I can’t believe it’s time to wrap up the growing year of 2019 already. Or, maybe I can. So much has happened this year, it sure feels like a lifetime ago we started those first pepper seeds inside sometime late January-early February! Over here, we’ve had a great season, with all the mandatory ups and downs. We managed to get some things right that we messed up last year, learned oh so many new lessons, cursed cabbage moths more than can possibly be appropriate and felt overall… more chilled about stuff. Last year (our first as veggie-growers), we were panicking all the time, fearing things would go straight to hell and had very little trust in ourselves (and the sun, the rain and the soil too, apparently). Feeling more relaxed has been amazing, and the perceived effort has been significantly less as a result.
Our Garden Plan 2019 brought you up to date until the beginning of April – in there, we mentioned that we had built two more boxes (according to this Guide to Building Your Own Garden Boxes) in which we’d grow this year’s squashes, and also that we had dug a second small-ish patch where we’d try out Jerusalem artichokes for the first time. In other words, we expanded our growth space by a few square meters going into this 2019 season, but at the same time, we had also promised each other to reduce the number of potted plants (in our case, that’s tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers). I take full responsibility for the fact that we had pots left, right and center all of last summer, causing tripping hazards wherever you stepped – whether you were trotting around inside the garden, in the greenhouse or on our deck. To my defense, it was hard for a beginner to understand exactly how big and jungle-like the plants would get eventually, as I planted these innocent-looking, cute little things of 10 inches/25 cm tall and placed them neatly along the sides of the greenhouse. I didn’t realize it would be completely impossible to make it in the door a month or two later… So: this year, we had 5 cucumber plants instead of 8, and 12 tomatoes instead of 20+. A lot more manageable – and hey, yields turned out bigger this year anyway! We’ll get into the details later, but one of the biggest takeaways with this year is this: we’ve figured out a nutrition-replenishment routine (hence bigger yields, thank you very much).
Otherwise, we stuck to all the plans and layouts we shared in that Garden Plan 2019. Now it’s time to summarize and ask ourselves… well, how did it go? We’ll get into specifics eventually, but overall: it went well. We still like to weigh our harvest (just because it’s fun) and I think we had higher expectations as far as the overall, but that was really illogical of us. Of course you have to take into consideration what types of plants you grow – for example, the same space devoted to chard vs. corn will see distinctly different yields seen to weight. Weight is – still – rewarding to look at as a whole, but certainly doesn’t tell the entire truth. (A note on weight though – the general recommendation is that an adult consumes at least 500 g of fruit and vegetables per day. That would mean 365 kg for both Mike and I per year. Now, we eat more vegetables and fruit than that, but it’s still motivating to look at the numbers and see that we’re more than halfway there – and that’s not including any fruit or berries. Oh the yearning for self-sufficiency!)
The early part of the season brought some weather-drama. Our inexperience became very obvious here, because we took some warm, sunny days in mid-April as a sign of frost-risk being gone and started planting out pre-cultivated seedlings as if there was no tomorrow. We were SO eager to clear some space inside (because of course our house was overflowing with little cups) and just couldn’t control ourselves. This was such a rookie-mistake. Hey, we’re located right on the border of zone 3 and 4 in Sweden? Yes, exactly. Of course we should have known what was coming. We had snow on the ground as late as May 5th this year, and many nights of frost in the late spring, and thus ended up losing some plants, worrying ourselves through the nights, covering boxes with blankets and god knows what as a result. It’s quite funny, the whole thing, but we were certainly pretty upset with ourselves every night as we tucked in our sadder and sadder looking squash plants night after night. On the bright side though: we learned an important lesson, and most plants ended up bouncing back after all.
And so… we met cabbage moths for the very first time.
