As our garden season winds down, I’m already reflecting upon the lessons I learned this year and how I can build upon them so my 2022 garden will perform much better.
I don’t think anyone could have anticipated this summer’s record-breaking high temperatures, but there are a few changes I will make next year. One of them includes applying a thick mulch to the soil surface in every vegetable garden bed and around annual and perennial flowers. Mulch helps the soil retain more moisture. I also want to test some heat-tolerant vegetable varieties.
This year, the heat underscored the fact that I’ve been planting my broccoli seedlings too late in the season, which forces them to produce a crop in midsummer. A few years ago, I read that one should plant broccoli seedlings in the garden after the danger of frost has passed.
I have dutifully followed that advice ever since and now realize that has been a mistake. Next year, I’ll transplant them much earlier and see if the harvest improves.
One of my experiments to get the earliest lettuce harvests ever was a roaring success, so I intend to repeat that next year. I started the seeds indoors on Jan. 27 and transplanted them into the garden in mid-April, at the time when I ordinarily would plant lettuce seeds outdoors.
I covered the seedlings with a row cloche, which is a heavy-duty, clear plastic tunnel that kept the seedlings warm enough so they wouldn’t get frosted. I began harvesting lettuce for salads much earlier than usual. You don’t need a fancy cloche to achieve the same result: Use empty plastic milk jugs with the bottoms removed or suspend a sheet of clear plastic over a few hoops to keep your plants warm.
I learned chitting (pre-sprouting) seed potatoes is the way to go. This involves exposing them to indoor light or placing them under a grow light for two to four weeks before planting them in the garden. By doing this, the plants get off to a great start. When I compared the plants of pre-sprouted potatoes with traditionally-planted seed potatoes, the difference was remarkable.
I’m embarrassed to admit this next revelation, but it revolves around growing beets. My usual routine is to plant the seeds relatively thickly, then thin the seedlings to a 4-inch spacing so the roots have enough room to develop. I’ve always tossed the thinned seedlings into our compost pile.
This year, after noticing how beautiful those leaves were, I decided to snip them and steam to accompany that evening’s meal. I had no idea beet greens were so delicious!
Another of this year’s lessons was about patience, which has never been my strong suit. I learned – once again – that I plant warm-season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, squash and melons too early. It’s easy to argue that mid-May should be a safe time to plant them, but invariably we’ll have some cold nights, and I have to scramble to cover all the tender plants to protect them.
Next year, I resolve to wait until the end of May. Now that I’ve put this in writing, please hold me to this. There were more important lessons, but you get the idea. As gardeners, it’s important to learn from our mistakes and successes. It’s how we all become better gardeners year after year.
Susan Mulvihill is author of “The Vegetable Garden Pest Handbook.” She can be reached at email@example.com. Watch this week’s “Everyone Can Grow a Garden” video at youtube.com/susansinthegarden.
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