The garden is winding down and it’s time to think about your gardening year. Were you buried in beans or swamped by squash? With successes and failures fresh in your mind, take note of how this garden season has been.
Did the vegetable garden produce just enough to meet your needs or were you overwhelmed? Did weeds overtake your patch? Did garden chores become just one more item to check off that ongoing to-do list or did you still welcome every opportunity to be in the garden? You can’t escape the fact that gardens take time. Mulch needs to be refreshed, spent plants need to be pulled and then there’s the harvest.
Flowers are fantastic; you pick them and put them in a vase — harvest is done. Vegetables are an entirely different story. Once picked, the food needs to be eaten or processed for storage. Plant too much and you could be living in a nightmare of ripening beans, exploding zucchini and rotting tomatoes.
There was a time when I planted almost everything and lots of it. Taking stock of the frozen and canned food inventory each spring I began to notice that there was an increasing quantity of leftover produce from the previous season. Perhaps it was time to re-evaluate my garden plan. Was my garden simply too big? Or did I try too hard to save everything?
In order to have sufficient quantities for canning just-picked pickles, tomatoes, beets and beans, I grow enough plants so that one or two harvests provide plenty of produce to make a canning session worthwhile. But once my larder is stocked, those vegetables keep on growing. I used to scramble frantically, not willing to waste a pepper or lose a leek. These days I’m more relaxed. Friends, food pantries and families are happy to get my excess produce. With demanding crops such as green beans, when I have harvested all we want, I rip out the plants, making way for a fresh planting of fall greens.
Big gardens take more time and can bury even the most enthusiastic gardener. But sometimes even the smaller garden can be too much. Illness, injury or even a surprise vacation trip can result in an overgrown and unmanageable garden. When this happens, weeds can gain a massive foothold in the garden. Despite the frequent warnings about removing weeds, sometimes you simply can’t address the problem. And that’s okay. Indeed, there might be more weeds to deal with next spring but you can deal with that later. Be kind to yourself and think of next year. As my favorite farmer once said to me, “not to worry, the crop is made.” And indeed among the weeds, there are tomatoes, peppers, and the like.
Succession planting can be the answer to too much produce. Instead of 50 feet of beans, plant 10 feet every 2 weeks. Plant a very short row of lettuce, or better still, start seed indoors every other week and set out just a few seedlings at a time. When planning next year’s garden, look to maturity dates when choosing seeds. Grow tomatoes that mature early, mid-season or late. Likewise, cauliflower, broccoli and sweet corn all have short-season varieties as well as late-maturing ones. You can even try to coordinate your harvests with your summer travel schedule.
If time is short, keep the garden small and purchase fresh produce from a friend or farmer’s market for your canning and freezing needs. Above all else, keep gardening fun. Your garden is your creation. Enjoy every minute.