Late Summer Lessons

I took my last summertime tour of the garden today, pulling weeds, harvesting veggies, and surveying what we accomplished this year. It is the end of August, and while we of course have many fine days ahead of us, the nightime chill is already a reminder that our beautiful New England summers are also fleeting.

There's a lot to be proud of, but no matter how long we've been at this gardening thing, there's still a lot to be learned. This year, there are three planting lessons that are obvious to us only now, a good four months after the mistakes were made.

Gardening is a long game.

Lesson #1: Don't plant pumpkins near roses.

It never occurred to me that this could be a problem, but it has been. The last half of August has been quite dry, and powdery mildew has overtaken our pumpkin vines (ditto for the squash, zucchini, and cucumbers). Having the pumpkin vining around the rose bushes has also led to their infection with powdery mildew in recent days, as you can see in the photo above. I have read online that each plant gets its own special brand of powdery mildew, but my eyes are suggesting to me that this is not true. The mildewy pumpkins touch the roses, and the roses get mildewy (they never have before). While I never bother to treat powdery mildew on veggies (because nothing has ever been effective anyway), I'll  now have to try to treat it on the roses, which I want to keep strong and healthy. Pumpkins will be planted at a much greater distance in the future.

Lesson #2: You need two tomatillo plants for pollination.

I had read competing advice about whether or not tomatillos are self-fruitful, and since we always get way more than we can ever use off of these vigorous, gigantic plants, we decided to try just one this year. Lots of growth, lots of flowers, zero tomatillos. You can see a single paper husk in the photo above, and there are a few scattered across the plant. I found some volunteer tomatillo plants in other parts of the garden recently, so I suppose it's possible that we've had some late cross-pollination and will get a handful of fruits. I'm not holding my breath on that as those few husks feel totally empty so far, but I'm not pulling out the plant yet either. Still, by now we should be drowning in tomatillos, and we have none, so next year we're back to planting a pair. Maybe we'll keep them pruned to keep them in check.

Lesson #3: A family of four doesn't need more than a single hill of slicing cucumbers. 

We planted about six row-feet of trellised cucumbers for slicing, and it's too many cucumbers. That's about the right amount for pickling, but we just cannot eat that many slicing cucumbers. There are only so many uses for them, and, while they last pretty long on the shelf, we will never be able to eat through that whole pile. We're actually glad to see the vines dying back, as cucumber picking has started to produce a little anxiety around here. The chickens enjoy them, though, and if you'd like some, let me know. 

I realize that last bit there might sound like a humblebrag, but fine-tuning our planting is important. We don't want to waste room growing things we won't (or can't possibly) eat, because then we don't have room for other things that we either need more of or have never tried. If we spare ourselves those extra five feet, maybe we can try a couple artichokes or cauliflower plants next year instead.


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