Considering that Dan and I decided to try our hands at gardening during the worst drought Kansas has experience since the Dust Bowl, I think our harvest can be remembered as a success. No, I don’t have jars filled with canned tomatoes and pickles, but we did manage a few moderately productive crops.
That’s especially remarkable considering the challenges we were up against. In addition to the drought, Dan and I also got a late start with our garden. Here’s how it looked in the middle of June.
We used a combination of seeds and transplants to fill up the plot.
With everything in the ground, here’s how it looked.
Lots of diligent watering (and a hefty water bill) later, things were looking pretty good. By the beginning of August, we were able to cut way back on the watering and just let the garden do its thing.
From then until our first hard freeze, we were able to consistently harvest some of our crops. As for others, the combination of heat, drought and a late start seemed to be too much.
Here’s my garden report card…
Tomatoes (variety), transplants — A
Bar none, the tomatoes were our most successful crop. By the middle of July, it was hard pick them for as quickly as they were ripening! They were also very sweet — there’s definitely nothing like a homegrown, summer tomato!
Sweet Corn, seeds — F
The sweet corn was promising enough in the beginning, but it wasn’t able to produce a single good ear. Even with religious watering, the best ears only had a dozen or so over-sized, mutated-looking kernels.
Even the best farmers in the Midwest had a poor corn season: According to the National Climactic Data Center, this was the fourth worst year for corn crops since records began in 1900. Many farmers ended up mowing down the fields early and using the corn for animal food instead.
Sugar Snap Peas, seeds — F
It was easy to forget that we even planted sugar snap peas. I don’t know if we did a poor job of spacing or if it was because of the weather conditions, but we barely saw a single sprout — and what did appear quickly vanished without so much as a single pea.
Bell Peppers, mix of seeds and transplants — B
My parents have grown a pretty successful bell pepper crop for the past few years, so I figured our crop would be bountiful. As it turns out, it was simply consistent. Not necessarily a bad thing, just not incredibly exciting. We also had to practice patience in letting our green peppers ripen into sweeter red peppers (both on the vine and on the counter). They were still growing by the time of the freeze!
Jalapeno Peppers, transplants — C
The jalapenos were pretty similar to the bell peppers. But, considering I’m not a big hot pepper fan, it seemed less worth my time.
Watermelon (variety), transplants — D
There’s a funny story about the lone watermelon we harvested this year: One night, Tracker was running around outside. When she came back to the door, Dan noticed she was cradling something in her mouth, but she ran past him before he could stop her. She came over to me in the living room and dropped a 2-lb watermelon at my feet.
Thanks to her bird-dog instincts, there wasn’t a single indent on it. Thanks to her good nose (??), it was perfectly ripe! We ate the whole thing on the spot — with a few pieces given to Tracker as a reward.
Unfortunately, the rest of the watermelons didn’t fare as well. Most of them seemed to rot out before they were fully grown. There were still a few miniature melons on the vine, but they didn’t survive the frost.
Cucumbers (variety), seeds – D
We planted a lot of cucumbers because I had this dream of making jars and jars of pickles. That didn’t work out, as we only got a few cucumbers. And does anyone think cucumbers are good on their own?
Zucchini (variety), seeds — C
The zucchini grew decently in size, but it never seemed to taste quite right. Most of our crop was bland and only really functional in recipes that mask their existence (like summer squash brownies).
Cantaloupe, transplants — C
We managed to harvest two cantaloupe. Although the number was disappointing, the fruit was really sweet and delicious. I just wished there was more!
Butternut Squash, seeds — B
Butternut squash is one of my favorite vegetables, so I planted a good amount. The seeds immediately sprouted and began to produce. I was also glad to see that the squash was hardy — no harm from bugs or disease. The one negative was that they didn’t grow too big (we may also have grown them longer into the season, but didn’t want to lose them) and were, therefore, not very sweet. Nonetheless, worth another shot next year.
All in all, gardening was a great learning experience. It also gave me some confidence for our next go-round: If we could make it through this drought, then I’m optimistic about how we’ll do during a normal year!