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2013 Garden Evaluation & Recommendations

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This post is so delayed, which is odd because this year I felt like the garden was done earlier than usual and I could have written this the first in September. But I didn’t. And now we’re facing Thanksgiving in less than a week. However, it was only this past week that I did some very final garden touches-finally getting all the dirt mulch out of the driveway(!) and using it to refill the raised flower beds, planting garlic, and planting some more daffodil bulbs in the mailbox planter. So…how did we do this year?

The big changes this year were the raised flower beds. The mailbox box had been built at the end of the year and filled with bulbs. And when it bloomed it was just how I hoped it would be! Filled with daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths. And then I added a “mailbox garden” mixed package of seeds and continued the color.  By mid/late summer I’d venture to say it was one of the top two prettiest mailbox gardens on our street.
I feel like the post office should give me an award!

While the morning glories didn’t thrive as I’d hoped they would, I absolutely loved the new-to-me purple pea vine.
Colorful Blooms

In early spring Paul built me an L shaped raised bed which we plunked right down in the front yard.  I filled it with good leaf compost and then planted it entirely with seeds. I had really missed having annuals from seed-hard to do with chickens, and I was absolutely delighted with the result. I planted almost all cosmos and zinnias and they were cheerful and colorful. If I had one front yard goal this year it was to bring more color, and that definitely happened.
Cheerful Flowers
And, as usual, the peonies totally rocked.
Pink & Purple

Recommendations for 2014: Continue to use the new raised flower beds and plant with annual seeds

The Butterfly & Bee Garden–Unfortunately, this spring we realized that the butterfly bush was not coming back.  Overzealous pruning? I don’t know. It was very disappointing. But one of our favorite nurseries had a good sale and we bought two new bushes.  We took the opportunity to place this one not exactly in the same spot, as we’d learned just how big it might get. We also learned, from Clark’s Jr. Naturalist outings, that butterfly bushes are not really doing any big favors to butterflies and a better native would be a some kind of hibiscus/swamp mallow (I totally forget the name.) Anyway, we did also plant one of those.   Also on the Jr. Naturalist recommendation, we planted native milkweed.  Another plant I wish I’d paid attention to future size when planting as I put it in the front and it’s very tall.  Unfortuantely, after it bloomed it was completely infested with disgusting mites. This garden was successful, but it didn’t feel quite as bright as it has before. Maybe it needs some freshening?? On the other hand, this was the most successful year ever since we’ve lived here for the hydrangea, which bloomed beautifully and for the entire summer.
Making use of the butterfly garden
Swallowtail in the Catmint
Recommendations for 2014: Pay attention to milkweed and try to stop total infestation before it kills the plant (I hope it’s not dead for good.) Don’t prune the butterfly bush until the following year. Consider adding some more salvia or bee balm.

Vegetable Garden: The main thing this was year refilling the beds with rich leaf compost. I think it really did help with the weeds. Again we received beautiful tomato and pepper seedlings from our friends.  I’m afraid I was so eager to use them all that I really crammed way too many tomatoes into one bed. But hey, we got a bumper crop out of them! The biggest disappointment was the bed that I planted beets in.  It all got overgrown by what I thought was butternut squash, but was in fact part morning glories.  So all I ever got out of that bed was a couple zucchini, and my butternut squash.  The squash was exciting-I planted 4 seedlings I got from a local guy and they bloomed very nicely. I thought I’d get a lot more than I did-just 4 or 5.  It’s one of my favorite vegetables. We did get a lot green beans, which were nice, good asaparagus, and lots of hot peppers.
Nice tomatoes
Things I planted that I either shouldn’t have because I don’t really like them/they took over were tomatilloes, husk cherries.  Things I planted and didn’t succeed: watermelon, canteloupe, beets, zucchini (we got 2 or 3, which is frankly a failure in NJ where everyone knows you should be growing so much that you don’t know what to do with it!)  So it was a mixed bag of vegetable success.  I often think that for the space we’ve allotted we should have a bigger yield, but I also think our beds are way too close together and too close to the fence, which makes it a) hard to work in and b)hard to keep creeper weeds/morning glories out.
Lush Garden

the tomatoes are ripening!
Recommendations for 2014: I adore morning glories, I really do. And it’s frustrating that the most successful ones are not the heavenly blues I keep planting, but the rogue ones that keep coming back on the garden fence and taking over the beds. I think next year i should probably pull them out when I see them.  Plant all creeper vegetables-zucchini, buternut squash-someplace else. Consider not planting any more hot peppers because after two years of bumper crops of them, plus the CSA hot peppers, I have a freezer full of them. Plant pumpkins (early!) and lots of decorative gourds (I had a note to do this last year, but we didn’t.)

