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Sunday, July 12, 2020

Encouragement for Newish Gardeners


Every morning, I go out to the potato patch to hunt down potato bugs of all sizes -- from mature, potential egg layers to just hatched babies the size of a grain of sand and everyone in between, and search for the bright yellow egg clusters under the leaves, to pick and remove those leaves and eggs. I do not want to spray, even with products approved for use in organic gardens. I may be a fanatic, but in my world, manual control of pests and weeds is the best method all around.

While I was working, looking at my weedy, struggling garden and thinking about the crazy weather we have been having, my mind was also drawn to consider how many new gardeners have sprung up this year and how many folks have enlarged their garden plots, in attempts to become more resilient in the face of supply chain issues, among many reasons. And I have to say "Y'all picked a heck of a year to do this!"

I know we never have any control over the weather, but I am very glad this is not even close to my first rodeo. I am struggling and my garden is struggling and I have well over 50 years of growing stuff under my belt (and that does not even come close to counting the little toy chicks from an early Easter basket that I planted in my folks garden as a very young girl!). I have grown food in more states than many folks have even visited, and in conditions from optimal back yards to corners tucked in next to single level apartments to balconies and even just window sills when I was stuck in the city.  And I have never struggled like I am this year.

Our first lettuce
of 2020!
So my words of encouragement going out to you all are these: be thankful for whatever you manage to grow! And don't let failure get you down for long; certainly don't let it set you off trying to grow stuff. Keep trying, keep replanting. Talk to the gardeners around you, connect with the Master Gardeners associated with your county extension office (they all have one) and keep notes if you are at all organized.

Notes don't have to be detailed, but just writing when you plant, when you replant and why, maybe a bit about the weather and when you harvest -- or when your plants succumb to the fall frosts -- will help you build your personal knowledge base to move forward.

Here at hex central under the sign of the fussing duck, we had a very late "spring" so nothing got planted even close to when I usually do -- or when the charts based on "average last frost date" suggested. Yes, there were frosts, later than usual but the main issue was cold, wet soil. That means soil that cannot be turned properly and seeds that, if planted, lay there and rot.

So my peas and the other early crops were late. When done "right" (that is when the temperature and weather and soil and gardener are all in sync with the charts LOL) we have our first small picking of peas for July 4 here. This year, though I know a friend nearby who pulled it off, just barely, ours had to not only fight weather and timing, but got hit multiple times by hungry deer.

I put up three rows of electric fence wire around the garden. One at the actual garden perimeter has 3 strands. About 3' out from that is one that has 4 strands and the outermost one has 5. Unfortunately, rain and health issues slowed our work to electrify the outermost fence and the deer discovered almost immediately that they could just push it down/over and come in to eat. Repeatedly. They did not eat the plants down to the ground, but as they are growing back, I am not sure if I will end up needing the trellis for them to climb on this year! At least they *are* growing back, blossoming and now, in July, beginning to set pods! And, at this point, the fence is holding and our unseasonably high temperatures seem to have moderated into a cool, damp spell, which the peas like, so I am feeling positive about getting a crop.

At the same time, since my goal is to supply all of our year's vegetables (I actually produce about 95% of the fresh, canned and frozen veg that we use in a year) I am thankful that I still have some packages frozen from last year's bountiful crop.

If increasing your food resilience, to use the current parlance, is your goal as well, I also suggest that as you gain experience and skill, that you begin to plant more than you will use in a year. Not only does this hedge the bets against poor germination, predators and such on the fresh eating side, it also allows you to put by extra, or to have extra to share or trade with friends. I know the common wisdom is that home frozen produce lasts 8-10 months in the freezer. However, I have never personally had frozen vegetables become unsafe to use. And I can say that even when served plain, as a side dish, my partner with the more discerning palate has not (yet) complained about "freezer burn." Of course, he just might be holding his tongue so that he keeps getting fed! ;)