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Garden 2018: Lessons Learned and What I’m Doing Next Year


There’s been two back to back overnight frosts and the 2018 gardening season is officially done as far as I’m concerned.  Someday I will try and extend my season by a month, but with some unexpected health complications this summer, this is not the year.  Here’s a little recap of what went well, what I learned, and what

First, let’s start with the successes. . .

Check out my small space backyard vegetable garden.  It's amazing how much you can grow using the square foot gardening method and a bit of vertical gardening. #smallspace #gardening #backyard #vegetable #garden

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Starting My Own Tomatoes

This was not the first year I have started my own tomatoes, but I was far more adventurous with the varieties I tried.  I prioritized heirloom varieties, and those that had faster dates to maturity.

My favourites?  Amanta Orange, Yellow Pear, San Marzano, and Black Krim.  I also love Lemon Boy, but they just didn’t do as well this year.

Next year I want to concentrate on fewer plants, but better quality.  I will prune more, build sturdier cages, and not create a “tomato jungle.”  Square foot gardening is great, but tomatoes need some space to breathe.  On that note. . .

Beautiful heirloom tomatoes, including Amanta Orange, Black Krim, San Marzano, and yellow pear.

My First Foray into Square Foot Gardening

This was the year of the square foot garden.  I was planning on trying it out anyway, after reading Mel Bartholomew’s book on the subject, but a collaboration with Vinyl Raised Garden Beds and the Seeding Square sealed the deal.

I could not believe how much more produce I could fit in my garden using the square foot gardening method.  I actually had a bit of room left over to try out other vegetables.

The Seeding Square made it fool proof.  There was no guessing which plant needed how much space, and my son even helped me put some vegetables in–huge win!!

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I also loved my Vinyl Raised Garden Beds.  They are a bit of an investment, but they look so good, are super simple to assemble, and look amazing.  I have mine in my front yard, and people walking by were constantly stopping (or slowing down) to check out the vegetables.

If you’re not a committed DIY’er, save yourself the hassle and just get vinyl raised garden beds.  Wouldn’t you rather be gardening than staring at a bunch of unassembled  2X4’s in shame, cursing yourself for biting off more than you can chew?

A good raised garden bed idea for a vegetable garden.  It looks good in the front yard! #raisedbed #vinyl #gardening #beginners #vegetable #flower

Vertical Gardening

If you’re short on space, trellises are your best friend.  Last year I successfully grew Jack be little pumpkins on a trellis, and this year my cucumbers co-operated on their A-frame trellis.  Those images on Pinterest don’t lie!  Plant spinach underneath your cucumber trellis and you’ll be glad you did!

Save space in your small garden with a cucumber trellis.  It's an easy way to grow vining vegetables in a small space backyard garden. #cucumbers #trellis #gardening #vegetable #garden #vertical

Just Plant Hungarian Wax Peppers Already

If you struggle with growing peppers (bell peppers. . . I’m looking at you!!) Try Hungarian wax peppers.  When I couldn’t take care of my garden well anymore, the Hungarian wax peppers just kept on producing.  They are also the only plant that can handle the intense oven that is my very sheltered south-facing deck.

Hungarian wax peppers are an easy vegetable to grow for beginners.  Try one in your next garden and you won't be disappointed. #peppers #vegetable #gardening #garden
This Hungarian Wax Pepper was the only vegetable in my container garden to be truly successful this year.

Now onto the failures. . .

My experiment with Container Gardening

My container garden started out strong, but intense heat coupled with too-small pot sizes meant that they couldn’t make it all the way through to August.  You can read about the whole ordeal here.

Heat Waves, Powdery Mildew, Blossom End Rot, oh my!

I have a newfound sympathy for gardeners in the southern United States.  How do you guys do it?!?  (If you’re new to this blog, I garden in zone 3b on the Canadian Prairies.)

I’ve never experienced a summer as a gardener in which every day was between 27-30 degrees celsius.  The growing conditions were very challenging–very little rain and few breaks in the temperature.  Despite my best attempts to water every day, it just wasn’t enough–especially once I was put on modified bed rest and simply had to give up.

Needless to say, my garden was overrun with blossom end rot and powdery mildew.  There’s ways to fix it, but with my health issues, it just didn’t happen.

On the bright side, I actually had a manageable amount of zucchini.

Click on the link to see how I stop powdery mildew from spreading and fix blossom end rot in two weeks.

Now for things I hope to do next year. . .

Plant more Flowers in the Vegetable Garden

Flowers and vegetables don’t have to be kept separate.  In fact, I’ve been finding that the vegetables I plant in bare spots in my flower beds often do better than the ones I plant in my regular garden space.  (To be fair, my garden was extremely overgrown when we bought the place, and I know it’s going to take 3-5 more years until my soil is really ideal.)

I also have a new appreciation for annuals, and will be planting more marigolds, zinnias, nasturtiums, poppies, sunflowers, and whatever else I can be convinced into growing!

Related: A beginners guide to companion planting

My gardening goal?  Grow more annual flowers in my garden amongst the vegetables.  Companion planting at its finest, and so pretty in your backyard garden! #zinnas #flowers #annual #garden #gardening #flowergardening

Plant with Colour in Mind

I always knew that lettuce came in a range of reds, greens, and purples, but I never realized how beautiful they could be together. Expect a garden that’s grown with more photo-ops in mind.

Do I recommend this for everyone?  Certainly not!!  However, I am a garden blogger and I was disappointed this year with how un-photogenic my garden was.  Except for this lettuce and kale combo–it was gorgeous!!

Lettuce and kale are both beautiful and tasty vegetables in the garden.  They are easy to grow for beginners, grow in small spaces, and regrow when you cut them. #lettuce #kale #garden #gardening #vegetable

Be Okay with Not Starting Everything From Seed

This year I was obsessed with starting my own seeds as much as possible.  But then I got overly attached to them and ended up with 120 tomato plants and tons of squash and who knows what else.  It got to the point where if a visitor came to my house, they left with no fewer than 6 plants–and a “who cares if they die!” speech.

I felt embarrassed and frustrated with myself, then had the revelation to poll my audience and see if this was something that really mattered to them.  Only 25% of you actually start your own seeds.

I decided right then that I would still start seeds, but that there was no reason to have them overtake the whole house when it was something that didn’t even matter to 75% of my readers!!

There are tons of fantastic local greenhouses where I live and I’m happy to support them next year.

Seed starting is so exciting in the winter!  I love to save money and be frugal in the garden.  It's easy to start flowers and vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, zinnias, marigolds and more! #seeds #seedstarting #spring #garden #gardening #frugal #cheap #diy

So that’s it!  While I’m equal parts happy and frustrated with how this year went, I’m also already planning out my space for next year.

Do you have my free garden planner?  If you don’t, download it now and fill it in with your own successes, lessons learned, and plans for next year.  You’ll be glad you did!

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A gorgeous backyard garden in a small space!  I love the cucumber trellis, and use of square foot gardening. #gardening #garden #backyard #small space #vegetables #flowers #carrots #pumpkin #beans #cucumbers
Kristen Raney

Kristen Raney

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.

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Hi, I'm Kristen and I help new gardeners learn to grow their own vegetables and beautify their yards. I also share recipes that use all that delicious garden produce. Grab a coffee (and your gardening gloves) and join me for gardening tips, simple recipes, and the occasional DIY, all from the lovely city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

P.S. First time gardener? You'll want to download the quick start gardening guide below!