Monday, May 18, 2009

Vegetable Garden Update - 2 Month Report: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Crookneck Squash

Well, my veggie gardens are officially 2 months along now, so it's time for an update! And, as promised - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly - in all its glory. (Check out the 3 month update here.)

As far as the raised bed, square foot gardens, this is what they looked like last night.

No, I'm not the crazy lady down the street!

But we did have a cold front come through that not only finally brought us beaucoup rain, but crazy winds, and a big ole drop in temperatures. Last night, tonight, and tomorrow night, temps will dip down into the 50s, and rise back up to the high 70s and low 80s during the day. Last week, we were running in the high 80's and with extremely high humidity, making it feel like mid-90s. All that to say, with that much fluctuation in temperatures, I was concerned about blossom drop on my veggies, all of which pretty much have blossoms right now, so I went out and gave them all a blanket hoping that they would stay warm enough so that I don't have blossom drop. Will have to repeat this for the next couple of nights.

This is actually only my 3rd season of really semi-seriously giving this gardening thing a go - both for veggies and for flowers. For years, when I was working full time, I just stuck some vegetable plants in the ground and didn't really have time to tend to them or baby them like now, so I never had much of a bounty as the bugs and critters always got the best of it.

So.... here we go!

The Ugly No. 1: My poor Topsy Turvy planter.

After I replanted it with a healthy tomato plant, it was doin' great, and then...

...I dropped it. And I broke it.

After all that rain, and with it hanging on the outside of the eave, well it got a good heavy watering. And, apparently it got so heavy from the water that it had bent the nail it was hanging on, and it must've just been teetering there when I touched the planter to turn it and look at the plant...

...and it fell off the nail. I tried to catch it, but it landed plant down in my hands, and broke off the tomato plant right at the stem. Funny thing is, when I was out there covering all of those plants last night, I looked up at the planter and thought it might be a good idea to take it down, but I knew it was heavy and full of water and didn't know where I was gonna hang it, so I didn't take it down. Should have trusted my instincts.

Well, I think that's likely the end of my Topsy Turvy Tomato Planter experiment. It's not the planter's fault - just my dumb luck. First, I drown the first plant right off by giving it too much water and the wrong kind of fertilizer and now this, so I can't rightly give an opinion on its performance. I have, however, seen lots of people using this method with both the Topsy Turvy planter and homemade planters across the internet, so if you're curious about them, just give it a try!

The Ugly No. 2 - my Tomato in a Bag.

Well, the first tomatoes that I tried in the bag of Black Kow weren't very healthy to begin with because they were leftover from my raised bed plantings and had been sitting in a partially empty plastic cell pack for weeks. I lost one of them pretty quick. So I bought a new, healthy plant to give it fair try.

Well, this one, it seems, I drowned by over-watering.

Apparently the composted manure holds water pretty well, so all the times I was watering the other plants in the raised bed, I should have been checking the soil in the bag, and not just watering it! Yeah, I killed it. Apparently I do not have my Grandma Mac's green thumb.

But, the good news is, the original unhealthy tomato I planted on the other side of the bag is {so far} hanging in there, and except for those pesky leaf miners, seems to be doin' okay.

Now ... on to the raised bed, square foot gardens.

Here are some pictures of all of the gardens as of this morning after I uncovered them. Besides the growth of some of the plants, you'll notice there are a few things, well, let's just say, different from when I started.

Bed No. 1 - 4' x 4' Left hand back side has 2 Big Beef tomato plants, plus there is a planter in the back that has the Roma in it. In the back far right is a cucumber plant - I lost one to over-watering, I'm pretty sure. In the row in front of that, marigolds, eggplant and two pepper plants. You'll hear more about those in a minute. The next 2 rows aren't much like I started at all. I added stuff, moved stuff, started stuff over. But right now, back to front, are cilantro, dill, chives, jalapeno pepper, then basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme. And on the ground on the left hand side in a small planter, mint. I've heard that mint will take over a garden pretty fast so it's best to grow in a container. For once, I listened.

Bed No. 2 - 4' x 4' There are 2 Big Beef tomato plants on the left hand back side and a Bush Goliath in a planter behind this bed. Cantaloupe on the right hand back side and some peppers in front of that. Newly planted beans are in the front 4 center squares and the one to the far right front. Yes, it's a re-plant - more about that later. Right behind the marigolds I just planted some lavender seeds, because I moved the cilantro that was planted there over to Bed No. 1. I have no idea if lavender is a good plant to intermix with vegetable plants, but I was going through seed, ran across them and thought I'd see if any came up.

