Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Growing Pains


It's mid-August, which means that our summer garden is drawing to a close. Last week I bought seeds so I can start some fall veggies, and Nathan loaded up the car with soil and compost to revive and replenish our raised beds.  But before we say goodbye to our summer crops, I thought it would be wise to look back and make a note of what went well - and what we can do to get more out of our garden next year.

First up: the complete and utter failures.

Dead spaghetti squash. And it held such promise!

All of our squash perished. We planted two crookneck squash plants at the beginning of the summer, and after we harvested exactly two tiny squashes, both plants rotted at the stem and died. Not sure what went wrong there, and I'm also convinced some animal was stealing little squash-lings before they had a chance to grow.

Our spaghetti squash (pictured above) was doing great at first - it spread over the whole garden bed, produced a million yellow flowers, and when we finally gave it something to climb on (made of scrap wood and leftover chicken wire) it reached new heights. And then some leaves started turning brown, and some stalks snapped, and one morning the whole thing was brown and dead. So disappointing.

Cucumber flowers.

Cute cuke.

Our cucumber plants suffered a similar fate. Tons of leaves and flowers that spread heartily across the bed, only to wither on the vine. We got a few baby cucumbers, but they never grew past the infant stage. I keep thinking I should pull the plants out and put them out of their misery, but since they keep making flowers and setting fruit, I feel like maybe, just maybe, there's still hope.

So those were our failures - basically all our vines. Which makes me think it has something to do with the soil - maybe the pH is off? We tested it in the beginning of the summer, but only once. We'll test it again before we plant our fall vegetables, and maybe that will offer some clue as to what went wrong. 

Luckily, our first garden wasn't all dead leaves and rotting stems. We had a few successes, which were all the sweeter for our failures.


Tomatoes! We started out strong with tons of tomatoes in the beginning of the summer. Our cherry tomato plant is still producing, and those tiny tomatoes taste like candy - so sweet and juicy! We had a bunch of regular tomatoes too, but sometime in mid-July, things started to go downhill. Production slowed and the tomatoes that appeared ripened unevenly or the skin split before I could pick them. I'm almost positive that this was due to the two week long heat wave we had, and then the heavy and nearly daily rainfall that followed. We also put our plants too close together, and they grew too big, too fast, crowding each other and blocking out a lot of the sun - we'll space them better next year, and hopefully that will help. Still - we got so many tomatoes for two glorious months, that I count them as a success. 



We planted four pepper transplants at the very beginning of the summer, and they are just now starting to produce fruit, which thrills me. And we've been picking a few jalapenos a week all summer long - probably the hardest working plant in the whole garden. Thanks, jalapeno! 


We planted Swiss chard from seed, and it's just about big enough to harvest - I've been plucking leaves to add to dinner the last week or two. Our basil is doing a great job - so much pesto! - and the mint is still looking good. Our blackberry plant gets bigger every day, and our leeks seem to be chugging along. I'm looking forward to eating them, but they still have some growing to do. That's okay. I can wait. 

Overall, we had a good first year of gardening. It's all trial and error, seeing what works and what doesn't, learning from our mistakes, and not giving up when things don't work out. For every dead squash plant thrown in the compost, for every broken tomato fed to the chickens, there is a pepper or a handful of basil or a cherry tomato eaten straight from the vine. And when I look at it like that - when I see the big picture, and appreciate the plants that persevere, and admire the dirt under my fingernails - then I start to understand that's all part of the process. The garden and I are growing together.

12 comments:

  1. There's so much more to gardening than meets the eye. I used to think you just stuck stuff in the dirt and watered it and that was that. I haven't had a balcony in 2 years, and can't have potted plants indoors bc my a-hole cats destroy them, so I've loved living vicariously through your gardening endeavors. Looks like you guys had a great first season!

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  2. Sad about the squash and cucumbers, but tomatoes and peppers and greens are a super good harvest! I just pulled my zucchinis due to powdery mildew (which has also set in on my butternuts) and my cukes got cucumber mosaic virus (gah), so I'm in the boat with you--some greens, tomatoes, and a few peppers. Good luck with the fall seeds, just ordered mine as well!

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  3. We had about the same experience, just more error and painful trial. Hopefully next year we feel a little more settled in. There always had to be a first year right?

