Less Noise, More Green: Best and Worst Gardening Experiences of 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013

Best and Worst Gardening Experiences of 2013

My garden in early 2013

Welcome back! I hope you all had a restful Christmas season with your loved ones and were able to take some time to take care of yourselves, too. There had been much video game playing and eating happening here, along with some nice time spent with family and friends.

At the end of 2013, I'm sure we are all thinking about our plans for the coming year, especially in our gardens. Before I settle into my sofa with my catalogs and tea (I love this time of year!) I find it helpful to look back at the year that was and think about my gardening successes and disappointments. Here are my top five best and worst gardening experiences of 2013. I wonder how they will compare with yours? Lets start with the dark times!

Worst Gardening Experiences of 2013

#5 Growing Eggplant in Containers
It turns out that eggplant responds well to being started indoors under grow lights. My 'problem' came when I had to transplant them outside. I had planted seeds from a mixed variety packet and couldn't tell the varieties apart, so I planted them all. I planted three seedlings in my beds and the remaining fifteen, yes fifteen, plants in a lot of containers! I was very much in need of an Eggplant Intervention.

The plants in the ground flourished and produced many eggplants. The ones in the containers were stunted and produced only one or two small fruits. The irony of the whole experience is as a family we don't like eggplant! Lessons learned: variety seed packets are not for me, I like knowing exactly what I'm growing and we only need one or two eggplant plants, planted in the earth, to meet our needs.

#4 Failed Winter Crops of Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts
Sometimes Mother Nature is the Soup Nazi from Seinfield: "No cauliflower for you!"  After nurturing healthy cauliflower and brussels sprouts plants indoors, I watched them struggle, produce small heads, then stop growing when the weather froze. I need a better plan for 2014, including cold frames and a high hoop house.

#3 Where's the Rhubarb?
I bought six new rhubarb plants in 2013 which all did fantastically well. As I can't harvest from these plants for two years, I looked to my established plants for some rhubarb satisfaction. It was not to be. At the start of the season I transplanted two crowns to a spot with more sun and they were not happy. The plants were so spindly I was afraid to touch them. Lets hope they just needed a season to recover from the move.

#2 Pitiful San Marzano Tomato Yield
Here in New England we had a very warm May which promoted tremendous growth. We then got lots of rain in early June and humidity. The result was a breeding ground for disease. My overall yield for tomatoes this year was low and the most disappointing variety was the San Marzano tomatoes. Out the window went my big plans for canned tomato sauce. We had enough tomatoes to eat fresh all summer and I roasted and dehydrated many grape tomatoes but I wasn't able to can or freeze for the winter. Green tomato curry sauce was the best I could do.

#1 RIP Summer and Winter Squash
Speaking of disease, my biggest disappointment this year was the premature death of ninety percent of my summer squash and all of my winter squash including the pumpkins, buttercup and butternut varieties. The pumpkin especially hurt. Lessons learned: don't plant all your squash together as  powdery mildew spreads like wild fire and cut the number of seedlings planted by half. They need plenty of air circulation and will yield more per plant if given room to grow. I don't have the room to grow pumpkins in this garden. How about in the front beds......?

Best Gardening Experiences of 2013

#5 Mulching the Paths in my Garden
Such a simple idea but this project gave me satisfaction every time I entered the garden. Not only did the mulch make the area look neater and more put together, but I did not spend my time weeding the paths. The project consisted of laying down cardboard and layers of newspaper then covering with a thick layer of mulch. Why did I not do this sooner?

#4 Potatoes, Potatoes, Potatoes!
What to grow in a bed near a pine tree, where the soil has a pH of a little over 5? Potatoes! I planted Kennebec and Yukon Gold varieties and both did great! I hilled with soil, then with straw. Not knowing what to expect I was thrilled with the results. Digging up the spuds was the highlight of the summer. I didn't weigh the yield, but I will this year.

#3 Using Grow Lights to get a Jump on the Season
Here in Rhode Island our growing season is really May through September. If we are lucky we have a little wiggle room on each end, so using techniques to extend the season is a must. This was the first year I seriously used grow lights and what a difference it made. Planting out seedlings instead of direct sowing made for bigger yields and healthier plants. I have some kinks in the system to work out but the grow lights are here to stay.

#2 Becoming a University of  Rhode Island Master Gardener
I have a lot to say on this topic, which I plan to do in tomorrow's post, but for now, taking the semester long course last January, volunteering on some amazing projects and meeting people I hope will be life long friends, was truly a highlight for the year.

#1  Successfully Growing Virginia Peanuts in New England!
This project resulted in about a cup of homemade peanut butter but the fun I had taking the chance on the weather, going head to head with the local squirrel population and growing something everyone in my family would eat was hands down the most memorable gardening experience of the year. I knew nothing about growing peanuts when I started, but I learned so much about this interesting plant. You can read about my adventures in peanut growing in these posts:

Peanuts and Squirrels
Peanuts and Squirrels Part 2
Peanut plants reach the next stage in development
Peanut Harvest
Homegrown Peanuts Make amazing Peanut Butter!

What about you, what are you best and worst gardening experiences of 2013?

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See you in the garden in 2014!



  1. I just love the recap of your gardening year. It's all about learning and enjoying!

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Yes, and finding the humor in the bits that make you want to cry! Gardeners are a resilient bunch.

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