Sunday, October 30, 2016

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...).