Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Harvest Summary


If I could summarize the past season in one sentence it would be this:   Disappointing, but not altogether surprising.

My preference is to post the reviews on the individual veg first and then do an overall summary.  However, since a big part of the harvest results this year were affected by factors that influenced the entire garden, I decided to start my end of season reviews with the overall harvest tally instead of finishing with it.

Memories of Summer

Considering the weather we had this past season, it really should have been a stellar year in the garden.  The spring got off to a rather late start, but summer was beautiful, especially for veg that prefer warmer temperatures.  We received an average amount of rain – not too much and not too little – and it was pretty much spread out throughout the season.

Keeping track of the rainfall is all well and good,
but I tended to forget that warmer temperatures = thirstier plants
 
It rained 10-12 days out of each month and the total monthly precip ranged from 78mm to 90mm (3-3.5 inches).  This was good news for the perennial beds and trees – I didn’t really have to worry about how much water they were getting, although I did give the new fruit tree and berry plantings a good soaking several times during the summer.

First raspberries
A delicious preview (hopefully) of bountiful harvests in the years to come
 
The vegetable beds, however, were a different story.  Raised beds dry out more quickly than ground level beds and with the warm/hot temperatures all summer, the rainfall we did get was nowhere near enough to keep the beds consistently moist and productive.  Since I don’t have drip irrigation installed in most of the beds, I had to drag the hose around for a good chunk of the day to water all the beds.  Not surprisingly (for me) this resulted in rather sporadic irrigation.

Inadequate watering was the likely cause of onions
that were generally smaller than those grown last year
 
I did place trickle/soaker hoses in some of the beds, but this still required the hose to be manually connected, turned on/off, and then switched to the next bed.  Since I knew that I would be installing permanent drip in all the beds soon, I didn’t want to invest in more soaker hoses for the remaining beds so those were watered with overhead sprinklers…definitely not ideal, but for one summer, I figured I could live with it.

Green trickle hoses in one of the brassica beds
 
All of this tediousness meant that, more often than not, the soil was drier than it should have been by the time I got around to watering.  Then, when I did water, I would often forget to switch the hose/sprinkler to the next bed in a timely manner.  The result was a less than optimal cycle of the soil being either too wet or too dry throughout much of the summer.

I'm confident that the feast or famine watering cycle was a big factor
in the reduced tomato harvest & increase in BER this year

By contrast, in 2014 we had a cool, wet growing season.  I barely had to water as Mother Nature did the job for me.  Even though it was a much cooler growing season - not what one would consider optimal for vegetable growing - production was significantly better than this year for most vegetables.  Even heat lovers like tomatoes did better in 2014 because they had more than enough to drink throughout the season.
 
Annual Harvest In Grams

 
 
 
 
Annual Harvest In Pounds
 
 
 
 
The overall production went down by 12 kg (25 lbs) in 2015, even though I added 5 new beds (excluding the asparagus/kids beds).  In addition to inadequate watering, there were other issues in the garden this year.  Some of them were specific to a particular crop (the eggplants, for example, appeared to have some sort of wilt issue) and others spanned several crops (sowing was delayed on a number of veg when our vacation timing was less than optimal).

One of the veg-specific casualties:
My first attempt at corn was thwarted by a corn stalk muncher

I won't delve into the numbers any further at this point as I'll be doing a series of posts on the performance of specific vegetables or vegetable groupings in the coming weeks.

I've spoken of my disappointment with the harvests this year, but I must mention that the season was not without it's stellar moments.

The broccoli plants that just wouldn't quit

After waiting for 4 years, we finally harvested a nice quantity of  plums
(and NO plum curculio damage - hurray!)

First year growing potatoes & VERY happy with the results

As most gardeners will tell you, the successes usually more than make up for the failures.  And even though production fell short of what I would have liked, I learned a LOT – which is, in itself, very satisfying.

I will be doing many things differently next year.  Most of my changes will specifically relate to a particular crop, but there is one overriding “fix” that will apply to practically the entire vegetable garden:  Drip.

Right now, I have drip irrigation installed on the 4 original beds.  The first order of business next spring will be to install drip in the remaining 17 beds, including the asparagus beds.

A lot of thought and a worn down eraser;
the drip plan is finally complete
 
It’s a rather complicated affair as I not only want to install drip irrigation, but also a spigot in each area.  This will allow me to attach a hose for hand watering as well as eliminate the need to run back and forth from the house each time I need to turn the water on/off.  The drip system in each veg area will run off a separate timer and each bed will have a shut off valve, giving me even more flexibility.

The other big issue I had this past year was lack of time.  Firstly there was the hilltop garden, which was started from scratch - new beds, compost area, fencing and mulching.

