Or maybe this post should be more appropriately named: “Lessons from failed vegetable gardens”
This will be my third season with a modest backyard vegetable garden. Previous years’ plantings were poorly planned, if at all, and mainly consisted of impulse purchases of seeds and plants, resulting in poor yields. This is my third year. Experimentation was fun, but it’s time to grow up.
I’m a planner, and am analytical by nature, so I’m not sure why my vegetable gardening is so full of whimsy and inconsistency. But, as with anything, it’s a learning process. My first year, I filled my raised beds with a mix of compost and garden soil, but probably didn’t have anywhere near the right proportion or nutrients. I plunked my seeds in the ground, in what I thought was a logical arrangement, and waited. 2011 was The Year of the Radish. I planted 2 varieties, and planted 16 (or was it 20?) square feet of them. In retrospect, that was way too many radishes, considering that I’m the only one in the house who really likes them! Thankfully, I have co-workers who never turn down free food – even radishes. On the bright side, the radish crop was just what I needed: something fast-growing with a quick pay-off, early season, and very easy to grow. Maybe radishes are a gateway vegetable?
That first year, I also planted rutabagas. Not sure why I succumbed to that impulse seed purchase, as I don’t really eat rutabagas regularly. I could count the number of times I’ve eaten them on one hand. Could be the Ed Hume Seed packaging, perhaps? Unfortunately, the rutabagas were a failure. Something ate tiny little holes in them, and not one was fit for consumption. Any experts have feedback on this unknown pest?
I planted zucchini that year, which did not do well (the following year, it did much better). I’m not sure whether it was the lack of bees (there were more the following year), or blossom end rot. (My profile photo is of my first zucchini flower on my first zucchini plant ever…) What zucchini did grow, would end up being eaten by my dog. I’d leave a zucchini on the vine for an extra day, thinking “tomorrow, this will be perfect”. Well, Stella thought the same thing. I’d regularly find half a zucchini on the vine with doggy teeth marks.
Carrots failed miserably that first year, but after reading about the specific soil conditions required, I felt I was in good company with a failed carrot crop. I chose to not even try planting them in 2012. Heck, I don’t even like carrots much anyway.
Sweet Peas from the garden
Sweet peas are the easiest, most delicious thing to grow here in the Pacific Northwest, in my opinion. If I had the room, I’d plant 100 square feet of just Sweet Peas, staggering the planting, then plant another batch in mid-August for an autumn harvest. September seems to be one of the best growing months around the Seattle area. For the last 2 years, I actually bought plants, but this year I am starting mine from seed.
I had an amazing crop of tomatoes last year, all heirloom varieties started from seed by my sister. I have no idea what varieties they were, nor did she when she brought them over. “Here, I have too many tomato starts, but have no idea what they are…” she said. I plunked them in the ground and had the most amazing yield ever.
Chard is easy to grow here, and delicious, but I wish I had more space, since one meal with chard requires a significant amount of leaves. I kept mine in the ground from last year, and it has grown significantly in the last couple of weeks. I generally grow my sweet peas on the west side of my chard to shelter it from the late afternoon sun. It’s worked really well, and I would recommend the same with any leafy green.
I grew pumpkins on my sunny and useless side yard last year, and after so much watering and manual pollinating, my yield was 3 medium pumpkins. Don’t think I’ll try that again. But, it would be a good spot for another raised bed. Hmm…
I’ve also attempted Gai Lan (another impulse buy due to my love of Gai Lan at Dim Sum restaurants), and Bok Choy, neither of which did well. The Gai Lan bolted well before becoming sizeable. The Bok Choy was mostly leaf and not much substance. No idea where I went wrong with these, but the chickens were appreciative.
Zone 8b can be challenging with a fairly short growing season, but this year I hope to do the research and maximize fall/winter plantings so the garden is doing something year-round, even if it’s rejuvenating itself with a cover crop.
This year’s vegetable garden:
- Tomatoes (no-brainer)
- Kohlrabi (I’m so excited for this one)
- Sweet Peas
- Potatoes (experimenting with intentional planting this year)
- Radishes (just a few, I promise…)
- Strawberries (chicken-proof hanging baskets)
Any other suggestions for the 8b zone/Seattle area from you experts out there? I have limited space, so have never opted for things like corn, but would appreciate success stories from those who have survived these experimental years.