Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson, Kim Palmer and Mary Jane Smetanka are dishin' the dirt from the back-yard garden and beyond. Whether you're a greenthumb or greenhorn, they're eager to learn from your mishaps, mistakes - and most importantly, your sweet successes - all growing season long.
I visited Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis this morning, one of the oldest community gardens in the nation. In a couple of weeks gardeners there will celebrate the 70th anniversity of what began as a World War II Victory Garden. As I wandered through a jungle of green — it is inspiring just to visit — I noticed a few things.
Cherry tomatoes are ripe, but the big ones are just turning. Gardeners were complaining about poor garlic, but kale was running wild. And plants like rhubarb and hops, which don’t seem to care much about the weather, are doing just fine.
Let's face it -- with vacations, camps, activities, reunions and now school on the horizon, summer gets out of control. And when you're feeling like life is out of control, chances are the garden isn't far behind.
From a distance, my garden looks amazing: The plants are big, green and lush. But get a little closer and you'll see that there's a turf war going on. The tomatoes grew bigger than I thought they would and now overshadow the banana peppers, which can barely get enough light to grow. (Yes, I've pruned my tomatoes, but they are unstoppable.)
On the other end, the cucumbers are taking on a life of their own by attaching themselves to everything around them, already snuffing out a couple of bell pepper plants and a sunflower. The least they could do is bear fruit,
On the fruit side of the garden, a cantelope plant is trailing nicely on a trellis, but has spilled out onto the lawn and is infringing on the strawberries. And everyone knows that strawberries are the definition of mayhem.
Much of this I attribute to novice mistakes:
1. I overplanted. I always figured that the spacing requirements were just guidelines, and since I never had enough faith in my gardening abilities, figured more was always better. Not the case.
2. I didn't make my garden big enough. I didn't want to bite off more than I can chew. Turns out I can chew more than I thought I could.
3. I didn't do my homework. I should have read up on what I wanted to plant and where I should plant them. I went with my heart, and that's never a good idea. I also need to learn how to take care of the plants beyond the basics, and troubleshoot issues like why are my canteloupe leaves are turning white.
4. Thinning really is important. Pulling carrots should be interesting -- they might be braided at this point.
There are so many things to learn, but there are some things going right: there's not a weed to be found in my garden, and I walked back to the house yesterday munching on grape tomatoes that tasted like sunshine.
What are lessons that you've learned along the way?
It wasn't on my bucket list, but I now have firsthand experience with golf-ball-sized hail. I've seen and heard it crashing, held it in my hand -- and witnessed the carnage it can wreak in a garden.
I live in Eden Prairie, where the hail started hammering my house and landscape not long after I got home from work. My husband, who had just left to run an errand, called me with an urgent plea to get the other car into the garage.
I ran outside, ice balls painfully pelting my head and shoulders, and got the car under cover. Back inside, I watched my deck as ice balls and pellets piled up, turning the deck surface as white as a snowstorm. I could see my plants whipping in the wind and driving rain. Two containers blew completely over.
After about 10 minutes, the icy onslaught subsided into softer rain, and I went out to inspect the damage. Wow! At least a dozen tomatoes, in various stages of ripening, were sheared off the plants, sometimes stalk and all.
My giant black elephant ear -- my big splurge of the season -- had lost half its foliage, and what remained was punched so full of holes that the leaves looked like crocheted doilies. My canna were shredded to ribbons. My beets were submerged under a couple inches of standing water. (Apparently the drainage holes I had punched in that big pot were no match for the downpour.)
So much for homegrown tomatoes this year. There are only a few left on the plants, and they're pitted and pocked.
I'll still try to over-winter the elephant ear, but its days as the dramatic focal point of my outdoor "room" are over.
I haven't done a complete inventory of my back-yard garden yet, but I know it's not going to be pretty.
What's a gardener to do after a hailstorm wipes out a growing season's worth of growth?
Here's what plant experts have to say:
Trees and shrubs: These should probably be your first priority. Broken, dangling branches need to be cut off cleanly. Also remove limbs with severe gouges and tears. (Less-serious wounds will probably heal naturally).
