Food It Yourself 2021 Gardening Season in Review
How on earth is it November, already? it seems like just yesterday I was perusing seed catalogs and rototilling my front lawn into a large planting bed. The gardening season has passed in central New England. We have memories. We have some produce put by. We are already planning for the 2022 gardens. Yes, I used the pleural. Not only do I have multiple planting areas on my property, but I have been designated the task of researching the best varieties of vegetables to grow in the community garden started by the worship community to which I belong. (I take that job seriously!). There are no endings in a DIYet lifestyle, just a continuing cycle of growth, harvest, rest, and rebirth.
The herbs produced plenty. I am currently drying a winter’s supply of basil, sage, thyme, and parsley. Will the few chamomile that avoided being chomped by the local rabbits survive the winter? Who even knows!? I have an ample supply of mint for tea. I will need to thin the plants in the spring, lest they take over my neighborhood, but I will never ever be lacking for mint.
The fruit trees did very well this year. In the early summer we had an excellent crop of cherries and raspberries. However, the frequent and heavy rain inhibited harvest. I still have my one-and-a-half cup harvest of raspberries in my freezer. We collected enough cherries for a couple of batches of jam, which will make excellent Christmas gifts. There was much fruit that simply rotted on the bush and tree because we could not harvest in the constant downpour. You cannot fight Mother Nature. I do not even try. (To be perfectly honest, much of the raspberry and cherry crops were enjoyed by local birds, so they did not really go to waste.)
As usual, I promised myself in May that I would put half of each strawberry harvest in the freezer and make jam when when I had collected enough. In June, this never happened and Mr. Food It Yourself and I ate every single berry we picked. I have no regrets. If you do not already, grow strawberries! Homegrown strawberries are exquisitely delicious and you will never again be satisfied with store-bought.
The green beans produced nicely. I did not plant a second crop this year, as I was afraid the rain would cause the seeds to rot. Bean seeds are viable for a few years if you keep them cool, dry and in the dark, though. I will simply plant them next year. The sweet corn produced many ears, but they were all small. Corn pollinates by wind, and I think the rain just washed the pollen onto the ground. The tiny ears were delicious. Hopefully next year will be dryer and we will get some full-sized ears. (Corn seed keeps for a long time, too!
Yes, there were tomatoes. The total crop was not as spectacular as last year, but I have a few pints and quarts sealed up for the winter. We also ate plenty of them fresh. I also discovered that tomato pie, which is actually more like tomato quiche, is a delicious, quick dinner that uses up both spare tomatoes and extra eggs. The heavy rains did mean lots of split cherry tomatoes. This was unfortunate for us humans, but a great boon to the chickens, who got to eat the split tomatoes. For all the eggs they gave us, they deserve a treat! I even got a decent batch of relish from the green tomatoes.
The cucumbers pretty much crashed and burned. We harvested about a dozen, and they were small and thick-skinned. No pickles in the Food It Yourself canner this season.
The zucchini and summer squash were actually just about perfect, however. At peak production, we harvested about three of each per week, which was easy enough for us to use up. The rain was the ultimate enemy, once again, however. It promoted powdery mildew on the plants, even though I always grow resistant varieties. The warm wet weather also caused a population explosion of cucumber beetles. Those little striped imps just spread more mildew and fungus to our plants. There simply was not enough neem oil in central Massachusetts to control the problem.
I was quite worried about the carrot situation this year. I usually put the seeds down, water them, then sift a little dry soil over the top of the bed. Carrot seeds should not be planted too deeply. This year, there was no dry soil anywhere on our property. I scattered some seed into the raised bed, topped it all off with a little straw, and hoped for the best. In the end, things turned out just fine, to be honest. The carrots were a little over-crowded and the soil was compacted from the rain, so they were all on the small side. However, we had a good harvest over all. My top tip for carrots is this: buy pelleted seeds. Carrot seeds are very, very tiny. Part of the reason mine were crowded is that I could not see where they were planted. Pelleted seeds are coated in a clay/soil mixture so they are easier to see and space apart when sowing.
The very small carrots became chicken snacks. I laced the greens through a suet cake feeder, and hung the feeder in the run. The hens spent hours jumping for the greens and excitedly running after the carrots whenever one fell. The bigger carrots were trimmed and cleaned and are currently stored in a zipper bag in the refrigerator. Some recently made an excellent addition to some split-pea soup.
And then, we have The Pumpkin Situation. This has been the best year for pumpkins we have ever had here at Food It Yourself HQ. I spent the afternoon of Halloween carving some delightful jack-o-lanterns in anticipation of some extra spooky fun!
I bought some packets of schmancy gummy bears (the famous German brand). We had two trick-or-treaters. They were brother and sister, out with their mom. Exactly three people saw these works of art. Perhaps it is my ego encouraging me to share these photos with you all, my fellow DIYeters. If that is the objective truth, so be it. I worked hard on these pumpkins.
I was reeling from the jack-o-lantern situation so much that I did not even realize, the next day, that frosts were coming and I needed to harvest my rhubarb. That is a lie. I often forget about the rhubarb I have growing. It is right by the door, so I have no excuse, but I am very bad at harvesting rhubarb at intervals. Perhaps calendar reminders would help me? I might just create some for garden season 2022. I got a total of 15 lb, most of which is currently stored in my freezer. I found a recipe for orange-rhubarb chutney, which will be the final state of some of this windfall. Some of the rest has been shared with co-workers. I still have plenty in my freezer, so if you have a good recipe for chopped, frozen rhubarb, pretty please share in the comments.
Every gardening season is an opportunity to learn. I am convinced that it is possible to be an experienced gardener but not an expert one, simply because every year brings unique problems to solve. I am looking forward to a rest period this winter, and I am also looking forward to the 2022 season. What worked in your garden this year? What did not work? Please share in the comments!