Your Veggie Garden, in Hindsight

BECAUSE AUTUMN IS AROUND THE CORNER — it begins, in fact, this Thursday at 5:05 AM — I think now is the ideal time for a rear-view look at our vegetable gardens. Who achieved, at summer’s end, the harvest they dreamed of back in Spring? (Not me!) Who over-planted potatoes but under-planted peppers? (Guilty as charged.) Tell us about your successes, your failures, and what you learned during the garden season that was 2011:

My lesson: I need a better watering system. Dragging hoses around and setting up sprinklers is not only exhausting work, it’s an inefficient use of water. But arranging such a system for a series of raised beds (which I will never part with) isn’t an easy feat. If you’ve set up drip irrigation for your own raised beds, mind telling me how involved the project was? Also, did you tackle the job yourself or hire it out?

Now it’s your turn. Please share your veggie-garden-in-hindsight thoughts — whatever they may be — in the comments field below.

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  1. I planted strawberries in pots and one pot is still alive and one pot is not. It's their first year and I got about 3 big berries in all. Not enough to bake with. Hopefully next year I have a few more

    We had a lot of success with peppers: thai chili, cubanelle, hot wax, jalapeno, and a few others. My husband is pepper obsessed. The green bell peppers produced very few and we never did get a sweet red bell pepper. We have several jars of hot sauce in the fridge. The recipe we used said to wait 3 months until we try it so we have to be patient

    Planting three or four cucumber plants was nuts. We had so many cucumbers. I made jars of pickles, cucumber salad, and tzatziki sauce and still had to give many cucumbers away

    Eggplant did really well especially after someone told me to use a Q tip to pollinate the flowers. Was that you? The plants would get a lot of blossoms and then the blossoms would fall off. Now I have 7 eggplant coming in!

    The tomatoes had one great big batch and then sort of withered off. We had some great salsas and a batch of tomato soup. I wish we had even more!

    Kale went strong all summer long. We just ripped it out recently because bugs were eating it.

    Yellow squash is still kicking out a few and it produced so many this summer I was giving them away. We were really happy with our 1 plant. It was huge.

    Zucchini produced some but not too many that I couldn't use them up.

    Bush beans are super happy right now. I think they love this weather. I have some great big fat beans to pick.

    Melons looked like they were doing great but honeydew never tasted like honeydew and the little watermelons had so many seeds I just dont think we'll plant melons next year. The bees did enjoy the melon flowers. Anyone successful with melons?

    My herbs look amazing. I still have basil, rosemary, chives, and sage going strong. The dill reseeded and is making a comeback. The cilantro is long gone.

    We just threw in some fall plants this weekend. I hope we see some success!

  2. Wow, living insanity, great report! Yes, I was the one who told you about pollinating flowers with a Q-tip. Glad it worked out for you! Oh – I'm with you on cucumbers. Only one plant for me next year.

  3. Despite the rocky start due to “sharing” with ground hogs (ugh), gardening was so fun this year! I froze a lot of vegetables, shared so much with friends that I feared they would not be glad to see me (!), and generally had a blast. The one think new I did was to toss grass clippings down as mulch. Perhaps that's what helped decrease weeds, and maybe there were some nutrients from the cuttings that helped.

    I have to say that the most exciting discovery – thanks to you Kevin – was using vinegar to eliminate weeds versus chemicals. I tackled a huge area with it, and once everything died, amended the soil and have been having a great time planting! Another area of our yard transformed.

    This year I scheduled vacation throughout the growing season so I would have enjoyable time working in the garden and yard. I have a difficult time getting it all used up, and have even lost some, so I thought this would be a very effective way to address that “problem.”

    Your newsletter is so helpful. Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge. I love hearing about the responses from other readers too.

  4. I tried planting some sugar pie pumpkins this year. Even though the vines threatened to engulf the entire backyard and actually did climb up into a nearby tree, I only got 3 pumpkins.

    I planted zucchini which also threatened to take over the garden and got some zukes but not an overpowering amount. Crookneck squash did not do as well.

    Tomatoes did well, although not the cherry so much. Green beans did poorly. The green peppers took so long I thought they were never going to have any, but eventually they did, have only harvested one so far as they are not quite ready and now it has gotten really cool, so I am not sure they will ever be entirely ready.

    Butternut squash got started late and I am still waiting for them to get ripe, some have rotted. I had cucumbers, I didn't plant as many as in previous years, and I dug them up 2 weeks ago because the vines were turning bad.

    My big surprise this year was a grapevine that grew from between the garage and the fence and over the top of some shrubs. Kevin you thought they may be Fox grapes (wild) and so I picked some. They are not fit to eat right off the vine but they made some delicious jelly. I now have 15 1/2 pints of wild grape jelly to give for Christmas gifts.

    I froze strawberries early in the season. I also had some potatoes which I canned.

    Our spring was cold and wet so everything got a late start. Then it got very hot, now it has turned cold. Short hot summer this year. Other than tomatoes, peppers and the butternuts, everything has been dug up for the year.

