20 September 2010

How doth my garden grow (or die): Learning lessons from an urban gardener

Summer has shown its last rays of sun, replaced by rain. Torrential downpours, even. Yesterday, during a break from the drops, I headed out to my garden patch to harvest a handful of cherry tomatoes. I had to get to them before the pelting rain split them open.

While there, I also yanked up bushels of baby carrots, tugged out 4 baby bulbs of garlic, and took stock of the growing season on a whole.

Not good.

Early on, we lost the warm-weather crops: the jalapenos and sweet pepper plants withered almost immediately in Seattle's cool spring. Next time, I'll have to exercise patience and plant those after, say, Memorial Day.

I had a pretty good run with the carrots and radishes, but learned a lot about planting techniques. The carrots look like corkscrews; planted much too close together and not "thinned" properly, they didn't have space to grow straight. The radish patch was a success - but too much so! Next year, I will stagger my plantings so we aren't left with 80 ripened radishes on exactly the same day.

The lettuces - all romaine - performed great. I'll try those again next year with some additional varieties like butter or red-leaf for my salads.

The 2 pea plants dried out. We got a few pods, but not enough for full meals. Next season, I need 2 things: poles for the vines to climb, and moats surrounding the plants to corral the moisture.

The one zucchini plant proffered 1 squash thus far. Earlier in summer, I used a few of the blossoms in a delightful, soft salad (blossoms, butter lettuce, and avocado gently tossed with lemon/olive-oil + sunflower seeds). But I noticed that after I plucked the blossoms, the then-baby zucchinis seemed to rot away. Did I prematurely remove their nourishment? I had expected an abundance of squash - anticipating making chocolate zucchini cake. Not this year.

My 4 tomato plants showed promise. They grew mightily and without blight (something that had plagued my potted plants the last few years). Their new locale in the baking sun, with tall, box-shaped trellises to crawl, turned out ok. Flowers bloomed abundantly. But our "summer" weather - so grey, so cool - didn't serve them well. We only started seeing ripened fruit a few weeks ago; today, more than half of the plants are loaded with green tomatoes.

The edible flowers - nasturtiums and violas - both grew well, but their spot wasn't right. Next year I'll transfer them into the raised beds so they don't get covered over by the tall-grass weeds that invaded our rockery.

The herbs - sage and parsley - also did well. But, frankly, I forgot to use them. Next year I'll pot my herbs and put them on the front porch to gently remind me, daily, of their presence.

The Italian kale held its own, but I don't crave kale until the weather turns dark and dreary. Next season I'll search for a variety I can plant closer to end-of-summer so I can harvest it come autumn.

The straight carrots - the ones I remembered to thin.

Now, after weeks of neglect (because the weather has turned, I haven't been outside), my raised beds look somewhat shameful. The parsley shot 3-feet high and is going to seed; the romaine, too, stretches, spindly, toward the sky. Now, the space formerly occupied by the radishes is overrun with pallid, 2-inch toadstool mushrooms. I did some tidying, but part of me is ready to let all of the remaining crops die out and start anew next spring.

So, we'll call this a building year, full of learning lessons.

In that spirit, here are my notes for what I need to do for the 2011 garden:
  • Raise the height of the dirt at least another 6-10" - which will also require that I build up the height of the sides of the raised beds
  • Install more poles
  • Track down a few more pots for herbs
  • Find a good landscaper to reclaim our rockery (Have a recommendation? Send 'em my way!) and put down weed block.

2011 Planting List:

  • cilantro
  • parsley
  • basil (grow inside)

  • butter lettuce - 2
  • romaine - 2 or 3
  • red leaf lettuce - 1
  • arugula - 1
  • (Can you tell that I love salad?!)

  • strawberries
  • raspberries (already have, but need to be cut back/moved)

  • tomatoes - 4 plants
  • jalapenos (plant later in spring!)
  • sweet peppers (same!)
  • carrots (need to raise the dirt level + remember to thin after they poke up)
  • zucchini
  • pumpkins
  • radishes (1 packet was enough, but i need to stagger my planting!)
  • peas
  • pole beans

  • nasturtiums (move from rockery)
  • violas (move from rockery)
  • sunflowers
  • marigolds


  1. I'm inspired by you and this post! I need to work more on growing my herbs and veg. I always give up so easy because the rabbits eat everything just as it reaches its peak. :-( Question: what's your secret for successfully growing basil indoors without aphid infestations? I'm growing it outside right now without any problem, but after a couple of weeks inside, the aphids always show up....?

  2. @ Heidi - Thanks! You know, I haven't actually tried basil indoors. I had noted to myself to do that because this year it died outside - like, right away. I know it needs lots of water outside. Aphids though? ICK. I may stick to keeping it outside and simply watering multiple times per day!

    (BTW - rabbits?! Cute! We don't have that problem here!)

  3. I love this post because it's SO TRUE! We enter the gardening season with rightful optimism, but it's good to take stock of lessons learned. I need to do a "post mortem" of my garden this year, that's for sure, and start plans for 2011.