Bed No. 3 - 4' x 8' Back row is all Better Boy tomatoes plus there is a small planter to the side that has another Big Beef tomato plant in it, and a planter behind it that has a cucumber plant in it. The two large plants centered on both sides are crookneck squash, and beside the marigolds there are some green bell pepper plants scattered in there too.

Okay, now on to The Bad - my mistakes.

The Bad No. 1: Not following the author of All New Square Foot Gardening, Mel's Bartholomew's, exact soil formula.

Especially in relation to vermiculite, but also not using enough different sources of compost, both of which would have helped with moisture retention. I couldn't find any vermiculite in the large sized bags I needed, and since the Jungle Growth had some in it, I thought it would be enough. But after that initial period of rain we got, we went over a month with no rain at all and I found my beds drying out quick so that I was watering daily for awhile there and on a couple of those really hot, humid days, twice a day! That's just too much. Of course some of that was over-watering - more on that later. But, I think that it would have helped a lot to have added the vermiculite as recommended.

There is some good in the bad here in that Hub's accidentally picked up the wrong kind of Jungle Growth when I sent him back for some new bags for flower gardening, and it ended up being Jungle Growth Water Wise - containing extra sources for water retention. I top-dressed all of the raised bed plants with this and it really seems to have helped.

The Bad No. 2. Not separating the bean seedlings when they came up.

I planted bush green beans in the front and middle 4 squares of Bed #2, putting 2 bean seeds into each of the 9 holes so that I would have enough plants come up. Well, just about every one of those beans sprouted, but I never got around to thinning them out. Big mistake. By May 1st, they looked like this.

Highly overcrowded themselves - making them an easy prey and a great hiding place for bugs - and crowding out all of the other plants around them so that they weren't getting enough sun, I tried to first pull them together with string to kind of rope them in a bit. That really didn't work well, so then I tried to separate them and thin them out at this stage. Big mistake. Thinning them didn't work out well at all and just when I was starting to get beans, I ended up getting frustrated and pulling every single plant up, and they all went to the compost pile. And I started over. And I wanted to cry.

And yes, those branches with stickers on them? They're in there on purpose. But that's another post I need to finish so more on that another day!

The Bad No. 3.
Accidentally grabbing the Dawn dishwashing soap when I did the second soap spray treatment on the eggplant and peppers for aphids.

I wasn't thinking - or in reality, probably thinking of too many things at once - and I grabbed the Dawn instead of the generic, lemon scented stuff I used the first time. If you wait about an hour after spraying, you can then rinse the plants off, but like the first time I just sprayed the plants down and didn't rinse them. Again, my instincts told me I should go grab the hose, but I did this in the evening, so I didn't think that sunburn or scald would be an issue by the time morning rolled around, so I didn't rinse them off. Sure wish I had because when I sprayed everything, they looked like this. Looks nice huh?

But then, by the next day and the day after, the plants started looking like this.

The Bad No. 4. Not giving my seedlings a thorough inspection when I purchased them and not catching the aphids quick enough.

Of all the bugs I've had to deal with in my three years of trial veggie gardening, I don't think I have ever had aphids, so I am convinced that I carried them home on the plants I bought. By the time I noticed them, my plants were infested, and while I've been treating them and it's working, the damage was done. The leaves are all curled up. The plants are stunted. They aren't budding up as they should be. I seriously am considering pulling them all up and replanting.

The Bad No. 5. Assuming that wilting in the pepper plants was a need for water.

Apparently pest damage from aphids to the peppers was what was making the pepper plants look wilted all the time and not a need for water. Logically I saw that the rest of the plants seemed fine, but in my mind I associated wilting with a need for water, not aphids. So I kept watering the darned plants. I lost one cucumber as a result of this over-watering, and the poor pepper plants, already suffering from the aphids and the Dawn soap scalding, were now dropping perfectly fine, green and healthy leaves from yep, being over-watered!!

Well ... despite all that, there has been some good! So, I guess you can say I've saved the best for last.

The Good No. 1: Sticking with the square foot guidelines for bush squash plants, despite the fact that it takes up most of your bed.

