Harvest Lessons for Next Year

Change is in the air.  The shift to fall, the shift in crops all has me in a reflective mood.  I’m observing and contemplating things that worked in my veggie plot this year, and what I will do differently next time around.  I am thrilled with the fact that this is one of the pleasures of gardening–the chance to constantly do it all over again!

I spent much of the spring wrestling with different food production ideologies: permaculture, organic, traditional local wisdom, the Skipper and other friends and family, and now I’m reading about biointensive gardenning.  These systems can all be complimentary, but for a complete novice, their contradictions can be very confusing.  And at some point, you just have to stick a seed in the ground and see what happens!  And so I have.

What have I learned?

1.  Tomatoes need their space.  It’s always hard when you’re working with seeds and seedlings to picture the true mature size of a plant.  My tomatoes are HUGE!  I could have easily spaced them 2-3′ apart, instead of the 1.5′ that I did.  The Skipper’s bias was clear:  closer is better!  Pack them in!  Now I have the proof to fight back :).

2.  Raspberries need support. When we moved in, the raspberry patch was a jungle, but it was about 5′ tall and didn’t seem particularly fragile.  There were some wires in the back of the patch, but they didn’t seem to be doing anything to contain the canes, so in the winter, we took them out.  Now our 7′ tall canes have flopped over and we can’t get to them!  So many berries, so little time…

3.  Structure is important.  I now understand why farmers grow in rows, why people don’t always mix up all their plantings and why they keep various families of plants together.  True interplanting/polyculture can get complicated fast.  For instance, against one fence, we’ve got hops, sweet peas, nasturtiums, pole beans, berries, and assorted weeds all growing together.  Fine for the hops and the rest that don’t need tending, but the pole beans have suffered, and they are a pain for me to get to and check on regularly.  The peas were a pain to harvest and were a mess without trellising, even though they were dwarf plants and the seed packets said they didn’t need it.

4.  I want more pole beans! I did plant a reasonable number, but not all of them came up.  I think I’ve ended up with 2 plants of each of Fortex Filet, Purple Peacock, and Scarlet Runner.  They’re not in great soil.  They are AMAZING!  They taste better than any beans I’ve ever eaten.  I want to eat them until I’m sick of them, and there won’t be enough to do that this year.  Steve Solomon writes that he only plants a few bush beans, because once the pole beans start producing, the bus beans no longer gets eaten, the poles taste so much better.  That’s my new plan too.

5. Keep delicate plants together. I’ve got 5 full beds of tropicals (tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers) at the moment, and assorted extra tomato plants tucked into other beds.  I have one cold frame right now that fits over one of those beds.  When the night temperatures started dropping fast, I had to choose (I chose a bed of peppers).  We’re building some mega beds, and I’ll make sure that at least one has a frame structure that can get some protection easily, and then I’ll plant the veggies that might need it together.

6.  Companion planting is a great idea, but hard and confusing to put into practice–particularly in fixed raised beds.  Unfortunately, we’re stuck with our raised bed planters in much of the garden–we don’t have any soil in the major kitchen garden section.  The hard edges make it tough to tuck flowers in around the edges.  I have and will continue to plant the beds with multiple vegetables in chunks, and may try a polyculture bed next year (more on this another day), but I may end up doing what Carolyn Heriot suggested, and just make sure there are a lot of flowers and herbs surrounding the food beds, rather than right in them.  This would be easy, because the flower garden is extensive.

Overall, our energy right now is to tidy things up, and to start working on easy maintenance, easy access designs in the garden.  We’ve figured out what we want to spend our time on, and what is just not going to get attention.  We’re dreaming of chickens and ducks (have I mentioned that before?!) and need to think ab0ut our space for sharing.  I’m hankering for structure and infrastructure.

But one thing we have been blessed with in this slightly messy and overgrown garden is a very healthy, balanced ecosystem.  No pests got out of control, and even the slugs were manageable–I suspect thanks to the snakes.  We have TONS of snakes, birds, and predatory insects.  The last thing I want to do is clean up and regiment so much that we lose that balance.  Nature likes a little cosmetic disorder, so there has to be space for that too.  Somewhere!

