By Ben |

In preparation for tomorrow evening's Green Living Emporia meeting, which may or may not actually happen, here's a list of plants we grew in the garden's first year:

  • Amaranth.  I made the mistake of cutting off its apex early in the season, so instead of growing tall and stately it sprawls along the ground, but it's still very pretty, and the leaves are good in stir-fries and such.  I haven't figured out how to eat the seeds.
  • Arugula.  Jessie wasn't crazy about arugula until we went to Italy.  We got two good crops in the front yard and planted a third in the greenhouse.  The first crop bolted but continued to produce leaves for several months while the seeds matured, and I don't mind the way they taste after bolting, so I kept them around and snacked on leaves as spicy as wasabi.  When the stems finally died, I pulled them up.
  • Baby bak choi.  Easy to grow and good in stir fry or ramen.  I got a late start with these but got a fall crop in the front yard and a winter crop started in the greenhouse.
  • Basil.  I was charmed by a small-leaf variety for sale at the farmer's market.  I didn't realize that small leaves take longer to strip from the stems.  I dried a lot of this for use during the winter.
  • Chives.  We planted these last summer, and hardly touched them this year because we had bunching onions instead, but they're not going anywhere.
  • Clover.  Nothing boosts soil nitrogen like New Zealand white clover.  I figured I'd give it a try.  It didn't bloom this year, so I'm not sure whether the flowers are good to eat.
  • Comfrey.  Permaculture books extoll comfrey's virtues as a "mulch plant," i.e. you hack it down periodically for mulch and it grows right back.  They don't say that comfrey's mulch is butt-ugly and tends to blow around.  And its healing properties are overrated in my experience.  But it's such a happy plant, I still love it!  I should let it grow a little longer before hacking it down, so we get some pretty purple flowers.
  • Daikon.  Wow, were these a lot of bang for the buck!  Most of the seeds sprouted and formed impressive 18" symmetrical rosettes of leaves, followed by a taproot 6-12" long and up to 3" across, perfectly straight in the toughest of soil and pure white, literally pushing itself up out of the soil.  We got more radish than we could eat, so many of them we left to rot in place and enrich the soil.  The second crop of the season got eaten badly by aphids or something.
  • Dandelions.  I didn't plant these, but let them grow because theoretically they're good for the soil.  Mulch keeps them from taking over too badly.
  • Echinacea.  This plant bloomed like crazy all season -- very nice magenta flowers.  I dried a bunch of the flowers before learning that echinacea's effectiveness in boosting the immune system is in doubt, and in any case the flowers are not usually the part one uses to make tea.  But hey, if you're gonna use a placebo, it might as well be appealing...
  • Garlic.  From a single head planted last fall, we got enough garlic to last us most of the year, plus another head already growing for next year.  We enjoyed eating the scapes before the cloves were ready.
  • Hens and Chicks.  I was publicly bemoaning the fact that nothing would grow in our dry side yard, when a friend offered us some succulents.  They were a little traumatized by the move but should get going next year.  They're not good for anything that I know of, but they're cute.
  • Irises.  Previous owners of our house were iris crazy, and I moved the bulbs around rather than throw them out, thinking they'd put on a show.  They had plenty of large healthy leaves, but only a handful of blossoms all year.
  • Kohlrabi.  I keep seeing cabbage moths flitting around the garden, and I don't know what they're reproducing on, because the kohlrabi and bok choi are fine.  We got a late start and have yet to harvest the two kohlrabi.
  • Lamb's ear.  Jessie's favorite plant, it doubled in size and produced a lot of seed.  We may have a lot of lamb's ear next year!
  • Lamb's quarters.  I didn't plant these, but I enjoy eating them in moderation.  They're especially good along with arugula and radishes, because they tone down the spiciness.
  • Melon.  We didn't intentionally plant melons, but we put the seeds in our compost, and a plant grew that produced one modest honeydew.
  • Mint.  A chocolate mint plant planted this spring made a valiant effort to take over the garden, but I think it will lose to the strawberries.  I dried a lot of mint for use during the winter.
  • Morning glories.  Didn't plant 'em, didn't want 'em, but I enjoyed their flowers until they started trying to strangle the raspberries.
  • Nandina.  These little bushes may be too young to have (decorative) berries this year, but at any rate they'll stay green all winter.
  • Parsley.  These seeds were a freebie from some event Jessie went to.  They did OK -- we're not big parsley eaters.
