Reflections on the gardening year

winter veg garden

Here is the veggie garden in winter-now asleep

Happy Solstice! Yea-the days get longer now-and here it is the end of the year. As I look at winter, the first two months of winter-November-December are done and only two more months of winter (January-February) to endure. Then its early spring and off to the races! But let’s slow things down a bit. December is a great month to reflect on the gardening season and look at what worked and what didn’t work in the garden during the past year and what I might do differently.

So what worked and what didn’t?

-I only lost 10% of my tomato crops vs. last year’s 50 % tomato crop loss to the dreaded beet leafhopper.  I covered almost all of my tomato plants with row cover from May 15th until the first week of July. The leafhopper leaves when the rainy season comes and this year they hung out till the beginning if July when it started raining. -The downside of this is I really don’t like NOT SEEING my plants hiding under the row cover-I like watching them grow, but that seems to be a tradeoff. Also I want to try to transplant my tomatoes outside earlier than May 15th to try to get tomatoes earlier.

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-Rotating my crops seem to help with diseases. I have everything on a three-year rotation, which is why I made an additional 1000 sq ft section last year, giving me a total of (3) 1000 ft sections.  I move the crops around so they only return to the same section every 3 years. The pumpkins use to have their own additional section in the horse corral but now that I have a horse (Koko), I will put them into the rotation in the main veggie garden since the corral has been reclaimed by Koko.

-Speaking of pumpkins, I need to find a way to keep critters from eating them although it was almost impossiblerabbit damage to keep the rabbits away early in the season when food was hard to find for them-even with 2 fences and row cover over the pumpkins, something ate my prized potential pumpkin plant, so I’ll be thinking on that one a lot more this winter. Plus I want to get the plants outside earlier too if I’m to have a chance to break the state record again…

-I covered my eggplants with row cover for a while this year thereby avoiding the first hail storm’s devastating damage. That first hail storm set back many of my vegetables due to the severe damage by about a month. The downside was aphids found the eggplants underneath the row cover and it was a battle to get rid of them. The aphids also went after the summer squash and peppers with all the rain we got. I controlled them with strong sprays of water on them and insecticidal soap. Also lady bugs appeared and came to the rescue eating many aphids (and I didn’t have to buy them). I think I need to remove the row cover earlier.

The almost finished greenhouse was unbelievably hot last summer-110°F. Too hot to grow anything which was ok as it wasn’t ready anyways. So after I work to button it up this winter, I will have to find ways to cool it down next summer. Still, I have a greenhouse! I’ll take the challenges it will present.

swiss chard hail damage-I have to say I enjoyed all the rain we got after 4 years of an extreme drought. The fruit trees loved all the rain but 2 more hail storms almost wiped out the vegetable crops especially the chard and squash. It was amazing anything survived plus the one week of rain that we got-about 3 inches-watered down the flavor of the tomatoes for about 2 weeks but then they bounced back.

Most of the problems came from Mother Nature and there is not much one can do about her-she does what she wants and we need to adjust. We always think we have everything in control and then wham! She does a number on us!

-I will grow more tomato plants and other veggies to sell at the Farmer’s Market as many people seemed excited to try some of the different varieties I grow. To this effect, I think the greenhouse will be great asset this spring.

So now I will be going over all the catalogs that are coming in and start to plan the veggie garden for 2014.

Happy Holidays!

2013 Garden Pictures

entrance insideout

I’ve been taking some photos of the vegetable garden the last few days. The light is so beautiful at 8 am every day that before I started weeding, I took these photos. Slowing down and and really looking how beautiful the garden is makes all the work worthwhile. Enjoy!

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Seed Starting Date Calculator

Below is a seed starting date calculator from Johnny’s Seeds. I downloaded it from the interactive tools section on their home page. I put the date of our spring frost-free date (May 15 in the Santa Fe area) and it automatically put in all the dates from when to start seeds inside to when we can safely put the plants out in our gardens. I just copied the vegetable section here for you to see but it also has many flower planting dates as well-it was just too big to capture it all. If you live in another area or want to capture the flower information as well, then be sure to go to the interactive tool section at Johnny’s to get your own. But here it is for those of you who live in Santa Fe, NM for all the vegetables they list. If you click on the image it will show up clearer and you can print it.

2013 Johnny's seedstarting chart

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones and ‘average first frost free dates’ explained

NMSo what are USDA Plant Hardiness Zones? And what is this ‘first frost free date’ we hear about as gardeners so often?

The Plant Hardiness Zone is a standard set by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and is calculated by accumulating many years of data. Zones are used by gardeners to help determine which plants will most likely thrive in their area. “The maps are based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10 degree-F Zones”. There are 13 Zones, the coldest being Zone 1 and the warmest is Zone 13.

In Santa Fe, we used to be in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 5 but now Santa Fe is in Zone 6b (-5 to 0°F). The reason our Zone has been changed according to the USDA is because it has better models to follow with more information gathered throughout the years- not necessarily because it’s getting warmer (although I do believe that too). Some areas in our county could be Zone 6a (-10 to -5°F) if they are closer to the mountainous areas. If you are not sure what zone you live in (where ever you live) go to the USDA plant hardiness site and type in your zip code and it will tell you what zone you are in-it’s as simple as that. So when you go to a nursery and the plant tag says zone 7-forget about it—it won’t survive our winters but any tag with Zone 6 or lower number should survive.

The average first frost free date is the date that we can safely put plants outside in our gardens. Notice I said average because some years we are colder and some years warmer. You’ll just have to watch the weather closely in spring for deciding if you want to try to sneak them out earlier in your area if spring appears to be a warm one. In Santa Fe our first average frost free date is May 15. So plant away outside after May 15, unless you hear we are getting a hard freeze! Of course if you are starting them in a hoophouse or greenhouse, you can start seedlings much earlier.

Now, once you know your planting zone and first frost free date, you can use the many tools available on the web for calculating all kinds of things from seed starting to succession planting to harvest times. Many seed companies have web tools to help you calculate the dates. In my next post I will show one such tool I use.