With summer winding down and my kids back in school, the time is right for an overview of our backyard gardening efforts this year. Six months ago, I emerged from the library with a hefty stack of gardening books and spent the next month researching, planning and procuring what I needed to head full-force into the challenge of backyard gardening. I got my kids onboard and had them pick one plant they wanted to be fully responsible for growing. Ethan chose watermelons, Allison chose carrots, and Melanie chose sugar snap peas. Then we grabbed our gloves and shovels, prepped the soil, and grew every plant in our garden from seed. It’s been an exciting endeavor, filled with lots of work and lots of rewards.
The first things I learned a lot about were companion planting and crop rotation. Companion planting is all about placing beneficial plants and flowers next to each other. For example, I planted marigolds next to my tomatoes because the scent of marigolds deters pests that are attracted to the smell of tomatoes. Crop rotation is all about planting similar plant families together and moving family locations each year so that the soil has a variety of nutrients being given and taken away from it. If you plant potatoes in the same place in your garden every year, your soil can become depleted of the nutrients those potatoes need. Even worse, pests that love potatoes will know right where to go to find them every year.
I also learned a lot about when is the best time to plant. Some vegetables, like radishes and lettuces, like to grow when the ground is just beginning to warm and there isn’t too much sun. Other vegetables, like peppers and tomatoes, thrive with warm ground and sunny days. Finding a way to give each plant what they need required some scheduling and maneuvering. However, the payoff was worth the pain. Since early May, we’ve had a huge variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs go from backyard to table every day.
One of my favorite garden memories this year was our surprise mammoth broccoli. As I wandered through the garden one morning I noticed that the leaves on one of my Brussels sprouts plants were looking a little strange. I pulled the leaves back and was absolutely shocked to see a giant head of broccoli! Apparently I got a broccoli seedling mixed in with the Brussels sprouts and didn’t have a clue until that day. It had been cleverly concealed by a canopy of Brussels sprouts leaves for two months. We harvested the broccoli crown and it weighed in at a whopping 4 lbs. 6 oz.!
Another favorite garden memory was when we harvested our purple potatoes. In spring we planted six purple potatoes in the ground and they all thrived throughout the season. When harvest time came around, the kids pulled 93 purple potatoes out of the earth! They were astounded that six seed potatoes produced 93 potatoes. Even better yet was the look on their faces when we took one inside and cut it up to reveal its purple interior. They hadn’t realized the potatoes would be purple throughout and were utterly gob smacked.
As relieved as I am right now to see the weather cooling off and my garden slowing down, I’m equally excited about our garden next year. I’ve loved sharing this process with my kids. It’s been deeply rewarding to work alongside them through planning, planting, watering, weeding, growing, and harvesting. It’s made our trips to the Farmers Market and grocery store more meaningful as the kids make connections between what we’re growing and what the hard-working farmers around us are growing. Once again, it’s proven to me, that on so many levels, Washington State is a great place to grow.