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Staples – Epic Fail

September 14, 2012

Idecided to post two good gardening posts before posting about the dismal part of the garden this year.  Probably the hardest thing for new gardeners to wrap their minds around is that in gardening circles, there is always a good year for something.  It may not be what you have planned, but there will be good and bad in the garden, no matter how long you have been at it, or how smug you become ;)

Part of this newbie thing I lay blame at modern life’s door.  We live in an on-demand society, when you go to the store the food is there, uniform, unblemished and fairly inexpensive when you really think about how hard it is to grow perfect looking food and transport it.  What you don’t see at the store is crop failure from disease, weather and a myriad of other causes, the farmer absorbs a lot of that.  You need potatoes for a potato salad on Saturday and the grocery store will have a bin of waxy red or yellow potatoes just waiting for you to come along.  If you’re like me and you want to grow what you eat and eat whatever the garden gives you, you may find yourself SOL once in a while.  The home gardener absorbs the mistakes and blemishes like the farmer.

Romanze and Purple Viking potatoes 2012

This year I have had crop failure (or close to it) on potatoes, storage onions, and rutabagas.  Seriously, who cares?  That’s Gramma food.  I care!  I’m in competition with myself, if I have a lettuce failure it wouldn’t even be worth writing about, but a high calorie, easy storing crop like potatoes.  Ouch!

On the potatoes I always hedge my bets and order certified seed to go along with my homegrown seed.  In the photo above, the lush green potato row on the left is from our seed potatoes, and the three rows to the right are certified seed.  :(  Two different varieties, homegrown vs. purchased, same weather for grow-out.  The Purple Viking which was purchased fizzled out pretty early in the game, with slow growth and very poor yield.  In all I harvested only 125 pounds of potatoes where four rows this size of these varieties would have yielded closer to 400 pounds.  I gave away more than 125 pound of potatoes last year!  So whats that mean?  It means right now I’m eating hash browned zucchini for breakfast instead of potatoes.  There is always a bounty in the garden, we just need to adjust our tastes and habits to match the harvest or lack thereof.

I can only blame the onion failure on myself, Walla Wallas and Red Long of Tropea planted in the greenhouse got the attention that they needed, and the poor old Stuttgart sets that I champion so much, got short shrift in the garden.  Even though I followed my own rules of planting things that need water close to the water source, I failed to water them.  Good intentions, bad gardener!

Rutabagas, I have no idea what went on there, a new variety to me, bolted right out of the gate.  That I can blame on the seed saver, but my own seeds yielded rutabagas that the flea beetles almost decimated.  A few may make it, but I’m not holding my breath.

Other flubs this year included my big fat sheet mulching experiment :(  More good intentions, but the cool wet spring delayed the decomposition of the sheet mulch and in the meantime the sheet mulch made a wonderful home for slugs and voles.  I have to say the sheet mulch this time was as discouraging as the seven-foot tall rye cover crop a few years ago.  Sigh.  Next year.  Watching that fiasco unfold though showed me a few things I could do differently…sheet mulching isn’t off the table yet.  Stay tuned.

With the cool weather we’ve had a bumper crop year for brassicas, and all the other crops are doing well, even the corn which I pretty much turned my back on throughout the summer.  I didn’t plant enough to freeze but we’ll get a few meals of fresh corn anyway, and the flint corn is doing its thing chugging away getting ripe.

I can’t say it’s the best year for bumper crops, but many crops are doing great and making up for the others that haven’t fared so well, the freezers and canning shelves are starting to groan.  A diverse garden plan is the best crop insurance.  Others think so too, here is another perspective from a midwest farmer.

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25 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2012 3:10 pm

    Thanks for sharing that article, I loved it. I can’t imagine farming without diversification and when you look at it this way, crop insurance sounds almost like welfare or unemployment…

    It’s nice to know that no matter how long I’ve been doing this I’m going to fail and succeed for no reason of mine, and it sucks to know that no matter how long I’ve been doing this I’m going to fail and succeed for no reason of mine.

    … cracked me up about the hash browned zucchini especially since I’ve had sauteed zucchini myself for at least one meal every day since I couldn’t tell you when…

    Amazingly, I’m not tired of it yet, but I suspect those gallon freezer bags filled with zucchini will be the last to get eaten this winter…

    • September 14, 2012 3:20 pm

      AMF, that guy was cutie, and his crops looked pretty good too. I saw some video about a dairy farm selling out last week and they said the system failed them? Apparently it rained as they were auctioning off their cattle. They were in Missouri, and experiencing the drought. I felt bad, but wondered how Cody Holmes and Greg Judy were faring with their cattle in Missouri. I imagine things were working out a little differently for them…

      We eat zucchini when it’s fresh and then keep the big ones and eat on them until they’re gone.

      Look at Sadge’s take on zucchini:

      http://firesignfarm.blogspot.com/2012/03/last-zucchini.html

      • September 14, 2012 4:00 pm

        It’s hard to say about Missouri – I’d love to know more about how Greg Judy and Cody Holmes did now that you mention it. I’ve been wondering about farming as a means of managing drought for a long time. The pictures I’ve seen looked heartbreaking and as stretched as dairy farmers already are, I don’t know how they’ll buy hay – I’m still in shock at how expensive it is here and I’m sure it’s twice as much there.

