Last Year’s Garden – What Worked and What Didn’t

raised garden bed tips

I’ve finished planting my garden, deciding where veggies should go in what raised bed based on crop rotation and this year I’m even taking into account what plants grow better with others (companion planting).

What also comes into play at this time is last years successes and failures in the garden.

I call them my “yearly experiments”.

There were some things that I would definitely do again and others… not so much.

Also, there were some surprises that didn’t reveal themselves until this year.

Let’s start with the successes…

Successes

Fall leaves and chicken manure

Throughout the life of my raised gardens, I’ve done many things with it to protect the soil during the winter.

First… I’ve left it bare to face the winter naked.

This resulted in lots of weeds and hard packed soil in the spring that needed to be dug before planting.

Also, a lot of goodness that had been added to the soil just got washed away in the rains of the winter.

Another year I put down newspapers with lots of rocks to keep it from blowing away.

This kept the weeds down but it also formed a heavy mat on top of the beds that didn’t decompose and I had to take it all off in the spring and put it into the compost where I found it again all in one mass the following year.

Turns out it takes a long time to disintegrate when you make a mat of about 10 layers.

Also, still needed to dig and turn the soil in the spring as it was hard and compact underneath the paper.

Upside was there were lots of worms.

Then for years, I used cardboard.

I would get large boxes, take all the packing tape off them and lay them flat on the beds for the winter to protect the soil.

This worked reasonably well as the cardboard decomposed over the months and in the spring I could take off the little bits that were left and throw them into the compost.

Although this was a good option, the raised beds still needed to be dug in the spring as the soil was hard packed and always seemed cold and dense and didn’t supply a lot of enhancement to the soil.

Always looking for other options that will make gardening easier and enrich the soil I opted one year to do a cover crop over my garden for the winter.

I chose winter rye and it was green and lush all winter.

chia pets in the gardenMy beds looked like little chia pets and it was lovely to walk out on a gloomy day in December and see the rye covering the garden.

But… there were repercussions to this type of crop cover.

According to many youtube videos that I watched you planted your cover crop in the fall, cut it down in the spring and just plant amongst the dying plants which would them supply nutrients to the soil as they were decomposing.

Sounded like a win, win situation until one actually put it into practice on the west coast.

It was the most time intensive and slug infested solution that I’d come across yet for covering the bed in the fall and I wrote extensively about it.

You can read about it here if you missed it.

Green Manure Cover Crops – Winter Rye

Don’t Plant Winter Rye Until You Read This!

First Crop Of Hay Off My Raised Garden Beds

Even though the soil was lovely underneath it all, I won’t be using this option again.

Back to youtube and reading what other gardeners were doing.

My goal was to provide nutrients to the garden and to have some sort of cover on it to protect the soil and also to provide mulch in the summer months so I didn’t have to water as often.

So… last year I tried chopped up leaves and aged chicken manure and the results were spectacular.

Where I normally plant 6 squash in a bed, last year I should have only planted four.

Squash was literally overgrowing their beds and to walk between the raised beds I had to cut it back.

squash overflowing the raised beds

On one bed I put a fence all around it of tomato cages. The kind that comes like a flat panel that you make into squares just to keep the squash contained. Like a baby in a playpen.

You could actually sit in the garden and watch things grow.

Everything grew bigger and better and the slugs were gone.

Not only that there was less watering during the summer and the quails couldn’t have dust baths in the dirt like they normally did.

I did soil tests and everything was right up there except the phosphorus was a little below the ideal range so this year when I planted I put in some bone meal to compensate.

You can watch a video of my garden last year in a post I did in July of 2018..

Garden Explosion!

This was a big success and will do it again next year.

If you want more details on the above garden covers, check out this article.

Improving The Soil In 

Raised Garden Beds

Buckets

My next success was the use of buckets in the greenhouse.

I wrote an article about using them but not the results.

Drum roll…

Spectacular.

  • healthy happy plants
  • nutrients got right to the roots
  • could do an intensive watering
  • saved water as I didn’t need to water as often
  • easy to water as you just had to fill up the buckets
  • tomato cages fit in the buckets which added support to the cages

5 gallon bucket cut

Trellising

Last year we changed the way we trellised the tomatoes.

The old method was flimsy and made it awkward to pick the fruit but by getting a little creative we finally found a method that worked.

To read more about the buckets and trellising check out the article below.

