Hello and welcome to the first gardening update of 2021! This year my goal was to expand our vegetable garden and add in more pollinator friendly plants. My usual spring garden supply budget was much larger than usual because we ended up needing a large amount of soil and I bought some larger metal garden beds that are supposed to last a really long time. My wooden garden beds are starting to show their age and I am having a bug problem in that area so I was hoping that metal garden beds would solve some of that. We also cleared out a large section of bushy area from the front of our house and mulched most of the front really well. I of course don’t have before pictures of that because I didn’t take any but needless to say, it looks much better.
I must confess, I have become a bit obsessed with gardening channels on You Tube over the past several months trying to do as much research as I could. I learned quite a bit about gardening but honestly not all of it was helpful since there don’t seem to be very many gardening channels specific to the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps I will do a post with a rundown of my favorites. If you know of any good ones please comment below! We have such a unique climate here that advice from other parts of the country may not be the best fit. My house in particular is in it’s own microclimate and we seem to be two to three weeks behind many of my fellow PNW gardeners that live even just ten minutes away (or even in different parts of my neighborhood). I did however find a common theme with large numbers of people recommending these metal garden beds from Australia so I ordered two of them. I have one installed with some of my giant vegetables and some cucumber in the area in front of my house that we cleared this spring. We have not installed the other one yet but my goal is to get that done this weekend and plant onions and carrots.
I spent quite a bit of time on some rare seed sites over the fall and winter and ended up buying a few large varieties of Kohlrabi, Radishes and Beets. My favorite so far has got to be the Sakurajima Radish seeds I ordered from Japan. These Daikon radish can grow up to about 100 pounds in their native Japan but I am hoping for closer to 10 pounds. I was impatient and did not plant them at the right season though however so I will be planting more later this summer after I harvest my cauliflower to see how they do over the winter. So far they have grown quite large but I am not seeing any bulbs forming. My goal is to get them fertilized this week and maybe poke around under the soil and see if anything is forming.
Another seed I tried out were these Mammoth Red Mangel Beets. Traditionally these are used for animal feed and can get up to 40 pounds. I planted these in my new garden bed and they grew great for a few weeks before the bugs got to them. I have broken down this year and I am using some Sluggo Plus around the garden because the slugs, earwigs and piddle bugs are eating everything. I lost lots of plants this year (including most of my zucchini) to bugs so we are trying to save at least a few of them. We treated these shortly after the picture was taken and I am now seeing lots of new growth happening. I have been eating some of the greens off and on and I was pleasantly surprised by how good they are. I am not a fan of beets but I am going to try roasting them this year and I also thought it would be fun to play around with beet dye that we make from our own beets. My dad also loves pickled beets so I was thinking of maybe making those for him at some point. They have not started forming the beet part of the plant yet but I have heard that this particular variety can be slow going. I am hoping by the middle of July we will see some beet action.
Another plant I am trying for the first time is garlic. Last fall I planted a large number of cloves pretty late in the season so I was a little bit nervous about them growing but so far the ones that survived are doing well. I honestly don’t remember which varieties I bought but I did get both a soft and and hard neck variety from Territorial Seeds. I did a big no no and I did not top off the soil in my garden beds before planting so we have fertilized these beds a couple of times hopefully to make up for that oversight. I will be filling these beds this fall before my fall planting in late September. My garlic is getting closer to harvest but it will probably be mid to late July before everything is ready. I checked this morning and my scapes are starting to curl and should be done in the next week or two. I will probably pull a test garlic a week or so after we harvest the scapes to see where the plants are at. One thing I did do in these beds however is to plant some tomatoes and peppers in between the garlic. The tomatoes are doing really well but it was a pretty wet spring so my peppers are struggling a bit. I haven’t done peppers before so this year is a trial period for those as well. Next year I will put them in a different spot that gets more sun.
