I’ve been meaning to write this post for awhile now, and I’ve been struggling with the words. It probably seems silly, but how do you accurately sum up trying to have a garden with an infant? If I didn’t garden as my job, I would not have taken on anywhere nearly as much as I did this year.
Garden with Dominic (before I had the blog): 3 pots on my deck and a few perennials that I planted later in the season
Garden with Aulaire: 6 new raised beds, cut flower garden, 100 pounds of tomatoes, redoing my container vegetable garden experiment, all. the. things.
The former is probably far more realistic of what a new Mom should try and accomplish in the garden.
I often wondered what kind of example I was sending to other Moms of littles. Was I being inspirational? Or was I just adding to the collective guilt that we as mothers experience about not being able to do everything we want to do and be everything to everyone all at the same time? I tried to be real and share my struggles occasionally.
Many days I got to 5pm and felt so overwhelmed. I had barely accomplished anything in my garden or my business–only the most dire thing that needed doing. Thankfully my baby really likes being outside, so I was at least able to keep up with the evening watering. She is not the greatest or most consistent sleeper, so when she did sleep, I had no choice but to try and do my work for the day even if it was noon and +30 outside. That was the time I had to do the work I needed to do.
Yet, as I look back, I’m amazed at what I was all able to accomplish only by figuratively putting out fires. I didn’t feel good or successful or accomplished at the time, but in hindsight I actually had a lot of successes this year.
So here’s how my garden of 2019 turned out. . . the good, the bad, and the very weedy.
Serious About Seed Starting
I’ve been seed starting for about 5 or 6 years now, but this year I wanted to focus on doing a better job of it. I started the usual peppers and tomatoes, but I also seed started a bunch of annual cut flowers. Overall, it was very successful.
I experimented with using newsprint pots, and was really happy with how they held up over the year. I get asked all the time if the newspaper pots really decompose, and I can tell you with complete confidence after my garden clean up this year that yes, they decompose almost completely if your soil is healthy.
My Most Successful Peppers Yet
I also refined my pepper growing process, and had my most successful pepper crop ever. I was so excited to finally have mastered a vegetable that I previously struggled with for years. To grow your best peppers, read this post.
I grew all of my peppers in containers, and all of them ended up on the small side, but were still a decent size that was great to cook with. I had peppers by mid July and continued to harvest them all summer. While it’s cool to have peppers that early when no one else does, it is a bit too early because I’d rather harvest them closer to when my tomatoes are ready in August. Next year I’ll start them at the end of February instead.
My favourite varieties are Carmen, Candystripe, and Hungarian Wax. The first two are hybrids, so I hope to find similar ones that are heirlooms so I can eventually save more seeds.
Another Garden Expansion
We expanded the main gardening bed last year, and this year we added six more raised beds and a trellis. I was able to make the main growing space into a cut flower garden, and moved all vegetable production to the raised beds-six in the back and four in the front yard. With this amount of growing space I could have probably been self-sufficient in some vegetables, but I thought that flowers would be less maintenance–and I needed to cut corners with a new baby.
I added mulch to all the pathways to help cut down on the weeding I would have to do. The thicker cut pine mulch in front held up all season, but the wood shavings that made up the rest of the path decomposed within 2 months. The cut flower garden had become so wild at that point that I couldn’t even walk on the main pathway.
However, the cut flower garden was my favourite part of the yard. It brought an abundance of pollinators–lots of bees and butterflies. I was able to harvest at least 20 bouquets from it, and I could have made more, but I was scared to cut my flowers when it first started blooming.
I had big plans for how the 4 raised beds on the side would look. I planned them out to be really colourful and provide me with the prettiest pictures possible. They did not work out as planned. I was constantly fighting with birds who ate everything, and by the time I figured out a solution that actually worked, it was late in the season.
While they didn’t look as I had hoped, they still had their charms. And I finally grew a beautiful cabbage from seed that I started myself!