These photos show the hilltop progress that had been made by mid-summer:

Before - Hilltop, facing east

Mid-summer - Hilltop, facing east

Before - Hilltop, facing west

Mid-summer - Hilltop, facing west

Our mild fall weather allowed me to make quite a bit of progress since these photos were taken.  The pallet bin compost area was finished (in the area to the left of the above photo, where you see pallets on the ground) and the blue tarp that covered some leftover soil is now gone and that entire area is mulched.  The weeds you see peaking through the existing mulch were also removed and more cardboard/mulch was applied to skimpy areas.  Although I'm only about 2/3 of the way towards what I envision this area to be, I'm excited to get a few more "after" photos once spring arrives.
 
In addition to the hilltop, a fence was installed around Area #2 and it was re-mulched, as was Area #1.  And finally, we made some long awaited perennial additions to the garden - 3 apple trees, 1 nectarine tree, 2 blueberry bushes, berry canes (10 blackberry, 5 red raspberry, 5 golden raspberry), 2 haskap bushes and 3 asparagus beds.  All of these take at least two or more seasons to get established and start bearing, so I was determined to finally get them going this year.

Next year, I'll be slowing things down.  I will be concentrating on fine-tuning & maintaining what is already in place instead of starting anything new.  Well, that's not entirely true - I do plan on adding one new bed to the hilltop...I'm blaming it on those dang Solanaceas.
 
Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year and "see" you all in 2016!

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

34 comments:

  1. Margaret, as usual-I am incredibly impressed with your record keeping. I never weigh anything---I never remember to, but wow-that would be so nice to see how things compare from year to year by weight.
    I think your garden did damn fine.
    I'm lax on the watering as well---I never do except in spurts and only when things are so dry the water just beads up. No one can accuse me of being smart. BUT---things still work out. I think the Gods of Gardening pity me and my laziness.
    Wishing you the best garden ever in 2016. From what I hear, Ma Nature is going to be nice this year. Yea. Right.............
    LOL!

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    1. Oh Sue, I have an absolutely horrible memory, so my notes and weighing everything is a necessity. Well, perhaps not a necessity in general, but more of a necessity for my Type A personality ;) I can't tell you how often I'm surprised when I go back to last years notes and numbers and have an "oh, yeah...I forgot that happened" moment.

      And I KNOW you are pulling my leg 'cause there is NO way you are lazy. All those beds of veg, flowers, blueberries, etc. don't plant themselves...or maybe I just need to summon the Gods of Gardening;) Here's to a very healthy & happy 2016, both in and out of the garden!

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  2. This looks like a very successful year of gardening! I'm sorry that it was not as good as you had hoped, considering the addition of 5 new beds. Your hilltop garden is gorgeous! All of that hard work must feel very satisfying.

    I have the same issue with irrigation; having to haul the hose around everywhere is such a drag! (pun intended). Installing some kind of irrigation system is on my goals list, but I don't know when I'll be able to get to it (so many other projects).

    I hope you have a good New Years and I look forward to reading about your gardening adventures in 2016!

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    1. Oh, it was definitely a very big "drag" :)

      And yes, those projects can pile up, can't they? I could really use a few more hours in the day, but I suppose that would just mean I would add more to my "to do" list, so am not sure how helpful that would be!

      Wishing you a very Happy New Year as well - Milo's first, so that is always exciting (even if he wasn't awake for it)!

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  3. Very impressive results. I agree, drip makes all the difference. Glad you're at a point where you can slow down a little. Happy New Year, and I'm looking forward to your 2016 posts!

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    1. Thanks Will - I'm quite looking forward to tweaking the garden next year, instead of starting something from scratch. It will be nice to actually finish a few things. Happy New Year to you and your family!

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  4. I always say my garden is a work in progress, and it sounds like yours is too! Expanding the garden is always hard work, and at least you have much of that behind you now. Drip irrigation is something I've considered here, but I imagine I'll continue to use the weeper/soaker hoses for the time being. It looks to me like you had a nice mix of veggies and fruit, and I for one am amazed at the amount of onions you grew. Wishing you a Happy New Years too!

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    1. Happy New Year, Dave! You are so right, the nature of a garden is that it is never truly "finished" - if it ever was, what would we do then? The fun would be gone! But it does feel wonderful when certain projects are finished, especially those that have been on the books for a long time, like pallet compost area (and you fancy compost area!).

      Yes, I wasn't sure how many onions to sow in the spring since we hadn't finished off the prior years harvest at that stage. It turns out that I overshot what we needed by quite a good margin so I'll be scaling back on them next year...that will free up a bit of space, which is always a good thing!

