Thursday, December 31, 2009

first year garden retrospective

Here are my retrospective notes on the first year of gardening. I'll keep it updated as more things occur to me.

Started way too late this year. This was a significant factor.

The drip irrigation system was a huge time saver and worked well with this quick-drying soil mix. However, it's also very easy to overwater. Need to be sure that the right drippers are used and properly dialed in.

Swiss chard in the greenhouse did very well. Five per square is a little tight but works. Even after our days-long hard freeze, which knocked down most of the stalks, it came right back and started producing new growth.

The low bird netting fence around the outdoor beds kept squirrels out. It's fragile, though. I saw some other types of net fencing at Home Depot that would work better.

Nylon net trellises worked great for vertical support of tomatoes and cucumbers.

The strawberry box moved into the greenhouse did pretty well compared to the box that stayed outside. Didn't get much production from these scrawny plants, though.

Transplanted basil did fine in the greenhouse.

Potato vine growth in the boxes was vigorous but the yield was good only near the bottom of the boxes, despite using late-harvest varieties. Were they overplanted? Should I have covered the vines to a greater or lesser degree as they grew? I think there's conflicting information about this technique. Need to do more research.

There were some rotten potatoes, probably due to overwatering and poor drainage beneath the boxes.

Dill is an aphid magnet. I suspect it may have kept aphids off some of the nearly plants. Can this be exploited?

Some of the hops had a lot more aphids than others. Why?

I started out pruning tomatoes to a single main stalk, but got out of the habit. At the end of August the cherry and Roma grape vines went berserk, especially after I got the irrigation system installed. I think I would have had better and earlier yield if I'd managed this carefully.

Lots of blossom end rot on tomatoes, particularly the Roma grapes. I think this improved once I fertilized but it was a little late.

Lots of blossom end rot on zucchini. It was much worse on one vine than another, and nearly total on the yellow zucchini.

Not have a single acorn squash grew beyond the size of a golf ball before falling off. Is this a nutrition problem?

Very heavy blossoming and initial fruiting on the lemon cucumbers, particularly the one I started in the greenhouse, but the vast majority fell off. Do these need hand pollination indoors? Is this a nutrition problem?

Some of the bell peppers, both indoors and out, produced a lot of flowers and small fruits that fell off. Do these need hand pollination indoors? Is this a nutrition problem?

Japanese eggplants kept falling off. I think fertilization fixed this.

Japanese eggplants were attacked by sow bugs or pill bugs.

Strawberries were attacked by sow bugs or pill bugs. Need to try to get them off the ground. Maybe use metal legs beneath the boxes?

Squirrels constantly harassed the strawberries and dug in the beds until I fenced them.

Beds to the west of the greenhouse do not get much sun, partly due to the bedroom balcony.

By the time of winter solstice the greenhouse is getting very little sun because of the house behind us. Permanent glazing should keep it pretty bright, though.

Very low pea production. Not only were they started late, I think they were way too sparsely planted. They did not grow vigorously even out front where they had a lot of sun, so I think there was a nutrition problem too.

Heavy and tall plants like peppers and dill tend to fall over in this loose soil mix.

Very high failure rate for strawberries from Irish Eyes.

Many of the blueberries and grapes Raintree sent were disappointing.

Radishes bolted immediately. We had very hot weather at the time.

Planted carrots much too heavily. They all seemed to germinate and it's hard to thin such a forest.

Oregano died quickly in the greenhouse. May have overwatered.

Looks like curly parsley can grow all winter in the greenhouse.

Leeks and green onions took a very long time to sprout in the greenhouse and never grew well.

I did not do a good job of thinning in general. In cases where I failed to thin beets they did not grow well. Same with lettuce mixes. Need to consistently use Mel's method of just snipping with scissors.

Basil started from seed in the greenhouse either never sprouted or took forever to grow.

It's pretty hard to train squash vines to climb the nylon netting, particularly against a wall.

Neither one of the Fuggle hop rhizomes sprouted. Lame.

