“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.” -Janet Kilburn Phillips
This is one of my all time favorite gardening quotes, it sums up how I feel about each gardening season. Every year, I test out new companion plants, new support systems, new kinds of vegetables, and more. I take what works from the previous years, drop or rework what didn’t go so well, and start a new season. My garden beds even get reworked all the time. When I first started this garden about 5 years ago, it was made of all wood. I didn’t like the way it was holding up (and to be completely honest, they were build as a way for me to cope with the loss of my Rottie, so they weren’t my best work), so I switched over to concrete blocks. Last year I stuccoed the concrete, this year I painted the concrete, and now I’m in the middle of building 6’x2′ SIP raised garden beds to test them against what I have now. I know it sounds like a lot, but I like experimenting and seeing what works best. Honestly, I’m really excited about the SIP beds and can’t wait to see their results vs. the existing beds. In southern Texas it really could be a game changer to how much time I spend watering the garden every week!
So what’s the point of this post? I thought it would be fun every season to keep a running log of the garden, a garden diary of sorts. I will be doing videos of the garden’s progress, document our companion planting in each bed (wonder why companion planting is so important? Check out our Companion Planting article here), each vegetable we are growing and notes specific to that plant, weighing the yield of each plant (honestly, have you ever wondered how much you saved by growing instead of buying? I’m determined to find out this year!), and different strategies I’m using and how they are working out. I also thought it would be fun to link recipes that I use when I’m cooking with produce from the garden. I think it’s going to be great for looking back on and I’m hoping that you find not only inspiration to push your gardening to the next level, but also get some useful information that will help you with your gardens!
If you have any questions or have a great idea on what we should add to this post, please feel free to leave a comment and I’ll answer them the best I can (or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org) or if you have a great gardening tip that you live by, let us know in the comments! Can’t wait to hear from you!
What We Are Growing This Year:
Here’s a list of everything we are currently growing in the garden this year. Most of our plants were started indoors in February and March with our Quick Germination Method. It’s really nice to try out this method with old seeds early in the season because it will tell you within 72 hours if your seeds are no good, giving you plenty of time to purchase exactly what you need. We also hardened our plants before their final planting, allowing them outside in the shade for a few hours, and for 4-5 days we would increase the sun exposure and length of time outside before transplanting.
|Plant Name:||Plant Type:||# Plants:||Yield:|
|Red Swan||Bush Beans||2||1.02 lbs|
|Beurre De Rocquencourt||Bush Beans||2||3.57 lbs|
|Dragon Tongue||Bush Beans||3||1.94 lbs|
|Blauhilde||Pole Beans||4||13.24 lbs|
|Rattlesnake||Pole Beans||4||1.93 lbs|
|Sunrise Bumble Bee||Tomato||2||0.37 oz|
|Barry’s Crazy Cherry||Tomato||2||1.13 lbs|
|Yellow Pear||Tomato||2||10.5 oz|
|Rich Sweetness 132||Melon||2||6.63 oz|
|Table Dainty||Squash||1||32.11 lbs|
|French Breakfast||Radish||n/a||5.25 oz|
|Purple Dragon||Carrot||n/a||1.25 oz|
|Natsu Fushinari||Cucumber||2||11.7 lbs|
|Violet Sparkle||Sweet Pepper||2||10.88 oz|
|Lipstick||Sweet Pepper||2||1 oz|
|Fish||Hot Pepper||2||3.38 oz|
|Lemon Spice Jalapeno||Hot Pepper||3||2.75|
|Lemon Drop||Hot Pepper||1|
|Total Harvest||112.11 lbs|
Last Updated: 8.15.2020
So I’ve never weighed my harvest before so I didn’t know what to expect for a yield. I set my goal at 100lbs and was happy to end at 112.11lbs for the season. Doing a little research to see how this compared to other gardens and what I should set my goal to next season now that I have a baseline, I discovered some interesting facts about gardening production and average consumption. So according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (https://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/vgs/VGSTables.htm), the average person eats 400lbs of fresh vegetables/melons a year. So ideally I would be able to produce that for myself (my poor husband is not a fan of veggies so while I try to grow something he’ll enjoy I’ve had no success so far) within my backyard garden. I have no idea if it’s feasible to grow over 4lbs of vegetables per square foot but I do know that my garden not only reduces my grocery bill, you can’t pay for the satisfaction of being able to go outside to the garden and harvest part of your meal.
So according to a study done by the Ohio State University (http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1641.html), the average home garden with good gardening practices produces 0.6 lbs of vegetables per square foot but that amount can be significantly increased to 1.24lbs in raised beds due to the soil not compacting as much (which can lead to 50% less harvest-able produce). So overall I feel good about my average of 1.16lbs per square foot but I’m going to shoot for 1.5lbs in the fall since I know I missed a lot of opportunities this season with heat and other factors.
