate, I'm very excited for next year's garden. Every failure or success gets me thinking about how to do it better next time. I still need to harvest my carrots, beets and turnips (now that there's been a frost) and plant some garlic this weekend. I'll write again soon about how that turns out.

Happy Harvest Season!