I think the geraniums inside the greenhouse would have kept going for a long time if I'd continued watering. One still looks halfway decent, in fact.

Overwatering in the greenhouse led to a great deal of condensation, which dramatically affects light transmission. Humidity was probably much higher than it should have been on a lot of occasions. By the time the weather cooled I had serious mold problems, particularly on the tomatoes.

Despite the soccer net mounted in front of the grape arbor the grapes really took a beating. Think about putting up something larger.

Cilantro did not do well in the greenhouse. Not sure why; seems like the right conditions.

Parsleys planted from seed did not flourish in the greenhouse.

The collard greens and zucchini had quite a bit of powdery mildew.

Growing greens in the side bed beneath evergreens is problematic because of the sap that drips or mists from above. They either need to be covered or grown elsewhere.

The attempt to grow collards inverted in hanging planters was a failure. They want desperately to turn upward and grow right back where they came from. I think for anything to work this way it has to hang heavily.

Green beans never germinated. I think we had heavy rains after I planted them. Would have been better to transplant.

Had very mixed results with peppers, both indoors and out. Some were productive, some died. I think soil temperature is a big issue for getting peppers established.

Many of the Tall Telegraph cucumbers in the greenhouse fell off while small. Why?

Bok choi never grew large before bolting, both indoors and out.

The hops didn't produce anywhere near enough to be useful this first year, but hopefully they have built good root systems.

Potted mint in the greenhouse does well. Leaves stay compact. It's fairly dormant but still green at the end of December.

Things to research:
  • Potato box methods.
  • Companion plantings.
  • Do peppers need hand pollination in the greenhouse?
  • Do cucumbers need hand pollination in the greenhouse?
  • Gardening When It Counts has a lot of information on compost quality. Read it.
  • Growing oregano, cilantro, flat leaf parsley in the greenhouse.
  • ...
Things to do and do differently:
  • Try Coleman's idea (Four Season Harvest) of a twice-tempered climate.
  • Set up drip irrigation for hanging baskets.
  • Do some soil testing and proper fertilization. I don't think the Mel's Mix in fact had nearly everything that some of the plants wanted.
  • Don't buy strawberries from that Irish Eyes place again. Very high failure rate.
  • Think twice about buying by mail, generally, even when it's cheaper. Would have done better to pay a little more at Sky or Fred Meyer.
  • Choose plants that require less light for the beds west of the greenhouse.
  • Pay more attention to plant height and light requirements otherwise unwanted shading occurs.
  • The tomatoes in the center of the greenhouse took up a lot of space. Maybe use only the beds at the back? That's where the vines can use the most vertical space, too.
  • Manage water in the greenhouse more carefully.
  • Convert to permanent greenhouse glazing.
  • Use more vertical space in the greenhouse with hanging baskets.
  • Try diluted milk as a remedy for powdery mildew. See articles at,, and
  • Cut the butterfly bush back hard to let more light into the side bed.
  • Need to do a lot of indoor planting for transplantation this year. Think about whether to try this in the greenhouse with some supplemental heat.
  • Pay closer attention to temperature requirements when putting plants outdoors. Just because they are available at the nursery doesn't mean they should go in the ground.
  • Need to do a much better job of incremental planting so that crops are available continuously. Examples are radishes, carrots, lettuce.
  • Try a zig-zag climbing arrangement for the hops like Andy did on his garage.
  • ...


Kevin said...

"tomatoes in the center of the greenhouse took up a lot of space"

That didn't sound like a problem to me, but then I'm absolutely nuts about tomatoes and love to stand in the kitchen with a few cut up into wedges and just eat them plain like that. When I eat salads I always try to maximize the tomatoes in the container and get them to the bottom so I can eat them last, like dessert, after I've finished the "eat your vegetables" part...

And if I had a garden, I'd probably want more of them than anything else...

Steve Poole said...

I should have said that the tomato vines took up a lot of space, Kevin. Bushels of actual tomatoes wouldn't have bothered me at all! This was as much a pruning problem as a location problem.