Plant Specific Practices, Thoughts & Learnings
What I think is so great about gardening is every season you try to grow something amazing and sometimes you are successful, sometimes you aren’t, but if you are truly interested in gardening you are always learning and getting better. That’s why every season I make sure to grow something new that I’ve never tried before like Natsu Fushinari Cucumbers or Fish Peppers but I also try to be better at growing the plants I’ve tried in the past. This means a lot of research to help minimize pests and disease, optimize my 97 sq ft with companion planting, and understand what the plants need to not only grow, but thrive in our Southern Texas climate.
Beans: Bush & Pole Varieties
I love beans, both fresh and dried. It may seem a little crazy that I’m growing 22 bean plants but I love to harvest them frequently and roast them in the oven with a little salt, pepper, cayenne, and garlic powder. I honestly could eat them every day! They are also easy to grow and produce quickly. I find when I use our germination method, it’s about 36-48 hours for the seed to start germinating, once potted it’s only 4-5 days before the plant is about 8 inches tall and ready to go in the garden. This year we decided to try to build a trellis for our beans, cucumbers, and squash because last year we had plants all over the place. Once we see how it fairs during the season we will post a how to video on how to build one yourself, so far we are loving it and it’s holding up great to the elements (Update: We made some improvements to our trellis – learn how to build it here)!
I started these plants like all my other plants with my quick germination method. The nice thing about beans is that once they sprout, you can either plant them straight into the ground or in a starter pot. These plants grow extremely fast and are fairly easy to grow so they are great beginner plants. It’s also nice there are so many varieties to choose from so you can constantly try something new. In terms of companion planting, we planted the bush beans with melons, thyme, and sage. The pole beans are planted with cucumbers, squash, zucchini, radishes, and carrots.
For the bush beans we added single stem plant supports to help them stay upright and keep their leaves away from the soil. The pole beans are growing up a trellis we built this year, being secured with plant clips while they learn to grow into the framework. This has worked out great because it’s giving all the beans plenty of room to grow and is giving us high production while saving space.
Overall the beans are producing well but I had aphid problems at the beginning of the season for the bush beans. To help reduce the pest problems, I did daily checks on the bottom leaves and removed the leaves that we infested as well as using chopped banana peels just under the soil around the base of each plant. While the aphid problem was frustrating, it did help increase my lady bug population so while it was a set back, hopefully the lady bugs will continue to live in the garden and help with those annoying little pests since they can eat 5,000 aphids in their lifetime. I love natural solutions to garden problems!
The Red Swan Beans and Dragon Egg Beans did really well in the mild weather, but once it started to get hot they stopped producing all together. The Beurre De Rocquencourt are great producers as long as you are giving them plenty of water, essentially they can be harvested almost daily so if you are limited in space but love green beans I would highly recommend this plant. The Blauhilde and Rattlesnack beans took a little longer to start producing but once it did it has been non-stop as well.
I started my tomato plants indoors, then transplanted them into the garden. When I planted them in the garden I put a mixture of used coffee grounds, ground egg shells, and worm castings at the bottom of the hole and around the base of the plant to give them a healthy start and a long term source of nutrients. While my tomatoes were growing strong at the beginning of the season with plenty of blooms and pollinators, I wasn’t producing much fruit.
Upon doing some research, I discovered that most tomatoes will not set fruit when it’s hotter than 85°F during the day and 72°F at night. Well, that’s unfortunate because I live in Southern Texas where the average daytime temperature is 93°F to 96°F from June to August, though I will tell you that it’s more common to have 100°F during those months. So while I was disappointed I only got about 2 pounds of tomatoes, I can’t control the temperature. So here are some key tomato weather facts that will help you understand how to better grow tomatoes:
- Tomatoes need 3-4 months of good weather in 8+ hours of sunlight to produce best. If you have shorter growing seasons, start your plants early indoors (like 8-10 weeks) to give them a healthy head start before your growing season starts.
- Your tomatoes need consistent temperatures to properly set fruit that is between 55°F-75°F during the night. If your region is not compatible with this, look into heat or cold tolerant tomatoes that may set at different temperatures. You should also take this into account when planning when you put your tomatoes in the garden. Once I learned this, I started new tomato plants from cuttings for my fall garden. I started the first one at the end of June and it’s now over 3 feet tall (end of August) and I’ve just waiting for the temperatures to drop to transplant it outside (it’s been 105°F-110°F all week).
- Your plants will stop growing when it’s above 95°F. This is ultimately why I ended up taking the cuttings from the plants and then removing them from the garden. At this point there was no hope of them growing.
So while the Spring garden was disappointing for my tomato dreams, it’s almost a good thing because I don’t think I would have researched the temperature repercussions otherwise. Now I’m ready for Fall to get the most out of my plants (or at least get more than 2lbs of tomatoes).
Honestly, the melons were a complete miss this year. Even though I went by the spacing recommendations for each variety of melon, it was just a mess even with aggressive pruning mid season. They produced a ton of baby melons but very few actually ripened to have any flavor. Additionally, we had a significant hail storm that not only caused major damage to the plants, it tipped over all their supports causing root damage. Ultimately I removed all the plants a little after the middle of the season. Next time I will start them indoors a little earlier and have a designated space for them instead of planting them in the middle of a bunch of other plants (I did beans with them). That will allow easier access for pruning and adding supports for the fruit as they grow and give them a little more freedom to spread out.
