2011 was a pretty good year farming wise at home. For an urban (I do consider myself urban) backyard container farm we did pretty good. And more importantly, we learned a lot to apply for next year.

Starting out we added several new containers to our farm. I was surprised my wife went along with it! I wanted to add even more but next year. Nevertheless, we had a good assortment of vegetables and herbs.

The herbs just couldn’t be stopped! Our basil was strong and even some errant seeds from last years’ plants took root in other parts of the yard which added to the crop. We learned late last year that to extend the crop you need to pluck the flower stalks before they blossom. Once basil flowers the leaves die quickly. Applied this year we really got a good crop that as fresh was good and dried will last all winter.

The oregano once removed from the stems and dried also did very very well and will last all winter. Same with the sage.

Our lemon verbena was unstoppable! It can be added fresh when making soap for a nice fragrance or dried and used as a tea that supposedly is good for an upset stomach. Fresh or dry it smells great anyway to have around.

Parsley was tough as it always is for us but we did scratch out a fair crop. Same with the thyme and rosemary. Have to work on it more.

And our chives just keep coming back year after year! Maybe add another container next season just to boost the yield.

On the veggie side, things were even better.

We had a bumper crop of jalapeno peppers! Bell peppers did good too but needed lots of water.

We tried eggplant. We got a few nice ones from a single plant. Going to add more plants next season.

Cucumbers for pickling didn’t do so great. I think the seed package was mislabeled. It was supposed to produce lots of smaller fruits for pickling. Instead it only produced a few very large ones. Still tasty but not the numbers we wanted. Will try again next year.

On a brighter note, we tried a string bean plant that did very very well. Not enough to add as a side dish for any particular meal. But certainly enough to add to a soup or stew. Also tried blanching, vacuum sealing and freezing some for the winter. Seems it will be good. Will try more plants next year.

Finally, the tomatoes were a challenge. Many of the fruit developed “bottom rot” where the fruit turns black and starts to rot from the bottom/base and works its way up. According to many sources the reason is 1) Too much water and 2) not enough calcium! Who would have thought tomatoes need calcium too! I added some fertilizer that contained 2% calcium as well as cut back the watering to every other day (in spite of the summer heat) and that seemed to help a bit. Next year I’m going to add a more tomato specific fertilizer with more calcium and nitrogen. One website I read said to save your egg shells then grind them up and put it in the soil when planting. Going to try that too.

Also saw a video from a guy that described a very aggressive form of tomato plant pruning. He says it forces the plant to quickly produce bigger fruits. I tried it and it seemed to help a bit. Will try more next season.

The raccoons started nibbling on the tomatoes in late September. I found that picking them just as they started to turn red and letting them ripen in a paper bag on the counter saved many. A slower process than on the vine ripening but it helped.

Overall the container farm is coming along well given the very limited size to work with. My wife doesn’t want me to dig up the yard itself for planting so we just added more containers. I’m sure the crop would be better in the ground. My father-in-law had an incredible tomato crop this year!

We thought about making large planters but decided containers work better. Easier to shuffle around the yard as needed. Not going to be able to live off the crop but we definitely have reached a point of regularly being able to add some fresh herbs and veggies to the table that does help to start making a dent in the food budget (didn’t have to buy a tomato all summer!) without a lot of extra daily work.

Next year, in addition to what I mentioned above, we’re going to add some more containers as well as a rain water capture system (that can have a dual purpose). And going to try some other seeds like celery, radishes and maybe heirloom tomatoes.

Very excited about the possibilities!