2015 Garden in Review – Resolutions for 2016

As I sit here with my house slowly warming up from a busted furnace yesterday, I find myself missing working in my garden, feeling the warmth of the sun on my transparently pasty skin, and drinking porch beer(s).

With 2016 quickly approaching on this New Years Eve, I thought a little reflection on my gardening successes and failures of 2015 might do me some good (and keep my spirits up that seed starting is right around the corner!).

And… I thought I better post these pictures before I start chugging straight from the bottle of Prosecco… although entertaining, it would probably be an embarrassingly incomprehensible blog post.

So hold onto your hat…  never seen before raw garden footage is coming your way!

For the first time, I attempted to grow sweet potatoes from slips that I grew from organic sweet potatoes that I chopped in half.  I would say it was a somewhat successful experiment, but my harvest definitely left me with some lessons to learn…

I planted the slips in barrel planters and they seemed to thrive and produced impressive foliage.  Unfortunately there was one evening that it got extremely cold outside and the top foliage died instantly (sweet potatoes like it HOT HOT HOT).  I read that when the leaves and stems turn black, it is time to harvest the potatoes because they are no longer receiving nutrients and the rotten plant corpses could also seep down and rot the potatoes.  Trust me, I was panicked.

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Many of my sweet potatoes were really small and misshapen.  My conclusion is that there are three things that could have gone wrong:

  1. The barrels did not provide enough room for them to grow to a proper size and/or I planted too many slips in one barrel and they choked each other off.
  2. The sudden early cold snap killed them before they achieved their optimal size.
  3. I didn’t plant them early enough in the summer.

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Trial and error is the name of the game in gardening.  I let the sweet potatoes cure in a closed cardboard box to heal any bruises and to sweeten them up and I only recently started eating them.  I roasted them simply with cayenne flavored olive oil and salt and pepper and they were delicious.  I also highly suggest this recipe for Smoky Sweet Potatoes.  It was particularly suited to my weirdly shaped spuds.

But who wants to dwell on areas for improvement??  How about my successes!  I grew GIGANTIC garlic cloves.  The cloves were literally the size of my palm (with no sacrifice to flavor whatsoever).  They just keep getting bigger and better every year!  I already planted some monster cloves from what I grew this year to hopefully produce huge bulbs next year yet again.  I believe this is my fourth or fifth year growing garlic from the same batch.  I am interested in growing Elephant Garlic for comparison which I think is comically BIG, but is more related to the onion family.  Growing abnormally large vegetables brings me so much joy.

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As an area to work on… I did try cooking garlic scape stir fry and I gotta say I was not blown away.  The scapes were very, very mild tasting, almost too much so.  I think I will try a different recipe next year.

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Ok.  Let’s talk tomatoes.  The only accurate word to describe my harvest is “shit-ton”.  I grew Al-Kuffa and Rutgers varieties. The rules of determinant tomato plant size apparently don’t apply to me because all of my tomato plants were well over four feet tall (these varieties should have only been 2 to 3 feet tall tops).  But, as with determinant, most of the tomatoes ripened at the same time.  Waaaaay too many… at the same time.  Salsas, various tomato sauces, salads, pastas, pizzas…  I put them to good use as best I could.  I also gave them away to anyone willing to take them.

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I was also happy with my pepper harvest, particularly my Polish Ostra-Cyklon.  I made a lot of salsa and queso and I also successfully fermented the last remaining hot peppers in my fermentation crock to be used for applications such as NACHOS.  Yum.

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A cabbage plant that was given to me by a friendly neighbor was my complete gardening disaster for this year.  I planted it in a barrel planter, but soon noticed the leaves were being eaten.  Before I could do anything about it, it was as dead as a door nail.  It must have been some sort of cabbage worm infestation.  It was weird because my herb planter next to the cabbage planter was not infected at all and produced stunning basil and cilantro.

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Also, my nemesis the onion, won again.  DAMN YOU ONION!

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So I’ve been drooling over the 5 different seed catalogs that I received in the mail so far and I can’t wait to pick out my seeds for next year.  I have about a million yogurt cups to use for seed starting.  I keep toying with the idea of growing a groovy all-purple veggie garden.  Maybe even including purple brussel sprouts!

My gardening resolutions are to blog more consistently, grow veggies that I have never grown before, try more companion planting, and learn to can and/or ferment more vegetables for long-term storage.  I have a genuine root cellar in my 100+ year old house, so why not put it to good use for the zombie apocalypse?!  I hope the gods of the internet hold me to these resolutions.

I also hope to continue passing on my love of gardening to my nieces.  And most importantly, I hope to continue sharing my bounty with those who mean so much to me.

Best wishes for great gardening in 2016.