Edible Garden Assessment – 2012 Winners & Losers

Calgary experienced a “hard” or “killing” frost last night, so today the nasturtiums, cosmos, carrot tops and parsley tops seemed to shrivel up and fall over right before my eyes. The weather forecast called it, so I ran around yesterday, picking the last of the zucchini and pulling the leeks. Mr. GeoK picked the apples at the start of the week and moved the potted tomato and pepper plants into the garage. I’m going to hold off ’til next week to pull the rest of the root vegetables, tear out the shriveled annuals, and selectively trim back some of the perennials, so it seems like a good day to take a look back at our 2012 edible garden and make some notes on what went well and what we shouldn’t repeat when planting next year.

In addition to the vegetable garden, one of the flower beds is edged with a row of strawberries and we have two dwarf apple trees and an Evans cherry tree. The garden itself is pretty small, so it’s essential to plant wisely – crops that will do well in Calgary AND foods that we’ll actually eat!

Carrot patch
There are four beds in our backyard veggie garden. Almost a quarter of the space is allocated to carrots – most of the nearest bed and part of the next one.

In addition to the bald-faced hornets’ nest in the front yard, we had a few pest problems in the backyard. As with most yards in Calgary, it seemed we were fighting a constant battle to keep the ant populations somewhat under control. A combination of heavier than usual watering and selective spraying with a “green” insecticide means we only lost a few zucchini and a couple of raspberry canes to the ants. Then, in September, we had an aphid invasion in the carrots. Fortunately, the ladybugs (that we’ve spotted in abundance all year) were quick to counter-attack…

Lady bug on carrot tops
Here’s one of the lady bugs working to rid the carrot patch of aphids.
Lady bug and aphids
And here’s another lady bug hard at work munching up the aphids.

One thing I will try to remember for next year is to plant alternating rows of carrots and leeks / onions, as these stronger-smelling plants apparently act as a natural deterrent to aphids.

Here’s a list of this year’s plantings and how they did:

  • Quinault Everbearing Strawberry – Fantastic choice for Calgary! They sent out lots of runners and started bearing fruit in mid-July and continued right on producing several cups of berries every week. The plants were still heavy with developing fruit that we won’t enjoy because of the hard frost.
  • Amity Everbearing Raspberry (red) – One died and one survived. The survivor didn’t bear any fruit this year, but we’re hoping it will next year.
  • Fall Gold Everbearing Raspberry – These gold berries are very sweet and attracted ants and bees. The frost killed off a lot of still-developing fruit. We look forward to a larger crop in the second year.
  • Black Munger Raspberry – These are doing well but the plants are very brambly (almost like a blackberry) and will have to be regularly trimmed and / or staked.
  • Apples – We have a September Ruby and a Norland, but I’m not sure which is which. One had a heavy set of fruit and the other just a few apples. I estimate we got about 10 pounds of apples. We’ll enjoy some fresh and some cooked up with a little cinnamon to make applesauce.
  • Cherries – Our tree went in last fall and we’re hoping it will become happier in its new home as time goes by. This year it only produced 2 cherries!
  • Scarlet runner beans – These looked really impressive, with the vines covering the structure I built for them in the spring and with their bright red flowers. But no one in our family wanted to eat them and they took up a lot of real estate. Message to self – don’t plant these again! (And maybe move the structure into one of the flower gardens and plant Brown-Eyed Susans at the base.)
  • Cabbage – I purchased a started cabbage from the nursery and it did pretty well until it was slightly larger than a softball. Then the slugs or something got it. I wanted to make a batch of potstickers using home-grown cabbage, but I don’t think I’ll try it again (at least for a few years).
  • Zucchini – Again, I purchased a couple of starter plants from the nursery. Two is the right number for us. I baked 4 or 5 chocolate zucchini cakes and have enough shredded zucchini in the freezer to bake two more as we move deeper into fall.
  • Parsnips – I planted half a row, from seed. No one will eat them but me, so I think the space would be better used to plant garlic or onions.
  • Leeks – I’m on the fence about the leeks. Our growing season is probably too short to plant seeds directly into the ground. I need to start them indoors or buy seedlings at the nursery if I try them again.
  • Carrots – Have done way better than in past years. I plan to pull the remaining carrots next week and will clean them all to store in the basement fridge. So far, we’ve pulled more than 10 pounds of carrots. I’ll try to remember to weigh the rest. These are the boys’ favourite thing about having an urban garden. Note to self – plant at least some Scarlet Nantes next year. And keep using seed tape – it’s way easier!
  • Tomatoes – I don’t know what I was thinking last spring. I planted 5 different kinds – 3 of them directly in the garden. I know better! Always plant tomatoes in pots so they can be moved in / out of the garage as frost threatens in the fall. I made a double-batch of oven-roasted tomato sauce yesterday, and put four containers of sauce into the deep freeze. The two plants in the garage will continue to produce fresh cherry tomatoes for at least a few more weeks. The ones in the garden are dead – too bad about the many pounds of unripened tomatoes hanging on the vines.
  • Sweet red pepper plant – This is another one that came from the nursery. I’ve tried growing peppers before, with no success. This year, we’ve already picked three small peppers and will get another three or four off the plant (it’s in the garage alongside the potted tomatoes).
  • Beets – Planted from seed (seed tape, actually). I enjoyed a few beet tops mixed into my salads in the early summer and we’ve had roasted beets a few times. I’ll pull the rest next week and we’ll have them a few more times. I think they’ll be part of the planting mix next year.
  • Peas – These are another of the boys’ favourites. They are pretty trouble free and easy to grow in Calgary. Note for next year – as soon as the peas are done, put in some spinach or leaf lettuce for fall harvest.

The one thing we didn’t plant this year that we have most years in the past is potatoes. I don’t regret it. They take up a lot of real estate and the past few years (despite appropriate soil amendments), we haven’t had much of a harvest. We’re fortunate that Grammy and Grandpa GeoK shared part of their harvest with us this fall. Next year, I think I’ll try a potato condo.

What about you? Are you and urban or rural gardener? If so, how did your garden grow this year?

2 thoughts on “Edible Garden Assessment – 2012 Winners & Losers

  1. Additional note to self – remember to stake the sunflowers once the flowers start to grow heavy. It will keep them from falling over and/or breaking part way down the stalk.

    Also, sever the runner strawberries from the main plant to encourage root development.

  2. One further note to self – remember the sunflowers! Maybe try some “teddy bear” sunflowers (Oct/Nov 2012 issue of “Calgary Gardening”, p 17) as well as the more traditional varieties.

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