Looking back at the 2016 growing season

Well, no one’s posted here in a long time! Didya miss us? Maybe not, if you ended the summer growing season as frustrated and tired as I did: the last thing you may have wanted was more talk about vegetable gardening!

But now we’ve all taken a breather and are enjoying the cool weather of fall, so much as I personally would like to forget a lot of 2016’s gardening issues, it’s worth taking a look back while it’s still fresh. Here, in brief, are some of the things I’ll be mulling over and discussing with fellow gardeners over the winter.

1) Improving timing of tomato planting. We had a rainy and unusually cool May, which delayed all summer planting till the last week of the month. This did seem to delay the onset of common fungal diseases, at least as compared to recent years when the plants have been in the ground during periods of frequent rain. Eventually the diseases caught up, however. Next year I’m interested in the idea of staggering plantings, and waiting to put some tomato plants in the ground until well into June. In previous years when some plants have gone in very late (usually because they were donated to the demo garden at that time) they’ve been nearly disease-free until very late in the season.

2) Using shade cloth with tomatoes. May make a big difference in those hot summer months.

3) Using cover crops not only in empty beds but in between growing plants. This is not a new idea, but one we’ve never managed to get around to trying at Derwood before. I’m encouraged to try it after a few observations, including the high production of a nearby garden that ended up full of weeds – not great, of course, to have all those weeds spreading their seeds around, but the effect of keeping the ground covered by more than just mulch may have been significant and beneficial. I also noticed the effect on the peppers in my community garden plot of growing sweet potatoes as a ground cover underneath, helping to keep the soil moist even through the hot dry weather of late summer. I had a spectacular pepper year! (Unfortunately the sweet potatoes did not do as well, and there are other reasons including harvest timing that I won’t do that again. But the cover crop effect did work out, somewhat inadvertently.)

4) Getting after those pest insects. We had a couple years’ break from squash bugs, squash vine borers, and even harlequin bugs, following some severe winters that killed insect populations. But they are back full force now, and we lost plants as a result. We need to be more vigilant in protection. I’ll try to discuss those methods as we use them next year.

5) Dealing with rodents! We had a very bad season at Derwood with invading mice, voles, and chipmunks. I’m hoping to get some blog reports from the team who maintained our straw bale and African keyhole gardens, which bore the brunt of those invasions, and also discuss what we’ll do differently with sweet potatoes, which were devoured again.

6) Getting those fall vegetables to grow despite heat and drought in late summer. My story is that I have “given myself permission” not to have much of a fall garden this year, though to tell the truth I put in lots of plants and they just died. The fall greens are doing fine at Derwood, but we have a drip irrigation system there and that’s just not a possibility for my community garden. And I was busy, so the plants didn’t get watered enough, and also suffered from insects despite the row covers, so most of them are now gone. I do have a nice crop of spinach coming along, though.

That’s only part of the winter contemplation list, but it’s enough for one post! Hope to make more update posts soon – and hope that all of you are recovering from Garden 2016 (or maybe you had a terrific year and it’s only me…).

13 Comments on “Looking back at the 2016 growing season

  1. Erica, everything you mentioned I struggled with too. I planted tom seedlings way into June as well and actually kinda liked the staggering of toms instead of a windfall. I've been using cover crops of hairy vetch for the past 2 years and have DEFINITELY noticed a difference each growing season. The squash bugs and SVBs have always been a pain, but this year I tried row covers and regular applications of BT to kill any newly hatched larva with great success. Voles were the bane of my existence this year too and finally had to use organic bait nuggets to kill them in their tunnels. I used Agrid 3 crushed up in small pieces and buried in their tunnels; repeat every week until no more activity. This worked great is it will not harm secondary/non-targeted animals, children, or pets. It basically poison them with an overdose of Vitamin D3.

  2. Thanks for the report and the info! We are limited in what we can do at the demo garden because of county pesticide regs, but we'll look into the Agrid.

