The weather has been weird this year. Yeah I know we say that every year, but this year I mean exceptionally weird. August has been crazier than any August I can remember. All month the weather has jumped from high to low, with say two days of high heat and humidity followed by a week of fall weather with highs in the 60's. That's the trouble with gardening, you never know what the weather will bring or what you're going to reap in the end.
I decided to do a quick 2007/2008 garden comparison. I've highlighted a few things we've tried or learned.
- In 2007 all my plants were homegrown from seed and pretty small when they were planted. Plant time in 07 was the first week of June. I was canning tomatoes in July. The 2008 garden was planted the weekend prior to Labor day so we got it in a week to a week and a half sooner this year plus all my plants were commercially grown and much bigger and more established so you'd think they would have produced sooner, wouldn't you? They actually produced 2 weeks later and this year, even with the timely planting it was August before I had enough of anything to can. I think things started out slowly because the cool spring weather kept the ground colder longer than normal. Later things slowed down again a time or two due to unseasonably cool spells.
- 2007 peppers went crazy, both hot and sweet. This year all my beautiful pepper plants lost their blossoms and withered up...until now that is. We are wondering now if they just didn't get pollinated so the blossoms died rather than bearing fruit. Just a thought since the honey bees are scarce these days. Maybe it was the cooler weather, can't say for sure.
- Last year we planted San Marzano paste tomatoes and had a problem with blossom end rot on just this bunch. This year we planted Amish paste in the same location and had no problems. BUT, when we planted we added a scoop full of crushed egg shells to the holes before setting the plants in. So, was it the calcium in the egg shells that prevented blossom end rot or were the Amish Paste less susceptible? I'll be darned if I know, but I'm going to do the egg shell thing again next year just to be on the safe side.
- In 2007 we were bombarded with horn worms in our tomatoes. This year we planted a patch of dill just beyond the garden to attract beneficial brachonid wasps (which it did very nicely) and had little to any problem with horn worms. Coop found one large horn worm but it was covered in wasp larvae so we left it alone. That's what you want to see!
- Cucumbers and winter squash started out well both years and then dwindled out before they could produce a real good crop. Vine borers are the culprit. Considering injectable nematodes next year.
- We had a bumper crop of tomatoes this year, far more than last with fewer plants. But this year we mulched the tomatoes and were sure glad we did especially with the number of dry spells we had. Also last year we turned the garden soil then tilled it again just prior to planting. This year we chose to turn the soil by tilling much more shallowly to lessen the disturbance of the ecosystem and doing so early, giving nature time to re-establish its natural eco-system before we planted. We then then did a shallow hand cultivation just prior to planting so as not to destroy it. With less disturbance it was natural that we saw a lot more earth worms inhabiting the soil when planting. Despite the wacky weather and blossom loss on the peppers we actually had a better garden than last year with overall higher production.
- Beans....last year we planted Blue Lake green beans in the main garden and they did beautifully, producing nearly all summer. This year we planted Contender and they did well but not as prolific as the Blue Lake. Later in the year we planted Blue Lake in our secondary garden next to cukes. Bad idea!! Now we know that the cucumber bugs like green beans as well and never to plant the beans so close to cukes or squash.
Also, before I end this let me recommend one book that helped us identify some problems and should be in every gardeners library, "The Organic Gardeners Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control" from Rodale Press. It's an invaluable reference.