Episode 056. My 2023 Kitchen Gardening Lessons
With 2023 behind us, Bailey Van Tassel has reflected on what went right, and also wrong in the kitchen garden. Here is a list of the top things that she really felt needed improvement: pests, pruning, bulk soil, weather waiting, proper trellises, earlier sow dates, and adding more perennials. Listen in and read the transcription for details.
060. Suburban Homesteading with Bailey Van Tassel of The Kitchen Garden Society – The Garden Culture Podcast with Bailey Van Tassel
Bailey Van Tassel: Hello, happy New Year! Welcome back to the Garden Culture Podcast. This is Bailey Van Tassel and I’m your host. I’m so excited to be here with you. So I am going to today, tackle one of many sort of New Year’s subjects. I hope you guys are not burned out on the whole New Year’s concept, but I wanted to review the lessons, the biggest lessons I learned in 2023. And then in the next episode, we will move into intentions for 2024, which I realize are going to be lagging a little bit, but I always feel like I need to be in the New Year to really feel like, resolute about any intentions. I know myself to know that that’s how I am, so that’s what we’ll be doing here as well.
So, okay, I’ve got eight lessons for today that I’m going to review. Hopefully you guys can learn from my mistakes and we can just be in it together.
01. So yes, let’s dive in. Okay, the number one biggest and hardest lesson I learned last year was about pests. We had entirely new pests plague the garden and I suppose the issue was really that it was twofold. The pests, so for example, Japanese beetles were crazy, they did more damage than I even thought possible. They decimated my corn, I thought it was a rodent, that’s how aggressive they were.
But they were these Japanese beetles who then laid eggs that hatched into grubs in the garden. So many grubs, I literally could barely grow anything this fall. And this is coming from someone who’s typically my like crowning achievement is the fall garden. I normally have dozens of cauliflower and broccoli and it’s onions and it’s everything – gorgeous and amazing. My fall garden is my favorite – spinach, arugula, lettuce, all the things. This season has been a sad, sorry excuse for a garden.
I’ve also been very distracted and very busy writing a book which I just announced in my newsletter. I maybe should have led with that. I don’t know. I’m just casually putting it in here, but you’ll be hearing about it more soon. I’ve been very busy starting in about August, writing my first book. And I’m actually getting a little bit emotional saying it out loud right now. I just can’t even believe those words are coming out of my mouth. I’m so grateful, I feel so honored to have this opportunity. But it has been a distraction, a worthy distraction from this season’s garden.
So, I let things slide with the pests, and when you have insect pest issues, they can lay eggs obviously that you can’t see or that are down in the soil causing a huge problem. So coming up here in a few weeks actually, I think I’m going to host a grub hunt and invite my son and his friends each with a shovel in hand to go crazy in the garden and see how many grubs they can catch. And I’m thinking of doing something like everybody gets a nickel a grub – I’ll go broke – or we’ll just feed them and it’ll make it a competition or something fun. I don’t know, but I have to get these grubs out. I have tried beneficial nematodes, I’ve tried plucking them out myself, I’ve tried all sorts of things and I just couldn’t get on top of it. So it also sort of will lead to item number five we’re coming to. But pests this year were a big issue. I didn’t tackle them fast enough. I didn’t really think they were as big of a deal as they were, so shame on me.
Whenever you have a new pest, it’s always a little bit of a dance and I wish I just would have done something sooner, done more research.
02. Number two, pruning. The spring garden last year was incredible. We left town for an entire month. We went to Tennessee in the peak. It was mid-June to mid-July, which is when the garden was like just starting to go crazy. Luckily I had a house sitter. However, things got totally out of control. And when we came back, we had this luscious, amazing garden. But we also had overgrown tomato plants, a ton of the cucumbers just didn’t produce because they weren’t being harvested, same goes for the beans. Things were just in a little bit of disarray. I could have had a very well-manicured, totally stunning garden if I had been staying on top of it every couple of days and gotten a lot more harvest. But we were gone and so that was just a little tricky.
I absolutely adore my house sitter. She’s a little new to gardening, so she was very helpful, she kept everything alive. She was really out there looking at stuff, but I didn’t want her to feel like she had to do my work for me. So I would be more aggressive about pruning early on. And speaking of Tennessee, when we were out there, a ton of the gardeners there are so aggressive when they stake their tomatoes. They cut all the suckers, they prune all the bottom foliage, so those tomatoes are just out bare with leaves on top. And I believe I will be more aggressive like that this season. I’m hoping to plant about a dozen tomato plants this year because we really did have enough to start cooking with marinara and like really replacing that, like that, the tomatoes from any produce purchase. And it was really satisfying.
03. So number three is about soil. So I had the best soil amending year ever or season I should say in spring. And so I learned what works. And that included this special fertilizer that’s really hard to get. It’s organic, it’s pelleted. It’s really, really not, it’s really good. Like it’s not. I normally would never promote a synthetic fertilizer. It’s not synthetic, it’s organic. However, on top of that, my godmother bred down rabbit poop and the rabbit poop also acts as like a slow release nitrogen fertilizer, breaking things down into the soil. And I used wool pellets, which I purchased, a bit of an investment, but that worked wonders.
04. But it does lead me to item number four, huge lesson that I’ve learned three times now and will not be learning again is not to trust anyone who claims that their bulk, commercial compost is good for the garden. As soon as it got dropped off at my house, after testimonial and testimonial and everyone telling me, this is where you do it. This is what you get. I get fluffy, woody, not good compost. It wasn’t compost. I honestly don’t even understand if I got the wrong product or what, but it also contributed to the fall garden not working out well.
