2014 garden in review: what worked

Beets in the urban vegetable garden. Photo by Alexandra Staseson.
Our garden produced a bounty of beets this year. Photo by Alexandra Staseson.

I love this time of year in the garden. There’s almost nothing to do, except for digging up frost-sweetened parsnips and figuring out what to do with the mountains of zucchini that inhabit our freezer. It’s the time to make a hot cup of tea, get cozy, and reflect on the year that was.

When planning next year’s garden, the first crucial step is to review what worked last year. By tracking our successes, we can begin to decide where to place our energies for the upcoming season, and figure out which seed varieties work best for us. And now, when there’s snow on the ground and nothing to plant, is the perfect time to do it.

So what were some of our biggest successes in 2014?

  • Beets. Beets are one of my favourite veggies. They are beautiful to look at, have a long growing season, and the entire plant (leaves, roots and even the stems) is delicious. This year’s crop — a rainbow blend from West Coast Seeds — was abundant, amazingly fast-growing, and is still looking pretty healthy under our row covers. We did get a bit of a leaf miner problem towards the fall, so I’ll be researching ways to prevent it for next year.
  • Parsley. Parsley is so much more than a garnish. Just think of tabouleh — great, dish, right? Parsley is my sister Mishi’s favourite vegetable, so I was glad to be able to keep her supplied. We grew both flat-leaf and curly varieties, as well as parsley’s cousin cilantro, and added big handfuls to whatever salad we had going. The parsley seeds we sowed this spring have now grown into big, strong, disease-free perennial plants that took over an entire bed and are still producing. They’ll be one of the first things we’ll harvest in the early spring.
  • Arugula. Arugula is of the easiest greens to get started with early in the spring. By May, we had so much ‘Runway’ arugula growing that I was really struggling to keep up with harvests — if you leave it in the ground too long, it bolts. Good thing that arugula pesto is so delicious. We have tons of it in the freezer, and now I need to find ways to use it.
  • Mustard greens. We also had great success with ‘Giant Red Mustard’. It’s gorgeous to look at, super spicy, and Jason’s favourite veggie. Early in the spring, we got overrun with the stuff, and in a fit of desperation I made it into a sort of lactofermented kimchee. It looked DISGUSTING and I left it in the fridge for weeks, afraid to touch it. Luckily, Jason discovered it, ate some and declared it the most delicious thing ever. It was gone within days.
  • Scallions. I love green onions and was rewarded with a great crop of the ‘Kincho” variety this year. My mid-season revelation? Rather than pulling out the stalks, you can clip them an inch above the ground for multiple harvests. We did get a bit of allium rust towards the fall, so I’ll be sure to rotate these next year. Thankfully, our chives and garlic were completely spared.
  • Peas. We grew a few varieties this year, and all of them did well. Our ‘Mister Big’ English peas were especially abundant, but shelling them was really time-consuming. ‘Sugar Ann’ was reliably delicious right off the vine. ‘Dwarf Grey Sugar’ snow peas had gorgeous purple flowers, but its crop was small and stringy. All in all, our peas were a success, and I’ll probably focus on ‘Sugar Ann’ next year.

What are you most proud of in your garden this year?

What’s growing this week:

Our row covers had a blanket of snow this weekend, and I took care not to disturb the insulating layers. But a delicate peek inside revealed that everything is alive and well, despite frost damage on most leaves. Most amazingly, my experimental winter-sown greens and peas are not only surviving our recent -5C nights, but are actually thriving and growing. The seedlings are noticeably more developed than last week and are not getting their grown-up leaves. Incredible. Until this cold snap ends, I’ll satisfy myself with getting through the mountains of frozen veggies we’ve saved up from the spring.


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