The Garden Enters a New Season

A lot was learned this year in the summer garden. I’m still processing it, and working out what changes I will be making for the next summer garden. There are still some crops in the summer garden that need to be harvested, but it’s winding down and soon will be dormant until planting time in the spring.

In the meantime, I have started a fall/winter garden on the other side of the house from where the summer garden was this year. This garden is in a part of the area where a pipeline (for processed water going from the water treatment plant to the river) was put in and the soil is whatever they trucked in and dumped there. It seems pretty poor, and will need a lot of building up. Rather than wait until I have an opportunity to do that work before starting a garden there, I decided to try straw bale beds to begin with, which ought to help build up the soil when they eventually get tilled into the existing soil.

I lined up several straw bales, soaked them, and dug out a little bit of straw in the places where I wanted to plant my seedlings. I put a small amount of my potting soil mix in the holes, inserted the seedlings, and added more potting soil. I covered that with the straw that I had dug out to make the holes.

So far I have planted golden cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage in the beds. I will continue adding more of these plants to fill the existing bales, and I will probably add to the bales that are there. I will be planting everything in succession plantings to maintain a steady supply of these veggies.

I have put the winter garden on this side of the house because the other side does not get anywhere near enough sun in the winter months. Already, in late October, most of it is in shadow by about 2:00 or 3:00 PM.

This year’s summer garden had a lot of problems, and some interesting successes. The bug problem was horrendous, because glassy winged sharpshooters and leaf footed bugs spread a lot of disease among the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, and this was most acutely manifested during the hottest part of the summer. The tomatoes did not survive beyond the middle of August, but the rest of the plants did, and bounced back again after the heat became a bit less unrelenting.

So the goal for next year’s summer garden is to have tall supports up long before the hot part of the summer, and to have shade plants growing on them as early as possible. The idea being to have the tomatoes, especially, protected from the sun by early to mid July.

I also have plans to experiment with some different kinds of foliar sprays that are supposed to protect the plants from all kinds of problems. I will be trying compost tea and a weak solution of hydrogen peroxide and water. I will also try using a bit of copper wire at the base of each of the tomato plants, which I have read will help protect the plants from blight.

I will not be companion planting again in the way I did this time. In my garden, many of the plants have a tendency to become giants. The okra plants, Jerusalem artichokes, and sunflowers grew way too big for the area where they were planted. The garden became a jungle by the middle of August. While I like growing cucumbers vertically, it doesn’t work for me to have them climbing up a tomato cage, even when the seed package says they are only supposed to grow to about five feet. The cucumbers also tried to take over the garden, and their supports weren’t nearly big enough. I also will not be planting sweet pea currant tomatoes any more. I thought they might be good for shade, but they really just take over and don’t produce anything we want to eat, and they can’t handle the heat enough to be able to provide shade for the other plants.

The peppers, eggplants, and carrots, rather than being shaded by the larger plants, actually got lost underneath them. The carrots struggled valiantly for a while, and then finally just disappeared altogether. The sweet potatoes, similarly, ran out of vertical space to grow up, and ended up overwhelming the tomato bed. With the proper supports, sweet potato should be an excellent shade plant.

The first planting of green beans was started too late, and did not produce before things got too hot for them, but a second planting did quite well and is still producing beans even now, at the end of October. The lambs quarters grew far too big for the garden as did the amaranth. I thought I had planted malabar spinach, but what grew where I planted it was not malabar spinach, but rather, more amaranth. I don’t know if the seed packet had the wrong seeds in it, or if I just grabbed the wrong one when I went to plant it. I guess I’ll have to start some test seeds from the malabar spinach packet and see what come up before I plant any more of them. The cantaloupes produced a lot of blossoms but no fruit. I expect they were planted way too late.

The sunflowers were enormous, with one reaching at least 12 feet tall. One of the okras was also at least that tall. I haven’t had a chance to measure it lately, but I will when Hurricane Sandy is no longer dumping water on us. Some of the Jerusalem artichokes reached at least 8 feet tall, and probably taller. The sunflowers and okra did attract the leaf footed bugs as I had hoped they would do, as well as the glassy winged sharpshooters, but rather than providing a diversion away from the tomatoes and peppers, I think they actually attracted a larger number of these bugs to the garden, and the tomatoes and peppers, than would have been the case if they had been located elsewhere.

The bug garden did eventually attract a lot of bugs, but not until the plants on which they had been living in the other garden had stopped providing them with what they needed. So next year I will be planting the bug garden first, so that those plants will have the head start rather than the other way around. And I think I will only have sunflowers in the bug garden and not anywhere else. And I think I will have the okras as far away from the tomatoes and peppers as possible.

I’m going to move the bug garden to a location that is not quite so in the middle of things as it was this year. It became unsightly toward the end of the season, and because it was for the bugs, I didn’t want to mess with it. Where the bug garden is now, I will probably plant flowers that are good for attracting bugs away from crop plants.

The herb garden did quite well for the most part. Some of the plants were introduced to the garden too late in the season and died back when it got very hot. The lemongrass and eucalyptus tree both grew very big (as did the two avocado trees, which were located elsewhere). The tarragon seems to want to take over a large part of the herb garden. The strawberries had a bit of a rough start, but eventually they put out enough little babies that we now have six hanging baskets full of strawberry plants plus one stationary pot full of them. They are still blossoming and producing small fruits.

The pepper and eggplant harvests have been very good this year and they are still producing. The cucumber harvest was good until it got too hot for them. The last few cucumber harvests also had a lot of worms in them, so I will be finding ways to mitigate that problem for next year. Most of the Jerusalem artichokes are still in the ground, but I dug one up and it had about five pounds of tubers just from that one plant. All of the sweet potatoes have been harvested, and we estimate that the harvest is around 70 to 80 pounds total. Many of the sweet potatoes are enormous, with quite a few weighing more than three pounds. The largest was just under 4 lb (3 lb, 15 oz). I consider both the Jerusalem artichokes and the sweet potatoes a success. The okra crop was very good also.

Next summer’s garden will have some new experiments. I will be allowing the area where I had this year’s summer garden go fallow for the winter, and I think I’ll try putting black plastic over the soil to let the sun sterilize it a bit. I am seriously thinking about putting a hugelkultur garden in the area out back in the power line cut. I didn’t have a garden there this year because I never got a chance to till it. There are a lot of pieces of dead wood laying around the area that are a good size for hugelkultur. I have to find out if they are appropriate species of tree, though. Hugelkultur utilizes big pieces of wood buried in beds that rot over a long period of time. It’s one kind of permaculture method. That location is a good one for this type of gardening because it’s harder to get water to it, and hugelkultur beds are suppose to not need irrigating. Plus, that soil is still in need of a lot of building up, and this method does that work for me, once I have the pieces of wood in place.

I will be posting more pictures as time allows, but here are a few for now.

The straw bale beds

Straw Bale Beds

Straw Bale Bed Closeup

The herb garden

Herb Garden 1

Herb Garden 2

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