Best Pinterest Gardening Tip

Beer Cans and Bridal Veils

Also, last year I came up with a method of keeping the critters out of the garden using beer cans and bridal veils.

You can read about the how to’s here.

Every Garden Needs Beer Cans And Bridal Veils

Worked a treat and I’m using the idea again this year because…

cauliflower covered with tulle

Yesterday, as I finished planting the celery and went to go to the greenhouse to find a net to cover the tender little transplants the quail spotted the newly minted soil and went in for a closer look.

I was gone for maybe two minutes and by the time I got back, the quail were already on the sides of the raised beds and just ready to dive in.

None too soon with the netting.

As a matter of fact, I hadn’t put any netting on the kale that I had planted earlier as there was only a couple of rows of it and the rest of the bed wasn’t planted.

Going out one morning, the kale was snipped down to just the stems by the quail. They seem to love the new and tender plants.

So… in my garden, netting is a must until the plants get big enough that the quail can’t abuse them.

The bridal veil worked wonders with the brassicas.

The veil kept out the Pieris rapae which is the white butterfly that lays eggs on the brassicas which in turn hatch and eat the plant.

I didn’t know this but the Pieris rapae is not native to Canada and was introduced from Europe in Quebec in 1860.

Trivia tip for the day.

My plants were healthy last year with no damage to the leaves or plants.

Garden for the Birds

Until last year I basically just had a veggie garden but decided that the birds and bees needed some extra attention as well and so put in a couple of flower gardens.

The flowers that I planted were put in specifically for the birds and bee and picked ones that were drought tolerant because as you know… I’m not good at watering on a regular basis.

The flower gardens were a big success last year for the critters.

Some things I didn’t take into account was the very cold weather we had last year and a couple of the salvia were considered to be “tender” which means they don’t live through having their roots frozen.

Also, I had picked some plants that were annuals thinking them perennials so they didn’t come up this year.

Good news is I get to add some new flowers into the gardens this year and they are sitting on my deck ready to be planted.

Check out my post and video from last year to see what I planted.

My Backyard Has Gone To The Birds

Stick it in The Ground

I have gotten very good at sticking things in the ground to see if they will grow.

Some will… some won’t.

What I normally do is to see a plant that I like, cut off a stem or branch and stick it in the ground, water and see what happens.

No… I don’t use rooting compound or any other goodness that one should use.

I just take a cutting and stick it in the soil, usually in a pot so I can keep an eye on it and so it doesn’t get trampled on.

So far I’ve created new plants from the following.

Native fuchsia – we have a fuchsia there on the west coast that grows as a bush.

Hummingbirds love it.

The bushes can get to about 5 feet high and the same around and I’ve seen hummingbird fiercely defending their favourite plot of fuchsias.

I found a clump of bushes as an old homestead at Jordan River and cut off a couple of branches to see if they would grow.

Now… I cut them when the plant was in full bloom (not the best time to propagate) and stuck them in the dirt.

And they die.

Well… I thought they did.

I just left the pot they were in as I didn’t have anything else to plant into it and it went through the summer and winter with no additional care or watering.

And behold… come spring when I was going to plant something in the pot I noticed new shoots coming up from the bottom of 3 sticks.

Three brand new fuchsia.

I left them for a month to get more leaves on them and then planted them into the flower garden.

Last winter they again turned to stick and I thought I had lost them during the deep freeze.

But they now have a good three inches of growth at the base and will be even bigger this year than last.

Butterfly bush – as most people know you can’t kill butterfly bushes once they take hold but my problem was in acquiring one.

I went to the gardening center and they don’t sell them as they are considered an invasive species. Who knew!

But I know the bees and the hummingbirds love them so wanted one in the backyard.

I have seen them in other peoples yards but I thought they might think it a little strange for me to knock on the door and ask for a cutting of their butterfly bush.

So, I resorted to the next best thing.

On one of my walks, I noticed that there was a lovely bush that overhung the fence.

Taking my trusty clippers along with me one day I stealthy clipped off a small branch and brought it home.

Shhhh… Don’t tell anyone!

Stuck it in the dirt and waited to see what would happen.

The bush is now planted in the yard and is about three feet high.

Hydrangeas – do you know how easy they are to grow? If you did you would never buy one again.

Rob brought home a bunch of brush to burn for someone and amongst it were numerous bushes like hydrangeas.

I knew they were hydrangeas as they still had flowers on them.

Thinking what the heck, it had worked before and I had nothing to lose I clipped off some branches about six inches long and stuck them in a pot.

