As our 2018 garden season winds down, I’ve been feeling very reflective, and thinking a lot about what worked and what didn’t this year in my garden. One of the many challenges of our northern climate is the incredibly short growing season (this year it was less than 4 months for warm weather crops) so we really have to focus on maximizing the little time that we have.
A few things to know about my garden – it is small. Very small. I grow exclusively in raised beds and containers, and this was my second season as a gardener. I still consider myself a newbie, but this year taught me a lot.
I wanted to share what I learned, what I loved, and what I plan to do next year – because, yes, I am already planning for next year! I never said I wasn’t crazy.
Things That Worked
My carrots were unbelievable this year. I got them in nice and early, around the last week of April, and my harvests were incredibly abundant. I grew three varieties – Scarlet Nantes, Bolero, and Paris Market (all from West Coast Seeds) and they all did incredibly well. I was religious with thinning them, which I think helped a lot, and I made sure to feed the soil with worm castings throughout the season.
We finally found our favourite variety of beet – Touchstone Gold – also from West Coast Seeds. They grew incredibly well, their greens were sweet and delicious, and the beets themselves were huge and flavourful. Even Sean – a self-proclaimed “beet hater” – couldn’t get enough. If you or someone you know thinks they don’t like beets, perhaps because of the bitter or “earthy” flavour, give these sweet golden beets a go. You won’t be disappointed.
I grew a wide variety of hot peppers this year, and started them all from seed – Serrano, Cayenne, Jalapeño, Paprika, Ghost Chili, and Ancho. I can happily say that they all produced in surprising abundance on my hot, south-facing front patio.
We had two varieties of cherry tomatoes this year, both in pots on our front patio – Black Cherry and Red Robin. I wasn’t optimistic about the red robin plants. They were tiny and didn’t seem to be producing much, even into late July. And then, all of a sudden in mid August – they absolutely exploded, and I was harvesting gorgeous, ruby-red cherry tomatoes faster than I could use them! Pleasantly surprised.
I am a huge fan of chamomile tea, so I thought I’d try my hand at growing my own this year. Without much thought, I chucked some seeds into a hanging basket, and they went absolutely wild. Gorgeous, fragrant, apple-scented blossoms just kept producing vigorously to the point that I was harvesting a large handful every single day. A few hours in the dehydrator, and now I have enough chamomile tea to keep me warm and happy through the winter – hopefully!
Things That Didn’t Work
My poor, poor cucumbers. I’m not sure where I went wrong. I planted the seed directly into the raised bed, maybe a bit late, but the plant grew nonetheless. There were plenty of blossoms, even plenty of tiny cucumbers! I was diligent in my hand-pollinating and watering, but, alas, only one mature pickling cucumber was produced. Maybe the raised bed wasn’t large enough, maybe I didn’t add the right nutrients to the soil, maybe the cucumber gods just weren’t on my side this year…I’m not sure. I’m hoping next year will be better.
I had two beautiful San Marzano Roma Tomato plants that were growing and producing like crazy all through the season. I pruned and staked and fed them like it was my part-time job. I was so excited to create all kinds of delicious goodies – pasta sauce, salsa, roasted tomato basil soup, you name it. But when the thick, heavy smoke from the forest fires rolled in mid-August, everything stopped. The fruits sat stagnant, small, green, and hard. Then, the temperatures began to fall near freezing at night, and the tomatoes began to crack and rot. I salvaged what I could, brought them inside to ripen, and they have, but they certainly aren’t the big beautiful Romas I’d been dreaming of.
Another not-so-fun part about gardening in our Southern Alberta climate is the summer hail storms. At the end of July, a massive hail storm ripped through our city, and pulverized my father-in-law’s beautiful apple tree. We lost 417 apples to that storm, the majority of our harvest. We were still able to salvage about a half-bushel of beaten and bruised apples to be made into sauce and pie filling, but it was a very rough loss. There were tears. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a career farmer, where your harvest is quite literally your livelihood, after a storm like that. My heart definitely goes out to those folks.
Looking Ahead To 2019
Build a new garden bed.
As Sean and I have accepted that we will, in fact, be staying in this little townhouse for at least a few more years, so we spent an entire afternoon this summer dreaming up even more ways that we can maximize our little space. By rearranging a few things in the back yard, we should be able to squeeze one more raised bed in there. Luckily, Sean likes projects. Or at least, I tell him he does. 😉
Grow more vegetables vertically.
One of the best ways to maximize a small space is to grow up, instead of out. This means more space for things to climb, such as peas and vining cucumbers, and planting things like pole beans instead of bush beans. We already produce a surprising amount of food in our small space, but my goal is always to try to do more.
Explore seed saving.
One thing I meant to do this year, but just didn’t get around to, was seed saving. I mean, what could be more sustainable than saving seeds from your own vegetables to re-grow the next year? In 2019, I want to spend a lot more time learning about how to save seeds from things like beans, peas, peppers and tomatoes.
I am continuously amazed by the myriad of lessons that the garden can teach us. No two years are the same, and nothing is guaranteed. But that is half the fun, isn’t it? I cant wait to see what next season brings us. Until then, I’ll be dreaming up my 2019 garden and obsessively browsing seed catalogues…
What worked well in your garden this year? What did you struggle with? What are you planning to do next year? Join the conversation in the comments below or reach out on Instagram.