Analysing our 2021 garden: lettuce, spinach, tomato, poppy and asparagus

Since we ordered SO many things for this year, and expanded how much space we were gardening in, I decided to go over groups of things in separate posts, in no particular order and spread over the next few days.

Quite a mix of success and … almost success… in this post!

First, the asparagus!

I’ve honestly lost track of when we ordered these, but they are Purple Passion Asparagus from Veseys. We only got six crowns for a start.

Asparagus is something that can produce for about 20 years. They required a new bed to be dug, and we had to choose an area where they could be permanent. We did see a few asparagus growing from all the crowns this summer. The earliest we can expect to harvest these is two summers from now, and even then, it would be better if we gave them more time.

There was asparagus already growing here, and they have been for many decades. Nothing suitable for harvesting. I suppose, as some point, we should dig up the ones in the old kitchen garden, which are all male plants (male plants are apparently better for harvesting). They are easily more than 50 years old. We’ve also found a few female plants at the fence near the gate. Every fall, we see their bright red berries, but for all that they drop seeds, there are never more plants! I’ve asked my mother about those, and she said they have been growing there since before my parents bought the property! That makes them probably well over 60 years old.

While our asparagus seemed to do all right this year, even with the drought, we won’t know of they are a complete success for at least another two years.

When I was a child, I remember my mother grew poppies that we could harvest for their seeds, but when we moved back, there were only ornamental poppies. So when I found seeds for bread poppies, I happily ordered some. They were Giant Rattle poppies from Baker Creek.

The seeds were broadcast on a new bed in the old kitchen garden, more nostalgic reasons. That’s the garden where my mother had her poppies growing. 🙂 It took quite a while longer than expected for them to germinate and, with the drought, they never reached their full potential, even with regular watering. We did end up with some small seed pods that I could harvest, though!

Poppies self sow easily, and I did make sure some seeds were broadcast in the bed this fall, but I will sow more in the spring as well. Hopefully, next year, they will live up to their name!

Then there were the tomatoes! These were, hands down, the must successful things we grew this year. We had the super tiny Spoon, super prolific tomatoes from Baker Creek, and Mosaic Mix, a medley of cherry and grape tomatoes, from Veseys, that were also very prolific. Both were indeterminate varieties planted in a new bed against the chain link fence, which we could use to help support them. With the drought conditions, it did seem to take a while for them to start producing ripe tomatoes, but once they did, they just didn’t stop, and even kept on producing after being hit with colder temperatures, before finally being killed off by frost.

If that’s how they did during such a hard growing year, I can’t imagine how much better they would have done under optimal conditions!

When it comes to eating tomatoes, my husband and older daughter love them. My younger daughter and I do not! She and I can handle them if they are processed into a paste or sauce, but that’s it. I was, however, able to taste the Spoon tomatoes and not gag, which is saying a lot! My husband and older daughter, however, absolutely loved having so many of these little tomatoes to snack on!

While the bed these were in has been completely redone and is now a low raised bed bordered with bricks, I would not be at all surprised if we see some of these sprouting in the spring. Reviews for the Spoon tomato in particular said to expect them to self-sow, because there’s just no way to pick all the tiny tomatoes before they fall to the ground.

Spinach was another success for us. We got a collection from Veseys that included three varieties that matured at different rates.

Honestly, I couldn’t tell much different between them! They were all good. We quite enjoyed having fresh spinach available any time we wanted, usually in salads or sandwiches. Even when doing my morning rounds, I would grab a few leaves to snack on as I went by!

We harvested the last of our spinach when they started to bolt in June. The original plan had been to successive sow them, then sow them again for a fall crop. That didn’t quite work out, when we found ourselves having to build covers for the beds to protect them from deer. The covers weren’t long enough to cover the entire rows, which meant the exposed spinach at each end still got nibbled on, but there was so much of it, we didn’t mind!

We ended up dehydrating the final harvest spinach, and we are still using them. 🙂

As for a fall planting, things didn’t quite work out as planned, and we just skipped it – which means we still have seeds that we can use next year, if we want.

