End of Season
The 2023 Fall Harvest is over for the most part. A few root vegetables remain in the ground. However, three nights in a row below the freezing mark put an end to the tender plants above ground. Overall, the yield was fair at best. A combination of wacky weather and a very tough year on a personal level for this gardener garnered poor results. But there were lessons learned as well as some success with respect to the root vegetables.
With one exception, the root vegetables were the stars of the garden this year. The white potatoes were actually grown outside of the big garden with limited access to irrigation. Yet, a small store of potatoes is still available from a mid-summer harvest. I attribute this to the abundance of rain in the early part of the season.
Storage onions were a mixed success. The number of onions was on par with recent years. However, the size was considerably smaller. A combination of haphazard harvesting along with a lack of rain in the latter part of the season created this outcome for the 2023 fall harvest.
Unfortunately, the beets tied for the worst performance of the year. Less than a dozen including the three that are still in the ground. Fortunately, carrots were good and those not harvested remain in the ground covered with straw to store until they are needed. As are the leeks.
Star of the 2023 Fall Harvest
The best crop production is the sweet potato. These root vegetables are tricky to grow this far west and north. Since they are a family favorite, I have found a nearly foolproof way to grow them.
First, Centennial Heirlooms are the type I grow. They are ready to dig in 100-110 days. Therefore, most years will produce a crop with our late May for a last freeze and mid-September for a first frost as the averages. Even the short 2020 season produced enough to store into the late fall.
Second, the slips are started by the end of March allowing enough time to grow to transplant size. I am still experimenting with water versus a growing medium as to how to produce the healthiest transplants. Ordering slips through the mail can be a back-up, but often they are too stressed to survive.
Next, a warm ground is required before planting. I achieve this by raising my sweet potato crop in raised beds. The soil warms faster inside the metal rings I use. But if you don’t have raised beds, a black tarp put in place in late spring will also work.
Finally, I water them and leave them alone. Instead of picking by the calendar date and curing for two weeks, I wait until the first frost. Then early the next day I “dig” them up. The raised beds allow me to dig with my hands instead of a pitchfork. The frost makes them sweet. But a delay in gathering the tubers will ruin the crop. This year’s harvest yielded about 20 pounds. Plenty to feed two through the winter.
Above Ground Crops
The 2023 fall harvest of tomatoes was fair. The dry spell in August and September coupled with the cool temperatures of June resulted in the tomatoes not ripening until very late. Green beans fared even worse. Nary a green bean until mid-September. Only a few meals worth.
However, a crop of shell beans performed well enough to plant again. Harvesting dry beans is labor intensive. And the beans should have a storage life of about four years.
Evaluating the 2023 Fall Harvest
Even though the 2023 fall harvest lacked in numbers, the produce from one’s own garden is impossible to beat. Keeping notes and taking pictures will remind me what works and what doesn’t. The information also helps with crop rotation. A smaller harvest also makes one appreciate the bumper crops. Furthermore, the yield is a reminder that crops like animals need attention. I am looking forward to a better year in 2024.