Thursday, December 21, 2017

2017 - Year in Review


This was an intense year.  High stress, too much to do (I bit off WAY More Than I Can Chew) and unprecedented pest pressures (by mid-June, I had already proclaimed it Year of the Pest).

Swarms of aphids - only one of the many pests that plagued the garden this year

The weather, of course, also plays a part in the gardens performance, either good or bad.  2017 was a mixed bag with the season getting off to a very slow start with an unusually cool spring.  The garden was at least 2 weeks behind - this complaint was echoed throughout the blogosphere for those of us in the north-east.  My early spring brassica bed, which was such a success in 2016, was a big ol’ flop this year.  The greens grew much too slowly and didn't have enough time to mature before the tomatoes had to go in.

Unfortunately, the weather was too cool and the early spring brassica bed
was nowhere near as successful as it had been in 2016 (pictured above)

The fall temps, however, were warm and even HOT in late September with some days in the 30’s (86F+).  There was a very light, barely there frost on Oct. 1st but then the warm weather returned and continued for a few more weeks with the first killing frost not arriving until the end of October.

A basket of tomatoes in late September...
and the harvests continued until the end of October!

I was also away 3 times over the summer which not only had an impact on the Area #1/west border expansion, but also on maintaining the veg beds and harvesting.  The good news is that a lot was still accomplished.  I was able to keep up with the maintenance needed on most of the old borders that had been cleaned up in 2016 and I still made good progress in the west border.

So how much did I harvest in 2017?  The numbers revealed, first in grams:


And now in pounds:


We did harvest shelling peas, but I completely forgot to weigh them (hence the highlighted box). There are a couple of bags buried in the freezer so once I dig those up, I’ll be adding them to the tally.

Veg harvests are down in 2017 over 2016, with decreases in every single category except for asparagus, collards, dried beans & favas, broccoli, garlic & scapes, snap peas, potatoes, rapini and shallots.  That’s it.  Out of over 40 different veg, only 11 saw an increase in yield.

Broccoli ('Arcadia')
One of the few winners this year

Of course, sometimes, the decreases are planned – for example, this year I reduced the number of tomato plants that I grew from 26 to 24.  Carrots were another example of a planned decrease.  I found that the fall harvested carrots grew too large if sown in the spring so this year, I sowed 1/3 of the bed in the spring for late summer/early fall harvest and the rest of the bed (for winter storage carrots) was sown in early summer.

Other decreases, however, were not part of the plan.  Some were due to pests decimating the plants and/or harvest (cucumbers, lettuce, onions, Swiss chard, lettuce, sweet potatoes, peppers, turnips, winter squash) while others were due to diseases (blight on tomatoes/powdery mildew on kale - a first!) or weather (spinach, rapini, radishes, Chinese greens).

This guy and his siblings wreaked havoc this season,
both with the veg and annuals

But you know what really surprised me?  It wasn’t the decrease in the harvest numbers but the fact that they weren’t lower.  Considering the challenges this year, I wasn't expecting to get anywhere near the 500 lb. mark.

And let us not forget that we also had two notable firsts in 2017 - the first apples and the first taste of asparagus, both of which were celebration worthy:

First ever apple harvest - so delicious!

This year, we had our first taste of asparagus but were careful
not to overdo it as the roots are still getting established.
Next year, however, it will be full steam ahead with the asparagus harvest

The bottom line – it wasn't a stellar year, but it certainly wasn't as bad as it could have been…the glass is half-full, right?

In the grand scheme of things, I’m much further ahead than I’ve ever been.  Annual harvests are transient – good harvest or bad, each year the beds are emptied and the scales go back to zero.  The following season brings with it a fresh start with renewed optimism.

Dahlias ('Nick Sr.') - another first in the garden

The bones of the garden, however, deliver long term benefits and this is one area where I made huge strides in the past couple of years.  Drip irrigation was installed in all of the beds, I’m making good headway when it comes to eliminating the weed/grass issues in the paths & on the hilltop and I’ve managed to keep up with edging & weeding the ornamental borders that were cleaned up last year.

The accomplishment I am most excited about, however, is the progress made on the west border.  My overall vision for the garden always included an ornamental border in this area but it was never a priority, either in terms of time or expense.  Then, earlier this year, the perfect justification to push this project forward presented itself, which I wrote about HERE.

The mulching is almost done and several shrubs & perennials were planted this fall,
together with a few 5' emerald cedars (two of which you can see on the far left of the photo)

As we all know, shrubs and trees take a while to settle in and really get growing so I was determined to get most of them into the ground before winter settled in.  Fall purchases included a couple of lilacs ('Miss Canada' & 'Isabella'), a Rose of Sharon ('Diana') and an Elderberry ('Black Lace').  I’m so looking forward to seeing them all come to life in the spring.

I also planted a few perennials that had been languishing in pots all summer, waiting for a spot in the ground.  Fingers crossed they make it through the winter and show their appreciation for their new home with lots of growth next year.

These Echinacea plants ('Cheyenne Spirit') were grown from seed
and transplanted to the west border in the fall.

