There was a hard frost overnight. It’s the second one, but it seems like a killer- though some of my sensitive plants weathered it surprisingly well. It’s always bittersweet, watching it go from summer to fall. It’s particularly difficult to know how to think about fall this year. It was a brutal, long, energy sucking winter last year. It was late to get anything in the ground. I don’t think anyone is ready for winter to come. And as I look at the sad remains of my gardens, where some squash, tomatoes, and peppers barely remain alive, I think about all the ways I could have done things better.
What has made this year worse is that the temperature changes have been extreme. There was the wettest fall, winter, and spring a person could imagine. We barely escaped catastrophic flooding in town when they ice dams decided to give out at the right moment. No matter how much I had longed for the weather to warm up, once it did it was hard to believe there would possibly be a good growing season. There just wasnt. There was never a period of consistent pleasant weather in the late spring early summer, nor does it appear there will be on in the early fall. There certainly hasn’t been one in the late summer, where it went from searing heat to frost in a week or two.
It was a challenge to get into a gardening mindset this year, in part because it was a very difficult gardening year. The weather warmed up way too much right during germination. For myself and many others things like lettuce, spinach, and carrots just plain wouldn’t sprout. There wasn’t any good Spring growing season. Most of my brassicas bolted before they had a chance to do anything. Usually I baby them but with only hot weather in sight in June I didn’t have the energy or drive to worry about it.
What’s worse, I had to be gone in late June right when a patch of good gardening weather started. (And I hate travelling, so that was book-ended by extreme anxiety and distraction.) It was also right when it dried out, and I didn’t even make arrangements to water because I figured with the volume of groundwater it would go forever. I had to replant some things when I got back, which was awful late to do so. Then I just couldn’t get in the habit of watering as much as I should. I don’t know why, it stopped being something I took pleasure from and started feeling like a chore.
I was also ravaged by flea beetles, and again, just didn’t devote the effort to spraying them. I forgot to thin my corn, and didn’t coddle my baby beans which were attacked by all manner of insects. My corn patch was too thick, and everything else struggled for light. Though my corn was wispy, it had a heavy harvest. Unfortunately, that snuck up on me, and by the time i tried to harvest it the corn was far from sweet, and was instead starchy and chewy. So much so I decided to wait until it was dry and use it for a small amount of homegrown corn meal. I got some squash, but I didn’t do nearly what I should have to protect it from deer. They took out almost my entire Sweet Meat squash plant. No bean harvest at all.
My tomatoes didn’t do much either. I know persistently getting too dry was a problem. I only got some cherry tomatoes, which stayed small and I mostly forgot to harvest. i don’t know if I need to find something to add magnesium. I probably just need to water more consistently, but almost always put it off until they were limpy.
The only thing that did well was potatoes, which are really easy to grow and did appreciate the Ruth Stout treatment. I actually got proper onions this year, at least, which has for some reason been a challenge.
All-in-all, I would say this garden year was mostly a failure, and while the weather was bad, the real problem is I let myself get too discouraged and just didn’t try hard enough.
It’s been a challenge, transitioning into gardening more for work and still showing passion for it at home. It’s not something I have done particularly successfully, but the year was just so discouraging. Beyond which, I got really into fishing, and started doing that with my spare time on days I previously would have been in the garden.
Now, as I watch the seasons change I need to try to be enthusiastic for fall work. My compost pile looks like it will be even bigger than last year’s. It is time that it starts getting a high volume of leaves and I need to haul much goat muck. I won’t make the same awful mistakes as last year, and with luck it will be large enough to cook through the winter and be ready in the Spring.
Soon it will be time to clean up everything, mulch, and decide where I am planting new bulbs in the side yard. I like fall garden work, it is full of promise for the future. But I am struggling to remain optimistic, as I have essentially felt shellshocked by the weather for almost a year. (Five whole inches of rain last October and ridiculous weather the whole time sense.) I’m worried about keeping going. i’m worried about money. I’m worried about the weather depressing me more than it already has.
But it is the time to stay focused. Fall preparation is important for spring and summer vegetables, and I am determined to make these beds highly productive. I’m trying berseem clover over my potatoes this year, which will hopefully grow and then winter kill. Since I’ve more or less given up on my tomatoes already, and usually cover them on frosty nights to let them hold on, I may take up the plastic and get an overwinter cover in the ground, which I normally wouldn’t do because of time constraints. (Often its a month past now when I give up on my tomatoes entirely.) Besides, I am not planting mighty mustard in that bed in the fall due to flea beetles, which would be the normal thing in that rotation.
Hopefully my overwinter cover mixes grow well, as it usually keeps me somewhat inspired to have something growing through the winter. Which reminds me I also need to plant a winter cover mix in the current brassica bed as well to prepare it for next year’s tomatoes.
In years past, taking a leisurely look at my garden was an every morning occurrence. I would stare in wonderment as my plants started to grow, brimming with anticipation and fantasizing about a beautiful harvest. This year, I could not break the feeling that I was going to have a disappointing year, and it certainly became a self-fulfilling prophecy as I was unresponsive to problems that my plants were having and found myself doing little to support them.
But now, the 2017 season is largely over, and while I am not looking forward to winter, I am kind of glad to see it go. For a variety of reasons 2017 was never going to be my year. But I’ve learned things, I’ve simplified and improved my gardening system, my beds are becoming more mature, I actually have finished compost, and I’ve taken up a new hobby.
Now is the time to focus on fall work, meditate on and prepare for another harsh winter, and get my beds ready for what will (hopefully) be a great 2018 season. There is always next year, but I’m tired of thinking that every year. My soil is starting to look mighty beautiful though, so I must maintain some optimism.
To read more about my gardening system, check out my vegetable gardening page.