Thursday, January 14, 2016

What I learned from my 2015 garden

Once again in 2015 I put on my garden scientist hat and went into the garden to plant, observe, ponder, harvest, weed, curse, and wonder. Like any year, it had its highlights, its low spots, and its head-scratchers. Here I’ll let you all in on the fun (it was fun, sometimes, when it wasn’t exasperating) while trying to keep it fun for you to read. Am I up to it? If you read on, you’ll soon find out.

2015: the summary

For the past three years I have been conducting a scientific experiment in my vegetable garden to determine how the garden responds to soil mineral balancing as described in Steve Solomon’s book The Intelligent Gardener. I based the amount of the mixed amendments that I used in 2015 on the discussion I had with a gardening mentor, as I mentioned in this post, and followed the planting instructions for potatoes that are also discussed in that post. In addition, in 2015 I increased the amount of space I allowed for some crops to match more closely to the semi-intensive spacings in Solomon’s book Gardening When it Counts, and I trialed some new crop varieties and planting procedures. But I didn’t do one thing that my gardening mentor had also suggested. Because I hadn’t purchased enough cottonseed meal in early spring to use for side-dressing, I was unable to side-dress the long-season, high-demand crops as he had suggested.

With that said, here’s a summary of garden performance in 2015

1. In general, crop yields remained the same or increased compared to the past two years. For a few crops yields increased by large factors. A few crop yields decreased compared to previous years.

2. The primary reasons for the year’s overall good results appear to be enough nitrogen (except in those cases where I should have side-dressed the crop but did not), starting seeds for the fall leafy greens crops inside and transplanting out seedlings, and attention paid to planting at the proper time and prompt weeding along with the ongoing soil re-mineralization program. Rabbit predation and excessive rain at the wrong time or no rain at a critical time seemed to be the main reasons behind lowered yields.

For those of you who enjoy digging into the details behind the summary, make yourselves comfortable and let’s start digging!

2015 in detail

The most remarkable feature of 2015’s weather was the amount of rain we got. St. Louis set a new record yearly rainfall of 61.24 inches in 2015. That included the setting of two new monthly rainfall records, for June (13.14 inches) and December (11.74 inches). Besides excessive rain and associated humidity, June also was warmer than normal and much cloudier than normal.

Otherwise, after a cold February and early March, the rest of March was warm and about normal rainfall. April was wet and on the warm side, May was warm and on the dry side. July and August were drier than normal overall (although the first half of August was wet) and about normal temperatures. September and October were both warmer and much drier than normal, while November was warmer and wetter than normal. The last spring frost was on April 4, a little earlier than usual. While we experienced a very light frost on October 18, it didn’t have any noticeable effect on the garden. The first fall frost that made a difference wasn’t until November 20, three weeks or so later than usual. Overall, it was a longer and warmer than normal growing season, with a wet spring and early summer and a dry late summer and fall.

The spreadsheet on the four pages below compares the 2015 yields with the best yield I have obtained so far for each crop type I grew in 2015. I’m using the English system of units because that’s the system used for everyday purposes in the US where I live.

The first two columns on each sheet give the crop and the variety. The next three columns show the date planted, the spacing used, and the yield for the best year’s yield previous to 2015. The next five columns give the data for each crop variety planted in 2015. From left to right these are the date planted, the spacing, the total area planted to that crop, the weight harvested from that area, and the yield calculated from the previous two columns and expressed as pounds per 100 square feet. In some cases I grew different varieties of a particular crop during the best year compared to 2015, so in those cases data is given only for the year that particular variety was grown. The final column has brief notes for some crops.

I think it will be easiest to delve into the details if I group crops together into families, since crops within a family tend to be planted and harvested around the same time and have similar needs.

