What I Learned From This Year’s Annual Garden Review

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So you’ve taken our Home Agriculture Comprehensive course, and you’ve done well, growing some of your own food. In these days of inflation and shortages, this is a viable option that many are taking advantage of. As I see it, anything I put in my mouth that I grew myself is a plus!

Granted, food from the garden isn’t free, but the benefits more than make up for the work. But where do we go from here? Now that the garden is done, what can we do to improve it?

I like to do an annual review of my garden. I document what I did right, what didn’t work, and what I plan to do differently next year. In this article, I’ll show my review so you can learn how to do yours. I had three areas in production this year, so I’ll take them one at a time, but the three questions are always the same.

Overall, I count my first year at the community garden plot as a success.

Things I did right at the community garden plot:

Laying down the weed barrier cloth. That saved so much time & effort on the care and maintenance front!

Vegetable selection. Stuff grew well, and I only had two-legged varmints once!

Overall care & maintenance. Getting up at 6 am didn’t kill me, and I had a good harvest. Exercise and fresh air are priceless, plus they put a really positive spin on my day.

That old bucket & milk jug for watering worked very well and didn’t cost me a dime.

Adding mycorrhiza at planting seemed to work very well. I used these granules.

-The soil test from Soil Savvy was also an excellent investment. The cost was comparable to my local extension office offering, and the test was much more comprehensive.

Things I could improve upon/will do differently next year at the community garden plot:

Vegetable selection. Twenty squashes and ten bell peppers were simply too many. Keeping in mind my seed-starting fiasco and the fact that I had to take what I could get from the garden center, I did OK, but I could improve in this area. I was able to find some of my old, tried & true seed starting mix, so I will use that next year. The stuff that included mycorrhiza was obviously unsterilized and produced seedlings that were runted and diseased.

Snow fence. Most of the others didn’t use fencing, perhaps for good reason. It was a pain to pull, and critters still got in.

Cucumbers. Both the powdery mildew and the two-legged varmints liked those, and I got very few. So nix those. I like zucchini pickles better, anyway.

How did I do with my yard and deck gardens?

Things I did right:

Moving the pepper plants away from the tomatoes. I don’t care what the companion planting charts say. When I grew them together, my peppers were always thin and spindly, and I was lucky if I got two per plant. By moving them, the peppers produced heavily.

Tomatillos. This was a chance purchase and my first year growing them. They produced wonderfully! That’s a keeper for next year’s garden. I saved seeds but couldn’t resist buying a few more.

annual garden review

I cleaned out one of my strawberry beds. The Alpine White Soul just never returned well for the work it was. It was easily choked out by weeds, the berries were tiny, and never enough at once to even enjoy a bowl full. As I was cleaning out the new bed, I found myself accumulating a decent pile of rooted & viable runners. So here I sit, with a nice pile of viable plants, thinking that success is often the recognition & proper exploitation of opportunity. So I made use of my opportunity, and we’ll see! As a bonus, I have room to plant some of my garlic bulbs there.

Growing carrots in the spaces made by those cinder block bricks worked very well. I’d made a new bed from bricks I had from an old project, so they didn’t cost me anything. The new space was most helpful. Radishes also grew well in those spaces. I think the beets would have been happier if the rabbits had left them alone. Oh well.

annual garden review

(What do you do with all this food? Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to home canning.)

Things I could improve upon with my yard and deck gardens:

I purchased new garden soil since I couldn’t find my usual potting soil for any price I was willing to pay. This worked well in the garden, but was simply too heavy for the containers, and thus, the deck containers were largely a wash this year. It was full of weed seeds too.

I didn’t get anything from the deck other than one pot of wine cap mushrooms, in fact. Although the potatoes doubled (I got two pounds for one pound of seed), they’ve grown much better in these pots. Also, the varieties I chose rotted while being cured and rotted while being stored. Therefore, essentially I didn’t get anything.

I worked very hard for nothing, and that isn’t acceptable. The few greens, herbs, and beans I got from the other pots were much less than in previous years, and I believe the soil was the problem. It was just too heavy. If I can’t find potting soil at a decent price, I doubt I’ll even set up the deck next year. In fact, one of my tomato plants in the raised died so quickly that I suspect early blight, and this might have come with the soil. None of my tomatoes produced well this year, though the tomatillos and squashes in that bed produced well. The problem might have come from the nursery plant as well.