Of course, this is only the start - my perennial list is a mile long with several years of accumulated "must-haves".  Even with the added space, I have a feeling it won't be too long before I'm complaining about not having a spot for this or that plant.

Planning for next season is underway and, as is the case every year, I’m super excited for what 2018 will bring. Well, super excited for the great harvests and beautiful blooms, not so much for the aphids and cucumber beetles 😉.  

In the meantime, my gardening batteries are recharging and I’m looking forward to a winter wonderland (hopefully the weather forecasters are right).  Christmas is fast approaching – only a few more days! - so I’ll take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and festive holiday season.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

32 comments:

  1. I think you did well this year, all things considered. There's always failures with weather and pests being so unpredictable but most things seemed to do well in the main. I'm really looking forward to seeing the ornamentals start to establish themselves this year, it's always exciting creating something new. Wishing you and your family a very merry Christmas and all the very best for 2018.

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    1. Thank you Jo - I'm rather happy with the results as they certainly could have been a whole lot worse. And isn't it fun to watch plants that you've babied since seedlings flourish - can't wait to see some blooms on the echinacea and, if I'm lucky, some of the new shrubs as well.

      A very Merry Christmas and happy New Year to you and your family Jo.

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  2. Looks like it was a good year for some crops, and not as much for others. Isn't that always the case? ;-) I volunteer at a food pantry garden and, overall, this was one of the worst years for crops since I've been involved. The reasons were similar to the ones you mentioned, although the biggest setback was way too much rain in July, which really set the peppers and tomatoes back. But, like your area, we had an extended growing season in the fall, which was nice. Wow, look at all those potatoes you harvested! Enjoy! Merry Christmas, Margaret!

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    1. I have been hearing tales of whoa from many corners about this season - it certainly makes me feel better when I know that I'm not the only one that had a rough go of it in the veg patch. I do recall having an abundance of rain at certain points during the summer as well, which certainly increased the pest pressure (hello slugs!).

      Ah yes, the potatoes. The large harvest on those was actually a fluke as half the harvest was from volunteer potato plants from the 2016 bed (in which squash was supposed to grow, but the rabbits took care of that). Initially I was going to pull them out but now I'm sure glad that I didn't!

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  3. All years are very different aren’t they? There are always things to improve and successes to celebrate but we always tend to place more emphasis in our minds on the failures. By the way our Black Lace grew at a phenomenal rate. The pink flowers make a lovely pink elderflower cordial if you can bare picking them. We just popped a few sprigs in with the regular white flowers and it still resulted in a pink cordial

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    1. You're so right, Sue - we do tend to fuss over the failures, questioning what went wrong and what (if anything) could we have done differently. I'm glad to hear that I should expect some quick growth from the Elderberry - one of my goals when choosing the shrubs/trees was to provide separation and privacy - the quicker this is achieved the better. The elderflower cordial is a wonderful idea - I'll definitely give it a go once it starts blooming.

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    2. Elderberry and apple jelly is tasty too :)

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    3. Oh, here is your comment! I kept looking for it at the bottom of the page, silly me! :)

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  4. Merry Christmas Margaret! You still had a nice harvest and accomplished so many other things too. i am impressed with the echinacea that you grew from seed. I always buy the plants. I have already bought some seeds for next summer hoping to do better. Nancy

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    1. We are always hoping to do better, aren't we? I love growing from seed because it gives us so many more options on colours, variety, etc. - and the fact that it costs significantly less than purchasing plants is nothing to sneeze at either! Wishing you and your family a wonderful Christmas, Nancy :)

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  5. That's a lot of fruits and vegetables! Very exciting to get your first apples. We had a similar weather to yours. As for pests, it wasn't too bad - the worst were the rabbits and the Four Lined Plant Bugs.

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    1. Thanks Jason - Oh, the rabbits! They definitely scored top marks when it comes to the amount of damage they did this year. Now that many of the gaps in the fencing have been dealt with, I'm hoping we have minimal issues with them next season.

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  6. Margaret, I'm in awe of how much you grow! You must be so organised to keep an eye on that much by yourself, let alone keeping records. Wow. It's great to look back and, even though your results may be lower than before, you've made good progress - especially your first taste of home-grown apple! I'm planting more apple trees this year as all of my fruit was taken by passers-by last summer, not one taste for me! Never mind, at least they leave me my greens! Although I'm not sure my sweet gooseberries will be safe next summer as I shared them with a bunch of curious children? :D Wishing you a very happy xmas and the best for 2018 - onwards and upwards!!

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    1. Oh, thank you Caro :) Keeping records was challenging this year and I ended up going the low tech route - I wrote all the harvests in a notebook in the kitchen and didn't input them into the computer until the end of the season. This actually ended up working out quite well, although it also makes it more likely that I may miss a harvest (such as the peas).

      The first apples were SO exciting! We have three trees and two bore fruit this year - now I'm anxious to see what 2018 will bring! After waiting a few years for the trees to bear fruit, it must have been so discouraging when passers-by took those precious apples. I place baggies on our apples to keep coddling moth and plum curculio out - I'm wondering if baggie covered apples would be a human deterrent as well?? And fingers crossed that you'll be able to enjoy some of those gooseberries next year! A very Merry Christmas to you too, Caro - here's hoping that 2018 will be good to all of us.

