Sunday, September 20, 2015

Lessons Learned in the Vegetable Garden

It's been exciting to see how productive our veggie garden has been this year.  In Spring we built raised beds and added drip irrigation, and that has made all the difference from last year's paltry harvest.

Veggie garden this September
But still, there are always lessons to be learned and things to be improved, and here are a few things that this summer has taught me:

1.  No one needs three full raised beds of Tomatillos.  Not even me.

Harvest on 9/18/15 - Green beans, Ground Cherries, 2 Cucumbers, and tons of Tomatillos
These very hardy, prolific plants did well even last year in my garden, but given a raised bed full of decent soil?  They went nuts.  To be fair, I intended half of them to be for snacking as opposed to cooking, as last year I grew a variety that was great eaten raw.  However, this year the same variety just wasn't as sweet for whatever reason.

So what to do with bushels of Tomatillos?  Let's just say that, even though I gave several bags of Tomatillos away, I could supply the whole neighborhood with Salsa Verde for the entire winter.  And maybe next.


2. Bees don't visit greenhouses.

I grew most of my tomatoes in containers in my greenhouse this year.  During the first half of the summer, the plants grew lush and full, with lots of flowers - but no tomatoes.  I was puzzled why I wasn't getting any tomatoes, and I can't believe it took me as long as it did to have my 'duh' moment: tomatoes are pollinated by bees or wind, neither of which I have in my greenhouse.

Apparently one must hand-pollinate plants in greenhouses by either using a cotton swab/small brush to pollinate individual flowers or by tapping on the plant supports to 'shake down' the pollen.  After realizing this, I finally started getting some tomatoes.

That's more like it.
3.  You can actually eat a marigold.  But only the petals.

I love to grow flowers in my vegetable garden to 'pretty it up', and I justify it to myself by planting flowers that are edible, usually Nasturtiums.  This year, however,  I was intrigued by the Gem Marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia), which were reported to be the 'best tasting' marigolds, so I bought and planted seeds for 'Lemon Gem' and 'Tangerine Gem'.  The taste is described as 'floral with hints of citrus and spice, and slightly bitter'.  Curious, I popped one in my mouth one day.

I described the taste as more like 'pungently awful'.


After the fact, I learned that one is supposed to just eat the petals, not the entire flower, as the base is 'quite bitter'.  After getting up my courage to try them again, I found that the petals were much more pleasant and mild tasting.   I don't know if I'll start adding them to my salads, but at least it's doing it's job of looking very pretty in the veggie garden!


4.  'Gardening for food' and 'gardening for wildlife' are not mutually exclusive.

This year, in particular, I noticed just how much wildlife was enjoying my vegetable garden.  Possibly even too much, as there were the Potato Beetles that enjoyed my tomatillo leaves and the Squash Vine Borers that wiped out my zucchini plants. But the garden was also a big hit with the beneficial wildlife.  In fact, the parts of my garden that attracted the most bumblebees were (1) my catmint patch and (2) my vegetable garden.


I was also surprised how many birds were constantly in the garden.  They do love to eat my Ground Cherries, and thankfully the plants are prolific enough that there are plenty for the birds and for us.  But they also help me out by eating unwanted bugs, and, in at least one case, by helping out the bees with pollination:

the little hummingbird that loved my veggie garden
When you take a closer look, even the vegetable garden is teeming with life.

dragonfly
And I think that's how it should be.


I'm joining in 'Lessons Learned' with Beth at her blog Plant Postings, where you can find out what other gardeners have learned this past season.

24 comments:

  1. Very impressive, Indie! I know how difficult it can be to capture photos of hummingbirds among the flowers, and you snapped an amazing photo! Well, all your photos are amazing, actually! Not to mention all the great lessons you've shared here. I'm sure your friends, family, and neighbors are thrilled to sample your salsa. Yum! Thanks for joining in the meme!

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    1. Thank you! I started growing tomatillos a couple years ago because I love to eat tamales with Salsa Verde. I'll be eating that a lot this winter!

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  2. I could pull off petals, but advice to remove the white bit from rose petals - too much like hard work.
    Perhaps I'll remember to add pelargonium petals now they are blooming again.

