Here are a few of the lessons I learned in the 2013 garden, in no particular order:
You can grow and harvest quinoa in Minnesota, but don’t leave it in the garage too long
I’m chalking this one up to one of the more disappointing lessons learned this year. As you may recall, this year I attempted to grow quinoa in my garden. I knew the biggest challenge was going to lie in the timing, but lo and behold, it produced grain!!! In September I carefully cut the stalks down after they had dropped their leaves and tied them together in bunches to finish drying in the garage. Unfortunately, this is where my luck ran out. By the time I came back to the quinoa (in fairness, it was November by that time), mice had found the quinoa in the garage, taken care of the threshing, and hauled off all of the grain (along with all of my coriander, too!).
Mulch early, and mulch generously
If I have one regret this garden season, it is that I didn’t get the mulch down immediately. A very late, cold, and wet spring posed some challenges not only in getting the garden in, but in getting my hands on some straw bales as well. With all the blight issues this year, I’m not sure it would have completely prevented it (Minnesota humidity pretty much ensures that there will be some blight outbreaks at some point), but I do believe that it would have delayed the onset. By the time I was finally able to get a good, thick layer of mulch under my tomatoes, I already had my work cut out for me. Next year, I am determined to get the mulch out with the seedlings.
Tomato blight can be controlled organically (it’s just a lot of work)
When the tomato blight hit hard this summer, I constantly questioned if I was actually winning the battle, or simply prolonging it. It was a long, exhausting battle, measured in buckets of blighted foliage that had been carefully pruned, bottles of fish emulsion applied with the hope that the plants might out-grow the advance of the blight, and arm cramps from spraying neem oil and peroxide solution with a cheap dollar store spray bottle. I have never been so close to feeling completely burnt out on my garden, but every ripe tomato reminded me what was at stake. Was it more work than I bargained for? You bet. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
Know thy limits and stick to them
When I inherited a second community garden plot this year, I knew I was pushing my limits, and by the end of August, I knew without a doubt that I had reached my limit. I managed to make it work, but I knew it wasn’t a sustainable (and at times, not a very enjoyable) pace for the long haul. I’m still on the fence about my future with the community garden next year, but I do know that I’ll be heading into this garden season with a better perspective on how much time and energy I want to devote to next year’s garden.
“Start indoors” dates matter in Minnesota
Back in April, I acquired some seed for Purple Green Sprouting Broccoli. It was late in the game, but despite my better judgment, I went ahead and started a few seeds. I convinced myself that with a little TLC and a few milk jugs, they would catch up and perhaps be ready to produce later in the season (maybe even in fall). The seedlings did catch up to the other broccoli plants, but never produced any broccoli. Luckily, I still have enough seed to give it another go this year – this time, within the suggested time frame!
This year it appears that the SWD fruit flies that have invaded my raspberries are here to stay. This does not bode well for the future of my fall raspberry crop. I made some progress with the use of vinegar traps, but unfortunately for ever fruit fly I caught, it seemed there were tens, if not hundreds more that still wreaked havoc on the fall raspberry crop (thankfully, the early crop fared much better). Only a fraction of each harvest was edible, leaving me with some more homework to do on what else I can do to reclaim my raspberry crop. I just need to keep in mind that gardeners have been adapting to new challenges since the beginning of time, so really, we just have to keep trying until we figure it out.
Deer are crazy about amaranth
Amaranth was a very last-minute addition to my garden this year. I had never even considered growing amaranth previously, but when a packet arrived as a free gift with one of my seed orders, and I had a couple of open spaces in the community garden, I decided to give it a whirl (I thought the red foliage would add a little interest to the garden). Little did I know that deer are crazy about the stuff! My pretty little red plants were eaten down over and over again, but on a positive note, they left just about everything else in the garden alone this year!
Some people (and squirrels) are just jerks
Anytime I go back and re-read my post from when someone stole all of the watermelons out of my community garden plot, I still get a little bit of a pit in my stomach. It was definitely one of the lowest points of the 2013 garden (second only to when a squirrel demolished an entire flat of pepper seedlings I had been babying for months). Thankfully, there are far more people who recognize the blood, sweat, and tears that gardeners pour into their gardens, than there are jerks.
Don’t get your heart set on an early spring
This year spring was brutal. After a mild winter and an extra-early spring in 2012, I admittedly had very high hopes of what the spring of 2013 would hold. Unfortunately, we went from one extreme to the other and it made not only for some very impatient and disheartened gardeners, but a lot of extra work for anyone who started seed indoors. Maybe next year I’ll expect a repeat of 2013, and then I’ll be pleasantly surprised if spring arrives right on time!
Stay tuned for the Sweet Successes of the 2013 garden!