Saturday, July 18, 2009

Lessons Learned

(Three postings this week. Don't miss the macro photography blog.)


The blossoms are fading on the potato plants today and the peas are flowering. It won't be long before I'll be snapping peas and worming my fingers down into the earth to steal a few new potatoes. Once the new potatoes are cooked I'll add fresh peas and smother them in fresh goats milk before I heat them and sprinkle with black pepper. I've planted red and white potatoes as some years one does better than the other.


Up until now, we've only had lettuce, spinach, and asparagus but I'm hunkering for a juicy tomato and zucchini fried on the grill. The store may offer them but there is nothing like the taste of fresh home grown vegetables and fruit. The tomatoes I grew in potting soil one winter tasted just like the stores - soft and tasteless. It confirmed my hunch that the flavor had to do with the quality and type of soil because we have carrots that must have a sugar content off the charts. No maple or honey drizzled on them for us. We've got the real deal. Then again, my apples should be sweet and they were really tart. I added lots of manure last year and we'll see what this years crop does.
Lesson 1. Soil nutrients effect flavor and texture of fruits and vegetables.

Another view of our Garden

The vegetables we are low on in the food storage room, I plant in at least two locations in the garden. Why? This year, my onions in the newest garden section are a third the size of the ones pictured above in the older area and had I planted them all in the new area, I would have only onions fit for salads. I think I know what the problem is and I'll fix it before next year. But, my experiment with putting them in a section and another group in rows doesn't seem to have made a difference in how well they grow.
Lesson 2. For some plants the pattern in which you plant
them makes a big difference.

My green beans have always been planted in double rows but this year, I'm trying them in single rows and I'll see if the plants grow larger and have a higher yield. The beans in the newer section of the garden I see are lacking in nitrogen and I've given them a boost but they seem to need it again.

When I saw how poorly they were doing I was glad I planted another two rows in the old greenhouse that is missing a cover. They should be ready the end of August or the beginning of September. With the grasshoppers as bad as they are this year, I hope at least one of the sections survive. And if both do then I plan on leaving some beans on the oldest plants and saving seed from them.

Another reason for planting vegetables in two or more areas of the garden is that disease such as a fungus is less likely to spread to your entire crop and bugs well, I learned my lesson with flea beetles. Those black little pests that jump can eat a young broccoli plant down to the nubbins in one day. For several years, I lost my broccoli to them until I placed them alternately with my tomatoes. This year, I've placed them in three different sections of the garden and planted them at different times because moisture and the time of year is a big deal with the monsters.

Lesson 3. Planting each of my garden vegetables in two or more areas of the garden, has two big benefits:
You are less likely to loose or have serious damage to your whole crop due to:
a. Bugs or disease
b. Or inefficient soil nutrients

Baby Spinach

I mentioned planting my beans in a double row versus a single row and my onions in rows versus sections. Some crops it isn't as important the pattern they are planted in but others it makes a significant difference. Spinach for instance does much better in a section. I haven't planted it for three years as I let a batch go to seed one year and they've come up as volunteers every year since. I just till around them so that they are controlled into a kind of square shape and I'm eating spinach in early May now not late June; This year, I heard that others were planting spinach in the fall not spring which is what mine is doing naturally. Inbreeding is concerning me though, because I did the same thing with carrots in a cold frame and after a few years I had the craziest colors from white to dark orange. Their texture became rather wooden and the flavor wasn't as sweet. I've some studying to do on that matter as far as it has to do with spinach. Also, growing spinach in a section rather than a row helps them withstand frost, keeps them cooler in the hot weather so they don't bolt as quickly, and the soil doesn't dry out as fast because they shade one another.

Volunteer corn

Had this and a few other stalks of corn not shot up where they were planted last year, I would never of thought of trying to plant a few seeds this fall, mulching them, and seeing what they do come spring. Remember the spinach, well I also learned just a few weeks ago the corn should be planted in a square for better pollination and remember Nancy's mother with the corn planted in hills? Well, my corn is really in for some experiments next year. Another tip is to spray your corn when it tassels. I do it in the evening as the higher humidity helps with pollination.
Lesson 4.Try planting some of your crops in the fall for an earlier start.
Lesson 5. Some plants benefit from being grown in sections rather than rows or in between other plants.

Row of tomatoes
I had voluntary Roma tomatoes that popped up here and there throughout my garden for two years. Since they were late and never would have developed before frost, I transplanted them into pots and brought them inside to produce tomatoes for the winter. I put them under grow lights and a toothbrush did the bees job of pollinating. I changed the breed I planted this last year and I've no volunteers. I just might try several other breeds and see what happens.

This sunflower along with a few others are scattered throughout the garden. The seed must of blow in from the bird feeder. The seedlings that weren't in the way, I left. They have brightened my days.

Lesson 5. Weeds tell a tale.
Lesson 6. There is a time frame in which to pull them
and sometimes its best to just let them grow.

I look upon weeds a little differently than most. I thank God my soil is rich enough to produce them. The clay soil I started with is only fit for building sod homes and it has taken years of work and study to get where I'm at - still ignorant.

I do know how to eliminate thistle from my garden without pesticides for if the weed pops up in my garden I know that that area's pH is too high and I add sulfur to acidify the soil. My new section did just that this year and so I added another dose of sulfur fertilizer and only one new thistle popped up but it was a sickly yellow.

A holistic ranch manager told me that different plants draw to the surface different nutrients from down deep in the soil. It made me feel much better about the weeds in my garden and I imagine all the good they're doing me. Then again, they may only be stealing nutrient but as long as they don't get out of hand, some of them are staying if only because I get tired of fighting them.

When an old gardener and scientist in the field said not to pluck the weeds from your garden after six to eight weeks I felt pretty smart even if it was by default, for I wasn't weeding at that time anyway. That's when I'm in the middle of freezing and bottling my harvest for the winter. Apparently, you disturb the roots of your vegetables which have by then spread out and the plant spends its energy not toward the fruit but in repairing the damage you've wrought to its roots.

Lesson 6. Don't rototill any more than absolutely necessary.

I try to only do it once a year so as to not disturb the worms and micro organisms. The worms till the soil and break down compost leaving behind worm casts that is one of the best natural fertilizers. Rototiller also kills the micro organisms that attach to the roots of your plants enabling them to draw in nitrogen and other nutrients from the soil. The powder you can buy and put on your bean seeds before you plant them to help them grow is what should be in abundance in your garden if you haven't killed them.

I was frustrated with a path between my back bed and the greenhouse and so in desperation I sprayed it last year to kill the weeds. They died and this year it was more lush than every before with different weeds than I was fighting the previous years. I rototilled it with two passes and now I barely have any weeds. That was an eye opener for me as I applied that knowledge to my garden - rototilling kills.
Lesson 7. Mulch your garden and you will use far less water
and have fewer weeds to pull.

Thirty years of working in my garden has taught me that the more I learn the more ignorant I realize I am. I read magazines and books to learn to be a wiser gardener and that knowledge gained helps my garden become better every year.

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