Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lessons learned from this summer’s community garden plot

  1. Brussel sprouts are pigs. Well, they aren’t actually pigs or Jay would achieve his dream of harvesting bacon from the garden. But for what they provide (those little cabbage nuggets of goodness), they take a long, long time to grow and take up a lot of space.  I could get more out of the small plot with other vegetables. I’m thinking garlic and onions. 
    Eight brussel sprout plants took up A LOT of room in my 10x10 garden plot.
  2. Garlic planted in the spring yields, but not much. I was warned that garlic planted in the spring would not yield much, but I’m happy with what I got for an early June planting. I can’t wait to see what October planted garlic produces!
    Garlic planted in late spring yeild small but tasty crowns. For 2012, I'm planting in late October 2011.
  3. It’s ok to trim back an indeterminate cherry tomato plant. We planted one sungold cherry tomato plant which took up half a garden bed alongside our garage. It produced like crazy, and in October, it was still blossoming flowers. Had I trimmed it back, we would have gotten more fruit off less plant.
    Yes Virginia, that's ONE sun-gold cherry tomato plant.
  4. Indeterminite tomato plants are not good for canning. Well, they are and we did. But we didn’t get a lot of ripe fruit at any one time. Next year, one indeterminate slicing tomato, and several determinate beefy and paste plants.
    We made marinara sauce with whatever was on the vine at the time.
  5. Careful when co-planting. I read that nasturtium plants ward off a disease (or insect, can’t recall) from eggplant. So I planted several among my eggplant. The nasturtium grew faster and I think competed with and did little to help the eggplant. In August I tore them out and if I’m not mistaken, it seemed that that’s when the eggplant really started to thrive. It was too late for those blossoms to turn into anything but compost.
    Nasturtium flowers - tasty but aggressive
  6. Give the Malabar more trellis. My friend Diane shared two of these viny spinach plants. I tastes great, nothing seemed to kill it, lasted all summer and into autumn and gave the nasturtium next to it a run for its money. We are definitely planting this one next year. But it needs a bigger trellis and we need to more aggressively nibble at its succulent leaves.
  7. Buy vs. start. I’m still 50/50 on this one; because I haven’t done the math, I don’t know if it’s more cost-effective to buy and start seeds under grow lights or purchase plants from the farmer’s market, etc. I spent $10 on seed packets for basil, eggplant and some flowers. But that doesn’t include electricity spent on lights and heat mats. I spent $50 at the farmer’s market for the rest of what I put in the garden. The thing about starting from seed is I have all these leftover seeds, and I have to buy many packets to get the variety I want. I think the key is to plant what I need lots of (basil, eggplant) and buy what I want a few of. OR, I’d like to get into a seed starting cooperative, i.e. I start the basil for everyone, someone else starts tomatoes, etc., or I just get people to pay me for plants I start? Oh boy, that sounds like trouble.
    Nothing says "spring" like loose soil and seeds under grow lights.
  8. I love to be in the garden at 6 in the morning. It’s quiet and peaceful. Sometimes it’s foggy and a little mysterious. I have the whole place to myself, yet I’m sharing it with lots of other people. The day is just starting, and I have time to prune, pick or care for the plants. The hawk watches me, the chipmunk, me, the rabbit, me, the ground squirrel, me, the mouse, me, the mole and then me as I drive off to start my day.
    An early morning sunrise casts long shadows on the sleepy community garden.
  9. If the world goes to hell, we could provide for ourselves. If an economic, social or military apocalypse happened, I’d scrape together some seeds and move to my parents' farm in western Wisconsin where Jay and I, along with my family, could grow and preserve our own food. Variety would be slim and we’d have to be thoughtful about getting a balanced diet (what is high in vitamin C that grows at our latitude?). But I learned that I could do it.
  10. Top 10 lists need 10 entries. Letterman’s 10th item is usually the ringer, the gotcha, the really good one. Mine? Mine is the obvious – I learned that I have much to learn. Why did every single Japanese truffle tomato split on top and get this black stuff in the splits? I don’t know, but I’m not going to plant them again.  Why weren’t my eggplant prolific? I don’t know, but I’m going to try again. Why oh why did I not stick to my “plant cilantro every other week all summer” plan, again? I don’t know, but I’ll make an effort again next year. And so on. Perhaps this is why people garden up until they are dead, because there is much to learn, but despite not knowing much, at least I got a few tomatoes.


  1. Nice summary. I've read you can use most seeds for 3 years. I buy plants if I just want one.

  2. I love this top 10 list. All of us gardeners should do the same, every year, and make it public.

    One reason to start from seed: most seeds last more than one year. I've been starting parsely from seed from the same packet for the last 5 years. EAch year, I plant more of the seed assuming that the germination rate is lower. It still takes a long time to use up all the seeds. (And it was only this last season that my 2006 parsely had really bad germination - I'm getting new seed for 2012.) I plant many species and have found that only chive seeds need to be re-purchased after one year.

    One other reason is that you can start gardening in January, even if it is only indoors, under flourescent bulbs. :)

  3. Oh, and the splitting on your tomatoes... I think the Japanese truffle is an heirloom, no? I suspect this is why heirlooms are heirloom... they're not bred to handle the volume of water our Wisconsin summers can dump. I had my two favorite heirloom varieties (nyagous and amish paste) split a lot this year and I'm 90% certain it's because we had several large rain events. The tomato fruits try to take in the water but can't grow fast enough and end up splitting. Then the splits are attacked by bacteria/fungi and rot (the black stuff). In previous years, nyagous rarely ever split, producing perfect baseball sized brownish-red super-juicy orbs so I'm optimistic for next season. Maybe give your Japanese truffle another try; or find a cherry heirloom. They seem to be more forgiving.

    To a better 2012!

  4. Peg and Christy, thanks so much for your comments.
    Christy, I'd LOVE to hear your top 10 things learned in the summer of 2011.

  5. I have exactly the same opinion about brussels sprouts. I love them and like watching them grow but sakes alive those things will take up a fourth of my small garden. I decided that I would buy them at the farmers market this season but now I regret not being able to go out to the back yard on Thanksgiving day to dig in the snow to find my treasure for the table.

    Ditto for what you're other friends said about the seed, it lasts for many years.

    I would give those tomatoes one more try. It was a difficult year for them. Even my celebrity tomatoes split. The best way to prevent this is to make sure the soil doesn't dry out but that may be very difficult to do. Is there a water source near your community garden?