Analyzing our 2021 garden: the abject failures!

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.

This is the last post in this series.

The utter and complete failures!

It was such a very difficult growing year this year. We had to deal with drought, heat waves, difficulty watering things due to the beds being so far flung, deer, groundhogs and a plague of grasshoppers.

Yet, we still managed to harvest food from our garden, and with some, we even had enough to freeze and pickle.

There were some things, however, that just didn’t work.

One of these was the Baby Pam Pumpkin.

I have no photos, because there was nothing to take photos of!

When we started these indoors, we only planted a few seeds, not the entire package.

They did not germinate. At all.

I highly doubt there was something wrong with the seeds. Veseys seeds have always been of very high quality. We had a number of issues with starting things indoors, and those were more likely the reason.

These little pumpkins were chosen for their short growing season, small size and their reputed excellent flavour. I think I’d be willing to try them again, when we start our other squash indoors. We already have so many others, though, it might be something we will try again further in the future.

Another fail was the Strawberry Spinach. These were broadcast in a new bed we made, near where the asparagus crowns were later trenched. They did seem to sprout, and then they disappeared.

Assuming the sprouts we saw were even Strawberry Spinach!

I want to try these again. This spot was chosen because they are known to self seed easily, and this could be a permanent spot for them. We’ve grown them before in a balcony garden, years ago, so I know we like them. I plan to get more seeds for this coming year. Once this bed was finally abandoned, it got very weedy, so in the spring, it will need a lot of clean up of as many roots as we can. It’s already got new garden soil on it, but a bit more won’t hurt. The seeds are so fine, a mulch might be too much for them, but perhaps if we cover them with the clear plastic we have, first, then with netting until the start getting big. Maybe that will work?

We shall see.

Then there was the Illinois Everbearing Mulberry.

We took a chance on this one. It was a zone 4 plant, but with a good microclimate and winter protection, I thought we could make it work. I remember my mother being able to grow things I later learned were zone 5, quite successfully, so I knew it was possible.

It started out so well, too! We had a wonderfully warm May, and Veseys sent it out when it was the right time of year for transplanting in our zone. Once transplanted, it took well and soon sprouted healthy leaves.

Then we got hit with that one really cold night in late May.

Our last frost date is June 2. Typically, that means hitting temperatures at or just below freezing. Maybe as low as -2C/28F or so.

If I remember correctly, we hit -8C/18F.

It was devastating.

With the month having been so warm, we had things blooming all over. Most of the lilacs, the crab apples, chokecherries and Saskatoons were all blooming. Even the highbush cranberry I uncovered in the spruce grove the year before had flowers.

That was it for the lilacs blooming, and we got no fruit. Even the grape vines, which hadn’t even started budding yet, were set back.

Unfortunately, we had completely forgotten about the mulberry tree. If we had remembered, we could have done something to protect it from the cold, but we didn’t. I’d read that, when hit with cold, mulberries can drop all their leaves, but then grow them back and recover. I held out hope for months, even continuing to water it during the drought. I even thought there might be a possibility that it would make a come back next spring.

All possibility of a recovery ended just a little while ago, when I discovered that even the remaining stem was gone, having been eaten by deer.

That poor little tree.

Since then, I have found a nursery that has a cold hardy, white mulberry available. It was an accidental discovery on their land, and that parent tree has survived temperatures of -40C/-40F. It’s a lot more expensive then mulberries at other nurseries, but no other place has any this cold hardy.

We plan to order one, as soon as we can squeeze it out of the budget. Mulberries are known for producing a LOT of berries; enough for our own uses and what we can’t reach, the birds can enjoy. Another reason I want to get a mulberry tree is because of my mother. She shared stories with me of a mulberry tree they had in Poland when she was a child. A huge tree, bigger than their barn. When I found out that mulberry trees were available to grow in Canada, I just had to give it a try.

Hopefully, the next one we get will survive!

Another failure for us was the Chinese Pink celery, though that is entirely my fault. I didn’t pay enough attention to the instructions. It wasn’t until we were starting other things indoors that I realized these should have been started in January or February, not April!

We did actually get seedlings, and I even transplanted one little bunch, but nothing came of it.

I am still very curious about these and would love to try them again.

Maybe not right away, though.

Ah, the radishes.

I ordered a couple of varieties for my younger daughter. Daikon and Watermelon. These were interplanted with the corn. The Daikon radish in particular is known to help break up hard soil, which would have been quite beneficial in that area.

It was very exciting when they started to germinate! We were seeing them all over.

Then they disappeared without a trace.

A while later, there was some late germination, but those disappeared, too.

I have no idea what happened to them. We weren’t having problems with insects at the time. Birds, maybe? I just don’t know.

It was quite disappointing.

Then, later on, I decided to try again, this time with seeds I picked up at the grocery store.

Oh, I completely forgot about the chard!

It was not a failure. At least not the Bright Lights chard. As a fall planting, they grew very well, but we didn’t eat a lot of them. They weren’t a big hit with the family, and we didn’t really know what to do with them. They sure handled the frosts well! The second variety was a fail. Only two plants survived the grasshoppers. Barely.

As for the radishes, they got decimated by the grasshoppers. In the end, all we got was this.

Two French Breakfast radishes, which were left to grow because I was after pods, not roots.

We got neither.

I do plan to try radishes again, but very different ones. I’ve found a source for tillage radishes – they can grow many feet long, and are used as more as a cover crop, because they do such a great job of “tilling” the soil, and are left to decompose, further amending it. They can also be used as a forage crop, so planting them away from the house could be useful in luring the deer away. I’m also looking at picking up some sugar beets to try. They also help break up the soil, can also serve as a forage crop – or we can actually try making our own sugar from them. Our province used to be a major producer of sugar from sugar beets for many years. I figure it’s worth a try, at some point.

We have a couple more complete failures here. The Early Purple Vienna kohlrabi, and the Russian Red Kale.

These were both free seeds from Baker Creek. I really like kohlrabi and tried planting White Vienna the year before. Of all the seeds I’d planted, only 4 survived, and only 2 got large, but none ever got a chance to form their bulbs. The final killer was flea beetles.

This year, we didn’t even get that.

As cool weather crops, both got planted the earliest, but as far as I can tell, none germinated. I even tried planting kohlrabi again, as a fall crop when the radishes, lettuce and chard were planted.


Now, I don’t mind the kale not working. I’m not a big fan of kale, though I did enjoy kale chips that we’ve made in the past. I’m willing to try different types and maybe find that I do like them, after all.

Kohlrabi, on the other hand, is something I really enjoy, but only buy rarely as a treat. I’d love to be able to grow my own. The problem is, I don’t know why they failed this year. I can’t even be sure if they germinated, or if something ate all the seeds. Or maybe they did germinate, and something ate all the sprouts?

I have no idea.

But I really, really want to grow kohlrabi!

I think, if I have the space for it, I will try starting some indoors. Maybe transplants will survive!

Final analysis:

In spite of the complete failures, and all the other challenges we had in the garden this past year, I’m still pretty happy with it all. I heard from so many others that lost their gardens entirely, so we have much to be thankful for.

Plus, all those challenges now, means we have a better idea of what we can do in the future, whether its by focusing on hügelkultur beds and mulching as a way to conserve water during drought conditions, to knowing what critters we need to protect our food from (the groundhogs were an unexpected problem!), and so on. We’ve learned a great deal.

Which means that even the failures are really successes, in the end.

The Re-Farmer

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