Garden lessons

Well it has happened. It's that time of the year when I go from being so proud and excited about my garden to feeling panicked and discouraged because all of a sudden it is taking a turn for the worse.

In all of my dreams about growing a garden, I never really realized how hard it would be, even with chemicals. (boo. I know. Every time I use them I hope that I don't end of giving myself cancer). I thought I had done everything "right" this year in regards to my tomatoes. They were so beautiful. But then, some of their leaves started to turn yellow and then die all together. After talking with a few folks, I have determined that my tomatoes have some sort of fungus that is slowly taking over and killing them.

So now I have a spray that I am not quite sure how to use. So we'll see how it goes.


I realize that gardening is a lot of trial and error. The only frustrating thing is that you have to wait an entire year before you can try again. And I was all excited about tomatoes for this year. Bummer dude.

So, in the spirit of learning, here are some garden nuggets of wisdom I've learned over my 3 years of "figuring it out as I go along." (Also, disclaimer, a lot of this knowledge comes from The SavvyGardener e-newsletter out of Kansas City to which I subscribe or by word of mouth. Thus it is a lot of what I remember off the top of my head. Please correct me if I say something that isn't completely true).

1. Kansas soil is terrible. It is either too sandy or is clay. This spring I gave the garden a healthy dose of manure before planting. In the fall, I plan to get more manure that has wood chips in as the wood is supposed to help "soften" up the soil.

2. There are a ton of bugs who will crush your dreams. Last year, I fought squash bugs so hard (killing them between my fingers - gross) that I decided I would give squash up this year and resort to buying them from the farmer's market. These little things are the devil. Last year, I had to dust my plants but it was definitely not enough. My work supervisor told me that diluting peppermint essential oil with water and spraying the plants will help keep the squash bugs away. However, I have not tried this one out yet. So who knows.
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Cucumber beetles are also the worst. This spring they started destroying my bean and eggplant seedlings. (They will make your plants' leaves look "lacy.") Though more bug-killing dust, the plants managed to pull through.
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3. Stake your tomatoes right away. (Big tomato cages are the easiest). They will do so much better. I promise.

4. Oh man. There are so many things that can go wrong with tomatoes. (This list pretty much sums it up. My tomatoes currently have the black spot problem called anthracnose, which I am trying to treat with a spray). However, one easy problem to solve is dry rot. If you have problems with this, simply place a few tums (yes, tums) around the base of the plant and water them in. Often tomatoes will have dry rot because of a lack of calcium in the soil. I had this problem last year. But once the tums were absorbed into the soil, it stopped. I did it again this year and thankfully have not had much of an issue with it.

5. When the temperatures are above 90 degrees, tomatoes will not ripen on the vine. (And this is July in Kansas so basically every day is 90+) So when tomatoes are close, I will pick them and let them ripen the rest of the way on my window.
6. Deep watering garden is the way to go in these brutal summer months. Giving plants only a little bit of water, especially during hottest parts of the day is actually worse than doing nothing. In fact, when it is so hot, it is better to do nothing rather than giving plants inconsistent levels of water. (They are super stressed out in the intense heat). A garden needs about an inch of water a week, (which, for me, has been really hard to gauge). Deep watering should be done a few times a week but only in the morning. Watering in the evening has always been more convenient for me, which is probably why I am struggling with a fungus on my tomatoes. Watering at night makes plants more prone to diseases. I've been working on trying to get my butt out of bed a few mornings a week so hopefully I won't make my tomatoes more vulnerable than they already are. 

7. Mulch! The best way to fight weeds and to help the plants and soil retain moisture is to mulch your garden. My dad uses wood chips for this while I have used straw (since I've been able to get it for free the past 2 years). This year was the first year I was proactive about mulching though and I am so thankful I did it right away. It has saved my garden (and myself) from a lot of headaches, considering that Bermuda grass is a major problem at the community garden. This year, in the spots between plants, I even laid down newspaper or cardboard before the layer of straw in order to help combat the weed situation. It's worked really well.

I am sure there are a ton of other things I could share. I also know that I have a ton of learning left to do. I hope to eventually be able to can tomatoes from my own garden someday. But this year is, once again, not the year for that.

Oh well. In all this garden depression there have been some good things. I didn't can green beans this spring, but I did grow enough to eat for a few meals. I've also been able to enjoy some onions, potatoes and a few tomatoes (after I cut off the diseased parts that is).
The only thing that is not local in this meal is the spinach, dressing and butter. The bread, eggs, onions, tomatoes, peppers, bacon, corn, cheese are all considered local. (The tomatoes and onions are from my garden! The peppers were ones that I still have from last year preserved from the freezer.)
This meal, of curried roasted potatoes scrambled eggs, and green beans with pecans and goat cheese, is almost all local too. The potatoes were a mix from my garden and the farmers market. The beans were from my garden. And I got the pecans from our host's backyard during a work trip to Carlsbab NM. (Not local but at least I knew the growers).
My garden can be pretty frustrating but I still love it, especially since I love eating fresh during these hot months. (So much so that I cannot stop instagramming my food). And at least I have a few pretty flowers that are doing well.
As all those sports teams say, there's always next year.