Onions, leeks, and garlic

I grew two intermediate-day bulbing onions in 2015, both raised from seeds. One reason for the decrease in yield in 2015 compared to 2014 was that I planted the rows twice as far apart in 2015, so I only planted half as many seedlings. I also started the seeds and planted the seedlings a little on the late side, so the onions may not have sized up as much as possible under the best of conditions. The best of conditions was not what they experienced in 2015 with the excessive rain in June, when the onions were bulbing. Some of the crop rotted in the field. Finally, the dill I planted next to the end of the red onion area grew huge in the fertile soil and fell over onto the onions close to it, shading them excessively. I was probably lucky to get as many bulb onions as I did in 2015.

Like the bulb onions, the leeks were started and planted late. In addition, the 2006 leek seedlings were planted much closer together (6 inches apart on hexagonal spacing versus 6 inches apart in rows planted 12 inches apart in 2015). A large fraction of the yield decrease in 2015 is likely to result from that. Another issue was that I planted cilantro in the fertile soil next to the leeks, not realizing that the cilantro would grow huge. The cilantro plants proceeded to fall on top of the leek seedlings, shading them excessively. But the leeks that I did get were huge!

Potato onions, like shallots, split into a cluster of separate bulbs as they grow. The cluster is harvested, allowed to dry, then split into separate bulbs for kitchen use. The bulbs look and taste like yellow onions. Potato onions and garlic are fall planted, grow during fall and spring, and are harvested in early June in these parts. I had decent but not complete survival of the potato onions over winter since I mulched part of the plot too late, after the soil had frozen and then partially thawed. Luckily I acted fast enough in June to get the whole plot harvested in between rains and before the really heavy rain fell in the second half of the month. The wet soil may have cut down some on the yield in 2015 relative to the best years but I still got more than enough of these crops.  In fact, I planted much too large an area to potato onions in 2015; we have far more than we’ll use. I planted about half that area to potato onions this past November for 2016.

Cabbage-family crops, spring

In this part of the US these crops are planted in spring to mature in summer or in late summer to mature in fall or early winter. The three of these that I plant as spring crops for summer harvest are cabbage, broccoli, and bok choy. With the good spring and summer weather (warm and plenty of rain!), cabbage and bok choy did especially well. The cabbage yield was a little lower in 2015 than 2013, but I planted it farther apart in 2015 so I grew fewer plants. The 2013 cabbages averaged 2 to 3 pounds each while three of the four 2015 cabbages weighed 4 to 6 pounds each! The fourth cabbage would have weighed about the same, but it began to rot so I had to harvest it two weeks ahead of the other three. All four cabbages were delicious!

I also tried planting storage cabbages in the spring to mature in fall but they rotted in late summer. Based on the success of summer-sown and fall-planted bok choy as noted below, next year I’ll do the same using an early maturing storage cabbage.

The spring bok choy crop yielded about the same as the best year. I don’t think it’s possible to do better than this here, because spring-planted bok choy inevitably bolts (flowers and goes to seed) in early June. But we like it very much as the base of a stir-fry, and it’s ready before lettuce or cabbage, so it is well worth growing in spring. This year’s broccoli was both a different variety and spaced farther apart than the best yield so its yield looks low in comparison, and it didn’t seem to size up as well as the best one I’ve grown.

Cabbage-family crops, fall

Except for bok choy, which I grow in both spring and fall, I grow a different set of cabbage-family crops in late summer and fall. These include turnips and winter radishes and leaf crops such as arugula, kale, and mustard greens.

Turnips and radishes are always direct-seeded. Success with them is highly dependent on their not being a heat wave in the first half of August, when I need to sow them in order for them to mature before winter. This year worked well in that regard, and I watered them often enough during the dry weather of late August through October to bring them along nicely. As a result both kinds of radishes yielded as well as they ever have. Note that ‘Red Meat’, a beautiful and tasty round winter radish that stores well, yielded about as well as the previous best year even though I planted the rows twice as far apart in 2015. As for turnips, despite planting the rows twice as far apart in 2015 I harvested twice the yield of the best year! In both these cases I think the generous amount of nitrogen available to them, aided by warm fall weather, helped them bulk up - and in the case of the turnips, sweeten up as well. They are the best-tasting turnips ever!