Year of the Brassicas
On that note, my brassicas were probably the most successful they’ve ever been. Besides this cabbage, I grew and harvested the best broccoli I’ve ever had. I was finally able to start successful broccoli from seed, and the cloth I had over it to protect it from the birds & bugs also kept it from bolting when we had a heat wave.
I paired my broccoli with mini pumpkin plants on each corner of the raised beds. Once the pumpkin plants were more mature, they helped shade out the broccoli so it didn’t bolt as easily and when they were ready to take over the bed, the broccoli was done and could be pulled.
The onions in this raised bed were also the biggest I’ve ever grown on this property too. My onions rarely ever do more than double their puny set size, but these ones grew to a size similar to the grocery store.
A Better Vegetable Container Garden
Last year I was disappointed that I had to give up on my vegetable container garden on my deck. It was a great experiment and I had big plans for it, but I was just too sick to keep up with the watering.
This year I was finally able to realize my vision. . .
I successfully grew kale, beans, peppers, tomatoes, mini spaghetti squash, various herbs, marigolds, zinnias, and snapdragons.
It was a terrible year for beans, cucumbers, and zucchini. We had a cold spring, everything was very slow to start, and then we didn’t have enough really hot days to make up for it. I hope to try them again next year and grow a more successful crop.
As many mornings as possible I came out and sat on the deck right on this spot. I distinctly remember one morning sitting here, looking around the yard, and thinking that this was a place I actually wanted to be. Seems simple, but 4 years ago when we bought the property, it was an overgrown blank slate that only had a bunch of peony bushes and a cute little garden shed going for it.
Now, its a beautiful (although a bit weedy) oasis that I enjoy spending time in and inviting friends to sit in.
How Much Can You Grow in a Non-Traditional Urban Garden?
At the beginning of the season, I was very worried about how much I could grow this year. I had the space, but I didn’t know how much I could realistically do with baby. I even got a share in a CSA, because I was worried that I would kill all my vegetables and have nothing to photograph.
I needn’t have worried. Despite barely being able to keep up with it all, I still had a decent harvest.
This isn’t quite everything I harvested, but its pretty close. Just add another 80 pounds of tomatoes I forgot to photograph.
That said, this growing season was one of the latest that I can remember. It ended up being 4-6 weeks behind where it should have been, depending on the vegetable. The cool weather meant I could finally grow radishes, broccoli, and cabbage, but my beans, cucumbers, and zucchini really suffered. The zucchini situation was so bad that I only harvested 3 zucchinis. Lie–I harvested a fourth, but it was so pockmarked that I just threw it in the compost.
Must Grow Plants for 2020 and What Will Not Make the Cut
I like to try new things every year, and 2019 was no exception. My choices are going to be a little different than the average gardener, because I’m gardening for both what me and my family like to eat, plus what I’d like to write about for next year and topics I think will be popular. I came across a lot of new favourites, but there’s a few losers I don’t think are worth your time.
- Prizehead Lettuce. In every experiment I tried growing different varieties of lettuce, Prizehead was the only lettuce that always grew. It’s as dependable and tasty as Buttercrunch (my standby), but has a beautiful red/green colour.
- Snapdragons. If you want a cut flower garden, snapdragons are a must-have. They look great in the vase, are easy to start from seed, and are widely available in garden centres if you don’t have the space to start your own. Just look for the Rocket or Madame Butterfly varieties. The cutting varieties grow well in pots (just add a tomato cage).
- Strawflowers. Strawflowers are the cut flower that just keeps on giving. They last a long time, are easy to collect seeds from, and the more you cut them the more they bloom. I saved lots of seeds and I’ll be purchasing more colours this year.
- Small Wonder Spaghetti Squash. It wasn’t the greatest year for squash, but I was happy to get three personal-sized squashes from my plant in a large pot.
