This year has probably been one of my hardest years when it came to growing crops. Why was it hard you ask? Well, I hardly grew any! You see, in the spring I decided to take on a giant garden project. I tore down my entire vegetable garden, so I could rebuild. I have to deal with very rocky ground soil, so I grow in raised garden beds and containers. Starting over means, bigger, better and sturdier. I'm striving for a stronger and smarter design which means a garden structure that will hold up to harsh weather conditions and keep critters out. In the meantime though, I ended up in what I call gardening limbo. I have no place to grow, no crops to harvest and an overwhelming amount of work to get done. Trust me when I say, this is not a fun place to be. I'm basically starting from scratch and taking it one day at a time.
I did, however, get to travel this summer. Attending the vegetable trials in California, thanks to The National Garden Bureau, filled me to the brim with ideas. The veggie trials were full of inspiration at every turn, new varieties in every field and educational opportunities in each conversation had. It was almost as if one of the many palm trees I stood under dropped a metaphorical coconut on my head. Just because you don't have your usual growing space now, doesn't mean you can't plan for it next year! California basically told me, "Here's your guide right in front of you, Angie." Take notes, gather pictures and plan for the future.
So, therefore, I am starting at square one. I almost feel like a beginner again. This can be extremely exciting, but also very daunting. As I scroll through Instagram looking at all the crops being harvested by my gardening pals, I can't help but get a little forlorn about what I don't have. I need to keep the volume up of that positive voice in my head reminding me "It's coming Angie! It just takes time, and this will all be worth it." So here is an outline of how I plan to make next year my best gardening year ever. Stay tuned, because it's happening.
Garden inspiration - Photo by Niki Jabbour of Savvy Gardening
Aim For Success
When you are a consumer, you want to taste a delicious tomato. When you are a grower, you want to take that one step further. You want a tomato that is both delicious and disease resistant. Pests and disease can halt your harvests before they make their way into your kitchen. The flavor doesn't really matter if you can't enjoy that end product. The veggie trials really showed me just how many plants are bred to be resistant to pests and disease. This can stop a problem before it even starts. A smart move in my book!
Take tomatoes for example. You can choose tomatoes bred specifically to have a high disease resistance to a particular strain. You just need to do some research before you choose your variety. 'Carolina Gold', 'Mountain Spring' & 'Bobcat' are three varieties of Beefsteak tomatoes that are resistant to Fusarium wilt (F. oxysporum f. sp. lycopersici). This common fungal disease causes yellowing and drooping on one side of the plant. Before you know it, you have stunted plants, leaf wilting and the worst of all, lack of fruit production. This can really discourage you as a gardener, making you feel as if you have done something wrong. The truth is, even the most experienced gardeners deal with these problems.
Purchasing plants that are resistant to these diseases can make a huge difference. You can also grow varieties that do well in your area. If you live in the Southeast, the 'Carolina Gold' Beefsteak tomato grows well. If you live in the Northeast, Carolinas or the Midwest you may want to choose the 'Mountain Spring' Beefsteak tomato. If you live in the Western US, you may consider growing the 'Bobcat' Beefsteak tomato. Remember that every plant can adapt to all regions, but you can always take that extra step of considering regional recommendations.
Make sure you take advantage of all the hard work these passionate growers and vegetable breeding companies continually do for us. They are constantly finding the very best varieties that are stronger, more disease resistant and give us gardeners the best results.
Try Something New
If you have a vegetable garden, chances are you have grown a pepper before. All peppers are not the same, so you can keep on trying a different type or variety from a large list. There are ornamental peppers, sweet peppers, bell pepper, spicy peppers and the peppers that are so spicy they make you say absolutely not. The point is, there is most likely always a new variety of pepper to try growing! It's really great to experiment when you have a garden.
During the Veggie Trials, I discovered a pepper variety called 'Mad Hatter'. It is a 2017 All-American Selections winner! If a vegetable or flower is an AAS winner, it means it has proved it's superior garden performance. Any winner chosen has been bred or produced without genetic engineering. I was lucky enough to view this pepper up close at the PanAmerican Seed vegetable trials. This pepper is sweet with a citrusy floral flavor. It boasts high yields and grows vigorously maturing in 65 to 70 days. It instantly made me excited about growing peppers. I think that's what gardening is all about. That feeling you get when a vegetable really piques your interest. It really fuels you to do better, work harder and keep on trying new things.
