Monday, October 11, 2010

Victory Garden Lessons Learned

Jeff and I were able to start not only one, but two gardens this year. We were lucky to have our application for a Fenway Victory Garden approved, giving us a space roughly the size of my old studio apartment to plant some veggies. On top of that, my mom was very interested in having a vegetable garden, so we also put in some raised beds in the backyard of my childhood home.

We had a lot of successes and some failures, but ultimately we learned a lot. I'd like to share our lessons learned here so that hopefully they can be used as a learning experience.

Garden Successes
Unripened Tomatoes
  • The cherry tomatoes were a big hit with my parents, my dad would gobble up a handful after work ever evening and raved about them non-stop. They were also very prolific, much like the romas we planted there. While several dozen romas only gave me 3 pints of sauce, that was just from a few plants. I'm definitely going to plant many more romas next year!
  • Our Bush Ace tomato plants were amazingly huge, and while we didn't get many to ripen on the vine, we had enough big green tomatoes to make a quart of pickles and a gallon of relish, which came out absolutely delicious.
  • Snap peas planted early at my parent's did really well. We will definitely plant more next year.
  • We planted an entire seed packet of Quinoa at our victory garden thinking: "what the heck?" We managed to get a bunch of seeds out of it, and they're drying as I write this. Hulling them is very simple, and I look forward to eating them to see if they're worth doing again next year.

Garden Failures
  • Our cucumbers here in Boston could not seem to do anything right. We were excited by a big blossoming in early July, followed by many tiny cucumbers growing. We ultimately ate ONE, the rest of which got eaten by small animals, rotted or otherwise disappeared. The plant caught powdery mildew, pretty much decimating whatever remained. We pulled the plants out and threw them in the big compost pile. Very sad. (See picture for our lone edible cuke.)
  • Peppers failed to thrive. I planted a lot of jalapeño and bell peppers because I love eating them and they're expensive. Not a single plant got big enough to produce flowers for some reason. Last week Jeff and I cleared out our raised beds here in Boston, and found that one jalapeño plant had put out flowers. In September.
  • Jeff and I started lots of herbs and for some reason had no success with them, save for a row of sage we planted in the backyard. We'll simply try again next year!

Lessons Learned
Tomatoes, Peppers, Cucumbers
  • Don't bother using egg-cartons as seed starters. Sow directly into big, biodegradable seed starters. I found some commercially sold at a hardware store. Anything too small will have to be replanted frequently, and if you don't find the time to do that (guilty!) your seeds will not benefit from their extra time indoors. Planting them couldn't be simpler, just put them in the ground, cover, and you're done.
  • Start indoors early! All of our tomatoes that got to a decent size indoors were huge by the end of the season. Tomatoes that are quite big and bushy before going in the ground benefit from being planted deep, helping to promote root growth.
  • Don't start seeds indoors if the seed packet doesn't recommend it. We started cucumbers and squash indoors despite recommendations to the contrary. Our squash seedlings all died after planting, and our cucumbers resisted growth for a while. When they finally did grow, they quickly got some powdery mildew and I had to tear them all out.
  • Get things in the ground ASAP. Unfortunately we couldn't even get into our victory garden until May, and didn't have the raised beds built until late June, so we really suffered a short growing season. Next season we will have the benefit of starting whenever we want!
  • Plant more seeds than you think you'll need. We planted tons of beet seeds and ate maybe 4 or 5 beets at the end of the season. I have no idea why our success rate was so low. Pepper plants grew very slowly and never flowered in time to fruit. Use an entire packet, and thin out as needed. It's better to waste seeds than to not use enough and waste a growing season.
  • Use tomato trellises! Jeff and I couldn't find any so we didn't use any in our garden, and most of our tomato branches were so heavy from fruit that they grew laterally along the ground. This is bad for a number of reasons, the main one of which is that the fruit will tend to rot if it's left on the ground, or get eaten by small animals. They also don't get enough sun to ripen.

1 comment:

  1. I think we did very well for our first year with a serious vegetable garden. Next year our harvest will be even better.