Stacking Functions Garden

2021 Wrap-up

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Well, it’s another pandemic year in the books. We had good times and bad times in 2021, just like you most likely did.

We had so many good things. A remodeled bathroom! A new garage! (Note: not quite done yet as of 1/1.) Difficult health issues in our immediate and broader families overshadowed us the whole year. Ironically, not a single one of them was pandemic-related, but each was pandemic-affected. Happily, we all ended the year healthy and my appreciation for times of good health continues to grow.

But let’s get on to gardening. What lessons did I learn in 2021? What’s in store for 2022?

A gorgeous October walk in my fair city. A big pandemic takeaway: a long walk helps diffuse even the most difficult of emotions.

Honestly, most of the lessons I learned this year were tangential to gardening. For example, I learned hard lessons about trying to please hard-to-please people. I said no to many, many gardening-related “opportunities,” some fun and some less fun, for the sake of trying to be less busy and create more space for relaxation and spontaneity in my life. And I found myself relieved at having taken on significantly less than in previous years.

Here’s a list of my top 5 takeaways from 2021.

1. Experiment.

I moved the kids’ old fairy garden tanks into a sunnier area in fall 2020, with the idea of maybe growing some veggies in the new spot. I knew they’d get full sun in spring and fall, but I wasn’t sure about the summer. I dedicated this year to experimentation with them, and I’m happy to report that they appear to get enough sun to grow vegetables the entire season—I successfully grew spring radishes, bok choy, summer onions, zucchini, fall onions, and radicchio in them. I kept my experimentation cheap by using only seeds and/or seedlings I’d started myself. 

Zucchini, July 2021

The coolest part about this new addition to my garden? I extended my growing season and was actively gardening from the end of March (!) to the end of November. That’s eight full months of gardening, nine or ten if you count starting my seeds indoors. It was awesome. And now I can confidently go forward counting on these two raised beds to really produce for me.

Early spring madness. The chicken wire is to protect new seedlings from squirrels’ digging.

2. Seed starting rocks (for the most part)

I expanded my light setup and was able to start nearly every seedling I wanted this spring, including plenty to share with neighbors and friends. The seedlings I was especially happy to have on hand were ones that got planted at weird times when seedlings can be harder to find at garden stores, like onions. I planted tiny onion starts in early April, and again in early August. I would have been unlikely to find seedlings at a store at those times.

First planting of onions, April 2, 2021. I think this was the earliest I’ve ever planted. Another advantage of the raised planters is that they warm up faster in the spring.

Seed starting is also really great when you simply want a lot of a single plant—I place chamomile and nasturtiums all over my yard so I like to have at least 15-20 of each. They’re both easy to start from seed and starting them saved me some money this year.

I also had a fantastic lettuce year in 2021—all from seeds I started.

On the other hand, some of my seedlings didn’t do so well. Trickier herbs—rosemary, lavender, thyme, and oregano—stayed tiny for so long that they didn’t really produce for a very long time. I will buy those next year so I can get bigger plants to start with.

3. Creating community from shared produce

I didn’t have the time or energy to deal with my entire sour cherry harvest (it is immense) or my wine grapes this year. I reached out and found a local baker who was happy to come and harvest many buckets of cherries, and a local brewer/wine maker—Jeff of Urban Forage Winery—who forages yards like mine all over the Twin Cities. He gave me a bottle of wine in exchange for my wine grapes, and I felt like that was a good trade. He chuckled and said many people are in my boat—they plant all these fruit-producing perennials and then don’t have time to manage the harvest. I was just happy to see my fruit not get wasted, so the wine was a nice bonus.

Wine grape harvest, 2021.

4. Let go of what’s not working

We haven’t harvested our brewing hops in several years, and as part of the Great Garage Purge of 2021, we admitted defeat and sold all our brewing supplies. Next, I’m going to replace the hops plants that climb up our “booze bower” every summer. I love the fast-growing privacy that the hops provide, but I don’t love getting a rash every time I accidentally brush up against them—and they are constantly hanging over and invading areas I walk through every day.

The largest hops plant is on the south side of the arbor in full sun. I’m replacing it with a climbing rose in honor of my daughter, who loves red roses. I’m not sure what I’ll use to replace the hops on the north side of the arbor; they are not thriving due to a lack of sunlight. If you have recommendations for a fast-growing perennial or annual vine that does fine in shade, please let me know in the comments.

This spring, I also cut down a shrub I once adored: my Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry. It was growing so slowly that we were forced to admit after 8+ years that it was simply never going to achieve anywhere near the promised height of 15-20 feet. This spring, it looked sickly and possibly fire-blighted so I cut it down and replaced it with a witch hazel. I will be looking to add another Autumn Brilliance serviceberry somewhere else in the yard as soon the opportunity arises.

So far, the witch hazel seems happy in its new location. It even bloomed late this fall.

5. It’s OK to plant something just for me

I am a stickler about using native plants in my yard, as much as possible. I love how my yard full of pollinators and their insect and bird predators has created a nearly pest-free environment for my vegetables. If you know me at all you already know how enthusiastic I am about native plants.

BUT. I also have nostalgic affection for tulips and other spring flowering bulbs. I planted some tulip bulbs in 2020 and they were a very welcome site this spring. This fall I added daffodils—they should be easier to protect from squirrels and rabbits and should be a very nice complement to my bloodroot and other native spring bloomers.

Tulips, spring 2021.

I’m also contemplating a hedge. I would like to create a privacy screen in a narrow, shady area north of my house, and evergreen would be a nice bonus. I have not been able to find a native plant that fits the bill. I’ll be looking at area nurseries and plant sales in the spring to see what I can find—I’m thinking yew could be an option.

Harvesting leeks in November.

I’ve already got a long gardening to-do list for 2022, so I think I will once again stick to my yard and not take on a community garden plot. There were so many times this summer when I was grateful to not have to drive to a place to tend a whole extra garden. Having a little more time allowed me to enjoy what was happening right outside my door.

Monarch butterfly on a purple coneflower, summer 2021.

Since I’m not on this space very often anymore, consider following my gardening adventures on Instagram so you can see some of the following projects take shape this year:

  • Tulips in pots! One of my experiments this winter.
  • Privacy hedge in a shady spot
  • New raised raspberry bed(s)
  • New fences and gates (with arbors, whee!) on the east and west sides of the backyard
  • A climbing rose
  • Daffodils in the prairie boulevard
  • Plenty of vegetables in my raised beds and main garden, as usual

I’ve got seed catalogs spread all over the coffee table and my garden journal open to a “2022 planning” page. What have you got going in your garden this year?

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