2021 Growing Season in Review

by | Jan 23, 2022 | Season Review | 0 comments

We’re into January, and here in New Jersey, the frosty nights are back, officially bringing to a close the vegetable-growing season.

I have a few plants still kicking, but I want to document the year – and hopefully make this an annual event to keep a more detailed record of what went right and wrong (expanding on my Garden Log spreadsheet with dates and notes).

Let’s go through everything I grew in 2021!


START DATE: 3/7/2021


Basil is a yearly staple that is essential for tomato sauce and pesto.

I only grew green basil by seed.

Two years prior (2019), I grew green and purple basil, which dropped their seeds. So then, in 2020, I didn’t start any seedlings indoors. Once it got warm around May, the basil sprouted directly in my herb garden bed.

After the basil plants matured, the leaves had highlights of both green and purple. As it turns out, basil can cross-breed.

You learn something new every year!


START DATE: 6/26/2021

HARVEST DATE: 8/12/2021

I went back to my roots by planting bush beans this year instead of pole beans like I did in the previous couple of years. I didn’t feel like creating a structure for the climbing plants.

The cool thing is I reused the seed packets from roughly five years ago and had no issues with sprouting. The beans went into the ground a few days after harvesting carrots from the same spot.

I may go consecutive years with bush beans next year since they produced well in a small space.


START DATE: 4/10/2021

HARVEST DATE: 6/15/2021

I did succession planting seeding them a month later, then again in the fall on 9/30.

Beets have become one of my favorite foods to eat. However, this year didn’t go as planned.

The first batch was tiny, and that’s likely my fault because I didn’t do a great job of thinning them.

The second round barely sprouted, probably because I only spent the first two or three days watering them. We had some hot days in May, and perhaps I didn’t plant them deep enough.

Then I had gutter guys come over in October, and they stepped in the area where the beets seedlings had likely just sprouted. That’s because my shed is inches from the vegetable bed.

Next year, it will be a priority to fix this since I like boiling and slicing beets to freeze for the winter.

I struggle with the timing between the cool weather plants that go in the ground first versus summer plants like peppers and tomatoes that I need to transplant if they spend too long in a small pot.

It is always a sacrifice to pick which plants you grow in a limited backyard growing space.


START DATE: 4/10/2021

HARVEST DATE: 6/24/2021

I did succession planting seeding them a month later, then again in the fall on 8/6 and 9/30.

The first two rounds of carrots turned out similar to the beets, i.e., too small from lack of thinning. However, the first fall batch had a few massive carrots after I didn’t make that mistake again.

The last fall planting is still in the ground. Last year carrots survived the cold/snow, and I harvested them in late winter. So I expect the same thing this year.

They stay well in the fridge for months. The key is to replace the paper towels in your plastic storage bag every week until they are slightly moist and there’s no condensation within the container. Then, keep the bag slightly open to vent, and they will be fresh for a while. The first part that goes bad is the base of the leaves if they’re not trimmed.


START DATE: Perennial


I got chives seeds from a friend of mine last year and spread them in my herb garden bed. That led to a plant that survived winter, which I used to accent meals throughout the summer.

Then I saved and planted the seeds in August from their blossoms in one of my non-vegetable garden beds to see if I could create a chive border. Sadly, they all germinated, but ~80% of them died, once again from my lack of proper watering when they were young. Time is limited, my friends.

I’ll give it another shot next year with the surviving plants.


START DATE: 11/24/2020

HARVEST DATE: 6/30/2021

Garlic was the most interesting new addition to my garden planted in late November last year.

Some claim that you never want to plant cloves from the grocery store since you don’t know the garlic variety. But that’s what I did, and it was an overall success in my book.

After pulling them from the ground, I dusted off the soil and let them dry for ~10-14 days in the kitchen on a chair.