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    1. I didn't realize those were also edible! I really should branch out in my salads more :)

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  3. That was certainly a bountiful harvest. I'm envious of your tomatillo salsa. I have a carrot soup recipe that has a dollop of tomatillo salsa on the top. Maybe I'll try some next year. Did you grow from seed or transplants? Love that the dragon fly landed on your finger. ALso I had to take a really close look at the marigold. I though for a moment it was Ca poppy. Looks like a nice summer variety.

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    1. I grew them from seed. Tomatillos grow pretty easily, though I start them early here with our shorter growing season. I do think that this marigold is one of the prettiest ones. The flowers are quite small, which I think makes the plant look more delicate.

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  4. I really like the notion that wildlife is welcome too

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    1. At least some of them ;) The veggie garden would attract all sorts of wildlife, but the fence keeps out the larger, hungrier sort!

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  5. Ha,ha, I'm laughing with you at the three beds of tomatillos--I learned this year that three eggplant plants are more than enough for us, especially since my husband isn't very fond of eggplant parmigiana:) I'm impressed you tried the marigolds--twice--since I've never been brave enough to try eating flower petals. Great lessons; I think a vegetable garden can vary so much from year to year depending on the weather and other factors that there is always something new to be learned from it. Fantastic photo of the hummingbird!

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    1. The first year I grew a veggie garden, I planted 10 zucchini plants, not knowing how productive they were. Of course, that year was a bumper year! This year I only planted 2 zucchini plants, but I found that I wish I had planted more, as borers took them out. It's hard to get that balance right!

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  6. Good lessons, and I can learn from your experience too!

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    1. Thanks! I learn so much reading other gardeners' blogs, too, and try to avoid at least some gardening mistakes!

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  7. (Pungently awful) how extremely descriptive, glad you discovered the method to avoid this torture, think I will still give them a miss though.
    Tomatillos!, so abundant, I have never heard of them, ah well, what do I know.
    Extremely satisfying that you found the answer to your shy to flower tomatoes. I have seen tomatoes growing outdoors here in Cheshire, now thats something you dont see in Aberdeen.

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    1. Tomatillos are originally from Mexico and used a lot in Mexican cuisine, but even here in the northern US you don't see them in the grocery store a lot and many people have never heard of them. Ah, now that you are further south, will we see tomatoes in your garden?

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  8. I giggled at your description of 'pungently awful' – I have also tasted supposedly edible plants without agreeing on edibility. Have you ever eaten Primula vulgaris flowers? They are supposed to taste lovely, I just think they taste like grass.
    Lovely to see your abundant harvest, it is sometimes difficult to know how much a new vegetable will produce, I got 3 sweet pepper bushes for the first time this spring, but have only managed to get 4 peppers – still waiting for them to ripen! Kind of the opposite of your tomatillos :-)

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    1. I've never eaten Primula flowers before. I'm not sure I'm anxious to try them, either :) Peppers did really well in my southern garden, since they love the heat so much, but they struggle for me here, too. I have some in my greenhouse, and still only now are most of them ripening!

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  9. Every year at this time I read a post about ground cherries and thump myself in the head and mutter DUH. I forgot to order and plant the seeds again last spring. I have some kind of mental block when it comes to ordering certain seeds. I'm writing myself another list (which I will misplace by seed ordering time.) Love the gem marigolds.

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    1. I spend a good chunk of my winter highlighting and earmarking pages in seed catalogues to make sure I get everything I want! I order my ground cherry seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and they definitely don't disappoint. Have you ever eaten ground cherries before? There are some varieties that have an odd earthy flavor, but the variety I grow, though small, are nice and fruity tasting.

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  10. Oh lawsy, pungently awful. You were so brave, after that, to try just the petals. Fabulous photos of the hummingbird and dragonfly. I logged on here tonight just to tell you that I thought about you when I saw on Facebook the photo of a pair of rubber booths and the words "On the farm, rubber boots go with anything. Especially pajamas."

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    1. Love it!!! I think I need to put that on a sign and hang it in my veggie garden :)

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  11. I agree Indie...you can garden for food and wildlife...looks like a great harvest.

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    1. Thanks! Things are finally starting to slow down with the cooler temperatures, but it's been a great summer haul.

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  12. Great post. I will just mention that I LOVE green salsa. I've always been curious about eating marigolds, glad to know someone who actually tried it.

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