It’s January now, which means that a lot of gardeners in our zone are starting to think about what they’ll be planting in their Spring gardens. It’s an exciting time! There are SO many options available to you for planting new vegetables and varieties in Spring, but before we get to that I thought it would be fun to do a little recap of what I planted in my Fall & Winter garden, what I have been able to harvest the most of, and what I might do differently next season!
Gardening has been a fun, and surprisingly low maintenance hobby this season for me. I have loved having fresh foods that I can pick from my own backyard, and my garden is a place that I’ve been able to turn to often when I need produce for our day-to-day meals.
That being said, not everything went perfectly! So I’d like to share failures and successes of each crop, what we will DEFINITELY replant next year, and what we might do differently.
This year I planted Carrots, Beets, Broccoli, Lettuce, Kale, Arugula and Brussel Sprouts. We used a small little 6 ft x 4 ft area in the backyard, which kept things manageable for us and we were still able to have a high-yield garden. I wanted to be sure that I would be able to harvest regularly from what I planted without overgrowing the yard – and I have!
So let’s get into it.
This was definitely one of the garden “wins” this season. I love arugula, and we were able to harvest SO much from our 6 little seedling plants that this will be something that gets replanted every year.
Pros: Maintenance on this plant was pretty low, which is wonderful! All I needed to do was make sure it was getting either enough rainwater or enough of our irrigation system, and I was able to harvest as much as I wanted! I picked off the arugula leaves at about an inch above the base, mainly from the outsides of the plant and I tried to make sure that I took some from each plant rather than all from one, so that each plant was not over-harvested. The arugula grew super fast, and always seemed to have time to re-grow before my next harvest, even if we ate 3 big salads from it per week!
Toward the middle-to-end of the season my arugula plants started to grow thick stalks, and flowers. It also started to overgrow and to overshadow the Kale that we had growing next to it. The growth of these thick stalks typically means the end of the season, and that the plant is reaching maturity. This also means that the leaves are likely becoming more bitter and difficult to eat. As long as the plant is healthy and you don’t mind the bitter leaves, you can continue to eat arugula after this has happened and even eat the flowers in a salad! I ended up cutting back this plant significantly, though, to encourage smaller, more tender leaf growth and we have continued to harvest this plant through January.
- BRUSSEL SPROUTS
My Brussel sprout plant was pretty opposite from the arugula – a total bummer in terms of harvest (at least so far). But I’m not considering this a total failure because I did learn a lot from growing these!
So, we didn’t harvest a single sprout from these plants this year, despite having beautifully full and healthy looking plants and stalks! This makes me wish I had thought to do more research on this sooner, but hindsight is 20-20, isn’t it?! After a little research, this is what I learned:
Brussel sprout plants typically take about 3 months to harvest, but I should have started seeing sprouts much earlier on these plants. So what happened? What went wrong?
A couple of things – both Brussel Sprouts and Broccoli plants need a lot of nitrogen, and the lack of that in my soil may have been one of the reasons that I didn’t get any sprouts. I could have added a little more fertilizer and organic matter to help with the nitrogen deficiency (if using organic matter that means coffee grounds, or manure)! Since my broccoli and brussel sprout plants were right next to each other and both use up a lot of nitrogen, I should have made sure that the ground had a good supply of this!
Secondly, because the leaves on my brussel sprout plants were SO large and healthy, it is possible that a lot of the plant’s food and energy went to growing those leaves, while neglecting to grow the sprouts. It would have been good if I had trimmed the top leaves back on these plants after seeing that the plant was well-established, but not producing any sprouts for us.
All in all, a great learning experience! Since we have mild winters where we live and a long growing season, I’m still going to try and salvage these plants and encourage them to grow sprouts by trimming the leaves back a bit, and adding organic matter/compost to the top-soil.
Beets! I’m really so excited to try these. We had probably a half-success with the beets this year, and I think we would have had more if I hadn’t rushed through the planting process. We planted these a little late in the season, so instead of starting from seeds we purchased some small seedling plants from a local nursery. What I didn’t notice is that there were a few containers with multiple seedlings in one plod of soil, and I really needed to separate those in order to allow the bulbs to grow large enough and not suffocate one another. We will still have some beets that we’ll get to enjoy this season in salads, or sauteed with butter and garlic salt – but next season when we replant I’ll make sure to pay closer attention to the spacing for these!
Another quick note on the beets – thankfully, beet leaves are just as tasty and useful even if you don’t get a large bulb at the bottom. They can be added to salads, soups, smoothies, and are really rich in Vitamin C, Nitrates (which help regulate/lower blood pressure, and is really good for heart health). They also contain a lot of Vitamin K and Calcium, which is great for your eyes and your bones! They’re low-key a superfood. 🙂
I had about zero problems growing Kale, so this will definitely be one that we keep in the garden as long as possible! A lot of people dislike Kale because of its bitter taste, but Kale is just as sweet as other salad veggies as long as it’s SOFTENED.
You can use a few techniques to soften kale after it’s been harvested. If using Kale in a salad, drizzle some olive oil over it and firmly massage the oil into the kale by squeezing it in between your hands. You’ll notice the Kale will change color from a light, almost-silvery green to a deep, dark green. It will also literally become softer. After you’ve done this for a few minutes to all of the kale in your bowl, try a taste! You’ll notice it is not bitter at all but actually quite delicious.
If you’re using Kale in soup or smoothies, you can simply boil it for 3-4 minutes to soften it. Feel free to add the little bit of that boiled water to your soup or smoothies too, so you get all of the good nutrients that Kale has to offer!
I was really so proud of our Broccoli plants this year. I think the only thing I will change in future years is – I want to plant more! Each Broccoli plant gave us 1 large broccoli floret, which we can thoroughly enjoy, but it’s a low yield-plant because it can only be harvested once per season (if any gardeners out there know differently, please let me know!!). But we love broccoli and eat it really quite frequently, so I think my biggest takeaway from this is just that I want to make sure that we plant much more of this vegetable in the years to come!
This was another high-yield crop, like our kale and arugula. Our lettuce heads did SWIMMINGLY well in the mild, 40-50 degree temperatures and we were able to harvest at least once a week. We made a lot of mixed green salads, used the lettuce for our burgers, sandwiches, and any other lettuce needs. I don’t think I’ve purchased any salad from the grocery store for the last 4 months while we’ve had this growing!
This crop is yet to be harvested, so I’ve left it last on our list here. I planted these carrots indoors pretty late into the season – it was the end of October, I think when my seeds first went into the soil in an indoor soil container. I watered them somewhat frequently when the soil was looking dry, and then once the top leaves were about an inch tall, I transferred them outside. From the surface, they appear to have been growing quite well but will take another several weeks to harvest. But I already know at least one take-away, which is that because these are single-root vegetables and categorically a low-yield per plant (1-2 carrots), I want to make sure that next time I plant a lot more of these too!
I hope this recap was helpful for you and gives you confidence to start your own garden. This growing season has been SUCH fun, really low maintenance and has given me such joy being able to harvest produce straight from our backyard. I love also knowing that our vegetables have been allowed to NATURALLY ripen before they are harvested, and it has been a wonderful way for our family to reconnect with the incredible ways that God has designed the earth to produce food for its people.
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