My garden last year failed miserably. Between a combination of poor dirt, not fertilizing, and poor watering practices, my only “successes” were sunflowers and kale… and I discovered that I really don’t like kale!
This year, I was determined to have success… and so far, it’s looking promising!
Last year, my corn never got as big as it is already this year. Ever. And it pretty much stayed the pale chartreuse green you see in the pictures of little runty corn stalks above. I think this year, my success so far has been due to three main factors: gardening classes, good dirt, and soaker hoses… as well as a big desire to not screw it up again this year!
Too late last year, I found out that my county offers free gardening classes once a month or so, usually covering each topic slightly before you need the knowledge. I skipped the first class this year (fruit trees), but I’ve gotten a lot of wonderful info at classes on seed starting, soil, garden pests, etc. I also love that these classes are completely free – you don’t even have to be a Pierce County resident to attend!
These classes bring me to the topic of good dirt. Every instructor has sung the praises of Tagro soil, and just about everybody I’ve run into that has tried it is quite rabid about the stuff. I was against it at first – completely grossed out – that it isn’t made from compost or steer/chicken manure… but human waste. Total ick factor. But as I learned more about it – being that it is human biosolids, it’s actually regulated a lot more than compost or animal manure, and checked for toxins – I started to come around. They showed me photos of Tagro gardens, and I was sold.
I was told at my soil class that because of the way Tagro works, it has more nutrients readily available to the plants than compost, which I’m willing to believe after looking at my garden this year! It smelled a little funky when we first shoveled it, but the smell dissipated faster than the compost/steer manure that I spread in my back yard garden. Tagro’s also cheap if you go get it yourself – the mix is free in reasonable quantities if you shovel it yourself, and the potting soil isn’t very expensive. I got a yard of both the mix and the potting soil, but I was willing to pay to have them load it all into our trailer instead of having to shovel it twice! If you live anywhere near Tacoma, I highly recommend checking it out.
The last part of my big successes this year is due to better irrigation. Last year, I tried using sprinklers, watering while standing there holding the hose (I so do not have the patience for that!)… I’m sure my garden didn’t get enough water, and with the sprinklers, the leaves and surrounding grass got watered more than the roots of my plants. This year, I have four lengths of soaker hose running the length of each bed, and I use quick-connect fittings on the beds and my garden hose to make it faster to swap the garden hose from one bed to the next. I’ve had a few issues with my soaker hoses that I plan to change around next year – such as using drip hose instead of soaker hose – but overall they’re working very well.
For my pumpkin patch, as well as my big pot of cherry tomatoes in front of the house, I buried a one-liter water bottle that I’d drilled full of holes in the middle of the plants. I’d seen the idea online several places, as well as variations such as burying a nursery pot (basic flower pot with holes in the bottom), and filling them with water to get the water deep into the roots of the plant. Since my containers have a narrow mouth, I got a very tall funnel at Harbor Freight to make it possible to get the water into the water bottle! Following one of the ideas online, the water bottles are also wrapped in a cheap knee-high nylon to keep dirt from plugging the holes I drilled in the water bottles. I’m definitely doing this again next year!
I do go against most gardening advice and I water my garden in the evening. So far it’s working out for me – our weather has been hot enough that any foliage that gets wet doesn’t stay that way for long, and my soaker hoses and deep root watering help keep the foliage dryer than if I were watering from above with a watering can, or using a sprinkler. I’m doing this for two reasons – I’ve also seen warnings before about the soil still being very wet from a fresh watering when the sun comes along and starts cooking it, and thus boiling the poor little roots of the plants, and also because it takes me about an hour or so to water my garden… and there is no way in heck that I’m getting up at 4:30 in the morning to water my garden. I can barely drag my butt out of bed at 5:30!
So far, so good on my garden this year. I’m looking forward to getting some tomatoes and corn this year, and I’ve got hopes for a watermelon or two as well! My sugar snap peas were wonderful, though the vines are dying back now. Being that they’re a cool weather crop, and our weather has been in the high 80s and low 90s, I’m not at all surprised, and I’ve already bought another variety of peas to plant this fall that will be good for shelling out and freezing, and I can’t wait to get them started towards the end of August!
I’ve also started a wish list for planting next year – blueberries, getting my poor root-bound raspberries out of their pot and into the ground, another (smaller) raised bed or two for strawberries and rhubarb, as well as plans for getting a greenhouse this fall! I’ve already got the model picked out, now we just need to clear the brush out of the area I want to install it!
I wasn’t solicited by Pierce County or Tagro to write this post, and I get nothing back in exchange. The classes I mentioned are free to anyone willing to show up, and I paid for my own Tagro this year. However, if anybody from Pierce County or Tagro wants to hook me up with some free Tagro for next year, my contact info is on this website! 🙂