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  4. I can't wait to get back to gardening...eventually. Your cucumbers might yet surprise you. We had given up on ours and ignored them for weeks. When I finally accepted defeat, I went out to weed and clear that area of the garden only to find that we had a ton of huge cucumbers. The plants were thriving despite our neglect - maybe because of it.
    Despite having tons of squash flowers blooming, our squash plants never started producing until we started taking Q-tips to the blooms. I guess we just didn't have the right pollinators buzzing around.

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  5. I'd say that's a pretty successful first year.

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  6. We lost our summer squash to squash vine borers. I heard this was a bad year for them. If you want to try squash next year don't replant in the same bed, and be sure to really till the soil where you had them planted this year to destroy any possible hibernating borer moths (assuming that it was borers that did yours in too).

    The borer moths lay their eggs at the base of the plant, underneath the stems so they're hard to see (and they're so microscopic that the eggs are easily mistaken for wisps of dirt). Then the eggs hatch and the larvae/worm bores into the stem, eating it from the inside out, cutting off water and nutrients from the rest of the plant. Since you said they rotted at the stem, I'm going to assume it was borers. Google them and learn about them for ways to prevent the same thing happening next year.

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  7. I lost my squash and zucchini to the same thing and I believe it was the squash bugs like Betsy said. I didn't even realize they were there until I looked them up online and found what to look for. I went out and checked on the back of hte leaves and there were tons of tiny eggs. I tried scraping them off every day and picking off any bugs but I guess there were just too many. So frustrating! Great job on your successes though! I'm jealous of the peppers, only 1 of my banana pepper plants made this year. The others died or my chickens ate them LOL

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  8. Cut worms...they love squash, n zuc..all plants get these. Start watching the base of your plants everyday starting the second week in June. They burrow into the stalk and eat, and eat, and eat. You can cut them out and cover over with more dirt...the plant will live I promise...if you catch it in time...it took several years to catch what was going on and stop it. You can also plant them with a cuff..like TP rolls covered in foil...they hate that..you can look it up online for more info. Good luck! Gardening is so awesome! Cheri

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  9. One other thought to consider is that your garden looks like it is surrounded with greenery... so it seems there is quite a bit of shade... mildews and such really will thrive in wetter shady conditions... cucumbers always have tons of blooms compared to the fruit to begin with. There are male and female flowers on cukes. Only the females make the babies in their reproductive lives also. sounds like the squash vine borer to me too... some folks will wrap stems in foil to deter if they only have a couple plants....

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  10. for the cucumbers and anything in that family, insect pollination is required. Depending on the year, and how many pollinators have been killed by insecticides (or weather) you may need to hand pollinate in order to get any fruit - take a male flower, remove the petals, and rub the pollen from the flower directly on the stigma of the female flower. You can pollinate two or three female flowers with one male one.

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  11. With the cucumbers and other members of the curcubit family, insect pollination is needed. SOme years, the pollinators are killed by insecticides or the weather keeps them away. So you can hand pollinate - remove a male flower, and take off the petals. Brush the stamens, covered with pollen, directly on the stigma of a female flower (the female ones are identifiable because they will have a little ovary at the back of the flower - the future cucumber, or squash). I've done this with good success - one male flower will do maybe 3 female flowers.

    The sudden collapse of the squashes is likely insects or other animals, as others have said....
    Your place looks idyllic.

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  12. WANT TO SAY I USE CAPS DUE TO BAD EYE SIGHT---TOMATOES WILL STOP SETTING FRUIT WHEN IT GETS HOT,DO NOT WATER TOMATOES AT NIGHT, WANT DRY PLANTS AT NIGHT. DID YOU KNOW YOU CAN TAKE CUTTINGS FROM A HEALTHY TOMATO AND ROOT IT TO PLANT FOR A FALL CROP--PEPPERS LOVE THE HEAT AND LOTS OF WATER--I USE CATTLE GUARD IN 4 OUT OF 6 OF MY RAISED BEDS-CATTLE GUARD IS ABOUT 42 INCHES HIGH AND DIFFERENT LENGTHS AND ITS VERY STIFF WIRE- WE USED REBAR POUNDED IN THE BEDS TO FASTEN WIRE TO THAT WAY I CAN SWITCH MY PLANTINGS AROUND. JUST A FEW NOTES FROM AN OLD GARDENER WITH 40 YRS EXP

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