|Putting the garden 'to bed' in November|
|The hay mulch will be (if all goes well) a great weed barrier and the dirt/worm life underneath should be healthier when not interrupted.|
Perhaps it is because I am sick to death of bright, blaring white. Perhaps I am longing for the warmth of sunshine. Maybe it has been too long since I had a fresh tomato... whatever the reason, I've been thinking garden thoughts lately and one of the things I have been thinking about is how the 2013 garden went; what I liked, what I didn't, what I should do better, what I should try, what I should get rid of.
Here's what I am thinking:
* This will be the first year for a truly no-till garden here at Hopestead. I tried to bed it down the year before in the fall but I didn't have enough hay so when spring came around, it was impossibly weedy. Now, I don't know about you- but when it is finally time to plant, you don't want to have to WEED first. That's just wrong. Thankfully, a kind neighbor came and tilled for me in spring allowing me to get off scotch free. As I planted, I laid out cardboard and hay mulch around the plants to keep the weeds down. While I've read all the stuff that says that hay mulch is the way to go and how the dirt and organisms will be more healthy without tilling (and agree with it)- and I enjoy not weeding as often (it is helpful for weeding!)- it is A LOT OF WORK to maintain. It wouldn't be bad if I had just a small garden, but I don't. I have a large garden. And then two other garden beds on top of that. First, we have to seek out free rotten hay. (A lot.) Then, we have to borrow a truck and trailer to haul it. (Usually twice.) Then, I have to break my back for several days spreading it all around in VERY thick layers. So, we'll see this year if the effort was worth it. If not, I guess I should start saving now for a plow attachment for Matt's tractor. After all, you can't depend upon the kindness of neighbors forever. Well, you COULD. But you SHOULDN'T. ;-)
* Last year I bought the lights to make grow lights for seedlings but Matt never got around to making the shelving for it. I am really hoping he does this year so I can start more healthy seedlings. If not, there is a local Amish woman who has a greenhouse where I can get cheaper plants. But I really want to use my own seeds. (Pretty please, Mattie?)
* Carrots: They don't keep well for me. And though they are yummy- and a few are truly beautiful- the majority aren't lovely and long and lush in our hard, stony clay soil. (Try peeling a curly carrot!) I don't think I am going to waste the space to grow them this year. Carrots are cheap at the store anyway and I ought to be able to utilize that space to grow something more useful.
* Beets: I waited too long to harvest some of the beets last year. The skin was hard and the flesh was stringy. I love beets. Love beet greens. Love eating them, love canning them. They will be staying in the garden but I have to be more diligent with them and harvest them when they are still tender.
* Watermelons- what a treat! And they grew beautifully! Definitely growing them again. I heard that when deydrated, the watermelons turn into something thin and jolly-rancher-candy-ish so I tried it. SO NOT TRUE. (ew.)
* Collards: tried them for the first time last year and loved them. Will grow them again, and abundantly! They have made such a great addition to soups this winter!
* Kale: I didn't grow this last year. But I must. The end.
* Tomatoes- it was a good year for tomatoes last year. 100 or so plants is a good number for us for now. I'll stay with that. BUT I need to work out a better staking system. It was really hard to get into that jungle of tipped over stakes- and many tomatoes fell on the ground and rotted. Especially cherry tomatoes...they were the worst!
* Corn- oh boy. Corn. Those corn dinners and lunches were to die for. I can practically taste them now. I planted the corn in three separate plantings so that it would mature throughout the summer. Excellent plan. Worked perfectly.
* Potatoes. I would like to possibly make a separate potato patch this year. If that is possible, I will use the space allotted for potatoes last year to grow horticulture beans.
* Cilantro and Basil grew super well. 18 plants of basil and a packet of cilantro seeds were JUST RIGHT.
* Cabbage- I need to research how to protect my beautiful plants from pests. But I love having cabbage in the garden.
* Hot peppers- I grew them too near the bell peppers and some were crazy hot and some turned sweet. This wouldn't be that big of a deal (they are all edible!) except when you are making salsa and you want to add some heat but the jalapeno's taste like bell peppers. Or you are making soup and add a handful of dehydrated sweet peppers and it turns out they were the spicy ones! Ack! Yeah. Not the best plan.
* Green beans- need to grow more and need to pick them more often at their peak. We have an ample supply of green beans from last year- but that was mostly due to our neighbor who kept passing bags and buckets along to me. It was not because of my own garden.
* Want to grow many more healing herbs this year and in larger quantities.
* Leeks- these aren't in the garden but I am pretty sure I can find some wild around here. I don't want to miss that window of opportunity this year like I did last year.
* The pumpkins and winter squashes all grew but were smaller than usual. That was true for many people around here. I am hoping it will be a better year for them this year.
* Onions: I grew them from sets last year. This year I want to grow some as sets and some as seed to compare.
* I absolutely adored having a cutting garden last year. Oh my word, it has been too long since I have had a bouquet of fresh cut flowers in my house.
I always have to fight laziness and tiredness in the garden and canning season. There were many times when my laziness cost us dearly and then all the work I did beforehand was worthless (like when I had to throw rotten carrots that I didn't harvest in time in the compost pile because they were slimy) or not as fruitful (like when we had to eat thick-skinned, stringy beets). I have to be more diligent to take care of things at their PEAK and not put things off until I can wait no longer (like when green beans turned into dried beans when they weren't supposed to!). This has nothing to do with the garden but everything to do with my own self discipline.
I think the biggest change I need to make is to try (TRY!) not to get in over my head and start more than I can finish. I would rather do well with a moderate garden than to grow too much and then let it get out of control, resulting in me going insane and food rotting in the rows.
The seed catalogs don't make this sort of thing very easy though. ;-)