2019: Lessons Learned

As we move into the final quarter of 2019 I thought now might be a good time to discuss successes and failures. After all, both are equally important for forward progress and personal development. I find that each year of gardening presents new challenges and allows me a multitude of learning opportunities. First let’s talk about some less fortunate events…

NUTRIENTS This was the first year that I did not add a nitrogen supplement to the soil in my plot at the local community garden, and the effects were evident in nearly everything I grew. The photo above shows my potatoes from last year on the left and my potatoes at their peak this year, on the right. Yes, they also experienced lower yields than all previous years. Additionally, despite supplementing with phosphorous in my raised bed at home, I found that the extended cool spring left my soil deficient and I spent several weeks attempting to recover sufficient levels. (See my post “Magnesium & Phosphorous: A Colorful Conundrum” for more details.)

Astia Squash – 38 days to maturity with exceptional PM resistance.

PESTS Powdery mildew (PM) was devastating for my first round of squash (pan patty) as well as both varieties of pumpkins. I addressed this issue in two ways: selected a variety of zucchini with “unrivaled PM resistance” and applied a simple spray of milk and dish soap to my pumpkins. The zucchini are Astia Squash ( http://www.territorialseed.com/product/Astia_Squash_Seed ) and not only is their PM resistance all it’s cracked up to be but they started producing in just 38 days, as the distributor claimed. I will absolutely be growing them again in 2020. As for the milk/soap spray, well, it did help more than any other attempted methods (clipping leaves, neem oil, etc.) but I think I caught it too late and my varieties were highly vulnerable so it didn’t end well. I have been shopping for PM resistant pumpkin varieties and will try a Kandy Korn Plus cultivar next year. ( http://www.territorialseed.com/product/kandy-korn-plus-pumpkin-seed ) I also made a new, unwanted acquaintance — flea beetles. Apparently they’re quite fond of eggplant. I used Safer Brand’s Insect Killing Soap and found that with weekly application, both flea beetles and aphids were deterred. I did also have a few confrontations with Colorado potato beetles, rabbits and squirrels, but their activity was more easily discouraged and did not result in detrimental effects.

Tiny holes in leaves at right of photo above are caused by flea beetles, tiny black beetles the size of a flea. This variety of eggplant is Listada de Gandia, a slow growing Spanish variety.

SPACING I KNOW! You know, that I DO know better than to crowd my plants. I do know. I justtttt get a little too excited and try to squeeze things in because I want to grow as many cool varieties as possible. For the most part I did well this year, but I think I can get away with planting fewer pepper plants next year if I give them more space. Spacing is my #1 mission for 2020.

Alright, enough of the negatives, let’s talk about some 2019 successes!

Purple Top White Globe Turnips, 55 days – Seed Mail Seed Co.

Trying New Crops This is a long list and the “grow again” crops are indicated with an asterisk — chioggia beets (may try again but will start inside first), turnips*, Lemon Drop peppers, garlic*, Purple King pole beans, pan patty squash (loved but not ideal for my pest infested grow region), Yukon Gold potatoes*, snake beans, yard long beans, Ahi Amarillo peppers, eggplant (trying Black Beauty in 2020), Little Gem lettuce*, Astia Squash*, Summer Dance Hybrid cucumbers*, Golden California Wonder bell peppers*, Defiant tomatoes* and I grew onions from plants this year, rather than sets, and I’m totally hooked. I’ve already bought seeds to start inside this winter.

Sugar Cube cantaloupes, all cradled up to keep them from rotting on the wet soil.

Consistent Watering Though this is not always necessary, as some of our summers here in the Mid-Atlantic are quite wet, this was a dry year and I made a distinct effort to get to my plots regularly for watering and maintenance. Weeds were kept under control and all necessary trellising and supports were provided promptly.

One of my cold weather fall crops: Organic Alaska Peas, 55 days – Seeds of Change

Succession/2nd Plantings If I were to chose one thing that I’m especially proud of this year it would be my efforts to maximize our long growing season. Here in the Mid-Atlantic that’s roughly March 1st – December 1st. My first seeds and plants were sown early March and they included cool weather vegetables such as weekly plantings of lettuce and radishes, as well as carrots, onions, and potatoes. Not only were warm weather fruits and veggies added later on, but when the cool weather crops were harvested the space they had occupied was repurposed for a second set of crops. Then I was even able to get another round of crops in by planting cool weather veggies again for a fall harvest. This brings me so much joy. Seriously, one of my goals for next year is to continue this effort to see just how much I can get out of a single growing season.

Seed Saving This was the first year that I saved my own heirloom seeds and I am thrilled to say that I am participating in multiple seed swaps this fall. (Check out my “Save Your Seeds & Swap Them” post!) Saving seeds will not only save me a little $$ in the long run, but it has also given me a whole new level of appreciation for both my incredible plants and my dedicated seed distributors. Not to mention, swapping said seeds might just introduce me to varieties that I otherwise would not have had available to me.

My one and only runt of a pumpkin.

I think those are all of the important takeaways. It is easy to dwell on the failures but reflecting always helps me to see just how far I have come over the years and to identify new goals for the coming season. I hope that you had a great growing experience this year and will continue to push yourselves to try new things in 2020. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out. Cheers, friends!

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