Garden harvests & musings

It's been a while since I wrote about our little garden, and I wanted to share some of the victories, as well as things that did not go to plan or come to fruition. I have learned a lot this year, in both the growing and also the preserving of food.

What grew well

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes. I planted only three tomato plants (one cherry, two slicer tomato plants) and they have all been wild. It truly looks like a jungle and I've harvested hundreds of cherry tomatoes, in particular, as well as dozens of larger tomatoes.

We can't possibly eat that many fresh tomatoes, and I did not forsee the massive yield from all three plants, so after giving some away, I preserved the remaining. I don't often cook with a lot of tomato products, but I do look forward to making homemade pizza sauce from garden tomatoes pulled from the freezer this winter.

completed and sealed and preserved homemade salsa

I preserved tomatoes in the following ways (all of which were new to me) :

  • homemade salsa: I made six jars of a simple recipe. It was my first time canning tomatoes, and I learned a lot about testing pH, especially since I used a water bath canning method (vs pressure canning), as well as how to remove the skins of tomatoes.
  • "sun" dried (cherry) tomatoes: I halved cherry tomatoes and drizzled them with evoo, salt, and Italian seasoning and baked them at 200 degrees F for 4-5 hours to dry them, and then I froze them.
  • freezing: And then, for the rest, I've cored the larger tomatoes and halved cherry tomatoes and frozen them. I know I could can them at a future date, if I decide to, but the goal was to get the overwhelming number of tomatoes off the kitchen counter

Collard greens grew well. I mostly sautéed them and we ate them fresh. I wasn't diligent about blanching and freezing any of them.

Zucchini was fairly prolific, as well, certainly until half of my one plant was destroyed by squash bugs. We grilled some of the zucchini harvest, and I grated and froze a lot to use for zucchini bread, as I mentioned in this post.

Marigolds, dahlias, rosemary, and chamomile all grew well. I am drying marigold blooms to use for a natural dye experiment at some point, but I also would like to use some in a salve or balm, but we will see. I also am drying some rosemary for future use.

Cooper holding marigolds on a sock drying rack (L), and some chamomile blooms (R)

What did not grow as well

Cabbage. I failed to thin out my seedlings, and I never saw any formation of cabbage and eventually just pulled them out. I will give that a try again next year and be more diligent in thinning them out to allow ample space. I've also read that they really don't like hot weather (we had a hot early summer) and need lots of water, so I have a few other variables to look into.

Onions, peppers, carrots. All of these grew okay, but produced a smaller yield, since they were all overshadowed by much larger, neighboring plants. The poor peppers and onions adjacent to the tomato jungle didn't stand a chance. Carrots turned out okay, but I didn't plant a large amount and harvested them when they were rather small.

Not a single lavender seed ever sprouted, so I will need to research a bit and try again next year.

Looking ahead

I'm pleased with what I've learned this year, and honestly, I had rather low expectations, seeing as this is was our first vegetable garden in nearly a decade. I plan to pull out a few more plants that are no longer producing (zucchini, etc) and perhaps plant some fall plants, or I may just add compost and let the ground rest until spring.

Overall, I feel much less intimidated with growing food and flowers on a small scale and doing a modest amount of preserving. It feels like a gift to have the ability to make time for gardening, and yard space for it. And perhaps my very favorite thing has been caring for the garden with Cooper and seeing it with wonder the way he does, the "big helper," that he is to me. Seeds to sprouts to plants to harvest, all little miracles.


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