If you question why so many squares, just have a look at this picture. Closest to you is actually the back - that's all tomatoes, but those plants in the center of all of those blank spaces are the squash when I first planted them. Seems such a waste of space, doesn't it?

Until you see this picture. Those huge plants are the squash plants 2 months later. As you see, it has grown significantly and pretty much is already taking up all 9 of those squares that were reserved for it. It's doing pretty good so far, though I did see a squash borer eyeing it up one day when I was outside. I angrily swung at it with my flip flop, hit it and sent it sailing through the air and didn't see it again. I'm hoping I won't be seeing problems with this pest but I'm trying to keep an eye out for them for sure.

The Good No. 2. Not planting the watermelon in a raised bed.

Instead I did it in a pot, using a broken tomato cage that I clipped the top part off of, so that the watermelon could grow up the cage, over it, and out of the pot, just to sort of lift it up and out of the dirt. As the plant began to grow, I laid down a square of newspapers on the ground that I then topped with landscape fabric and secured with garden staples. I cut a wooden stake in half to set up under the planter just to lift it off of the ground a bit. That way, if any water accumulated, the pot would not be sitting in the water. The plant has plenty of room to sprawl, and I didn't have to set up an entire raised bed with all of that soil to grow it in. I've never grown watermelon before, so if I manage to get even one melon from this plant without a pest attack, I will be thrilled.

The Good No. 3. Putting up the vertical frames.

So far anyway, I am LOVING these frames. The plants are so easy to train - every once in awhile when you go out to the garden, you just tuck the plants in and out of the nylon netting. Of course the true test will come as the plants begin to bear some heavy fruit - especially those cantaloupe. But right now this is far and above 1000% better than cages and staking and all that other mess I've tried before. And, once it's all over these can be removed and stored for next year, and supposedly, many years.

The Good No. 4: Seeing the fruit of your labor finally showing up.

The Good No. 5: Having garden buddies to admire and talk to.

The Good No. 6: Being able to walk out the back door of your house, and despite the mistakes and the failures and the do-overs, despite the seemingly never-ending battle of the bugs and mother nature, you, yes you, have grown a vegetable garden!

Click HERE for all the Year One 2009 Square Foot Vegetable Garden Updates


  1. sounds like me last year, ripping plants out here and there. at least now i know why those whiteish/brownish spots showed up... i didn't rinse my soap off.

    i'm so behind in my garden this year, looks like i'll miss most of the summer stuff, but there is always the fall!

  2. I think your garden looks great! Mine has only been out about 3 weeks because of late freezes and an overabundance of rain. The rabbits are grazing on my green beans and of course the weeds are thriving because of all the rain!Tomatoes look good, so far though!

  3. You are a better woman than me. I marvel at your tenacity. I think your raised beds look great and while it's a shame about the tomato it's early enough in the season that it can be replaced. Cudos!

  4. we planted all of our stuff this weekend and thought we were safe from a there is a frost warning tonight. Im jealous of your longer growing season.

  5. CH, it's been a 3 year learning experience for me - but dang that can get expensive!!

    Thanks Lynda! No rabbits here but I have stray cats, LOTS of birds, turtles, squirrels and raccoons - so far! The weeds are so few with the raised beds and THAT part is fantastic!

    Thanks Mary ... I'm hard headed I guess LOL!

    TG I go through that with our tropicals down here - the freeze is just enough to kill em off and then it'll be warm again the next day so I'm out there with blankets and sheets trying my best to save stuff! Wasn't the freeze for me this time, just the dramatic change in temps. I know if I didn't wrap everything through this cold front, all my blossoms would be on the ground!!

    Don't be too jealous - longer growing seasons mean WAY more bugs to battle too. That's why bugs are so bad down south, ugh...

  6. All I can say is "awe". I love your stories...Love hearing about your gardening woes and also the "hurrahs".
    Since we are so far behind you here in NV.. I am taking notes on how to deal with things as they come up.

  7. Happy to help Debbie! It's fun but sure can be frustrating too - if I can save somebody else a bit of that, I will be a happy gal!!

  8. Wow, you have been one busy gardener! We just got our garden planted this weekend!

  9. Hey Karen! Well, yeah, I have been at it for 2 months - in truth I sure should be further along. Soon it will be super hot here and that's always a drag on any plant - flowering or veggie.


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