Before I create my Garden To-Do List in preparation for Spring, and before I totally forget what happened last Summer, here are 10 lessons I’ve learned in the past growing season. Hopefully, with careful planing, I’ll be able to prevent from repeating my mistakes.
1. Choose The Right Verities For Your Garden. I always want to try new verities of vegetables, but I have to remind myself that my garden space is too small for production and experiment at the same time. I was so excited by the colors and sizes presented in the seeds catalog (those catalogs are dangerous! Opening one is like entering a Micheal’s store, there is no way out!) that I ended up ordering four different verities of tomatoes that I never tried before. Well, we ended up with many beautiful tomatoes for salads but none for canning. I planned to can about 30 pint jars of tomato sauce and ended up with none.
2. Check The Soil Before You Buy. I’ve learned this the hard way this past Spring. I needed soil and decided to order a truck load instead of getting garden soil by the bag from the store. Not a bad idea…. However, I should have taken a trip to check the soil before ordering the load. I believed the company when they told me over the phone that I am paying for top garden soil that is 1/3 compost, what I’ve got looked more like fill dirt, grey and lifeless. Nothing that compost can’t fix, but it’s going to take some time.
3. Test Your Soil. I’ve heard this advice a million times and so do you probably, but somehow I never find the time to test my soil. I always assume that my lively compost will fix it all, and even though good compost can fix about 90% of life’s problems, there are still the remaining 10%….. It takes some effort, you have to go pick up the little boxes from the Cooperative Extension’s office, go back home, fill them with soil, and go back to drop them at the office. Wait a couple of weeks to get the report, then figure out how to read it. And of course you actually have to do what the report suggests. But your local Cooperative Extension office probably offers the service for free, your cooperative agent will help you understand the report, and, in my opinion, it’s totally worth it for better crops.
4. Space Seeds Correctly. Thinning is defiantly not my favorite gardening chore. From a reader comment, I’ve learned about something called a seed tape. Never heard of that before but totally going to try it this year. Basically, you mix flour and water to create a paste, then cut a strip of toilet paper in the desired length and paste the seeds in the correct spacing. Roll the strip of paper with the seeds and when time comes, unroll and plant in the garden. My favorite thing about this is that it sounds like a great activity to do with the kids and that you can make it ahead of time.
These lovely ladies show how to do it:
5. Sow Seeds Deep Enough. I grow many root crops because we love eating them and because they are very easy to grow. I grow radish, carrots, beets, potatoes and sweet potatoes. I also grow garlic and onions. Sometimes I wonder why the plant did not develop a root, and I’ve come to the realization that many times I just don’t sow the seed deep enough. But even if I’ve sown the seed deep enough, it’s important to add soil around the plant when necessary because soil can be washed away with rain or moved aside when weeding.
6. Make Sure You Have Contentious Crop. I seem to either have 3 ton of veggies at once or nothing at all. I don’t want to harvest all of our plants at the same time because first, we can’t eat it all and second, I just don’t have enough room to store them. So I am going to try to sow in 3 weeks intervals. For example, if I have a row of carrots, I’ll sow one third of it, 3 weeks later I’ll sow the second third of it and three weeks later sow the rest of it. This way not all the carrots will be ready for harvest at the same time.
7. Built Better Trellises and Tomato Cages. I was not prepared to support my plants. The weather got hot, we had lots of rain and suddenly everything started growing 5 inches a day. In an effort to save the plants I tried to build a trellis from few pieces of wood and twine. At first, when the plants were young, it worked pretty well, however they become very heavy very fast. The wood started caving in, the twine got loose and I had a huge mess on my hands. Not to mention I lost some of my tomato plants because the stem broke. This year I am going to make sure my trellis and tomato cages are ready and in place before the plants need them. And I am going to make sure they are as strong as can be. I will probably use concrete reinforcement wire for the tomato cages and maybe for the trellises as well.
8. Grow More Herbs. During the growing season I use basil, oregano, parsley, cilantro, thyme, rosemary and dill fresh from the garden. But in order to keep using herbs from my garden for the rest of the year I dry them. You can freeze fresh herbs as well but I like drying them because they are much more accessible to me when I cook. I just lie them on a paper towel or a piece of news paper in one layer and let them dry for a few days (I move them around a few times during those days). I under estimated the amount of herbs I need. I dried about a pint size jar of each and I am almost through with most of them. I will try to double this amount next year.
9. Don’t Harvest Too Early. In the picture above are my purple sweet potatoes. Even though these kind of potatoes are not supposed to be as big as the regular orange kind, I believe they are smaller than they should be and it’s probably because I harvested them too early. They where also not as sweet as they should be. I thought you supposed to harvest them before the first frost but lately learned that they can stay in the ground until the frost and be harvested then. This will give them another month or so in the ground.
10. Don’t Go Anywhere. The chances of finding a farmer tanning on the beach in Cancun during the growing season are extremely low. And there is a good reason for that. We traveled to Israel to attend my cuisine’s wedding in May and came back in the middle of June. I sown my seeds in the end of March and beginning of April and when we left they where all still in the baby stage. We came back to a jungle! What a mess. I lost all my lettuce, it was too old and bitter, and could barely recognized the rest of the veggies in between the weeds. We had a great time in Israel, but I informed the family that from now on special events should be scheduled for the winter ;-).
So I think I am ready to put together my Spring To-Do list now. I always start preparing for Spring around January because with three little kids I can only do a little bit every week. From ordering seeds to fixing the irrigation system to building cages…. There is so much to do.
What did you learn from your Summer garden? What will you do different next year?
I hope you’ll have a great Christmas, full of laughter and joy!