Here's a look at the 2023 garden winners and losers for both our vegetable and flower beds - what worked and what didn't. Some of them are goals we had for our property and others were things I tested and tried out - maybe there's something for you to try, too!
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I had a number of goals for our yard and gardens in 2023 - some were just hopes and dreams, so I'm not surprised that those weren't met.
But we actually did get quite a bit accomplished and I was able to experiment and try a few new things that I will carry into the new gardening season (and beyond).
My hope in writing this out is that you may find some new things to take with you into this gardening season, can learn from my mistakes - and can give me some tips on the things that didn't go well if you have them!
I'm using a "winners" and "losers" format to share how we did with our goals as well as the new things we tried or were confronted with so I can share it all in one place.
Okay, let's start with the winners - there were quite a few, thankfully!
2023 Garden Winners
Note: This isn't a top 10 or anything, just sharing in the order I thought of them!
1. Growing Cool Weather Seeds in Milk Jugs in Winter
There were both pros and cons to this method that I've now used for two winters (and will be starting a new batch soon), but the pros for me outweigh the cons.
First, I LOVE how easy this is, both to set up and that they don't really need monitoring until the weather starts to warm and there's enough growth to start fertilizing.
I also love how it takes the indoor seed starting pressure off - with a lot of the cool weather crops (broccoli, cabbage, kale, early lettuces, spinach, and some flowers) started in the jugs I have more room for warm weather crops inside - and room for more flowers. This allowed me to meet another of my goals to grow more seed indoors!
Third, hardening off seedlings is the worst part for me of growing seeds indoors - it's just a chore to remember to take them in and out for a week or more. This method eliminates hardening off completely.
As for the cons, it's mainly transplanting at the right time and needing to use a quality soil that has some fertilizer in it. You can see in the photos above the yellowed leaves - they need more nitrogen.
I learned that I should really pot them up and not plant right into the garden as most of the seedlings weren't big enough to withstand bug damage or spring weather extremes.
2. Growing Winter Lettuce Indoors
This was such a fun experiment that I had as a goal because our indoor light set up isn't really used much until February.
In January I scattered a lettuce mix on the top of good soil, fertilized a couple of times after growth with a fish emulsion and harvested salads of baby lettuce for a few weeks at the end of February (cut-and-come-again).
I'm hoping to get more done this year, but even if it's just one batch, it's so easy to do that it's worth it.
3. Trees Planted
I had a goal to plant more trees, specifically a stand of 3-5 trees across from the eventual kitchen patio, which we were able to do.
We found some affordable bare-root trees and planted two different kinds of flowering cherries plus two red leaf maples that will provide a nice summer view from the kitchen as they grow.
We also planted two more apple trees - one to replace a dead one (2 years old and just died...), and then one more fun variety I found on sale as a bare root.
4. New Areas Planted
While I don't have any photographic proof, you'll have to trust me that I meet the goal to get the new areas planted this year that were made from our concrete work last year - I'll share some of this in an upcoming Good Things List.
5. Using Insect Netting All Season
File this under "why didn't I do this earlier?"
I've always used row covers in spring and fall and have even used them longer to keep the broccoli free of aphids. But I've never used lighter weight insect netting that works when it's hotter because it doesn't hold in any heat like row covers.
This year was the year I finally got some (this is what I bought) and used it over pvc hoops on the beds of brassicas, lettuce/kale , and carrots/beets all season long.
The win? I've never had such clean lettuce and kale!! If it weren't for the slugs (darn things) I would've had NO insect damage at all.
6. Expanding Asparagus Bed
This is one of those things I'm not sure what I was thinking. I made the asparagus bed, shown above, only half that size to hold just one row of asparagus.
There was room in the back, but I thought I'd need access - even though the bed is only about 7 feet long and 3 feet deep?
So 2023 was the year I incorporated the wasted space and bought more roots to have another row of asparagus.
Of course now I have to wait longer to harvest it...
7. Deer Resistant Sunken Garden
This flower and herb garden on the side of our farmhouse continues to bring so much joy. Not only because of the beautiful flowers, but also the bees, birds, and hummingbirds that visit daily.
Through the seasons there's usually something in bloom and the growth by October was huge (above is the garden in June).
I'm learning that not all plants labeled deer resistant are (sigh), but for the most part they leave these plants alone and we get to enjoy it. I love them memories of summer mornings with coffee on those chairs!
8. Cut Flowers
Remember the extra room I had to start seeds? I used a lot of it for cut flowers - in the photo above I grew the cosmos, snapdragons, and strawflowers from seed (the dahlias are purchased tubers).
In other seasons my vases held asters and sunflowers from seed, plus roses and hydrangeas I've planted in the fenced off area (none of these would grow outside the fence with our deer).
I've been LOVING this.
9. Fall Garden
Some years I'm better at getting a fall garden planted and some years not. I really wanted to extend the harvest this year so I made it a priority.
The lettuce in the bed above was planted in mid-September with seedlings I'd started from seed in August. We had some usually wet weather for September, so they did great! (The tomatoes? Not so much.)
I harvested this bed from October to mid-December! I changed to a row cover from the insect netting shown in the photo when the overnight lows were consistently below 45-50.
I also planted broccoli which I harvested in December, as well as a couple cabbages.
The beets, turnips and carrots I planted I'm harvesting in January as babies and will let some grow to give an early spring harvest.
1. The Kitchen Patio
It still looks like the photo above, sadly. I knew it was a dream to have this done in 2023, but I want it so badly. We would use this area literally all the time.
But not getting it even started isn't the biggest loss here - it was also realizing that our septic line from the house to the system is right under this pile of cement that we were using to build up a raised patio. This just isn't smart to put something that can't easily be removed in the case we'd have an issue with the line.
So now we have to remove all this broken cement (from the crumbling areas we had replaced last year) - after paying someone to place it there. Sigh. Live and learn, right?
So now the kitchen patio is turning into a kitchen porch with a wood deck and roof. One day.
This is totally my dream and while I do think it will happen one day, it's just not the priority. I'll keep dreaming, though!
3. Porch Planter
I thought for sure I would get this done last fall - I was talking to someone who would do it and everything.
But then I let the ball drop and he did't call back so... no porch planter yet to even out the sides of the porch walkway.
This is really the mystery/bane of my gardening life - WHY won't these trees bloom??
They are fruits that you can find blooming wild all over our area (apples and plums) and I've NEVER had a blossom on one - not even the four year old plum which should definitely be producing.
I grew all of these types of trees in our last cottage and they bloomed and produced something in their second year with nothing added to them other than compost.
It's such a frustration to me (especially when I see all the apple trees around with apples that don't get picked, lol).
I asked my readers and got some good ideas, so I put a liquid fertilizer on them in the spring and then spike fertilizers in the fall, so we'll see!
All my three year old canes died. They start off green and then just turn brown and die. I'd cut off the ones that died, add compost, and still they just kept dying until there were none left.
These had produced for me for a couple years and were healthy enough to spread in the paths around the bed and then...death.
I researched and all the diseases mentioned did not look like my canes as described. They simply turned brown from the bottom up and then died. There were also three different varieties - and all eventually succumbed.
I love raspberries and they're expensive so it's a great thing to be able to grow - ugh. I'm not sure what to do. I may try to find a new place to grow them, but it will need to be deer fenced and gopher protected (in other words, not easy to do).
So that's the garden winners and losers of 2023 for our farmhouse - how about you? What were some takeaways from your gardening year?