Reflection: Planning my 2020 garden

I got started on my 2020 garden plans a bit before the pandemic hit; I had no idea that it would be the thing that would help me cope with, well, a frickin pandemic. When we purchased our house in September 2018, we got pregnant right away and while I wanted to grow a few small things like rhubarb and maybe strawberries, I didn’t have a lot of energy available to put into a 2019 garden. I bought some strawberry roots, a rhubarb crown, then some romaine and why not buy that jalapeno plant too? 2019, the year where I was emotionally and physically unable to do so much, was the year I decided I needed to grow more.

If you can ignore the construction mess, you can get a good idea of how full my garden was in only June of 2020.

My husband’s parents had a few raised beds at this point and I thought that maybe putting a raised bed in our yard would be a good idea as I had a corner that was poorly landscaped and I was looking to get rid of it. So we started plans for our 8’x10′ raised bed and I started looking into more gardening techniques, primarily through Facebook groups. We had planned for my in-laws to help us with building this raised plot over a weekend as we had to put a bit of structure to it and there was no way that we could get everything built over 2 days that Jim (husband man) had off AND ensure Cecilia (daughter person) was well cared for. This happened 1 week before our province went into lock-down.

A colour coded map of a square foot garden. Photo taken of a notebook. My first iteration of my 2020 garden
My 2019 garden plan. You can see here that the pathway is clear, the plants are in colour coded squares, and they are spaced out by the black dots.

If you know me already you know that I’m a planner. It’s not just my job, it’s my life. I plan out most things I will be doing, and I plan it meticulously. In part that’s why I started Basil Bee, to share this with people, my techniques, my process, my craziness.

Anyway, I’m not going to delve too much into the building of the plot, mostly because it was nearly a year ago but also it’s a bit dry to reflect on. What I will dive into is my plans for the completed plot and how they evolved and why. My plan started off as this drawing.

Well, mostly. First I made a list of what I might want to grow (the things to make my famous salsa mostly) and looked into different kinds of gardens and settled on a square foot garden, as that’s what made the most sense to me. The biggest mistake I made in my first year of actual gardening is not considering what I wanted to grow in the future. I’ll dive into crop rotation in a future post, but my garden didn’t allow for much flexibility if I wanted to ensure I kept a healthy crop rotation, which I now realize is pretty important.

“and most importantly, I realized no matter how much space I have set aside for my new-found green thumb, I will never have enough space.”

A screen shot of an excel sheet which displays the final layout of the 2020 garden plot in colours.
The clear bits and the yellow are the pathways I ended up with

When I sketched up my 8×10 plot, carefully outlining every square foot, I added in only two paths which I now know wasn’t wise. The layout I ended up with was so far different than this, I’ve sketched it up in excel for your enjoyment. Because this was my first real year gardening I learned so much about what I can and shouldn’t do in my garden, figured out what works well and what doesn’t, and most importantly, I realized no matter how much space I have set aside for my new-found green thumb, I will never have enough space.

Lessons learned

So just by looking at the two layouts, it’s pretty obvious what my first mistake was; the paths. When you’re installing a new garden or even just planning out a garden bed, it’s important to know that if you need to get in there with the goods, you must be able to get in there without trampling over your other goods. For 2021, my garden plan is evolving significantly and in part that’s due to the paths. I want to be able to reach all my yums simply.

Top view of the newly built and filled raised garden bed. Dark soil with a little bit of green life growing.
This is what it looked like before I really got started. You can see a pepper plant or two and my crazy chives in the far back corner

Another mistake I made was my intended use for the “trellis” backing I had against the 10′ side (to the left, which is also north on these drawings). My thought process for it originally was to train the blackberries I have growing wildly behind the plot in and among the trellis so that I can harvest the blackberries as I harvest my other goodies. Nope, does not work well, do not try it. I ended up with black berries trying to creep up into my garden. It was probably early June when I went out behind my garden and pulled up and cut and dug up all the blackberries I could muster.

Peas climbing a post and net (unseen) next to planted cilantro in garden bed
Peas and cilantro, this is probably taken near the end of April. I ended up harvesting well over 12 lbs of peas, not including the seeds I saved.

My pea placement was also problematic. See, along the east side (or top) of the garden I have two 8′ uprights with a beam across them, which I strung a net I made for my peas to climb up. This itself was a great idea, but the fact that I placed the peas, a climbing, tall plant on the south side of my plot affected how much sun some of the adjacent squares got, and ultimately made it so my dill and sweet pepper crops weren’t anything, like at all. So this next year, the peas will grow on the north side of the plot

Finally, my worst failure of all was timing. I should have started a lot of my seeds earlier. While my Habaneros look like they were doing great, the first flowers only bloomed just a few weeks before the first frost. I got nothing from those like 8 habaneros I had planted. My tomatoes I had a similar problem. But lesson learned, for sure.

Things done well!

2x2 trellis built 1' off the ground, parallels with the dirt, new cucumber leaves poking through.
The 2×2 cucumber support I built. I will be using it again this coming season!

Cucumber support! From scraps of wood I had laying around, I made a little “support” for my cucumbers to grow up through so that they could be lifted off the ground. It was about a foot high, and man, was it useful. When harvesting my cukes (which admittedly, I planted far too many of!) I was able to get in under the foliage and pick off the dangling babies. Next year I will be using this again, in conjunction with some sort of tall climbing apparatus. A happy accident was I placed my cukes adjacent to my trellis, originally intended for those blackberries, so they had something else to climb, and because I cleared out so many brambles I managed to get in behind the plot and harvest on either side.

I also was a rock star with pruning my jalapenos (which helped me get significantly bushier plants!) and propagating my cuttings. So I used the jalapeno cuttings, some basil cuttings (oh man, did I over-do the basil!), and tomato cuttings. I did not have enough containers or space to properly contain all my propagations!

While there is so much more I learned from my 2020 garden, I think a reflection may not be the right place to share everything, so look out for “lessons learned” in future posts about my 2021 garden!