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Here are the things I can do differently in all areas:

As I said above, if I can’t get decent potting soil to mix with the garden soil, I won’t even set the deck up next year. I can use that space for flowers, supporting the high school botany club, and good for the pollinators. I do have several pots overwintering in the house that will go out there but forget hauling the VegTrug and all of that soil for such a lousy return! And definitely no Adirondack Blue or Magic Molly potatoes. Bah! My Elfes and Red Norlands produce well, and I’ve saved seed for the past few years. The Red Adirondacks weren’t bad, either. Saved seed is free since seed potato online is also outrageously priced.

Now that I have a better feel of how much I can fit in my plot, I can start my veggies accordingly. I also observed what my neighbors did. I can move tomatoes over there, try corn, and grow my beans and peas there. I’ll definitely cut back on the squashes, even though I am sitting on a nice pile of winter varieties that I feel grateful to have.

The food bank was also grateful for the 210 pounds I donated, and helping gives me a good feeling in my heart and a good way to express my gratitude for all that I have. But I can do well with less than ten plants. I’ll skip the golden and buttercup varieties since they didn’t produce well and stick with zucchini, butternut, spaghetti, and perhaps a patty pan. I can also produce what I need from 3-4 pepper plants. No need for 10.

I did set up a wine cap mushroom bed outside since those grew well in a pot on my deck. That’s a “we’ll see” thing. I harvested a few lion’s mane fruits from the experimental inoculation I did last year. They were very small but each enough for one meal. So I have hope for the wine caps.

I have garlic planted in the brick spaces now. Since seed garlic was outrageously expensive this year, I used what I had from previous years. Between there and the strawberry bed, I’ve made a good-sized planting, more than 30 cloves. What I get remains to be seen.

Do you do an end-of-year review of your garden?

Do you keep a gardening journal? How about a year-end review? What worked well for you, and what can you improve upon over this past year? Tell us in the comments below!

About Amy Allen

Amy Allen is a professional bookworm and student of Life, the Universe, and Everything. She’s also a Master Gardener with a BS in biology, and has been growing food on her small urban lot since 2010.

Amy Allen

Amy Allen

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  • We put in 57 acres of green beans. Yield was over the top. The picking crew left a lot to be desired. Left 20+/-% on the ground as unharvestable. The real reason was the canneries were almost done with green beans by the time they got to our area and we’re retooling for sweet corn.

    Replanted those 57 acres into four different combinations of wheat, triticale, Timothy, orchard grass, and red clover.

    I will not be planting beans again as a production crop. Lime is $1700/ton before delivery. Food production is reaching financially untenable plateaus.

    If I plant beans again it’ll be on a scale closer to the authors.

    • Yeah, my local farmer says the same thing about prices. My CSA share went up 20% this year because of high fertilizer prices among other things. I’m sorry to hear about the picking crew though. That’s a lot of food to waste, when so many are hungry! Ugh.

      As an aside, I spent one summer working the green bean line in a canning company. I haven’t touched a green bean in the 30+ years since LOL! I’m not saying never but I’ll have to be pretty hungry—

  • Great article. I’ve kept a garden journal for years and find it immensely useful. Every year it seems I learn something new. I also keep an Excel spreadsheet with the variety planted, whether or not it’s an heirloom or hybrid, who I bought the seed from and it’s packed for date, how long it takes to mature, date of planting or transplant, germination date, which area of which bed it’s planted in, date of first and last crops, and notes.

    I love zucchini and grow Black Beauty every year, but if I could only grow one squash it would be Hopi Pale Gray. Nutritious, delicious, holds well, and stores extremely well, but it does tend to spread. Also, you might want to try sweet potatoes, especially Covington or Bush Porto Rico (which is more compact). My Covington sweet potatoes were highly productive, held well in the garden and stored beautifully. Right now, if I could on’y grow four crops they would be Russet potatoes, Covington sweet potatoes, Dragon Tongue bush beans and Hopi Pale Gray squash. In an otherwise poor year for gardening I’ve managed to put up enough of those four to keep us from starving until next year’s spring crops can produce. Not bragging, just saying survival gardening means planting high calorie crops.

