This is a guest post from my wife.

Our gardening for the year came to a close around Halloween. Although we’ll harvest herbs all winter — I’ve started an indoor herb garden with clearance-sale seeds! — the cold and wet Willamette Valley winter makes outdoor work miserable. And this year we’ve even had snow and ice:

The garden in winter

The garden in summer

But the gardening cycle will begin anew with a seed order later this month. Before then, I’ve decided to make a few notes on our 2008 efforts to see what we can learn from the Get Rich Slowly garden project.

What we choose to grow in our garden is determined by our space, our tastes, and our attempts to minimize highly labor-intensive crops. Keeping track of the value of our harvest helped reinforce what I already knew: tomatoes, berries and fruit trees are winners for us. If we weren’t growing them ourselves, I would be spending grocery money to purchase these types of seasonal produce.

Our bumper crops allowed me to put up food we’ll eat all winter, keeping our food costs lower. Other crops were less dependable, or had a smaller output. By evaluating the successes and failures of 2008, I can better plan for 2009.

Berries are winners
Despite J.D.’s disastrous pruning of the raspberry canes last spring, we had wonderful fresh berries from our caneberry trellis from July through September, preceded by June’s strawberry crop and overlapping with blueberries, currants, gooseberries and elderberries.

Other than time picking the crop, berries demand little from us. We fertilize one or two times a year, do heavy cutting back on the caneberries and light pruning on the others, and hand-pull some weeds. The blueberries, currants and elderberry bushes could serve as ornamental shrubs in a limited space; our strawberries creep between the roses.

Tomatoes are winners too
I think I’ve finally hit on a Roma-type tomato that works for me! By trying different varieties through the years, I’ve found favorites in other varieties:

  • Cherry — Sungold
  • Green — Aunt Ruby’s German Green
  • Yellow beefsteak — Dr. Wyche’s Yellow
  • Red beefsteak — Oregon Star

Some specialty heirloom tomatoes aren’t very productive, so I need a dependable Roma-type that really loads on the crop if I’m to get my canning done! This year I tried a new one (Martino’s) and it was amazingly prolific. And I have plenty of seeds left in the packet for 2009!

Even though we got off to a slow start, I was satisfied with my season’s crop overall. I put a lot of time into starting and coddling the seeds and seedlings. Once they were transplanted outside, I fertilized weekly, kept the plants orderly so they grew up their cages, and generally acted like an over-protective parent.

Totally worth it when I had that first tomato salad. And worth it again as we have salsa all winter.

Fruit tree fiesta
When we moved into this home four years ago, we planted two apples, a grafted pear, and an Italian prune plum tree. This year, we got sizable crops from both apple trees and the plum — and we seem to have licked the apple maggot and codling fly problems without resorting to spraying! The pear crop gets bigger each year (1, 3, 8, 20).

Our dwarf fruit trees currently require nothing more than a light pruning in late winter and the hanging of pest traps periodically throughout the summer. As they mature, pruning will be more time-consuming and require a ladder, but the resulting crop will be larger. When blooming in spring, each is a thing of such beauty that it takes my breath away.

If you have a bit of room, do some research and plant a dwarf fruit tree (fall is the best time in our climate). I’m determined to add an Asian Pear tree or two to our home orchard. (And maybe even a cherry.)

Small successes
We had some other minor successes, too.

We planted two acorn squash, which required practically no work and produced nine squash. Once picked, these were left on the porch a week to dry, then moved to the basement stairs for storage. I’ll enjoy them throughout the winter. I’d plant more, but JD won’t eat them.

In June we had a bumper crop of snow peas. Over the summer, I learned of a variety I like even better, so we’ll be planting two types this Spring. When Oregon is desperately trying to break free of gloom’s grip, picking a pea pod reassures us that the sun is on its way. Peas require minimal effort.

We had some successes, but we also had some failures. Every gardener has things she can’t grow. For example, J.D. and I can’t seem to grow lettuce or carrots. This year we struggled with some other plants too:

  • Corn. Due to poor weather, our corn crop was less than impressive. Also, to pollinate well, one needs to plant a sizable patch of corn. This year, J.D. and I finally accepted it: we don’t want to use that much space just for corn. The ear-to-square-foot ratio is too low. Even at this year’s higher prices, local corn on the cob was still two for a dollar. It’s not worth our investment of time, money, or space. But truthfully, I might plant it again anyway. Call me an optimist.
  • Asparagus. I planted a short row of asparagus in 2005. This year, I got my first measley harvest. Asparagus crowns take several years to mature, and can produce for as long as twenty years, so I don’t know if I’m being impatient or have truly failed to give this crop what it needs. So far, we’ve invested four bags of steer manure, about $12 in asparagus crowns, room in the garden and three years of wishing in exchange for six stalks of asparagus.
  • Potatoes. Okay, okay, I just like planting potatoes. Not a good investment of space, though, unless you would normally pay the exorbitant store prices for specialty types. A 10-pound bag of russet potatoes only costs $2! I’ll try to resist this year.
  • Gooseberries. I got a nice crop of gooseberries in 2008. I even made a gooseberry pie. Then one day I noticed something was eating the leaves of one gooseberry bush. Because we have relatively few destructive garden pests around here, I didn’t do anything. Less than two weeks later, both bushes were entirely stripped of leaves. Stripped! The culprit is the gooseberry sawfly. Strike one against gooseberries. They’re incredible thorny — strike two. And the gooseberry pie wasn’t that great (strike three). Maybe I’ll replace them with more currants!
  • Cucumbers. Our cucumbers never recovered from the slug onslaught. Lesson learned. This year I will be vigilant with the protection from day one. They also suffered from sporadic watering, since I stupidly planted them among my tomatoes, which I do not water once they are established (unless drooping). Better garden layout next year!
  • Flowers. We don’t talk about it at GRS much, but there are 60 rosebushes, 23 camellias, and scads of perennial and annual flower beds at Rosings Park (as we call our half acre). I neglected these a little last year. This year I’ll strive to pay more attention to them.

Gardening is an adventure for us. For me it’s a relaxing hobby, a great way to spent my summer evenings and weekends connecting with my piece of the planet. For J.D., it’s a good way to get sweet treats for cheap. It’s a fun way to spend time together while also saving a little money.