2014 Garden Successes & Failures

One of the really important skills of being a gardener is the ability to look back on the season and reflect on what worked and what didn’t work. And I will freely admit that I am not the most compliant person when it comes to this task. A few years ago I dedicated a notebook to keeping track of things as they would come up – it worked for a season and then I just didn’t really bother picking it up again. Another thing I am guilty of is the “I’ll remember that” statement – and of course I always forget. So I’m saying it right here – I am going to change. I will keep gardening records and I will stick to it. Frankly, it is silly not to. How am I going to remember which green tomato I liked and which one I didn’t? It is best to save myself the effort of growing them both again if I just make a note of which one I liked and which one was a waste of precious growing space.

The season started off a bit slow. We decided to do a home renovation right at the beginning of the gardening season (so smart!) and then instead of spending the long weekend working in my garden, I took off to help my sister plant her garden. Then when I finally got around to the garden, it was the end of May going in to the first week of June. Luckily I didn’t pile on too many big garden projects so I wasn’t feeling too overwhelmed at the beginning. Here are some reflections for the season:


A tiny bit of success with my first cauliflower grown from seed – unfortunately the rest looked nothing like this one.


– Dealing with Sod Mountain. It was one day of really hard work but it paid off. And I’m looking forward to utilizing this area a bit more next year by growing some squash in the raised bed. I will need to remember to build some chicken wire domes to protect young squash seedlings though.

– Growing peppers in the greenhouse. I think this was one of my proudest gardening moments from this year. And I’ve got at least 15 new varieties on my wish list for next year! So basically my entire greenhouse is going to be peppers.

– Mulching the front yard. This had been on my to-do list ever since I started digging out sod in the front yard several years ago. We were able to cover all of the beds in mulch and add a nice rock border with collected rocks (my parents have a gravel pit on their property!), so now it is looking much neater and is a lot more low maintenance. The plan for next year is to do a bit of an overhaul of the front yard, moving things around and adding some raised beds – and also removing the remaining sod, so I will need to add quite a bit more mulch, but for now it is looking nice!

– The galvanized steel planter. I was actually surprised at how well the livestock tank worked as a raised bed because I first saw the idea in a gardening magazine and kind of figured it might just be something they made pretty for the photo shoot and then everything died immediately afterwards. I’m so optimistic! Anyway, I really liked the look so I gave it a try and it worked wonderfully. I grew tomatoes in the planter and while I possibly planted them too close together, they did exceptionally well – and seemed to love the heat and reflection from the metal. I’m curious to see how long the tank will hold up for – it is heavy duty as it needs to stand up to cows and other heavy livestock so I feel pretty good about it lasting for quite awhile.

– Corn. I think everyone was a bit surprised that I grew corn. And it was delicious! The key was to start it in the house about a month early (thanks for the tip, Mom!).


Greens are always very successful in my colder climate garden.


– Growing eggplant in the greenhouse. I think I’m done trying eggplant. I grew 3 very very small eggplants (only 1 was actually big enough to resemble an eggplant – shown in the photo below). This was probably my fourth year attempting to grow eggplant and although it was the most successful year because I actually got something more than nothing, it wasn’t enough success to justify trying it again. I just don’t think it was meant to be. And that’s okay – our local farmer’s market has some great greenhouse grown eggplants.


– Dirty disgusting Cabbage Loopers. I wiped out the population when I first discovered them and things seemed to be fine after that – I was even able to harvest two decent sized cauliflower heads from the plants in October! Then I discovered the caterpillars in the community garden when I went to clean out my bed in October – they’d done quite a bit of damage over there and I ended up tossing a lot of the kale. Next year I’m going to be on the lookout for these creatures early on in the season, but I’m also going to either try an all-natural spray to kill them or consider a row cover. The other thing is, I didn’t find too much of a taste difference between the cauliflower I grew and the cauliflower I purchase at the market. Maybe I’m being crazy here, but it might not be worth it to attempt growing cauliflower, broccoli or brussels sprouts again. I will continue growing kale, but I will keep an eye on it for space bugs.

– Carrots. I don’t know what it is, but the last 3 years I have had completely unremarkable carrot harvests. The roots are stunted or insect damaged. Maybe I am not meant to grow carrots anymore until I have a large in-ground garden. I blame myself for this one.

– Mason bees. I don’t know what happened with my bees. What I want to believe is that I released them and they found a better yard to live in and made tons of babies. I guess I will never know what really happened to them, but I’m going to assume that I released them in a crappy location in my yard and they left – they did all emerge from their cocoons and flew away because I did not find any dead bodies in the release area. I’ve got a better location picked out for next year. And I have had some success with mason bees in the past, so I’m chalking it up to poor planning on my part.

– Squirrels. I lost a lot of seedlings (especially tomatoes and squash) to pesky little squirrels. I mentioned it above but I will be constructing some chicken wire domes to protect my young seedlings next spring.

One of the things I am glad that I took the time to do was take regular pictures of the back yard. The intention was to do this bi-weekly, but it turned into once every two months (which is better than nothing!). This gives you an idea of what my garden looks like throughout the seasons:

Processed with Moldiv

Clockwise from top left: March 2014, June 2014, October 2014, August 2014

Even though it doesn’t always seem like it to me, we did accomplish quite a bit in the garden this year and it really does keep getting better with every growing season. I’m really looking forward to what next year has to bring us – trying lots of new hot peppers, a few new tomatoes, and hopefully expanding our edible growing operation in to the front yard. In addition to that, we’re hoping to remove most, if not all, the sod from our front yard (it’s a huge project)! What are some of the highlights and lowlights from your growing season?



