Saturday, December 3, 2016

My Gardening Goals for 2017

After reviewing what I did wrong in my garden this year, I’ve already started planning what I want to try next year. Honestly I think the planning phase is one of my favorite parts of gardening. I get to imagine all the wonderful perfect veggies I imagine will come out of my garden, and of course in my imagination I have no troubles with overscheduling, pests, or unexpected weather issues!

A late season harvest from 2014, one of the best years so far for my garden.

My goals for next year fall into three main groups: techniques I want to try or continue; specific crops I want to grow; and results & motivational hopes.

Garden Planning & Techniques to try

I was definitely happy with growing separate crops in the “shoulder” fall and spring seasons this year, even if I didn’t get it perfect. Actually, I got the summer crops cleared out enough to plant my fall lettuce on time, but was then foiled by late warm weather in October and November. The lettuce actually bolted (went to seed) in mid November! Arrgh, so much for fresh fall and winter salads. Next year.

My tall, bitter lettuce after it switched into flowering mode.

So to improve next year, I need to be prepared to put up spring crops for storage if I haven’t consumed them all fresh by the time I need to plant for the summer. For example, I could make batches of yummy kale chips (which I've been meaning to try anyway), or quick-freeze kale to put it in soups and stir-fries later. Another way I might make sure I don’t have the same problem next summer is to plant my early crops in a separate bed that isn’t also supposed to grow summer crops. Then when the spring crops come out (whether that’s on time or not), I could plant that bed with a quick-growing cover crop to keep down weeds until it’s time to plant late fall crops.

Speaking of cover crops, that’s something I’ve been meaning to try for years. Again I run into the difficulty of having to pull my summer or fall crops while they are still producing. That probably is one of my biggest challenges in gardening! I can’t bear to rip out plants that might still give me more harvest if I just let them stay in the ground. I might be able to interplant a fall cover crop around the lingering summer tomatoes, though. That still means I need to at least order the seeds on time, which I didn’t do this year. I never got around to actually ordering any cover crop seeds, although I did spend quite a bit of time reading about them and planning what combination I’d like. If I do an early spring cover crop where the majority of my summer tomatoes, etc. will go, I might try fava beans. I love eating fresh favas when I can find them in the grocery store. I’ve read it’s good to mix a deep-rooted grain in there as well, such as rye. We’ll see; I have a lot more time to dream and plan this winter and peruse my favorite seed catalogs. As always, I'll make sure to list ideas in my garden journal. Maybe starting now and creating a calendar reminder for when to order seeds for a cover crop will help me finally achieve this goal!

Some of my favorite seed catalogs. I can't wait until this year's arrive!

So all those are fairly practical, realistic techniques to try. The most far-fetched goal I have for next year’s garden is to build a squash or cucumber archway, like this one I saw on Pinterest.  How fun would that be to be able to walk down an archway and see fruit dangling through the wire mesh? I think it would probably be a significant amount of work to build one, though, especially since I don’t have any raised beds yet that would serve as a base. I love the idea, though, so we’ll see what kind of time and energy and funds I have available this spring and summer.

Seeds and varieties to add or change

As for the actual seeds I order, over the last few years I’ve been trying to buy mostly heirloom varieties. It wasn’t because I dislike the bigger seed companies or want pure strains for saving seeds, I just really enjoy the feeling of being connected to previous generations who grew the very same variety. (I’ve dreamed of saving my own seeds, and do once in a while, but usually not for the more expensive heirlooms I’ve been buying like tomatoes.)

However, I’ve had smaller tomato and sweet pepper harvests than I wanted the past few years. Some of that is certainly my fault and/or due to weather, but I also suspect the varieties I’m choosing have generally smaller yields than modern hybrids would. Some heirloom varieties I’ll keep no matter what because I love their unique flavor, like the Cherokee Purple tomatoes from this summer and the Hot Lemon hot peppers that I've grown the past few years. (The hot peppers also are heavy yielding, so no complaints there.) Other than those, the heirlooms I’ve tried haven’t made up for small harvests with an overwhelmingly fantastic flavor. So next year I will probably try growing more hybrids in hopes of  a bigger harvest. As mentioned in my garden year wrap-up (linked above), I may also try an early-yielding variety to spread my season out a bit more. All the heirloom tomatoes I’ve been growing have fairly long days-to-maturity. For example, Cherokee Purples are listed at 80 days to maturity.

My fall tomatoes ripening on the counter. The round, dark ones at the back are Cherokee Purples.

I plan to try again to grow some of the seeds I ordered for 2016 but never planted, such as winter squash, cucumbers and cantaloupe.  (Maybe one or more of those will go over my archway trellis!) I missed having winter squash from the garden this year.

I also found I dearly missed my annual fall ritual of spending a few afternoons shelling beans. I love eating fresh shell beans as well as drying them for longer storage. So I’ve got to make room for beans in my 2017 garden. I enjoyed growing red beans last year, but found they were smaller than the Borlotto or Cranberry beans I used to grow, like this one.  I will grow those fat meaty beans again in 2017, and make sure I build tall enough trellises for their vines (six feet or more!).

Borlotto beans are delicious and gorgeous to boot!

In my flower beds, I want to try a couple things different from this year. I’d like to find room for some Tithonia, or Mexican Sunflower. Their bright orange daisy-like blooms seem to be magnets for butterflies at Brookside Gardens, especially Monarchs. I also want to plant more milkweed, but place it at the edge of one of my beds so it's more easily accessible. This year’s milkweed ended up getting lost in the center of the bed, so I couldn’t see whether I ever had monarch caterpillars. I should also try to get more than just a couple plants so I have a big patch of the milkweed, easily seen by butterflies cruising overhead. I may create  an entire bed that's just milkweed, for that matter. We'll see how much room I have.

American Lady enjoying the Tithonia at Brookside Gardens

I did enjoy the zinnias I grew this summer, but oddly enough the only colors that germinated were pink, orange, and white (from a seed mix packet—there should also have been reds and yellows in there). Hmm. I didn’t see a lot of butterfly activity on the zinnias but I was really busy much of the summer. I’m undecided on whether I’ll grow them again.

Results I’m aiming for-- Lots to put up!

As I mentioned in my wrap-up, I hardly stored anything from the garden this year. I didn’t really have time or energy to actually make a batch of tomato sauce even if I had a big enough crop, but I still hope to be able to do so next summer. If nothing else I could make a batch in my slow cooker while I’m at work. I also hope to pickle some cucumbers, store some winter squash, and of course dry some of my shell beans for cold weather soups.

So now that I’ve gotten my goals organized, I get to do the really fun part, which is reading new seed catalogs as they arrive in my mailbox. I’ll compare prices, disease resistance, days to harvest, and so forth. What are your goals and dreams for next year’s garden? Any favorite varieties you think I should grow? Please chime in the comments, I love hearing from you all!


  1. You have already set your goals, i.e, a good start. All the best.

  2. Thanks, Rajesh! Hope you're well.


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