And by that time, I was just done with it. I had so much of this compost sitting around that I, and I applied it to my beds thinking, okay, if I just wet it down, mix it in with my amendments, everything will be fine. And it wasn’t. So, super frustrated about that. It was better than I’ve had in the past, but not really the best quality. So I’ll be going back to trying to make my own compost and buy some in bags or really go on site to a local farm that I know uses really, really, you know, they’re making and using good quality compost.
05. Okay. So number five then is waiting for the proper weather to plant. So our season in zone 10, 10B I can garden you around, which I realize is so incredible. However, the fall season can be so tricky because our heat lingers and it just stays hot for so long. And all of our cool season veg just doesn’t do well. So I really, I really have to time things out just right.
And this year, since I’ve got the book in the works, had actually a ton of photography to get done and photo shoots to do. So I was really eager getting everything in the ground and then it got totally annihilated by grubs and rats. Our neighbors cleaned out a ton of these like shrubs and brush areas and rats basically scurried over to our house. We had to get rid of a rattle snake this year that my son found and so we kind of messed with the ecosystem. There were just a lot of things at play.
But me also trying to cheat the weather was just not happening. Mother nature is just going to do what she’s going to do and I was being greedy and impatient. So I was humbled. I had to sow an entire second set of plants and those also just performed just mediocre this year. So always just follow the basics of your hardiness zone and wait to plant. I mean in another year, I probably would have been safe this year. It was just hot and humid much longer than I wanted it to be. So I jumped the gun. Anyways, I don’t know if I’ll learn that lesson ever, but that’s a mistake that I made.
06. Okay. Number six. You want to use the proper trellis for the variety of crop. That’s not a problem I’ve ever encountered before. I’ve always judged the size of the plant well and been able to match it with the trellis. But this year there were multiple plants I put in that just got so much bigger than my trellis could support. Some were tomatoes, I love these Rapunzel tomato tomatoes and they just went crazy this year. So instead of being six foot long vines, they were like nine foot and those are really hard to contain and then keep healthy.
Likewise I planted these really incredible beans. I let them just dry on the vine, collect the dry beans. They’re so like precious to me. I haven’t cooked with them yet. But those also got way taller than the trellis I had them on and I hadn’t even really thought about it to be honest. So for this coming year, I will definitely know better and plan to put those beans or tomatoes on my arch and then to get much much taller trellises for everything else. So I just really kind of flubbed my trellising situation.
Also my cucumbers, I thought I could maybe get away with not even having a major trellis kind of like flop around – not a good call at all. And I had every single cucumber seed germinate. So I had way too many in the bed. But again I was gone. So a lot of those came up and just kind of became unruly. So this beautiful like teepee shaped trellis from my cucumbers this year from Earth Easy that is gorgeous that I’m excited to assemble and that will make everything better. So proper trellis for your plants, make sure you do your research on how big the plants are going to be so that you can plan that out.
07. Number seven. I needed to grow all of my squash much earlier in the season. And I’ve kind of never messed this up but this year I was running out of space in the spring. So I thought, you know what, I will try and cheat my season and start things a little bit later. Well, I didn’t start them soon enough in that later time frame. So, if you didn’t know, summer squash and winter squash are both grown in spring/summer. It’s just that winter squash can be stored to use in the winter because they’ve got like the harder skin. We’re talking about like acorn squash, butternut squash, things like that. And like delicata which is my favorite.
So, I should have grown everything at once or succession sowed it; sowed it like really mid-summer ideally and I kind of sowed everything late summer, early fall, maybe mid-fall even if I’m being honest. So I have these baby butternut squash that are the size of like the palm of my hand and they’re just not ripening all the way. I’m going to leave them on the vine to see what we can do. Hopefully they won’t attract pests but it was cool to see them germinate – they’re just taking forever to ripen because they don’t have that hot, hot sun.
08. Lastly number eight and this is a lesson I think for everyone is I wish I had planted more perennials. I’m really on this huge perennial kick and actually last month in the Kitchen Garden Society, my membership, I had this whole deep dive on perennials. Like perennials versus annuals and what perennials to be planting and like dividing perennials and just the scoop. I want to add so many more perennials this year to my border especially because that doesn’t have to be as movable. And then when you cut your perennials back, which I’m getting ready to do, you can make these beautiful like living fences or little bug teepees I’m so excited about.
And then we’re actually going to be expanding the garden to a different section of the yard where I can put a ton more cut flowers, which will be great for perennials. So more perennials because they’re so so so so good for pollinators, for bees, they’re beautiful and just they’re so good for the ecosystem. So I need to be adding those and spending more time I feel like even pushing outside of my kitchen garden and the veggies and really starting to create more of a very small scale permaculture situation that is really nourishing the land and you know being a better steward of the land. So those are the top eight lessons I had from 2023.
Hopefully they help you not make the same mistakes or just think differently and I hope that you are joining me in this free workshop I was telling you guys about. We also have major updates over my membership at the kitchen garden society dot com, also linked in the show notes. But we have introduced a new tier, so I’ve always just had an all access membership that gives you exactly what to be doing in your hardiness zone – sowing, tending, tasking, transplanting, harvesting, daily inspiration, seasonal recipes, less timely lessons like the perennials I was telling you about. Well now we’ve added on a tier where you just get the to-do’s. And then for the all access members we’re adding in workshops, digital guides, deep dives, major education and then we’re also going to be adding an exclusive members-only podcast each month.
So much good stuff. I hope you’ll go check it out – the kitchen garden society dot com. I will see you over there and I hope you guys have a fantastic week.