What is your garden teaching you?

A good time to observe–when
dew still glistens

“Grow It, Eat It” is a fantastic plan, but I’d add a step between the two: “Observe It.”

I try to check what’s happening in our gardens at least once a week, usually in the coolness of the morning, when dew still glistens.  Here are some of the things I observed or learned from my observations Tuesday morning:

Red Sails lettuce and basil seedlings I transplanted from cups into the garden six days ago are thriving.  Two of six Green Ice lettuce transplants, however, had disappeared.  Perhaps they roasted to death in this week’s record heat.  I should keep the next crop of lettuce seedlings in their sprouting cups for a few days longer before introducing them to summer weather.  The good news for fall vegetable growing is that average temperatures peak this week—88°F for highs and 64°F for lows in our area—and begin dropping slowly next week—to a high of 87°F on July 24 and a low of 63°F on July 26.  Don’t you feel cooler just reading that?

No squash vine borers on these zucchinis

Squash—summer and zucchini—are growing rapidly and show buds that any day now will open like golden trumpets.  Why did I wait until near the end of June to plant the seeds?  Sex is the answer.  Yes, this is that kind of blog.  Moths lay eggs at the base of squash plants so their hatching larvae, called squash vine borers, can dine on the squash stems, often killing whole plants.  The moths generally end their prime breeding season in mid- to late June, so there is minimal chance that the borers will attack my late-crop squash plants.

Japanese beetles were resting comfortably on raspberry leaves in the morning coolness, ready for me to flip them into a jar of soapy water.  One of the grandest sights in pestdom is that of a Japanese beetle floating in soapy water.

What kind of melon will
this volunteer be?

When I was planting three Celebrity tomato plans in late May, I noticed several volunteer plants that, from the shape of their leaves, I believed sprouted from melon seeds I had tossed there last winter.  I let one grow—“just to see what it is”—you know how that goes.

Blossom-end rot ruins
Big Mama again

Blossom-end rot is afflicting nearly every fruit on my Big Mama tomato plant.  This happened last year too, so this year I experimented by planting one Big Mama in a different location, made sure it had adequate calcium, and drip-irrigated it regularly since I transplanted it.  Sorry, Big Mama, you’re great on promise, but your rotting fruit says I won’t grow you again.

Bush cucumbers fit right into
our perennial bed

Cucumbers abound from my three Salad Bush Hybrid cucumber plants (from Totally Tomatoes seeds).  I have picked nearly a dozen already from the well-behaved plants growing in a perennial bed and sandwiched between Autumn Joy sedum and variegated liriope and storm-tilted purple coneflowers.  Two years ago powdery mildew wiped out another cuke variety—and I picked zero fruit.   Last year I bought seeds described as “resistant” to powdery mildew—but that crop died of a leaf-spot disease, and again I picked no cukes.  So this year I bought a packet of bush cucumbers because I grew them for years without problems, and again I’m wondering what to do with all the cucumbers.  Sometimes old favorites are better than heralded new varieties.

They’re back!  Brown marmorated stink bug
on a blackberry leaf

Last stop was at the blackberry patch.  Yes, I do need to cut back the primocanes that are arching up and over and onto the patio—and tie them to the support wires—before they get too woody to manage easily.  But oh, no, they’re back—brown marmorated stink bugs—in several instars or development stages, from dog-tick size to half the mature size.  I had seen so few stink bugs this year that I had hoped they had abandoned Maryland and flown back to their home territory in East Asia.  My Garden Notes indicate that last year I first observed significant numbers of these pests on our blackberries on July 17, the same day as I noticed them this year.  At this point there are just a few, so for now I’ll use my blackberry picking/stinkbug squishing routine, picking with my right hand, squishing with my left.

I learn a lot by carefully observing what’s happening in our gardens.  I don’t always like what I see, but then life isn’t just a bowl of cherries, is it?  It’s blackberries, raspberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash with a few Japanese beetles and brown marmorated stink bugs added to keep life interesting.

Grow It, Observe It, Eat It.  Or as another saying goes, “As the garden grows, so does the gardener.”

9 Comments on “What is your garden teaching you?

  1. Great post, Bob. And sometimes the Observe saves the Eat, doesn't it?

    Yup, the stink bugs are back. Maybe they won't appear in such large numbers. *fingers crossed*

  2. One of the things my garden has taught me is, just because I “made” my garden and chose what, where, when, how, and why to plant the components of the garden, it isn't all about me. I actually am just a small piece of the puzzle, and the rest of the pieces don't care about me much at all. So the idea that if I just did a better job I would be able to grow and eat all these plants for myself is just not how the world works. There will be “waste” but that's just from my narrow point of view. The plants think that going to seed is great. And the bugs think that beating me to the fruit is fab. It is not “waste”, it's our complex ecosystem. I need to get over myself!

  3. Well said! I try to remind myself and all the new gardeners I talk to that even the best gardeners have stunning successes and failures each year as measured by yield. Try as we might, we cannot control all of the factors that determine plant health and harvests. Case in point: I get some blossom-end rot every year on most paste tomato cultivars.

  4. Great post Bob. I'm a control for the stink bug study so I'll let you know how the count goes every Tuesday starting July 23. Sorry about the Big Mamas, mine are doing wonderfully with no blossom end rot. Do you have any blossom end rot on you other tomatoes? Currently picking Sungolds and one or two Brandywines.

  5. A couple days ago I observed squash beetles hatching on my cucumber plant. I'm so glad I was there to save the plant. 🙂

  6. Planting a garden is a great learning tool. The kind of learning process that goes into growing plants can definitely be applied to any educational programs formal or informal. Thank you for sharing your observations.

  7. You must have a green thumb, Kent. My Big Mama came from the seeds you shared with me, so your plants and mine are from the same packet. You drip irrigate yours and I do too, but your system is better than my primitive bucket system. My soil tests says I have plenty of calcium. So why do your Big Mamas flourish and mine decay with blossom-end rot? All the research indicates BER is caused by calcium/water issues–but could it be, just maybe, there's another factor?

  8. Thanks for the information on the squash vine borers. I'll have to be sure to plant my zucchini a little later next year.

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