Gardening Lessons Learned from the 2012 Cabin Garden

The Cabin Garden May 2013 It's natural to take a little hiatus from the garden. Fallow time. But 7 months? Yikes. It's been a LOOOOONG winter, people!  So long that on this Memorial Day (happy Memorial Day!) it's so cold that we're still not yet ready to plant our seeds.

So instead, we've been planning.

Cabin Garden Plan 2013 We are so excited to get back into the swing of things around here!  We just spent a lovely three-day weekend with most of the fam.  The cousins played so well, even including little Harper - the youngest - who spent most of the weekend running around after her big cousins.  The weather was spotty - as it has been here in the Midwest for the last several months (SUMMER, WHERE ARE YOU?!) - but we did have enough sun that some kids are even sporting some sun burns.  Whoops!

All signs point to summer approaching!  Slowly, but surely.  (Right?  Right?!)  Which means spending more time up here at the cabin, and more time playing around in the garden.  Yeee-haw!

What's different this year?   Well, how about we take you through some of the key learnings from last year's garen:

1.  Better tomato support.  Last year we grew thousands of tomatoes. That sounds crazy, but it might just be an under-statement. We grew enough tomatoes to spend about a month canning them. Salsas, sauces, ketchup, etc.  And enough that I think I'll run out of our Cabin Garden Salsa at about the time that we are making it again. (YES!)  Last year we used re-bar to hold up the tomatoes, but it just didn't do the trick.

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Here's a pic from the early part of June, a few weeks after being planted. The plants are growing well.  It even looks like we will have plenty of space. Ha! Nope!  Fast-forward a few months (wish I had a good picture to show you of what this really looked like) and the tomato plants had overtaken this part of the garden, many of them so heavy with tomatoes they were basically laying on the ground. And sadly, as you can imagine, too many of them ended up rotting as the re-bar bent over from the weight of the tomatoes.  So this year, we're going to build a stronger tomato brace.  Right now it's still in the planning stages, but we think It's going to involve some PVC piping... or 2x4's... or both.  Jer-Bear is still designing it.  More on this soon!

2.  More thoughtful garden spacing.  Last year, we just didn't have enough space to walk through the mass of vegetables, or we ended up walking around the entire thing.... which isn't a huge deal (even though the garden is huge), but we can do better. We underestimated the size of many of the plants - particularly the squash plants (they were ginormous last year) - so this year, we're moving the squash and pumpkins on the "field" side (North) of the garden so that they go into the field vs. taking up nearly 50% of the garden.

Last year we also lost some plants that got overtaken by the grass creeping in from the outside.  We're going to leave more walking space all the way around the edges so that there's a good place to walk around, but it also keeps grass and weeds away from the garden.

And then generally, we're going to be more generous in our spacing.  It's sometimes hard to imagine in this beginning stage that in just a few short months we will be over-grown with vegetables!  Here's hoping, right?

3.  Utilize more companion planting.  Jer-Bear is trying some new companion planting strategies.  Essentially, he's going to keep the same pairings as last year, but change up where he plants those pairings.  We're going to post a full page about the specific strategies that we're going to try this summer once we have it more fully thought-through.  Jer-Bear's doing a lot of research, and is excited to see what comes of it.  Once we've got more info, we'll post it here.

4.  Plant more flowers. Two years ago we had a lovely border around the entire garden of zinnias, daisies, nasturtiums... but last year we didn't do that.  Jer-Bear was especially busy with work and it fell off the list.  We ended up missing the presence of more flowers.  So this year, we're going to make sure we make space for flowers.  Obviously, flowers bring in bees (which are great for the garden), plus they are lovely.  We are even related to a professional florist (whose sister is one of our photographers), so we often benefit from the familial talent if we keep them sitting around the cabin.

Here's a pic of the zinnia garden we had around the edge of the garden a few years ago.  Isn't it lovely?  Let's do this again!

Zinnias in the Cabin Garden

5.  Better organization and Planning.  Last year, Jer-Bear had a rushed beginning to the gardening season.  He's still trying to balance working and semi-retirement - and if all of his free time could be spent in the garden he would be happy.  But he's got all these grandchildren [aren't they cute?], and is so helpful and involved... baby-sitting, going to concerts, baseball games, soccer games, ETC.!  Whoa.  Plus running a gigantic garden.  So, this year he's doing a little less work and a little more gardening.  Lucky garden!  This gardening thing takes time.

We are so excited to jump into the gardening season again.  There's always a lot to learn.  How about you?  What are your key lessons from last year's harvest that you want to take into this year?