What Did I Learn This Year From My Vermont Garden?

Some lettuce, basil, zucchini, peppers, and broccoli with raspberries in the background

At the end of every garden year I try to go over my gardening year and think about what I want to do next year, and what did I learn this year. I keep a garden journal and I will spend some time this winter reading through my notes and thinking about how to get my garden ready for next year.

I am in Vermont, so our garden season is shorter than the growing seasons in warmer climates. A Vermont gardener has to keep in mind our short season, adapt, and be organized to make the most of the growing season we have.

Our growing season in a good year begins sometime in early to mid May and should continue through August. We have been lucky lately with killing frosts holding off until late September. I can remember a time when it was not unusual to get a killer frost in August and we would scramble to get everything covered with whatever we had handy, sheets of plastic, old bed sheets, and whatever could be improvised. Today, many gardeners are using these mini green house tunnel affairs to protect their plants, both in the early spring and late summer/early fall. I have not modernized to this yet, but I am thinking about it, (sort of an old Vermonter here always a little skeptical of the latest thinking).

Some tomatoes, and I should have not planted so many – hard to throw away plants I started from seeds (raspberries in the background)

Ok, so what did I learn this year? Well, at the top of my list is I need to have a way to get more water to my garden during dry spells. We have had longer dry spells these last few summers with a scarcity of rain in July and August. As I do not want to drain my well, I am thinking of some sort of rain water collection system to capture whatever rain water we get. I needed to do more watering this year. I did start putting out pails to collect the rain coming off the roof and this helped, but a better solution with rain gutters and rain barrels would be more helpful. I am thinking this needs to be a high priority for next year.

This past spring I worked to get ready some new raised beds. I did get them ready for this year’s garden before the end of May and they are a good way to garden. My raised beds did well and the plants thrived. They are easy to weed and I can just do a little work with a fork next spring to get the soil ready. I put them to bed this fall with a nice mulch of leaves. The off season will help to compost the leaf mulch and I can fork it into the soil easily next spring. The raised beds are a good addition to my garden.

I have prepared a new bed for next year, about 20′ X 20′. I hope to use this new bed for some peas, beets, sweet corn, and some fall squash varieties. The bed will be ready and is mulched with leaves for a nice winter’s nap.

I also mulched my raspberries with a nice leaf mulch to put them to bed for the winter. The leaves will naturally compost around the raspberry plants and also help to keep the open spaces inbetween the raspberry rows more weed free. Before I mulched, I took my lawn mower and mowed down any raspberry sucker plants that had grown up between the rows of established plants. In past years I have used these suckers to establish new rows and expand my raspberry patch but I am not looking to make the patch any bigger now. I will dig up some new sucker plants next spring and try to give them to any aspiring raspberry grower or just keep expanding the raspberry patch.

I am learning that I am very busy with the gardens from early in July on as so much is getting ripe and needs picking and preserving. July especially and the first half of August are very busy. We canned a lot of raspberry jam this year, almost a hundred jars. We made some bread and butter pickles and some dilly bean pickles, always favorites. We should have done more and could have. I froze most of our blueberry crop, about 15 gallons picked and frozen. I also froze some raspberries that did not get made into jam.

This was an off apple year for us, but next year will have a heavier crop. I need to keep this in mind as I would like to use the apples for either cider or apple sauce. We use some for cooking too.

I think next year, a good project will be to set up a roadside stand to sell some of my extra produce. It will be fun to meet people and also a good way to pass on some of my work and efforts. The food I grow tastes so good and I am proud of my gardens.

Cukes, squash, and green beans

My last lesson, and a big one, is how much of a variable the weather can be. And this, I have no control over. I more than once thought about the folks trying to make a living from their gardens and farms and how dependent they are on the weather.

Well, it is the off season now for my gardens. The gardens have been weeded and mulched with a nice blanket of leaves to put them to bed for the winter. Soon it will be planning season for a new year of gardening and then starting seeds.

Take care,

Ed Pirie

West Topsham, Vermont

Published by Ed Pirie

I am a Vermonter, been one all my life. That just about tells you all you need to know. I am not much of a follower and like to do my own thinking. I value my family and a quiet existence in a very rural part of Vermont. There is a lot in the world I do not understand. My writing is my attempt to wrap my head around much that is swirling around me. Some time ago gasoline pumps changed to the way they look now. I had stopped to fill my Jeep and I could not get the gas to pump to save my life. I went inside and complained to the attendant. She knew me and said, "Ed, the whole world is changing and if you don't figure out the changes you are going to fall off the earth as it spins around." Well, I am not always successful figuring out the changes, but my writing is my way of working through some of them. I hope you enjoy.

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