Monday, 20 September 2010

Garden Lessons

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

I keep a garden journal in a simple notebook. Nothing fancy, college rule size lines represent my rows in my gardens - and my hieroglyphics mostly likely would take some deciphering by anyone other than myself. I keep track of varieties, planting & harvest dates, amendments, tillage and weather. The information when set down isn't that important, it is later when I am able to look back and draw conclusions or make decisions on past events that my garden chronicle takes on its true identity.

This year while most of the U.S. baked, we grew moss on our backs, the Pacific Northwest is known for its rainfall, but this was the hardest year for gardens/crops in my garden memory. In a normal year, we have a rainy spring, and then a lull in May enabling at least some planting. This year there was no lull, which delayed planting until mid to late June. Those first plantings in May are a critical time for some of my winter roots. They need a full growing season to mature, if a month gets lopped off on the beginning, my winter stores are in jeopardy. The jury is still out on my root crops normally planted in May, they are plugging away slow and steady. Root crops I plant in June are doing well. No differences there. Definitely this has been the year for cool weather crops.

Warm weather crops have been almost non-existent in my garden this year. I have peppers only because they are planted in a hoophouse where I can exert a little more control over the temperature. With our cool nights this summer we couldn't have began to come close to the minimum heat units needed to ripen warm season type crops. I can't go by the days to maturity on a seed packet - which is just an average anyway - I have to think of heat units. For instance, at my location a 69 day early sweet corn takes on an average, 95 days to ripen. This is where my garden diary excels. Garden books are great as a baseline, but the lab that is my garden is where I get most of my new information for next years garden and beyond.

From past notes, I knew that dry beans were out if planted any later than Memorial Day, so I didn't waste my seed. It was a good thing too, they would never have matured. I just picked my first green beans this past week. Normally in early September I am harvesting those beans for seed for the next years crop, and getting ready to put the poles away for winter. While I am a little wistful about tomatoes and corn, I am not writing off the garden season as a bust. Rather, it was just different and we had to adapt. Using my garden notes of past successes and failures, I could make informed decisions on whether to plant certain vegetables on not. The cooler weather actually made my later plantings of fall and winter vegetables easier. It's sometimes a push to keep cool weather transplants stress free in August - but this year it was a snap.

My garden notations are invaluable to me in my ongoing quest to grow most of our own food. Do you keep a garden journal and does it help you make better decisions for planning your garden?