2015 Garden Part 14 Successes and Failures Part 2

It's now the middle of August and it's time to review the seasons successes and failures. I took a look at some major issues in July - To see the first batch of hit or misses - click here. My opinions on most things stayed the same - except for the greenhouse seed starting. I had that labelled as a failure. It turns out...it wasn't. But that's not the full story....

With that topic fresh on my mind, let's jump into the first failure:

What didn't work:

Heirloom Tomatoes

For years, I have grown hybrid tomatoes started at nearby nurseries. They have always performed great. So why did I branch out this year and start growing my own tomatoes from seed? Why did I start growing heirlooms?

Well, it's a long story but it has a lot to do with wanting to be self-reliant. I want to be able to start my own vegetables and not be dependent on the nurseries. I want to keep my own seeds and never have to buy them again.

I started half my seeds in an unheated poly greenhouse and half of them in the house under a grow light. I then planted them - leaving myself a detailed map of who was who and how they were grown.

My tomatoes sucked. They looked fine and half-fine going into the ground. Some grew great. Some grew okay. And some just plain sucked.

I decided that my foray into seed starting was a bust.

But was it?

A funny thing happened while gardening this year. Half of my garden looked okay/good. The other half looked sick and dead. Like - down the middle half. Either worms don't mix my soil at all, somebody dumped poison in exactly one half, or something else was going on....

Something else was going on. It turns out that half of my garden gets hit by our sprinkler system. I was under the impression that all of it was hit by sprinklers. I was wrong! For 8 years, I assumed the sprinklers watered my garden. They never did....but I used mulch and we must have gotten lucky with just enough rain water. Sheesh. Mulch really does make a difference (and I have plenty of slugs with or without it - check back for the July hits/misses to see more.)

Once I started watering the rest of the garden, things got better. My tomatoes didn't suck as bad, but the ones that missed out on water were always behind the others. Lucky for me, I had a mix of greenhouse grown versus house grown tomatoes in each section and I was able to honestly evaluate the greenhouse situation. Guess what? Most of the greenhouse started tomatoes actually outperformed the house starts!!

To be fair, most of the house starts were in the unwatered section. But those that were in the watered area did not do any better than the greenhouse starts. That tells me that they were probably not permanently damaged by starting outside. Plus one for survival methods!

But...the plants that started out small and weak, stayed small and weak - regardless of where they started. I was able to get bigger, stronger seedlings from starting them in the house and so....I will start my tomatoes indoors from now on, then I will wait until they are nice and big before moving them out to the greenhouse. They can harden up out there around the time I would have normally planted.

I'll need to compost the weak plants....killing is always the hardest part of gardening, but it's an essential component. Then the biggest plants will get planted a few days later than normal - bigger, stronger, mulched, and regularly watered! Woo!

I have high hopes for my future tomatoes...

But back to the main reason my tomatoes sucked. The heirloom varieties I chose just weren't all that great. I am forever removing Siberian, Coyote, Mr. Stripey, and Brandywine from my planting plans. I still have plenty of seeds, and I'll keep them frozen for emergencies, but I won't grow those types again.

I will grow a few Rutgers and Moneymakers, but alongside some hybrid seeds I will be picking up - old standbys like Early Girl, Beefmaster, and Better Boy. Those are more resistant to disease (something the heirlooms struggled with) and they produce big prolific tomatoes.

Growing alongside the hybrids, I'll be able to accurately assess Rutgers and Moneymakers. Plus, I'll keep a good seed line going so I will always have an heirloom option. While I can still buy hybrids, I will.

It just makes sense.

Amaranth
Really young amaranth seedlings

I mentioned amaranth in the July article and it turns out it just never put on flowers. It made an amazingly large plant from one little seed (1 seed the size of a mustard seed made a plant as tall and wide as me!) and the greens were edible/okay.
half of full height amaranth
They greens were slightly bitter and I prefer the taste of the wild greens that grow nearby so I don't see a huge need for amaranth - even in emergencies. Their value would have mostly been in their protein rich seeds.  I will keep my remaining thousand or so amaranth seeds in case of emergency but I won't ever grow it again regularly - and at least I know it is not capable of setting seeds in our climate so I am not depending on it.

Corn
This goes without saying, but corn has always sucked in my gardens. Even when I had good sand/loam soil. I grow corn every once in awhile because my kids seem to bring it home from school every few years. I can't throw their hard work in the compost - so I find space for it.

It always sucks. It never produces ears, and I know it robs fertility. Alas....2015 was no different.

Fava Beans

Someone once told me that you'll never starve if you have potatoes and fava beans. I can't remember the exact reason - but they most likely complete each other in essental proteins and have the right amount of vitamins and minerals between them.