When snow and frost for sure were things of the past though, we could proceed according to plan. Overall, everything was growing nicely and we could harvest spinach, sugar snaps, potatoes, savoy cabbage (a very early sowing, planted in buckets in our greenhouse), summer squash, cucumber, green kale and dino kale before mid-June. The spinach was replaced with beans, chard and corn after it was harvested in the beginning of June, and we couldn’t have been more pleased with that succession. Two big yields out of the same space, a grower’s dream! The next setback (after the cold weather debacle) hit in late June. Our kale plants had outgrown their nets (that we clearly cut into too small pieces) and we had removed them, happily stating how we hadn’t spotted a single cabbage butterfly yet and that we’d probably be fine. Then one night, we were just strolling around outside and I accidentally brushed up against the kale plants. An entire cloud of what looked like miniature moths flew up in the air, and we almost jumped from the surprise. Somehow, we didn’t find this very troubling but thought they were just hanging out (there it is again – the inexperience). But over the next few days, I started noticing an INSANE amount of microscopic larvae + holes on/in the leaves. I typically have a fair amount of patience when it comes to methodically removing larvae and checking all the plants, but the amount here was just… overwhelming. And so… we met cabbage moths for the very first time. In our heads, we thought cabbage moths and cabbage butterflies were the same thing. Note to self: they’re not. And again, another lesson learned. This attack reduced our first harvest (we did two sowings of kale) but that’s ok.
The rest of the season has actually gone by relatively smoothly. We still have plenty of things to master (tomato pollination is one of them) and many areas to streamline, but we enjoyed the rest of the summer and fall without any major mishaps. We got to harvest and eat our very own homegrown corn, which was a big day. Corn is such a big deal in America (much like new potatis, or färskpotatis, here) and we have missed having those super fresh ears of corn just quickly blanched, slathered in butter and sprinkled with salt. We’ve also had a very successful first season of growing both parsnips and Jerusalem artichokes, yielding lots of food and tasting divine. Another highlight was feeling like we figured out beans (and snap peas) this year. We were overall a little disappointed with the harvest last year, feeling like we had missed something or done something… well, not right. We heard from some people that the unusually hot and dry summer we had in Sweden 2018 was tough for beans, so maybe the weather played one part, but we were also more diligent with spacing (beans don’t like to be crowded), watering and applied a layer of mulch this year. From around 30 individual pole bean plants last year, we got 2.8 kg of beans. This year, from the 4 (!!) plants we had leftover seeds for, we got 2.5 kg. That was so much fun to see – and they came out tastier, too!
The warm weather made way for significantly colder temperatures early this year, as fall rolled in. We were expecting a second round of beans (the plants had started to produce miniature pods), but we had to see the plants turn yellow instead. We also sowed a second round of spinach in mid-August, thinking we’d get another big yield (we got almost 6 kg in the spring), but for the amount of light we have on our property, it seems we need to be earlier. We only ending up getting 0.5 kg.
We love the cycles of the year, and the variation the four distinct seasons bring.
Late fall meant rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty for real again, when we set up our new garden area. We wanted to expand our growing space by a good amount, and also protect certain parts of the property from the wild animal parade we see on an almost daily basis. The moose family we spot frequently is a group of connoisseurs for sure – they love apples, plums, Jerusalem artichokes and whatever other goodies we’ve had on offer outside of the fence we have around the big garden. In other words, we spent a few weeks digging new patches and then surrounding them + fruit trees and previous patches with a fence. If you’re interested in learning more about that whole project, you’re more than welcome to read the post A Hugelkultur-Inspired New Addition to Our Garden.
And now we’re here. It’s the end of December and we’re being all cozy inside, surrounded by Christmas treats and decorations alike. Outside the window, we have snow on the ground and feel very content spring isn’t here just yet – or will be anytime soon. Food we have plenty of, and some is still out there waiting to be harvested – kale of different kinds, parsnips and Jerusalem artichokes, for example. We love the cycles of the year, and the variation the four distinct seasons bring. They all play a part, for us as well as for nature.
The good stuff:
- Bokashi: For my 32nd birthday in July, I wished for a Bokashi compost. (I’ll let you all imagine the look on my mom’s face when I told her that. How life has changed!) That means we’ve joined the tribe and now compost all our food “waste” with the help of an anaerobic environment and a gazillion microbes. It remains for us to see how well plants will do in soil fertilized with the help of Bokashi (as we dug down the first batch in late August), but what we can say is this: there’s no trace of the compost (whatsoever) a few weeks after you’ve buried it in the soil (so cool!). I know that’s what they tell you will happen, but we had a hard time believing it. In other words, we’re now hoping to be completely self-sustaining when it comes to fertilization and that the era of buying bagged manure is over.
