Reflecting on the 2021 Growing Season

When your growing season is coming to a close, it's always a great exercise to reflect on how the season went, what you learned, and what you would change next year. 

It doesn't need to be a formal project - just take some time and think about the season from the beginning. Think about each crop. Jot down a few notes to yourself for next year.

Ask yourself questions like these:

  • How did this crop do for me this season?
    • Did I get the harvest I expected?
    • If not, what happened? 
  • Do I want to grow this crop again? 
    • How will I grow it differently next year?
    • Maybe a different variety next year?
  • Were there things I couldn't control during the season that impacted my success? (like weather, scheduling, etc.)
  • What unexpected things happened?
    • How can I be prepared for some of these things next year?

Review your notes for the season in your garden journal, if you have one. (This is why why you need a garden journal!) It will trigger your memory about everything that happened.

As an example, here's my review of one crop for my 2021 community garden plot. I don't usually write it out like this - mostly I just make mental notes.

Till and Trowel's Plot 2021 - Early Spring Peas

This year I attempted to grow a crop of peas, which was new for me. My husband and I like peas and I remember how delicious fresh peas from the garden were when I was a child. I wanted to grow enough to eat fresh and to freeze for later. I knew I'd need a lot of pea plants to reach this goal, so I planned to grow 128 plants. Even though I'd planted a few peas over the years, I didn't have experience growing them in significant numbers.

We like traditional shelling peas and I selected a variety from a seed catalog that was well rated. "Shelling peas" are varieties where you can't eat the pod, only the peas within. 

How did my pea crop do this season?

It did OK - meaning it wasn't what I hoped for, but I still got enough to enjoy. 

Pea Germination 2021

Problem: The seeds didn't germinate well. I planted 128 plants and approximately 40-50 plants made it to maturity. I am not sure why they didn't germinate well, but I have some idea of possible factors:

  1. Peas are supposed to be planted with garden soil inoculant, which is a product that puts a certain bacteria in the soil. This bacteria helps the peas grow and also improves the soil the peas are grown in. You are supposed to put the inoculant in with the seed itself when you plant it. I did not have inoculant on hand when I planted my peas. I had ordered it but it came a bit later. I worked it into the soil after I'd planted the seeds and hoped this would still do the job; but, I'm not sure if the lack of inoculant put in with the seed at planting caused the poor germination. 
  2. I didn't visit the garden frequently early in the season. It's possible that the peas germinated and were eaten as soon as they emerged. It could have been birds or small critters like mice, chipmunks, or squirrels. I didn't observe much evidence that they were being eaten, like partial stems. 
  3. The company from whom I bought my seeds was new to me. Maybe there was a problem with the seed? I'm not sure, but my other seeds from this company did well. 
  4. Since I don't have much experience with peas, maybe they just don't germinate well. Maybe I chose a variety that is difficult to germinate. I also understand pea seeds are susceptible to rot. I'll have to do some research.

Success: It wasn't all mistakes! Some aspects of growing this crop were successful:

  1. I harvested enough peas to enjoy eating fresh at meals.
  2. The successful plants didn't have any pests or diseases.
  3. I tried out a new product for building a trellis (see below).

Did you get the harvest you expected?

No, due to the poor germination, I didn't get as many peas as I'd planned for.

The plants that made it thrived, and they produced pods chock full of peas. We ate all of the harvest fresh since we didn't have an abundance, and they had extraordinary flavor! We harvested about 6 generous servings of peas and enjoyed them so much. 

Do I want to grow this crop again? 

Yes, I do. It was fun to harvest peas, and the fresh flavor was worth the work. 

Some gardeners complain about shelling so many pea pods, that it's a lot of work for a small return. I didn't mind the work of shelling the peas for only 2 people. I might have a different opinion if I was trying to feed a crowd though. 

I weighed my crop as I shelled the peas. I found I got 40% peas from the harvested pods, by weight. For example, if I harvested 16 oz of pea pods, I got 6.4 oz of fresh peas. Not a very efficient return! This is probably why many people prefer peas with edible pods. 

How will I grow it differently next year?

Perhaps I will try a different variety next year. See below, also. 

Were there things you couldn't control during the season that impacted your success?

In our area, it was a cold and wet spring. While I got the seeds into the ground on schedule, it took a lot longer than I expected for the plants to really thrive. Because I don't have experience growing peas, I'm not sure if the long seed-to-harvest was expected or if it was unusual. 

Because they flourished later in the season, I didn't clear them out until early July. I had planned to plant cucumber in the spot in my plot after the peas. It ended up being later than I would have liked to plant the cucumbers. 

Pea Trellis - Built Using C-Bite Garden Clips (orange)

What unexpected things happened?

I built the trellises using coated metal poles and clips called C-Bite Garden Clips. I clipped together the poles and strung trellis over the structure. My original plan for the trellis created a weak structure and wouldn't hold up the plants, so I had to reinforce it with more poles and more clips. I ended up spending more on clips and poles than I intended!

It was more difficult than I expected to attach the clips to some of the poles. My fingers slipped at one point and I ended up with a gouged cut on my thumb while building the trellis. That was frustrating. 

However, the trellis worked very well supporting my pea plants. When the peas were done producing, it was easy to collapse the whole trellis and store all of the parts. 

I planted my peas in rows along 4 trellises as shown below:

It was difficult to get a hold of the mature pea pods in the section shaded in yellow. It was a long reach and I had to weave my hands through the other trellis to get to the pods. It was not easy to harvest. 

I think next year I'll try a different layout of the trellis, and thanks to the flexible C-Bites Garden Clip construction, I absolutely can build a different configuration for the trellis!

How can you be prepared for the unexpected things next year?

This is also the "takeaway" from the experience, or my plan for next year. 

 I will change the following:

  • Try a different variety of peas. I would like to find one that:
    • Is recommended for my area (by researching on my County Cooperative Extension website! I should have done this first!!)
    • Has a shorter days to maturity - so the peas will be finished earlier and I can use the garden space for a summer crop. 
    • Has a better germination rate - some seeds are sold as "treated" which can help the seeds avoid rotting in the ground instead of growing. 
  • Buy inoculant early so I have it at planting time
  • Use a different trellis configuration to make picking easier

Conclusion

This thought process helps you become a better gardener year after year. If you gardened with a partner (spouse, family, friend) you might take an hour over coffee or a meal and have this conversation. You may find you'll need to research some topics to find out what went wrong and how you can do better. 

This is how you make progress and become the confident gardener you want to be!

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