I will always keep potatoes in my pantry because they are super stars when it comes to protein, calories, vitamins, storage and productivity. But I will never grow fava beans outside of an emergency again.

Why?

They make so much non-edible biomass. Well, technically, you can eat the tops of the leaves (but they're not great) and the whole pod while they are super young. But as they get older, you will toss out a whole lotta pod to get a few large beans. Then you will skin those large beans to get really small beans. 

They taste like regular beans (maybe a little more buttery) but they were not worth the work and waste when regular beans are easy enough to grow. Beans and Peas for that matter.
Fava beans saved for seed
The plus side - they look cool and have really pretty cow like white/black flowers. Also, I composted all that nitrogen filled biomass right back into the garden and put their microbiologically active root nodules in various areas around the garden.

Peppers
Peppers are so hard for me to germinate, grow, keep pest-free. They really become not worth the effort, but they are my husband's favorite vegetable and I will grow them every year whether they are successful or not! One of these days I'll figure out their secret!

Butternut squash
I love butternut squash. It's a long storage food and it can play double duty as a sweet or savory squash. It makes great pies and is a fantastic sweet potato substitute (for those of us with climates that are too cold for sweet potatoes!)

On top of it all, it is resistant to the squash vine borer. 

But so what...

My squash sucked. It grew nice and big, it even climbed the trellis, and it put all out sorts of flowers. Male flowers. Male flowers and only male flowers! I have checked it daily for months. Not a female in sight. To be fair, squash refuse to put out female flowers if they are stressed. The butternut is in the non-watered side of the garden and was definitely stressed for a few months...

But it's got to be something more. Today I noticed there were blossoms on the ground that were skeletonized and full of black frass. Not frass from a small bug. Something larger. Honestly, they looked like little mouse droppings. But there is no way a mouse could fit in the blossom. And mice don't skeletonize - Japanese beetles do! And the plant was crawling with ants. What is going on? I doused the ants with Diatomaceous earth -  just in case. But what's the deal? 

Next year I am going to grow butternut again. Lots of it, and have it trail under my other plants. Hopefully, I can at least win in a numbers game. I plan to mulch and water regularly, but I am hoping to figure out what's happening any way. I'm also going to be making some insecticidal soap. I will eliminate whatever is eating the flowers - if that's even part of the problem!

I will also be taking a break from all C. pepo and C. maxima to starve out any remaining squash vine borers. All butternut and nothing but the butternut next year...

Dumping all your seeds out in frustration
I had the worst time getting my sunberries to germinate this year and out of frustration, I just dumped all the rest of my seeds into the container and walked away. 

They eventually came up.

Then they grew into this awesomeness which is why I still grow sunberry - even though they taste like pure poison.
sunberry wonderberry growing in container
But alas....there are no flowers or berries yet and that means they will not form/ripen before the frost and I will be seedless. That means I have to pay for another batch of seeds. Not happy...

Flax
Yes, I counted flax as a success back in July. And it was in every way...except for cost effectiveness. Flax is wickedly healthy and full of calories to boot. But it is so inexpensive to buy, I will save my garden space for spendy/rare items. 
I will grow a small line of it in the flower area to attract pollinators and keep my seeds fresh (FYI - the seeds I used were over 6 years old and the plants were gems.)

Not growing flowers
I hate flowers. Really, they are kind of a waste. They also get ratty when they die down. But....it turns out I need more pollination and I need to provide the habitat. Next years garden has already been mapped out and will include a flower section...
I need to amend this plan to remove the c.pepo and beans

What worked:
Beets
Man, I just love beets. They are so delicious and rewarding. They take barely any space and even when everything go wrong (like this year) they at least grow medium sized. Love them and will plant them forever.

Purslane
My new favorite green! It's so yummy and spinachy when it's cooked, and a little spinachy and sort of citrusy/crunchy when it's raw. I am loving it. But of course, that's not the whole story.

Yesterday, I found big bulbous wild purslane growing from a dry crack between the tar road and the sidewalk. Unwatered, unloved, abused. And it was HUGE. I don't have pictures of it because I immediately grabbed it and tried to transplant it to the edge of my forest garden. It broke apart during transplant. Some of it re-rooted, some of it didn't. Apparently, when purslane is uprooted it uses its succulent water reserves to immediately set seed.

I'm counting on it! I dispersed the purslane body parts around the areas I wanted seeded. If they throw out seeds they will be all set to grow in my most rocky, horrid soil. Hey, they were growing in the dry crack like it was crack!

Meanwhile....this is all I get from the purslane I transplanted into my fully amended and watered garden soil:
Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But there is a silver lining. I bought some garden purslane seeds on ebay (from China for 50c) and after taking forever to germinate (they need 90 degree weather to germinate apparently...) it grew to this:
purslane
Herb garden - purslane in the middle
I have been snipping off the tops like so:

And it starts to regrow itself at the tips:
It's delicious stuff. I just need my inside purslane to either live forever while massively multiplying or to start pumping out seeds. I am out of seeds, so I am ordering another package off ebay soon.

