Thursday, September 22, 2011

Gardening: When Commonsense Fails

SustainaMom looks back at three years of gardening, and sighs as she realizes the first year was her best...

Two years ago, I wrote "Lessons from My First Garden" as a guest poster here. That "garden" (really just tomatoes, herbs, beans and carrots) was a lot of fun, and it led to a wonderful second garden in 2010. Last year, I tilled up a 12-foot-squarish section of yard for some squash and melons and put together a true square foot garden to experiment with a raised bed.

This was my 4 x 4-foot raised garden last year:

The corn was a bust, but I only planted it because SustainaKid was desperate to try it. But between this garden and the larger garden just to the left of this, I enjoyed many squash, crowder peas, and quite a few sweet potatoes. It was wonderful to run out to the garden for veggies to go with dinner. And everything tasted soooo good!

The square-foot garden was a little expensive to get started, but it was so easy to keep. There were no weeds, it retained water well, and the squash here produced more than the squash planted in the ground three feet to the left.

So this year, I set up three more raised beds. I stuck some seeds in the beds, and I had beautiful squash plants, a lovely watermelon plant that sprawled everywhere because I never got around to setting up the trellis. And I promptly got busy with work and family situations. (This was the unending summer of family situations. I never even got around to planting the sweet potatoes I sprouted in my kitchen. Yes, I had vines all over the counter for two months before I realized it was too late to plant them.)

All summer, I thought it would rain soon. I put off watering until tomorrow. Again and again.

This summer, I enjoyed exactly two handfuls of grape tomatoes, one large fried green tomato, two zucchini, one yellow squash, one helping of crowder peas, enough purple potatoes for one pot roast meal for the family, and a handful of green beans. (Something kept eating my beans.) I harvested enough lima beans to plant a few seeds next year, but never got enough at one time to eat any.

In short, I am really disappointed. Mostly in myself. Because the square-foot garden was so easy last year, I really took it for granted this year and did not make watering a priority.

But, you know what? The hard part was setting up the raised beds. (And that wasn't really hard once I freed up an afternoon to do it.) Now that the beds are there, they don't require much time or effort when it comes to replanting.

I have proof. Let me show you what I accomplished in less than 2 hours yesterday evening.

Exhibit A: I started pulling up the melon vines just before I thought to take a picture, but this is what one raised bed looked like after being left unattended most of the summer:

Exhibit B: Less than an hour later, I had pulled up all the old plants, and planted crowder peas, sugar snap peas, carrots and lettuce in the three beds added earlier this year:

There were very few weeds in these beds and I literally haven't pulled a single weed all summer.

Exhibit C: However, remember I said I never got around to planting the sweet potatoes this summer? This is what a square foot garden looks like when it is neglected for a full year:

Exhibit D: Less than an hour later, and it is home to 144 dwarf sugar snap pea seeds (which SustainaKid loves — thanks to all of you who suggested I give them to him!):

I could not believe how easily I was able to pull up all that grass.

Last year I needed a tiller to plant my garden. This year? This is all I needed:

So, what did I learn this third year of gardening?
  • Water, water, water, water.
  • Purple potatoes are ready to eat when the above-ground plant starts dying off. (Last year, I learned that sweet potatoes will start to push up on the dirt when they are ready.)
  • Write planting dates on the calendar at the beginning of the year. It sneaks up on you and when you plant late, the larvae that eat green beans sprouts are hungry just as your beans are coming up. And goodness gracious, I totally missed the cool weather for spring peas and carrots!
  • Think more about the foods I really want before I start planting. Watermelon is a waste of space in my garden. In 2 years, I haven't gotten a single edible watermelon. I'd rather buy watermelon and save the space in my garden for the prolific squash and the squash varieties that I can't find at the store.
  • Water some more!

What do I still need to learn?
  • How to build a trellis for the vines
  • How to hand-pollinate squash
  • How to set up a drip irrigation system!
  • How to make row covers to protect my plants from frost. I realized after I planted yesterday that I am a couple of weeks late. Of course :) I'm going to work on my 2012 planting calendar right away!
  • I also need to learn the identity of this:

I was surprised to find it when I started pulling up vines! I left it planted to see if it grows any larger. Any guesses? I think it might be my Amish melon.

What have you learned from your garden this year?


Green Bean said...

I had a lot of lessons learned this year but many of mine relate to gardening in a new space. Don't plant pumpkins amidst wildflowers. They don't get enough sun or water! I need another bed. I need to organize better - plant all early tomatoes in one bed so that I can clean that bed out sooner for fall stuff while waiting for the later growing tomatoes to do their thing, and so on. That is the thing about gardening though - it is never boring. Always something new to learn.

Marina pa Kreta said...

Good luck!

Farrah said...

That's definitely a melon. It's shaped like that b/c it wasn't properly pollinated. It's only growing seeds on one side. And let me tell you, I can't begin to list the lessons I've learned over the years! Lol.

Daisy said...

got this tip on pollinating here:


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