The gardening season is a little like the PGA Tour. You can "wrap around" by planting over-wintering crops such as garlic and green manures. In this case, there really is no end of one season and beginning of another. But for the sake of declaring the season "over," let's consider that this year's garden is done.
The pictures are here: Now let's talk about what worked and didn't work.
A big winner was tomatoes. We have a good system down now. My brother Patrick dries and saves seeds from the best tomato plants of the previous year. My sister Cheryl and I baby the seedlings along with heat mats and grow lights. Then, first weekend in May, it's into the garden. While we cut back on production due to the drought in California, we still had a good variety of plants, with lots of production. Patrick was nice enough to find and develop my favorite, Oaxacan Jewel. We also had Sun Gold (a favorite), along with standards like San Marzano. But there were some new ones as well, such as a Roma that produced great dried tomatoes.
Potatoes also did well. The biggest reason for improvement over last year's crop loss was moving them to a different bed. Last year's bed had (and still has) a resident gopher, who eventually ate through the roots of every plant. This year, we planted potatoes in a smaller, but taller, and gopher-free bed. Lots of soil amendments and regular watering meant that the crop came in great! As an added bonus, we were able to harvest a few "volunteer" Kennebec potatoes from a different bed. FTW.
Cucumbers were also a winner this year. We grew them for pickling. These were either Jackson Classic or Alibi; I can't remember. Despite being planted in the aforementioned gopher-infiltrated bed, we were able to get a good crop without losing too many to the little varmint. We tried enclosing the plants in tomato cages, in the hopes that the plants would grow up the cages and get the fruit off the ground. But that didn't really work. I think a trellis will be the way to go for that. We did a better job of picking the cucumbers regularly, which prevented the eventual discovery of baseball-bat-sized fruit.
Squash, specifically pumpkins, did pretty well. We didn't plant summer squash, since we knew it would be likely that they would go un-picked for long periods, resulting in squash too big to want to eat. But Cheryl likes to plant pumpkins for harvest and display around Halloween. We planted these on the perimeter of a greens bed, and tried to trail them out onto the surrounding ground to give them room to grow. We got enough for a small door display (Cinderella type), and a couple of sugar pumpkins suitable for eating.
As with corn, we're finding that it's hard to justify growing our own when the local farm stand has tons of pumpkins available.
Basil would have made it to the Winners category, except that we mostly let it go to seed. It's hard to process a 4'x4' bed of basil, unless you want to make a lot of pesto.
We planted some artichokes last year in the half-barrels, and were happy to see second-year growth. Unfortunately, the chokes haven't been as tasty as we would like. Maybe we're not picking them at the right time. This is another why-grow-it-when-you-can-buy-fresh-locally item.
We're thinking that our asparagus bed is not producing as much as we would like. We're not sure if there aren't enough plants or if the bed needs more nourishment. Asparagus is also one of those vegetables you want to check on every day, sometimes multiple times a day. There's nothing worse than an overly tough asparagus stalk that was perfect for eating yesterday.
I really like growing beans. And last year's attempt was a bust. So I was happy when I was able to get beans growing this year. I grew French Flageolet beans (thinking they were the main ingredient in a cassoulet I remember having in Paris), but I didn't get much production. Plus, these are closer to haricots verts in that they need to be picked and eaten at an early age. I had waited until they were plump, by which time they were past their prime. I got more production from the Italian Tongue of Fire beans, but both varieties were planted in a bed that has a gopher. As a result, the gopher managed to chomp through many of the beans' roots, limiting what I was able to grow to harvest stage.
Peppers were a big loser this year. The ones I planted in my home garden were quickly devoured by a grasshopper (more on that below). The peppers we planted at the Hubner Farm were left without water for a few weeks, killing off most of them. The replacement peppers never really had a chance to set fruit before the end of the growing season. We also had a problem with a viral wilt, which damaged some of the peppers. I did manage to get one batch of pepper sauce out of the peppers (see photo album) but not the Cayenne sauce I've produced in the last couple of years.
Greens we planted at the Hubner Farm (arugula, mixed greens, lettuce) did pretty well. Providing some sun shade helped them grow without bolting.
Greens at my house, on the other hand, were a complete bust. Apparently a grasshopper had taken up residence in the garden. While it didn't touch the tomato plants, it did eat everything else I planted. Anything green was eaten down to ground level in a matter of hours. If you check out the picture of our round planter with greens, you'll notice that the grasshopper ate the green lettuces and left the red ones.
The best natural control for grasshoppers is a chicken, but with Mona's interest in chasing birds that wasn't going to work. I would have considered renting one for a day.
We continue to learn and refine our garden approach. Hopefully we can see more success than disappointment going forward!