weather reduced yields of most homegrown food crops, ruined many | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Worst Gardening Season Ever

Photo Credit
Margaret Boyles
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It started with a month-long drought—those gentle spring rains never arrived.

By late May—already in a four-inch rain deficit for the year—we had to set up the irrigation system to ensure the survival of our salad greens, peas, broccoli transplants, potatoes, and 1,000 homegrown onion transplants.

Then the rains came.

They kept on coming and coming, saturating the soil, eroding it in any sloping areas not covered with mulch, and leaving pools of standing water in the flat spots.

The roots of half of my 100 new strawberry plants rotted clean away. The corn and green beans didn’t germinate. I planted again. And again and again, until I ran out of seed.

The few corn seeds that finally did come up grew into short, yellowed stalks that produced puny ears.

The onions I’d started indoors in February and watered through the spring drought developed severe botrytis blight in June, shrinking the yield by half. Alternaria blight hit the carrots. The beets never germinated.

Zillions of potato leafhoppers arrived and went to work on the potato vines and three successive plantings of green beans.

Early blight came even earlier than usual to the tomatoes. I can usually keep up with the blight by picking off the yellowing lower leaves each day to slow the spread. That didn’t work this year. For one thing, my waterlogged plants didn’t make that many leaves. For another, it rained so hard and so often that it wasn’t possible to get into the garden for days on end.

The smaller pondside garden, where I’d planted some melons, cabbages, and tomatoes, filled up with rainwater that just sat there for days. Even though I’d mulched the entire area with straw, the plants that survived didn’t grow much. Their leaves yellowed.The melons set few fruits, and the ones that matured didn’t taste that good.

Punishing heat arrived in early July. The peas stopped producing almost as soon as they’d begun. Cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and vine borers simultaneously struck my 10 hills of winter squash. As soon as the squash, melons and cucumbers finally began fruiting, powdery mildew attacked their foliage.

My haiku for one of those days:

Oh, fat cabbageworms
floating in my blanching pot
quick death, but painful

The rains and the heat brought weeds. Lush over- and undergrowths of galinsoga, pigweed, crabgrass and quackgrass, wild mustards, prickly lettuce, purslane, shepherd's purse, bindweed, bedstraw, and more sprang up in every inch of bare ground.

Late one afternoon in August, three inches of rain fell in half an hour. Our backyard pond overflowed, sending sheets of water down the driveway, forming erosion gullies a foot deep and sweeping a dozen large bass off across the lawn and down into the front yard, where we found them swimming in a four-inch-deep pool that had formed in a natural depression there. Around midnight, the yard had drained enough for us to venture out with flashlights and a kitchen strainer to capture them one by one and return them to the pond.

Our woes weren’t entirely weather-related. Ground-nesting yellowjackets built a nest under the peas, and I got stung several times during the brief harvest season. Our free-ranging chickens made short work of two plantings each of spinach and lettuce. They also joined the chipmunks chowing down on green peppers. Who knew?

In late September, I turned my attention to the greenhouse, cleaning out the last of the old crops, spreading a couple of inches of fresh compost, then planting spinach, lettuce, Asian salad/cooking greens, and herbs for winter harvest. That’s when I noticed rusty streaks down the sides of several of the water-filled 55-gallon steel drums along the north wall that store heat during the day and radiate back into the growing space at night. Rust had eaten holes in many places of our recycled drums, and much of the water had drained into the permeable floor of the greenhouse. Yikes!

Yet, even with a greatly reduced harvest from this, my worst gardening season ever, we ate abundantly from the garden every day. We filled two freezers with blueberries, bramble fruits, green beans, broccoli, and tomato salsa. We tucked 25 winter squash and half a bushel of sweet potatoes into the spare bedroom. The cellar holds a couple of bushels of potatoes, a bushel of onions, and a 10-pound bag of garlic. The surviving carrots and a couple dozen cabbages will soon descend into the root cellar.

And our solar greenhouse will soon regain full functionality: Using Craigslist, we tracked down a good source of non-rusting plastic drums in Nashua, an hour’s drive. Now to track down a friend with a big, reliable truck.