The plant that surprised me the most was my cauliflower. I have tried growing it before and the seedlings were devoured by slugs faster than the eye could see but this year I stuck some plants in grow bags in our sunniest spot and they did well. One of the varieties I planted was this purple one and I was pleasantly surprised one morning to discover a few heads peeking through the leaves. They are smaller than our white cauliflower so I am going to give them another week or two if the heat wave coming this weekend doesn’t send them into bolting. I am pretty excited to eat these though!
I am trying again this year to grow some sunflowers. I started a bunch in March and this beauty is the sole survivor of about 20 or 30 seeds I started indoors. It is currently about 4.5 feet tall and starting to flower. I am really hoping I got this one in the ground early enough that we will be able to harvest the seeds this year. Last year we got a gigantic bloom but the weather turned before the seeds could ripen and it just got moldy. It was super disappointing. I also had my daughter poke a bunch of sunflower seeds directly into the soil and although a few came up we currently only have one that is about 8 inches tall. Next year I am going to start a bunch more seeds in March and maybe try a different variety or two.
Keeping with the brassica theme we also started some cabbage and broccoli this spring. We had such good success with our cabbage last year that I planted a bunch of them. Unfortunately the pots were too close to our Hydrangea bush and they were shaded too much and attached viciously by a number of bugs and slugs. I spent every morning for a couple of weeks removing slugs and butterfly eggs but I could not keep up with the onslaught and many of our cabbages are very damaged and not forming heads. I did last week pull some of them out into the sunshine and treat them with a second dose of Sluggo but we really only have one head and it looks pretty buggy. I will still harvest this one and we may or may not eat it depending on what I find on the inside. I am not really sure what we will do for cabbages next year. They did much better in the spot I had them in last year where the garlic is now so I may try that again and see if it works. I am pretty sure all of our broccoli plants did not make it. The spot I put them in is completely covered by my Hydrangea bush and I may get out there this weekend and trim it a bit. Maybe I will find some broccoli plants hiding under there?
We are having mixed luck with our fruit trees this year. Currently we have an apple and a pear tree and although both flowered really well we don’t have a lot of fruit. It was a cold spring and the bees were not quite out yet when our trees flowered so I am assuming that is why. Last year our apple tree had way too many apples on it and many of them were diseased so I am hoping that with fewer apples the tree’s overall health will be better. I would like to eventually put in another pear and another apple tree but honestly I am not sure where I would have them room for them at our current house. Although we do have a lot of space, we also have a lot of ornamental plants that we inherited and only a few spots with decent light.
One of the goals for the garden this year was to reduce our insect issues and to plant some things that would lower our weeds. We have a bumper crop of weeds this year, let me tell you, even with all of the mulching and weeding I did in the spring to prevent it. I am trying to avoid spraying with chemicals and usually if I start out the season with hand weeding we can keep it in check but this year there are so many I can’t even keep on top of our garden areas. One of the biggest indicators of this was going outside about a week after we completely redid the mulch in the front garden to find a large area of new mulch covered in wind blown Stinky Bob baby plants. I also allowed the girls to plant some “native wildflowers” last year in a small area against my better judgement and I was not so surprised to discover that this year most of those plants are weedy. Unfortunately they are super close to my vegetable garden area and I am thinking I will have to pull out a bunch of soil from that area and start fresh.
I planted the Shasta Daisies above in an area near our transformer that I can’t really maintain alongside the street but definitely is a weed source for my garden. These spread and can survive with not so much water and they attract bees. I am hoping they will eventually take over that part of the garden and I won’t have to be weeding around the transformer in a couple of years. I am also hoping it will take at least 5 or 6 years for them to get close enough to the garden to become an issue. I do have a barrier of Rosemary, Lavender and some sort of bush in between that should slow their spread. Maybe I am creating bigger issues later on but honestly it can’t be any worse than what I am already pulling out daily.
Wrapping up this garden update with one of my favorite surprises in the garden this year, finding this Gerbera Daisy coming up in the pot I planted it in last year! I had no idea they would over winter and I had already replaced it with some Kale and Primroses so when I saw the little flowers poking up through the Primroses it was exciting to see. I will definitely be buying more of these to plant next year since they are some of my favorites.
What surprises have you found in your garden this year?