Of the leaf crops, years of experience has shown me that only arugula yields well when it’s direct-seeded in late summer, although in theory the other crops should work that way. I don’t know why direct-seeding doesn’t work well for these crops, but I do know that starting bok choy seeds in the basement and transplanting the seedlings in late summer produced a good crop in the past. So this year I direct-seeded the arugula and started seeds for the others in the basement. Actually, I started the seeds later than I should have. A mid-July start would have resulted in larger kale plants that would have withstood the late August and early September heat, as I mentioned in this post. But the bok choy responded extremely well to this method, besting the previous best yield by nearly a factor of 5! If I had known the bok choy would have done this well, I’d have planted much less of it. Bok choy does not store long in our makeshift root cellar and our refrigerator isn’t large enough for that much bok choy. Even giving a good portion of the crop away, we had to eat as much of the rest of it as fast as we could and leave the mustard greens, kale, and arugula in the garden. Because November and December were so much warmer than normal, we still had those to harvest until a few days ago. Both arugula and mustard greens would have had a best-ever yield if we hadn’t left them to freeze while we were eating up the bok choy. Next year I’ll grow more fall storage and kraut cabbage and less bok choy!

Lettuce and sunflowers

Although it may not seem like it, these two crops with very different growth habits and uses are both part of the aster plant family. I’ll discuss lettuce first.

Since lettuce bolts in heat and increasing day length and cannot survive our winters, I grow it the same way I grow bok choy, as a spring and fall crop. The spring crop is always started in flats and transplanted to the garden. We usually eat some of the heads before they mature so the yields are not as high as they would be otherwise, and this year it was some of the ‘Bronze Arrowhead’ plants that we chose to eat early, reducing its yield compared to the best year. Otherwise I think I’m at about the maximum spring yield I can get under our growing conditions. I liked ‘Kalura’, the romaine lettuce, very well. It’s the first romaine lettuce that has done well for me.

I find that lettuce won’t grow at all if I direct-seed it in August. Since I’d had some luck with lettuce that I started in the basement and planted out as transplants in 2008, I tried doing that in 2015. I probably started it about 2 weeks too late for maximum yield, but I was very pleased to get acceptable yields of the three lettuce on the spreadsheet, especially as warm and dry as it was in September and October, weather not to lettuce’s liking. In 2016 I’ll start the lettuce seeds in the basement in mid July and plant them out as transplants again.

The most important thing to know about the sunflower crop is that I got a crop. It’s not shown on the spreadsheet because I haven’t separated the seeds from the heads yet. But I was able to act ahead of the birds to get a yield for the first time ever! As I’ll discuss more in a future post, obtaining yields of oilseeds like sunflower is important if we’re to have a possibility of subsisting mostly on what I grow.

Beets, carrots, and parsnips

I plant all these as spring crops because, similarly to the lettuce and cabbage-family crops, they do not germinate and grow well, if at all, when direct-seeded into hot August soils and weather. In 2015 all started growing well in the favorable spring weather conditions, and I got a decent yield of beets considering that the rows were twice as far apart as during the year of the best yield. I’d have gotten a good yield of carrots as well, except that the local rabbits decided that carrot greens were what they wanted to eat in early summer. Although I have a short fence around the garden, it isn’t much of a barrier to rabbits, as their feeding on the carrot leaves proved. As a result the roots couldn’t bulk up, if they survived at all. I’ll have to think about what to do to reduce rabbit predation in 2016.

As for parsnips, I got them to germinate and grow well for the first time. But most of the leaves died by late summer and new leaves didn’t appear until October, when it cooled down. The first of the three rows that I harvested, in late November, produced only skinny roots. I’ve seen locally-grown parsnips so there is some way to grow them well here, but for as few parsnips as we use compared to beets and carrots, I’m happy to leave parsnips to the farmers in the future.

Squash-family crops

Of these I grew melons, cucumbers, zucchini, and butternut squash in 2015. Regarding melons, once again I failed to get any, not even from the hybrid melon that I tried. That’s it. I’m done with melons. Let the professionals grow them; I’m happy to support their successes.

