Garden update: A lesson in hubris

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After three years of raising vegetables, this was to be my largest backyard garden yet. Ben built two new beds, for a total of five 4’x8′ raised garden beds, lovingly tilled and composted and protected with sturdy PVC pipe and shade fabric hoop houses. I tried out several new species, packed in as many plants as possible, and went for it with all the confidence and gusto that a few lucky years will grant the average gardener.

But like Icarus, I flew too close to the sun! Alas, hubris was my downfall! Here’s everything that’s gone wrong–and a few things that have gone right–in my garden so far this year.

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The tomatoes are usually my bumper crop. I’ve planted one more plant every year I’ve been gardening, so this year I planted five, all different species, and just assumed they’d continue to kick ass in the late summer. But not so, my friends, not so. Both my Early Girl and my Better Boy–the quick-to-ripen sauce tomatoes I had depended on for early and bulk harvesting–died miserable deaths. The Early Girl was a total loss. The Better Boy I managed to coax back to life, but it’s so stunted that it’ll likely never produce at the rate of the others. Fortunately, the Beefsteak, Cherry Reds, and Black Prince are all healthy and doing fine. As far as I can see, the dead plants were victims of a combination of too much heat and over-watering, a sin I committed to compensate for the heat.

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The corn is doing… ok. My mistake last year was not planting enough to cross-pollinate. This year I think I definitely have some cross-pollination going on, but they’re stunted. I think this is another problem we can chalk up to the unusually hot summer we’ve had so far. But I think there might also be a nitrogen deficiency in the soil. This is what I get for not listening to my elders. Next year I’m going to plant the corn, squash, and beans in the traditional Three Sisters method, which will hopefully give the corn the nutrients and structure they need to grow strong and tall.

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My carrots are actually the stars of the garden right now! They’re healthy and flourishing. But I didn’t do a good enough job of properly staggering the planting. So the first planting is completely overshadowing the second planting, which means I’m likely going to get one big carrot harvest and then nothing (or wee little carrots) later on in the fall.

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That right there is two zucchini plants completely encircling an entire garden bed. Normal zucchini behavior, right? Right. Except that ain’t zucchini. It’s cousa squash, a Middle Eastern squash that looks like this:

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Fortunately, cousa can be used exactly like zucchini, and while its skin is a bit thinner and it tastes a mite sweeter, the difference is pretty negligible. Only problem is the cousa plant doesn’t bear fruit as often as a zucchini plant does. And yes, while you can joke about how we were up to our eyeballs in zucchini last year, I had actually planned for that kind of high yield. I had all kinds of uses for a deluge of zucchini!

So how the hell did this interloping cousa invade my garden when I wanted zucchini instead? Well I’ll tell you. Last year my friend Rachel accidentally and mysteriously grew a cousa (still no explanation as to how or why). She gave it to me to try. I forgot about it until it wasn’t any good anymore, and tossed the whole thing in my compost bin… where it germinated all winter long. This spring, after I added  fresh compost to my garden and before I planted my seeds, I noticed what I thought were dozens of volunteer zucchini plants popping out of the garden. The horror. 

So naturally, I pulled most of them and left two to mature, not bothering to plant any of my actual zucchini seeds. Imagine my surprise when these plants that look almost exactly like zucchini plants started producing cousa instead! I had to google image search to even figure out what they were! And now I’m stuck with the buggers. Composting lesson learned.

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My herbs are kicking ass, but they used to share a garden bed with my spinach and lettuce, which, again… I did not stagger correctly. So they pretty much all matured and went to seed at once, almost faster than I could use them. I managed to freeze some spinach, but we definitely didn’t get as much out of the lettuce as I was hoping.

On top of that, it’s been impossible to plant more spinach and lettuce seeds because of the heat, even with my awesome sun shades. We had 100 degree heat through pretty much all of July, and the garden did not like it. My cherry tree bought the farm (picture too gruesome for public consumption).

Overall I’m taking this year’s garden as a learning experience. I was perhaps a little too ambitious to be as successful as I was hoping, but hey–every gardener has bad years, right? At least I’m not a subsistence farmer living in the Dustbowl circa 1930.