        I saw truckloads on the highway headed west all summer. .. what will be left to eat in the winter? I pray for a mild one…

        That was a great post about zucchini – I have a laundry basket full I may just see how far I can nurse along this winter. What I really need is a pair of pigs to gobble them up : )

        I have to admit the sight of the muffins about did me in – I don’t think I could choke down another zucchini or cantaloupe bread, muffin or cake for a very long time…

        • September 14, 2012 4:28 pm

          AMF, it is hard to say about Missouri, since it may very well have as many different climates within the state like Oregon and Washington, we get 100+ inches of rain per year and 60 miles away it drops to 12 inches. I do know Cody has a dairy herd that are managed different than his beef herd. I’m sure we’ll hear soon enough how they fared. I am glad we don’t buy hay, I may buy some candy hay for Jane but not too much. I couldn’t imagine having to fill the barn with that expensive stuff. I also hate to see good hay from the states being exported…

          I’ve never been a fan of zucchini bread and we don’t too many baked goods anymore, so I’m safe in that regard. Although I made a pound cake today since I have lots of sour cream, eggs and butter right now. It’s been hot enough that the blackberries are scenting the air and smell like a blackberry pie. I think some of those fragrant berries would be pretty good on that pound cake. :P

          http://www.goodstuffnw.com/2012/09/luscious-pound-cake-yes-please.html

          I’m curious, how do you use a gallon bag of anything? Especially zucchini?

        • September 14, 2012 5:34 pm

          That’s funny – you wonder what I do with a gallon of zucchini and I wonder what you do with all those veggies you grow. You could solve the food desert problem for at least one city all by yourself, lol.

          Ratatouille. I fill each bag with the amount called for in the recipe. When I make a batch of rat, I eat about half and freeze the other half.

          It’s been so miserably hot here this summer I didn’t want to have the oven on or boil the water for canning it so I prepped the ingredients and froze them instead so I can make the ratatouille later.

          That pound cake and ripe blackberries sounds pretty yummy – maybe with a big heap of whipped cream since you’ve got a glut of that too?

        • September 14, 2012 7:38 pm

          AMF, it’s surprising how many vegetables you can go through when you eat every meal at home 365 days a year. Ahh the rat makes sense, my neighbor makes gallons of it, but our season is late here, late August and September is High Canning Season here. I didn’t coin that phrase, it’s from Hickery Holler. I want to be able to garden like they do when I grow up!

          http://hickeryhollerfarm.blogspot.com/p/vegetable-garden.html

          I’m thinking ice cream because that’s where the cream went yesterday :)

        • September 15, 2012 2:34 am

          Holy wow that’s some garden…

        • September 15, 2012 5:32 am

          Aren’t they beautiful!

          And on another note – you could pressure can your rat, it’s faster and won’t heat up the house so much ;)

        • September 15, 2012 8:45 am

          “It may not be what you have planned, but there will be good and bad in the garden, no matter how long you have been at it, or how smug you become ” Wiser words never spoken! Hickery Holler checking in here and thanking you for the kind words. In answer to your Missouri questions last year we had hay stolen from the fields before it could be stored. It was being shipped to drought ravaged Texas and sold for phenomenal amounts. This year there is no hay to steal. Lots of herds are being sold because of a lack of hay and with corn crop failures they are unable to afford the feed to carry them through even a mild winter. Rains from hurricane Isaac have helped but what we need is a good heavy snowfall this winter to bring our soil moisture levels back up to normal. This would be catastrophic I am afraid for
          cattle owners. This is why we raise small animals for our meat such as chickens, rabbits and the occasional pig. Venison is killed every year with the occasional beef bought from a neighbor farmer. Matron of Husbandry I do have a major case of milk cow envy going on though : )

  2. September 14, 2012 7:30 pm

    Carol Deppe, who authored The Resilient Gardener, reported that the way folks made it through the Little Ice Age, which started somewhere in the middle ages and didn’t end until the mid-1850s, made it because of high crop diversity. Aside from the obvious observation that some crops may fare better than others in the same growing condition so crop diversity provides some sort of insurance, there’s also the possibility that crops do better when many are grown together because of companion planting-like benefits.

    All I know is that my garden did not do well this summer and I hope the fall and winter garden I planted does better, and that I can’t wait to incorporate some animals into my backyard to raise my soil fertility. That, and the fact that they can eat what I can’t and still turn it into food!