Part of the reason for the reduced zucchini yield in 2015 compared to 2013 was excessive shading of the zucchini plants by the pole beans planted just to their south. There may have been another factor too, like having more plants in the same space in 2013. But no matter, I got zucchini to use in our summer salads.

I am not too concerned about the low yield of zucchini last year because we got more than enough cucumbers to make up for it. Besides setting a new yield record for the cucumber variety I show on the chart (growing the rows half as far apart in 2015 had a lot to do with that), I grew a second variety that yielded almost as well. We liked ‘Homemade Pickles’ a little better so that’s the one I’ll keep growing.

I’m not sure why the butternut squash did worse in 2015 than 2014. Fewer plants may have been part of the reason. The 2015 plants also seemed to give up and die earlier than they usually do, maybe from the excessive heat at the end of August lasting well into September.

Nightshade-family crops

In 2015 I grew potatoes, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, eggplants, tomatillos, and ground cherries from this family. Of these, I won’t grow the last two again: the plants sprawl too much, overwhelming the nearby plants that I cared more about, and we don’t use enough of either for me to want to bother with them again. I’m close to that point with eggplants as well, though with them it’s because I can’t grow the plants well enough to get much of a yield. I may try two to four eggplants once more this year, if I find space for them. They might do better with a boost from side-dressing, but as I explained, I didn’t end up doing that in 2015.

It’s easy to grow tomatoes here, as 2015 proved once again. I might have gotten higher yields from side-dressing, but even without it we get plenty of tomatoes. The yield from ‘Arkansas Traveler’ would have been higher if we hadn’t missed out on several tomatoes due to being out of town. ‘Black Prince’ had an intriguing taste but the tomatoes tended to rot before they were ripe. ‘Red Pear’ is a large Italian pear-shaped tomato that is fine for sauce but didn’t have a good enough taste to eat out of hand.

The extra nitrogen from the increased amount of cottonseed meal at planting time combined with nearly perfect weather from a pepper plant’s viewpoint resulted in an excellent pepper harvest. We seemed to have a never-ending pepper supply from July through October! All varieties had a best-ever year. ‘Jalapeno’ is bigger and heavier than ‘Serrano’, which explains part of the astounding yield increase for hot peppers. We ended up with 17 pounds of fresh jalapeno peppers, far more hot than we could use. We gave some away and I fermented some of them into hot pepper sauce, but we still have three gallon bags of hot peppers in our freezer. I won’t grow more than two hot pepper plants in 2016, if I grow them at all, and I won’t side-dress them because I don’t need them to be more productive. It might be interesting to see if side-dressing increases the sweet pepper yield even more. We’d find a use for extras.

As for potatoes, I had hoped that by following my mentor’s directions I’d have a better harvest in 2015. But potatoes may have suffered from the excessive rains in June more than most other vegetables. If I’d grown an early variety that matured in June, I’d probably not have harvested any potatoes. Because ‘Elba’ doesn’t mature till late July to early August, there was time for the soil to dry and the plants to set potatoes during the drier weather in July.

Sweet potatoes

These are members of the morning-glory family and like morning glories, they grow during the summer. As I explained in this post, two of the varieties I grew in 2015 suffered from vole predation. The surprise was that the third variety, ‘Hernandez’, had much less vole damage compared to the others and a much higher yield. All three were grown in the same bed. I don’t know why voles might prefer certain varieties, if they do, or if there was some other reason that the ‘Hernandez’ sweet potatoes were largely spared from vole predation (they were on one end of the bed). Since ‘Hernandez’ also proved to taste as good or better than the others, I’ll grow more of it in 2016.

Beans and peas

In 2015 I grew both shell and snow peas, which are spring-planted crops. Once again I planted them too soon and without pre-soaking or pre-sprouting them, and once again spotty germination resulted. But I still got a crop of each and did about as well as ever with the snow peas.

