Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lessons in gardening

It is August of our first summer of gardening. I don't really count the occasional vegetable I was able to coax out of the clay-ey soil at our old rental house as real gardening. By this time in past years the plants would be next to dead, and the plot would be full of weeds. I always gave up somewhere around halfway through the summer, usually when I went out of town for a few days, then came back and was busy for a while, so neglected the plants for two or so weeks, and then it all looked like too much work to get things back to a manageable, healthy, state. So, it is a huge accomplishment to have made it to August with all of our plants (pretty much) still alive and producing. Being out of town for the past week could have been a big hardship for our garden, but it has come through nicely, in my opinion, with the aid of our lovely house-sitter.

The worst part of being gone from our garden is the over-sized unappetizing vegetables. You saw what happened with the zucchinis last time I didn't pick for just two days.... I believe our house-sitter did some picking, but maybe didn't know all the secret places the cucumbers and zucchinis like to hide. So tonight when I went out there to see what I could see, I found several GIANT sized pickling cucumbers, too big even for their own pint jar (pictured above), and a couple more humongous zucchinis. The zucchinis we are using, grating them up and freezing for future use in breads, but I haven't been able to find anything that you can do with too-big cucumbers. Any ideas? Some of the beans and snap peas were over-sized, but there were enough normal ripe ones to make a good side dish with dinner tonight, along with some young onion. The strawberries are doing well, and the corn is looking great! We see lots of tassels, some getting close to eating size. The peppers continue to produce a ton, so Average is making two more batches of pepper jelly tonight. Our three tomato plants are also doing well. Unfortunately, the lettuce has gone to seed, probably started even before we left on our trip.

All in all, this summer has provided a great gardening experience, with many lessons learned from the successes and mistakes along the way.

  • Good soil makes an enormous difference in how well the plants grow.

  • Actually following the directions on seed packets really helps.

  • A big square is a bad shape for a raised garden bed - how do you access the middle?

  • Pick often.

  • Mulching is helpful. Grass clippings work fine.

  • Fewer than 3 zucchini plants is more than enough. Do not plant more than 6 as we did, because zucchinis go crazy!

  • Buy a sprinkler that sprays the right size for your garden. We had a rectangle sprinkler most of the summer that would waste water by spraying where we didn't want, and get stuck in one position if the water pressure lowered, like when you take a shower or start some laundry.

  • Give ample space for each plant. I didn't really realize how much this should be until this year, when my plants actually grew to normal size. Now we have a jungle.

  • Some things are best planted in succession: lettuce, broccoli, onions, for example.

  • Others do fine all planted at the same time, like: corn, beans, peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Choose which to succession plant depending on which are ever-bearing, and how many you plan to eat or preserve at one time.

  • Try not to plan any long summer vacations at the peak of your growing season. If you do, get someone to stay at your house who can water and pick for you, or ask your neighbors to help out in exchange for free produce.

Maybe most people already know these things, but, for me at least, there is a big difference between knowing what is recommended, and actually experiencing the effects yourself. Hopefully we will just build on our successes (the new soil in raised beds, transplanting starts from seeds, good watering), and be able to plan better with the yet-to-be-built rectangular beds next year. And maybe by then sweet pea will be able to help me water!

Wow, we really need to weed-whack around the beds. They are hidden by the tall grass! Can you believe how tall the corn is?! The Busch in the picture is for the slugs, not for us, in case you were wondering.

I have another big post to publish soon about our trip, flying with a baby, and the results of my packing list, so stay tuned!


  1. Amazing jungle and you can eat all the things!! Gardening is hard work, followed by yummy food!

  2. Wow, your garden looks great! We had a bit of a learning curve as well. I know I learned a few things (over seeding = good for lawns, not so good for gardens), and I am sure Erica did too. We did four raised beds (4'x4') this year at the new house (I don't remember if they were built when the three of you came to dinner a while back), and when I come home I want to have one long raised bed that runs along the fence line with our neighbors. Anyway your garden looks great guys, have a good harvest.