The one downside was an abundance of tiny garlic mites or bugs. You would see them spread across the dark wood grain of the chair, Which I’d wipe up only to find more in a few hours. However, their activity slowed down after a couple of days.

There was ultimately no damage to the bulbs.

After the drying period, I peeled off the outer layers, leaving a perfectly dirt-free head of garlic, then trimmed off the leaves. They hung out on the counter for 3+ months.

I gave a few away and eventually used the remaining stash for a batch of roast garlic which is divided up in my freezer now!


START DATE: 4/10/2021


I slacked on lettuce this year, partially because I had the space used up from the garlic, And I also had a few plants that survived the winter but eventually died out. In retrospect, I should have cut them and started fresh with new lettuce and greens seeds.

By fall, I was exhausted from the amount of time spent picking/preserving peppers, tomatoes, and raspberries that I didn’t have the energy to worry about it. So instead, I opted for the lower-maintenance beets and carrots (click to go to the section on each vegetable).

Romaine is my favorite variety since it’s a mild flavor, grows well in a small space, and the leaves are easy to pick off one by one whenever you need it for a fresh salad.

Admittedly, I’m not a nightly side salad eater. Instead, I’m a “big” salad guy (i.e., as the entire meal) who wants lots of protein, toppings, and flavors.

My two favorite lettuce uses are a bed for taco meat (with cheese, guacamole, salsa, sour cream) or a Cobb salad. To remember what’s in it, use the acronym E-A-T-C-O-B-B.

Eggs, avocado, tomato, chicken, onion, bacon, blue cheese!


START DATE: Perennial


Oregano is an essential addition to tomato sauces and is critical to a pizza versus pasta sauce.

It has a similar growth pattern to thyme but is slightly less hardy – at least the stem feel, not sure on the temperature, haha.

One insect problem that oregano and thyme suffered from was aphids or spider mites. You’d stick your hand and shake some of the stems, and they fly off.

They were sucking the leaves from the underside because you noticed little white spots on the top.

I spray neem oil a handful of times throughout the season to help mitigate any insect infestations. But, in this case, the best solution is said to be high-pressure hose water to knock them off daily until they don’t come back.

I also dried the oregano for short batches in a low-temperature oven. My gut says it would be better air-dried since this discolored the leaves considerably. I’ll give that a shot next year.


START DATE: 2/28/2021

HARVEST DATE: 8/6/2021

Hot peppers outperform sweet ones seemingly every year, so my primary goal was to flip that script.

I guess bell peppers aren’t as fast to develop as smaller-sized heat bombs.

To counteract this, I germinated mainly sweet peppers in late February.

That included a different seed starting method using deli condiment cups in a cardboard box along with a heating mat.

Most of the first seeds did not sprout, so I started another round on 3/29. I think this is because of uneven humidity. The containers got too dry on some days and too wet on others.

However, I think I’m starting too early because that second batch performed nicely. Because I don’t have a sizeable indoor setup, there comes the point each Spring where they need to be transplanted (along with tomatoes), but my grow lights can only handle so many seedlings!

In the end, I planted ~15 peppers, including Chocolate Bell, Douce D’Espagne, Hungarian Wax, Jalapeno, New Mexico 6-4L, Orange Mini.

Both hot and sweet performed admirably, as I got 1 gallon of hot sauce, dried ones, and multiple containers of sauteed peppers and onions ready to flavor future meals.

The Chocolate Bell peppers were the most plentiful in terms of plants in the ground, and they took up the front of a bed. Sadly, they got overtaken by the next row of peppers.

Many started to rot or get sun scald before ripening, too.

But since there were 6 of them, I still harvested a decent amount, mostly later in the season.

The Douce variety is saved seeds purchased from Home Depot, and I like them as a sweet red pepper. They are longer than bell peppers and tapered at the end. They produced more abundantly last year when they took up the most space.

The Hungarian Wax is unremarkable. It didn’t have noticeable flavor after ripening, plus awkwardly curved shaped so harder to cut up while removing seeds.

