The good, the bad and the ugly in my community garden this season. I've had pests, weeds, disease and the oglibatory snake filled compost pile. How I still managed to get a huge harvest.
Listen up. Your vegetable garden doesn't have to be perfect to produce.
Yeah, it's great when all the beds and paths look like a cartoon drawing of a vegetable garden - but sometimes it just doesn't turn out that way because you're a human person with busy days filled with stuff to do.
You're not royalty with servants and chefs and an appointed tomato hornworm squisher.
Sometimes your garden just isn't Camilla Parker Bowles ready. This year my garden wasn't even Parker from Gold Rush ready. But I still have enough zucchini to build a raft out of.
I have spent many, many full days trying to weed this garden and get it under control all summer. And yet it still looks like this. And if I'm being honest, the right side of the fence has fallen down.
I propped it up for the photo. Because I'm lame like that.
Why the struggle?
Philip the gregarious standard poodle is the main reason. He takes up a lot of time still. Plus because of Philip the gregarious standard poodle I've had to add a weekly physiotherapy appointment to my list of things to do.
As I've mentioned, this community garden of mine is a large vegetable patch, clocking in at 40' x 40'. It's surrounded by conservation area that's brimming full of raccoons, mink, weasels, voles, rabbits, skunks and possums, who even though they never make a reservation, wander in every night for dinner.
For those of you who just want a look around the garden here's the entire thing in a 2 minute video. For the rest of you, the rest of the post is filled with tips and a close look at most of what I'm growing.
Table of Contents
The August Garden in Photos
The squash bed is doing great but I'm a bit confused because I haven't seen any evidence of vine borers. My squash plants always get vine borer in July at which point I cut the stem open and pull the vine borer out.
I can't help but think they're somehow tricking me.
The cabbage has been covered with row cover, which is great, but only if you don't trap a cabbage moth IN the row cover. Which I did. A few times. So the cabbages are mangled and filled with cabbage moth poop.
The best way to keep moths and bugs off your plants is with a hinged hoop house like the one I made a few years ago.
The potatoes, had a major fight with a gang of Colorado Potato Beetles but they're on the rebound and will do fine.
If you have Colorado Potato Beetles, hand picking them off is the best way to go.
Potato Varieties I'm growing
The Carrot germination was sporadic. I tried planting my carrot seed deeper this year to see if I could get away with not putting boards down to keep them dark and damp until they germinate.
It didn't work. HOWEVER, trying new things that sometimes fail is what leads to discovery.
This is how you're supposed to grow carrots, and I should have just continued on doing it this way.
My compost pile has never been better. It grows by the day. But that could just be the growing mound of snakes in the centre of it.
I haven't turned my pile in a month (bad Karen) partly because of time and partly because I think it's probably housing a variety of things that sneak, crawl and sometimes bite you.
I vow to turn my compost pile this weekend. And video it because ... that's going to be entertaining.
I've Stopped Using Plastic Compost Bins
I have a post on how to hot compost, which is sort of what I'm doing here at the garden. Last year I ditched my 4 compost bins and instead moved to a big pile.
You don't need to cover a compost pile, you don't need it to be in a plastic bucket or bin. If you can stand the look of it you just need to pile everything up like you see here.
The bigger the pile, the more quickly it will heat up and decompose.
WHY do it this way?
Because composting in plastic compost bins isn't practical when you have a big garden with lots of debris (weeds and crap).
An open compost pile like this is easier to maintain because it's so much easier to turn it and water it when it's not contained by a plastic bin.
My hinged hoop houses are in need of a bit of attention but they're still working well.
Hoop House #1 contains sweet peppers and lettuce.
Hoop House #2 contains hot peppers and broccoli.
However, I, because I'm lame, ordered pepper seeds of off Amazon in the spring. I couldn't find a supplier anywhere else for this particular pepper seed; they were all sold out.
I ordered "Sweety Drop" pepper seeds, also known as Biquinho. They're tiny peppers the size of a fingernail that are both hot and sweet. You most often see them pickled in jars or at antipasto bars.
4 months later I've come to find out that the 3 Sweety Drop plants I grew are in fact, random hot Thai chili peppers. And they aren't even the same. All 3 are different varieties of hot peppers. None of which are Sweety Drop.
The broccoli has done beautifully. No complaints about the broccoli. I already have 4 servings of broccoli cheddar soup in the freezer for winter and another 2 heads to roast for the winter as well.
When you cut the head off of your broccoli plant don't abandon it! It will continue to put out shoots of small broccoli heads/florets.