- Nutrition watering routine: Last year, we really didn’t pay too much attention to the fact that the soil needs replenishment throughout the season. We got on board with the whole “pee-water” or “diluted urine water” as a fertilizer, sure, but didn’t do a very good job sticking to a schedule or taking into consideration what plants benefit from it and when. This year, we really got into a great routine and had a plan for everything. We relied on pee-water and chicken manure water (leftovers from a bag in the shed – no more bagged stuff we hope), and did a round twice a week for the plants in need of a lot (such as corn) and a few times a season for others (let’s say root veggies)
- Mulching (täckodling): We’re officially devotees. Yes, we’ve known about the benefits and yes, we’ve thought it sounds awesome but it took a month or two into the season before we really got around to it. We have neighbors with a massive lawn, and when we spotted them riding around on their mower and piling up the grass clippings in a corner of their property, we simply asked if we perhaps could get some. The look we received was rather surprised, but we were more than welcome to take as much as we wanted. We walked back and forth with wheelbarrows a few times, and then mulched away. When we were done, no exposed soil was visible anywhere in the garden. Mulching is great in so many ways – it preserves moisture in the soil, provides nutrients etc. – and is such a logical way of farming, when you think about it. Because honestly, where in nature do we see exposed soil? It practically doesn’t exist. And mimicking more of nature’s own protective measures always seems a good idea. We’ll continue to mulch for sure.
- Bee-friendliness: We had dreams of making our property a happy, safe place for pollinators this year and boy, did that work. We haven’t even gotten around to all the things yet (we still need to set up a water station for them, for example), but just by letting our lawn be instead of mowing it (except small paths), planting cornflowers (blåklint), borage (gurkört) and cosmos (rosenskära) and allowing some herbs to go into bloom, we attracted more bees and butterflies than we knew existed. And it made us so happy! We found ourselves observing the bees buzzing around the white clover on the lawn with giant smiles on our faces so often, and it’s obviously a done deal we’re doing the same things and more next year.
- Beans: I know I mentioned it already, but our beans (all varieties) did so much better this year! We had fewer plants overall (not a big difference, but still fewer) and the yield came out to 7.5 kg compared to 5.4 kg of last season.
- Tomatoes + cucumber: We had fewer plants but got a bigger yield – so we must have done something right! Here, I think the diligent nutrition watering made all the difference. Our cucumbers (5 plants this year, as opposed to 8 last year) produced fruits for a much longer season, and the tomatoes yielded a whole lot more per plant than last year. What does remain a project for us is to figure out pollination of our tomatoes. We get tons and tons of flowers, the whole garden has been buzzing with bees all season, AND we’ve been hand-pollinating – yet, more than half the flowers (especially on the Brandywine plants) turned into duds. Tips, anyone?
- Corn: We were way too eager to start the seeds and plant the seedlings outside, so quite a few corn plants died in that cold weather spell in the beginning of May. There was enough time to start new ones though, so no harm done, but once the 24 plants were in the ground, our expectations were quite low. We had already deemed corn a “difficult” plant and said “if we get to have one nice ear of corn each this year, we’ve succeeded!”. Judge of our joy, then, when we got 21 ears! A few plants thus didn’t do well, but the majority did. We helped the pollination a bit, but our primary focus was to mulch, mulch again and mulch some more, and diligently nutrition water the plants twice a week the whole season. The efforts bore fruit (no pun intended) and we’re hooked. The variety that we grew (Double Standard) was good and nicely sweet, but a little mealy for our taste. We like the kernels to be super crisp. If anyone has any tips on varieties more like that, please let us know!
- Parsnips and Jerusalem artichokes: New vegetables for us to grow, and the outcome has exceeded all expectations. Big yields, easy to care for, fantastic flavor – we’ll add them to the list for next year for sure.
The not so good stuff:
- Tree-like flowers in boxes: Ok, so borage is gorgeous and the bees love it, but somehow we missed the piece of information on how gigantic the plants get. They grew into trees, practically, with thick stems and branches reaching up, down and to the sides. Lesson learned: plant borage where it won’t need to compete for space, or even worse, steal space from precious vegetables. Same thing goes for cosmos, another gigantic flower, apparently! (Although the divine smell makes me forgive cosmos for most things.)
- Tomato duds: Already mentioned – we need to figure out pollination or whatever it is we’re doing wrong.
- Cabbage moths: Now we know the looks of another critter we need to keep an eye out for.