The New Mexico’s were the clear winner of the year. They came in hot and heavy from just a few plants. I dried them whole and made hot sauce with a mix of jalapenos.

The Orange Mini’s might be my favorite sweet pepper. Here’s another seed that I saved from an organic delivery box that my sister gifted many years ago. It came with red and yellow varieties, and I have one bag of seeds labeled “Mini Mystery.” One day, I’m hoping that I’ll get a non-orange mini from this error in labeling.

Following the hot/sweet theory above, the sweet minis seem more resilient than the big bells, ripen faster, and a bonus is they have few seeds.

Next year, I’ll scale back on peppers or start later since I’m still using hot pepper powder from 2 years ago.


START DATE: Perennial

HARVEST DATE: 6/25/2021

If there’s a plant that has outperformed expectations, it’s raspberry. I bought this in a relatively small pot from Lowe’s two years ago. Little did I know raspberries grow like a weed.

The raspberry plant is in my front yard along the fence. Little plants sprout each year further away in adjacent mulch beds and even in my backyard behind the fence!

The benefit of this is a bountiful harvest. The first handful comes in slow, and then it’s an onslaught for about two months.

I spent at least an hour picking the entire plant producing 1-2 lbs of ripe raspberries every 5-7 days.

Did I mention the raspberry variety I have (everbearing) is thorny? I gave up on gloves. It’s just a way to harden up your hands.

The riper raspberries got infested with tiny larvae called spotted-wing drosophila. They are supposedly common and hard to prevent because they go after the softest fruits. This article from the University of Minnesota goes into how to defend against them!

That means the best preventative measure is picking all ripe fruits, a nearly impossible task. Of course, you can also use netting to prevent the adults from laying eggs in the first place. But that’s another chore I’m not ready to tackle.

The raspberries are safe to eat, though — just a bit more protein in the grand scheme of things.

The easiest way to preserve the raspberries is to make a jam, which I freeze, but you can jar it up, too.

I go low-carb, which includes lemon juice, a tablespoon of chia seeds to thicken, and sweetener (i.e., erythritol and stevia). That goes into a small saucepan on the burner until it’s simmering. A potato masher works nicely to blend it up as it’s heated.


START DATE: Perennial


Rosemary is a perennial that I purchased last year as a transplant, then moved out of my primary herb garden into a separate bed because it was shaded by oregano and thyme, which spread faster.

I had an established rosemary plant from many years ago, but it randomly died one winter.

The plant grew nicely last year, and this spring, I trimmed it up by leaving about 7-8 main stems and cutting off all of the rest. That gave it room for new shoots to produce, which are less bitter than woody, old-growth.

You might be surprised that this was my first year where I harvested and dried rosemary. First, I picked the needles off the large stems and let them hang out on a sheet pan on the countertop for several days until they got crunchy enough to break up into an empty spice jar.


START DATE: Perennial


Strawberry, which is the gypsy of my garden, has moved around multiple times. It’s currently in a terracotta pot, but I may put it back in the ground next year.

In contrast with raspberries, my strawberry plant has not grown much in several years. It’s partially my fault for the transplant activity. I haven’t given it a dedicated area to thrive, and I’m still figuring out the best spot.

I’ve yet to have a strawberry “harvest” where I bring a pint of fruit indoors. So instead, strawberry is my snacking plant when I’m out in the yard doing garden work. It serves its purpose, but I would like to amplify the output since they are sweet and delicious!


START DATE: 6/15/2021

HARVEST DATE: 8/2/2021

If I had to pick the two best plants of all time in my garden, it would be Swiss chard and yellow squash (Early Straightneck).

You’d think that would translate into green zucchini success, but it’s arguably my biggest failure now that it’s been five plantings in 5 years and maybe seven total zucchinis to show for it!

I wonder if that’s because of the specific variety (Cocozelle) or something that I should be doing differently.