The same is true for cabbage. Cut the cabbage hear the base of the soil and 2 or 3 small new cabbages will sprout from the stem. THESE second cabbage heads are actually a much more manageable size.
Tomato row is succumbing to blight as it usually does this time of year but plants are still generally healthy and the tomatoes are coming in.
You can see the string trellis method for the tomatoes I'm always blabbing about below.
Tomato Varieties I'm Growing
San Marzano (paste tomato)
Juliet (pictured below)
A couple of random heirlooms - I won't know what they are until they ripen, lol.
Pests and Problems
Every year it's a struggle. You are not alone. Even with my experience, my tricks, my hoop houses ... I always have failures.
- Bacterial Wilt showing on English cucumbers - caused by cucumber beetles.
- Green bean seedling with the tip eaten off by a rabbit. I've had to plant green beans 4 times this year because the seedlings keep getting eaten.
- Weeds in my strawberry bed that I can never seen to find time to get to.
- Powdery mildew has struck the zucchini plants. I'll spray this weekend with what I recommend in my powdery mildew post.
- Cabbage moth damage is always worse on green cabbage.
- Red cabbage on the other hand is way less attractive to cabbage moths.
- EVEN though I had the pepper plants in a hoop house, EVEN though I did my best, it looks like pepper flies made their way in. The pepper fly lays an egg on the top of the pepper. When the larvae hatches it eats its way into the pepper where it then eats the inside of the pepper before exiting through a hole that it chews itself out of.
Tucked into my garden are dahlias for cutting that I don't have room for in my front yard plus a ton of self seeded amaranth and celosia.
I grew a row of the Queen series of Zinnias.
Queen Red Lime
Queeney Lime Orange
I direct seeded them a bit late so they're slow to bloom. Plus I pinch them back which slows their bloom time by another 2 weeks. BUT it will produce more lateral branches, more flowers and longer stems in the long run.
The flowers you see in the background are not my flowers. They belong to the perfect, park-like garden beside mine. I just get the view.
It's a fair trade. I get to see his perfect garden with floral border, he gets to see my snake pit.
Last year the squash patch was home to a turtle laying eggs. I had to call the turtle watch people who came and dug up her eggs so the aforementioned raccoons, skunks, weasels etc wouldn't eat them. If left alone the eggs would have been devoured by morning.
Squash Varieties I'm growing
This year I'm just growing 2 varieties of winter squash, which is less than my usual 4 or 5. So these two are obviously my favourites, because they're the 2 I chose to grow.
- Autumn Frost
These photos are of the Autumn Frost squash. The one on the left is in my garden right now and the one on the right is a perfectly preserved Autumn Frost squash from LAST year that I pulled out of my pantry yesterday.
After almost a full year the Autumn Frost winter squash is still perfect. How's that for a long storage squash? They're also a good individual sized squash for eating.
The Jarrahdale (below) are much larger and keep really well. They have an orange flesh and grey/blue skin.
Swiss Chard has actually done better than it normally does in my garden with little insect damage.
Swiss Chard Tip
I've found chard likes to be planted fairly close together. And if you want a colourful harvest, grow the variety "Bright Lights". If you want a LARGE harvest grow the traditional white swiss chard.
The best option is to do what I've done here - growing both so you have both a large harvest and pretty colours.
- Green Beans
All of these things other than the second planting of carrots have gone in in the past couple of weeks.
I've done second plantings of a few things. Sometimes because rabbits got the first planting.
It's a bit late but I'm still going to plant some lettuces and radishes.
The final things I'll be planting this year will be my garlic crop for next year which needs to get planted in the late fall. Here's how to grow garlic which you should read up on because like I *just* said, you need to plant it this fall if you want to harvest it next summer.
The other final thing I have to plant which will go in the empty bed above is my spring wheat. Because yes you CAN grow wheat in a small garden.
The first planting of beets are ready to pull but I'm keeping them in the ground for a little bit longer. They'll store better in the dirt than they will in my fridge and it's still too hot for them to go into my long term vegetable storage cupboard.
The onion and leek bed is good, not great. I forgot to side dress the onions with bone and blood meal (which helps them bulb up) plus they were chewed down to the ground by something in the spring which means, they had to put a lot of their energy into sprouting for the second time.
Sweet potatoes in pots doing well. Anything that grows underground is the most fun because you have NO idea what you're going to get.
Growing sweet potatoes in pots is my favourite way but I explain a few other options in this post on how to grow sweet potatoes.
The bean and cucumber trellis row is pathetic. Bacterial wilt and rabbits are to blame. I still got a ton of pickling cucumbers though and have had time to replant the beans one last time in the hope that I get some.