I also discovered a very unique variety of plant called ptilotus that is entered in this year's 2017 All-American Selections ornamental seed trial. The ptilotus is a new genus from Australia. This flower likes hot and dry weather, so it's perfect for areas that experience drought. It has a definite exotic look that will stand out in any garden or container.
Order Your Seeds Early
Certain crops like broccoli, eggplants and melons can all be started early indoors. It's important to get a jump start by ordering your seeds early. Be prepared by picking out varieties over the winter so you know exactly what you want to order and where you can find it. I'm starting to make my list of varieties to start indoors now. One variety of melon I'm looking to get is the 'Infinite Gold' hybrid cantaloupe.
The 'Infinite Gold' cantaloupe has strong vines, uniform size/shape and high yield potential. We were lucky enough to try this at the Sakata vegetable trials. The fruit itself is aromatic, deep orange and has the highest score ever achieved on the Brix scale. We were able to measure it for ourselves. That was a really cool moment. It hits an astonishing 15 on the scale!
Another melon I'm looking forward to starting from seed is called 'Athena'. This cantaloupe matures in around 75 days and weighs 5 to 6 pounds. We were able to taste test it when we visited the Syngenta vegetable trials in Gilroy, California. We learned that they are best picked at full slip for quality and flavor. It is a disease resistant hybrid that keeps the vine producing all season long.
Do Your Research
It's important to take note now of seed starting dates and frost dates. Mark your calendar so you don't forget when to get things started! For example, starting tomatoes from seed can cause a bit of a time crunch when you have a short growing season. It's very important that if I want to grow certain varieties, I start them indoors early under grow lights. I fell in love with the All-American Selections winner 'Chef's Choice Orange' tomato at the Seeds By Design vegetable trials in Maxwell, California.
If I want to grow this delicious tomato successfully in my gardening zone, I should be starting seeds indoors around March 10th. I know it seems pretty early on paper, but these seedlings need around 8 weeks indoors before they are transplanted outside. Not to mention, you need to harden off your seeds, so allow ample time for your crops so they can fully thrive. Since I've researched this tomato before I've decided to plant it, I'm prepared. Hopefully, I can enjoy them next summer. It's worth doing your research early. That way you can grow your top choices, like 'Chef's Choice'!
Keep On Learning As You Go
There are so many different varieties of vegetables with different flavors, shapes and sizes to suit your needs. Keep on researching and learning as you go. When visiting the HM CLAUSE veggie trials, I discovered the saladette tomato. I've grown cherry tomatoes perfect for snacking, beefsteak tomatoes perfect for sandwiches and roma tomatoes perfect for sauces and canning. I've never really ventured into knowingly growing any saladette tomatoes.
I can't wait to try growing 'Pony Express' and the 'Pegaso' tomato. Keep looking and exploring. There is always a new lesson to be learned at every garden center you visit and with every growing professional you meet.
How you plan your next year's garden is all up to you. You can create your own schedule and go at your own pace. Do a little bit of work or research whenever inspiration hits! Continue to learn about varieties, create a growing calendar, order seeds early and start your seeds indoors.
The most important thing to remember is to have fun. This can easily be forgotten when you are a perfectionist like me, but make sure to relax and plant what you want to plant. Your garden is for you at the end of the day and no one else. Don't grow some fancy variety just to impress someone else. It's not enjoyable if you get caught up in what everyone else thinks. I don't grow cucamelons because they are trendy. I grow them because my ducks go absolutely nuts for them! Don't lose sight of that as you go along. That's one of the most important lessons I've learned in the past six years of growing and harvesting my own vegetables.
Thank you so much for enjoying our bi-weekly blog series Tuesday's In The Garden this season! It's been a pleasure linking up posts with some of my favorite and truly talented garden bloggers out there. Thank you all for stopping in, leaving your comments and sharing gardening tips with us!
Are you planning on growing a vegetable garden next year? Are there any new varieties you are excited to grow? Tell me all about it in the comment section below and happy growing!