Incredibly long, incredibly overdue garden update

Given that the garden is SUCH a huge part of life here in the Brewer household, you would think that I would update you all on its magnificence regularly.

In all actuality, the magnificence, and overwhelming size and subsequent responsiblities thereof, mean that there is little time for updates, as every spare minute is spent outside. (Well, I spend my spare minutes shepherding our small feral creatures little girls so that the DreadBrewer can spend his spare minutes tending to the ridiculously large garden to which we’ve committed ourselves. But I digress…)

Additionally, these update pictures are slightly out of date, as they’re from July, but they do sum up fairly admirably how our garden did this past year. So here’s a run-down on what we grew and how it fared.

Tomatoes:
Tomatoes July 2015Do you remember when I bought 100 bags of garden soil with which to fill our new beds? Yeah, well it says on the bags to mix the bagged soil 50/50 with native soil, which we did not do. And apparently this significantly impacted our tomato plants’ production. They produced like crazy but most of the tomatoes had weird spots and diseases and it was just not a good year for tomatoes. On top of that, our plants all got really, really big and really, really heavy – which you would think would be a good thing but it’s not. They were so big and so heavy that they kept falling over, despite being caged and staked. And tied up. And staked again. Our plan is to actually prune the tomato plants next year (like some tomato experts recommend) and plant them in a different bed and hopefully have a much better harvest.

Peppers:
Peppers July 2015

While the tomatoes hated the bagged garden soil, the peppers decided that it was the best thing ever and that they would be more prolific than we had ever dreamed to thank us for such awesome dirt.

Peppers 2 July 2015

The harvest to end all harvests, picked in a single day

The DreadBrewer and I are seriously contemplating that, if we need to supplement our income, we can sell peppers on the side. The Sahuaro peppers, the jalapenos, the Aji Dulces are insane. The bell peppers (orange, yellow, and red) have been pretty industrious as well.

Peppers 3 July 2015

Jalapeno and Mega-Jalapeno

In order to preserve the harvest for the winter, I made refrigerator pickled jalapenos, sahuaros, and bell peppers (I’m a little too worried about botulism to try making shelf stable ones) and I froze about 8 recipe-sized packets of pepper strips. All other peppers were foisted off on coworkers and neighbors.

Zucchini and Cucumbers:

Zucchini July 2015The zucchini did amazingly well this year – we didn’t bother with any patty pan varieties, only the straight and easily used kind. (Dunja and Desert, in case you’re interested.) I made many, many batches of the Best Zucchini Bread Ever and we both brought many, many zucchini bats in to work.

The cucumbers actually did not do as well as in previous years, though we still had plenty to eat and share. We had talked about growing a pickling variety, as Suyo Long don’t pickle well (even refrigerator pickle) but somehow we forgot. That is definitely on our list for next year, as is transplanting our cuke plants (or direct seeding them) earlier since we left it way too late this time around.

Beans:

Beans July 2015

Who, on God’s green earth, needs a 10×10 bed full of nothing but bean plants? No one, that’s who. We had SO many beans. And, in case you weren’t aware, picking beans is my most dreaded garden task. I loathe it. it gives me a weird prickly itchy rash all over my arms. It hurts my back. It’s never ending because there is always – always – another bean.

Green Beans July 2015

What are we supposed to do with all of these?

I know that I should have canned some of our beans but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. (Botulism! Salmonella! Imminent death from green beans!!!!) So instead I blanched and froze about 5 family sized portions of beans, cooked up a bunch, and gave away the rest. And then, we finally got to the point where the beans were all knobby and big and I convinced DB that we didn’t need to bother harvesting them any more. And there was much rejoicing.

Sweet Potatoes:

Sweet Potatoes July 2015Somehow, our sweet potatoes managed to avoided the dreaded vole plague of 2015 and grow into behemoth sized specimens. The fellow featured below isn’t even the biggest one we grew by a long shot.

Sweet Potatoes 2 July 2015

One potato = Enough to feed a family of four

Despite being enormous (a trait that leads to less edibility in many vegetable varieties), our sweet potatoes are actually quite tasty. We’ve had a couple batches of sweet potato fries that were great and I’m thinking about sweet potato casserole next week.

Okra:

Okra July 2015Our okra looks like it should be going jingo crackers, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. We’re getting some okra, but most of the plants are all for show. We tried a new variety this year and neither of us is impressed with it’s productivity. Though given that the only way I know how to make okra edible is by breading and baking it, our puny okra season has seriously curtailed my breadcrumb expenditure.

Potatoes:

Our potatoes were a total wash. Every single potato we dug up had rotted in the ground. It was the most demoralizing potato digging expedition ever. I still tear up thinking about it and I don’t know where we went wrong.

Berries:

Our raspberries and blackberries were insane. Literally insane. It was awesome, particularly when LB and BIT figured out they were there and would just go gorge themselves on fresh berries, The blueberries never got past 75% ripe and then the birds ate them, so this is our 2nd year with no blueberries. I’m tempted to pull all of them out and plant more blackberries, because at least those earn their keep.

In General:

What worked for us this year was:
-Mulching all of the beds with shredded leaves, courtesy of my dad. That really cut down on our weeds and helped with our water conservation efforts.
-Having shut-off valves on nearly all of the beds, allowing us to turn off zones of drip irrigation rather than watering empty beds.
-Starting 99% of our plants from seed. We spent a whole lot of money on other garden things this year, so it was very very nice not to spend at least $3 per plant on some specimen that further decimated the pollinator population and was probably shitty to boot.
-Being just a little bit more laid back about whether we got into the garden every single day or not. As the size of some of our zucchini bats testified, there were definitely nights where we did not get out and harvest. And the garden survived.

What didn’t work for us this year:
-Filling our beds with 100% bagged soil. Some plants liked it but some plants did not – and tomatoes are one of our favorite things, so that was a big blow. If we build any more beds, we will either make our own soil like we used to or make sure to mix it 50/50.
-The voles! The voles!!! We tried a whole heck of a lot of stuff to get the voles under control and they just ran rampant over us. I’m not sure what we can do that will be truly effective short of shoveling all of the dirt out of our beds, installing hardware cloth across the bottoms, and then refilling the beds with dirt – the prospect of which makes me want to run away crying. Sadly (for me, anyway), DB and I have been discussing how best to go about doing just that.

Okay, there you have it (finally!). An update on how the garden did this past summer. Now we’re in the midst of garden clean up, putting down gravel between the beds, building more compost bins, seeding fall crops, prepping beds for cover crops, pruning the berry patches, and various other garden tasks. Not to mention that we need to get ready for the start of brewing season, as that is slated to commence in a few short weeks. At least I’m never bored, right?

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