What has your garden taught you this year?

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8 thoughts on “Harvest Lessons for Next Year

  1. Good for you Toni, it sounds like you’ve struck the right balance in your ecosystem. (A little chaos is a good thing ’cause then the bugs can’t find their way through the weeds.) Seriously though, about your raspberry patch falling over. Nothing to be done about that one, ’cause that’s how they spread normally, right? By falling down to touch the ground each branch tip sets roots and, if left undisturbed, starts a new plant. The only way to keep your canes in order is to ruthlessly prune them to where you want them to grow (with fruiting on second year canes?). “Cruel to be kind, in the right measure…”
    Oh, and you might find this useful. It’s a link to an article on building “Hoop Houses” from Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden in Vermont. Cheers, Deb in south eastern Ontario… Don’tcha just love the internet?? http://www.thegardenerseden.com/?p=2369

  2. Deb! Thanks for the reminder about the raspberry canes; I had completely forgotten that that’s what they are trying to do! Even more reason to try and contain them (and we were ruthless in our spring cull this year too, thank goodness)–and the new canes pop up *everywhere*. 🙂 Thanks for the help on the tomato blight too over at Locavore…
    I got the message. 🙂 I DO love the internet!

  3. There was a nice piece in Sunset magazine this month about the Cowichan Valley this month and I knew where it was because of your blog.

    At the end of each summer season I do a blog post similar to yours, with notes about what worked and what didn’t. It comes in super handy the following year as you plan out your next garden.

    The main lesson I’ve learned this year is that gardening needs to be an integrated, enjoyable part of my life and that I shouldn’t become so ambitious that it starts stressing me out. I plan to retire (well, semi retire) early in a few years and I feel like I’m learning lessons now that will allow me to be a more ambitious gardener in the future.

    Sandy

  4. Thanks Sandy; nice to hear our little valley is getting some good coverage! It’s a beautiful place to live. This is only my first year working with my big garden, and it’s been wonderful. But the integrated balance? Not sure yet! It doesn’t *feel* like work yet, but the novelty may not have worn off…I look forward to finding out. Good luck with the retirement plans!

  5. Sandy I don’t always comment but I love those posts of yours! And I still am convinced tomatoes don’t need their space. Commercial growers pack them in then prune them judiciously. That is what I do as well. I trim off all but 2 or 3 main stems (commercial growers do 1!) and train them up. This helps ripen fruit earlier and prevents disease plus you get just as many fruit from those stems I’m convinced. However, if I had the space I would spread them out and not prune them at all. It’s a lot of work!

  6. Aah the balancing act between space, work, and production! This year I’ve experimented with real hands-off, low-effort gardening, mostly because I want to see how much intervention nature really needs. My bias is toward the not much, and I’m learning about how a little artificial structure (pruning, weeding, netting, starting seedlings, etc) can really go a long way when we’re growing something like tomatoes that aren’t “natural” to our climate! I may have to be more ruthless with my tomatoes next year, but this year was so bad for them anyway, it’s hard to tell what might have made a difference. 🙂

  7. I acctually did a tomato experiment this year. Outside the tomato cage in full sun flanked by stones and just above the sidewalk (radiated and reflected heat) I let a tomato plant sprawl. I didn’t do a thing. It got 4 tomatoes on it. Granted they are huge and blushing despite this crummy weather but I honestly think if I had redirected the plant’s energies I would have gotten more than 4 fruit from it, and they would have been just as big.

    Plants are like children. Sure, they raise themselves but they don’t always turn into the kids you want them to be without intervention.

  8. “Plants are like children. Sure, they raise themselves but they don’t always turn into the kids you want them to be without intervention.”

    Ha ha ha ha ha… I think I’ll need to put that on a embroidered sampler somewhere! A great mantra. :O

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