I grew a dry bush bean and two pole green beans in 2015. For some reason rabbits decided to munch on the bush bean plants but not the pole bean plants. By the time I noticed the rabbits’ work, the plants didn’t have enough time to set and mature a big crop. But I attempted to control predation anyway and got a small yield for my trouble, enough to save as seed for a future year’s crop.

Both of the two pole beans grew well and gave a good crop, considering how few and far apart the plants were compared to the best year. I hadn’t had a good crop of pole beans since 2009, so it was quite satisfying to have them again. Of the two varieties, Mike and I both preferred ‘Musica’, a flat romano type that remains tender to large sizes. We had more beans than we needed so I’ll reduce the pole bean area in 2016.

I grew two kinds of cowpeas. One, ‘Queen Anne’, is a bush type that produces white seeds with a black eye, what most folks in the US call black-eyed peas. I was alert enough to pick the patch multiple times and that resulted in a good yield. This crop might have yielded better with more rain or with watering, but I chose not to do the latter, instead concentrating municipal water on the greens and root crops during autumn. It also would have yielded better if I’d planted it at the beginning of June.

I also grew a pole type whose whole pod is eaten, similarly to green beans. It’s excellent stir-fried. The late planting and larger spacing compared to the best year has a lot to do with its yield being low in 2015, although we still had as many pods as we could use since it and the green pole beans were ready at the same time.


2015 was a critical year for the popcorn crop because the last year I had enough plants to save seeds from for replanting was 2012. Because corn seeds start losing their ability to germinate after 3 or 4 years, if I wanted to keep saving seeds, I needed to get a good yield in 2015. Plus we were about out of popcorn to eat.

Things started out well with the first two beds planted by mid June. Then the rains really set in, delaying the planting of the other two beds by another two to three weeks. The lack of cottonseed meal meant that I didn’t side-dress this high-demand, long-season crop.

Because the planting dates for each bed were different and the last two verged on too late to get much of a yield, I harvested and weighed from each bed separately. While I haven’t finished shelling out the popcorn from the last two planted beds, it was obvious from the sizes of the separated piles of ears that the yields from those beds will be much less than from the first two planted beds. And not only were the last two beds planted late, but the ears in those beds were developing during the very dry conditions of late August and September, yet I chose not to water the corn beds. Low yields for the two latest-planted beds were what I expected and what I obtained.

The low yields of the two best beds in 2015 compared to the 2009 planting can’t be explained on the basis of the planting dates. A number of factors may contribute to it. One factor might be the overall drier weather of July through September in 2015 versus 2009 and the fact that I didn’t water the 2015 crop when the rain stopped doing it for me. Another might be inbreeding depression. It’s recommended that corn seed not be saved unless you have a population of at least 100 to 200 plants, and more plants is much better. My plantings are at the low end of the recommended size. The result of saving seeds from too few plants is plants that grow progressively shorter, have fewer ears per plant, and mature later. While it seems to me that the plants are about the same size, have about the same number of ears, and mature at about the same time as they have in previous years, the ears seem to be shorter. Is that inbreeding depression or lack of enough moisture or fertility? I’ll find out the next time I grow popcorn. This year I had well over 200 plants and saved seeds from the best 100 ears for my seed crop. Hope that’s enough, but it might not be. Some year I may have to start over again with new seeds.

I have more to say on the implications of this year’s results, but that will have to wait for a future post.


  1. A very detailed summary of the year. Too much hot sauce is a problem I would like to have! :-)

  2. Hi Claire,

    Very impressive. Seriously, I'm really impressed by the level of observation and consideration that has gone into your garden.

    Are you continuing the addition of minerals and soil testing that you have done in previous years? My thinking on the matter is that as you remove vegetation from the garden, so to do you remove minerals, plus your excessive rains may have leached some of those minerals. I don't really know though?

    It is interesting that your heaviest months of rainfall were around the winter and summer solstices. Is that normal for your part of the world?

