This weekend marked a turning point in the evolution of the garden. K and I stopped to take stock of our progress, and made some preliminary plans for next spring’s crop. Pretty soon it’ll be time to get the autumn garden planting in, but for all practical purposes, the harvest has reached the peak. We’ve got tomatoes coming in faster than we can turn them into marinara sauce, and jalapenos galore. The bean plants refused to stop producing, despite being eaten to swiss cheese by the bugs and looking like desert shrubs. So we harvested the last set of beans and pulled them up to go into the compost bin. Crumbs! Those beans were relentless, like the Terminator.

This was the first year for this particular plot, so the soil hasn’t been really worked to my satisfaction yet. Busting the sod and working soil into the clay was back breaking work. Now that we’ve got a good layer of compost, hay and manure down, the turning of the soil for winter ought to pump things up nicely for spring. Case in point, our smaller plot from last year was taken over by the parental units, after we had done the hard work the year before, and they’ve got bountiful goodies with minimal work. It seems like getting the garden into shape, first year style, takes a certain amount of trial by fire.

So, what worked and what didn’t? Broccoli was the big loser. Attracted large numbers of pests, needed lots of water, used a lot of space – and the yield for one small crown of broccoli just didn’t even out. The beans, obviously, were the big winner by a landslide. Next year we will be more prepared for the harvest and be ready for mass freezing. And we’ll give them the pole structure they deserve, so they are easier to pick and water. Potatoes were a huge hassle with all the potato beetles and the watering. But the harvest was good. Hashbrowns and stews have been out of this world tasty with the freshest of potato goodness. Jalapenos were a winner, but next time we’ll fertilize the one plant less. Tomatoes have been the big crop this year, but we’ll cut back. Even with the marauding gopher, it’s way too much. Green peppers will continue as normal. Lettuce needs to be scaled back, way too much for our needs.

The herb garden will need some revamping. We did too much sweet, lime and cinnamon basil, and not enough of the regular basil. Cilantro needs more active management; we’ll have to watch that one closely next year. Rosemary, sage and savory were about right. We did a lot of parsley last year and it was awesome, but this year we did none, which we are regretting. Next spring, the parsley will be back on the map. The lemon verbena has been a success, but we haven’t done enough with it in potato salads and tea, so I’m thinking we’ll dry it out and save it for winter. The oregano varieties and the thyme rocked the mike. There’s just no comparison between even fresh herbs from the store and right from the ground.

We mixed the harvest plants with flowers this year – sunflowers, marigolds – and it really made the garden look fantastic. And it helped with the pollination of our harvest plants by attracting bees and butterflies. Next year, I think this is the way to go – mix and match. We didn’t do this with some of the sections of the garden and they didn’t seem to do as well. Also, we grew moss by itself, and it didn’t do so well either. I’m thinking we will plant the moss in patches under the main array of plants and see if it doesn’t help.

It was a hassle killing pests by hand, but the decision to avoid pesticides seems to have paid off. Our garden in the middle of the day is crowded with bees and yellow jackets of all kinds, ants, butterflies, ladybugs, weird bugs I can’t recognize, and birds – especially the yellow finches. I’m thinking a birdbath of some kind might be in order. Of course, the flies and mosquitoes were present, but what can you do? I saw a rabbit and some chipmunks in other people’s plots, so I’m guessing the fence is losing integrity and Mr. Gopher will have competition next year. Oh yeah, and the baby praying mantises have moved into the plot, so that’s a plus. It’s a trade off – fewer pests and contaminated goodies, or work harder but share the work with the pest-patrol and get a nice ecosystem. It’s a kick to watch a single ladybug clear an entire plant of aphids in an hour.

Hopefully, as the weather grows less humid and we get more rain, the watering duty will lessen. I swear, I should buy stock in the water company; these tomatoes are like living sponges. The payoff is coming now in droves, which does help when I think back over the summer – my head a blazing cloud of gnats and the hose trying to catch up with the ground’s rate of heat loss.