Then there was the lettuce…

*sigh*

We ordered three varieties of leaf lettuce from Baker Creek, all in reds and purples. We got a packet of green lettuce for free with our order. We planted all four varieties in the retaining wall blocks, with netting to protect them from the deer.

That was before the groundhogs showed up.

One morning, I came out and they were all gone. They had just gotten big enough to start harvesting, too.

We didn’t try replanting in the blocks. There just didn’t seem to be any point!

We did, however, plant some in one of the spinach beds for a fall crop, with a cover to protect them from groundhogs, deer and grasshoppers. A bunch of seeds had spilled into the slide lock bag I had them in, so I planted the loose seed, expecting to get a mix. They turned out to be almost all one type – Merlot – with only a couple of Buttercrunch in the mix.

Having to keep them covered with such a long cover, unfortunately, made it very inconvenient to casually harvest them. The bug proof mesh prevented us from being able to just reach underneath an end, like we could with the spinach. This is why I decided to make our high raised beds only 9 feet long. We can build covers for them that one person can easily move alone, unlike the 13 ft covers we had for this year.

We did enjoy the fall lettuce for a while, but then they suddenly got very bitter, and I don’t know why. It’s a shame, because they handled the colder temperatures, and even frost, very well.


Final Analysis:

Asparagus: With only 6 crowns planted this year, even once established, it’s not going to be much for four people. Well, three. My husband isn’t a fan of asparagus. Over time, we will get more. I think we’ll get a green variety, next. We will need to find another suitable location, though, as the one we planted the purple asparagus in has room for those 6 crowns, and that’s it! This is something for the long haul, though, as we will likely get just a few more crowns every year, until we have enough for our uses. Asparagus is one of those things that are so expensive at the store, except for a few short weeks, that once we have our own, we will happily eat them a lot more often. If we eventually have enough to freeze, pickle or can, all the better!

Poppies: While these were not quite a success, as far as having seeds we could use for baking, they weren’t quite a failure, either, and we should have this variety of poppies growing in the same bed again, year after year, if we do it right. I have since found a couple of Canadian sources for other varieties of bread poppies. I plan to get one of them, and sow them in another area where, like the Giant Rattle poppies, we can treat them as perennials. I figure, with at least two types, we will eventually get enough poppy seed to use in some of the traditional Polish bread rolls I remember my mother making with them! 🙂

Tomatoes: both of these varieties did very well, but we will be trying different varieties next year – though I expect to see some of this year’s tomatoes showing up on their own, next year! If not, I would have no problem buying more of the Spoon tomatoes in the future, and highly recommend them. We already have some Yellow Pear tomato seeds from Livingston (my first purchase from this company; I found them at the grocery store by my mother’s place) and Chocolate Cherry from Veseys. These are for my older daughter and husband to enjoy. In addition to these, I will be picking up a variety of paste tomato – I’ve not yet decided which type – for processing into our own tomato paste. This is something we regularly cans by the case, to use as an ingredient in quite a few things. We use it in quantities that make it worth the effort to can our own. Any other type of processed tomato we use tends to be so infrequent, I don’t think it’s worth going through the trouble of canning them ourselves. We’ll just buy those from a store as we need them for specific recipes.

Spinach: These did very well, and I look forward to growing them again. We still have lots of seeds, since we never got to succession sow them, so we don’t need to buy more for this year. Yes, I know, older seeds have a lower germination rate, but considering how high it was originally, I don’t see that as being an issue! Spinach is a favourite, so I can see us growing this every year. We just have to make sure to protect them from deer.

Lettuce: Our intentions of having fresh lettuce to casually harvest any time we wanted, didn’t quite pan out! We still have plenty of seeds from all four varieties to try again, next year. As with the spinach, we’ll have to find a way to protect them from critters. Doing so without making it a pain in the butt to harvest them turned out to be the tricky part. As much as we would like to grow lettuce regularly, as long as we have plenty of spinach, we can do without lettuce as well. That’s a decision to make once we start planting other things, and see what space we have left.

The Re-Farmer

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