Perennials: Damaged plants also need trimming. Unfortunately, the timing of this storm was not good for gardeners. Late-summer hail damage creates problems for plants because some will struggle to produce a new set of leaves, with limited success this late in the season. Damaged plants will be weakened and under stress, making them more susceptible to disease, pests and death. Plants that do sprount new leaves won't have time to harden off before fall, making them more vulnerable to winter kill. You can improve plants' chances by inspecting frequently for signs of pests or disease -- and treating problems promptly. Extra mulch can help protect damaged plants during the winter.
Vegetables: Remove damaged veggies and leaves. It's too late to try planting new tomatoes to replace ones you lost. Better luck next year. Root crops, such as radishes and beets, should survive as long as their tops aren't too badly damaged.
Annuals: These tend to recuperate quickly. Trim them back, fertilize them lightly and give them extra water for a days to promote new growth.
And next spring, when you're surveying those holes in your garden left by hail-damaged plants that died over the winter, consider replacing them with native plants. Because they've adapted to local growing conditions, they're better able to withstand being pelted with hail.
How did your garden hold up last night?
There's an almost-ripe, red tomato about a day away from being ready for my dinner table.
It seems like tomatoes are taking longer than usual to ripen this growing season. Many on my biggest plants have been big but hard and green for weeks. My smaller plants are still a long way from producing edible tomatoes.
I can't help being nostalgic for the weird, crazy growing season of 2010, when I spotted my first green tomato on May 24 and plucked two ripe ones for eating in late June.
This year appears much more typical, with tomatoes starting to ripen in mid-July. (For a calendar of what edibles ripen when in Minnesota, go to: http://www.pickyourown.org/MNharvestcalendar.htm)
Will it be a good year for tomatoes? Or not? So far, I can't tell. My plants look mostly healthy so far, although there are spots on a few leaves, which could hint at end rot to come.
What's going on with your tomatoes this year?
Last night I got my first look at Edible Estate #15 since its installation over Memorial Day weekend.
A lot has changed. The tiny seedlings have blown up into big, beautiful vegetable plants -- more than 100 different crops, if you count color variations. The Schoenherrs' front yard in Woodbury is already producing so much food that the family of four can't eat it all. They're sharing veggies with their neighbors and bringing bags of lettuce to work to give to co-workers. "I don't want another salad for awhile," admitted Catherine Schoenherr.
She's most excited about the bright-purple cauliflower now peeping from its leaves. "We knew it was cauliflower but we didn't know it was purple," she said.
Her husband, John, is experimenting with pestos and juices, and their grown kids, Aaron and Andrea, are making salsa. And they're all trying to figure out what to do with chamomile, besides make tea.
Catherine has organized several "gardening nights" when neighbors are invited to come, pull a few weeds and bring home a bag of produce. And she'd like to plan a sauerkraut-making party later in the season. "We're going to have a ton of cabbage."
The garden is not open to the public, but the public can get a peek starting Aug. 8 at the Walker Art Museum, when it kicks off its Edible Estates exhibit, part of artist Fritz Haeg's residency. (Haeg is the creator of Edible Estates and the designer of the Schoenherrs' new landscape.) You can learn more about Haeg and his vision at: http://www.walkerart.org/magazine/2013/garden-all-seasons
We'll be featuring the Schoenherrs' new landscape in Home + Garden on Aug. 7. So what do you think? Would you want to grow this much food in your own front yard?
|Annuals (48)||Books and resources (8)|
|Chickens (4)||Compost (7)|
|Critters and pests (37)||Farmers markets (10)|
|Flowers (83)||Fruit and berries (33)|
|Grasses (23)||Green gardening (22)|
|Lawn care (21)||Perennials (89)|
|Preserving (8)||Rain gardens (3)|
|Seed starting (11)||Soil prep (12)|
|Tools (7)||Transplanting + dividing (8)|
|Trees (35)||Vegetables (115)|
|Weather (68)||Weeds (21)|
|Weekend chores (55)|