Friday, August 8, 2008

Wrap it up

It's too hot out there to grow anything, so maybe it's time for some reflecting (Thanks for the inspiration, Katie and Lewru.)

This has been my third summer of gardening. It seems like I've read that an organic garden needs three years to really hit its stride. That's three years of regular amending with compost, feeding the soil with organic matter and, of course, not using chemical pesticides or fertilizers. During that time, ostensibly, you're creating a hospitable environment in your soil and garden for the diverse population of microbes, worms and other critters that turn organic matter into plant food.

The summer crops did grow better than ever this year, although I don't think there was any third-year magic involved. This was my first dry summer using the new soaker-hose irrigation system and the first season since I turned up all that native clay into the peat/compost soilless mix.

Yet, I still don't think my garden grows very well. I sure don't think so when I read about random folks' gardens on GardenWeb or when I go see how the pros are growing at the Natural Gardener. I thought that having a garden meant desperately looking for friends and coworkers to take produce off your hands in the summer, but I haven't found that to be the case.

I doubt there's a single magic trick that will turn my garden into the Fertile Crescent (pre-modern times, that is). But maybe there are some clues here:

What worked this year.

  • More clay was a good thing. The raised beds still dry out and water soaks almost straight down from the soaker hoses, but their water-holding capacity is obviously improved.
  • I feel good about my decisive executions of squash and tomatoes. Rather than staring at sad dying plants for weeks, I opted to yank them out as soon as the end was evident.
  • Varieties that will be asked back: Ambrosia cantaloupes have been awesome. And if the squash experiment goes well, I may have to plant them everywhere. Brandywine -- these produced well and were delicious.
  • Leeks are awesome.
What didn't work.
  • Forget the tomato ring. I'm always desperate to find homes for tomato seedlings and have been planting a few in the shady corner around the compost pile. I do get a couple of tomatoes off them, but all in all, I don't think it's worth the effort.
  • Again I didn't give the cream peas much of a chance. I need to plant them earlier, in larger quantity in a real bed.
  • Varieties to pitch: Costoluto Genovese -- not very flavorful and the convoluted shape means it's mostly skin. Principe Borghese -- disappointingly tiny. I think for sauce/drying next time I'm going to go with some hybrid romas. Persimmon -- not its fault, but I wasn't too fond of the tart/salty flavor. Not a big producer either. 
  • The earthtainer tomato actually worked pretty well, but I don't think it's worth the effort of having a separate container that needs hand watering. Perhaps I'll plant it up and pass it along to a garden-less friend.
Things to do differently.
  • Water the hell out of everything. I thought I was watering pretty well, then I went and left the soakers going for 12 hours straight on accident a few weeks ago. Since then, the eggplants have gone crazy with blossoms. I made a similar mistake with the peppers, and now I'm seeing the first blossoms of the year on a couple of them.
  • It's always hard to tell, but I think my feeding regime worked well. I think I might try increasing the amount of initial feeding and remember to do a mid-season side-dressing.
  • Feed the artichokes. The artichokes have always been small and loose and I think maybe they need more food. I may dig them up completely and add a couple of bags of manure and plenty of food to the holes.
  • Be more conscientious with the leek planting. I kind of half-assed these at seeding, and was regretting it when harvesting those delicious leeks. Also, plant more of them.
  • Try sweet potatoes, if I can find space.
  • Plant garlic, lots of it.
  • Plant more onions.
  • GASP! Try a couple of hybrid tomatoes. I'm a big fan of heirlooms, but I also like science. it would be interesting to see how yields compare.
I'm sure there's more, but you people probably have work to do.



Blogger Katie said...

I love reading other people's lists.

We need to water more next year too. We're kind of water misers, and the plants suffer until we realize, duh, we should have watered more. Watering food crops doesn't waste water!

I love love love Green Zebra tomatoes, yes, they're a hybrid and worth every ounce of effort you give them. I won't grow San Marzanos again though...

August 8, 2008 9:09 AM  
Blogger Lewru said...

I heartily second the Green Zebra recommendation, although I didn't realize it's a hybrid. It is open-pollinated, though, so that's good - you can save your seeds. I also have done really well with Cherokee Purples in the past, too.

And I didn't know you could grow leeks in Tejas which gives me hope for the teeny ones growing in seed pots on top of my fridge right now.

August 8, 2008 12:33 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Katie, that was a key realization for me. I've spent all summer conflicted about how hard to try keeping the grass alive, but we're talking about food here -- let it flow!

And Lewru, Leeks have been a huge revelation. I planted seeds in November and started harvesting in April, but I'm not sure if that's the best timing. My main problem was that the seeds are tiny and hard to keep straight, and then they got all washed around by some heavy rain. I'm going to prepare a smoother seedbed for them this time and maybe succession plant. Then come Spring, I'm going to cut them up and sautee them with homemade bacon every damn day.

August 8, 2008 7:36 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Hi Kelly. K-pho here. Just catching up on your posts after stumbling onto your blog. I completely identify with your feeling about not doing so well (though I have to say anyone who has read your posts and seen your pictures can only say you've done pretty dang awesome). It's a feeling that has its roots in spring, when I'm on pins and needles trying to get everything established, and continues through late summer when I'm down to assessing what went wrong/right and lamenting what I should have planted more of. I try to remember it's all a learning process and focus on the stuff I grew (and ate) successfully rather than beat myself up for leaving some seedlings in the sun for too long during a transition phase. Check that, I'm still pissed at myself for baking those seedlings. But a trip to the farmer's market to get some replacements helped.

Anyhoo. Learning process. You seem to have that down, a good thing. Just lay off the comparisons with John Dromgoole and I'll stop with Barbara Kingsolver. :-) Cheers and keep on keepin' on.

August 11, 2008 3:47 PM  
Blogger Lancashire rose said...

It sounds to me as though you have been having wonderful success in a very difficult growing environment. I have to know how you grow leeks. I have never tried them but would love to as they are terribly expensive to buy. What about fennel- No success with that one? It is an endless battle with compost as the heat burns it up. I agree I tend to underwater especially with the drip system. After we had a good 2" of rain my eggplant also started to produce. Then the eggplant withered a little because of not enough water. It's tough.

August 13, 2008 5:57 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Kevin, thanks for the encouragement. it is exactly like the early spring when I look at my seedlings every 15 minutes and worry that they're not growing. I'm hoping that the photographic evidence I'm leaving here will calm my nerves next year.

Rose, thank you too. I think my expectations are skewed by my memory of last summer which was so wet and cool. I keep forgetting we live on Mars in the summertime.

Since I'm so dry on content lately, let me see if I can pull together a full post on leeks for you. Stay tuned.

August 14, 2008 9:50 AM  
Blogger Lancashire rose said...

Thanks Kelly. A post on leek growing would be great although I live in the hills above Austin where the soil and temps. are a little different. I would love to have a go at something different.

August 14, 2008 9:23 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

Kelly - interesting thoughts on your garden. I grew leeks this year and loved them. I agree with you - I will plant many more next time. And i loved the green onions, and will plant more of them as well. We had delicious radishes, but I should have planted them in waves - that's MY goal for next year, not to just plant once, but to plant in succession for I get more of the good things that I want! Our tomatoes - which I've cleaned up - are full on top and have lots of new blossoms. I'm hoping for a great fall crop since summer wasn't so great.

August 17, 2008 8:02 PM  

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