Organic Gardening: The Lessons

I’m learning something new every day out in the gardens. Some big lessons, some smaller. All vital to having an even better garden next year.

For example:

  • Insect control: Cabbage loopers DECIMATED our cabbages; they were skeletonized within two days. We Neem-oiled the crap out of everything, but it was too late. There are still viable cabbages in the middles, but I doubt they’ll reach their full potential. NEXT PLANTING: Covers.

    (Borrowed from the IntraWebz.) Ours is even worse. It’s too sad to photograph.

  • Insect control: Flea beetles ate the SHIT out of our Rapini. NEXT PLANTING: No Rapini. Because not only is it susceptible to flea beetles, it doesn’t do well in the heat, it bolts, and is very low-producing.
  • Heat control: Plan for the heat earlier. It’s Texas, Donna the Dummy. Even “heat tolerant” varieties are melting in the sun. And it’s not even really hot for the region yet. NEXT PLANTING: Shade covers, more frequent watering, mulch.
  • Mulch: Put the mulch around the plants, Donna. It’s not doing any good in the bags, except as a perfect home for scorpions.
  • Tomatoes: Learn early on which are determinate (bush type) and which are indeterminate (sprawling monsters). That way, you’ll know which are coming out early and can be replaced (determinate) and which will continue to produce throughout the season (indeterminate), and plan your garden accordingly.  So your garden doesn’t look like ass because of big gaping holes you didn’t plan for.
  • Succession plant: Put beans in planned areas week after week, so you have continuous production. Same with tomatoes: Have seedlings going all the time in the greenhouse so you can replace what needs to come out.
  • Automate: Because standing out there watering in the 6:00 p.m. highs of 96 degrees (soon to be 106) is balls.
  • Packet/product labeling: Remember that labeling is not necessarily accurate for your conditions. We planned 3×6′ beds for our watermelon. The first plant that came up is now easily 15′ around. It is taking over the entire garden and will have to be pruned back (much to the horror of the husband, who is convinced it’s from another planet and wants to see how big it will actually get). Labeling also doesn’t necessarily know that we live in Texas, so “full sun” means plants probably won’t thrive here, which is actually the SURFACE of the sun.
  • Compost: Learn now to make compost tea and get it made, because that Jobe’s organic fertilizer just ain’t makin’ it. I have yellowing leaves (nitrogen deficiency), and a general malaise on some of the plants that just won’t do.

Nice tomato shot…Again, not ours. *sigh*

Some things you just can’t plan for. Like volunteers and what I call “wanderers”.  We have several of both in our gardens. The volunteers just kind of pop up in totally unexpected areas (a tomato in the cucumber patch, a sunflower in the cucumber patch, a bean plant in the tomatoes).  Wanderers happened from our torrential April rains shifting seeds from bed to bed. I refuse to pull either “mistake” up. If they have the temerity to live where they weren’t planned, then good for them, the little rebels.

I CAN, however, plan my garden better next year. We just kind of free-balled the plants this year, with only an eye on height (tall stuff in the backs of the rows). In the winter, my plans on paper were very elaborate and precise. By the time our seedlings were up, all that changed, only I didn’t account for it on paper. See, seedlings don’t all come up, and the ones that do don’t necessarily make it through the hardening-off stage. Plus we went and impulse-bought different seeds (for direct sowing) than what was accounted for, and changes didn’t get incorporated into the on-paper plans.

Which reminds me, NOTE TO SELF: Paper plans are pretty, but impossible to maintain. Find software for garden planning.

I DID make a database last night of our plants, so I can record what’s working and what’s not, planting and picking dates, and which tomatoes are which. Because if we want serious production (and we do), we can’t keep winging it out there.

To-Do List This Week:

  • Find easy compost tea recipe, make and apply
  • Get down mulch (at least on tomatoes)
  • Buy row cover supplies for shade
  • Finish database
  • Start plan for summer planting
  • Weed (always)
  • Take out non-performers
  • New beans, cukes, corn, cilantro
  • Set out basil, yellow peppers
  • Plant olive tree in potager

Who said this was easy on a larger scale? I guess people who have never done it before…

p.s.: SUPER HELPFUL tomato list.

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10 thoughts on “Organic Gardening: The Lessons

  1. solarbeez says:

    This makes gardening on the Oregon Coast (where we don’t get enough sun) seem easy. We’ve had to learn our lessons too, but I don’t think they were that drastic. Good luck with all your challenges, keep track of your successes, then write a book!

  2. Heya. We have many of the same challenges, I don’t think we’re actually very far from each other. I wanted to tell you about a program I found last fall that has really been great. It’s and it is really awesome. It’s not free, but it’s not terribly expensive either, and it has a 30 free trial, so you would know if it was worth it by the time your trial is up. Hope it helps. I, too, have many beautiful color coded drawings that have very little resemblance to what has actually materialized. Seriously, I think the only two of 28 beds that are anything close to those drawings are the flowers in front of my driveway and my son’s green garden. Everything else has succumbed to reality.

  3. Keeping track of what is going on in written form is so hard! Don’t you feel like you are just too busy DOING the stuff, and no time to write it all down? But it’s so necessary. If you can find seeds from Aina Ola seed (Hawaii company) they have seriously heat resistant varieties. Our Cooperative Extension service has also developed open-polinated (non gmo) seed varieties for our unique climate, might check out yours too if you haven’t already. I’m having much better luck with those seeds than the ones I got from Seeds of Change. Always a pleasure to read what you guys are doing! 🙂

    • Yeah, the record-keeping is a booger, but luckily I’m anal-retentive and there are a bunch of hours in the days when it’s just too hot to work outside! I’ll check out Aina Ola, mahalo! I’m very fortunate to be close to Texas A&M; we benefit from their knowledge simply because we’re identical in geography. I’d love to take their Master Gardener’s certification classes. Put more pictures on your blog, please! 🙂

  4. Libby Keane says:

    Oh I feel your pain. This is the third year trying to get brussels sprouts without having those damn moths laying their larvae in them. Compost tea is easy. get a 5 gal bucket, throw some compost in it, add some molasses then fill the bucket to within 6 inches of the top. stir it around every once in a while, and 3 days later, you should have sweet, earthy smelling compost tea. strain and pour. Gardeners Supply has a good online garden planner:
    vegetable planners has one too:

    • The Neem seems to have worked, but even better was a combo of Neem, baking soda (wee amount), pureed garlic, and a tiny bit of dish soap. But we got to them too late…Thanks for the compost recipe!! I’m going to do it tomorrow and apply next week. And thank you for the links; I’ll check them out today!

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