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.