Gardening lessons : 10 things I learned this year in the garden

As you can tell, I haven't had the time to write much during the summer. I've been really busy in the garden from June to mid-October.  Things were growing, mistakes were happening and bugs were visiting!  Yup!  Although things did not come along as planned, this was expected!  From the very beginning, I knew I was going to be facing challenges and I was ready for those learning experiences.  Here are 10 things I learned in the garden this year.

1. Tomatoes need lots of care
Growing tomatoes was the greatest learning experience of this gardening season.  I learned that tomato plants require lots of attention as you need to remove the suckers and tie the plants a couple of times a week.  Tomato plants grow fast.  Faster than I thought, let me tell you that!  (But then, the fruits take an eternity to ripen once they get to their mature size)

You also need to help your tomato plants to pollinate by touching their flowers and shaking them.  This way, you increase your chances of having a good pollination.  Blossom end rot is a common problem related to bad pollination.  When facing this problem, I just removed the affected fruits.

Tomato plants need to be pruned by removing all unnecessary foliage to help air flow and sun exposure.  I removed all the foliage from the bottom to the first set of fruits as well as any big leaves that were preventing adequate air flow. 

Since I had tomato plants in 2 gardens, this was problematic.  Next year, I want to grow 24 tomato plants, but they will all be growing in my backyard.  This way, I know I can provide the amount of care they need to be healthy.

2. Square foot planting is not always the best way to go

Let it be carrots, beets, radishes or turnips, I learned that root vegetables don't really like the square foot planting method as they need space to grow big roots.  The radishes were a complete fail, even if I respected the 6 inch spacing, beets are small BUT the carrots did great!

Next year, I'll leave more space between root crops and hopefully harvest some decent size vegetables.

3. I need to start my seedlings earlier and prepare for three growing periods

In late April, I was very happy with my seedlings until I went to the nursery not too far from my house and their tomato plants had fruits on!  I couldn't believe it!  With the equipment I have, I realised that I could have started my seedlings way before I did and plan for an early harvest. 

I also learned that you can literally have three growing periods during your gardening season : spring crops, summer crops and fall crops.  With good planning, it is possible to increase your harvest by succession planting.

Next year, I'll be prepared! I'll be starting my spring and summer crops in January.  I will also be starting my flowers in late February.  The goal for next year is to maximise as much as possible the three growing periods.

4. Groundhogs are relentless
We had two unwelcome visitors in our raised beds this year.  Yes, apparently, they jump that high (18 in).  Waking up to a half eaten garden after three months of work is totally heart wrenching, let me tell you that!  Seeing the groundhog in the garden after you built a fence all around it is even worst!  Black pepper doesn't work, cayenne pepper doesn't work, fake owls don't work...I'm not even sure our fence is working at this point! We've already had to modify it 3 times because the groundhogs found ways to get in the garden.  I'm telling you, groundhogs are relentless.

Next year, we will build a solid fence in the spring and I'm investing in one of those Critter Ridder motioned-activated repellent and sprinkler. 

5. I can't grow spinach
I can tell you that I wasn't able to harvest any spinach.   I'm not sure if the weather was too hot, if the soil was not good for spinach, if they didn'd get enough sun or what, but my spinach plants all died or went to seed.  The one plant that did survive was eaten by the groundhog... The good news is : there's always next year!

Next year, I will try to grow spinach in the spring and make sure the groundhogs don't get to it.

6. White butterflies are basticas worst nightmare 
You've heard them all, from an angel visiting to a sign of good look, white butterflies are considered as a good premonition.  Well, not for brassicas!  White butterflies are cabbage worms.  They lay their eggs on the green leaves of brassicas so that the larvas can feed on them when they hatch.  Their green color makes it easy for them to blend into the foliage and eat all of it.  I learned to find the green worms by following the poop trails.  No joke!!  You need to remove the eggs when you see them, treat the brassicas with Diatromaceous Earth if you want (I didn't) and remove the worms that you can see.

Next year, I will put a net on my cabbage patch to prevent the butterflies from laying their eggs on my beautiful plants.  I will also be very meticulous about examining my brassicas for any signs of eggs.

7. Tomato plants need good support
I really thought half inch round sticks were gonna be just fine to support my gorgeous tomato plants, but no!  Tomato plants are definitely too heavy for those flimsy sticks.  

Next years, I want my husband to build me a tomato support on wheels with 2x4 and strings.  Why on wheels?  It's because I need to move my tomato plants throughout the day for them to get at least 8 hours of sun.  You gotta do what you gotta do!

8. Radishes are not so easy to grow
Everybody says radishes are easy to grow.  I got 1 decent radish on my first batch of 138 seedlings.  You really need to give them the space and the sunlight exposure they need.  Also, they don't like hot weather at all as they go directly to seeds in extreme hot temperature.

Next year, I'll plant them in rows and in full sunlight.  We'll see what difference it makes.

9. Herbs are fun and easy to grow
Have you ever seen an oregano seed?  It's tinier than the head of a needle.  Just layer some seeds on the top of your potting mix, water and wait a couple of months for them to give you a lush and abundant harvest.  The more you harvest, the more you get.  All the herbs are like that.  Plant what you like and be ready to get overwhelmed.

I got oregano, three types of thyme, three types of basil, parsley, rosemary and mint.  I defenitly want to plant dill and chives next spring.

10.  You can grow anything from seeds of store bought produces, but don't expect them to be the same
I couldn't find any Roma tomato seeds.  All my other tomatoes were getting big and I couldn't wait any longer before starting Roma tomato seedlings.  So I bought a Roma tomato from the store and took the seeds from it, with the gel (no time to dry and germinate), and I planted 12 seeds.  I got 8 plants from those seeds. I finally got 6 Roma plants and 2 plants were giving round fruits.  We really liked the round ones, so I saved some seeds!

Next year, I want to grow 12 types of tomatoes.  I saved lots of seeds from different heirloom tomatoes I had the chance to taste in August, but I'll also make sure to order my seeds in December to prevent any shortage like this year.  

What about you?  What did you learn this past gardening season?  What are you planning on doing different next year?



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