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  5. My goodness!! You are sooooo organized with your record keeping!! I am very impressed! ummm you will not be seeing that kind of detailed info on my blog lol. You have probably figured that out by now :O)

    Yes this last year was no what I had hoped for either. To much rain early on, flooding to be exact took it toll for sure. But I am with you I learned A LOT!

    I will say you did grow the biggest tatsoi I have ever seen!

    My garlic and onions seem to be fairing well so far, knocking on wood. Spring will tell that tale fully.

    Here is to another year of gardening and to all we learned from this last year!!!

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    1. Being a compulsive note taker is definitely not everyones cup of tea, but it makes me FEEL as if I'm a bit more in control of the garden - yes, a bit delusional, I know :)

      Whatever your method may be, what's important is that you are having fun and learning a few things along the way, right?

      Hopefully your onions and garlic continue on the path to a good harvest & cheers to a wonderful 2016 for all our gardens.

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  6. "A garden is never so good as it will be next year." ~Thomas Cooper

    Hauling hoses around in the heat of summer is my most hated task in the garden. In spite of this, it looks like you had a great year. It sounds like the drip irrigation system you will be installing is the perfect solution.

    This was a challenging gardening year for our garden as well. Thankfully, some crops did very well so at least there was some reward.

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    1. I love that quote - truer words have never been said. There are garden surprises every year, both good and bad...there really is never a dull moment, when it comes to the garden and that keeps us on our toes, doesn't it ;)

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  7. Gosh, I was surprised you described your harvest as disappointing. But then I looked at your records from the past couple of years--very impressive! I wouldn't even think to keep records like that, but then I don't have a big veggie garden because of my shady lot. Anyway, I think you should be proud of producing so much of your own food--in all of those years! Here's to a fabulous, bountiful harvest and much joy in gardening in 2016! I'm so glad we met and got to know each other at the Fling! :)

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    1. It's all relative, isn't it? Every year is so different in the garden - there is never a guarantee, even with plants or methods that have done well in the past. The "perfect" year in the garden does not exist, but that doesn't stop us from trying! I'm so glad that we met too, Beth, and am really looking forward to catching up in person this coming summer!

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  8. Your record keeping is wonderful! Even though it wasn't what you would have liked it was still a nice amount. Do you do all of that by yourself or does your husband help you? Happy New Year! Nancy

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    1. Thanks Nancy - I'm an Excel girl so yes, I do it all myself (and quite enjoy it!). And Happy New Year to you and your husband!

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  9. I'd count your season extremely successful. You've had a good, varied harvest and learnt lots along the way. Wishing you all the very best for 2016.

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    1. Thank you so much Jo - I suppose my first sentence is a bit negative, as I really am quite happy with this years garden, considering. I also tried a few new things this year and some were not very successful, so that also coloured my perception. But it's all part of learning and improving, something I never tire of doing. All the best to you and your family in this New Year, Jo!

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  10. It seems to me that you had a very good year even if everything wasn't up to your expectations. You took a lot on with the garden expansion and accomplished a lot. Without the distraction of the expansion I'm sure you could have had some really impressive results and most likely will this year. And hand watering is a huge time waster! I spent one summer hand watering my garden, years ago, after that I vowed to never plant any veggies before installing a drip system. It's especially helpful to have irrigation here since we don't get any rain in the summer. Thanks for adding a schedule in the backwards pounds & ounces system for those of us who haven't caught on to the metric system yet. 😀

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    1. Thanks Michelle - oh the watering was truly the bane of my existence this summer and I can see that you know exactly where I'm coming from! I hadn't had to deal with it before since last year was the first where I had more than those 4 original beds and most of the watering was taken care of by rain. Had I known what a pain it would be this year, I would have put the drip irrigation as a much higher priority. Can't wait to install it - I have a feeling it's going to make a huge difference next year, both in terms of the garden's productivity and my enjoyment of it.

      We are kind of funny in Canada as we do most things in metric, but there are the odd things that most people still go back to pounds and inches on, such as a persons weight and height. I do find food easier to weigh in grams, though - ounces always mess me up ;)

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  11. I think your farm is awesome!! I'm always impressed with how much you grow. Every year we're a bit smarter, although some years I need to be a lot smarter to solve all the issues that pop up!

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    1. Our garden is the ultimate classroom - if we pay attention! - so I really do believe that we gardeners get smarter each year. Or at least I like to think so. Sometimes I do wonder, especially when it's one of those "keep doing it it the same way but expect different results" sort of things ;)

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  12. Impressive results this year, Margaret. Your garden is amazing and will be better next year because you are always improving and learning. Just enjoy what you accomplished and have a happy New Year while planning for next year.