    I garden in raised beds, year round here in N. AZ., where the native “soil” is caliche with virtually no vegetative matter in it. I started the beds with a 50/50 mix of native soil and Miracle Grow garden soil–though I added peat moss, composted steer manure and vermiculite or perlite to it also. After ten years os adding compost I finally have soil with a pH of less than 7.0. It’s too windy here to use straw for mulch so I use small bark chips instead.

    I have low (4′ tall) PVC hoops that I cover with bird netting and 6 mil plastic (the plastic will go on before our first frost). That allows me to grow cold weather crops (lettuce, chard, beets, peas, broccoli, etc.) during the winter months here in Zone 8b. We are blessed with an abundance of sunshine and a very long growing season for summer crops–though temps are often above 100F for four months of the year. In fact, today I’m checking my Dragon Tongue bush beans to see if I’ll get a third crop before the cold sets in. My Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes and my Early Girl tomato are also still producing.

    I focus on growing heirloom vegetables so I can save seed and be more sustainable.

    • Wow! Your garden sounds incredible. I agree: growing high calorie crops is the best way to go, especially in small spaces. I also save my seeds, including from my potatoes, because as I noted the price of seed potato has gotten outrageous! And it’s mostly shipping. I’d rather work with boring varieties that produce well than go hungry. And I’m going to look into that Hopi pale gray squash. Thanks!

      • I have planted potatoes from the organic grocery store and they do well. Much cheaper than from the seed catalogs.

        I wonder if garlic from the organic grocery would do well, too?

  • This was my second year of patio gardening in my urban apartment. I’ve gotten into the rhythm of it and both years had similar successes and failures.


    Peppers – bell and jalapeno – my single jalapeno plant has yielded a nearly constant harvest that resulted in 6 pints of jalapeno relish. It’s November and the plant looks scraggly but it’s STILl producing. Bell pepper is still giving me about one pepper per week.

    Herbs – nearly all my herbs did very well, particularly basil, thyme, sage, and dill

    Tomatoes – my only regret is not planting more tomatoes. My two plants were productive and gave me cherry tomatoes and slicing tomatoes all summer.

    Beans – these plants did reasonably well but the pots wouldn’t allow them to get really big. I did get multiple harvests but certainly not enough to put back.


    Squash – okay – I give up. After two years of planting various kinds of summer squash and zucchini, I’ve had loads of flowers but not a single, solitary squash. Maybe it’s just me or maybe these don’t grow in pots.

    Cilantro – nope, nada, negatory. It sprouted and then died. I replanted. It sprouted and then died. I replanted… well, you get the idea.

    Lettuce – I thought this would be so easy to grow in pots. I believe that my south-facing patio gets too much full sun for lettuce to be happy. I only got 2 harvests.

      • Garden and learn, and don’t let your failures stop you! Let your failures TEACH you. Then you’ll be unstoppable! Are the prices and availability in your area so good that you can afford not to garden?

    • Interesting! It seems that we all have our nemeses, don’t we? Cilantro grew well for me, both in pots and raised beds. I have found that squash doesn’t like containers. There’s just not room for it to run. I had similar experiences on my deck: lovely plants, lots of flowers, few or no fruits. Then the plants would get diseased and die. Not exactly what I had in mind!

      Yeah, many greens like some shade. Mine are growing well in my hydroponics units. I’m getting enough lettuce for sandwiches pretty much every day and my medicinal herbs bags are filling. Harvest, dehydrate, and store. Cut and come again seems to work well here.

  • Not much of a problem with the two legged pests but the tree rats really took out my small corn crop, however they were nice enough to leave me some for seed and enough for a couple meals . I’m probably the only person to hang rat traps off of corn stalks though. About 100 pounds of white potatoes from whatever was left over from last season and sprouted in the cellar. The tree rats find it easier to get at potatoes grown using the Ruth Stout method of growing potatoes under rotting hay though. Carrots grew well this year along with the Butter crunch leaf lettuce which is spreading into the lawn and flower garden. Pumpkin plants grew well but did not produce many pumpkins though. Radishes did not produce at all but when they went to seed and self seeded produced OK.

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