- Soy beans (edamame): We love edamame beans but typically don’t buy any since they’re shipped form far away and we like to stay local. Growing our own seemed an amazing idea. And sure, the ones we did indeed harvest and eat were delicious – only, the entire yield from 6 plants came out to 0.3 kg and was gone in one meal. It remains a question whether it’s worth it or not (it seems the Swedish summer climate isn’t ideal), but it was a fun project.
- Winter squash: All around us, we have gardeners and growers who seem to get an infinite number of winter squashes/pumpkins. We would love to, too – but we must be doing something wrong. We only got 5.6 kg (or ~8 fruits) from 5 plants, and we had so many female flowers (as in, the ones that will develop the fruits after pollination) that just withered and died. We hand-pollinated and had tons of flowers interspersed in the box, so there was no shortage of bees either. The one thing we come back to is that we might have spaced them too close to each other, and then not given them enough nutrition. Next year, we’ll space them out and be more generous with (natural) fertilizer.
- Beets: It’s unclear why, but we can’t seem to get actual bulbs to grow. It’s just leaves and a thin, hairy little knob underneath the ground. Homework needed.
- Broccoli: We get beautiful plants and sure, crowns/heads form… but they’re so small! We need to harvest so many to get a proper serving each. Now, thankfully you can feast on the leaves as well, but we’d really like to nail big, dense heads next year. Unclear how. More space? More nutrition? Probably.
And finally, a summary of our yield:
Tomato (Brandywine, Red Pearl, Ida Gold): 11.8 kg
Cucumber (Tanja, Muncher): 8.1 kg
Bell pepper/pointed bell pepper (Yolo Wonder, Ferenc Tender): 1.6 kg
Chili pepper (no name): 0.5 kg
Summer squash (Striato d’Italia, Dark Fog): 42.8 kg
Winter squash (Table Ace, Delicata Zeppelin): 5.6 kg
Green curly kale (Westland Winter, Curly Half-tall): 4.6 kg + lots left
Dino kale (Nero di Toscana): 7.8 kg + lots left
Savoy cabbage (Vorbote 3): 2.3 kg
Broccoli (Calabrais, Waltham): 7.3 kg (incl. greens)
Spinach (Bloomsdale LS): 6.3 kg
Chard (Five Colors, Fordhook Giant): 16 kg
Radishes (French Breakfast, Plum Purple): 0.1 kg
Corn (Double Standard): 3 kg
Pole beans (Neckarkönigin): 2.5 kg
Green beans (Speedy, Provider, Sunray + Royal Burgundy, a purple variety): 5 kg
Sugar snaps (Cascadia): 2.2 kg
Soy beans (Edamame): 0.3 kg
Parsnips (White Gem): 3 kg + approx. 5 kg still in the ground
Carrots (Purple Haze, Laguna): 1.7 kg
Beets (Bolivar): 0.4 kg
Potatoes (Maria): 7.4 kg
Jerusalem artichokes/Sunchokes (organic from the grocery store, unknown name): 0.5 kg + approx. 4 kg still left in the ground
Total: 140.5 kg + approx. 20 kg yet to be harvested outside
What’s in store for 2020?
With the new addition to our garden, we will have almost doubled our growing space. This will open up so many doors so the excitement is nothing short of overflowing. I think we’ll go for more low-maintenance, direct-sowing varieties (such as carrots, parsnips, potatoes) and keep the number of baby plants inside in the spring to about the same (simply because our space is limited). We have dreams of trying to grow some alliums too, which we failed miserably with last season, and started out by planting garlic this November. Leeks would be so much fun to grow too, and scallions as well. And, of course, we’d like to figure out “The not so good stuff”, because we want those massive baskets of tomatoes, giant heads of broccoli and a whole pantry full of winter squashes too!
I said it last year, I’ve said it many times since and I’ll say it again: growing vegetables makes us better people. Kinder towards the Earth and more centered in ourselves. We see joy in the smallest of things, appreciate all the little creatures partaking in the eco-system(s) and bond with Mother Nature more for every day. And that’s the bond humans need to mend back together. Bonds, strong bonds, aren’t neglected or ignored. If every human being on this planet felt connected to nature, I think we would see a different world and a different situation right now. Growing and gardening aren’t the only ways you can connect, but they’re two pretty good ones for sure.
We wish you a fruitful and fun coming year in your garden, in the woods or simply anywhere where there is fresh air – and we’ll keep you posted on what’s going on in our little corner of the world for sure! Take care of yourselves, everyone, and take care of our planet as a part of that. Happy New Year!