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    1. Thank you so much David - it really is a WIP, but that is part of the enjoyment of it. How boring it would be if there was nothing left to improve upon or discover! Have a wonderful New Year and here's to hoping that the coming season it will be especially productive for both of us!

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  13. You have really achieved a lot of the year. Sometimes calculating success just on the weight of produce can be a bit deceptive as there are lots of other things to take into account such as taste, sometimes small can turn out to be better than large in some cases.
    For us the weather last year was very variable it was either too wet, too dry, or too cold, we are hoping for a better year next year. At least it was so dry that we didn't have any blight on our potatoes or tomatoes. Now it is too wet to do any clearing of preparation work. We just can't win!

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    1. Thanks Sue - you are right in it definitely isn't all about quantity - the fact that it's delicious, organic and travels less than a minute to my kitchen is one of the main reasons I love growing veg! I do, however, want to try growing as much of our own produce as possible, so my first step is to figure out exactly how much I should be growing and which techniques give me the most success so that I can squeeze as much as possible into each bed. Some people are great at gauging all that by eye and memory, but I'm definitely not one of those!

      You guys did have had a very tough year - but there is usually always a bright side, as with your tomatoes! Still, hopefully all that variability was an anomaly and 2016 will bring more typical, stable weather.

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  14. I am so impressed with all your record keeping. I simply grow veg, harvest and eat. Sometimes it doesn't even make it to the kitchen, I eat in the garden. I have to hand water the garden too and it is so much work. I love when it rains in the summer. I look forward to reading about your drip irrigation installation. I need to do that too. Happy New Year Margaret!

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    1. I try to be disciplined about weighing, but I and the kids do sometimes pick and eat, especially when it comes to cherry tomatoes, strawberries and our first ever raspberries, none of which ended up on the scale :) Have a wonderful New Year as well Karin & enjoy your new camera equipment - looking forward to all those close-ups!

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  15. 2015 was a disappointing year for me too. Some things did OK, but few were outstanding (Carrots, for instance). Some very poor results - Parsnips, Leeks, Raspberries. Chillis were very late ripening, cucumbers were poor - both these due to lack of sunshine I think. You have made some big steps forward with your garden, and it sounds as if there is a lot more to come. I hope it makes 2016 a much better year! Whatever happens, gardening keeps us busy and out of mischief...

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    1. Ha ha...very true! I can't wait to get going this year - I'm excited to implement some changes in how I grow certain veg which (hopefully) will translate to better harvests.

      This past year really highlighted how weather, methods and care can make all the difference when growing a crop. People sometimes give up too easily and end up missing out when they think they "can't" grow this or that veg after only giving it one go, especially in years when the weather is a bit wonky.

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  16. That's a great harvest Margaret! I was thinking the same as Sue G - also although your overall harvest was down you might have had good results for crops that would otherwise have been expensive to buy etc I def don't have your attention to recording detail though, that's where the blog is handy, looking back at all the photos etc and thinking, wow I grew all that (well, some of it grows itself but it does need picking hehe).
    Your hilltop garden is looking lovely :) hopefully this year you'll get good returns on all the hard work. I need to change round my raised beds on the plot this year as many are rotten but it's been too wet to do much so far. Oh well it's still only January!

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    1. Thanks Lou - the blog does come in handy for keeping track of things, doesn't it? For me, that was especially the case when it came to photos - pre-blog I would tell myself that I would take lots of photos as the garden progressed through the season. I would then take a handful of photos in May & June and then completely forget for the rest of the summer.

      It's nice that you can get things set up in the garden in winter while nothing much else is happening. Hopefully you are able to tackle those beds before the season really gets going. As for me, I'm planning on doing a lot less garden building and a lot more garden enjoying this year :)

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  17. What amazing progress you made with that hilltop garden, my goodness so much effort! And a tenfold increase in broccoli is nothing to sneeze at (I look forward to hearing the details in an upcoming post). I still struggle with broccoli, might give it one more go in 2016 though.

    I'm very glad you take such good notes of the weather ... so I don't have to! You are further south than me and you are, I'm sure, a few degrees warmer with a slightly longer season - but the weather trends (rainy, sunny, etc) seem pretty similar. So when I need to know something about last year, I'll be going through your posts.

    Happy 2016 Margaret!

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    1. Thanks Susie - it was a very busy year, that's for sure. I'm more than happy to take it a *bit* easy next season. The broccoli was a definite highlight - thankfully, the garden usually gives us a few of those, even during tough years.

      I didn't really used to make notes on the weather, but it really is useful when you are trying to figure out what went wrong (or right!) so I'm trying to get better at it - and I'm so glad that you are finding them helpful!

      And you didn't mess up...I have comment moderation on for any comments that come in a week or more after the post is published, just to make sure I don't miss any :)

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