Well, here we are at the end of September and that means it is time to begin planning next year’s vegetable garden. “Huh?” Yes, I know, there are still plenty of vegetables that remain to be harvested and cover crops to be planted. However, many of the successes and failures of this season are still obvious and fresh in our minds. As such, planning must begin by reviewing those successes and failures.
To begin the review, note what pest and disease problems occurred and on what crops. Were control measures applied and did they work? If not, plan to use vegetable varieties resistant to these problems or make note of alternative control measures to employ. One such control is crop rotation. This will require a quick sketch of where each crop was planted this year and another sketch showing where each will be planted next year. In general, a specific vegetable should not be planted in the same spot in the garden for at least another 3 years.
There are also some cultural issues to evaluate. What fertilizers or other soil amendments were used and were they adequate in supporting plant growth? Given the record setting rainfall of July, was drainage a problem? If so, make note to employ raised beds next year for those plants which do not tolerate prolonged periods of wet soil. These need not be framed beds. Simply mounding soil will improve drainage. Another cultural issue to consider when planning next year’s garden might include employing vertical structures such as netting, fencing, cages, etc. to support vine crops rather than allowing the plants to sprawl across the ground, take up space, and risk decay of the plant fruits in contact with wet soil.
Of course, much attention needs to be given to the crops and varieties grown this year and how they performed as far as productivity and quality are concerned. A growing season never goes by where I do not experiment with a new vegetable or new variety of frequently planted vegetables. Aside from the pest and disease issue already mentioned, make note of the productivity of each variety. Did the yield of each meet expectation? Usually, I give a new variety a couple of growing seasons before opting out of growing it, but in some cases the productivity and/or flavor are just not worth a second year in our garden.
Every garden year is a new experience and an opportunity to experiment and to learn. Keeping good records and making future plans based on the lessons learned is key to being a successful gardener.
Here are some other experiences to help build success:
• Keep notes on the performance of ornamental plants in the home landscape. Just as with the vegetable garden, evaluating individual performance will help in making decisions as far as replacements and future additions to the landscape.
• Apply an organic spray such as one containing Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) to ornamental kale. Many of the plants I’ve recently seen in various gardens showed much damage from feeding by cabbage worms. Being a cold tolerant plant, the kale should continue to grow through November or later and would benefit from spraying with a Bt product. In the meantime, remove any cabbage worm riddled leaves.
• Clean up the residue of any plants infected by powdery mildew or other diseases this year. Many diseases spend the winter on plant debris. Good garden sanitation is one of the best ways to prevent plant diseases.
• Lightly rake the surface of organic mulches around trees and shrubs. Then apply a fresh layer of mulch. Use the same type of mulch and apply only a thin layer. Total depth of old and new mulch should be no more than 2 to 3 inches. Also, be sure that mulch is pulled away at least 4 inches from the trunks of trees and shrubs. Apply mulches as widely as possible.
• Reduce the cutting height of the lawn mower to 2 to 2 ½ inches (½ inch at a time if current setting is higher than 3 inches). It will be easier to rake leaves from lawns at this lower height.
• Save the mesh bags that are used to package oranges and onions. These can be used to store garden-grown onions and garlic, as well as to store summer flowering bulbs of amaryllis and gladiolus.
• Harvest grapes when they are fully ripe. They do not ripen off the vine. Also, keep grapes away from other produce when in storage. Grapes tend to absorb odors from other fruits.
• It seems that every few years there is a new pest or disease that poses a serious threat to the health and survival of our plant life. I was recently made aware of one such disease here in Berkshire County. It is boxwood blight. First described in England in the mid-1990s, this blight has practically eliminated the boxwood hedges in the most renowned gardens in that country. The disease eventually made its way to this country and was found in Connecticut in 2011. Now it is here. The disease comes on rapidly and can kill a boxwood plant is a few days. Initial symptoms include dark, circular spots on the leaves followed by narrow back streaks on the stems. Once infected, the best option is to remove and destroy the plant. For more information and photos go to: ag.umass.edu/landscape/fact-sheets/boxwood-common-health-issues-in-landscape and https://portal.ct.gov/CAES/PDIO/Boxwood-Blight/Boxwood-Blight