Benjamin Franklin once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I plead guilty!
Every year I do things in the garden the same way and then wonder why the results aren’t what I expected. The New Year has led me to analyze my mistakes and to embark on a new path.
Here are my three resolutions to regain horticultural sanity.
Limit the number of vegetable and flower seeds I start under lights.
At the end of February, I start sowing seeds under lights. I usually scatter the entire packet or a good amount of saved seeds, figuring that all will not germinate. Every seed does, and I thin ruthlessly. But, I’m still left with more seedlings that are transplanted into small pots or peat strips than I need.
For instance, I grow seven to ten tomato varieties and only need one sturdy transplant each. I end up with ten or 12, even after I give away transplants to neighbors and friends.
You can grow numerous kinds of vegetables and flower transplants in a small space under lights if you limit the number of each. Photo courtesy of Sheri Ann Richerson.
Homesteader guru Sheri Ann Richerson grows edibles under lights almost year-round, and I asked her what she did. She advised, “restraint!” This year, I’m sowing only six tomato, eggplant and pepper seeds per variety. A dozen will be the limit on annual flowers and no more than six of each perennial. I’ll still have plants to share and won’t feel guilty about those I compost or destroy by neglect.
Be preventative in weed control.
My biggest garden demon is quakegrass, also known as devil’s weed or witchgrass. It’s a cool-season perennial weed that spread rapidly by underground rhizomes. I’ve pulled up the grass and its runners endlessly in perennial, vegetable and fruit beds for years, just have new shoots pop up everywhere. Obviously, mechanical control doesn’t work. The same dilemma faced me when I lived in Texas, in the form of Bermuda grass that also spreads by underground rhizomes.
Quakegrass grows even in the winter under snow and crowds dormant perennials such as this bed of clematis and daylilies.
After extensive research, I learned that a “burn-down” herbicide, applied in early spring and again in late fall, will significantly thwart the spread of invasive perennial weeds, even those like thistles and dandelions which have deep taproots. Burn-down refers to organic chemicals that work their way throughout the weed’s taproot or rhizome system killing the entire system. Compounds like vinegar (acetic acid) in 20 percent or more concentration, clove and citrus oils do the job. And, you don’t pollute the soil or kill the valuable soil microbes that feed plants.
I’m using “Burn-Out” which is mostly acetic acid and “Nature’s Glory” in early March on my weeds. Two caveats, a second application three weeks later is needed for maximum control and it’s best to apply the herbicides with a paint brush or sponge so that surrounding plants are not killed. You’ll see results within three hours.
Because I live in a cold climate with about a 100-day growing season, I error on the side of caution and plant when weather is almost frost-free, about May 15. Many years, my cauliflower bolts, cabbage splits and tomatoes and peppers that require 80 days or more don’t ripen on the vine.
These 'Jimmy Nardello' and 'Mini Belle' peppers didn't make it to maturity before the first killing frost, because I planted them to late last year.
This year, I’m using floating row covers for salad greens, cauliflower, cabbage and carrots to trap daytime heat. That way I can direct seed and set out tiny transplants at the end of March, instead of waiting until May 1. I’m going to put out tomatoes, eggplant and pepper transplants early, too, the last week of April. I’ll wrap cages with row cover, mulch the soil with red plastic and place plastic milk jugs filled with hot water in the cages on nights that go below 40F.
Next week, I’ll cover a couple more things I’m doing different this year. Meanwhile, tell me what are your biggest problems and how you solved your garden dilemmas.
Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.