I delineated some of our garden successes in Part 1 (see Garden Recap - Part 1, The Successes). Now on to the fun stuff, the mistakes I made and lessons learned during the last year on the urban homestead.
Strawberry Jam. You can read all about our strawberry jam making in the Strawberry Jam Insanity post. The jam is delicious, but more like a runny, gooey, jam-esque substance than actual jam. It's still a great topping for pancakes, waffles, ice cream, and gluten free yellow cake but it doesn't have the consistency of proper jam. The problem was I got a little too big for my britches and thought I could modify the jam recipe. The lesson learned? If you want your jam to set properly you need to follow the recipe precisely.
Apple Trees. We lost a couple of apple trees (one each of two varieties) over the winter out of the eight that we planted. It's hard to tell if it's because they were still vulnerable in their first full year, if I planted them poorly, or if it was just a super hard/cold winter (which it was). We're going to replace them this year with a couple more hardier "North Dakota approved" varieties that should fare better.
Peas. I made the "pea corral" below out of some hardware cloth and wood stakes. It was a great theoretical idea, but it made weeding inside the area and harvesting the peas very difficult. And just like the year before, we severely neglected the peas. They were the furthest plants from the water (see the "Water" selection below) and they just didn't get the watering and weeding necessary to thrive. We're going to fix this next year since Alycia and I love our peas and have visions of a big harvest with extra peas to store in the freezer.
Homemade Tomato Cages. These tomato cages weren't failures by any means, on the contrary, they were unbridled successes, I just didn't make enough of them and many tomatoes took off before I could get them properly staked, which resulted in the mess below. We won't let this happen again. Next year our tomatoes will be an awesome, organized, vortex of tomato goodness.
Water. Wait, what?? How was water a failure? Well, one of the very few things that I don't like about our house is that there's only one outside water outlet. It's in the backyard, about a hundred feet away, on the other side of the fence and across the driveway from the main garden. We end up with a Jerry-rigged system that involves a hose from the main outlet laying across the grass in the backyard connecting to a second hose reel on the other side of the fence that needs to be unwound and dragged across the driveway to the garden. Then every time we mow the lawn (pretty much every week during summer/fall) we have hoses to wind up and remove from the lawn, it's kind of a pain in the backside.
The bottom line is all the rigamarole that you have to go through to water the garden makes it more difficult for Alycia to water when I'm gone. I need to figure out a way to automate some of the watering areas with drip lines, sprinklers, or something. Hand watering the entire garden is fine for me (I really enjoy it, and the 30 to 60 minutes of watering is an enjoyable summer morning ritual) but not for Alycia if I'm out of town for work.
If I was back in Southern California, it would take me a day with some PVC pipe, a shovel, and a pick ax, and I'd have me a nice trenched in water line with a hose bib on the other side of the fence. But here in North Dakota, you can't just slap some PVC 8-12 inches below ground, the winter freeze and -40 temps will make a mockery of your efforts. I need to find out some more info from locals as to what works here. Very few people have sprinkler or irrigation systems, and the ones that do need to have them prepped for winter (the lines are blown dry by a high powered air compressor).
Having a professional install a water outlet in the garden (as opposed to just on the other side of the fence) seems like an expensive option since a water line would have to be routed under the driveway or all the way around the garage. I should probably have a few plumbing companies look at it and give me some ideas/estimates so I at least know what my options are, but I don't think they'll be cheap. Either way I'll have to make some improvements to the watering system to make it easier to water and more efficient for Alycia to water when I'm out of town.