    I don't reckon the onions would like a very damp soil, they seem to prefer very well drained soils here. And I've also noted they do better in less fertile areas than areas I've applied a lot of manure too. Dunno, but they do self-seed in some of those less fertile areas.

    Do you get cabbage moth? It is a huge problem here over summer, but the little blue wrens which have been slowly moving in on the garden in the past few years may change that. There have also been signs of a parasitic moth leaving yellow cells about the place. But still cabbage is a waste of time here over summer because of the moth.

    The moths seem to leave the arugula alone, although that may be because it is a winter and spring crop here - it bolts to seed over summer. Yes, direct sowing of saved seed really improves the resilience of that plant. Pak Choy is also a good winter crop which self-seeds, although not prolifically.

    Lettuce is a winter to early summer crop and it self-sows here, so I have no idea why yours wouldn't grow from direct sowing. Just FYI it is in seed here right now and there are many different varieties. It starts growing in late March.

    Carrots are a weed here, but parsnip is difficult and has never established. Yes, that is certainly a good idea. I've read that parsnip prefers the environs of an orchard (i.e. a bit of shading and a bit more acidity) and also compacted soils, so maybe that has something to do with it? Dunno, carrots grow, so I eat carrots...

    Melons!!!! If ever you grow a melon, please let me know how you did it? A local guy here of French origin straight out laughs at my melon ambitions. It does seem like a waste of time.

    Pumpkins need heat, so maybe you didn't get enough heat at the right time? Did you get any flowers from the vines? My friends with the greenhouse had huge pumpkin vines last year - but they also had a huge problem in the green house with sooty mould once the pumpkin vines started to die...

    Zucchini and cucumbers seem to do well on alternate seasons.

    I am so impressed that you can grow sweet and hot peppers as well as eggplants. Only very small fruiting varieties will set fruit here... Very impressive results!

    It was too wet for your potatoes. They like well-drained but moist soil. One wet year here the millipedes broke the skins and started to hollow out the potatoes before harvest. But dry years they don't seem to be a problem.

    Summers are too hot for beans and peas here. They seem to do better in spring. Broad beans are the exception because they are a winter crop. Do you shade your beans and peas?

    I've never had any luck with corn and I salute your efforts. The wallabies here will eat them - all of them right to the ground. Sad. When they did grow, I noticed that they did much better when they were given a bit of a drink over high summer. I've always thought that the open pollinated heritage varieties - which aren't as sweet - seem to do OK in smaller blocks. I always grew them in small blocks and the cobs seemed to be full, but small because the wallabies just like eating the stalks....

    I am really impressed with your garden. Respect.



    1. Hi Chris!

      I am continuing the soil fertility program; I've already had the soil test done and figured out what to add this year. That will be part of the later post on what I plan to do in 2016 and why. It seems pretty clear at this point that I can't continue to grow a good garden on the same ground year after year unless I re-mineralize, for the reasons you mention and maybe others as well. But I'll talk more about that later.

      We tend to be a summer-wet climate, so the heavy rainfall in December was more out of line than that in June. It seems to have had to do with the particular way this El Nino manifested during December. So far January has averaged seasonable, but talk is that February will be unseasonably warm again.

      We do get cabbage moths, but noticeably fewer of them since I began the re-mineralization program. I almost never find them on my crops anymore. Hard to know if the soil work was the cause or something else, however, since the trees I planted have gotten taller and I'm seeing a wider diversity of birds in the yard.

      The soil temperature in August here is over 80F, sometimes well over 80F. Combine that with 80F average daily temperatures (90F high/70F low is typical in the first half of August) and that makes for poor germination of direct-seeded lettuce. I can direct-seed in early to mid September and could sow thickly and thin/cut immature leaves, but I can't get mature heads when I direct-sow that late. I prefer to grow full-size heads rather than thinnings, thus the reason to start them indoors. This same dynamic affects the beets, carrots, and most of the cabbage-family crops outside of turnips, radishes, and arugula. Farmers here may have tricks to get direct-seeded crops growing in early August, but if they do, I don't know what they are.

