Garden Failure Sparks a New Plan~by G. Totten, Sioux Falls

Yesterday I canned thirteen pints of bread and butter pickles, half of which were made with cucumbers from my own garden, half given to me from a generous neighbor.  As feared, however, the beans are an absolute bust.  This is realized after yet another week’s time, and finding the same small handful of white blossoms with vines topping the trellis and spilling over upon themselves.  There is also some wilting of the bean leaves, and I wonder if this is caused by occasional chemical vapor drift from an adjacent neighbor’s yard.  If so, it is surely minimal (tomatoes are said to be the most susceptible to such drifting, and the remaining three plants show no signs of wilt).  Whether it is that, or insufficient pollination, the beans are a total loss and will be cleaned up later today.  The yellow wax beans went some days ago.   

The red cabbage never took off. It grew very slowly and the earwigs made a mess of it; one patch of the Swiss chard was similarly ravaged (happily, the one left standing still looks pretty good).  So those plants are gone, as well.  I will give the cucumbers another week to see if any new fruit forms on what I fear are un-pollinated blossoms.   The remaining tomato plants appear to be growing a few dozen healthy looking tomatoes, so we’ll see where they end up, and the Anaheim peppers planted in pots are doing well, unlike the bells that were put into the ground.  At the very least, I’ll have a dozen or so to freeze for later use.   

 All in all, it’s been a dismal year for my garden, and much of this is my own fault.  I planted late, and the area that supports the plot seems to receive an hour less of sun each year, due to a huge stand of blue spruce at the back of my neighbor’s property and a tall ash tree on my own, and no matter what you add to clay subsoil, no matter how long you add it, it simply never improves to the point where it will ever be good for gardening; turning it into workable topsoil would take more years than human life has time.  So we live and learn, as the saying goes, and are grateful to be added to the “produce pity list,” of our more successful friends and neighbors.

My crash and burn experience this year makes me appreciate what the market farmers do.  Each year for them is an equal risk, and I know the regular shoppers who frequent the Falls Park market are grateful for their tenacity.  For those of us who dabble in home gardening, they are our disaster backup.  For those who just enjoy the social experience and the weekend pleasure of taking home freshly baked bread, and those who support buying local and look for the freshest produce they can find, the farmers and merchants there provide these things, many continuing throughout the year through subscription sales of locally grown, hothouse vegetables and flowers.

 As to my own small effort, I’m not giving up, not yet.  I’m taking my own advice, and have a handyman coming over to give me a bid on constructing some 4×4 foot raised beds, and will fill them with the best soil I can create throughout the autumn for use next spring.  Going forward, I’m a raised bed and container gardener only. 

 These beds will be located on the opposite side of the back yard that receives full sun all day, and nearer my opposite neighbor, who doesn’t use a yard service, so drift damage is minimized.  The soil should warm more rapidly in the spring, so plants can be set out a bit earlier.  I’ll transplant lily divisions into the old garden area, tenacious summer bloomers that will withstand some occasional vapor drift, aren’t too picky about soil quality, and will thrive in light shade or full sun. 

 Here is another argument in favor of raised beds.  I want to plant some of those same lily divisions as well as other perennials near my opposite neighboring fence, but in my neighborhood, the underground utility lines crisscross from front to back.  So not only does one struggle with poor soil, but it is required to call ahead and have the area marked before digging.  Even then, you run the risk of hitting a line and can still be held accountable for any damage.  So I will put the decorative plantings in one of the 4×4’s.  Everything on top of the ground. 

 If you are interested in raised beds, there are two books mentioned earlier in the season that I highly recommended for home gardeners and still hold them to be the two best I’ve ever read.  In addition to great general gardening advice, for vegetables and flowers, annuals and perennials, they give detailed, easy to follow instructions for building raised beds and for creating good soil to fill them.  Additionally, they offer back saving advice on alternatives to tilling and mixing soil.

They are Lasagna Gardening, by Patricia Lanza, and All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.  Both are large-sized trade paperback and cost around $20.