2014 garden in review: what didn’t work

Kale with powdery mildew in the urban vegetable garden.
Powdery mildew on our kale in late September.

Last week, I wrote about our biggest successes in the 2014 garden. Now, it’s time to write about the things that didn’t go so well.

This past year has been a great one in the garden. We had plenty of sunny weather, built three new raised beds, and have harvested a huge amount of food. We didn’t have any total disasters. Still, there have been a few challenges along the way.

By keeping track of what didn’t work in the garden, we can learn what kinds of adjustments we need to make for next year, whether it’s choosing a different plant variety, amending the soil, or changing planting times. Rather than seeing these things as failures, they are potent teachers..

So what were our mistakes in the 2014 garden?

  • Kale. We’re currently growing rainbow lacinato, a beautiful and tasty variety. Our plants have actually been very productive, but there have been a few problems with them. In the early fall, as soon as we got some rain, they came down with a pretty bad case of powdery mildew. It was sad to have to discard so many huge and otherwise nice-looking leaves. Then, as soon as the plants started to recover, we got hit with a hard early frost that burned many of the kale’s leaves. And now last week, with a weird December warm snap, our neighbours built a new fence next to our beds and managed to decapitate several of our plants in the process. Our poor kale!
    Next year, I’ll plant a hardier kale variety (I’m thinking of trying Ripbor) with curly leaves that will hopefully be more resistant to frost and mildew. I’m also planning to delay planting any kale until the summer (for winter and early spring harvests) — I think I’ll be better off with small and sturdy young plants, rather than six-foot monsters that are impossible to cover. Finally, I’m going to underplant my kale with crimson clover and will allow way more space between plants (I got the idea from Sustainable Market Farming, my current favourite book). I planted them far too closely last year, and suffered the consequences in the form of mildew.
    I’m still looking forward to an early spring crop of kale flowers from our existing plants — such a treat.
  • Tomatoes. Last year, I didn’t have as much time to plan the garden as I do this year, and as a result I just planted the tomato seeds I had available — mostly black cherries. We got a decent crop, but they started late in the season and then succumbed to late blight as soon as fall rains rolled around. Also, Jason wasn’t a big fan of the black cherries’ pungent flavour.
    For next year, I’ll be choosing my seed varieties carefully — I’ll probably go for one early season, bush-type cherry and a productive main-season cherry. I’ll be looking for plants that don’t get too tall, because I eventually had to give up on covering the 8-foot black cherry vines that completely outgrew our hoop house. We are also considering getting a real greenhouse this year.

What’s growing this week:

There’s a warm snap in Vancouver right now. A couple of weeks ago, temperatures dropped to -5 C… now, it’s +14 C, super rainy, and we’ve turned off the heat at home. Our garden has thawed out, and most of our veggies bounced back miraculously. I enjoyed an amazing winter harvest last weekend, with a bounty of parsley, kale, mache, beets, carrots and parsnips. One of the best things about growing your own food is that you get to enjoy treats that aren’t sold in grocery stores or even in most CSAs — things like frost-sweetened root crops, sprouting broccoli, and, in the early spring, kale flowers.

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