Story last updated at 9/5/2012 - 1:15 pm
Along with the growth of plants, some growth in knowledge should take place each gardening season as we strive to improve our garden's health and productivity. Why does my zucchini keep rotting on the ends at five inches long? What made all the leaves on the cucumbers turn yellow, and so forth.
One must consider multiple factors that ultimately play into the health of a plant such as soil condition, air circulation, moisture, nutrients, sunlight, heat, humidity, insect pests and plant diseases to name a few. Perhaps that particular plant is more suitable to a different latitude.
When things go wrong, it's great to actually pinpoint the reason rather than just saying it was a bad year for turnips, but when plants flourish, it can also be very helpful to remember to take note of the conditions and strategies, which supported that productivity. I keep a detailed journal of seed starting dates and other relevant data at the beginning of the growing season and although posts do seem to decline in proportion to the time spent tending plants, any notes can be useful for future reference.
I was recently pleased to learn about other gardening enthusiasts on Prince of Wales Island that like to visit each other's gardens and greenhouses for a show and tell of personal horticultural experiences in our temperate rainforest climate. As I showed them around my indoor and outdoor gardens, it challenged me to take a closer look at my own success rate. Some plants were admittedly embarrassing while others displayed strong health and vigor.
Nearby neighbors were more than happy to share a tour of their greenhouse with interested gardeners. We were delighted to see it was full of healthy, lush, green tomato plants loaded with fruit. The prosperous cucumbers had already yielded several quarts of pickles. Questions and ideas were exchanged in heated discussions. I think we all left with at least a few new facts, tips and tricks about plant care and a sense that there are many workable ways to achieve the same end.
Once major harvesting begins, it's even more difficult to find the time to write notes. Now, not only do we spend time tending the plants but also picking the bounty and processing it. This also competes with fishing and blueberry picking.
Luckily, some plants are easy to grow and process like rhubarb, potatoes, raspberries and strawberries. They grow outside, they love water and processing for storage is quick and easy. Potatoes can simply be cleaned off (not washed) and stored in a cool, dark, dry, well-ventilated place. Spread the berries in one layer on a cookie sheet and freeze, then bag up and return to the freezer. Since they are frozen individually, small amounts can be removed whenever needed. I prefer freezing rather then canning, mostly since it just seems easier and the freezer is running anyway.
Tomatoes take a bit more time to cook into a sauce for freezing. Cucumbers need to be thinly sliced along with onions for my pickle recipe, then there's the mixing in other ingredients, waiting, stirring and eventually packing into freezer boxes. Where does the time go when you start these projects?
Green beans, beets and peas take time to harvest, then trim or shell, blanche, chill, dry and seal in proper serving sizes. Oregano, basil and parsley are constantly begging for harvest and often start flowering just to prove it.
As we assess our gardens this summer, many resources are available to help answer our puzzling questions. University Extension Cooperative Services in Alaska and other northwest states offer free publications, many online, about everything from developing soil, best plants for northern climates, typical plant problems and solutions, homemade fertilizers and preservation by canning, freezing and drying.
There are organic gardening books and magazines along with sources like Seed Savers Exchange (www.seedsavers.org), a non-profit organization committed to collecting, conserving and sharing heirloom seeds and educating people about the value of genetic diversity. After using popular hybrid seeds for years from the huge corporations that sell most seeds, I've been very impressed with the success of the heirloom plants I've been growing and feel it's important to keep these varieties from disappearing.
So what have I learned this year? Grow fewer plants in larger containers in my solarium, quit trying to grow broccoli in the greenhouse (unless it is a totally rainy summer, which of course I don't know until it is too late) and look into that electric fence for slugs.