This year we continued to plant both lemon squash and table dainty squash and it did amazingly well this year with over 70lbs of produce between the two varieties. I love both these kind of squash because they grow extremely easily (minus the squash beetles and aphids that you have to keep an eye out for) and produce a ton of food. I love using both these types of squash both roasted in the oven or grilled. The dainty squash was grown on our trellis and literally kept growing back and forth over the trellis and loved the room to grow. The lemon squash likes to grow but not nearly as much, I planted 3 in a 3’x6′ bed and while I had to continuously prune, it worked out well for them. These plants grow quickly and are fairly heat tolerant so I would highly recommend trying them out if you love squash.
With the squash, I think it’s key to prune and harvest on a regular basis. I prune the leaves back to ensure the blooms are readily accessible to any pollinators and so the leaves aren’t blocking each other. This will help you plant produce more, gives less room for pests to hide so you can identify the problem quicker, and the increased air flow will help reduce disease risk.
Did you know cucumbers get bitter if it’s too hot and dry while they are growing? I had no idea until I started growing them! When I first started, I was experimenting with a spicy pickle recipe and I had my husband taste test the 3rd or 4th revision. He promptly spit out the cucumber (if you’ve had a bitter cucumber you know how terrible that taste is) and we had to throw out the whole batch. For me, it made me start researching the spices in my pickling recipe to see what would cause that. Little did I know until an hour of research later that it was actually the cucumbers.
So how to prevent this? This season I picked both Muncher and Natsu Fushinari cucumbers for their heat tolerance and non-bitter varieties. While this doesn’t completely prevent bitterness, it does help extend the season. I had the Natsu Fushinari cucumbers that were about 12″ long last until the end of June before they were too bitter to eat anymore. The Muncher cucumbers were about 6″ long and were rarely bitter but the aphids absolutely loved them. I ended up removing all the cucumber plants in mid-July to free up more growing room for the squash/beans and to help eliminate the aphids in that garden bed.
Peppers: Hot & Sweet
I love peppers in the garden and I love trying new kinds every season. This year I tried Violet Sparkle and Lipstick peppers for my sweet peppers since I love them in my salads but I like them to be on the smaller size so I can grab 1 or 2 and use it all up since traditional bell peppers usually are too big and have left overs. For hot peppers I did Lemon Spice Jalapenos, Lemon Drop, and Fish Peppers.
I started these indoors from seed like all my other plants but I planted the majority of them behind the bean trellis. My thought was with the way the sun moves, it would still get sun even when the trellis was in full use by the bean/squash. To my frustration, the squash leaves were so huge that even with aggressive pruning they caused too much shade on the peppers. I transplanted them around the garden which stunted their growth a bit.
So pros and cons of them? Jalapenos are a must for me in the garden, they are hardy, easy to grow, and you can use them in everything so they don’t go to waste. The Fish Peppers were fine but they were small and kind of a hassle to use with their thin skin. The flavor was good but it wasn’t a huge deviation from the jalapenos so I’ll skip it for next season even though they were easy to grow. The Violet Sparkle Pepper was really fun to watch grow, turning from bright yellow to purple. The taste was a little bland for me and the skin was fairly thin. I’m giving these another chance in the garden because I’m thinking the blandness could be a result of the extreme temperatures. Same is true for the Lipstick Peppers, beautiful plant and great flavor, but the yield was severely stunted due to growing conditions. Lastly the Lemon Drop Peppers grew fairly easily but for some reason the birds loved them. Whenever 1 would start to grow, the birds would rip it off the plant.
Peppers have similar growing temperature conditions as tomatoes so I’m hoping for a better yield this fall season.
Our Garden Layout:
I don’t know about you but I absolutely love seeing how people set up their gardens. This is how we laid ours out for the Spring season. For general reference the small squares are 1’x1′ homemade planters (the perfect DIY build), the circles are 2′ pots, and the rectangle bed closest to the fence is 4’x6′, the 2 under it are 3’x6′, and the one to the side is our brand new self watering cedar bed we build for the season that is 2’x6′ (free building plans for this bed).
I decided placement primarily by companion planting and space/sunlight. I also took into account what was previously planted in the bed to help avoid disease and pest issues. All in all this layout ended up working for me except for the bottom large rectangular bed since the trellis provided more shade then I thought it would, making me change the location of my pepper plants mid season (as indicated by the eraser marks 🙂 ). Live and learn, for the Fall season we have constructed a new trellis to help avoid this happening again.
What’s Next for the Garden?
This season I learned a lot about vertical gardening, temperature impact on plants, production yields, and SIP beds. So now we are gearing up for the Fall with a whole new trellis setup, new plants to try, an increased focus on increasing pollinators and pest control in our garden through creative and strategic plant placement.
Did you like this post? Join us for our Fall 2020 Season!
I would love to hear your feedback about what you thought about this post and if there is anything you would like to add to future seasonal posts to get the most out of your garden. I would also love to see pictures or hear tips from your gardens so please make sure to leave a comment. Happy Gardening Everyone!