      I had enough heat for pumpkins and squash; this is the warmest part of the Corn Belt, summer heat isn't a problem here! Squash bugs are a problem every year, however. Soil re-mineralization hasn't helped with them. They are known to transfer diseases - I think they do this every year and shut down the squash vines earlier than they otherwise would. I didn't water the squash bed at all after the rain stopped in August, which may have contributed to the low yield.

      I cannot grow peas in summer (too hot); they are only a spring crop. But beans do very well in summer as long as I don't try starting them during a heat wave. I don't shade them and don't think it would increase yield if I did, rather the reverse. Remember that compared to you I have wet summers. That may help with the beans. As for corn, this is called the Corn Belt for a reason ;). I suppose deer might eat the plants, if I had any, but I don't. We don't have any wallabies ;) and no smaller herbivore than deer seems interested in corn plants. Plenty of critters eat the ears, but they seem much less inclined to eat the very hard popcorn kernels than other types of corn, in my experience.

  3. Hi Claire,

    Thank you for the excellent reply. I look forward to reading about your soil testing as I've never seen the outcomes from those tests. May you never get to experience the vandalism that a wallaby in the garden can achieve!



    1. OK, you reminded me that I forgot to put that info in the next post. That will give me another post topic for later. ;)

  4. Thanks so much for your detailed report. Have you found a source of non-GMO cottonseed meal?

    1. No, I haven't. I use whatever I can buy, which almost certainly is the GMO stuff. It might be possible to source non GMO cottonseed meal or soybean meal through suppliers of organic livestock feed. I haven't looked for it, but if you are interested, I'd suggest that as a place to start.

  5. Hi, Claire!

    I am slowly going through this; you have covered a lot of things! Thanks so much for laying the details out here. I hope to give you feedback soon.


  6. Hi, Claire!

    I started answering this post during the blizzard, but then kapooeyed my comment somehow. I shall start again!

    First, I have learned some key points from this post right off:

    Apply enough nitrogen (cottonseed meal is good)

    Weed promptly

    Remineralize the soil

    Water correctly and, boy, can it be hard to deal with too much rain! 61.24 in. is astounding. We normally get 46 in. which is a very nice amount, if it falls when desired.

    I have a lot of trouble with onions. I think part of it might be that I have been planting long day varieties. You have had good luck with intermediate ones? Does that mean they are in between short and long? The small ones I get do store quite well. I planted some potato onions last spring for the first time. I have just let them alone so far. I checked them before this snow and they were still growing.

    I have just started some spring lettuce inside ( a red romaine). Kalura sounds like a nice one.

    Our rabbit trouble is erratic. Some years they eat all the lettuce and young pea plants; some years, nothing. Our cheagle (chow/beagle) used to eat quite a lot of the poor bunnies. I expected their population to explode since she passed on, but it hasn't happened yet.

    We planted butternut squash last year; it was so puny. Thank goodness there were butternut seeds in our compost pile! When they sprouted, we just left the pile alone and they grew huge. Mother Nature is a better gardener than me . . .

    We have never been able to grow melons, but cucumbers do great. I can't imagine why, though I do water the heck out of them. They can't ever seem to get too much. Our zucchini was dead out of the starting gate. They immediately got a mildew or viral disease, and stink bugs. I cleared out that whole bed and let it lay dormant (and unwatered) till time to plant for fall and planted the garlic (never gets very big, but is very tasty and keeps a whole year), radishes, and carrots in it. The radishes - just French Breakfast and Cherry Belle - grew to the size of turnips. That's never happened before. Daikons we only grow in the spring. Do you pickle your daikons? Also planted carrots in the same bed. They are never ready till spring, if they grow at all.

    Jalapeno peppers and tomatoes are our biggest crops. We usually plant about 120 jalapenos, a few anchos and cayennes and bell peppers. My husband eats the jalapenos fresh (he grew up in El Paso, on the Mexican border!) and I can the rest. We have fresh ones until Christmas if I guess the right number to pick before frost and take good care of them. We grow several varieties of tomatoes. A favorite is Ailsa Craig, a Scottish-bred tomato that doesn't mind cold as much.

