Top Garden Takeaways of 2023

by Becky

The year is almost over and it’s time to reflect on my top garden takeaways or lessons learned for 2023. I almost can’t believe I was able to have a baby this summer and keep up with the garden. I’m so grateful Cam had 12 weeks of paternity leave to help. My family stepped in and helped so we could complete our usual self-sufficiency goals.

This was when I was only a few weeks postpartum and enjoying some outside time.

The Nickname “Devil’s Grass” for Bermuda Grass is well suited.

One of my goals this year was to do a better job tending to our fruit plants, particularly the blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries.

We put lots of chicken manure down on the rows, along with paper to prevent weeds, and a thick wood chip mulch. 

Everything was looking good and really healthy until around mid summer when the Bermuda grass started to grow and thrive. Paper and mulch are no match for Bermuda so it popped up and took over almost all the berry rows, with the exception of the blackberries. 

It doesn’t kill the berry plants but it definitely is there to compete for nutrients and root space so it slows them down and it looks awful.

I had an epiphany when I realized that the blackberries didn’t have as much of this invasive grass.  Bermuda grass only thrives in full sun and it wasn’t doing well under the thick canopy of the blackberries. 

As much as I wish I could get my blueberries and raspberries to that level of thick bushy plants, it’s not going to happen overnight. So I have a plan in place for next year to interplant a whole bunch of flowers in the berries so the Bermuda grass won’t take over so much.

Kelp Makes Plants Thrive

Early in my gardening journey I used a broad fertilizer like a 10-10-10 all the time. That is until one year I took a soil test and my phosphorus was extremely high, like too high! It was a good learning lesson that not all soils are alike and I learned not to blindly add fertilizer, just because. 

My old garden from a previous property

A result of this learning experience early on is that for several years I used no fertilizer at all. It actually worked ok at our old property because the phosphorus needed to come down and I was using cover cropping for nitrogen.

Once we moved to our new property I tested the soil and the phosphorus was already in good shape so all I added each year was compost. Two years in, my plants were looking not as happy as they could and I knew the compost wasn’t cutting it. 

I also thought back to when I visited a friend of mine who runs a market garden as his only income and  business and he regularly used organic fertilizers and rock dust to feed the soil. So that gave me some confidence to try organic fertilizer again.

This year whenever I transplanted a heavy feeder like cabbage, kale, broccoli, tomatoes, and peppers I used a ¼ cup of blood meal and a ¼ cup kelp meal along with a soil prebiotic. 

I’ve used blood meal before and it gave the plants what they needed in terms of nitrogen, but the addition of kelp made a very noticeable difference.

One thing I’ve been learning about more lately is how having lots of trace minerals and the right balance of them makes the food being grown taste really good. 

Kelp added a lot of minerals and a small amount of potassium (which my soil could use anyway) so the results were fantastic. The plants were large, tasty, and beautiful. Pest pressure was less because the plants were getting what they needed.

You can have too much of a good thing, so I will keep soil testing to make sure I don’t go overboard. However, I am going to keep using it since it was a major game changer in the garden this year.

My Flowers Took Over

This is the second year in a row that I’ve planted my zinnias right in front of the garden beds. It makes a mass planting that is so pretty.

At the same time, it also makes it difficult to get into the rows to work. I had to take a giant step over the flowers every time I wanted to get in the garden. You can see that on my garden tour from this summer below. About 1 minute in I’m hopping over the flowers. In the thumbnail below you can see where the flowers are located.

YouTube video

This year I think I will plant only smaller flowers in the front or none at all. Since I don’t plan on taking up as much space in the garden, I will plant a row or two of flowers in the garden space instead.

The Garden has Become More Productive and I Don’t Need the Same Space

A huge blessing has been that the garden’s soil is getting much better. I noticed this year that our production for the same square feet we normally grow in has been higher than years past. 

This is really nice for two reasons. First, it means I don’t need as much growing space to meet the amounts of vegetables we need. Second, less growing space means less plants and subsequently less weeds to manage. 

I don’t plan on shrinking the garden but I will be planting more cover crops in those areas and flowers like I mentioned above. I like having space for cover crops because it allows areas of the garden to rest and recover. Cover crops cover the ground well, so there is only a small amount of weeding at the beginning and nothing from that time forward.

I could go on about all the lessons I learned both positive and negative, but I’ll stop there. I think that covers the major ones.

If you have time I’d love to hear some of your takeaways from this garden season in the comments!

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Laurel M. December 17, 2023 - 9:00 pm

The earth has enough and to spare! It’s so cool when you can SEE the blessings and the difference your actions are making. You are a good steward, Becky! Thanks for sharing with us. You make the dream seem attainable and help me keep trying.

Amy January 3, 2024 - 1:50 am

I love the idea of more flowers in with your berry plants! I started something similar last year and I love the effects, so pretty, good for pollinators and beneficials to hide in/feed on. I am doubling the number of herbs and flower seeds I’m starting for the orchard this year. The only problem last year was that I needed many more herb/flower starts than I had. AND I would say definitely plan to transplant starts (rather than direct sowing) so that they can stay ahead of the grass. 🙂


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