Cucumbers were the big winners in our summer garden

Well, we had mixed results in our summer garden this year.

Having a garden motivates us to go into the backyard every day and putter around. It gets us outside when we probably would prefer just sitting inside with the air conditioning.

And it is exciting to see something grow.

Every year, we try some new things. We want to get educated on how to grow food and flowers. My parents’ generation knew how to grow food because they needed to. A backyard garden supplemented their dinner table and the farms they grew up on completely depended on growing food and managing livestock.

I grew up getting almost everything from the supermarket.

My wife Susan had a fantastic year with her cucumbers. She put up a couple of dozen jars of dill pickles and sweet pickles and we had enough cucumbers to do 100 jars.

I watched an old Andy Griffin Show recently. In that episode, Aunt Bee made eight quarts of pickles, with some to eat and some to enter into the county fair.

They tasted horrible but Andy and Barney felt compelled to eat some. They hatched a plan and replaced all of Aunt Bees pickles with store bought pickles. Then they realized she was going to enter the store bought pickles in the fair, so they had to eat eight jars of pickles so she would have to make a new batch of the nasty pickles.

Susan’s pickles are really, really good. And there is a bit of satisfaction knowing that she grew them in our garden. And it was nice to have such a great crop because it was not that great last year. We gave away a bunch of cucumbers this summer (and ate many, too).

Susan is a whiz at growing tomatoes but this year was not a banner crop. We built a new 10x10x8 tomato cage with pvc pipe and chicken wire to keep the squirrels out. That worked pretty good.

But the tomatoes were good but not great. We only planted half our garden space this season to give the garden a bit of a break.

The herb portion of our garden did fantastic. The rosemary plant that we put in a few years ago is still going strong.

Several basil plants sprang up in the untilled portion of our garden. We have so much basil that Susan plans to process it and store it (and probably give a lot away).

We also put in two mint plants – one lemon/mint and one pineapple/mint. They really prospered. We haven’t done anything with them yet but the leaves smell really, really good.

Susan planted strawberries and they did very well for the first year. We constructed covers over them with pvc pipe and chicken wire to keep the squirrels out. That worked, too.

Our blackberry bushes did pretty well. We figured out that we needed to water them during the winter in order to have a good berry crop.

We did have some mice get into our tomatoes and strawberries. Apparently, they can figure out how to sneak through chicken wire. A couple of well-placed mouse traps took care of them.

My neighbor Fred bought a live-trap last year because varmits were eating his tomatoes. He has caught a possum, squirrels and even an alley cat. He releases them where they can’t find their way back to his yard.

I tried to grow pumpkins this year but messed up. Last year, I got three or four sugar pumpkins but had a problem with worms. This year, fungus got my pumpkin plants.

We love pumpkin bread and pumpkin pies made from scratch. Here’s a little secret – pumpkin prices drop dramatically two or three days after Halloween. I got a couple of sugar pumpkins for a dollar each in early November two years ago.

It’s never too early to start getting ready for the next season. This year, instead of bagging grass clippings and sending them to the dump, we spread them around the garden. This drastically cut down on weeds and helped retain moisture in the soil. And it should provide much needed nutrients for next year’s plants.

We bought a dehydrator and I hope this fall we can experiment with that some more. It is great for drying herbs. I tried dehydrating bananas. They were OK but not great.

Americans eat too many processed foods. I have a sensitivity to monosodium glutamate (msg) and I have been appalled to see how many packaged foods are riddled with msg. It supposedly adds flavor and is a preservative.

It’s just common sense that eating fewer processed foods and fast foods is a healthy strategy. Making meals from scratch is healthy, less expensive and more satisfying.

And it’s fun to grow some of the stuff in your backyard.