I'll be crushed if i can't make dilly beans or canned green beans for the winter.
Are you realizing now that there has been an issue with EVERY single thing I grew this year? And yet ....
I still have a ton of food.
The corn looks good but when I shuck it I might discover it's filled with corn smut.
Which is not porn for corn, but rather a fungus. It's quite horrifying, especially since it's viewed as a delicacy. I've eaten it. I can't say I'm a huge fan. I'd rather eat the corn.
Or a foot.
My Favourite Corn Variety
... is not the one I'm growing this year. I thought I had seed for my favourite variety but didn't so I grew the seed I had which is a variety of Peaches and Cream.
My favourite corn variety is: Serendipity
It's a hybrid that's very sweet but still tastes like corn.
And there you have it. Pests, problems, and nowhere near perfection but still a harvest like this daily.
And that's not including whatever it is the voles, mice, possums, mink, skunk, rabbits, and raccoons take home in their doggie bags.
Having any issues with your garden this year? Or questions about mine? Let me know and I'll see if I can help. Let me address the most popular question right now:
I eat it. I eat all of it.
Congrats on being able to enjoy the bounty of your harvests and labours (added the u just for you-lol) I enjoyed your vid on installing the powered fencing. Would such a thing be possble/practical for your entire garden plot to keep the 4-legged critters at bay?
Hi Randy. If my garden was at home I'd be able to but up at the community garden there's too great a chance someone would accidentally touch it, fall into it, grab it etc. The odd person I'd be O.K. with doing that, but I like most of the gardeners, lol. ~ karen!
there's something surreal about that photo of the sweet peppers with the purple lettuce in the background, Fascinating!!!
sorry to hear about all the problems in the garden this year, hopefully next year it will be better :)
Thanks Robert! But the truth is gardening never goes according to plan, lol. I'll have to go and relook at that photo now! ~ karen
Baker creek seeds has the sweetly drop pepper seeds.
I got and grew last year to great success. They were still going in November
Thanks Andie! By the time I got around to ordering the seeds, it was too late to get them. Because I'm in Canada they had a 2 week delay on sending seeds etc. And everywhere else was sold out. But I'm really glad to hear they worked out for you! Do you eat them raw or pickle them? ~ karen!
Yeah I’m in Toronto and the seeds I ordered this year were too late also. But will have for next year.
Mostly ate raw but sone did get pickled.
Wondering WHEN one should side dress onions?
Hi Hanna! I actually do it a couple of times. Once when I first plant and once when they're starting to show signs of bulbing up. I haven't actually researched into it, I just decided that was the best time to do it for no reason at all, lol. ~ karen!
Well that makes sense now I think about it. This was the first year I grew onions from sets. The white & yellow onions did quite well but the red ones were pathetic. Will try side dressing them next year. Thank you for that tip. Gardeners are always learning. 🌱🙂
I just switched to yard long beans (inspired by Hmong neighbor’s garden) and will never go back
So easy to grow, vining, not fibrous, stays tender, looks hilarious, tastes like bush beans without bush bean nonsense.
Strongly recommend! 👍🏼
I've grown those! Quite unsuccessfully if I do say so myself. Not to brag. Maybe I'll give them another go next year for fun. Although i'm pretty sure the rabbits, squirrels, voles etc. will still eat them ~ karen!
Gréât photos! Gréât pest hints!
Thanks Laurie! ~ karen
I understand about the lack of time with your beast (oops, I mean puppy). However, there is hope on the horizon. I adopted a standard poodle airdale mix 3 years ago. She's a beautiful dog and is just now turning into an adult dog. Which means she only needs attention 12 hours a day, rather than the 18 hours she needed before.
Great, thanks.🤣 An Airdale standard sound beautiful! ~ karen!
I've been following your super posts for a few years now and i love them. I have a request, if that's ok with you?
I live in the north east of Italy (about half way between Venice and Trieste, in the middle of the plain). More and more I am having trouble with drought and the weight of carrying water around is getting to be a problem (I am over seventy).
Could you tell me/us about your irrigation system? I hope you haven't already done so in some earlier post, if you have, I'm sorry.
Hi Sarah! No problem at all. I have done an entire post on my drip system which you can read here. It's hooked up to a water source but I'm certain there's a way to use it with a rain barrel if you can catch any rain off of a roof. ~ karen!
Here are a few suggestions that might help you in the future.
