Lessons from my 2021 garden

I offer a lot of gardening advice on this site, so I think it’s important that I share how things have worked for me. Here are some of the lessons I learned from my summer garden:

Raised Beds

A while back, I wrote about how I switched to raised beds. Some are no-till, one was double dug, but all have done pretty well. I’ve grown cucumbers, peppers, sweet potatoes, basil, marigolds, amaranth, lettuce, tomatoes, green beans, and sweet potatoes. Yields weren’t just fantastic, but we had a baby this summer, so I greatly scaled back my ambitions.

But the raised beds still produced a good amount of food and I didn’t break any machinery or myself in the process, so I think it’s been a big success.


I posted a forum thread on how to make trellises with PVC pipe and string. I got the idea from Brett Markham’s The Mini Farming Bible. Unfortunately, they didn’t hold up well at all. My pole beans regularly broke the trellis, so I had to support it with a metal t-post. The tomatoes (which did amazing) completely overtook the trellis and everything around it.


Future trellises will be made of t-posts and cattle panels.

Squash and Melon Pits

The squash crop was a disaster. A rabid possum ate everything in the melon pits, including the dirt, so I had to buy bagged soil and start over. Squash germinated well enough but produced very little. My neighbor also had trouble, which he blamed on blight. I think next year I’m going to just grow winter squash in raised beds and trellis them.

Melon pits aren’t without value. David the Good had great success with them this year.


Since I planted so intensively, I made a point of deep mulching. I have a bagger on my pushmower so I just threw down grass clippings. The beds stayed moist except during the worst dry spells.


I don’t specify tomatoes as a survival crop, but my wife canned a ton of them last year and we’re still using them, so I put five tomato plants in the ground that I started from seed (German Pink from Baker Creek). They did almost too well. I put them at the north edge of the bed and they ended up taking over their bed and the one next to it. And of course they totally overwhelmed my trellis.

The tomatoes had no disease and were barely bothered by pests. I attribute that to planting them in a bed that was double-dug two feet down, plant them about a foot deep in the ground, and I put a Tums at the bottom of the holes for calcium. I’ll repeat all that next year, but I’ll put them in the center of the bed, dedicate the entire bed to the tomatoes, and properly cage them.

One mistake I made: picking tomatoes when they were too green. The right time to pick them is just when they start turning red. If I wait for them to get fully ripe, the bugs will eat them.


Sweet Potatoes

I haven’t harvested them yet, but the plants have done really well in a foot of compost. The leaves make great rabbit fodder. The leaves have perfectly shaded the bed so I almost never have to water it and there are very few weeds.

Green Beans

I went all-in on pole beans this year (Kentucky Wonder), but I kind of wish I hadn’t. They produced well, but it took them two months before I got anything. Next year I’m going to mix bush beans with pole beans. Bush beans produce faster, pole beans produce more.

Cucumbers and Peppers

I grew these because my son likes them. Poor yields from both. Too much cucumber disease and the peppers just didn’t produce. I think they were spaced too closely. But I have two big mason jars full of fermented pickles that are quite good. I saved a bunch of cucumber seed to see if the second generation is better adapted next year.



I grew two varieties: “Chinese spinach” and Golden Giant. The Chinese spinach ended up being bug fodder, which is okay because I didn’t stress the garden this year. I’ve been harvesting the Golden Giant for seed when the heads are dry and putting them in large paper bags so the seeds can fall out. I’m not sure how useful it’ll be, but I grew it as an experiment.



I made it a goal to grow a decent amount of lettuce this year, with some success. The problem is it gets so hot here so fast that lettuce gets bitter. There are a number of things I could do to mitigate that, but I’m not sure it’s worth the effort.

What I may do next year is grow just a couple of heads at a time, planted a couple of weeks apart. Harvest one head, replant, and then harvest the other head a week or two later. Or maybe I’ll just buy it locally and focus on survival crops that take less work.


I had two beds of garlic in the ground. Garlic is easy to grow, so it produced okay, but the heads were kind of small, I think due to hard soil. I’m going to fill a raised bed with garlic in a few weeks.

Other Observations

  • Spinosad and neem oil work okay against bugs, but I think diatomaceous earth works better.
  • An irrigation system of some kind would be really nice, but I want something that isn’t dependent on city water. I’m planning to set up a water collection system next to my workshop and I’ll work from there.
  • Next year, I’m going to focus more on survival crops, like potatoes. I’ll have more beds built then and I’ve sort of learned the hard way to not plant things just because the kids say they’ll eat them.

  • Comments (8)

    • 5

      I pick my tomatoes as early as when they first show a bit of orange… much less orange than what you picture.  Since I only pick every few days, some will have more orange (almost red) but I will pick mostly green ones that are starting to color up.  Like you state, if I wait for them to ripen on the vine, critters will get them or take a bite.  Birds are very attracted to deep reds & a fully ripe tomato gets lots of attention.

      I highly suggest growing Seminole pumpkins as your winter squash crop next year.  Squash bugs won’t kill them, they grow HUGE vines, and the fruit will store all winter in a garage… even in Florida (where they come from).  The native Americans used to let them grow up trees they had killed.  They taste very similar to sweet potatoes.

      • 1

        Yeah, that’s not a bad idea. I think that’s the variety David the Good grows.

    • 4

      Great write-up! What could you have done to prevent your lettuce from getting bitter?

      And then I also have a question on your mulch, so you placed your grass clippings around the base of your plants to prevent weeds and keep the beds moist? Next year will you just till it all together and do it again?

      • 2

        Thanks! Re: lettuce. Pick it sooner? Shade cloth? A lot of people grow lettuce hydroponically, which might be a good solution here.

        The grass clippings decompose pretty quickly in the sub-tropical heat. In the one bed I’ve cleaned up there was very little left. I threw a little in the compost and some of it got mixed in when I raked the bed.

    • 4

      I don’t think planting the peppers too close is the problem. I was given several bell pepper plants that I was not prepared for and just put them in a spot under my banana trees and with the sweet potatoes and didn’t do a good job with spacing at all and the potato vines are growing through them. Yet my bell peppers are growing prolifically, even having three on one branch in many places. I have a shallow compost trench behind the banana plants since they are nutrient hogs and I think the peppers are thriving from it. Maybe you need different or more nutrients?  Also I noticed when we had a ton of rain they really started blooming, so maybe extra water too?

    • 2

      Are you going to be giving the extra plant matter and waste to your rabbits? I wonder how you would know if they are poisonous to them or not. 

      How are the rabbits doing these days?

      • 3

        I’m extremely careful with what I feed them because there are so many things they’re not supposed to eat. They mostly eat pellets, but I fed them my bitter lettuce, sweet potato leaves, and grass clippings. Spinach and amaranth are big no-nos. I did throw some of the garden scrap to the chickens, who’ll eat anything.

        Rabbits are good! We have a couple of babies now, which took me by surprise because my iPhone reminder didn’t fire and I was down with a nasty stomach bug when I should have put the nest box in. Thankfully, I managed to fix them up after the fact and mama didn’t reject them.


        That was a few weeks ago. They look much more bunny-like now.


    • 2

      Love the update, thanks Josh!