16 July 2012

The Mid-Season Farm Report, Part 2: Top Ten Lessons Learned

I’m going to school year-round (2 classes every 10 weeks), which I why I have finals in mid-July when I should be outside suntanning and drinking copious amounts of lemon shandies.  I just finished writing one of my finals, an 8 page report on the environmental effects of China’s One-Child Policy.  Now, I’m in the mood for writing something, anything that does not have to do with coal burning, sulfur oxides, and Mao Zedong. 
I had promised a Part 2:  Lessons learned earlier this week, so here it is.  Some of these might be duh items to you, but I’m only in my 2nd year of bigger-scale planting, so I’m still learning as I go.

1. Don’t weed too early.  I weeded most of my garden beds in April and May during warm days, and when I was done, they were, at the time, completely weed free.  I mean, I really dug down, up to my elbows, removing old fossilized roots and rusty nails until the plots were clear.  A month later, weeds had sprung up like crazy.  The beds I weeded in June have mostly stayed weed-free.  Apparently weeds are also just waking up in spring, and if you weed too early, you’ll just be tilling the soil for all of the weed seeds that are still napping.
2.  Everybody needs a winter coat, and so does your garden.  Once your garden is done in the fall, cover it up.  Use mulch, leaves, or weed fabric.  We don’t have a bagging mower up here, and we also don’t have deciduous trees, so what I should use is weed fabric.  Last year, I didn’t, and weeds grew all through the fall, hibernated in the winter, and grew happily through the cold, wet spring.   Investing some cash and a few hours to get weed fabric and cover it up would have saved me about 80 hours of weeding this spring. 

3.  Seeds need more than just water, soil, and sun.  Most of them also need heat.  Some seeds won’t even germinate until the soil is more than 70’F, so for me, that negates any reason to plant certain seeds outside any earlier than June.  Also, it means that your house needs to be warm enough for the seeds to sprout. 

4.  Those nice organic fiber seed pots are cute and all, but they can also grow mold.  I accidentally left my seeds outside during a rainstorm while I was at work, and a day or so after I brought them in, they all started to sprout this whitish feathery mold/mildew stuff.  Those were my first seed starts this year….about 40 pots that had to be dumped out.  So be careful that you don’t overwater them. 
5.  Make sure you are planting in the best spot.  Plants need sun.  Here, we have very very limited sunlight, since we grow in an area completely surrounded by very tall pine trees.  Any spot might only get a couple of hours of sunlight a day.  Some of my plots are split by the sunlight….meaning half of them are about 50% bigger than the others because they get more sun.   This may work for me in the end, because some will mature faster than others, spreading out the harvest. 

6.  All soil is not created equal.  I live on a mountain.  Our soil is basically half clay, half annoying rocks.  Clay is not great for some plants, especially tomatoes and raspberries, since they either die from the excess water retention or get root rot.  While turning my garden over this year, I realized that some of the plots were very heavy clay, and some are a lovely mixture of soil and mulch.  Every single one of my tomato plants were moved from their original locations, and they are all thriving in a looser soil with better drainage.  Potatoes, however, will grow pretty much anywhere. 
7.  Hide your fertilizer.  I use an organic fish fertilizer.  While I am not entirely sure how it is created, judging by the smell, I would guess it is made from fish poop and dead fish, all ground up with the top 5 other disgusting things that you could think of.  It is highly concentrated, and while the label says it is deodorized with wintergreen oil, you’d never know it.  Apparently this potion is very tempting to dogs, or at least my dog, because he was sufficiently motivated enough to grab the bottle out of the bin I keep my supplies in, twist the top off with his teeth, dump it on the ground, and lick whatever he could.  And I sat by, obliviously reading a book, not once questioning the weird plasticky-biting sounds that Blue was making from the garden.  My daughter raised the alarm, and I was able to retrieve the bottle before too much had spilled. Only a few tablespoons escaped, which was enough to smell up the whole yard.  I power rinsed away what I could, and over the next few days, a large dead brown spot appeared on the grass, and the dog tore up the paving stones we had laid in the walkway of the garden last year to try to get whatever molecules of the fertilizer that he could get at. 

8.  Have backups.  If you want to plant watermelons, plant your seeds. (Start indoors, and early).  Then a week or so later, plant some more.  Repeat.  Some plants don’t do well when transplanted.  Some plants like to die during hailstorms.  Some plants like to freeze. 

9.  Sometimes covering your plants doesn’t stop them from freezing.  I lost 8 beautiful tomato plants during a freeze in May.  I covered some up with blankets, and some with upside down pots, and none survived.  It was in the 20’s that night, and it was just too much for them. 

10.  Seed tapes don’t work for shit.  Mimi and I spent hours…..maybe 20 hours making seed tapes in the spring.  The only ones that worked at all were the spinach.  Their purpose is supposed to save you time during planting season, and also to help you space your plants, but some seeds just aren’t able to push through the layers of paper to sprout.  Save yourself the tree-kicking and just direct sow without them. 

11.  You know how the seeds say “35 days to harvest,” or “70 days to harvest”?  I’m finding out that you have to add anywhere from 25-50% to those numbers.  After all, have you ever been able to grow a tomato from seed to harvest in 90 days?  Again, start indoors, start early.  Or just buy young plants from a nursery. 


  1. Just a tidbit on weeds: every time you turn over your soil, you are turning over millions of new weed seeds. Just thought you would like to know. It's best to weed when they are big - easier to pull them out.

  2. Yes, definitely....that is why I said not to weed too early...next year I'll wait until late late spring.