This spring there are three new plants ready to go into the ground.

I had put the pot into the greenhouse to protect them for the winter but didn’t water and the pot froze solid.

It’s amazing what will grow in those conditions.

Also in the pile of brush was a plant with red berries and small dark green leaves that I liked so I put that into the pot as well.

Don’t know what it is, but it seemed to survive.

Now… there were a lot of other plants that I’ve done this too that didn’t make it, but anything is worth a try.

Things That Didn’t Work

Some of my experiments last year just didn’t work or so I thought.

Forest Garden

Last year I had been doing a lot of reading on forest gardens and as I had a forest thought it would be a good idea to try it out.

So… starting simple I transplanted some strawberries to the forest and even if all they did was to feed the birds and critters I thought that might be a start.

It was a good call.

The critters ate the top of the plant right down to the crown.

Within a few days, they had ripped the plants right out of the ground and devoured the whole lot.

I’m suspecting raccoons.

Next, I planted some lettuce and beets and swiss chard. (I had extra seeds).

These came up looking sickly and a very pale colour.

cabbage bolted

I attribute it to the soil (very acidic) and the fact that they didn’t get enough light amongst the trees.

After two months the plants were still only an inch high and the forest was reclaiming the ground they were planted on.

At the same time, I choose a hill to plant potatoes on.

I had seen a video where all you did was pull away some leaf or woody mulch and put in the potato, cover it, and voila… a sack of potatoes.

It appears that my forest didn’t get the message or watch the video.

The poor plants grew but they were long and spindly with just a few leaves.

growing potatoes in a forest garden

Again, I think it was a lack of light and poor soil.

The harvest was dismal.

Out of a dozen plants, about five had little tiny potatoes about the size of your thumb.

forest garden potatoes

So… I won’t be doing a forest garden this year!

Or… will I?

I was out walking in the forest last week and noticed some unusual greenery coming up.

Looks like I missed some potatoes and they are regenerating themselves.

I counted… six plants are going to give it another try this year and I’ll report back with the results.

Winter Planting

People are always talking about winter planting and having veggies all through the winter and as we normally have fairly mild weather it seemed like a good idea.

This winter was a little colder than most and the ground froze but that didn’t seem to bother the plants.

They consisted of:

  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • cabbage
  • brussel sprouts
  • swiss chard
  • kale
  • and just for good measure some romaine lettuce

The first four came up fine in the fall and went into the winter about three inches high with lots of greenery on them.

fall cabbage

The made it through the winter without growing any higher and as soon as the sun got to them in the spring, they bolted to six inches and started to flower.

bolted cabbage

Into the compost.

Swiss chard and kale live just fine through the winter here so there is always greens year round.

overwintered swiss chard overwintered kale

It always amazes me that the tender leaves can freeze with no ill effects.

But it was the romaine lettuce that was a surprise.

I transplanted it in the big greenhouse when it was about an inch high as I figured it needed some protection.

Going into winter nothing happened.

It didn’t grow any bigger but stayed green.

I watered it occasionally when the weather was going to be mild but when I say occasionally it was about once or twice a month.

Just to give you an idea of the greenhouse is it’s covered in plastic and doesn’t get moisture inside so the dirt is like a dust bowl.

Also, it doesn’t give a lot of protection from the elements just helps with the wind and as the sun doesn’t hit it in the winter there is not a lot of added warmth.

These little lettuces struggled through the freezing temperature and lack of water and by the end of winter were maybe two inches high.

Then the days started getting longer.

And the lettuce actually started to grow.

overwintered romaine lettuce

So, I gave them a little more water and they grew some more.

By the first of March, we were eating lettuce out of the garden.

And now it’s June and I still have two plants left (I planted a lot of lettuce) and I’m amazed they haven’t bolted.

The lettuce was pristine in the sense that no bugs or slugs had gotten to them and it was wonderful to have a salad in March straight from the garden.

The last two plants I’m afraid might end up in the compost as my regular garden lettuce is ready to eat.

Just a note: I tried the growing bean in the greenhouse as well but they didn’t make it.

This Year

This year I haven’t really tried any new experiments but have noticed that companion gardening is coming along nicely.

Right in front of the garlic, I planted beans.

These beans are the only ones in the garden (I have them planted in four other spots) that haven’t been eaten by slugs. Seems that slugs don’t like garlic.

Who knew!

Something to keep in mind when planting next year.

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