I sit on my patio on a balmy August morning. Although the end of my growing season is more than two months away, I am pausing today to reflect on the year’s garden.
Even though I’ve thrown myself headlong into gardening the past several years, my garden has still had failures. And instead of getting discouraged I want to take those failures to improve next year. I think in many ways the success of the gardener relies less on the color of her thumb and more on her willingness to learn from mistakes. Here are mine this year.
Trying too many new crops
My eyes couldn’t resist the eclectic offerings of the seed catalog I held in my hand on a cold January evening. I always want to try new crops, but I’ve learned when you attempt too many at once, it’s like putting all of your eggs in one basket. Although I did have some success — the Amish paste tomato will now be a staple in my garden — most of what I tried didn’t work.
The alpine strawberries didn’t ever grow past the seedling stage. The melon pears grew vigorously but didn’t produce the abundant fruit I expected. The two new pepper varieties produced a bountiful harvest but didn’t work for me like I planned. The red kidney beans didn’t grow more than 6″ high.
What I’ll change for next year: I’ll only try at most three new crops and stick with what I know my garden will produce.
Growing Peppers for Spices
I just love stocking my pantry with food from my garden, and that doesn’t stop with vegetables and fruit. Having had such great success with drying herbs, the thought of drying peppers for spices appealed to me. I decided to grow two new types of peppers for this purpose: paprika peppers for paprika and poblano peppers for chili powder.
Both peppers grew amazingly well, even better than my bell peppers. But my dried paprika was so hot it became crushed red pepper instead of savory paprika. And my healthy green poblano peppers rotted before they turned the color I needed for drying.
What I’ll change for next year: I’ll stick with herbs for my homemade spices and not waste garden space on specialty peppers.
Not Mulching Well Enough
Though I wrote in early spring how important mulch is to the garden, I wasn’t able to finish mulching my new garden space. Because of this, grass grew so high it became not only a pain to work with but also, I believe, hurt the health of the plants I grew there. In my established garden, though the thin layer of mulch I spread worked well for a while, eventually it settled and allowed grass and weed seeds to sprout.
What I’ll change for next year: I’ll do my best to make a bigger effort to mulch all pathways and areas where plants grow, and I’ll try to mulch at least 4-6 inches deep.
Planting Too Close to Trees
As I began planting my row of tomatoes next to the garden fence, I kept having to dig around pine tree roots. Although the nearest pine tree was a good 15-20 feet away, I suspected this might cause a problem. The Roma tomatoes grew slowly but eventually gave me a decent harvest, but the new Hungarian Heart tomatoes didn’t produce well (although they grew vigorously). I’m not sure if the roots affected the latter, but I know planting too close to tree roots is always a bad idea.
What I’ll change for next year: I want to make the most of this garden space, so we will be adding raised beds to this side of the garden.
The Three Sisters Garden
This is my second year of trying the Native Americans’ Three Sisters method of planting corn, beans, and squash together. This year I left out the squash when it didn’t work well last year but I thought I’d try the beans with the corn again.
Though the corn grew okay, the corn I grew in another part of the garden in rows without beans did much better. Plus, after the corn had produced for the season, I couldn’t clear it out because the beans were growing on it. However, seeing the beans weren’t in great shape, I pulled up most of them with the corn stalks. I had also planted the beans elsewhere and they did much better, making me think this particular method just doesn’t work for my garden.
What I’ll change for next year: I’ll plant corn and beans separately but will be sure and rotate them from season to season so the beans can add the nitrogen that the corn takes from the soil.
I had a great strawberry year, but it could have been better. With the rains in May, I found I fed about as many strawberries to the chickens as I kept for myself. After doing some research I realized that strawberries sitting on wet ground rot quickly during wet spells.
What I’ll change for next year: I’ll spread a layer of mulch under the strawberry plants just as they are beginning to grow in the spring but before the berries appear.
Tomatoes Outgrowing their Stakes
My favorite method of staking tomatoes worked great for most of my tomato varieties — especially Romas — but I didn’t realize my new favorite tomato — Amish Paste — would grow so tall. My 4-foot tomato stakes ended up no match for my 6-foot Amish Pastes loaded with fruit.
What I’ll change for next year: I’ll research other tomato staking method for my indeterminate tomatoes, hopefully finding an economical option. Here are four options for trellising tomatoes.
Every season is a new learning experience. The true test of a gardener is what we’ll do with our failures. And the joy of gardening is that with each year our gardens should become better and better.
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