Propagating blueberries by putting their soft growth in water
This one shocked me. It is now over 3 weeks and the blueberry stems I put into water are still green and vibrant. I just don't get it! 
Week 1
If I even so much as look at the growing plants wrong or happen to water them with tap water, they get all red and fiesty. They are notoriously difficult - unless of course you give them everything they want and never make a single mistake. And you're lucky.
Week 3 - a second branch was added from a plant that was nibbled
But I have them in tap water. pH around 7 but loaded with calcium carbonate - a huge blueberry no-no that gets me into mondo trouble when I water the plants in the ground

What gives? I have no idea!!! There are no roots showing yet, but these plants are very much alive. I hope they will throw down roots so I can make more blueberry plants. Not that I have room for them, but it's still really cool.

Ground Cherries
pineapple ground cherries
Ground cherries in the house are a rare sighting!
I am in love with these guys. I first ate a ground cherry when I was really little. I was following my grandfather around in his garden and he handed me one. It was awesome. Later that year, he told me I could eat as many as I wanted. This was rare because he never let us touch his plants or be in the garden. He came back a little while later and was mortified. 

I had eaten them all.   A-L-L

My grandparents had a big 1 acre + garden. He had a lot of ground cherries. So many that he thought he could turn me loose. No. I am a gluten for all things berry.

I was never allowed in the garden again. Every year, I would sneak into the garden and try to find the little pineapple berries. I couldn't. Maybe I had eaten them all so they never reseeded? Or maybe I just didn't know what the plant looked like and I had to be really stealth to prevent being caught.

I never found them and I never ate them again. They aren't sold in stores and they aren't common. But they rock!! 

I bought some seeds on ebay last year and was so excited when they started growing. They got big and huge and....just kept on growing. They never dropped on the ground like a ground cherry is supposed to and they got big like tomatoes. 

And they were green. And sticky. It turns out I was sold tomatillo seeds. Oh well. I made tacos with them. They were good, but tomatillos are not ground cherries.

So I went on ebay again and bought myself some seeds for Christmas. This year, they were the real deal. I waited  patiently for them to drop from the bush.
And then I ate them all.

I've been saving their seeds and I super excited to grow more of these next year!

More articles from this year's garden:

19 Tomatoes and counting
Growing Heirloom Tomatoes without electricity
2015 Garden Part 1
2015 Garden Part 2
2015 Garden Part 3
2015 Garden Part 4
2015 Garden Part 5
2015 Garden Part 6
2015 Garden Part 7
2015 Garden Part 8
2015 Garden Part 9
2015 Garden Part 10
2015 Garden Part 11
2015 Garden Part 12
2015 Garden Part 13
Keeping Slugs off Your Strawberries Forever!
Growing Flaxseed in the Home Garden
Growing Potatoes from the Grocery store 
Growing Potatoes from Grocery potatoes - the results
Growing Espalier Grapes on a Fence
Can Tomatoes Survive temperatures below 28 Fahrenheit?

A full list of the edibles in our garden as of July 2015:
Aronia chokeberries
Asparagus
Walking onions
Rhubarb (victoria)
5 Varieties of Blueberry (bluecrop, northblue, northland, chippewa, northsky)
3 Varieties of Red Raspberry (2 summer (latham & boyne), 1 fall - heritage)
Red, White, and  Pink Currants (JVT, champagne, jewel/blanca)
2 Varieties of Gooseberries (wild, picsweet)
Black Raspberry (wild)
Dill, Sage, lemon balm, thyme, parsley, cilantro, basil
Garlic chives
Onion chives
6 Varieties of Tomato (coyote, brandywine, mr. stripey, moneymaker, rutgers, siberian)
2 Varieties of Potato (russet, yukon)
2 Varieties of Grapes (1 red - valient, 1 white - niagra)
2 Varieties of Strawberry (1 june quinalt, 1 alpine)
Fava beans
Bush beans
Snap peas (2 types)
Butternut squash
Cucumbers (2 types)
Bell Peppers
Parsnips
Leeks
Onions
Garlic
Sweet Corn
Popcorn
Amaranth
Buckwheat
Pineapple Ground cherries
Watermelon
Radishes
Cantaloupe
Crookneck squash
Swiss Chard
Beets
Bok choy
Purslane (2 varieties)
Golden Flax
Sunflowers
Scarlet Runner Beans
Honeyberries (2 varieties)
Sunberries
NorthStar Cherry
Sunchokes

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Thank you for your comments! I appreciate all your tips, advice, and well wishes!

Angela

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