Well, this year’s gardening season was a complete success. I set up three raised beds and we grew cherry, plum and big boy tomatoes, green beans, chard, kale and lettuce. I, never in my life, thought we could get so much food from three small locations.
I believe the first vegetable we began eating was kale. That was in the middle of June some time. Since that moment, we stopped purchasing any type of salad green from the market and, for three straight months, saved money hand over fist. I remember heading out to cut the kale and chard every night and returning indoors with a large bowl packed to the rim. If you think about it, heads of green and red lettuce cost between $2 and $3 each, so this whole thing made perfect sense for us.
I planted the green beans late. Truthfully, I just stuck nine seeds in the dirt between the tomato plants in one of our beds. I wanted to see what would happen. Well, a few weeks later, Laura and I were pulling handfuls of beans off the vines daily and either cutting them up to throw in our salads or frying them to use as a side for our dinner. Crazy good stuff.
The cherry tomatoes began ripening first and didn’t stop – well, they are just stopping now. They are the gift that keeps on giving. The plum tomatoes offered us a smaller yield, but were extremely good fried up. I added them to virtually everything. I cooked them, along with some kale and chard and made omelettes like it was nobody’s business. The big boy tomatoes were the last to ripen, but when they did, were we overloaded. Even though they aren’t great sauce tomatoes, I blended them up in our food processor and they yielded over three gallons of sauce. Of course, most of that sauce was water and boiled off, but we still have some left and it’s pretty good tasting.
But even with all the success we had with our first year of gardening, we learned some lessons.
First, it’s all in the soil. While tomatoes and beans grow well in lesser quality soil, kale, chard and lettuce love it rich and dark with organic (chicken poop) fertilizer added every few weeks. After I added the first round of fertilizer, our slowing plants popped back to life rather quickly.
Second, I watered every day. Because my initial mixture was 2:1 parts of topsoil and lobster compost, we were lacking the organics to keep things moist. The hot sun of July demanded that I water regularly and frequently.
Third, pests love gardens. While we didn’t have any issues with deer or other furry wildlife, the slugs and cabbage loopers loved the kale. For some reason, kale is very attractive for pests. I bought some slug killer and that worked well, but since we got so much rain in the middle of the season, it was challenging to keep up with the applications. From what I read, the killer consists of iron that’s naturally found in dirt.
Regarding the cabbage looper, I read that neem oil gets rid of them. I bought some super-powerful concentrate (the good stuff) and didn’t see any improvement. It wasn’t until I purchased “BT” that I saw a reduction of them. I’ll have to use this next year as a preemptive measure.
There was a morning when I woke up, walked out to check on the gardens and was horrified by what I saw. One of our larger tomatoes was eaten to the core by a tobacco hornworm (oftentimes confused with the tomato hornmworm). Upon further inspection, I found four of these enormous caterpillars (about four inches long), pulled them off and threw them in the pond. Laura and I stood there watching as the fish swooped in and ate them. Laura grabbed a great photo of one of them. BT works on these as well. The whole idea of this insect is very disturbing.
Anyway, the season is coming to a close. While the chard and kale will still grow into November, the beans and tomatoes are done. I cut down the larger plants and am going to compost them into all the horse manure I’m going to get from Lenny over at the sanctuary. I’m hoping that next year will give us bumper crops with the two additional raised beds I’m currently constructing along with all the rich soil I’m processing right now.
I took a few pictures of what it looks like outside. I did this for a number of reasons. It’s always nice to practice my photography. It’s also just as nice to practice my post-process image editing in Camera Raw and Photoshop and, I’m sure you like to have a few photos tossed in these posts as well. Enjoy.
Once the frost hits, green beans and tomatoes don’t stand a chance. The leaves are the first to go with the fruit close behind.
While these little cherry tomatoes don’t look terrible, there’s no way in heck they’re going to ripen. Unfortunately, their fate is as the other’s that didn’t make it.
This horse manure has been sitting over at Lenny’s for a few months. What I get this fall will most likely look like this. By spring, the worms should have had their way with it and it’ll be ready for planting.
Chard likes the cold. While it’s not as winter hardy as kale, it stays strong through these types of minor frosts we’ve been experiencing. And in the cooler weather, it gets very rugged and firm.
By far, kale is my favorite. I’m getting a different variety (winterbor) for next year and expect to multiply my yields. It tastes good, is tender, is easy to grow and lasts well into November.