You’ve heard me say it before: a key to success in the garden is evaluating and reflecting on the past season in order to properly plan for the next season. I do this every fall, focusing on successes, failures, and re-evaluating my goals to make sure they align with my health journey.
The beauty of it is, my goals may look nothing like yours!
But I’m going to share them anyway, in case you need some inspiration. Production and aesthetics are my top priorities. My goal is to grow as much of my own nutritionally dense food as possible each season, while still creating a space that is pleasing to the eye and allows me to fully enjoy the beauty of nature. Another goal I set every year is to stay out of the grocery store until November. It’s mid-October now, and it looks like I’ll reach my goal this year! It’s important to me to honor the natural cycles of the earth and eat with the seasons, focusing on what I have available in my kitchen garden. Sure, I’ll pop into my local sustainable grocer or farmers market to pick up some of those staples I can’t grow (avocados, bananas, lemons, etc.), but for the most part, everything we eat is grown steps from our backdoor. Take a moment to think about your past garden goals, and focus on 2-3 that will be top priorities for next year.
After I set my goals, I looked back at this past growing season and reflected not only on my garden, but how I utilized what I grew in my kitchen and shared it with others. Honestly, my garden is bigger than Matt and I need, but one of the biggest joys we get out of it is sharing our harvests with neighbors, friends, and family. And sure, sometimes the amount of tomatoes we have on hand can get a little out of control, but it’s worth it for the community we have created.
That being said, this past season was busier than I expected. I am so grateful to welcome all the new clients, but I’ll admit that I put my own garden on the back burner and failed to practice what I preach and be proactive with planning, harvesting, and utilizing what I was growing. For example, this year I added a few new types of zucchini and squash and while I did write down the varieties, I promptly lost it. And then I forgot that they were summer squash varieties, not winter squash. Unfortunately it wasn’t until mid-September until the alarm bells went off in my brain and I realized I had been waiting for them to turn from green to beige when actually they had been ripe for weeks. I missed my harvest opportunity and they were definitely past their prime. Instead of stewing in frustration, I decided to laugh this one off and look to the future. There’s always next year…
While my garden might look picture perfect on Instagram, I have learning curves and challenges like everyone else.
Ready to hear a few more garden trials and tribulations I had this past season? Let’s dig in. My peppers started off with a disease, most likely fungal. Peppers are one of Matt’s favorite veggies, so I tried to save them with heavy pruning and Arbers Fungicide. I saved about half, but lost the rest. It was also my first time seeing potato bugs in my eggplants, so note to self to not plant those anywhere near each other next year. Those buggers were destructive. And then, the weather. Wisconsin’s spring went from a rainy, cold monsoon to hot and humid in the span of about a week. It really took a toll on my plants and my garden’s growth was much further behind than it had been the previous year during the same dates. After talking to the UW-Extension office, they had heard many similar growing issues, stagnation, and increase in disease this year. Sometimes it helps to know you’re not alone when dealing with setbacks!
And now for a few wins.
Does anyone remember my biggest loss last year? I lost all my basil to downy mildew (over 50 plants!) in June. Basil is one of my favorite herbs, so this year I was bound and determined to research new varieties that were resistant and trial them in my garden. The outcome: the purple, cinnamon, and citrus varieties lasted until about the end of August before I caught signs of downy mildew, but it did take out my cute basil bushes, which were supported to be resistant. But the biggest successes were the two varieties that are still hanging on in my garden right now: Prospera and Rutgers, both from Johnny Seeds. Prospera was my favorite in both taste and leaf size and I believe it slightly outperformed the Rutgers variety. So now I know for next year, when it comes to Italian green-type basil, Prospera will be the staple in my garden and my top recommendation for client gardens.
And remember the pepper drops? I started very late but still got a few harvests to play with. Even though there was only a small amount to experiment with, I know I will definitely plant them next year!
Oh, and did you know I have not been able to grow an onion crop since we moved to this location? It’s been 6 years since I’ve had successful, sizable onions. And then suddenly this year, viola! Onions! I’ve had the same issue with broccoli to the point where Matt said, “That’s it. I’m over it.” Well, you see, I don’t give up that easily. (I am a first-born, if that gives you any idea of my capacity for stubbornness…) But I just approach the garden differently: I don’t toss in the towel just because a variety didn’t do well for a year or two. Being a gardener requires resiliency and if there is one thing I want you to take from this, it’s to BE that resilient gardener. My trick is to approach the garden with optimism, not expectations. Yes, that is much easier said than done.
One belief I have kept with me since starting out as a complete beginner in the garden is that hands-on learning is the best learning.
I learned how to garden through experimentation and observation. Looking back, some fundamentals would have been helpful… However, as a visual learner, it has served me well in my approach to my garden. Any bounty from the garden is a gift, and even when something goes haywire and the bounty flops, it’s a gift in the form of a lesson. There are SO many variables unique to each garden (soil, temperature, location, etc.) that no YouTube tutorial can correctly diagnose what you need in your garden. Get out there, experiment, evaluate, recalibrate, and keep on growing!
As for preserving my harvests. . .
30 quarts of veggie bolognese with carrots, tomatoes, celery, onions and garlic
48 pints of San Marzano sauce
30 quarts of plant tomato sauce
1 pint of tomato powder
Herbs for cooking
Eucalyptus (and we’re also making eucalyptus oil!)
Let me know some of the ways you preserved your harvest in the comments!
Looking to recap your seasons and walk through any questions?
Book a coaching session with me and we can work together to get you on your way to a beautiful, bountiful garden.