How Does Your Garden Grow, and How Did It Do So Far

With Labor Day having just passed, I expect we'll be getting signals that the growing season is winding down. The average frost date is Sept. 25 in our area, and the days are already shortening. With one of the wettest and cloudiest summers on record, I am especially curious to know how gardens fared this growing season.

I spent the last few weeks casually interviewing some twenty folks who garden. Many more expressed disappointment than satisfaction. So it sometimes goes for us dependent upon Mother Nature.

I think the real story about this growing season must look back to January's extreme cold. My own peach tree suffered some winter-kill and, of course, bore no fruit. Many ornamental grasses hardy in Zone 5 didn't make it. I always caution, "Plant Zone 4, or even better, Zone 3 hardy ornamentals". Frost warnings are not far off, so let's take a look back.

To begin with, many of the gardeners I spoke with reported late starts. Abundant rains in May, warm days and cool nights favored the growth of weeds and slugs over transplants.

Growers Chuck and Lee said that the rain was just enough and that the cool 55F degrees at night was perfect to get all of their crops off to a great start. They said that the tomatoes were doing fine and that the cole crops thought they were in heaven. I suspect this is the exception. They're pros and grow vegetables to earn their living and support themselves. I've been to their gardens. Awesome improved soils, well-drained, as organic as it can be without a label. You know them, I'm sure. They're at the farmers' Markets.

Two friends, both CCE Master gardeners Emeritus, told me of their roses. One told me with delight that they were the best ever. The other, however, could hardly find the words to express her disgust at the poor performance, the black spot fungus that kept appearing, etc. My own roses did extraordinarily well with almost no incidence of black spot, and while Japanese beetles were around, they stayed away from my roses.

Another farmer/gardener who has mastered the art and science of growing has six beds in production this season. He's good. His onions, potatoes, carrots and beans were all doing great. White oak acorns he planted three years ago were already six feet high and going strong. He had no Colorado potato beetles. He accepted soaking rains happily. His improved soil is the key. Compost is as compost does.

One gardener, new to my acquaintance, complained and complained of slugs. When one kills 368 in a single hunt, I guess he has his hands full and has earned the right to moan. His land is such that the torrential rains in his area (two, in number, three weeks apart) hammered his garden and washed away substantial quantities of soil.

My own property received 5 and 1/2 inches of rainfall in a twenty-four hour period. Three weeks later, to the day, I measured 3 and 1/2 inches in one hour! By morning the total was 5 inches.

Excessive is hardly the word. I know, as you do, that these are local storm cells that move around indiscriminately. One area gets more than its fair share, and another gets a spritz. How did you do?

Bea let me know she got a late start. She had a frost in early June, as did many across the county. The old adage about the last full moon in May, as the safe time to plant? Not if it's in early May. Then it should be the full moon in June. I think this is a safer bet than the standard Memorial Day weekend.

Watch the moon cycle. I think it's more accurate. I'm sure some suffered losses of tender plants around the full moon of June 3rd. Bea was glas she waited. She planted 8 half-barrel tub container gardens with tomatoes, cukes, broccoli rabe and a successful second planting of the latter. She, too, hunted early morning and evening for slugs. She also mentioned two weeds of concern this year: bindweed and curly dock. She knows how to deal with them. She's a veteran Master Gardener, too.

Emily takes care of her own garden and also those of clients who appreciate her skills and knowledge of growing things. She apprised me as the pro she is of several observations. A few: tent caterpillar activity was common; mice, vole, mole, chipmunk and red squirrel populations seemed healthy and like previous years. She was kind enough to offer me a five-year count of catches. (Oh, to be a wildlife specialist!) Emily also observed some ornamental grass demise on some of the properties she cares for. The ones that survived are growing slowly, she suspects, from the lack of heat this summer. Thanks, Emmy.

Tony told me that his trumpet vine suffered some winter-kill. He also proclaimed the summer of 2004 "the season of the weeds".Tony singled out one. If you know this man, you may not be too surprised to learn that the weed is edible Purslane, celebrated by Euell Gibbons in the 1960s as abundant, nutritious, and delicious. And, by Tony, as well. In almost the same breath he told me how well his herbs were doing. "They like it cool", he said. His beans, squash and tomatoes were slow; his lettuce was loving the weather and doing great. He had some red tomatoes in a low sheltered area.

The produce I purchase locally is untainted, fairly priced (as opposed to where recovery from economic loss is reflected in higher prices), and delicious. Local tomatoes and sweet corn are two favorites, and I'm happy as a clam. My purple basil is wonderful.

So, tell me, how does (did) your garden grow this summer? I know many cursed the micro-climate in which they were restricted to grow. From early June on, too cloudy, too wet, too humid, too much! That's what I was hearing. Let me know, won't you? And, if any of you have a special trick or a way to outwit some unpredictable event or circumstance, I'd love to hear about it. I'm committed to being a lifetime learner. Help me out.


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on Serpember 8, 2004

© 2004 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.