Garden lessons learned 2015

Every year I try to think back over the growing season about things I’ve learned (often re-learned) about gardening, so here’s the Derwood Demo Garden version thereof for 2015. Not that the growing season is over, but maybe I can still remember some of it at this point.

1. Mother Nature is boss. No matter what plans you make, the weather will screw them up, or perhaps provide you a few bonuses along the way. We had the second really cold winter in a row, which did some damage to our hardy kiwi and taught us that we’ll need to give it some winter protection this year. We’ll also protect the newly-planted fig tree in the same area. June was unreasonably rainy, leading to fungal diseases on many plants later in the season, and the end of summer was unremittingly hot and dry, making it difficult to get fall plants started. And today we should have been showing off our garden at the Harvest Festival, but Hurricane Joaquin had other ideas. This is a lesson we have to learn anew each year – but all we can really do is prepare for whatever conditions might occur and adjust quickly.

2. Corollary: spray the tomatoes. We’ve pretty much decided that prophylactic spraying of copper fungicide is the way to go, considering the pattern of wet springs we’ve been having. (Next June: complete and total drought.) I have also noted that tomatoes planted a bit later than the earliest possible moment (i.e. late May-early June) do much better in the fungal disease stakes. Also, the tomatoes grown in our hay bales were fantastic, beating out everything else in the garden.

Huge healthy tomatoes on the left

3. Rabbits love soybeans. Actually, rabbits love beans in general – I’m talking the young plants rather than the pods that we wait for – but it was bleakly amusing to note that in our Asian bean area some of the plants were only nibbled on while the soybeans and adzuki beans were chomped down to the ground. That was when the rabbit(s) (we only ever saw one at a time) managed to hop over to that area after chowing on the 100-square-foot garden’s beans for the umpteenth time. Bunnies do also eat bean pods when those are in reach, but don’t tell that to the indomitable 100SFG team who finally managed to harvest some by August.

4. Nevertheless, the Year of the Bean was fun. Especially these “pretzel bean” cowpeas that I got from an Amish heritage seed company.

But I won’t be planting chickpeas again – in previous years I’ve lost the crop early to something (probably rabbits) mowing it down, and this year our pods were pierced and beans eaten by a pest we were never able to definitively identify.

5. The peppers will be late. I’m finally harvesting huge numbers of peppers from a few plants in my own garden, and we’ve been doing the same at the demo garden:

but they took their sweet time. You can see a lot of these are green – we’re cutting them because they are weighing down the branches.

6. Corollary: it’s worth looking for one early-producing variety of everything. This helps with succession planting and spacing out the harvest. One example: the ‘Gulliver’ tomatillo grown by the 100SFG team. They were able to direct-seed it after harvesting spring crops, and it produced by late August – massive 3-inch tomatillos. Imagine how early it would be if started indoors and transplanted in May!

I also had good luck with ‘Dash’ spinach as a spring-planted crop, which can supplement fall-planted spinach if you manage to get that going against all odds in wacko weather. (We’ll see whether the seeds I put in this week washed away.)

7. Leeks grow in containers. I always throw a few unusual things into big pots just to see, and there were some extra leek seedlings, so… anyway, it worked, although they were small in comparison to the in-ground ones. Our container-grown sunchokes also did pretty well – and we have managed to eliminate them from the soil, we think!

8. Potting mix needs mid-season “fluffing” – at least if it rains steadily all through June. The container area did very poorly in summer and compaction of the soilless mix turned out to be one factor.

9. Bean trellises should not be built taller than gardeners can reach. I got really tired of getting out the ladder.

10. Drip irrigation saves shallow salad tables. We even managed to get parsley to germinate in July. It’s doing well. I am coming to prefer salad tables more than 3 inches deep, though – sorry, Jon!

11. It’s not worth waiting to harvest potatoes until the Harvest Festival. Especially if it doesn’t happen! We were going to harvest the sweet potatoes today, but I guess we’ll get to it this Tuesday. Anyway, the long tradition of October potato harvesting has bowed to increasing pest and weather issues, and we got our potatoes out in August (some for the public at the GIEI open house) and put broccoli seedlings in their place. Much better use of space than taters sitting underground being gnawed on by wireworms and occasionally sprouting.

12. We have a fantastic team of MGs at the DDG! I didn’t need to learn this lesson; I already knew it. Thanks everyone!

5 Comments on “Garden lessons learned 2015

  1. I noticed the very same thing about the tomatoes: those that were planted later are still looking fairly well, whereas the ones planted early were basically done a long time ago. And yes, the tomatoes in the straw bales still look awesome!

    I too loved the Year of the Bean. I grew bush lima beans (instead of pole beans) and I have never harvested more beans in my life. In addition, I grew yard long beans, black-eyed peas, black beans, pinto beans, yellow “green” beans and a white drying bean. They all did great, especially the yard long beans and the black-eyed peas: they produced enormous amounts of food.

    Question: where did you get chickpeas for planting? Did you just use a bag from the grocery store? I would love to try them, despite your struggles. Would also like to try lentils!


  2. One sure way to stop bunnies and the Mexican bean beetle is to cover the beans with row cover. If bunnies are the problem, row cover can be removed once beans start to flower and spinosad can be used to stop the bean beetle. Some beans will self pollinate under row cover, but check references before leaving the row cover on during bean set.


  3. We did end up doing that for some of the beans – in fact I think covering was how the 100SFG team finally got some beans going. Even managed to cover pole beans for a little while, but that doesn't last. I covered the Asian bean area, and then uncovered it when the plants got too big, and there was the bunny waiting…


  4. You should write about your bean experience! I got the chickpeas as seed from Baker Creek, I think. I've seen them in several catalogs. Grocery store lentils work fine in my experience, but I've only grown them as sprouts or microgreens – they seem like not a cost/space-effective thing for gardens. But of course you could try!


  5. I will write about my bean experience, especially once I am done shelling all of them! And of course I am going to try to grow lentils. I know it will more likely than not be a frustrating experience, but that is okay. Often I grow things more for the experience, to see if it can be done, rather than the final product. Each year I reserve some space in my garden for experiments.


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