You have to have a fairly robust, let’s say earthy, sense of humour if you’re going to have a kitchen garden or allotment – there are so many things that can go wrong, and it changes every year. You win some, you lose some, so it’s best to take it all in your stride and have a bit of a laugh at it. Here’s the Golightly Gardens comedy of errors for 2016 so far.
Enjoy. You might also have a ‘so glad it wasn’t just me‘ moment or two… Let’s divide it up into environmental factors and human error, shall we?
Welcome to Rainville
The main problem this year has undoubtedly been the exceptionally dark, cold, rainy and windy weather. Seedlings found it difficult to get started even on warm windowsills because the overcast skies went on for days and weeks on end, blocking out too much of the light. Outdoor sowings were rained on so much that many seeds rotted in their pots, and the prolonged lack of warmth meant that seedlings such as cucumbers and courgettes didn’t grow much at all for several weeks.
There has been some impressively poor germination this year. In particular it’s affected a lot of salads, the Yellow Tumbling Tom tomatoes (only one vaguely healthy seedling out of six fresh seeds sown – a frankly pathetic turnout) and the French beans which needed three sowings in situ before they finally ‘took’. Bah! Next year I’ll find a different yellow tomato to grow, buy all my salad seeds in fresh, and give the beans a headstart by growing them indoors instead. Lesson well and truly learned.
We had a couple of late frosts and some extra late hailstorms in the neighbourhood as well, which finished off nearly all the blossom on the cherry tree here in addition to causing general havoc to smaller plants. The cherry tree has had a particularly bad year: losing most of its blossom and producing hardly any fruit, getting its leaves badly chewed by leaf miners of some sort, and the remaining 10 fruits or so mostly being infested by some kind of maggot or larva. We got three edible cherries off it in the end, I think. To top it all off, the leading branch at the top of the trunk was snapped off during very high winds, so that will make for a very strange bit of winter pruning later in the year in the vain hope of keeping it growing in an attractive shape.
The sudden heatwave in late June threw the garden into disarray too. Although I managed to keep on top of the watering, the freakishly quick move to bright sunshine and scorching hot weather made most of the lettuces and other salad leaves bolt. The heat also cooked the last few ripening strawberries and some of the non-bolting salads where they stood, pretty much hastening the end of those crops. Maybe I’ll look into some kind of shade netting for next year. Maybe.
Most of what survived the heatwave is currently up and running and doing quite well, although we could now be heading for a glut of French beans, Marketmore cucumbers and Tromboncino courgettes and not much else…
ASBO Kitty and friends strike again…
Every year brings its own unique blend of pests and diseases, and 2016 was no exception. I caught ASBO Kitty three times trying to dig up a butterbush squash at the roots, and though I managed to revive it there’s only one viable butternut squash on the vine now so that’s not great. Something else cat-shaped happened too – I thought I’d spotted ASBO Kitty digging up some of the courgettes and tomatillos as well, but on closer inspection it turned out to be a different stripy cat that lives further up the street. This MiniMe ASBO (like Tickle Me Elmo but considerably less cute) was unceremoniously chased off the premises and has not been silly enough to come back for round two, but it did manage to kill one of the four tomatillos before it fled.
Note to self – more cat-proofing measures required.
It’s been an especially bad year for slugs and snails, in spite of using nematodes and organic slug pellets. I keep finding big brown slugs under most plants, and the snails have even climbed right to the tops of the bean poles and the cherry tree for their snack attacks, plus the entire load of marigold seedlings planted in the soil around the garden pretty much disappeared overnight. So much for companion planting, eh? Next year I’ll have to start them off a couple of weeks earlier then grow them on a bit longer in their pots so the stems are harder to chew. Ewwww.
The worst mess of all was caused by snails getting into the greenhouse and mowing down pretty much all of my brassica seedlings, including all kinds of cabbages, summer broccoli and kales (see main picture at the top of this post). Noooooooo! A few swear words were sworn. One or two of the brassicas have resprouted due to their amazing regenerative properties so they’ve now been planted out but I’m not sure they’ll give us a crop.
Disease-wise the main problem has been powdery mildew (example above), probably because of the dank conditions. It’s meant using diluted milk spray to stop the spores spreading, moving plants into sunny and ventilated spots where possible, and removing the worst affected leaves to reduce the disease load on the plants and improve the air flow around them. Nothing has died yet, but it’s definitely reduced the yield of some of the courgettes and cucumbers to almost zero, including ones that are allegedly able to resist the spores.
Mea culpa, kitchen garden
Now it’s time to move on to human error, starting with assorted mistakes and then touching upon general sloth. The biggest mistake I made was rushing through the weeding too quickly, leading to me uprooting a French bean plant instead of a weed. Yep, after all that hard work getting the little blighters started in the first place. Aaargh.
I also stepped backwards onto a cucumber seedling while weeding another part of the plot, partly crushing the main stem. It’s recovered by sideshooting from other points on the stem but it was touch and go for a month or so. The worst part was probably that I apologised to the plant out loud and now cringe at the thought that one of more of my neighbours might have heard me say “Oooooh, sorry, little cucumber.” I mean, seriously. Good thing plants can’t talk back.
The other real epic fail was a moment of pure Lazy Gardener / Forgetful Gardener. I completely forgot to sow any sprouting broccoli or Brussels sprouts seeds in May, June or July, which has messed up my winter gardening plan and probably Christmas lunch as well. There’s almost nothing left in the budget so buying ready-grown replacement plants isn’t an option and I guess it’s an old fashioned case of sucking it up.
Next year I vow to add an alert to my diary so there’s no excuse. It’s a lesson learned, rather than an unavoidable bugbear but for now I’m just settling for a wry smile. Can’t win them all.
Have you had any epic gardening fails so far this year? Come on, share the news!