Guest post by Matthew, AKA Farmer Brown
It’s March 3rd, and there’s an inch of ice on the ground and single digit temps outside, of course nothing’s going on with the garden, right?
Well, actually, over the weekend, I harvested 2 gallons of arugula (from under the low tunnel), turned compost piles, and took more anti-vole measures (more on that in a future post).
I have nine trays of seedlings growing, including onion starts and fennel seedlings that are itching to be transplanted outside. Nine trays exceeds our grow light capacity by one tray, so the leeks are hanging out on the sun porch, along with a bit of lettuce.
There’s almost always something to do . . . . I planted leeks and onions December 1st. I have my best onions transplants ever — many are roughly pencil thickness. I seeded four seeds to a 1 ½” block and they’ve been under our grow light set-up, getting 16 hours of light a day.
I seeded fennel, celeriac, celery, flat and curly leaved parsley, and artichokes on January 4th. I planted cruciferous (40 varietals of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, rapa, collards, and kohlrabi), eggplant, bluebells, and breadseed poppies at the beginning of February.
Peppers and Tomatoes got planted 2/25 and 2/26 because I was feeling antsy for my 3/1 planned date.
Most everything germinated on my homemade heat boxes, since our basement is rather chilly right now. The tomatoes and peppers are getting treated to an extra blanket of foam cloth to trap more heat for the seeds.
Now we just need the soil to warm-up enough for spring planting! What are you planning to grow in your garden this year?
I have to confess that I’m not feeling very inspired about gardening this year. The past 2-3 years have just been such a bust that I’m having trouble working up the energy to face it. In the past I had great luck with both spinach and chard, but over the past few years we’ve been overrun with leaf miners, and I just couldn’t make myself eat the bug infested greens. I’ve given up on the cruciferous stuff because of the aphid problem. The peppers all got brown papery spots on them last year before they ever had a chance to mature, and it was too hot for the tomatoes to set on much fruit, and then they got a blight. The cucumbers all turned sour and bitter – what few I got. The onions all died and fell over before they got big enough to eat. The green beans all seemed to go straight from tiny slivers to bulbous and tough without ever reaching a “good for eating” stage.
I dunno… I’m hoping that it’s just something that will pass and that the garden will get back to being a fun activity that will actually produce some food. Maybe the weather will cooperate this season.
So tell me, Farmer Brown, how do you deal with the frustration of spending so much time on a garden when it doesn’t end up producing much of anything… or have you ever had a bad season?
Matthew is really the person to respond to this, but since he hasn’t . . . I think the big difference for us is the scale and variety. We grow enough things, in enough quantity, that even when a few crops have a rough year, other things usually do well [enough] to make the investment of time and energy seem worth it. Last year, we harvested almost no eggplant, while we had a bumper crop the previous year. In our climate, it seems that broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage are ALWAYS tricky (for better or worse, hybrid seeds might be the answer here). We have yet to grow any quantity of nice, big onions, but they’re off to a great start this year, and Matthew’s planning on more generous spacing, which, we hope, will let them grow bigger.
There are always disappointments, but there are almost always some successes, too, and the hope that next season will be better. I do think you have to love it, either the gardening itself or eating the produce, or both, to keep trying in the face of various challenges.
Yeah, sometimes I have a really rough time of it too. It’s frustrating. Melissa summed up a lot of it rather well. I try to identify problems, see if I can do anything differently next year, and focus on what’s doing well this year. I always have something that’s disappointing, but I grow so many things there are almost always more things doing well than poorly. I do think generous spacing and letting the plants get as strong as possible helps. With the blights, I rotate my crops, give them support, and try to mulch heavily right after transplant (or even before) to prevent soil from splashing up onto the leaves. Some kind of cloth (I love my coffee bags) plus straw, or (I read) black or red plastic can be good.
The leaf miners normally don’t get too bad on my plants, so I don’t know what to say there, other than that my chard goes to hell in the summer and I just chop it all off in the fall and let it come back from the root. that helps a lot.
The aphids on cruciferous is very frustrating. I have had trouble with them too. I mostly try to grow my cruciferous in various spots so if one area gets a bad infestation, the others might be missed. I also will use a soap/oil spray or sometimes insecticidal soap, especially when a houseplant has aphids or scale.
In the end, I’d also say it might be good to consider taking a year completely off if you’re feeling particularly frustrated. You could plant a cover crop that’s unrelated to the plants you like to grow, and starve out your pests for a year. Then you can come back to the garden when you’re ready and have a fresh start.
Best of luck with your season!
Thanks so much for your responses. I think I’ve pretty much decided to go “garden lite” this year and see how it feels. I actually did get inspired to put some snap peas in the ground – I haven’t managed to kill them yet, and they’re always a real treat.
I have to admit that I LOVE the idea of starving out the pests – it not only sounds practical, but there’s also a nice element of revenge in there for my more cynical side. 🙂
Anyhow, I’m thinking I’ll just plant a few of the things that are easy – avoid the stuff that attracts the worst bugs – space things out more than I usually do, and just focus on enjoying whatever crops I get throughout the summer rather than feeling like I have to produce mountains of veggies to put up for the winter. That would certainly take the pressure off, which, I think, is what I need.
Thanks again guys!