In the spring, Jason dug narrow trenches in our new yard (we had just purchased the house the summer before) and put in one long row of five raised beds. They’re all connected to each other, one long terraced garden about six feet away from the fence on the northwest side of our yard. Sadly, I didn’t photograph our 2012 garden very faithfully; I think that had something to do with our baby becoming mobile about the time the vegetables were really taking off. But I did make sure to document Jason’s hard work.
This spot was carefully chosen for the best sunlight exposure, and that was the first thing we did right (we’ve also done plenty of things wrong). One of the things we love about our suburban yard is the mature trees, but you definitely have to work around them when putting in a garden. We also wanted to make sure we had a good uninterrupted stretch of yard for the kids to run and play.
Our last home was in the middle of the city, and we had a postage-stamp concrete backyard with two little grassy beds on either side. Considering the limitations of that yard, we did some pretty decent growing there.
Tomatoes, peppers, Asian eggplants, and buckets of herbs. You know, the basics.
The Asian eggplants were not only beautiful, but also delicious. We find them to be more tender than the globe varieties, and we love to throw them into Thai curries.
We loved to watch our plants climb and flourish between the tall buildings. But my oh my, are we glad to have more space! So this year, we enthusiastically filled our new 136-square-foot garden with carrots, radishes, beets, parsnips, swiss chard, lettuce and spring mix, tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, green beans, leeks, eggplants, and cucumbers.
Since the topsoil in our yard was rather pathetic and we were doing raised beds, we imported a rich mix of mushroom soil (composted horse manure) and alternated layers of that with layers of peat moss. We overdid it with the peat moss in the top bed and, as a result, had some drainage/absorption issues; that was also definitely not the bed to try to grow root vegetables in, so I’m sorry to say the carrots, radishes, beets, and parsnips didn’t do very well. With the exception of that bed, however, we were very happy with the drainage and fertility of the soil mix. It was a good start for our garden, and many things thrived in it.
Like chard. I harvested chard as late as last week, and we’ve had several frosts here in Pennsylvania. It just keeps going! We started some chard from seed in our basement to transplant, and then direct-seeded more after the last frost. Always productive, never bitter or tough, the chard was a steady source of leafy greens from late May until . . . well, if I dusted the snow off the big leaves right now and looked under them, I bet I’d find some lovely leaves underneath. We ate chard in everything, and substituted it for spinach in many recipes. It’s more beautiful than spinach, and our kids seem to love it. Chard has secured a favored spot in the garden from here on out.
And so have lettuces and salad greens. We absolutely loved running out to the garden for fresh salads.
The leeks were another winner this year. Very low maintenance and high reward. They impart such a buttery texture and savory flavor to every dish, and they are not cheap to buy at farmers markets or the supermarket. I would also plant French green beans again — next time, I’ll make sure I plant plenty for freezing.
The tomatoes grew tall — so tall, indeed, that Jason needed to build an extra support structure out of maple branches we had in our yard — the cages weren’t doing it.
Unfortunately, since the diverse heirloom varieties we’d started from seed didn’t do well (tips for starting veggies from seed are welcome), we put in a bunch of mystery tomato plants that were given to us . . . and they were almost all cherry tomatoes. Not being one to waste produce — especially flavorful tomatoes — I roasted and roasted those cherries to make salsa, pizza sauce, pasta sauce, and lots of fresh meals.
But I vow to never again grow so many cherry tomatoes. Never again. Or hot peppers either. One plant is always more than enough for us.
So, for next year: what to tackle? I’d like to successfully grow some root vegetables (other than the bushels and bushels of beautiful red and gold potatoes we helped to plant at my brother-in-law’s farm). We love parsnips and beets and carrots; I’d love to produce enough to eat some fresh and store some for later as well. I’d also like it if my cole crops didn’t get completely demolished by some pest or another every time I planted them. I’m not sure what’s eating my cabbages, broccoli, or brussels sprouts, but I am determined to win this battle. The diotomaceous earth Jason sprinkled on it seemed to help somewhat (so it may have been beetles or some kind of insect) but I also suspect the neighborhood bunnies found out about the tender cabbages and couldn’t help themselves.
The big goal for next year is to produce enough tomatoes (NOT cherry tomatoes) to can all the tomato products we need for the year. That’s a tall order for this tomato-loving family, but I think I’m up to the challenge. Can we do it? Stay tuned.