    We always grow sweet potatoes. They don't get really large, but are super-tasty and store about a year, once cured (think I've mentioned that). They seem to like a lot of water, too. A Taiwanese friend told me to cook the young leaves at the end of the vines; they were indeed delicious (and nutritious!) when stir fried. I have read that cutting the vines back a bit will ensure larger potatoes. I am afraid to try that as one year the deer ate a lot of the vines and they produced zero. That was somewhat extreme, I guess.

    Idaho-type potatoes grow fairly well. Purple did the best last year, though they didn't keep all that long. I have tried every method I could think of with potatoes, from growing in trash bags to raised beds, but they do best in just a regular, level bed, with some optimal fluffiness added! No voles this year at the potatoes or sweet potatoes. Some years they do bother them.

    We grow several kinds of green beans, varieties that mature at different times. The best overall have been the yard long beans. They have a long, reliable season. They are also supposed to have the most protein of the beans that are eaten fresh. We grow a few peas for stir fries and soups. For some reason we don't get good harvests of dried bean and pea varieties. I think mostly we just don't plant enough vines. There just isn't room.


    1. Hi, Pam! I am enjoying reading your detailed comment and learning about how your garden grows!

      I was not able to obtain cottonseed meal from the nearby feed store in early summer and ended up buying it from Black Lake Organic, Then in the fall, when I needed more oilseed meal, I decided I'd try soybean meal, available from Fedco, It seemed to work just as well. This year I'll try sourcing the soybean meal from the nearest Rural King store. It's one of the common ingredients in livestock feed. It'll be GMO but I'll live with that.

      Intermediate-day onions means they don't require as long a day length to mature as the long-day varieties but do need a longer day length than the short-day varieties. Baker Creek,, carries the two varieties I grew. Intermediate-day onions are harder to find than long or short day varieties but seem better suited to this latitude (39 N), which is probably about the same as yours. It's latitude that determines day length.

      I feel better knowing I'm not the only gardener who can't seem to raise a good melon! And especially knowing that our climates are similar. That suggests a bigger issue than either of us ;).

      Mike pickled some daikon slices for a meal at the Zen center we belong to. They were quite tasty. He fermented about 10 pounds of turnips that we'll start eating in the next few weeks, after the fresh turnips are eaten up.

      What surprises me is that you grow daikons as a spring crop. My understanding is they bolt when started in the spring. Are you starting them in the fall and overwintering them? That might work for me if I mulched them very heavily and the voles left them alone.

      I've heard that sweet potato leaves are edible but haven't tried them, so I appreciate your tip to use the young leaves at the end of the vines and stir-fry them. We'll try some this year!

      Yes, you need a large space to grow a decent crop of dried beans (and peas as well). HTGMV says that an intermediate-level yield is 10 pounds of dried beans from a 100 square foot bed. I've never done better than half that, but I might if the rabbits leave them alone and I pick them every few weeks. That'll have to be tried in a future year, as I didn't put them in the 2016 plan.

  7. contd.

    If I haven't lamented about the lack of sun, I will do so now! We get about 3 hours of direct sun a day in the middle of summer here in the forest. I think that is one big reason that the vegetables don't get very big. Then again, they do ripen, so maybe I am just using that as an excuse.

    We do grow some fruits, but have had a terrible time with fruit flies lately. A lot of work to be done there.


    1. I agree with you about your hours of sunlight being too low for optimum vegetable growing. I had a similar situation at our previous house, where I was growing vegetables in two small beds on the north side of the house. I could get decent spring and early summer crops, before the trees leafed out. But I couldn't grow much of anything in the fall due to lack of sunlight.

      I've read that the fruiting vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, beans, and so forth) need 6 to 8 hours of sun for good growth, while the leafy crops can get by with 4 to 6. I don't know if you could or would want to remove the nearest trees to open up the area where you are growing your garden, but that might also increase the yields you can obtain.