Thursday, September 15, 2011
Don't Put All of Your Tomatoes in One Basket
Lessons Learned in Gardening
I've used various gardening strategies over the years and consider my thumb to be at least a shade of green, but this year of gardening was a tough one. It was difficult for everyone, and even the professionals struggled. The weather was particularly uncooperative and there were many extremes going on. In the picture above, you will see what happened to my tomatoes when they received a deluge after weeks of a dry spell. They filled with water, and burst, every one!
But the problem was not just the weather. I made several key mistakes this year and I am writing about them now so I remember what NOT to do in the coming years. Maybe you can learn from my mistakes too.
#1 - PLANT A VARIETY
As I said in the title, "Don't put all of your tomatoes in one basket!" My grandpa told me years ago that it seemed like every year there was a vegetable or fruit that did particularly well and there was usually one that did poorly. He advised that I preserve extras of the ones that do well to cover the next year in case the harvest was poor. He was wise about this!
Early in the season, I decided to make the majority of my garden devoted to the more expensive vegetables that we like to buy like lettuce, tomatoes and peppers. This meant that I would have to forfeit space for other vegetables, so I planted very few green beans, no potatoes, and few carrots. I joked that I had planted a "nightshade garden" because I had so many tomatoes and peppers in it and I wondered how that would play out. Well, it was a poor idea and I should have planted more variety. Putting most of my stock into tomatoes, which were terrible this year, meant that I had very little from the garden at all this year. We've had enough peas and green beans to eat for dinner every few days, and some good peppers, but nowhere near the yield I should have gotten out of this space.
#2- TEND THE TOMATOES
As I said, tomatoes were a disaster, and probably would have been poor no matter what because of the weather. But part of the failure was mine. I planted them, plunked a cage over the top, and expected them to thrive as they have in the past. Not so this year. (Rather reminds me of children. You can't just plunk a cage over them and expect them to raise themselves. Oh no, they require loving tending. In fact, there is a book out there on the very subject with some very interesting thoughts.) So after a season of extreme weather, this is what my tomatoes looked like a week ago:
I wince when I look at that picture. The vines are long and spindly and doubled over their cages leaving the fruit vulnerably on the ground. The vines are weak, so much so, that I have been having to pick my tomatoes before they fully ripened lest they fall off the vine and become infested with pests. I should have tended them better, making sure the branches grew within their supports and tying up the largest stems as needed.
#3 - BIGGER TOMATO CAGES
Early in the season, I told Preacher Man we needed more tomato cages. He picked up the four tier ones that cost more than I wanted to pay. We debated exchanging them for the smaller ones, but decided to keep them since the savings would hardly be worth the gas of the special trip it would require. The tomatoes that grew in the larger cages are the only ones that remained healthy and are still standing today. These big plants need the large cage supports and the tomatoes that were in the 3 tier cages are the ones lying all over the ground. From now on, all of the tomatoes will go in the larger cages and we will use our old small ones for peppers and brussel sprouts.
#4 - NO MORE VOLUNTEER SQUASH
I let that butternut squash wind all through my garden and it utterly took over. The massive vines weakened my tomato plants and also made it impossible for me to get through to weed around them or tend the vines. As exciting as volunteers are to me, I told Preacher Man to remind me of my folly and to make me tear them out. It just isn't worth it.
I'm just trying to live and learn here. Every year of gardening is different and that is what keeps things interesting. As we wind up this year's harvest, I'm already excited about making plans for next year and I still have hope for my brussel sprouts!
What have you learned from this challenging year of gardening? Are you reaping a good harvest or have your plants succumbed to the poor weather?