What I’ve learned in the garden this year

Loooooong post on the lessons I learned gardening this year:

  • Planting a 3 Sisters garden in a raised bed, at raised-bed densities, does not yield much of a crop of beans, but the corn is OK. It’s hard to find the squash plants, let alone any actual squash.
  • Jerusalem artichokes are well over 4′ tall, and yield almost a pound per square foot from one piece of root.
  • Sugar snap peas really do grow 6-7′ tall.
  • Planting peas 3″ apart on both the outside and inside of a square planting cage is overkill. A linear fence would be easier to harvest.
  • It’s easy to get the pea vines off the cage if you cut the vines off at the ground and let them dry a bit first.
  • Planting potatoes on 9″ centers in a raised bed yields about 1.25 lb per square foot.
  • Fingerling potatoes are very productive, but harder to harvest because there are so many tiny potatoes. They will also green easily, and who wants to peel fingerlings?
  • Chard will get as big as you let it get, and if you harvest it aggressively, it just puts out more big leaves.
  • Asparagus is not worth the space.
  • Strawberries are.
  • I’m not sold on Kentucky Wonder pole beans. I like Fortrex better, but I still don’t think I’ve found my favorite bean yet.
  • It’s worth it to plant both bush and pole beans. This year’s bush beans produced when the pole beans didn’t (eaten by Japanese beetles).
  • Gardener’s Supply Company tall tomato towers are ideal for the kinds of tomatoes I like to grow (indeterminate paste and slicing tomatoes). I like them far better than their tomato ladders.
  • Winter wheat is much more productive than spring wheat, perhaps because it was harvested before the August drought this year.
  • Wheat might be too much trouble by hand, especially when my neighbor grows it and has the machinery to harvest and thresh it.
  • If you see a volunteer sunflower, let it grow.
  • Just because the vine seems healthy, doesn’t mean it’ll fruit during drought.
  • Always plant more than one variety of tomato.
  • The screen house is still the best thing ever for keeping the brassicas bug-free.
  • Sweet dumpling squash taste like pie, just baked plain.
  • I like tomatillos best when they are quite green.

Overall, it was a pretty crummy year in the garden. I got some nice squash, though not nearly as many as I’d expected, and the butternuts were very small. I got some tomatoes, but again, not all that many. Kale was great. So was chard. Potatoes were OK. Beans – I got *nothing* from my beans this year.

A lot of my gardening energy went into learning to can and in building new beds this year. Next year, I’ll have almost 3 times the garden beds I did this year. And hopefully, I’ll be building a greenhouse in the next couple weeks and will start to learn that whole deal.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep up with it all, especially when it comes to preserving. I much prefer planting to harvesting. But I definitely give myself permission to give away tons of produce next year if I manage to triple my harvest as well as my garden space. 🙂



  1. Robbyn said,

    October 27, 2008 at 12:06 am

    I’m glad you posted this list. Some of the things on it are things we are wondering about trying, and it’ll help us as we plan a garden for next year 🙂

  2. Kirby said,

    October 27, 2008 at 4:14 am

    Sugar snap peas are gorgeous 🙂 – my fav of all time.
    Sounds like you had a interesting season.

  3. Kat said,

    October 27, 2008 at 11:01 am

    Oh, but fingerlings are so yummy, and you don’t need to peel them, just prick and roast.

    Doesn’t asparagus take about 3 years to grow to yield? Yeah, I’d consider that a waste of space as well, unless you want to grow it as a border fence. 🙂

  4. Emily said,

    October 27, 2008 at 11:10 am


    My asparagus actually produced less and less each year. I probably didn’t fertilize, compost, or water it enough.

    Also, knowing that the green/sprouting parts of potatoes contain a neurotoxin that never leaves your body, I peel anything that’s starting to get green. My fingerlings were greenish coming out of the ground, so…


  5. trevor said,

    October 27, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Cool list, it’s amazing how gardening is a constant process of trial/error/refinement/better-luck-next-year.

    Beans? try haricots vert varieties, i planted a couple types to indulge my SIL. After two seasons they are now a standard in my garden. Beautiful compact plants loaded with straight, fine green beans. The plants in full fruit don’t actually look real. Both Mirabel and Nickel are totally worth growing. High yeild and great flavour. I still grow sprawly green and wax bush beans, and have never had luck with pole beans.

    The taste of home grown asparagus is worth it, if you can spare the space.


  6. Andy said,

    October 28, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    Think this is an excellent website, well written and extremely informative. Also like your style of writing you sound like you have a passion for what you are saying keep up the good work. If you get a chance I would really like it if you can check out this website and let me know what you think http://www.gardeningcareblog.com

  7. Emily said,

    October 28, 2008 at 6:57 pm


    Honestly? The web site looks computer-generated and the comment above reads like spam. If you’re a real person, you might want to work on that…


  8. Buttercup said,

    October 29, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    My main lessons were: really, really don’t overseed (find some way to sow seeds to the right density); and forget about planting melons in Michigan unless you start them well ahead indoors and put them out on the first hot day.

  9. Jen in MI said,

    October 31, 2008 at 6:34 am

    Emily, your perseverance and optimism are wonderful. 😉

  10. April 28, 2010 at 10:30 am

    A little off the subject maybe, and we all understand that keen gardeners are lectured by lots of people to become more environmentally friendly. However it’s equally as important to consider on the human ethics. For example, some makes of rotovators are made in sweatshops in the Far East. So PLEASE think about the source of your rotovator is coming from if you buy. A rotovator made in Europe might not be the cheapest, but it’s a very important decision.

  11. Anonymous said,

    April 18, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    I am wild about Kwintus pole beans — true beany flavor, I eat ’em like snap peas fresh out of the garden; each bean is about an inch wide and a foot long when it’s ready (don’t pick ’em too early), and they just keep coming all summer from a single planting. My first seed from Project Grow five or so years ago, waited a few years to plant it, and have been saving the seed since (but didn’t see it on the PG rack at PFC this year). Park Seed is currently carrying it, I think.

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