Thursday, January 20, 2011

What's Growing: Lessons Learned

I try to post what's growing here in my northern potager (kitchen) garden once a month. This month obviously not much is growing, aside from bigger and bigger plans, so I thought I would pre-plan by first outlining my mistakes from last year. (Oh, remember there is always something going on in the soil! So, the soil is growing this month and I / we just can't see it.)

This post is also in response to Fer's call for a World Garden Blog Carnival, Gardening for the New Year. So, be sure to stop by her blog, My Little Garden in Japan, to see what gardeners are planning for the new year all around the world!

Back to lessons learned ...

The Good
Here are my sketches for my plans for the potager last season.

This is good because now I can rotate my families of plants this year. I haven't been growing vegetables for very long so my experience is limited, but I have practiced crop rotation from the beginning and problems with pests and diseases have been very minor. I also like to companion plant where I can. Also great is that I wrote down some of my planting dates!

The Bad
I should have written down ALL of my planting AND harvest dates. My resolution is to successfully succession plant this year (say that five times fast). But now I am not sure of when my lettuce bolted or when I ripped it out. Although I tried to reseed during the heat of summer, the lettuce never took off again, or the spinach. I guess I can plant at the same time this year because it did do well at first, but I will only plant a little at a time. I'll plant every week. Last year I wound up with a huge crop of spinach that I couldn't possibly eat all at once. Lesson learned.

In fact, I'm going to plant less of everything but more variety. New plants to try on my mind? Artichoke, broccoli raab, cayenne peppers, chinese napa cabbage, mustard greens, purple dragon carrots, romanesco broccoflower ... less is more!

The Ugly
Root vegetables that were planted in brand new beds last year turned out quite ugly. Although amended, the predominately clay soil is a tough cookie to crack. Those poor "roots" contorted into amazing shapes as they tried to grow down. Root vegetables this year are reserved for the raised beds with the nice, soft, easy going dirt.

Butt crack carrot – ugly!
Even uglier is how the neighborhood cats think of my raised beds as their own personal outdoor litter boxes! It is difficult to start seedlings. Once things are grown in, it is no longer a problem. A new fence on the other side of our property line should help, but I will be stocking up on cayenne pepper just the same. This year I am also going to try to plant some garden rue along the edges of my beds. Supposedly a plant that nearly all animals turn their noses up at – deer, dogs, cats, rabbits ... (Hey, some of this planted near the front sidewalk might not be a bad idea, either!) I now affectionately refer to Mojo as "my little bear." One stomp of his paw could mean disaster for a tender seedling. Maybe the rue will also make for a natural boundary for him as well.

My little bear

Now that I have a good idea of how to improve last year's plantings, I can really begin planning. I will start with a new sketch. Oh, and I also resolve to plant blueberry bushes this year!


  1. I would so like to have a vegetable garden after reading through your post. It must be nice to gather your own spinach and lettuces. I can identify with your seedling crusher (your adorable bear). Scrap, my head trouble maker, loves to play with a ball that I refer to as the "steam roller". It gets banned from the garden in spring.
    P.S. I read somewhere that orange peel, cut up and scattered is a good deterrent for cats. Might be worth a try.

  2. This is the perfect time to plan! Your plans look much better than mine! :D Love your little bear!

  3. your root crops were ugly because there was too much nitrogen for them! If you planted them in manure, that causes the forking and hairy carrots.

    It's best to plant them after a more hungry crop.

  4. Thank you for the advice! I remember orange peels working to deter rabbits in one of my very first gardens. Will try it on these cats! Thanks Nickie, that is a great eye opener although no manure. Just a layer of compost worked into the top few inches of soil. Brand new bed (but heavy clay). I don't fertilize. I confess, another one of my resolutions is to be more aware of soil composition. Would this explain my ugly potatoes as well? I envy that you know to plant lean and hungry crops. There is so much to learn.

  5. I had to laugh at your carrot! I've had some turn out like that in my clay soil too, the few that survive. My resolution also is to grow carrots in a raised bed. I have grown rue before, and I like it. It is a host for swallowtail butterflies and is lovely when all the beautiful caterpillars are climbing around on it.

  6. Great planing!
    I am also trying to do a little calendar for my garden. It would be very helpful to know when they flower/seed/harvest.
    Good luck with your plan! hope you succeed

  7. The carrots may be forked but I bet they still tasted really good!

  8. Great garden goals! I think your butt carrot is hilarious (my daughter would probably prefer them that way). I'm impressed with your succession planting note plans & crop rotation.

    I'd love it if you'd submit one of your posts to the next issue of How to Find Great Plants. Here's the link:

    If you don't have time to write a new post you can use one you've already written (maybe the one on native holly).

  9. I really like your blog. Have a nice day/Gela

  10. Your sketches inspire me! I have a small sketch book too where I jot down my gardening ideas and it is fun to go back and look at old books so see how much things have changed...for the better and the worst! Enjoyed looking over your goals for the season.

  11. Ah, clay does typically have a good nitrogen content to it...just ask my 12 foot corn patch!...never fertlized onces with manure or compost or other wise in strait's actually one of the more "nutritious" soils for plants, the trick is to make the nutrition available the plants can take up (Cold clay soil does not release nutrients that well, which is typically why young tomatoe plants get purple leaves in the spring at first). Get that clay loosened up with some organic matter and you will have perfect soil. Sandy soil is the opposite as sand holds next to NO nutrients for plants in it's particles. Ugly potatoes could be something else though, I know they like a lot of compost and are heavy feeders since they are in the same family as tomatoes.

  12. I love your sketches - it's going to be gorgeous.

    I always plant blueberries. I just need to resolve to keep them alive!

  13. while I laughed ( a little) at your butt ugly carrot, I learned by reading the comments about roots crops. So this was a win win for me. We also have clay soil in this area. I have always relied on raised beds.

  14. Hi!
    I love your honesty and that you take down all the mistakes.
    All learn from mistakes.
    I have a garden plan and I respect him, as much as I can.
    I'll see you again.

  15. From here on out, all my deformed carrots are going to be compared to your butt-crack carrot -- I'm not sure I'll ever get that one out of my mind. What a great post! Mojo is adorable, by the way.


Thank you for joining me in my garden in the making!

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