I no longer have a problem with squash vine borers. Any plant that they are known for invading, get their stems wrapped with a narrow strip of stretchy cotton knit fabric. I keep my new seedlings covered until they are up and about ready to start blooming. When I take the netting off, I strip off the bottom few leaves and I start the wrap around the base just below the surface of the soil and continue up, completely covering the stem until I get up about 3-4 inches. Squash vine borers tend to invade close to the soil so that 3-4" tends to cover where they are going to be tempted to invade. This year I learned to recognize the tiny SVB moth because I would see them on top of the net I had protecting my young squash. My 2nd planting was also covered but I never saw any of the moths which didn't surprise me as I have always read they are worst early in the season.
2nd hint is for germinating carrots. There are tons of YouTube videos showing this process, which is where I first saw it. And it is how I very successfully germinated my carrots for my 2nd planting. And in a much shorter time frame.
Take a paper plate, or any flat dish that will fit into a plastic storage bag and then fill that dish with a layer of potting mix, seed starting mix or any loose soil. Wet it down to the point of being evenly damp. Sprinkle on your carrot seeds fairly generously. Place and seal in bag. Place in freezer for 24 hrs. Then take out and open the bag but don't take out your plate. Place somewhere where there is light but not direct sun or a. place to warm. Watch and make sure soil doesn't dry out, mine never did. But in 4 days out of the freezer, I could see that most of the seeds had started to sprout. You don't want them to go too far so watch them closely. Once you do see that most are at that stage, I go out and lightly sprinkle the bed with the soil and sprouting seeds. Water in well and then cover with shade cloth. Or at least here where it is quite warm, the shade cloth really helps. I do lightly water twice a day but I won't need to do that much longer...My seedlings are up and growing in about a week from when I put them into the freezer. I do have some spotty area where my scattering wasn't as even as it should be. If it were a spring planting I might go in and do a 2nd batch. But being fall, and running out of time, I will leave it the way it is now.
I love watching your gardening efforts. I agree, our gardens do not have to be perfect to produce well. They don't have to be show gardens. We are constantly learning and adapting to each new year that brings new weather and physical/life challenges. There sure could be worse distractions than an amazing new puppy!
Hey Ann. Thanks! I know about the wrapping, but have never been bothered to give it a real go since cutting them out has always worked as well, but maybe next year I'll do a test plot for fun. I did end up getting carrot germination on my second planting, but still a bit sporadic. The key really is the watering. If I can remember (which I probably won't, lol) next year I'll try the carrot thing for half my bed. I'll leave it up to you to remind me.😆 ~ karen!
I’ve had shockingly good carrot germination by putting down a 1/2” layer of peat moss first, then sowing in shallow drill. Also the bed is shaded in the afternoon which helps keep it from drying out. The peat really locks in the moisture I think. 💁🏼♂️
Ann, I did sort of the same thing. I started squash, zuchinni and cucumber seeds indoors in toilet paper rolls. Right before planting I wrapped the plants in short sections cut from new panty hose and planted so panty hose section was just below soil level. Also used Karen's advice and covered squash section later with mesh netting. The only problem now is everything vining everywhere, but only one female flower in about 10 plants has formed. I managed to hand pollinate and have one nice spaghetti squash growing.
I am thankful every day that I happened onto Karen's website. My garden has had more success this year due to her advice.
Still looks great & still lots of work, even when its not perfect.
"It ain't that easy" when lots of other things demand your attention.
I don't garden food and have simplified this year--but absolutely love to ready and see yours. Every. Single. Year. Love your humor and ideas! Keep them coming!
The English cottage garden post is coming up soon; no food in that one! Actually that's a lie. But far more flowers than food. ;) ~ karen!
Your garden looks great, despite the usual pests. I have six 8x4 33" high garden beds. It has saved my lower back, and weeding takes about thirty minutes total the entire season. I never get critters - partly due to my dog patrolling the area. I start with cardboard on the bottom, then tree branches, twigs, & stumps. Next I fill with my compost, then fill dirt, & the top 18" is an all purpose potting soil. This year my dog decided to jump up and get comfy all over my onions. She flattened them, and the growth of the bulb stopped. She's never done that before, and the beds being so tall, I never would have thought she'd try. : / That's my pest problem this year. Gertie. I left them in the ground to see how they'll do, but should prob go ahead and harvest. One thing new I learned! My zucchini and cucumbers were FULL of blossoms but not producing fruit. When they're not getting enough water, they'll start only producing male flowers. Now that I'm watering more often, they're producing! So happy! Have a wonderful August, Karen!
I love, love the name Gertie! ~ karen
Thank you Kelly. I think that is the problem with my squash, zuchinni, and cucumbers!
Not enough water, as I seem to have abundant male blossoms everywhere, but no female. I will give your info a try and see where it gets me.