  5. trillium – So happy to hear about your successes. When the garden is good, it's very, very good. Also glad the vinegar worked out for you. My parents relied on grass clippings as a weed suppressant — it's effective because it mats down.

    Terry – When the garden is bad, it's….well, you know! I've had horrid years like yours, too (2009 comes to mind) when the weather simply would not cooperate. Tell me: how did your wild grape jelly taste once you sweetened it up?

  6. I'm with you about the hoses…
    [The rest of the garden I won't talk about, I had the same problem of the cold wet spring, at least this year was good for tomatoes and peppers!]
    I have only one outdoor faucet with an entire front yard expanse. My usual procedure is to put the spray attachment on “FULL” and just blast the area of the garden I want to water, it damages plants, but I'm about productivity not beauty, haha! [and no waste since the plants in-between can always benefit from more water…]

    My parents live in Delaware and have a wonderful system of underground pipes with connectors to have auto irrigation around the yard. They primarily garden against the back of their house with a patio and walkway separating another area of the garden – it's not huge but all they have to do is turn the faucet and leave it on for like ten minutes in the morning. Done! When I saw it, my mind was blown.
    Since I love to sketch out my ideas on paper before implementing them in the garden, I will be planning a series of underground pipes to help alleviate my watering procedures as well… That, and getting a dozen or so rain barrels going! So much to do, so little time!

  7. Kevin the wild grape jelly is delicious! I made a first batch and it was so good that I had to go out and chop shrubs and squeeze between the garage and fence and find more:) I will definitely be taking better care of those vines in the future.

  8. My veggie garden is also up against the house with a faucet right there. We used a sprinkler, but I'm thinking of trying a soaker hose next year. My biggest triumph is always my raspberries which grow on the edge of wetland so there's no watering. I've had lettuce from the garden every day for months and the herbs were all great.

  9. Donna – I agree — always best to do your digging on paper first. As for underground irrigation — it's terrific, if you know exactly where you plan to have a garden.

    Terry – Egads, I have tons of wild grapes here. Will have to do what you have done, and turn them into jelly!

    Erica – You are lucky to have had lettuce throughout the summer. Are you in a colder zone than me? Here in the Hudson Valley, lettuce gives up by early July. But we plant it again in late August for a fall crop.

  10. The Mister is in agreement- next year we need to use tripods like yours on the tomatoes instead of our usual- ugly but effective rebar.

  11. BBI – First, congratulations on your marriage! (You see, I note such things.)

    Next, concerning my tomato trellis: I used wood, not rebar, because I want my garden to have a pleasant, old-world look. To me, only in a strictly utilitarian setting is rebar appropriate.

  12. Kevin,
    Watering a raised bed garden during a hot midwest summer can be quite a chore.
    I too looked for efficient methods of watering that would save my back and allow me time to enjoy the summer activities. Lugging around heavy hoses can be hard work. These are older references but they have great irrigation ideas: “Easy Irrigation: an inexpensive watering system you can really build yourself” from the May/June 1995 issue of Fine Gardening. Also, “The Time Life Complete Gardener Low Maintenance Gardening” copyright 1995 has a chapter with how to drawings of an off -the -shelf irrigation system. I bet you can find the book online at We’ve moved 10 times (8 gardens), so I don’t install expensive, permanent watering systems. I used a Y adapter with individual shutoffs at the house spigot, then ran a heavy duty hose through the ground cover, buried it a under the sod where it had to run through the yard and covered it with mulch in the flower garden until I connected it to a remote water spigot outlet . I bought a battery operated water timer from Costo Co and hooked it to a sprinkler. The first year I tried soaker hoses, but they missed some of the plants in my 4 raised bed garden and I didn’t like how they looked. On rainy days I just turn off the shutoff at the spigot without going out to the garden. I unhook the hose from the spigot every fall and test my system every Spring and so far the hose has held up (4 years now). I’m sure someone else has a better system so maybe we’ll learn something from them. Gee, I don’t twitter or do facebook but while recovering from a long, garden related illness your blog was my inspiration to keep gardening. I am living proof of how important it is to wear your gardening gloves – always. Thanks, Kathy.

  13. Kathy – I certainly aspire to have an irrigation system like yours. Lots of info out there on DIY systems, and will investigate.

    Now, you left us with a cliff-hanger involving illness and a warning to wear gardening gloves. I have an acquaintance in London who nearly died from taxoplasmosis (excuse my spelling), the result of coming in contact with cat droppings while digging with bare hands in his garden. So yes, we should all wear gloves while digging around outside.