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  7. Even with a challenging year, your garden's productivity is impressive. And picking apples and asparagus for the first time is a great accomplishment. I can't wait to see how your ornamental border turns out. It's so much fun to see an area go from imagination to reality. Here's to a better 2018!

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    1. Thank you, k - I was thrilled with both the apples and asparagus. Not only were they delicious, but each new veg presents a new learning opportunity, which I truly enjoy. You should have seen me agonizing over how to tell if the apples were ready to pick - when you only have a few, you don't want to make a mistake!

      I am getting more and more into ornamentals - I especially love the satisfaction of seeing tiny, just planted perennials flourish in subsequent years - it's a beautiful thing :)

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  8. It looks like you had a very satisfying year in the garden in spite of the pests and diseases. I am always so impressed with what you grow and harvest in such a short (to me) growing season. I'm so fortunate to have the luxury of being able to harvest year round. Every year presents different challenges and rewards. I always face a new season with both trepidation and optimism, but mostly trepidation - what new pest or disease or weird weather is in store. There always seems to be some new challenge, just when you think you've seen it all! The successes seem so much more rewarding though in a challenging season or when they follow big flops. I'm still marveling at how incredibly well my peppers did this year after such a dismal harvest last year. So congratulations on pulling success out of a challenging year and best of luck in the next one.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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    1. Very true - in the past, there were swings in pests/weather but it seems as if now they are magnified and each year presents at least one extreme of something or other. Gardeners are optimists, but these days, that's practically a requirement! As you said, though, when you have a successful year or crop, the challenges make it even more satisfying.

      Our pepper experiences were the reverse as I had a bumper crop last year and a dismal one this year - perhaps we will be in sync next season with bumper crops for both??? There's that optimism ;)

      A very Merry Christmas & Happy (and bountiful!) New Year to you too, Michelle!

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  9. I'll second some of what others said - I think you had an impressive garden season in spite of the challenges! Every year certainly brings different conditions, and here's hoping 2018 will be a great year for all of us.

    I am thinking you will have plenty on your plate what with adding the perennials to the mix. My wife takes care of most of the ornamental plantings which leaves the veggies to me, and it keeps both of us busy!

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    1. Sometimes I think I would enjoy it if my husband shared the gardening bug...then again, it's nice to do what I want without having to answer to anyone else, so long as I don't break the bank!

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  10. More dahlias! Dont they just make your heart sing?

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    1. They do! The tuber is now tucked away in some peat moss in my cold cellar - fingers crossed that it will make it through the winter and provide us with more blooms next year.

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  11. Margaret, you're a gardening machine! Great to watch from over here. Cheers!

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  12. Hi Margaret! Ooh yes, I echo everyone else - you've had a brilliant harvest particularly considering all the challenges. Great news about the apples - that one in the picture looks delicious. Like you say, it can be tricky deciding when they're ripe, especially as they often look ripe for a long time before they actually are. My dwarf apple trees have been more productive each successive year, so hopefully yours will continue each year too (the oldest two of mine are maybe 7 or 8 years old?). I usually do the 'hold apple in palm and ease upwards with thumb at the point at which the stalk meets the branch' check for ripeness. I described that really badly!

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    1. I am SO looking forward to the apple harvests as the trees mature - I'm hoping that they eventually keep us stocked with apples all winter as I've chosen varieties that are good keepers. We'll have to wait and see if that is indeed the case. There is still one tree - a honeycrisp - that hasn't bore any fruit yet, but hopefully we will get a taste this year.

      P.S. Your second comment on the apple/elderberry jelly didn't publish for some reason but it sounds like something I would love to try...thanks for the suggestion!

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  13. The amount of carrots and potatoes you grow is impressive, and congratulations on your asparagus harvest. I wanted to say though, a greenhouse has really helped me with seed starting and keeping critters from eating seedlings when they're smaller and more vulnerable. Although, I couldn't imagine having to contend with a family of rabbits. We sometimes get a rabbit living in the garden by early summer even with us being in town.

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    1. A greenhouse is definitely on the wish list (!) but I doubt it would have helped that much with the rabbits as the damage was too widespread and not limited to young seedlings. Those baby rabbits are crafty at finding gaps in the fencing and many of the more mature plants (esp. the peppers and eggplant) were set back or simply gnawed off at the base, never to recover.

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  14. impressive produce, in spite of the aphids.

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    1. Thanks - let's hope this nasty, cold winter takes care of some of our aphid "friends" :)

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  15. You make a good point about annual harvests being transient - it can feel like a rolling battle at times but it's always good to close the door on a bad year and start again. Two years ago caterpillars decimated my soft fruit bushes to such an extent that I didn't bother with them last year but this year I'mgetting back on the horse. I can only hope to emulate what you produce!

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    1. It doesn't take long for us to "forget" the bad bits and, as you said, get back on that horse :) I'm still not up for growing Napa cabbage after harvesting tiny heads, not to mention that Napa seems to be the equivalent of slug candy in my garden. They are delicious, though, so I have a feeling it won't be long before I give it another go - we gardeners are an optimistic bunch!

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