Our first season of community gardening has drawn to a close. Weather usually dictates the end of growing season, but with our community plot we had to have everything cleared out by November 4th. Conveniently, most of our garden had finished producing by that time.
We attempted a fall planting of beets, radishes, and kale, but only one lonely radish and a few tiny beet plants came up. I'm not sure why the seeds were so reluctant to sprout, but it could have been a water issue. We were not so present in the garden towards the end of the summer and into fall. If I had done an August garden update, it would have been focused on how our tomato plants were producing (quite well for being fairly inactive most of the summer), and how giant our kale plants were getting. Striped beetles completely destroyed our cucumber plants, and did their best to eat the corn as well (or maybe they were living in the corn and dining on the cukes, didn't matter, they were everywhere).
We harvested some very sweet and tiny beets in August as well. They were golf ball-sized at the largest, but they were so sweet with an essential beety-ness. I am now determined to figure out how to grow larger beets. Broccoli was a big disappointment, in that it didn't make a nice pretty head - it just kind of bloomed willy-nilly for 2 months and we mostly plucked tiny bits of it and ate it in the garden. We could have eaten the stems, but by the time November rolled around, I was a little burnt out on broccoli stems, not gonna lie.
A couple of our tomato plants persisted in putting out tomatoes until mid October, which we much appreciated. Most surprising, however, was the strawberry plant, which just kept blooming and fruiting all the way until we had to clear out the plot. I ate a strawberry in November! No one in the Midwest expects to be able to grow strawberries in November!
We also had calendula flowers blooming all through the summer and well into the fall. Calendula is a type of marigold whose flowers have anti-inflammatory properties and can be infused into creams and balms to help with healing of minor wounds. It is also sometimes used as a substitute for saffron and a yellow dye. We are planning to use it in some homemade skin creams to help with irritation and redness.
The last two crops we harvested were swiss chard and potatoes. I planted the chard in June, and it took most of the summer to get to a size where it would be satisfying to eat. The variety I chose to grow was called spinach chard, so it was completely green and had a spinach-like flavor. We harvested it all at once about mid-October and steamed it, then portioned it out and stuck it in the freezer for adding to soups later on this winter. I find the blanche-and-freeze method much more palatable for straight up vegetables than going through all the trouble to preserve them through pressure canning.
Potatoes were kind of a last minute crop for us, and we didn't use starter potatoes that were meant for growing. We just used some older organic potatoes that were starting to sprout in the pantry because sometimes you simply have to use what you've got. We did originally plant seed potatoes, but the container they were in didn't drain well enough, so they ended up rotting. Our second attempt at growing potatoes made a very nice plant above ground, but they never bloomed. (Some sources I encountered said you should harvest the potatoes after they bloom, and some said after the vines die, which is what I did in this case.) We got probably about a pound of potatoes total - tiny and adorable potatoes. Next year, we are going to focus on production, and hopefully make some good meals out of our potato experiments.
All in all, I would say that the gardening season was a great success. We had fun and were able to eat fresh food. Next year I am going to focus on planting for three seasons and I will do my best not to plant on the day a big storm is supposed to come through. Every experience with gardening and farming is a learning experience, no matter the scale you are working on. So, I'm going to take the lessons I learned this year and use them to improve my little garden plot next year!
We got word from PGP that the lease for Vedgewater (which is on a plot that Loyola owns) was renewed for another year! This means we will be able to keep our same plot, which is really exciting because we've been adding eggshells and worm castings to it periodically to enhance the soil quality. While we talked about applying for an additional plot to increase our growing space, we decided not to because we don't want to be greedy. Peterson Garden Project wants to make organic gardening accessible to as many people as possible and we don't want to hinder that goal in any way. We are going to see if our landlord will be open to us doing some minor planting in the backyard. Hopefully, the college kids who live in the same building will not be too excited about breaking beer bottles amongst our tomato plants. At the very least, we can start some raspberry bushes back in the corner and have a few tasty morsels for years to come.
We'd love to hear what you grew this year? Any major successes or failures? Surprise crops? Hit us up in the comments or send us an e-mail!