  • Peas.  We got two excellent crops of sugar snap peas and managed to hook the neighbor kids on them.
  • Petunias.  I'm not sure where these came from, but they grew in the sidewalk cracks and flowered for months.
  • Onions.  Jessie prefers bulb onions, and we'll plant some next year, but in the meantime I'm partial to these perennial bunching ones I grew up with.  You can eat the greens until they get going, then harvest a few stalks at a time and toss the greens away in favor of the more substantial white part.  As long as you don't take all of any bunch, they keep going all season long and come back the next year.
  • Oregano.  Like the basil, I dried a lot for winter use.
  • Phlox.  I planted this in the back flower bed where we rarely saw it.  Turns out it would have done better in the (dry) side yard, so I'll move it sometime this winter.
  • Potatoes.  Our potatoes didn't do super well, but I think we got three plants with half a dozen medium-sized potatoes each.  We had several volunteer potato plants come up in the compost, but they didn't produce.
  • Radishes.  I planted way too many of these -- Jessie is not big on radishes, and we didn't grow enough salad greens to put them in.  I tend to plant them too close together, so they get leggy and the radishes get all stretched.  As with the arugula, I got two crops in the front yard and a third planted in the greenhouse.
  • Raspberries.  Of three varieties planted, one died, the second (a black variety) grew long and thin and never flowered, and the third produced about 3 dozen berries thoughout the season.  It also produced half a dozen side shoots, so we should have lots of berries next year!  I read in one catalog that black and red raspberries shouldn't be planted within 100 feet of each other, but I haven't seen that advice anywhere else, so I'm not sure whether to move the black raspberry to the back yard or let it stay where it is another year.  Apathy will probably win out.
  • Sedum.  Another succulent given us for the side yard.  I'm not sure whether it's rooting or not because it seems to grow with or without roots, which is odd.
  • Soybeans.  Our first planting of these didn't germinate (planted too early), but the second did great.  The bugs loved nibbling the leaves and pods, but they left the actual beans alone, so we had one good serving of edamame and will probably get a second by the end of the season.  Must plant more next year.
  • Spinach.  Didn't have much luck getting this to germinate.  Either it doesn't like our soil or the temperatures were wrong.  I tried three times and got probably 2 salads' worth in total.
  • Squash.  We didn't plant squash, but one grew from the compost and produced one store-quality butternut (and a lot of puny ones that I pruned off).
  • Strawberries.  We got probably 2 dozen fruit in all, spaced throughout the season.  More than 90% of these came from a single plant which did not reproduce itself (a runnerless variety?); the other plants were more interested in making more strawberry plants than in producing fruit.  Maybe their offspring will fruit next year.  At any rate, they're a nice groundcover.
  • Wood sorrel (aka oxalis, sour grass).  I'm fond of this weed in salads, but we wound up eating more of a domesticated variety with pink flowers that we got as a houseplant.  Stay away from eating the purple variety: it's nasty!
  • Violets.  Didn't plant these; they volunteered, and I let them grow because the leaves are reputedly edible, and I thought they'd have nice flowers, but the flowers of this wild variety turned out to be underneath the leaves where they don't show, and the leaves were tough and tasteless.  Still, no harm done.

Not bad for the first year, in unimproved clay soil! Also, all this was accomplished without tilling and without any chemical fertilizers or pesticides.  Mulch, my friends, is the answer.

We did plant some other things that didn't come up at all, notably broccoli, carrots, and kale

We also planted some things that won't produce for several years:

  • Aronia melanocarpa (black chokeberry).  No, we've never eaten a chokeberry, but it came highly recommended as a fruit that would grow in our clay soil.  If the berries turn out to be nasty, we'll plant something else.
  • Hazelnuts (filberts).  Planted two of these behind the garage, the only spot in the back yard where they won't interfere with overhead wires or underground pipes.
  • Pear tree.  It got a rough start but managed to nearly double in size by the end of the season.
  • Mulberry bushes.  These are Gerardi dwarf mulberries, supposed to grow only 6' tall and 6' across.  We planted them as a buffer between the walnut and the rest of the front-yard garden, since mulberries reputedly help reduce the toxic juglone secreted by walnut roots.
  • Walnut tree.  This is English walnut grafted to black walnut root stock.  I have mixed feelings about it, but we should be able to guage the quality of its nuts before it gets too far out of hand.  So far it's very happy and healthy.