Fruits-The blackberries did great this year! Enough of a harvest that I was able to make jam.  They did  not ripen all at once, but rather I was able to collect some every day and freeze them, and then use it to make jam.  Again, I’d prefer they were raspberries, but I was really pleased this year’s outcome.
Blackberry Lemon Jam
This year we also planted some tiny hazelnut tree sticks.  I suspect these will remain little sticks and evenutally die-it’s just too hard to imagine that they really will become trees. Despite promising buds from the blueberry bushes and fig trees, those were a bust this year.  As for our plum tree, it once again blossomed beautifully and definitely has something that we need a tree person to fix.  All the fruit seemed to rot right away with a sticky substance on it.
Recommendations for 2014: Get a tree person to deal with the plum tree. Read our books about fruit trees and take better care of the blueberry bushes. Put in a raspberry bed.

Pond:  Our darling frog was alive and well and we got some new fish to add, as well.
Waiting to be kissed  Paul chose some new water lettuce, and some tiny leafed plant that spread like crazy and needed to be scooped out a fair amount. I didn’t do much around the pond this year, and I think I missed the color that I had planted the year before.  By the pond, however, the hostas were looking fantastic after Paul put in a new little retaining wall.
Recommendations for 2014: Plant some annuals around the pond-they look nice. And maybe cut back the cattails as they take up a lot of space.

How’d we do overall? pretty good, I think. I was most pleased with the front and the infusion of colors and flowers.  And one big change this year, that I think goes for all the categories is….the honeybees! We received our bees in April and getting these hives set up and cared for has been surprisingly challenging (I say that like I did it-it’s really all Paul.) After the drama of the swarm, and recapturing the swarm, it was terribly disheartening that they died. The other hive seems to be doing well, but I think our fingers will be crossed until next spring.  I don’t know that the bees made a difference to our garden, but I know for a fact that the bees were visiting our flowers.  We already have a lot of plants that are attractive to bees, but we’ll be sure to plant even more next year.
The bees are buzzin' in the trees to make some honey just for me

I really enjoying putting this post together each year. Believe it or not, I do refer to it in the spring as I try to remember what it was I wanted to do and what notes I had for myself. It’s also nice to see when things work (for example, when I look at least year’s I see the plan to build the raised flower bed.) We definitely have a lot of failures in our garden and yard, but when I look at the whole photo set I really see a lot of delicious and healthy fruits and vegetables we grew ourselves, as well as beautiful flowers. (I also see that I take a lot of flower close-ups and ought to take a few pictures of the whole garden next year!) It’s also really neat to see the first pictures are always of cold brown dirt with bright crocuses peeping up and the gradual transformation to pictures with lots of pink and purple, pictures that are lush and green, and loads of tomatoes. I also noticed that I had many pictures of Tabby working in the garden, and none of Clark. Goal for next year? Get the whole family out there in the dirt, planting, weeding, and enjoying. I noticed in last year’s post I had some gushier things to say about gardening, that I haven’t put in it here.  I think by now it probably goes without saying that even when I get frustrated by some garden things, overall I absolutely love seeing everything we grow, being surprised and delighted by the visitors to our plants (honeybees, butterflies, praying mantises, etc.), smelling the lovely fragrances, and having beautiful photography subjects.
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Getting closer
Container Gardens
Yo-Yo Shaped TomatoWishing you happy winter hours of planning for next year’s planting!
an assortment of just picked tomatoes(taken by Tabby)

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About Sarah

I'm a librarian living with my lovely family in a gorgeous spot of New Jersey, where we raise chickens and love the outdoors. I try to find enough time to indulge all my hobbies-cooking, photography, gardening, sewing, and I write about it all on my book blog & personal blog.

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