Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Complete and Total Failure as a Farmer

Confession:  I am a terrible vegetable gardener.  After having the best intentions last summer, Andy building four amazing vegetable boxes and then working this spring to prepare the boxes with grids following the "Square Foot Gardening Method", this is the conclusion I have come to.  Vegetable gardening is just not my thing.  I'm actually super embarrassed to admit it.  We live on four acres surrounded by amazing farmland and fantastic farmers.  I feel like it is a necessity to our farm life.  I actually love gardening in general (though, Andy will be the first to shout that I have let weeds get out of control even in those beds this summer) and have some seriously generational gardening genes in my family thanks to my mother and grandmother but let me tell you.  I have decided that vegetables are just not my thing.  While I am horrified to admit it my garden currently looks like this:

Can't decipher the walkway from the beds due to all the weeds

More chaos
While I am totally embarrassed to be writing this post, I don't want to give the impression that all of our projects are a success.  Vegetable gardening can actually be kind of expensive (especially if you let your produce go to waste), so I think it is really important to determine what you actually want to eat from your garden and how you want to use the produce harvested.  Though my conclusions certainly won't be the same as anyone else, I will still go through a list of what I had success with, what I didn't and why so if you are thinking of starting a vegetable garden, you might have a good idea where to start.  I also have provided links to my favorite recipes that you might find useful.

-Snap Peas

With the exception of the cantaloupe (which was planted the week it decided to stop raining so it died) and snap peas (which ripened the week we were on vacation), all of these veggies are pick and eat as they ripen.  I think this is the category of plant that most vegetable gardeners love but this is not for me.  I plan meals for the whole week on Friday and don't think about what is going to be ready in my garden and meal plan around that.  The lettuces, spinach and kale need to be cut every few days when it is ready and we really don't eat that many salads so it would get forgotten then quickly overgrown.  I got a couple of peppers off the plants but again, would set them aside and forgot about them when grocery shopping.

On the Fence/Yet to be determined:
-Soy Beans
-Butternut squash

With the exception of the flowers, these vegetables have not fully ripened yet so I am not sure if they will end up being useful or not.  I planted a few flower seeds- marigolds and red zinnias to help keep out pests.

Most of them did bloom and actually look really pretty... I just don't know if I would want to take the space out of the beds again for them.  I think if I had smaller beds, I would definitely not waste the space again but since mine are pretty massive, I might give it a go again next year.

I have tried tomatoes two summers now- last summer was too dry and cool that they never ripened and I have a feeling it will be the same this year.  I would love to can some salsas and diced tomatoes but if they don't ripen by frost this year, I am not planting them again next year.

The soy beans are almost ripe.  We have gotten a lot of grief for planting soy beans when so much of the Iowa farmland is devoted to soy but we really like eating edamame and they are easy to bag and freeze.  As long as I remember to harvest these, I will do them again.

I am excited for the butternut squash and pumpkins.  These were both easy, low maintenance plants and nice because you can easily see the vegetable grow and know when it is ready to pick.

The only downside is they take up a lot of space but as long as they ripen according to plan, I would do these again.


This really shows how lame of a gardener I am because of the successes, 60% I didn't have anything to do with- they were already planted and established when we moved here.  Of the two that I planted- carrots and onions, these were just simple.  The onions are easy to plant because you plant sets (which are just bulbs) and then can harvest and store for a long time so there is no rush to use them quickly.  I just pulled carrots yesterday, which the kids LOVED doing.  We only had a few squares of them so they are manageable enough to just cut up and eat as snacks for the week.

I think the reason I like the apples, asparagus and rhubarb is they are harvested over a few weeks and you get a lot of yield for little work (once the plant is established).  With each of these, when they were ripe we would do some recipes right away for dinner or snacks (asparagus side dishes, apple crepes, rhubarb muffins, apple pie etc), can/freeze some plain (we just did 20 lbs of peeled and sliced apples in bags ready for fillings throughout the winter) and can/freeze jams or sauces (rhubarb jam, applesauce, pickled asparagus).
Apple Crumble Pie

The bottom line is I think I prefer to grow things that I can make into snacks or condiments as opposed to dinner.  Though it is a lot of work, after a night's laboring through canning you can have a whole year's worth of applesauce, jam, salsa, sauce, etc.  I like this because I don't have to use up the vegetable the week it is ready to be harvested but you still get great flavor for the whole year.

Things I should have planted but didn't:
-Strawberries and other berries
-Bananas (yeah, I know there is no way I would ever be able to plant these unless we moved WAY South but man, I wish we could the way my family runs through them)

Why did I not plant zucchini?  I really have no idea other than I just lost track and never got around to it.  Luckily, several friends in the area have given me plenty of extras from their patches so I have been able to shred it (in the food processor) and freeze baggies of it already shredded or make it into breads/muffins.  This zucchini streusel bread is AMAZING, these cookies are yummy (and freeze well too) and we did these fritters for dinner one night which were fantastic.

I didn't do any berries this year, but I think the kids would love to snack off of them as they ripen and this is also an easy fruit to turn into jams.

So, considering I have a freezer full of cut up vegetables/fruits and a shelf full of canned sauces/jams/pickled vegetables I guess I can't really be called a failure.

But countered with the pounds of produce I have let die in the beds I can't be called a success either.  Ultimately, I think I am a very selective vegetable gardener and probably won't continue once Our Acreage Adventure is over.  Hopefully, we will always be near a fantastic farmers market!

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