Summer is not quite over, but for my garden, the signs of an impending autumn are already apparent.
The zucchini plants had stopped producing a few weeks ago, except for a few scraggly nubbles, so I pulled them. In addition, the tiny cucumbers have stopped growing, and the obelisk is now covered with dying vines. A lone crookneck squash plant is all that is left in the raised bed, replete with a single, tiny yellow specimen. But any hopes I had of picking one more recipe-bound squash have been dashed, and I will pull up this plant within a few days.
So, what’s left of my vegetable garden? Potatoes—many pounds of potatoes– still in grow bags. And, of course, tomatoes. Today, I froze three more containers of tomato soup. It’s the one recipe that will reliably use up the mountains of tomatoes on the kitchen counter, in plastic bags, and those on the windowsill. Despite my attempt to eliminate the clutter, hundreds of tomatoes remain on the vines.
The flowers are beginning to fade. This year, at the beginning of the season, Japanese beetles decided to invade. We put up some traps, but it had little effect. Few flowers were spared, and even the thorny barberry’s leaves were ravaged.
I found myself muttering the phrase “next year will be different” more than once, and following are five things I will do differently or otherwise have learned for next year’s gardening season.
Gardening Gumption: 5 Things I Will Do Differently Next Year
1. I will plant fewer vegetables—fewer cucumbers, fewer squash, and fewer tomatoes.
I say this every year, but in reality, the plant pots at the nurseries usually have 3 seedlings. In order to get the varieties I want, I end up with surplus plants. This year, I had so many extras I had to buy additional grow bags to house them. I will instead try to give away extra seedlings.
2. I will buy local—I mean, really local.
The last time I bought my plants at a big box store, in this case Walmart over 10 years ago, I purchased many tomato plant varieties. When the fruits started to develop, however, I discovered that almost every one was a Roma tomato. I made a lot of spaghetti sauce and salsa that year.
A chain of nurseries in this area, one that advertises heavily in the spring, is brutally expensive. I forgot that point this year, and after a half-hour drive to one of these nurseries, I realized my mistake. When we finally visited a nursery a few miles from us, I remembered that it was the nursery where I had bought many of my flowers the year before. I have put this notation on my phone’s calendar to remind me next spring.
3. I will never again plant tomato plants in raised beds with a large group of flowers. The water required for the flowers means too much water for tomatoes, thus producing tomatoes with cracks.
4. I must remember that the result of planting smaller sunflower varieties like “Sunfinity” in pots means goldfinches will not go hungry for months to come.
5. A tomato variety, Tidy Treats, produces tiny fruit–and lots of it. I vowed last year to not plant them this year, but I, unfortunately, forgot. I planted three plants and have regretted it. Why? I find myself picking dozens of them almost every day, and the sprawling branches make them difficult to find. Note to self: Do not buy Tidy Treats seedlings next year. Another note to self: Continue planting Mountain Merit and Mountain Magic varieties. Mountain Magic is larger than a cherry tomato and smaller than regular slicer tomatoes. They are prolific growers, and even a couple of plants will keep a household in plenty of tomatoes for salads or slicing. Mountain Merit is a medium-sized tomato and is resistant to blight. It’s not quite as sweet as the Mountain Magic, but it is a reliable grower. Another variety, my husband’s favorite, is a great snacking tomato called Sun Sugar. Their orange color means they are at peak flavor.
A new cherry variety to me this year, Sugary, has a dewdrop shape, is super sweet, and one plant produces hundreds of oval reddish-pink fruits. I did find, however, that they crack easily, especially if left a bit too long on the stem.
The first frost date for this area is approximately October 1 to the 15th, so I have another month of harvesting tomatoes and freezing more soup.
We had planted 16 bags plus one plastic tub of seed potatoes in May, and we empty the bags as we need them. At first, I thought we would have to make curing trays for the harvest, but with 5 bags remaining, and our frost not due for a month, we will probably not need to.
The red potatoes we planted in the tub and bags have produced fewer potatoes than the Yukon gold and russets. These bags were situated on the same risers as tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini (all in bags). It is possible they received too much water, as we have a drip system. I also believe I failed to fertilize properly the last month before harvest. Next year I will amend the soil, adding more peat moss to loosen it up.
Would I plant potatoes next year? There is no comparison as to the taste of homegrown vs store bought, so, yes, I will grow them next year. They take a lot of effort in the beginning, but after filling the bags almost to the top when the stalks are tall enough, there is little to do but water and fertilize them.
My pride and joy this year are my sunflowers. After fighting pests for most of their lives, many are now blooming, and they are stunning.
The only cosmos I could find this year were of a dwarf variety, but they are still beautiful. The zinnias, as usual, are enormous, as are the cleome. The sunflowers have been a wonderful surprise. I bought the seeds at the really local nursery, and they were in a clear plastic bag labeled “sunflower.” I assume they are what is known as a “common sunflower” (Helianthus annuus).
Every year I garden I learn more and more. This year I encountered more than a few hiccups, and even though I intend to not repeat my mistakes, I’m sure next year’s gardening season will provide me with new challenges.
I hope you enjoy the images below!