It’s been three months. THREE MONTHS since I last wrote about my beloved, now departed, food crops. Three months sure seems like a long time, but truth be told, not much has changed. El Niño has made for a weird winter experience. My chives actually started to flower in November, after dying back, like little green and purple allium zombies. Its now December, temps still above 40°F, and I swear my dwarf pea plants were just a hair taller. I don’t like to think about what this will mean for spring, but I suspect we will get some late frosts, so I may plan conservatively.
Speaking of spring, and plans, two of my favorite things, its time to start the garden planning for next year! Right on schedule, now that the 2015 garden has wrapped up (though I won’t put it past the arugula to keep it up for another month), seed catalogs arrived. With my highlighter, and excel spreadsheet open, I spend a good 2-3 hours salivating over the photos and started crafting the next unobtainable garden expansion. The big out door project for 2016: a fence. This is not necessarily a project that CFO has high on his list, but if I have learned anything over the last three years of marriage, its that if I haphazardly start a project that is way over my head and skill ability and has the potential to do bodily harm, he will generously donate his time and skills to get it done. I am really looking forward to my new fence.
I am also looking forward to trying out some new veggies this year and some new methods. In 2015, I spent approximately $170 on seeds and starts, which is quite a bit. About $100 of that alone was just tomato, eggplant and pepper transplants because the first round were sun-blasted to death, and I had to buy doubles. I am not going to lie, being frugal chic, that hurt. A lot. For 2016, I have decided to take that $100 and invest in a set of grow lights and a heating pad and try to see if I can make a go at it. I have started broccoli and kale in the plastic greenhouse with great success, but that just won’t work for the tropical plants, and in the long run paying $2 for a packet of tomato seeds that will last 4-5 years, versus $5 for a single transplant just makes more sense, even with the added set up and electricity costs. Plus, starting seeds in February will give me way more to blog about than the not-surprising observation that nothing is going on.
I will be trying a few new things this coming year, specifically some new vegetables to supplement the fall diet: rutabagas, turnips, root parsley, and celeriac. I am going to expand my summer squash repertoire to beyond zucchini, hopefully get a few melons growing, and try out some fava and lima bush beans. With my new fence, the sky is the limit!
As for the 2015 garden, it was a great success overall. To break it down, here are the year’s Top 7 BEST AND WORST from the garden. Why 7? Because that’s how many I came up with.
2015 BEST OF THE GARDEN
- Basil – I planted 3 types: Genovese, Thai and Mrs. Meyer’s Lemon. The Genovese was OUTSTANDING with leaves the size of my hand. It was the kind of basil you dream about, if you dream about those things. Delicioso! The Thai basil was my second favorite, and I generously added it to every stir-fry made, and it took the meal beyond all expectations with its spicy flavor. The lemon basil was a small-leaf variety and had a nice subtle lemony hint and made a great summery addition to grilled vegetables and fruits. All varieties grew like gangbusters and I had fresh basil right up through the end of September.
- Lacinato Kale – I planted 2014 seed, and surprisingly, these did better this year than the year I bought the seed. I had three plants, started in the greenhouse in coconut coir and they got huge by October when I harvested the rest. Lacinato kale is one of those cut-and-come-again plants, and is a great fall performer.
- Beets – Planted varieties of Chioggia and Golden Beets and both grew superbly and tasted divine. Even CFO, who tells people he doesn’t like beets, was a fan of both varieties. The fact that they are so astoundingly beautiful doesn’t hurt either.
- French Breakfast Radish – Seeing as how I wrote an entire blog post about these little gems, I think its safe to say these were one of the standout picks for 2015. I will definitely be growing these guys again, and may be I will only speak français while eating them as we prepare for a Paris visit in spring of 2016…oh la la!
- Carrot – The mighty, mighty carrot. I STILL have carrots in the fridge from the last harvest. These little guys store great! I had three varieties in 2015: my standard, Scarlet Nantes, the fun purple Dragon, and the white Jaune du Doubs. All three grew large and relatively straight, with minimal pest issues. The Jaune du Doubs was nice and sweet, but I didn’t mound the tops so the ends were slightly green and bitter, but overall a great variety.
- Five Color Silverbeet Swiss Chard – always a knockout, I don’t even know if this should be a “success” when I am convinced there is no way to mess this one up. I had 12 plants, and daily had 24” leaves to pick. I made some great stuffed chard this year.
- Lettuce – Talk about overkill. I guess I decided that CFO and I were going to eat three salads a day, because that’s how much of the stuff I grew. In total there were twelve (12!!) varieties over six square feet, but I couldn’t tell you which was which if my life depended on it. Most of it was in a mixed bed, and I just cut as I needed, not giving mind to what it was. It was all good and tasty. I will say that I am not going to be ordering any new lettuce seed any time soon. The favorite still remains the Mantilia butterhead.
2015 WORST OF THE GARDEN
- The White Walkers, AKA Devil Deer, AKA Thieves in the Night, AKA Bringers of Sadness, AKA Hungry Hungry Hippos, AKA Starving Family of Eight…you know, the deer that ate everything. While technically they are not a vegetable, they prevented me from growing vegetables so I included them.
- Pepper problems – After a rocky start with killing my pepper starts from too much heat, the plants grew and gave me exactly 2 hot Black Hungarian peppers, and 4 small King of the North sweet peppers that promptly dropped off the plants. Seems I have still not solved the pepper plant mystery.
- Blue Jade Corn – I bought seeds for a rare blue miniature sweet corn, but had poor pollination due to wind and predators. I had about 8 small ears at one point, and then no ears. I wonder what it would have tasted like…
- Rapini (Broccoli Raab) – My first attempt at growing this was not so successful. I didn’t do my research, started too early, and allowed it to be crowded out by big brother De Cicco broccoli. But, I am not giving up on this guy just yet.
- Purple of Sicily Cauliflower – The plants did well, but I just never got any heads. I think I started these ones a bit too early, and the temperatures were a little too chilly for the temperamental cauliflower. Ms. Jessica tells me the leaves were tasty.
- Tendercrisp Celery – My first (failed and uninformed) attempt at celery. Actually, I shouldn’t say “uninformed” because I knew that celery was a picky plant and I ignored intelligent advice. My bad. Lesson learned. Next year I will do right by you, Tendercrisp.
- Prize Pac Choy – This was the second year I tried this one out, and while technically not a failure, I have always been unimpressed by this plant. There is one invisible insect that just loves this green, and the plants always seem to grow a little leggy and don’t form great heads as described. Once the seed is gone, I may start to research a new variety.
So there it is, some old, some new, and more adventure to come. The other fun part of next year’s garden is that I have acquired a new helper. While we are still debating whether his form of fertilizer is really what is needed in the garden, he is showing promise in the squirrel and chipmunk control department.
This is Jack, our little discount puppy we got from the shelter. He and big sister Jessica share a love of carrots, and each other.
Happy Holidays and May 2016 bring lots of love, fun, friends, and gardening!