Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Gardening Recap

I had not originally planned to do any year-in-review type posts. However, a couple of months ago, as I was thinking about doing a recap of our gardening experiences, I decided it might make sense to wait until the end of the year to do so.

Even though our garden for the year was quite small, 2012 was still a year of several firsts for us in terms of growing our own food. We had some great successes, as well as some significant failures. We learned a lot, though, which makes everything we did worth the effort.

We had initially planned to plant a larger garden, but let time get away from us. For this reason the only crops we managed to plant in the actual garden were garlic and potatoes. We had planted garlic the previous year, so had already learned a few lessons. We had moderate success with our garlic crop this year. The bulbs were mostly small to medium, but had good flavor. We had a few that were not storing well, so used those to make garlic powder. Some of the varieties, though, lasted for several months in storage, which I was pleased with. The Garlic Growing Results post from earlier in the year provides more details.

Unlike the garlic, our potato crop did not turn out well. As I discussed in the Potato Growing Results post, we barely harvested an amount equal to the seed we planted. We learned several lessons from our first attempt at growing potatoes, and will be making several adjustment next year. Those adjustments include the way in which we prepped the plot for planting, the frequency with which we weeded and hilled dirt around the plants, and the way in which we watered the plants during the dry part of summer. I am confident that our potato crop next year will be better than this year's crop, although I'm making not predictions beyond that.

In addition to the main garden we also had an herb garden this year in front of the trailer. The herb garden was prepped using sheet composting. We began by putting down a layer of cardboard, which we then covered with a layer of rabbit manure, which we purchased. This was covered with a layer of straw, and then allowed to sit for several months. The result was a fantastically rich soil that yielded great results.

In the herb garden we planted peppers and several types of herbs, including basil, oregano, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, spearmint, wintergreen, and orange mint. All of the varieties of peppers did extremely well. We ended up with many more peppers than we could use, even after Andrea put many away by freezing or drying them. We would have had more if we hadn't lost some because of overcrowding or a lack of good support for the plants. I specifically remembering having to pick one fist sized bell pepper before it was completely ripe, because the weight was breaking the plant stem. In addition to bell peppers we had cayenne, habanero, and serrano plants, all of which actually out-performed the bell peppers.

Of the herbs that we planted, the basil did the best by far. We knew we wanted to make pesto, so planted quite a bit of basil. We had no idea how well it would yield, though, and ended up with much more that we could possibly use. I don't even know how much pesto is in the freezer at the moment, but I'm sure some of it will have to be thrown out to make room for more next year. The mints also did extremely well, which would have really been great news if we had a plan for using it. We ended up with a lot of mint that just got tossed into the compost. The other herbs also did well, but could not compare to the basil and mints.

We also tried our hand at planting berries this year. We planted two varieties of strawberries in the lower yard, as well as some blackberries and raspberries near the garden. One of the varieties of strawberries is doing great. The other seems to be doing ok, but isn't as thick or spreading as well as the first. I'm hopeful that we'll have plenty of fresh strawberries to eat next year.

The raspberries seem to be doing well, although without something to compare them to its hard to know for sure. We planted five briars originally, but I accidentally cut one of them down while mowing weeds. I'm hoping that maybe it'll come back up this year. The blackberries never really took off, and I couldn't figure out why at first. Then I realized that they were planted beside a black walnut tree, and do not tolerate the juglone that the tree leeches into the soil. My guess is that we'll need to buy new blackberry plants this year and find a better location for them. I can't believe that I didn't think to check for the problem before planting the berries, since I knew that many plants can't be planted near black walnut trees.

The final piece of our gardening experience for 2012 was to plant cover crops for the first time. I won't go into detail, since I recently wrote about this in the First Attempt at Planting Cover Crops post. I am very excited to see how well the winter rye and hairy vetch does. I know this is one area where we can learn a lot, since my parents never planted cover crops in the garden when I was growing up.

All in all our gardening experience for 2012 was positive. We certainly could have done much better, but it was a learning experience. I'm expecting to not only expand our garden for 2013, but to also get better yields of those crops we experimented with this year.

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