Even though it's cold and marginally snowy outside, it doesn't mean I'm not thinking about the garden, thunderstorms, fresh tomatoes, warm summer evenings, and what plants to grow next year. Alycia and I usually spend several weeks every winter flipping through the various seed catalogs that are mailed to the house, debating what new tomatoes we want to try, which onions grew best, and if we should stubbornly keep trying to grow things that didn't do so well the prior year. We're right in the midst of whittling down our seed catalog choices to a semi manageable number of veggies and flowers since Spring is (hopefully) right around the corner.
This exercise always leads to the very helpful analysis of what worked and what failed last year. So here's a list of things we learned, success we had, and failures we experienced last year in the garden and around the homestead and how that'll change what we try this year. So for Part 1 of our garden recap, here are the things that did well and we considered successes last year.
Cucumbers. I can't decide if we did really well with these or if the weather and environmental factors just lent themselves to a good cucumber yield. Multiple people I talked to mentioned that their cucumbers were going gangbusters last year, and the same was true for us. The pickling cucumbers, Armenian cucumbers, and regular cucumbers all produced prodigiously.
Pickles. The unexpected number of cucumbers was sort of a surprise, but my plan was to make/can pickles last year. This is all part of my plan to try a few new things every year (new things we canned in 2011 were strawberry jam, pickles, and ketchup) and build every year on that knowledge. You can't become a self sufficiency or canning expert overnight, so I'm employing the "learn one or two things a year and build the toolbox of skills" plan.
Bread and Butter Pickles for more info and the recipe. The only downside to the refrigerator pickles is that the gallon jars take up a lot of space in the fridge.
The pickles are very tasty and I eat them as a nice snack or side dish with many a meal. Along with the pickles though, the pickled onions in the jar are almost tastier than the pickles themselves. I've been using them as sandwich toppings, for a bit of tang in stir-frys, and chopped up in scrambled eggs. We'll make canned and refrigerator pickles again next year for sure.
Potatoes. When we had some work done on our basement, there was a leftover piece of the window well cover for the egress window. You can barely see it in the picture below, but it's a big U shaped piece of metal, perfect (I thought to hold some potatoes). I threw the potatoes in there, topped them off with some mulch and swore that in a couple of months I would add another layer of mulch on top to see if I could get a second set of potatoes.
Onions. The onions that we planted where they actually had room (you know to get sunlight and stuff) did fantastic. It's strange how that works, but I should be theoretically be sophisticated enough of a gardener to know that plants need sunlight, water, and soil to grow. The onions are also storing really well in the root cellar downstairs. My only comment (not really a complaint) is that the longer they sit in storage the stronger they've gotten. About 15 seconds into chopping them I've got tears streaming down my face and my eyes burn for the rest of the day. I'll have to get back in the habit of placing them in the freezer for a bit before prepping them, they're just too powerful.
Strawberries. The strawberry raised bed did so well that the plants burst forth from the box that attempted in vain to contain them. My absence during strawberry runner season (the middle and end of summer) resulted in runners rooting in the area around/outside the box. I usually take the runners and push them into a small pot, allow them to root for a few weeks, then snip the runners and I have (several) new strawberry plants.
Watermelon. We got two very nice sized watermelons from just one plant. We'd never grown these before so our expectations were very low. This was a seeded variety whose flavor was head and shoulders above a store bought melon. We're going to try a seedless variety next year and see what happens.
Homemade Catsup/Ketchup for the recipe and more information on our ketchup making adventure. This was a great way to use up our surplus of tomatoes. The only downisde to this was the day we made our ketchup in early Fall, the vinegary scent that blew out of the kitchen windows as the ketchup mixture cooked down attracted a crapload of hornets. It turns out hornets really, really, really like that vinegary scent. Maybe we'll make ketchup on a rainy day when hornets can't be a problem.
In Part 2, I'll admit to the things that didn't work, lessons that we learned, and what we'll do differently next year.