10 Lessons Learned – 2018

At the end of every season I like to sit down in the garden and reflect on how things went.  I learn something new every year so it’s helpful to keep a garden journal and write down what works and what doesn’t.  Overall, the 2018 season was great!  We enjoyed lots of fresh cucumber and tomato salads, lots of Caprese salads, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, plenty of squash and I’m happy to say I was able to preserve 14 jars of tomatoes for the winter!

Here are 10 things I learned from the garden this year:

#1 Tomatoes are HEAVY! Staking and supports are essential. Stakes have to go all the way into the ground or have to be anchored to the raised bed with brackets to support the weight.  I didn’t hammer my stakes into the ground because I didn’t want to puncture holes in my weed barrier at the bottom of the bed.  Even though I did use brackets to hold the rebar and PVC against the side of the bed, it just wasn’t enough to support the weight of all the fruit.  A strong gust of wind can easily topple a fruit loaded tomato plant that isn’t supported securely.  It’s hard to remember this when they’re babies but they do need lots of love and support!

Two little tomatoes planted in May
Tons of heavy fruit in September

#2 Strawberries are hogs.  They choked out most of my herbs.  The oregano was the only other plant in the bed that was able to compete. I love strawberries and want as many as I can get so I may need to find a different spot for my herb garden. I could also set up barriers around the herbs until they are large enough to fight for light themselves.  Strawberry leaves get taller than I imagine they will.

Oregano taller than strawberries
Beautiful little fruits!

#3 Aphids are a real nuisance!  I had a terrible problem with aphids on the kale last season.  I installed netting over them to prevent cabbage moths but it seemed to create a sanctuary for aphids.  I tried spraying with soapy water but I started too late.  The aphids had already taken hold and it just wasn’t enough.  I bought and released 1,500 lady bugs into the kale bed under the netting so they could feast on the aphids but that didn’t work either.  They just wanted to fly free and hated being under the netting.  They clustered together at the top of the netting instead of taking care of the aphid problem.  Eventually I set them free out of guilt. I had to cut all of the leaves off the kale and let them regrow.

Six kale plants planted in May
Prolific kale production by July!
Too compact, not enough air flow.
Aphids everywhere!
Leaves removed in August
Leaves regrown and healthy in October

#4 Slugs love bell peppers!  They ate holes into them while they were green and then lived inside while they ripened.  Gross!  Keep an eye out for signs of slugs and put out bait to prevent them from getting into the fruit.

Slug holes in bell peppers

#5 I need to set up drip irrigation system.  Watering takes a lot of time and when it’s unbearably hot out I don’t water long enough to get deep enough.  The plants would do better with regular, deep watering.

#6 I didn’t get many green beans this year.  I’m not sure why.  They seemed to come and go very quickly so I planted a second succession but I think I waited too long.  I need to plant the second succession sometime in August so they can get established and start producing before the fall weather hits. 

#7 My grow bags were a disappointment this year.  I’m not sure if it was the soil or the bags themselves.  Other people have had good results with them so it must be the soil. 

#8 I need to learn to make compost tea so I can fertilize my plants on a more regular basis.

# 9 In the winter time, the only beds that really get much light are those right up against the house.  I should use those for the winter garden and growing anything that needs direct sunlight.

#10 I need to get fresh soil to amend the beds in 2019. My newest bed had a low soil level because I used soil from the other beds to fill it. I think all of the beds would benefit from a nice new top layer of rich soil in the spring.

Overall, I think my plant selection was right on this year.  I didn’t grow anything that we didn’t eat or couldn’t eat all of.  We had just enough of everything and it was a joy to grow, cook and preserve our bounty!

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