- Sunset Orange Paste Tomatoes. These tomatoes just keep on giving and giving. I harvested at least 5 48-cup bowls of them over the course of the summer, and I could have harvested more. Once they are ripe they are slow to rot, and stay firm for a long time. I don’t like raw tomatoes, but all the tomato-loving-people in my life say that the taste is excellent.
- Carmen peppers. This was the year that I got really good at growing peppers, and the Carmen variety was my favourite, right up there with Hungarian Wax. Next year I will give them more space so I can get even larger peppers.
- Calendula. I’m not sure why I never grew calendula before, but I will never have a garden without it from this year forward. It’s easy to start from seed or direct sowing, you can harvest them from July to after the first frost, and they are super easy to seed save from. I saved a lot of seeds this year, and I’m planning on buying more varieties.
Curious where I get my seeds? Here are 20+ Seed Companies I Recommend for Your Different Gardening Needs.
Not Worth The Hype
Please remember that this is just my opinion. If you love something listed here, you should still grow it!!
- Cucamelons. Cucamelons are very trendy in gardening circles and I was unimpressed. They are easy to start from seed, but very difficult to harden off–which is a problem in zone 3 because our growing season isn’t long enough to direct seed. I didn’t have a good harvest, and I’m just not a fan of the lemony-cucumber taste.
- Poppies. I like poppies. I’m not a poppy-hater. But I was disappointed with how many poppies bloomed for the amount of seeds I put out and with their very short vase life. However, I will try them again, as I think they will be worth it if I give them better growing conditions.
- Watermelon. To be fair, this was not a good growing year for watermelon, and maybe I just haven’t found the right variety for me yet. The watermelon I planted got a few small melons, but it dropped all of them a few days after they set. The year before I was more successful, but my watermelon crossed with my butternut squash and I was too grossed out to see if it was edible. If anyone has any suggestions on varieties or what went wrong, I’d love to hear them in the comments.
- Cantaloupe. Another fail two years in a row. I know that they’re super delicious home grown (as compared to the grocery store) and I guess I’m just going to have to up my game next year.
- Eggplant. Looking at this list, I’m pretty sure everything that’s on it is largely due to the cool year. But I planted an eggplant and all I got was one skinny little eggplant that a slug beat me to. I was extremely disappointed.
Increasing my Seed Saving
One of my big goals for this year was to save more seeds. I can easily spend $400 every year on just seeds, which is so much and I don’t even have that much space.
My seed saving setup isn’t fancy–just a bunch of milk jug bottoms in an unheated shed. But I found that it was surprisingly easy–just make sure the birds can’t get at your sunflower seed heads!!
I share everything I learned in an easy to read guide that’s meant for visual learners. No more guessing if you’re doing it right from a description. Check it out here.
The Best Trick for Gardening with a Baby
If you know you’ll be gardening with a baby this summer, make sure to plant some edible flowers like violas or nasturtiums. Every time I went out to the garden, I would rip off a few nasturtiums to let her play with and destroy. Then if she put them in her mouth, she couldn’t hurt herself. Once the harvest started, I would give her scarlet runner beans, baby pumpkins, cucumbers, and larger tomatoes to play with.
You know your baby best, so please don’t give your baby anything you think he or she could choke on! At the beginning of the season when she didn’t put things in her mouth the flower trick worked great. By the end of the season it was too much of a choking hazard so I stopped doing it.
That said, vegetables make wonderful toys, and Aulaire seemed to prefer them to actual baby toys that I brought outside for her.
So that was the year in the garden that was. I hope you enjoyed my little update and found something useful in it. Almost everyday I share my garden updates on Instagram and Facebook. I hope you’ll follow me there and share your own gardening struggles and successes.
Want to see how my garden has progressed over the years? Here’s some of my past garden updates:
Kristen is a former farm kid turned urban gardener who owns the popular gardening website, Shifting Roots. She is obsessed with growing flowers and pushing the limits of what can be grown in her zone 3b garden. She also loves to grow tomatoes, but oddly enough, dislikes eating them raw.