  3. Couple of comments. I planted my tomatoes June 10 and had almost no disease until very late in the season. I attribute this to 2 factors. First, the bed was heavily mulched with Howard County compost which is fairly sterile since it is composted at temperatures that kill most seeds and organisms. Also, because is is soft and permeable, rain doesn't splash up on the plant leaves. However, since most of my tomatoes are 75 days plus to maturity, the later planting date meant the crop came in later, late in August.

    As with all my vegetable beds, my tomatoes are drip irrigated, which cuts down on splash from watering with a hose. If you don't have a drip system, you can improvise by using Bob Nixon's technique of using a 3 or 5 gallon bucket with a couple of 1/16th inch holes drilled in the bottom. Just fill the bucket once a week and let it drip water into the soil at the plant base.

    Regarding the voles, Howard County community gardeners use plastic snap traps baited with peanut butter to rids the garden of voles and mice. They work well, for gardeners not squeamish about removing rodents from traps. I would also imagine that much like a mulched bed, a straw bale garden offers voles and mice a place to hide and multiple.

  4. Kent is right about the voles…they LOVE places where they can tunnel and hide (under mulch, straw, etc.). Traps are great for small infestations; you just need to be able to check and reset the traps on a regular basis. For me, I had a bigger problem and needed something stronger. 🙂

  5. We did end up setting some traps and caught at least one – also witnessed the farm cat taking care of one rodent, so will have to encourage more visits next year! Since our garden is public we have to be careful about snap traps, but there are plenty on the market that can't snare inquisitive fingers.

  6. I had a very uninspired 2016 gardening season and I grow in both in Prince George's and Atlanta, GA. In Atlanta, I planted store vegetable seedlings and flower seeds but nothing thrived.

    In Maryland, in my home garden, I started vegetable and flower seeds that succumbed to the wet Spring. I managed to grow 1 pepper plant (last year I had thousands). The tomato plants struggled and produced tiny, chewy, tasteless fruits. The farmer's market-purchased mint plants turned yellow and died. I never had enough basil to harvest and my grown-from-seed sage petered out along with the rosemary and I produced only a sprig or two of parsley. Many packs of seeds later I note one tiny mystery flower bloom has recently appeared.No peas, no eggplant, no tomatillos which grew like crazy last year.

    At my job, nothing came of the potatoes (or the herb plants & seeds) the students planted at the campus garden. The Sweet 100 produced nada.

    The only favorable planting was the green beans that grew when I tossed some “old” bean seeds in my compost bin.

    I'm ready to forget this gardening year and get started with next year. I am grateful for this chance to vent.

    I tossed an old bag of bean seeds in the compost bin and had a nice crop of green beans.

  7. Yep, I had tons of Whiteflies infesting my Lacinato kale this summer & fall. (The kale was meant to be an early spring crop, but kept going all season long without bolting. I'm still harvesting this month!) They were annoying but didn't seem to do much damage that I could tell.

  8. Nice to hear I wasn't the only one with struggling tomatoes. I'm finally getting a decent crop now, with the late warm weather we're having. Same with my sweet peppers– both varieties are loaded with ripening fruit. I may have to make and can or freeze some roasted peppers to store!

    Your idea of staggering tomato plantings is a good one, I'll add that to my own contemplation list for next year. Seems like a good way to hedge your bets and protect against diseases or late cold weather like we had this spring!

  9. Harlequin bugs and white fly decimated my brussel sprouts. I would welcome any advice as to how I can successfully grow my favorite veggie in a world with harlequin bugs and white fly.

  10. Why didn't your sweet potatoes do well? Did you harvest it too early? I grew some last year and plan on doing it again. Do you think they would make a good cover crop for tomatoes too?

  11. I think it was mostly the drought, and perhaps that they didn't like sharing the space with the peppers. I have grown sweet potatoes as a ground cover under tomatoes before, and that worked fine, but in a wetter year. I can't use drip irrigation at the community garden, so it is all hand-watering with water carried from a cistern. Definitely didn't harvest too early – they had plenty of time, but I would have liked to keep the peppers in longer – this is the downside to sharing the space, that you have to harvest at the same time.

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