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This has been a fabulous summer. We went fishing more times than I can remember, enjoyed many walks and hikes (865.25 miles between April and October), and packed more picnics than ever before in my life. In between all that we managed to maintain a huge garden, which brings us to our 2017 garden recap.
Last year our garden was somewhat limited by the price of plants. Growing our plants from seed would take more time and effort, but it could potentially save a lot of money and enable us to grow a bigger garden. Hmm….
We purchased a light, seed starting trays, seeds, and seed starting mix. We set up shop in the utility room of my parents’ basement and started our seeds mid February. This was by no means a professional looking setup.
As our little plants grew, we transplanted them into clear plastic Solo cups and anxiously awaited warmer weather. We didn’t harden the plants off, which probably makes us bad plant parents. They still grew beautifully.
Sometime mid May we started planting our plants outside. We staggered our planting to make sure everything survived. A few plants died off at first, so we replaced them with the plants we had kept inside.
We had a nice garden with a few varieties of tomatoes, jalapenos, poblanos, anaheim chiles, and banana peppers.
We had planted some direct-sow seeds too: zucchini, yellow squash, spaghetti squash, green and purple beans, beets, and radishes. The beans kind of grew, but everything else didn’t even sprout. We think the fertilizer is to blame; it was our first time using any kind of soil treatment.
In addition to our plants, my mom wanted some cucumbers and tomatoes. She had a row of unbridled English cucumbers, a cherry tomato plant, and a couple of Early Girl tomato plants.
This was a great garden, definitely enough produce for our needs. But then we were gifted with some heirloom tomatoes, pear tomatoes, and cherry tomatoes. At this point our tomato and pepper rows had intermingled and there was organization to the garden. But we had so many luscious, juicy tomatoes!
In late July/early August we planted a fall garden. We’ve never done multiple plantings like this, so it was a fun experiment. The area where all of our seeds didn’t grow was still empty, so we planted some bok choy, beets, spinach, kale, mixed greens, more green and purple beans, and radishes.
It was fun to see more sprouts coming up late summer, though not everything fully developed. The bok choy was a huge success, and we plan to do a lot more of it next year. The kale grew well, but I was disappointed to find some kind of eggs on the leaves. Sadly, I never ate any.
The spring mix that I grew was terribly bitter. We’ll have to work on that one. The spinach went to seed.
We got several handfuls of purple beans, but no green ones. Interestingly enough, the purple beans turn green when you cook them.
I was really hoping for some beets because I LOVE beets. No luck on beets or radishes.
We had so many adorable baby toads this year! I never look forward to stumbling upon a fat lumpy toad (though they serve their purpose), but this year all I saw were cute little guys!
What did we do with it all?
We enjoyed a lot of fresh pico with all the tomatoes and jalapenos from the garden, and even tried freezing it. It’s safe to say that much of our vegetable (well, fruit) intake this summer was from tomatoes.
We also made a lot of this green chile with all the tomatoes and anaheim chiles. Our freezer is stuffed to the brim with gallon bags of green chile sauce. We definitely made good use of our tools for freezing produce!
Cherry tomatoes are so fun to eat, but you can only eat so many. I made a delicious hummus topping by caramelizing cherry tomatoes with a little bit of oil. It’s so sweet, like a tomato marmalade. I’m hoping to do it again next year and experiment with some appetizer recipes.
By September we were running out of things to do with tomatoes, so I piled as many of them as I could into a giant stockpot and cooked them all day. We ended up with a beautiful stewed tomato sauce that we use for making homemade tomato soup. I knew my desperation would serve me well.
Some of the chiles we roasted and froze whole for using in chiles rellenos or green chile scrambled eggs. We also bought some chiles from a local farm so that we could have as much as we wanted.
We froze some of the jalapenos, then we made pickled jalapeno slices with the others. During the summer Kevin also treated us to Texas Toothpicks with them.
The purple beans and bok choy we enjoyed fresh from the garden.
In the past we have carefully watched the weather into October and protected our plants from freezing temperatures. We didn’t feel like hauling old blankets and buckets out to the garden this year, so a couple of weeks ago we picked all the remaining produce and pulled the plants out of the ground.
It was such a great summer full of yummy produce, but we are looking forward to a break during the winter!
We loved everything we grew this year, so we want to grow many of the same plants. We really want some summer and winter squash next year, and we plan to grow a lot more green and purple beans. We go through tons of frozen beans, so growing and freezing our own would definitely be worthwhile.
The bok choy turned out really well and we enjoyed adding it to stir-fries. We would like to grow enough to keep in the freezer too.
BEETS!! I love beets and I was so sad I didn’t get any this year. Next year though.
Eggplant parmesan is one of our favorite dishes, so we would really like to grow some of those purple beauties. We planted some this year but the plants didn’t make it.
Early spring we planted sugar snap peas and absolutely loved them. We want to try our hands at an early spring crop featuring sugar snap and snow peas.
I mentioned a few times that our freezer is overflowing. I really wanted to buy peaches to freeze this year, but there was no room (and not much time, either). Canning has always been something I enjoy, so next year I plan to can more. The green chile sauce will need to be pressure canned, so I’ll have to learn about that.
I would also like to can tomatoes and salsa. Hopefully we can make some applesauce too! I mentioned before that I purchased a set of canning utensils from Amazon and I really love them! The set includes everything you need except for the canner.
planting & maintenance
We loved starting out own seeds. It was so fun to see the plants sprout and progress over time. Next time we will plant our seeds a little earlier, probably the beginning of February. We are planning to purchase a nice shelf and get a better setup for them.
This year we had free range tomatoes. I would not recommend it. Our San Marzanos (roma-type) were especially out of hand. They just flop to the ground and intertwine themselves with other plants. It made harvesting incredibly difficult. Picking tomatoes involved a series of very unflattering yoga poses while I tried not to step on the vines.
I don’t love tomato cages since they make it hard to reach the tomatoes, but we need to figure something out so that the tomatoes aren’t wild and free.
One other thing I want to be better about next year: weeding! The garden is so much more fun to spend time in when the weeds aren’t out of control. We did pretty good when we were watering daily; while we watered, we pulled weeds. As the plants matured and we watered less frequently, the weeds didn’t get as much attention from us.
What are your best gardening tips?
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