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Lessons learned

August 8, 2019

I took this photo yesterday, before the storm. You know, when we had several weeks of high temperatures and no rain. I would say that I was doing *ok* with watering. I mean, there's a lot that's growing and green, though my cherry tomato plants are shedding leaves in response to heat stress. I started to think that I was too hasty in removing my irrigation system this spring, but then I saw that this year could still end up being the wettest year ever. 

 

 

That brings me to what I want to discuss today: lessons learned.

 

Sometimes, I plant too intensively. Simply put, I try to cram too many plants into my small space. For instance, I definitely crowded my Piracicaba broccoli plants this spring by planting them 1 foot apart. While that may work for smaller Brassicas like dinosaur kale, this broccoli needed more like 2 feet. As a result, some of the plants became stunted from being crowded and did not produce broccoli florets. I would say "I'll try again next year," but my attempts to grow broccoli has frustrated me enough times that I think I'm done. Instead, I will be planting broccoli raab, Chinese broccoli, and yu choy sum this fall for fresh leafy greens with broccoli-like flavor.

 

Interplanting is not succession planting. Something that worked well this spring was interplanting radishes with longer-maturing lettuces at my community garden plot. I sowed them both at the same time in alternating rows. Radishes take less than a month to mature while the varieties of lettuces I chose take 2 months. By the time the lettuces needed the extra space to grow, the radishes were already harvested. This system worked well.

 

However, I did something in my backyard this spring that didn't work nearly as well: I harvested pockets of leaf lettuce and planted pepper seedlings within those bare spaces. And then the peppers seemed to sit there, stalling, until I harvested all of the lettuce that surrounded them. Perhaps the established lettuce was out-competing the newly-introduced pepper seedlings for resources. Or perhaps the weather and soil was still too cold for them to grow effectively. I mean, I should know that one by now: there is nothing gained by planting cold-sensitive veggies too early because they won't perform in soil/air temperatures that are too cold. Basil is the clearest example of this, as one day of temperatures below 50F is enough to kill it dead.

 

Since it was my first spring growing celtuce, I learned when to harvest it: when it's about 1 foot tall. If allowed to grow taller, especially if it starts to flower, the top will just  become inedible and woody anyway. I think this happens because celtuce, lettuce, and sunflowers are all part of the same botanical family, Asteraceae. And if you've ever cut down a sunflower stalk at the end of the season, you've seen how woody and fibrous it is.

 

Pushing boundaries and making mistakes has been one of my greatest teachers in the garden. By carrying these lessons forward, my garden gets better every year.

 

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