Recently, I ran across some of my Gardening Lessons Learned for 2013 in a spare notebook. After reviewing and posting the list on the Small Scale Gardening blog, it got me thinking back about the 2014 season. What had I accomplished this year and what had I learned along the way? I decided to write a Gardening Year in Review for 2014 to reflect on the garden season.
After all, it is always good to reflect on how far you went before writing about what you learned along the way. It is also good to ground all the new folks coming to the site about how my gardens developed this year.
So, sit back, and pour a glass of #wine, and enjoy the ride.
Springing into Action
The 2013-2014 winter was brutal: we had a ton of snow and it was terribly cold. Remember all that Polar Vortex nonsense? The epicenter was over the Twin Cities, and it was COLD! Deep snow and never ending bitter cold made me think of spring and starting a bigger and better garden.
Good grief, that picture makes me shiver already. We are probably less than a month from getting our first snow.
I had a decent growing season last year, but those three planters just could not produce what I wanted. The planters were fairly small, and I wanted to experiment with canning and other food preservation, plus I really enjoy starting with seeds and a patch of soil and growing something that tastes great…did I mention growing A LOT of something that tastes great?
As soon as the seedlings were planted under grow lights, I began to plot and plan. I had some space I could work with, but it would take some sweat equity to shape it the way I wanted it. I opted to Reset to Zero and rebuild everything this year.
Resetting to Zero
As I think about the Gardening Year in Review for 2014, one of the bigger efforts this year was the clearing of the space and setting up the grow boxes. A lot of thought went into the design of the boxes, the trellis systems and the placement of the boxes. Sometimes those thoughts and plans worked, other times, not so much.
As I discussed in the Reset to Zero post, there was the “Wild Area” in the back that was a waste of space and weed patch. Since I rent this property, I could not really bulldoze the whole backyard (even though it could use some serious trimming and tree removal). Previous tenants had simply piled up brush and weed clippings in that corner, and I knew it would take some sweat equity to get it in tip-top shape. Executing my evil plan for world domination, I cleared out a ton of weeds, brush, rotted wood over a couple weekends (between monsoons this spring). I trimmed up a dogwood and lilac and cut down and disposed of a dead pine tree.
I then focused on my planters. I rebuilt and reconfigured my two 2’x4′ planters (my “pepper plantation” that I talk about in my videos). I also installed two new grow boxes: a 18″x14′ box and a 18″x8′ box. These would be my main boxes for tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans and squash (shudder).
I discovered a guy named Larry Hall who is from up in Brainerd, Minnesota. He had a crazy grow system called the Rain Gutter Grow System. It looked like an amazing system where plants essentially water themselves.
After doing some research, I bit the bullet and added Larry Hall’s Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow System to my fleet of planters, and I was off to the races. I planted all of my seedlings in the various planters and watched them grow.
Once the grow boxes were in place and the seedlings planted, the plants really took off and sprouted up. I mumbled on Twitter and on this site that I needed to install trellis systems to support the tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and peppers before bad things happened.
What, you might ask, could possibly go wrong?
We were getting almost daily monsoon rainstorms here, and we had the wettest June on record. We received a year’s worth of rain in June 2014, and plants would be battered by high winds and powerful storms. Even in the picture below, you can see some of the pepper plants are toppling over and need additional support. I needed to support those plants ASAP!
As a solution, I installed simple trellis systems using 2″x4″ studs and 3/4″ conduit. I used Dollar General clothesline to tie onto the wire “runners” along the ground level, loop the line around the base and stem of the plant and tie to the 3/4″ conduit. All of my grow boxes got a similar trellis system, and this encouraged the plants to grow vertically and provided additional support to fruit-laden limbs.
Grow, Baby, Grow!
Once all the construction was complete and the storms subsided, we settled in for a cooler summer. Plants continued to grow and bear fruit. Some of the cucumbers and tomatoes were over 10′ high at the end of the season!
Over the season, I had battles with blight, critters and bugs. I lost some plants to hungry rabbits and squirrels. I fought the food fight against slimy slugs and caterpillars (I lost to the slugs). I lost the squash and pumpkin plants to the powdery mildew. It is frustrating to lose the battle, but I think, in the end, I won a great deal.
As I finish this Gardening Year in Review 2014, I realized that the most important thing is that I did the research, did the work and learned a lot along the way.
“You cannot learn and experience life by not trying or living vicariously through others. You must get out and do it. Learn, Make, Lead!”
Until next time, let’s grow together!