Thursday, October 28, 2010

This Year's Mistakes

A few months ago, my friend over at The Yarden did a blog post on her mistakes for the year. I think this is a fabulous idea. There is no such thing as a perfect garden or a perfect gardener. Every year you learn from your mistakes and the next year you hope to compensate and do better. Sometimes you succeed. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you overcompensate and make exactly the opposite mistake. Either way, gardening is as much about learning what to do as it is about doing it. So I am going to follow The Yarden’s example and help you guys learn from my mistakes. It is also worth noting that I currently garden exclusively in containers, so many of my mistakes are related to that.

1) The Succession Garden

I am a big fan of succession gardening. The concept is simple: your spring veggies make way for your summer veggies, which make way for your fall veggies. There is just one problem: I tried to do that in every single container. So I had to pull up my peas before they were completely finished just to plant my tomatoes late. Then I had to pull up the tomatoes before they were completely finished just to plant my fall greens late. It shortened the season of everything and reduced yields. Next year I plan on more carefully sequencing my succession crops, only trying the method in a couple of pots. More likely, I will have a couple of pots that have spring crops and then fall crops, with no summer crops at all.

2) Not Testing My Soil

I bought a soil test kit several years ago and have managed to lose it. I still have it, I just don’t know what box it is in. I am also reluctant to buy a new one since money is a little tight. So I don’t know how good my soil is. I added a fair amount of organic fertilizer last year, but this year’s compost didn’t come in until September. Container gardens are limited by the nutrients in them. I need to either find the test kit or buy a new one by spring so I know what my soil needs.

3) Not Enough Swiss Chard

Last year, I grew a good fall crop of Swiss chard. As usual, it over-wintered just fine. Swiss chard comes back pretty anemically the second year, so I pulled most of it out, leaving one to produce seed. However, I never planted more. I got some from the leftovers, but for some reason, it never occurred to me to plant more. So I went the summer without my favorite vegetable.

4) Growing Tomatoes

I took my two biggest pots and put sunberries in one and ground cherries in the other. For some stupid reason I thought I could also grow cherry tomatoes in those pots and get a good crop of both. I also planted a cherry tomato plant in another of my large pots. The tomatoes got huge quickly, stealing all the sun from the other plants in the pots with them, yet somehow producing little to no fruit. I got an average of about 3 cherry tomatoes a day off of 3 huge plants. That was way too much wasted space and resources for my small garden.

So for next year, I will be planting a single, solitary ground cherry (well, maybe two…) and the rest will be greens and herbs, preferably with lots of Swiss chard.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Reasons to Garden

Take a look at the picture to the left. Note that the packaging says that the enclosed cherry tomatoes were “vine ripened.” Now take a look at the enclosed tomatoes. Still pretty green, eh? Not only were these tomatoes picked so green that they weren’t red by the time they made it to my kitchen, but they were actually picked so green that they never really made it all the way to red. Most of the tomatoes never fully ripened.

So if you can’t trust the suppliers of your food to be truthful on the stuff they ARE telling you, how can you trust them to be honorable about the things they aren’t telling you? To be honest, I tend to think the best of people. I think that most people out there really are trying to do their best and produce something they can be proud of. But I am not na├»ve enough to think that there aren’t still plenty of people out there who just want to make the most money with the least effort and not care who they screw over in the process.

“You are what you eat.” Remember that one? My mother drilled it into my head as a child. Now that I am an adult, I pay attention to research, more and more of which is saying that this old saying is absolutely true. So, if your most precious and important possession, your body, is composed entirely of what you put into it, wouldn’t you want to put the best into it? After all, you want your body to last you as long as possible and function at optimum the whole time.

Here is another of my mother’s sayings: “You either spend the money at the grocery store, or you spend it at the doctor’s office.” While I agree with this, I would like to offer a third alternative: You spend the time in the garden. By growing your own food, you have ultimate control over what you put into it. You have control over what nutrients you add and what varieties you select. You can watch your plants and make sure they stay healthy. In the process you get exercise, which is also good for your body. And in the process, you can trust that you are putting the best food in your body.