These last several days have been busy with harvesting and putting things up, and getting the garden ready for fall planting. It's also been spent thinking about where I've been failing and what I've been learning about producing food for us. I'm not getting near enough food put away for this winter, and some of my crops have been a near-total bust. I also find myself re-examining the idea of a French potager, with its focus on producing fresh food directly for the table, versus the American way of growing a ton of stuff for putting up and consuming later. Not that the French don't have their confitures and brandied fruits, mind you.
I knew going into this that people who are serious about maximizing their food production keep some sort of records, and I really meant to do that, but fell down on the job there. I also knew that to really get the most from the smallest area, and have continual food, and not a glut of lettuces that won't keep, no matter what you do, you really have to succession plant. I'm good at getting stuff into the ground, but really stink at getting stuff harvested at peak. And isn't growing your own all about harvesting and eating fresh food at its peak? Well, it isn't entirely for me. For me, it's learning how to replace a lot of store-bought food with home grown food, because I really believe that in the not too distant future, food prices are going to skyrocket, along with everything else whose economy of scale is based on cheap oil. It is just plain going to be harder and more expensive to get stuff, food included, and I don't plan on going hungry, or letting my loved ones go hungry. So getting better at growing and reaping is really important to me, and to that end, I must get better about succession planting and keeping records. And just plain managing everything.
It also seems to me that although there are scads of gardening books written on the subject of vegetable gardening, a gardener really has to learn by trial and error in his or her own garden what will work for them. That garden is also set in a particular agricultural zone, but at the same time, has its own microclimate, so the time to plant what and when has to be learned. In addition, the gardener has his or her own likes and dislikes and/or needs, when it comes to what to plant. And the weather and its vagaries will determine what survives, when to water, when to harvest, and what goes in next. It's a lot to learn.
So if you'll indulge me, I'd like to pass on what I've learned with this year's garden, and why. Maybe it will help you. It will most certainly cement the lesson for me, at the very least.
Bell peppers: I won't do mini-bells again. I thought they'd be good to have on hand frozen for when you need just a little bit of bell pepper for something, but they seemed to be a waste of space, and were just a pain to process for freezing. I'll look for a heavy-bearing regular sized variety next year.
Carrots: The Nantes type seem to be the perfect length and size for my beds at only six or so inches long, and they were delicious freshly pulled out of the ground. I did learn that when they say that carrots shouldn't be transplanted they mean it- don't try it. I have two groups of carrots to compare: one was perfect, the other was forked, and not with just two forks- some had as many as five. They were planted in the same imported soil in two different raised beds; the only difference was that the nice group were direct seeded and the awful group was transplanted there. You may draw your own conclusions, but I'm not transplanting carrots, or any other root crop for that matter, again. The other thing that I learned was that I definitely need to pay more attention to getting them out of the ground on time. And succession plant- I use a lot of carrots.
Cabbage: the cabbages were good, although I had to fight the slugs and cabbage butterflies for them. They might do better in the ground, rather than beds, however. They need a lot of space. I also think that where I've chosen to grow my fall and winter crops isn't going to work- it's too close to the fence and they won't get enough sunlight. I'll plant the winter cabbage in the beds currently occupied by the cucurbits, and keep my fingers crossed. Then next spring, I'll plant a couple for making summer slaw wherever I think one can be tucked in, and next summer, I'll plant the autumn sauerkraut-making stock in the large bed currently occupied by this year's Three Sisters. I'll plant the garlic where I'd planned the winter cabbage, instead.
Garlic: this year's was my first, and boy- did I learn a lot. I planted the entire head, six inches apart on offset rows. I think my spacing was alright, but a great majority of the garlics I harvested were way too small. What I've since read is that you plant only the largest cloves off the head. I saved the four biggest heads of the Oregon Blue I was able to harvest this year, and then ordered a pound of Music, and a pound of California Late White, which is supposed to be a super long keeper. I'll plant them directly into the ground, rather than waste the space of a raised bed. Garlic just takes too long for the beds.
Summer squash: I mentioned in an earlier post that I didn't like the Eight Ball zucchini. The Flying Saucer patty pan squash were great, however, so I'll do them again next year. However, I think I'll keep it at a maximum of two plants.
Beets and turnips: the only way that I really like beets is oven roasted in olive oil and sea salt, and since I don't like to run the oven in the summer because it heats the house up, why the hell did I plant beets so early? Now I have a bunch of woody beets. Next time, I'll wait and plant for a fall harvest, when I'm more likely to pull them out and roast them. Ditto the turnips, only I like them for a fall or winter vegetable medley cooked with carrots and leeks in butter with black pepper. So beets and turnips get planted later for autumn and winter. That will leave a lot of room in the beds.
I think that I need to decide what I want to grow for putting up, and then find places in the ground away from the raised beds for those crops. The raised beds should be used for intensive potager gardening. I didn't have things like lettuce this summer, and I understand that there are varieties that can be grown through the summer. I didn't have scallions; I didn't have the easy radishes, which Steve loves. I don't have enough eggplant- I think a minimum of two plants would have helped. I could have used far fewer slicing cucumbers- the other morning I harvested nine big ones off of six plants, and was only able to find homes for four of them. I have way too much French sorrel. If I intensively gardened fewer beds, I could let lie fallow the remaining beds and build up the fertility in them. Or maybe turn at least one of them over to June-bearing strawberries. I guess I just had a bad case of beginner's enthusiasm.
Since I really believe that each gardener has to learn on his or her own terms what will work best for them, I don't expect that anyone reading this should find it a huge help. But if it helps at least a little, then I'm glad of that. What did you learn this year that you can pass on?