If At First You Don’t Succeed, Keep On Planting

I wish I had a nickle for every plant I’ve ever killed, or every gardening mistake I’ve made. Just when my ego convinces me I’ve got everything figured out, the garden reminds me that I don’t, usually humbling me in the process.But I don’t dwell on my failures, and I don’t always share them here unless there’s a lesson to be learned. Here are a few recent blunders I will share, in the hopes that others might avoid them.

For instance, last year it was the carrot disaster(s). I got all of about one pound of them, according to my records. That is not a very good return for 4 packets of seed! For the spring crop, I made the mistake of covering the seeds with some sifted homemade compost I had on hand. Big mistake! Carrot seeds take a fairly long time to germinate, generally 1-3 weeks. But the weeds in the compost were up in record time, smothering the little emerging carrot seedlings. I tried weeding, but it proved nearly impossible to tell the good guys from the bad. By the time this fiasco played out, I decided it was too late to plant a spring crop. So much for summer carrots!

I tried them again last fall. This time I worked compost into the bed early, and covered the seed with some Pro-mix BX, which is a peat-based potting mix with no weed seeds. But for some reason I decided to add some radish seeds along with the carrots to help mark the row. That was a trick I remembered from Jim Crockett, my first gardening guru and the original host of the long running PBS Victory Garden series.

China Rose radishes are huge (click on any image to enlarge)

I used China Rose radish, and I sowed the seed way too heavily. According to my well-worn 1977 copy of Crockett’s Victory Garden (a companion book to the TV series) Crockett liked to sow “a few radish seeds in the furrow” along with the carrot seeds. Oops – too bad I didn’t check out the book first! That word “few” is the key to his strategy. I’ll bet he used a petite little radish too, something like Cherry Belle. My giant radishes wound up crowding out the carrot seedlings. On the plus side, I got a great harvest of China Rose radishes! But not many carrots. 2011 wound up being truly A Year Without Carrots (cue the violins).

Mokum and Yaya carrots (spring 2012)

This year I got it right on the carrots, at least for the spring crop. It took some reseeding and persistence to get a good stand of carrots. And it took a lot of watering to keep them going. But we wound up with 10 pounds of lovely tasting homegrown organic carrots, all from a fairly small amount of space. And I’ve got a pretty good stand of seedlings coming up for a fall crop. I used the Pro-mix again to cover the seeds, and I have kept the radishes far, far away in another bed.

fall 2012 carrots are coming up nicely and weed free so far

However, this year it was the onions that humbled me. They’re never one of my best crops, but usually not my worst one either. Until 2012, that is! My overwintered Walla Walla onions didn’t do squat, and the spring planted Redwing and Candy varieties weren’t much better. I guess the early heat and drought were just too much for them. I thought I was keeping them watered, but obviously not enough to their liking.

Red Torpedo Tropea onion

Fortunately I also planted some Red Torpedo Tropea (aka Lunga di Firenze) slips this spring, and they made some lovely onions. Perhaps they liked our Mediteranean weather conditions more than the other varieties. Redwing has done well here in the past, and Candy made some big sweet-tasting onions last year at the Impact Community garden. Oh well, hope springs eternal in this gardener, so I guess I’ll try again next spring. Hmm, I wonder if Alexander Pope ever tried to grow onions?

The cucumbers have also humbled me this year. How hard can it be to grow them, right? Last year I hauled in over 50 pounds of cukes! We had pickles galore, and I still had plenty to donate to the kitchen where I volunteer. But this year is another story. It was way too hot for the greenhouse cucumbers this spring, and the deer have kept eating the vines I planted in the unprotected kitchen garden area. So far we have only gotten about 3 pounds of them. The vines are trying to recover from the deer, but it’s doubtful they will produce much of anything. I waited too long to replant outside, though there’s still time to try a couple of vines in the greenhouse. Maybe we’ll have cucumbers for Thanksgiving! Or maybe not.

deer are loving the cucumber vines

I have no idea what the garden will throw at me next year, but you can bet it will be something. And it will probably leave my shaking my head, questioning my sanity AND my gardening ability. Please feel free to share any of your humbling garden experiences in the comments here. And trust me, this is one place when misery really does love company!

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