Sod Mountain

The time finally came to deal with Sod Mountain. This was the dumping ground for the grass we removed from the back yard last year. A few years ago, right before we built our shed, we decided that we were going to clean up our alley in order to move our fence back about 6 feet and extend our yard a bit. Maybe a previous owner parked an RV in the back alley – that is really the only explanation I can find for why they required such a long parking spot back there. So why not move the fence back an extra few feet and extend the yard space. We had an old decrepit fence and a flimsy Rubbermaid shed that came with the house – the fence was removed and hauled to the city landfill and the shed was sold on Kijiji. We leveled out the back alley, moved the two compost bins, built a shed and then build a new fence. Amazing how adding an extra 6 feet of length to the yard can make it seem so much bigger! We still park our car in the alley and there is tons of room, so even when we decide to leave our home, someone with a longer truck or SUV can comfortably park in the spot without having to bulldoze the fence and shed.

IMG_3215Sod Mountain on July 1, 2014 – looking pretty terrible. There is a third composter and a raised raspberry bed back there!

Since the initial cleanup a few years ago, we have added a narrow raised bed and another compost bin (the bin was free from the city!), bringing the composter total to 3. I had planted raspberry bushes in the raised bed, but you know the saying out of sight, out of mind? Yeah. Good intentions. I’d also filled the bed with well-rotted manure from my parent’s farm which is black gold, but the downside is that it is full of weed seeds. So it is mainly just a weed garden. I cleaned this up a bit now and have intentions of throwing down some mulch to keep the weeds in check. Maybe I’ll remember to water it – although the raspberries seem to be doing really well on absolutely nothing but neglect.

 So what does one do with a surplus of removed sod? It seemed way too good to just take it to the landfill – plus it would have taken us an entire weekend to haul it away in a hatchback and we’re too cheap to rent a truck. I’m sure someone with a truck on Kijiji would have taken it away for a fee but I tried to approach the old sod as something I could use instead of something I had to get rid of. I decided that a good idea would be to build a giant raised bed, where we could throw the sod in and allow it to slowly decompose and eventually be used as garden soil when needed. Because we do still park back in the alley, we decided to put the three compost bins on top of the raised bed. I also wanted an area that I could throw more sod onto as we continue to slowly remove the grass in the front yard.

So began the task of making room for the giant raised bed. We measured things out to see what the maximum size the raised bed could be. We decided on 4’x10’. Initially, we were just going to build it about a foot high, but decided to add an extra level of 2”x6”s to give it some more height. This turned out to be a good idea because we ended up needing that extra space right away. Plus, we made sure to build the corner braces in about 4 inches from the top of the bed so that in the event that we do want to add another level and build it higher, it would be really easy to attach everything together. That was my husband’s brilliant idea.

IMG_3218After moving the composters and making room for the new raised bed

The second step was making the space to lay down the raised bed – so we temporarily moved the compost bins out of the way, including their contents (all 3 were completely full and with a lot of materials that hadn’t yet decomposed because we’ve been awful about maintaining our bins) and started shoveling some of the sod out of the way. It sounds really easy, but actually it was kind of back breaking. I really wish that I had thought of this idea like a year or so ago when we first began sod mountain because then we could have just built the bed and thrown the waste right in. Oh well. That’s why I am telling you about this so maybe you’ll learn from my mistakes – I guess not necessarily a mistake, but just not thinking ahead.

Next we constructed the raised bed and built it into place ensuring that it was leveled on the ground. There are a lot of tutorials online for building your own raised bed – we had built our first raised bed using a set of instructions I’d found online but as we built more beds, we found out what worked well for us and went along with that. We used cedar 2”x6” boards, cedar 4”x4” posts as braces and 3” cedar decking screws. I’ve read online that new cedar can actually affect your vegetable growing abilities in the first couple of years due to something that exists in cedar naturally, but I’ve actually never had a problem with this. Or at least, I haven’t noticed anything. Maybe if I had more space I could experiment with different materials and see if there is any difference. But really, in my location, the only lumber options I have are pressure treated, cedar and spruce, so I have gone with the natural rot resistant option that has served me well for the last 5 years since we started building raised beds.

Before we began filling the raised bed, I stapled some landscaping fabric into place just above the top level gap inside the raised bed (this is so that dirt will not escape the gaps) – I didn’t want to put fabric on the ground as I want worms to come up into the bed and work their little wormy magic. When the bed was in place, we started shoveling the contents of Sod Mountain inside. By this time, it had started to get really hot outside and we were pretty tired. But determined. So we finished and somewhat leveled the composters on top. I was actually impressed with how much sod we actually had – and of course it will settle a bit and I’ll have some more room to throw more sod into. After the composters were in place we threw the original contents back into the bins, watered them, and secured the lids. Now hopefully we will remember to maintain these.

IMG_3250All done! I also stained that one back section of our fence (finally).

It really doesn’t look like much, but it was a huge amount of hard labour and we’re both really pleased with the results. I will be topping the exposed bits with some cardboard and cedar mulch to try and keep weeds and grass from taking over. When I need to add more sod to the pile, I’ll just lift this up and throw in the waste. I will probably eventually start planting things in this bed as well – can you imagine a pumpkin growing in this pile? Finally, we’ll finish up the area with a fresh load of gravel for the parking spot.

IMG_3251We can finally get to the raspberry bushes!

I’m probably going way over board in my effort to beautify my alley – frankly, the alley is mainly used as a dumping ground for broken crap & dirty old mattresses, but I just think it is such a waste of space if I do nothing with it. Or maybe I’m a pioneer and others in my neighborhood will follow. The point is, if you plan on removing your lawn it is a good idea to plan ahead and decide what you should do with the removed sod. We didn’t really have a plan and we were just going to dispose of it, but I’m happy we didn’t and ended up turning it into something useful.