The two big problems are that squash needs a lot of room to grow, and that’s always limited in my backyard, and just from observation, it appears that the leaves on the green zucchini are closer together. This is less room for fruit, and more often than not, the baby green zucchini start rotting before they mature compared to the yellow squash.

On the other hand, a single yellow squash plant reliably produces one or more 1-2 pound fruits daily when the conditions are right.

Squash is one of my favorite vegetables to eat and a fast grower, so I make space for it every year.


START DATE: Perennial


Thyme is a set it and forget it kind of herb.

I bought mine as a transplant probably 5+ years ago now, and it’s a perennial that requires low maintenance –  nothing more than a trim or two each year.

The other great thing about time is that it self-seeds like crazy, so you’ll find baby plants popping up everywhere around the primary plant.

I’ve let these new plants take root in my herb bed to “relocate” them and get a fresh start while heavily cutting back the original one.

Thyme can also take a little abuse, so it’s a popular choice for edging and in-between pavers. Every year I pot up little thyme seedlings to give away or fill in empty spaces in my other landscape beds.

This year was my first drying thyme, and I used the same air-dry on the countertop method as with the rosemary.


START DATE: 3/29/2021

HARVEST DATE: 7/20/2021

I grew four tomato varieties from saved or previously purchased seeds – Black Krim, Brandywine Yellow, San Marzano, and Yellow Pear.

My newest method for tying up tomato plants worked out better: old, cut-up tees. Last year, I think it was twine, but that is so thin that it sometimes digs into the stems. On the other hand, the shirts are soft and evenly distribute the weight.

The only downside is a few shirt pieces got slightly mildewy during wet conditions. I wonder if this can introduce diseases to the plant.

Using a 7 ft concrete reinforcement mesh as the support system is more effective than having a cage for each tomato.

I was worried about planting too closely, and that’s a bigger deal if you don’t manicure often. But since I regularly patrol, I trimmed, so there were 1-2 primary stems from each plant. I probably could have squeezed them in more.

Like all years, I had failures. Two tomato plants outside this vertical structure required support, so I plugged short bamboo sticks into the ground and tied a string from the end to the support structure to train them upwards.

Then, one morning, I found my tomato plant lying on the ground. I shouldn’t be surprised the string broke halfway through the year because it wasn’t thick enough. Thankfully, it survived the fall, and I tied it back up with minimal damage.

Note to self – always get much thicker twine if it’s used outdoors in the elements for an entire season!

I have to admit, Black Krim ranks last among my top tomatoes for a few reasons. First, too many began to rot before completely ripening. For the ones that didn’t, they were slow to mature, and even then, the tops of the tomatoes stayed green, making them harder to peel for sauce.

Yellow Pears are like a uniquely shaped and colored version of a small cherry tomato. But as fate would have it, they were the first to bite the dust from disease. As a result, I got almost nothing from the plant for the second consecutive time.

That’s somewhat surprising because Yellow Pear grew like a bush when I bought the transplant (how I got the seeds) since I didn’t provide any vertical support. They.

The Brandywines are big boys (~1 lb) that ripened beautifully and were much easier to peel. I remember reading that yellow tomatoes have less sugar than red ones, making a slightly healthier, more savory tomato sauce. Unfortunately, the Brandywine plant was the second to die, after Yellow Pear.

The San Marzano story is more interesting. I planted three of these (two in the ground, one in a pot). One of them had unusually round tomatoes, unlike the standard oblong shape you’d expect.

Not quite sure if they cross-bred or another variety got mixed in with my saved seeds. Either way, they are a staple for true Italians like myself. I’ve grown either them or Roma as the base of my sauces yearly.

As of now, there are quarts of marinara sauce and raw blended tomatoes in my freezer. One year I’ll get into canning.

My goal every season is not to buy one can or jar of tomatoes all year. I think I’m going to succeed after a failure last year!

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