A Disappointing Season With Lessons Learned

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Much planning and anticipation went into my garden for 2015. I added a couple of new beds, went a little wild with companion planting, and decided to try a new crop: cabbages. On a tip from a gardening seminar, I planted my bush beans between rows of potatoes to deter Mexican bean beetles. Most of my vegetable beds were laced with beneficial flowers and herbs, such as alyssum, thyme, cilantro and artemesia, along with the obligatory marigolds, nasturtiums and dill. I planted sunflowers in both corn plots on the theory that they increase corn yields.

Many people in my region had trouble with their gardens this year due to dry conditions. Mine was no exception. Seedlings would fail to appear, or would emerge only to shrivel, or vanish without a trace. Some would emerge but fail to grow, staying the same size for weeks! Some would emerge only to be bitten off near the ground — possibly the work of cutworms, though I seldom found any. By mid-summer I was besieged with grasshoppers, crickets and katydids, eating large holes in all my leafy crops.

Meanwhile, the apple trees I had carefully pruned, mulched and fertilized succumbed to rust and apple maggots, rendering inedible the seven apples that remained after the deer and raccoons ate all the rest.

Besides all this, a groundhog took up residence (or possibly the one from last year never left?) producing two youngsters for good measure. For most of the summer they contented themselves with munching on the grass and clover, but by late summer the one remaining groundhog was devouring everything in sight — including my entire fall brassica crop!

The only crops that did reasonably well for me were potatoes, onions, winter squash, and a few beets. Actually the onions were my best ever, so that’s one achievement. But the normally abundant bush beans produced a scanty harvest, all the cucumbers died, and — incredibly — the zucchini failed as well!

Now, for the lessons:

First: The tip about planting beans with potatoes must be a good one — I only ever saw about three bean beetles. The trouble was, by the time I got around to planting the beans, the potatoes had gotten such a head start they ended up overshadowing them. Next year I’ll be sure to plant the beans earlier and on the sunny side of the potatoes.

Do sunflowers increase corn yields? Consider this: In the one plot where my sunflowers did best, the corn did poorly, and where the sunflowers struggled, the corn did better. However, I had to plant the corn two or three times before it grew, and was hard pressed for something for my pole beans to grow on. Next year I’ve resolved to grow only a small plot of corn, overseeding it, then thinning later, and not count on it for supporting pole beans. The latter did fine on the sunflowers, so guess who’s going to be paired up next year?

One thing — I learned — that may have contributed to the stunting of plants was growing them in soil mixed with half-composted chicken litter. I read a post by another gardener who found that when she was forced to do the same thing her yields were noticeably reduced. The undigested wood shavings apparently soak up a lot of the water, leading to the incredibly dry soil I observed in those beds. I also resolved to move my cold frame a foot or so away from the holly tree I had backed it up to, when I realized there were tree roots underneath it!

Next year I think I’ll try Nolo bait for the grasshoppers, and possibly a sulfur spray for the cedar apple rust. I’m hesitant to try the latter, though, since my trees are very near a stream, and I understand it’s toxic to fish.

Of utmost importance, however, is finding a way to keep the four-footed marauders out! To that end I’m planning to install electric fencing next year around most of the garden, and possibly find a way to fence in the apple trees as well.