The last Harvest Monday of the year seems like a good time to do an overview of my harvest totals. This year I'm going to do a comparison from the last two to three years. I've been in the house for three years and have kept track every year. I know that some people think I'm a bit crazy to track my harvests as it is added work. The weighing isn't all that much work, but you have to remember to do it every time or the numbers don't mean much. Putting it into the spreadsheet doesn't take long either. I keep a sheet of paper tacked onto the fridge where I keep the numbers. Each week before Harvest Monday I put the numbers in. So I don't keep track of each and every day, but each week has a column in my spreadsheet. So I know in general when the harvests started and ended by the spreadsheet. This is very useful information when you are planning a garden. And this summer it was very very useful as I was gone for two weeks in the middle. It let me plan when to plant certain crops like beans and corn, so the crop wouldn't fruit while I was gone and I wouldn't miss my harvests.
This is going to be a long post so I'll put the link in at the top so it is easier to get to.
Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to show off, add your name and link to Mr Linky below.
Now on to the rest of the post.
Three Years of Harvests
Three Sisters Crops
Another use of tracking harvests is to determine what is and isn't working in the garden. Since I've gotten here I've been trying to figure out the best way to grow the three sisters crops - corn, beans, and winter squash. Each year I've grown them differently. Since I could grow the nightshade crops in 2011, I didn't have as much space for my crops. I had 2/3rds the space. And this year I put even more space into beans. If I normalize for the space allotted I'd get a table more like this:
2011 I grew them all as a three sisters plot. It allowed for very little squash being harvested and squash is one of my winter mainstays. And the corn was shaded way too much to grow well. At least the beans were happy. All in all it was my lowest year. There was nothing else extra to speak of this year. Diseases were about normal. Things germinated OK. I did learn that even if I think two corn varieties are genetically compatible, I can be wrong about it. This is the last year I would grow more than one variety of sweet corn. I'd get different harvest times by planting at different times, not from early and late corn varieties.
2012 I grew a two sisters crop and a separate bed of beans. I had pole beans in a 1' strip on the north west side of the bed and bush beans in the rest of the bed. The bush beans were shaded in the hot part of the day by the pole beans which isn't all that good, but couldn't be helped. Bush beans nearer to the fence (and thus in a more shaded part of the garden) were noticeably less productive than the ones closer to the brick path. This was a hot dry year. I had trouble with corn germination (Ambrosia corn) so there were gaps in the bed. Not all the corn produced ears. And yet the corn production was the best ever. Ambrosia produces some big ears. Bean production was decent. And the squash production was the best ever. It does fine with the partial shade under the corn - though I do give it three feet at each end that isn't shaded.
2013 I grew a two sisters crop since it worked out so well. I did have issues with squash germination in one bed and had to reseed very late with a quick maturing squash. It really brought the squash yield down. So I know the low yields weren't a problem with the method of growing. The beans were done in pole bean blocks and bush bean blocks. I put pole beans all across my 4' bed. I had a lot of problems with rust growing this way. Also the pole dried bean production was much lower than normal. I have one spot that is much hotter than usual and usually grows heat loving summer crops better than usual, but it didn't work with the beans. The bean towers shed water too much and I had to resort to hand watering that section. The year was hot and dry, but not as hot as 2012. I grew Serendipity corn which germinated well but as you can see from the numbers didn't produce as well. The ears were weirdly narrow. And it tasted a bit too grassy for me.
So what does all this mean? I'll stick with the two sister plantings. They work well. The underplanted squash does its job of keeping the raccoons out of the corn. I even saw a raccoon in the garden during the height of the corn season and no ears were taken. I'll have to be extra careful about making sure the squash germinate on time. In one bed I had to replant with Early Butternut this year to make sure I'd get a crop and it just doesn't produce as well for me. Pole beans will go back to being planted along the north west or north east edges of the beds as they grow much better that way. Ambrosia wasn't as bad of a corn as I thought. Even though it had spotty germination and some stalks didn't produce, its overall production wasn't bad. This year I'm trying another variety though - Honey Select. Maybe it will have the best of both worlds.
Greens and Peas
So what else didn't produce as well this year? Well Greens and Asian Greens didn't do as well. The Asian Greens were easy to tell with two differences. In 2012 I grew bok choy and tatsoi in the circle garden that gets full sun in the shoulder seasons. This year it was in the main garden which isn't as warm in the springtime. I also direct seeded all of it so the plantings were closer and just more. When I grow them from transplants they are earlier but I can only grow so many. If I can get them out by June 1st I can do the circle garden again every year. I'm going to be planting my melons and sweet potatoes there and they don't need to go in until June. The other big drop in production is the Napa Cabbage. I've had issues in growing this kind of Chinese cabbage in my garden (Michihili types are so much easier). This year they were taken down by the earwigs. The heads were pretty much inedible. I'm not sure what to do about this. I'm going to try again, but the reality is that in bad earwig years I'll just not have a Napa cabbage harvest.
For greens and peas the question is harder. And is probably more weather based. The drop is more across the board. And the answer is probably just the weather. 2012 was the year that didn't have much of a winter preceding it. We were a whole zone higher in temperature than we normally were. And I planted peas and spinach in February. Our ground usually isn't unfrozen until mid March. OK so maybe the increase in yield is pretty obvious. And it may account for some the the difference in the Asian Greens too.
