2015 Gardens in Review

It’s time to bring this year’s garden season to an end. There’s really nothing left to do inside the garden besides pick a few carrots, so I need focus the remaining weeks before snowfall on raking leaves, tending grapes, and whatever else I can manage to do to get ahead for next year.  But, before I do that, it’s the perfect time to make a highlight reel for the past season.

Veggie Garden

My 2015 garden was a good one, perhaps my best ever. The weather was great for gardening: a longer and warmer season than average with regular rain throughout the season. I set up the watering system this year but only used in once or twice, and I probably would have been entirely fine without it. The prime growing conditions combined with my having a little more interest in gardening than I’d had the past few years and my being a little more experienced every year made for a good year.

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The 2015 garden grew my best spinach ever.

I made a big change in my garden this year, transitioning the mounded raised beds into formal, wooden beds. I like having slightly raised beds, but the mounds always seemed to require extra effort because the slides would slump and need to be reshaped every spring. Throughout this year, I transitioned over to 6-inch-tall raised beds across most of the garden, doing 2-3 beds at a time. I also began to take down some taller beds that I’d built along the north edge of a garden a few years ago, which were shoddily built (by me—I’ve learned my lesson!) and falling apart.

The 2015 garden grew my best spinach so far.
New 6-inch beds (front) and some old 12-inch ones that are slowly falling apart (back).

The garden season started in mid-April with planting some greens. By mid-May, I’d built a few of the new beds. Most years I sketch out my garden plans on pen and paper, but this year I went digital to make sure I had the math right. Like most years, I stopped taking records in May when the weather turned nice, so I have only a limited recollection of what I did during the early spring.

The spring garden plan (thick black lines = wood beds; dashed lines = planned beds).
The spring garden plan (thick black lines = wood beds; dashed lines = planned beds). Made in Excel (nerd alert!)

Early spring plantings of spinach and lettuce were phenomenal, and I ended up giving away greens and letting some bolt. For whatever reason, the peas had less success germinating, so I never really got a good amount of them even though I’d planted more than in previous years. The green beans germinated and grew well but didn’t seem to produce as much as I would have expected; I wonder if I planted them too densely and created some type of competition among individual plants. Cucumbers did pretty well, as did garlic.

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I’d never had good success with brassicas in the past but was happy that I gave them another shot this year—I got a lot of broccoli and a few small cabbages when I hadn’t expected much of anything. Tomatoes and peppers both grew well, although the tomatoes got blighty toward the end and there were still a lot of green ones remaining when the weather turned cold.

I tried a late planting of spinach, lettuce, kale and some other things, none of which seemed to take very well, probably because of the summer heat. I eventually got a little bit of arugula and there are some tiny kale left in the garden that I’m hoping will be poised to take off next spring. But it’s okay that I didn’t grow kale—or potatoes—because I’ve gotten plenty from some neighbors; their potato patch was the size of my entire garden. I grew beets this year for the first time in a few years and they did well. So did the carrots.

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Last harvest of the season.

It was a beautiful, mild fall. Most places experienced a hard frost in mid-September, but I made it through that unscathed.  I didn’t observed the signs of a hard frost until the morning of October 17, when I came out to finally pick the arugula and found it frozen solid. I love that our warm microclimate gives me a longer season in the spring and fall. I don’t seem to get any better production out of it since nothing really grows well with short days and cold nights during the shoulder seasons, but it does give me more time to get my chores done.

The first hard frost.
The first hard frost.

I did my last bit of gardening this past weekend, when I finally got around to planting garlic. And I quickly weeded one bed because the amount of grass already growing in it suggested that it would become a lawn by spring. I suspect that grass can grow under the snow half the winter, which is a terrifying thought.

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Dormant for the winter.

Prairie Garden

I have a small perennial garden composed entirely of prairie plants from the part of south-central Wisconsin where I grew up. I didn’t spend much time in that garden this year, but it’s a great asset because of the amount of insects and hummingbirds it seems to bring in.

Purple cone flowers.
Purple cone flowers.

One thing I did have to take care of this year was killing some invasive knotweed before it got out of control. I haven’t taken the time to figure out whether it was Japanese knotweed or giant knotweed. It really doesn’t matter—both are highly invasive and have freakishly aggressive root systems. Oh, yeah, and those roots were growing in our septic mound. I covered them in glyphosate (I think my first use of an herbicide ever…), and that seemed to do the trick.

Die, knotweed, die!
Die, knotweed, die!

I have to decide what to do with the area adjacent to this garden next year. In the spirit of kill your lawn, I’ve been smothering out the grass on a portion of our super-tall septic mound for two seasons. My intention has been to plant it to a shallow-rooted, septic-friendly wildflower mix, but it’s a fairly intensive process to get it started in a way that will kill out the undesirable grasses. Now I’m wondering if a no-mow fescue might be an easier way to go, as that’s worked well in other parts of our yard and would also reduce the area that needs to be mowed consistently.*

Die, grass, die!
Die, grass, die!

Perennial Gardens and Plants

I didn’t do too much with other plants this year. I planted 5 elm trees, which seem to have taken. It was another great year for the grapes on the north fence of my (vegetable) garden, and I picked plenty of grapes to be made into wine or jam this winter. The strawberries on the south side of the garden are slowly being taken over by grass. In anticipation of (hopefully) planting raspberries in that location next spring, I relocated some strawberries to an open bed along the side of the house where I’ll be able to control the weeds more easily.

Transplanting strawberries to their new location.
Transplanting strawberries to their new location.

The perennial plants in front of the house continue to grow and will need to be divided next year. The entire garden along the front of the house is a constant mess but it looks fine from a distance, so I choose not to care. Its saving grace is that the violets (which I actually salvaged from the pre-garden lawn before I tilled it all under) are insanely aggressive. They have been spreading into every bit of growing space, creating a pretty ground cover and boxing all the weeds out!


*Note that in our world, mowing consistently actually means as little as possible and only when we can’t put it off any longer. This turns out to be about once for every three times the neighbors do it. Even with our long growing season, I think we only mowed about 5 times. This is also 5 times more than we wanted to.

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