  14. It’s a long story but here’s some of it: I moved to a lovely little town in Northwest Ohio in 2008, where we found a house on an acre lot with great gardening possibilities. My three loves are gardening, bird watching and golf. In the Spring of 2009 I somehow contracted a Staph infection. It went to my shoulder and my spine. Within 8 hours of being admitted I was transferred to ICU for a week where I had surgery on my shoulder and a specialist for every system in my body. To summarize: Three hospitalizations later, the last at the Cleveland Clinic, months of visiting nurses, three courses of strong IV antibiotics through a port in my arm and rehab, I’m just happy to be alive. I will never really know where I got this disease, but I was at the gym that week on Monday and Wednesday I planted roses. My Infectious Disease doctor voted on the roses since my middle finger on my hand was also filled with infection. That Christmas my husband of 30 years presented me with rose gloves that extend to my elbows. It took me a long time to get better – my disc was destroyed by the infection and the bones of my spine couldn’t really heal until after the infection was gone. So, 8 months fighting the disease and then at least a year before I felt like me again. And, darn it, I ended up being an inch shorter and I’m already short. Somewhere, in the year it took me to get better I found A Garden for the House. I didn’t post comments but I so enjoyed reading your blog. I put it in my favorites. Kevin Lee Jacobs, you inspire thousands of people and maybe for some your blog is a port in the storm.

  15. Kathy – Thank goodness you were diagnosed properly, and were treated in time. I can’t imagine what suffering you must have endured those 20 months.

    Roses are as treacherous as they are beautiful. My anthropologist friend once suggested that roses grew all those thorns in order to keep predators — including humans — at bay. And I think he’s right! My own roses have certainly drawn more blood than I care to mention.

    Glad to hear that you are feeling like “you” again. Your sweet-sweet comment made me blush.


    I came acroos this website on pintrest (which is actually how I came upon your website as well 🙂 You might want to check out their irrigation system for thier raised beds.

    Well….for me and my garden 2011 was another learning year. It was our 4th year planting a garden and every year we’ve learned new things. Like don’t plant 40 tomatoes plants! CAN YOU SAY OVERKILL! lol Figure out a good way to keep the rabbits from eating the green beans! We are offically NOT plating watermelon again! DO NOT let tomatoes grow on the ground, the critters will eat them! Make sure you check your seeds and get the right variety.

    Okay so that’s a lot of don’ts, but we had some success too. We grew a a large crop of broccoli which was wonderful! Our green peppers ROCKED! We actually got some carrots 🙂
    Sunflower teepee was cute 🙂 Zucchini thrived as always.

    What we’ll try in 2012, add a few raised beds, use trellis’ for cucumbers and plant below them too. plant less tomatoes and more potatoes. Transplant my grandmas rhubarb into our yard. Add onions and garlic. My goal is to can green beans and tomatoe juice and possible cucumbers. So I think that’s it.

    Thanks for your wonderful site! I look forward to receiving your newsletters 🙂
    Happy Gardening!!!

  17. Marnie – I checked out the link you sent. Oh, would I love to have that irrigation system.

    Had to chuckle at your 40 tomato plants. I’ve been there. These days, I know to plant only 6-8 plants for 2-4 people. The vines provide enough fruit for fresh summer-eating, plus plenty for freezing and canning for winter use. Live and learn, right?

  18. Shawnee says:

    Let’s see. It seems so long ago now, but we had the good, the bad and the ugly last in our last garden. I know I had a lot of cucumbers because I still have several jars of bread and butter pickles that will never be eaten because no one in my house likes pickles. But my husband has suddenly discovered the Dilly Beans I pickled last fall and decided he does like those. We had a great tomato year, even though I was too lazy to properly stake up my plants, I still ate tomato sandwiches everyday and froze a winter’s worth. My carrots did well, but my daughter and her friends swipe most of them for the horses! I put a lot of them in the stew pot, also. A friend gave me a chunk of her terragon plant and it’s trying to take over. I didn’t realize it was so huge and proliferate. I don’t even use tarragon (terregon?). I think I’m going to pull it up and sneak it into my neighbors garden.:) My broccoli was so-so. It never gets very big and I have never had luck with cauliflower.

    Keven, what is your favorite way to plant potatoes? I tried the garbage bag method a couple of years ago, but the russets rotted. I did get red potatoes, but it was a really wet year. I just don’t have a big space for potatoes, but maybe I will just layout a bunch of newspaper and plant right on top of it and just mound up the dirt over them? Can’t wait for spring!

    I bought a cheap package of strawberry starters, but they never started. I was afraid they were a waste of money. I did plant two strawberry plants the put out quite a few berries the first year. I will add a couple more and see if they spread. When I use to live in Seattle, they were so easy to grow there.

  19. Shawnee — Sounds like you had a very productive garden last year. And…thanks for the chuckle. I can fully understand the concept of “too many pickles!”

    On the other hand, I can never have too many potatoes. Here’s my favorite way to plant them.

    Like you, I adore tomato sandwiches, and eat them every day during tomato-season. I also make this FANTASTIC (and easy) tomato pie, which everybody loves.

  20. Shawnee says:

    I guess I’m going to have to force/bribe? my husband into making me several more raised beds! At least two more for potatoes. They are so easy to grow when you get them planted in the right place. We have so much clay here, so everything really needs to be in a raised bed. I appreciate the fact that you are detailed in your instructions. I never could quite understand when I should hill up the potato plants and how much. Thanks for making it clear.

    Now I just have to wait 5-6 months to make Tomato Pie. It sounds great. I’m a carb freak, too. Bring on the biscuits and mayo!

  21. MY red and yellow peppers never taste as sweet as those I buy in the store. what am I doing wrong?

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