Lessons Learned in the Veggie Garden

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When the tomatoes looked good

Next week we are leaving for vacation.  For all practical purposes, that means the vegetable garden is over for the year.  We have a house-sitter coming to take care of the animals and the garden but my experience has been that no matter how reliable the house-sitter, no one takes care of the garden like the person who planted it.

That’s ok, really.  The veggies weren’t great this year.  We got a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes, some collards, and a few zucchini.  Actually, the collards grew like weeds but I discovered that I’m not a huge fan and really prefer chard.

The tomatoes looked ratty and just didn’t produce.  The squashes were lush and enormous and just didn’t produce.  The chili’s did ok, but not fabulous.  The Jerusalem Artichokes were just never happy in their place on the south side of the house in full New Mexico sun and the rhubarb couldn’t stand the heat.  The globe artichokes weren’t all that great either.

So, what happened?

  1. It was hot and my vegetable starts weren’t as heat tolerant as they should have been.  I was seduced by heirloom tomato varieties that were developed in places that don’t have temps of 100+ for weeks at a time.  Next year, I’ll be buying seed from Native Seed Search and growing my own starts.  Their plants are desert specialists and can stand up to our dry heat.
  2. Frank’s position at work changed and he started working on weekends and putting in longer hours in the evenings.  Therefore, rainwater project is taking a lot longer than we anticipated.  Rainwater harvesting is a big part of our vegetable gardening plan.  As it was, our water bill tripled this summer and it still seemed like the veggies still weren’t getting enough to drink.  By next spring, we should have our water systems finished.
  3. Which leads to our big change for next year:  wicking garden beds.  These are raised beds that have a water reservoir which irrigates the plants by capillary action.  Check out this youtube video by RobBob.
  4. I discovered the wonders of shade cloth, but far too late.  Everything got scorched in June and it was just ridiculously hot.  When I threw up a makeshift shade structure, the temperature underneath dropped by 10 degrees and you could almost hear the tomatoes give a sigh of relief.  Unfortunately, “makeshift” is another term for “flimsy” and it didn’t last terribly long.  This is where having an engineer in the household is a great thing.  Frank has developed a plan for next year’s shade structure that won’t fall down when it get’s windy.
  5. And my soil.  I need to make some serious changes for next years vegetable garden soil.  It probably had too much manure and therefore ammonia.  This caused a calcium deficiency which probably caused some blossom end rot and other problems.  Next year’s soil will be a little less harsh.  I’ll add some layers of straw and leaves to increase the carbon and other minerals.  Hopefully, that will balance it out.

It would be really easy to look at this years vegetable garden and say, like many people do, that it’s impossible to grow food in Albuquerque and throw in the trowel.  But gardening is like any other set of skills, you don’t quit because you have a few setbacks.  Growing here does take some extra thinking and the learning curve is steep but if you pay attention to what’s happening and change accordingly, the results will show.

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