Top 5 things to consider at the end of the summer season

I am a planner at heart. I love to put down my ideas, draw out garden plans, and review what worked and didn’t work throughout a given season. I find it helps me keep focus in the dark winter months when I’m drooling through seed catalogs, and I want to plant as many exotic varieties of plants that I can fit in my space. It grounds me and reminds me (as I’ll prove this year) that having a well-rounded plan based on the previous year’s experience really helps keep things tidy and manageable. Here are 5 things to consider when you’re putting your summer garden to bed.

  1. Make sure to keep track of what you planted – I have an 8.5 x 11 graph notebook to track all my garden plans. It’s helped me with the layout of the new garden; I have a detailed list of everything I’ve planted this season and where I got it from (i.e., seed, starts from Annies, mail order, etc.). I also try to track when I planted items to see how long it actually took them to produce, although I’m not always the best at that part, if we’re honest. Keeping track reminds me in the winter, even though I really love heirloom varieties, my beefsteak tomatoes really struggle to produce, and although they were tasty, it was a lot of effort to only get 4 from one plant.

2. What worked/what didn’t- every Sunday during the growing season, I take a good hard look at the garden, I make notes of the plants (usually one box or section each week -so I’m not overwhelmed), and see what’s growing well and what’s struggling. Then we adjust watering schedules, add fertilizer/amend where we think we need to, work on a bit of pest control, and, as the summer progresses, make the hard decision on when to pull plants that aren’t faring well. For example, we planted one of my mother’s favorite cherry variety of tomatoes – a yellow pear. It just didn’t do well, the plant grew, and it produced a decent amount of fruit, but they were very bland, and the plant caught blight pretty early in August (in the height of tomato season). On the flip side, we planted a Sungold (first year) in the same box, and that sucker produced like no one’s business; it was the poster child for thriving and quite honestly might have become my favorite summer snack. I can tell you in the dark of winter, I’ll forget that little nugget about the pears and plan to plant that variety again (because my mother loves them so much) if I didn’t have something to track how well the plants did. 

3. What to keep or toss as far as plants – going farther with the last thought -when I’m looking at the plants each week, I mark down how much they’re producing, did they struggle where they were planted, did the bugs like them too much, was the climate too much for them. Are they suffering too much from powdery mildew (a big issue for us in the Bay Area with the almost daily fog)? At the end of the season, I make a list of the plants I want to keep and which ones I’ll put aside for the next season; this year, I picked up an envelope of dragon egg cucumber seeds from Baker Creek; we’re huge “Game of Thrones” fans and thought they would be fun to grow. And while they didn’t produce well in the location they were planted, they were delicious and quite a fun variety to grow against our lemon and slicing cucumbers. I will most definitely plant again next year in a better space. And on the other side, we grew a prolific green zucchini but was hit or miss on the quality of the veggies. Sometimes the skin was bitter, sometimes the pulp would be thick and juicy, occasionally dry – there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason. After some thought, we’ll probably plant a different variety next summer and see if we can get better results.

4. What new things would you like to try? – my planner is also a place I write notes down on things I’d like to try in the next growing season. Plants I’ve seen other’s grow in the area, varieties that I found at the nursery that I didn’t have space for, herbal varieties that I’d like to add to my collection instead of purchasing. That way, when I sit down to plan out my garden in the spring, I have my new ideas in one place. 

5. What’s your big goal for the garden next year – and finally, as I’m putting the summer garden to bed, I like to sit and reflect on what my big goal for the next season will be, especially when it’s fresh in my mind. For us, next year will be about producing more. This season I got caught up in too many fun heirloom varieties that tasted good but didn’t produce a lot and weren’t the best for preserving. While I still plan to make sure I have those types of varieties in our garden next year, we want to make sure we also have an abundance of useful for preserving. That way, we can enjoy what we’ve grown over the winter and not rely so heavily on store-bought items.

The key for me to start planning this way stems from my nostalgia and eagerness in the dead of winter when it’s dark and cold, and all I can think about is growing fresh tomatoes and summer veggies. I tend to forget that things don’t always go as planned, and my memory of the stagnant harvests always gets glazed over by the beautifully manicured glossy pictures in the seed catalogs. If I put down some guidelines and notes when the garden is still fresh in my mind, it helps me (sometimes) from making the same types of mistakes and struggling with things I’ve learned from the previous season.

Do you plan out your next garden at the end of the season or wing it in early spring?

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