Your garden is beautiful no matter what the challenges are. You succeed. Thank you for sharing, I love to read you.
Thanks Linda! Cottage garden post coming up next! ~ karen
I have had some issues this year, and Japanese beetles are eating my beautiful petunias, but I do have an issue unrelated to your beautiful garden. I was suprised when I clicked and saw the new format. I tried to subscribe so thst I am sure to get notice of new posts, because it is kind of hard to tell what is new now, and it keeps saying oops try again later. It won't let me subscribe.
Hi Renee! Were you ever able to subscribe? I just sent you a reconfirmation to subscribe to your email. ~ karen!
No I just tried again, and it says Oops something went wrong try again later.
What a beautiful, helpful blog post. THANK YOU! Live in downtown TO and want to just sit in your garden and hear the crickets. So beautiful!
That's what I go there for too, lol. The sounds and the calm. ~ karen!
AlwYs enjoy your gardening posts. Think I have volunteer lime zinnias from your last summer mailing. Also had grown amaranth last year from your suggestion and, holy cow, it’s all over this year. That’s a money saver!
You only need to grow Amaranth once, lol. ~ karen!
This growing season has certainly had it's challenges here too. But, as you say, there is still a lot of bounty. I think by early June I realized there was no way I could keep up with everything then went into triage mode - weeding out undesirables as they started to bloom rather than getting them earlier and smaller. Just letting the self seeded calendula and borage (and dill, cilantro and orach) go nuts in the bare patches made the garden look tended where it actually wasn't. It's kind of pretty in its own unruly way.
I know a local new seed grower here on the Saugeen/Bruce Peninsula who has Biquino seeds if you'd like to grow them next season - Franken Farm. I got mine started late but have a few in pots - hoping to overwinter at least one for a jump start next year.
Already planning for next year...
Oh thanks Erin! I'll get them ordered now if I can. ~ karen!
Karen, your helpful tips allowed me to enjoy more successful garden this spring. Thank you! I live in Kansas, which is 5a. Seeds seem to germinate well and grow plant portion, but I have issue with beets and carrots, cabbage and broccoli finishing the maturing portion. They leaf out well and look healthy, they grow beets, carrots and cabbage, but never get very large at all. I grew Danvers half long, Nannets, and tendersweet carrots and bulls blood beets this season. Carrots never get bigger than length of my hand or more than pencil width. Beets are barely 1/2 inch across. Red cabbage formed heads, but stopped growth at the softball size. Broccoli and cauliflower did a bit better, but when the 100 daytime and 80 overnight temps kicked in mid July everything bolted or just stopped heading, or growing underground.
Your August posting indicates that your cabbage, beets and, carrots are still growing. Our temps hit 100 daytime and never fell below 80 overnight for the last 3 weeks. I resorted to using a weak version of miracle grow once a month to help. It appears to push leaf and vine growth, but not the plant produce growth.
Any suggestions as to what I need to change?
Your blog enabled the garden successes I enjoyed this year. Thank you. Now I am greedy and want a real harvest I can be proud of!
HI AJ! It's hard to say without seeing exactly what's going on but not producing large "fruit" comes down to 3 things. Sun, water and nutrition. But in your case it could also just be too hot for the plants. All the plants you're talking about are ones that typically can tolerate a lower amount of sun than other vegetables. So it probably isn't sun unless your beds aren't getting 6 hours of sun. That leaves water and nutrition. So either your soil is depleted and adding compost will help or you need to up your watering game. Especially in that kind of heat. Sorr these are just guesses based on what you've described. ~ karen!
They are good guesses and ones that I have pondered. My garden does receive 6 hours a day and I fertilize once a month, as well as add compost. I think water may be the culprit. I am testing that theory this week. I also think that I am planting those cold weather items to late in spring. Ground here in 5a is still frozen for most of march. April planting is as early as one can consider, and even then we can have several below freezing dates until Mothers Day. It is certainly frustrating, but your kind comments and helpful tips are of great use and inspiration.
Anybody out there have advice to dealing with fungal flys related to indoor seed starting and general plant/veggie growing?
I can keep it to a dull roar with the yellow sticky strips and watering with mosquito bits. There has to be a better option. Have tried several local potting mixes and a bit of compost, but found most bags are filled with the flys. Tried soaking contents in mosquito bits before planting. Helps in a minor way. I know only female flys are attracted to sticky strips and only larvae stopped by mosquito water. This problem never seems to end. I need to solid solution to completely irradiate the menace.
Trying to accomplish indoor growing and seedling starts with as few "special" items as possible to keep cost down.
I am at a loss and looking for any sage advice anyone can offer.
Thank you to all