The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

2010 garden experiments

Urd beanAfter four years of hard-core gardening, the vegetable garden doesn't require much experimentation any more.  I've mostly figured out when to plant our crops, which varieties grow well in our soil, and how to fight the worst diseases and pests.  I do keep trying out new experimental varieties, but I've discussed this year's successes and failures previously (for example: amaranth, urd beans, other experimental beans, and quinoa, sesame, and poppies.)  In this post, I just want to sum up our dealings with some of the thornier issues --- how to keep tomatoes from getting blight, how to keep cucurbits from dying of anything and everything, and some work with woody plants.

Dried tomatoes2009 was the year without a tomato, when every tomato in the eastern U.S. seems to have been impacted by blight.  We adore tomatoes, so we tried a lot of techniques to keep our plants blight-free in 2010, including pruning tomatoes to keep their leaves away from the damp soil, ripping out any plants that contract the fungus, planting blight-resistant tomato varieties, scattering tomatoes throughout the garden and planting some later in the year, and weeding out volunteer potatoes and weedy nightshades that can harbor the blight.  The combination of factors all added up to a good tomato year, despite blight spores wafting through the air, although I don't think that the tomato islands and succession planting did much good.  We put away enough tomatoes for pizza and spaghetti sauce, soups, and general cooking to last us through the winter, and the only thing I would have done differently would be to start drying tomatoes earlier in the year so we could have more of those delicious treats!

Summer squashWe also mostly licked our cucurbit problems.  In the past, we've lost many of our squashes to vine borers and our cucumbers and melons to wilts and blights, and we've tried lots of complicated methods to solve these problems.  In the end, it seems like the lowest tech answers are the best when it comes to cucurbits.  Among winter squashes, we simply converted over to an all-butternut garden, which deleted all of the issues and also fed us the tastiest of the winter squashes.  For summer squashes, we settled on succession planting, seeding a new bed May 1, May 15, June 1, June 15, July 15, and July 30.  As soon as the earlier bed succumbed to vine borers, the next bed was producing, and our freezer is chock full of squash slices.  We used nearly the same succession planting technique with cucumbers, with the addition that we chose a more mildew-resistant variety (Diamont Hybrid), and for the first time we were overrun with cucumbers for most of the summer.  We had a so-so watermelon year, but the problem there was mislabelled seeds.  In the end, the only cucurbit that still eludes me is canteloupes --- since these plants need a long growing season like winter squash, I can't just succession plant to beat the blight.  Maybe some research will turn up a more resistant variety, or perhaps I'll follow my movie star neighbor's lead and plant canteloupes atop black plastic for faster drying.

Starting persimmon seeds in a potI've learned a lot about propagating perennials this year, too, but was much less successful with my first attempts.  I easily got hardy kiwis to root from softwood cuttings, but then transplanted them straight into the unirrigated part of the garden when their roots were too small, and the plants promptly kicked the bucket.  Since the original kiwi vines seem to have really taken off this year (their second full summer in the ground), I figure I'll have a lot more material to root next year and can try again.  I also completely failed at starting various trees from seed since I didn't count on their slow germination and lost track of exactly where I'd planted them.  This year, I'm starting seeds that need stratification in pots, and also plan to put down a kill mulch and start a little nursery area up by the water tank.

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This post is part of our 2010 experiments lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Boy, did you ever have my attention at "how to keep tomatoes from getting blight, how to keep cucurbits from dying of anything and everything." I don't know if I have room for so much succession planting though, and I am already on board with butternuts! I'm definitely trying out the cucumber variety you mentioned and your tomato techniques! I'll let you know if I ever solve the cantaloupe conundrum, too.
Comment by Eliza @ Appalachian Feet Thu Jan 6 18:44:34 2011

For the tomatoes, the factor that I think was the most important was just being hyper-vigilant and removing any sign of blight when you first see it. The pruning and planting in full sun probably helped a lot too, though.

For cucurbits, succession planting doesn't need to take too much extra space. The Diamant hybrid cucumber is supposed to take about six weeks to start producing fruit, and then is produced for perhaps a month before it kicked the bucket. So it really only requires about double the space as planting a cucumber that produces all season. You might try slipping some late cucumbers and squash in after your garlic comes out of the ground...

Comment by anna Thu Jan 6 19:14:07 2011

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