The cucumbers were a resounding success. They were given a 1' row along the back on one of my beds - 8' long - and produced 57 pounds. They win the ticket for best production for unit space at 7.2 pounds/sqft. The runner up was chard at 5.2 lbs/sqft. The cukes produced 20 pounds more this year than last and were given less space. I put in as much of their trellis as I could early on then covered them with a row cover. Once they started vining very well I took the cover off and pounded in the rest of the trellis stakes and tied the cukes up. This kept the cucumber beetles down in the garden. It worked surprisingly well. Though the cukes did sulk for a week after they were untangled and tied up. Needless to say I'll be doing this every year from now on. Go cukes!
I planted the zucchini later than usual and I tried covering the zucchini with a row cover this year early on. And once I thought the squash vine borers were gone, I opened it up. I didn't have the early glut then the paucity early on. They produced slowly and longer. One plant never produced though it put out enough blossoms. The plants seemed weak. And they did have some SVB damage, but a lot less than usual. I think I have to do a better job of tacking down the row cover. Those SVBs are really good and finding the plants under the row cover. One day I found them swarming outside the row cover with one inside. Sigh. SVB=3 Daphne=0 Some year I'll get it right. Of course do I really NEED more zucchini. Well probably not. I'm not the biggest of zucchini fans. But zucchini is one of those things I'm supposed to give away constantly in the summer until all my neighbors get sick of it. And I don't. Even my townhouse mates didn't get much if any.
The melons did extremely well this year. I think part of the reason is the lower cucumber beetle population. The other is where they were planted. They were planted in the circle garden which is built with brick and has a brick path on two sides. So it was nice and warm. The circle garden is also sunnier. I also didn't try to trellis them for the first time ever. I planted 8 plants, each in a 4 sqft area. Most plants produced one perfect and huge melon (an average of 6 lbs each). Of course it was a great melon year as during our harvest time we didn't have much rain at all. So no splitting. I wish I could order that every year.
The herbs were a problem this year. Well three herbs. I had my sage die at the end of last year so I didn't get much sage. I did plant more. I think I have three or four scattered around the garden now. In my last garden they couldn't be killed, but here they seem more fragile.
Two of the three rosemary varieties died. Only Arp remains. I propagated it by burying its branches under the soil for a while until roots had formed. I now have two more plants scattered around the garden. Location is important. The foundation area is warmer and more protected, but the other rosemarys died there last winter I think because the foundation is also sometimes too dry. Hopefully my Arps will live somewhere each winter. Well actually hopefully they will live in all three places every year. Then I could collect a lot and share with the neighbors.
The basil this year gave me three pounds fewer leaves than last year. They ended up with Basil Downy Mildew. My first encounter with it. Sigh. Basil used to be such and easy plant. So often we seem to get new diseases coming in. This one came originally from Uganda and moved up to Europe before hitting the US. It is a seed born illness and spread by wind. I'm pretty sure it wasn't seed born with me as I used the same basil seed last year as the year before and didn't get it. I hope this year it stays away. I missed the massive quantities of basil in the summer. If it turns out to be really bad in future years I'll start planting resistant varieties like Spice.
This and That
I think the alliums were a bit low this year because I used a row cover over the onions. It does cut down on the light. But I think the useability is higher that way. I probably threw away half of last year's onions, but never updated the spreadsheet. I'm contemplating buying some fabric netting that might work to keep the onion flies out without cutting out so much light. I may have to stitch some together to make it wide enough.
The broccoli is problematic. I thought I had a good variety that would produce over the summer, but I think I went a bit too hard on cutting the plants back after the first harvest. I'll be kinder next year. I'm also going to add another variety. The carrots were a victim of my summer vacation. Though I put them in the day after I came home, that wasn't early enough with the increased shade the garden gets in the fall. Next year I have to get them in by mid July or they just don't have time.
Some things look like they are lower in harvests like sweet potatoes, but the reality is that I planted half the space (I needed it for the new asparagus bed). I took the best producers from the year before and planted just them. They should have produced more, but like the melons they really need to be planted in the circle garden for optimum production. Next year they will be.
I guess the only one I didn't talk about was the roots. Well if I'd remember to plant my radishes and turnips I'd get more. I also grew beets last year but not this year. So the numbers don't mean much.
Over all, my garden didn't do as well this year for various reasons. Part of it is what was described above. Part a two week vacation in the middle of July. Part of the weight differential was what I grew. I was doing some mustard trials. And I grew more dried beans. Mustard is probably the worst producer in the garden. And beans probably come in second worst. I still like to see the overall 1 pound/sqft mark though. I almost got it. If you look at my sidebar you will see that I have about 565 sqft in my raised beds (a guesstimated number as I don't know the exact area in my circle garden). But one bed has been put into asparagus this year, which produced nothing, and won't for a while. If I take that out (32sqft) than I have 533 sqft. I produced 530 pounds this year, so pretty dang close. But if I'm playing the game by the rules, I missed the mark and lost this year. Maybe with what I learned next year I'll win. And yes it is a game. Even with the lowest year's harvest I grow enough to feed myself. I just don't have much of an excess of harvests.
I hope you didn't get too bored with my year's trials and tribulations. Keeping track of everything is a little work. Some of the shortfalls I'd know about anyway, but some are harder to tell at the picking stage. I would have guessed that my bok choy did just as well both years, but the reality is that I might have picked 10-20 pounds more doing it differently. Now I'm not sure that I need 20 more pounds of bok choy. But my neighbors or friends might like it. CSAs haven't started yet when I'm picking the bulk of it. So my extra produce is more desired in the spring. About a tenth of my total harvest is picked before the farmers markets and the CSAs even start.