  3. September 14, 2012 11:05 pm

    I think this year more than any shows the practicalities of a diverse garden as you mention. I did without the courgette (zucchini) this year as we have overdosed on it in the past. I am regretting it now as we now have chickens that could have mopped up the surplus. I was about to give up on peas, as they rarely do well here in Latvia, but gave them one more shot this year, with a couple of new varieties as well and it paid off as it was definitely a year for peas and not quite so many pea moth grubs this time around (by the way if anyone has an inexpensive way to keep them at bay I will be interested – pheromone traps are rather expensive). Like you brassicas are doing well this year and I am at least getting some broccoli to freeze, beyond the one bag we normally get. The only trouble we are having is keeping the snails off them – slugs we do have, but not many, perhaps they don’t survive the cold winters we have? One surprise is the carrots, it has been a mixed bag for all the varieties I have planted, some of them are absolutely huge and some still small. I have pulled the huge ones to give some room for the smaller ones and hope they may catch up a bit. We’ll see! Onions did okay if they didn’t succumb to rust, the oats did succumb and we lost the lot, but the clover underneath it is fine. The buckwheat we are bringing in now, not as tall as last year but at least it has grown and set seed. All I need now for future years is a small scale thresher and winnower. So you win some, you lose some as you said!

  4. September 15, 2012 3:19 am

    Here was massive failure of cukes and squashes. Still not sure why. And the best year in 20 years for broccoli. Swimming in a kale forest but the storage onions did poorly, planted right next to the Walla Wallas that were superb. You just never know….

    Potatoes did ok, had flea beetle issues. I’m in Western Mass.

  5. Mich permalink
    September 15, 2012 8:55 am

    Well 2012 will be the year of the slug; they ate every single carrot seedling that came up…again & again & again.
    Dont think I have ever experienced a year like it…zero carrots to pull up from the garden :( I missed my carrots, but on a bright note.. beans I have so many beans!

    • September 17, 2012 3:47 pm

      Slugs did the same thing to my first planting of carrots, and probably last year as well. Beans did well here too.

  6. bunkie permalink
    September 15, 2012 9:46 am

    moh, how did your turnip (i think it was) transplants work out?

    • September 15, 2012 10:04 am

      bunkie, it worked out great – extra work in the beginning, seeding in cells and then carefully planting. But I didn’t have to remove the row cover to thin. So I would say success!

  7. September 15, 2012 3:08 pm

    It is heartening to see garden gurus like yourself write about failures. I have found that every year there is something that one counts on that fails, and something one does not count on at all that does surprisingly well. And this seems to be area-wide. Some years the conditions, somehow are great for squash, and so on. But I am concerned with the failure of the certified seeds. Interestingly, in the “reality show” book “My Empire of Dirt”, which is quite funny if you don’t take it seriously, the potato harvest fails too, and it was certified yadayada. Makes you wonder. Speaking of which: every year the volunteers seem to do
    better than the planted ones. I am experimenting with fall planting spuds this year. Anyone else? Southern Interior of B.C., zone 5.

    • September 15, 2012 3:40 pm

      Len, ahh the story of a gardeners life :)

      I would love to try it if I could keep the voles out for the winter and find someway to keep the spuds reasonably dry…we’re too wet here :( I think it’s a pretty popular practice in the South.

      • September 16, 2012 8:57 am

        Oh gosh, the voles……they have not been as bad this year and I forgot they might just eat the spuds. And I would have to mulch heavily. Hmm. I will just do a few as an experiment. In 2010 I had a disastrous year, vole-wise. Poignant pictures here:

        http://kootenaygarden.blogspot.ca/2010/08/growing-food-bottom-line.html

        • September 16, 2012 9:06 am

          Len, Ack!! I have had years like that too – they especially love the carrots and beets. One year they were so bad they gnawed on all the sweet meat squashes. The squash healed over but it is sure disheartening after all the work. :( Buckets maybe? That would be vole proof… I’ve been thinking of that myself, and I could easily move them if I had to bring them in for freezing protection.

  8. bethany permalink
    September 17, 2012 10:06 am

    My experiences were very similar this summer (not shocking considering that I’m dryland gardening on the north Olympic peninsula). Purple viking certified seed potatoes were pretty much a complete fail, luckily the german butterballs from last year did great. Stuttgarter sets were disappointing, but the Copra starts that I’ve relied on previously were also middling. On the list of surprising successes, I tried cheddar cauliflower for the first time and was thrilled. Thanks for that tip!

    • September 17, 2012 10:25 am

      Bethany, where did you get your PV seed potatoes? Mine came from Fedco by way of Colorado. My Stuttgarter onions will maybe last until November if I’m lucky. Walla Walla plants from the feedstore did well, as did my Red Long of Tropea I started from seed. Unfortunately to keep those going I am going to have to process them in some way instead of relying on my storage onions for convenience. :(

      Romanze potato was my star, no seed was available for purchase this year but I had saved some and they are very productive, although a little iffy because they are so long season. I suspect blight got the Romanze seed potatoes last year. You can bet I’m saving those again!

  9. September 17, 2012 3:53 pm

    Regarding voles: an even greater heartbreak was the way they damaged my beans and peas. At least with the root crops they eat them. I don’t like it, but I understand. But with the legumes they just chew through the base of the vines. So I’d have this gorgeous stand of flowering peas, and start finding wilted vines. Follow the stem to the bottom and it is dangling in air, separated from its root. Such a waste! I created bastions for root crops, but the vines are defenseless. It was a much better year this year. They are related to lemmings, so their population fluctuates. This is the first year in a few that I have had green beans for the freezer and plenty to eat.

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