Garden: Failure Only Leads To Growth
The following is a regular column that addresses basic issues facing the ever-inquisitive back- and front-yard toiler, proffered by someone who knows best; one of the fertile master gardeners from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Brian Cruey.
Admittedly, my vegetable garden was low on my priority list this year. A number of construction projects, a new shade garden I’d put in last fall and a couple of problem dogs that learned how to jump out of their fence and into my chicken coop all seemed to keep pushing the veggie garden further and further down my “to-do list.” Honestly, I don’t even know why I put one in. I knew time was going to be tight for me this summer and a vegetable garden definitely requires a certain level of commitment. A lot of it is pressure I put on myself because I worry people will question my validity as a gardener if I’m not presenting them with jars of homemade pickles at the end of the season. “What do you mean you didn’t plant a vegetable garden this year?? And you still have the nerve to call yourself a gardener!”
But what’s worse: not having the garden at all or having a garden you don’t take care of? My vegetable garden, at this point, is a full-blown embarrassment. Nothing but weeds, un-staked tomato plants, lettuces that are starting to flower and overly ripened cucumbers and sugar snap peas growing up supports that are just about ready to topple over.
Truth be told, I’m kind of glad not to have to put a lot of energy into the vegetable garden because it turned out to be a pretty rotten year for vegetables. Sure, a little of that might have to do with my neglect – weeds in your garden steal resources like water, sun and soil nutrients from your garden crops. However, even the vigilant food growers I’ve talked to are having a tough time. This summer has been cold, with nights regularly dipping into the low 50s and that just hasn’t been good for heat-loving plants like tomatoes and peppers. On top of that, things have been pretty wet, which has been great for the garden, but has also made it tough to control mildew and fungus – something that’s had an impact on my flowerbeds as well.
I’ve always been more excited about landscaping and my yard than I have been about vegetables. However, I am determined. Like anything, I just need to find a method that’s realistic for me and works for my environment. My vegetable garden measures 20 feet by 25 feet, giving me a lot of room to try different things, which is exactly what I’m going to do next year: On one side, I’m going to do a series of raised beds with lettuces, radishes and cold frames where I can start things early on and do multiple plantings throughout the season. On the other, I’m going to try black plastic, something I’ve avoided in the past but, after this year’s cold temperatures, am willing to try with my tomatoes. Black plastic heats up the soil, helps retain water and also keeps out weeds. To make my conscious feel better about using earth-unfriendly plastic, I’m going to try natural mulch with leaves and pine needles that I’ll rake up this fall and overwinter under a tarp. After next year, I’ll see which one works best for me and my garden, and adjust from there.
Everyone has garden failures, but that doesn’t mean that you should give up. Weather is unpredictable, environments change and life just gets in the way sometimes. However, as our season winds down and the signs of fall slowly start revealing themselves, remember, next year is a brand-new opportunity to try new things. Learning from your mistakes from season to season is the best way to grow as a gardener, and it’s a process that never ends, no matter what your skill level.
Interested in furthering your education as a gardener? With classes starting in September, The Berkshire Botanical Garden’s Horticulture Certificate is an excellent opportunity for any garden enthusiast who wants to learn more about the science and art of plants.