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Stumbling blocks to a successful garden

 
gardener
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Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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This week’s blog post – 5 Gardening Mistakes to Avoid so You Can Grow More Food – was inspired by something I saw in a couple big box stores this spring.

Just a note—this blog post is aimed at someone growing food for themselves and their family in a regular home garden and is not aimed at market gardeners or farmers. I get that in those situations sometimes different approaches are used that might not be best for a kitchen garden or other home garden.

The first was at a big hardware store that was trying to sell tomatoes, peppers, basil, etc. to people towards the end of March when the COVID-19 stay at home order in WA was just issued. We were stilling getting frosts and this was a horrible time for people to buy these plants unless they knew what they were doing and could keep the plants alive in doors. But the plants were already too big for their pots…

The second was more recently at a big grocery store. It’s still early to be selling tomatoes and similar plants but they had a bunch out. This included some really big tomatoes in relatively small pots. Store staff were helping people pick out vegetables and seemed to be encouraging people to buy the biggest tomatoes.

I just felt bad for these people because in both cases they were being setup for frustration and potentially losing their plants. I started wondering how often these situations happen and how often people thinking they can’t garden is due to mistakes like these that result from bad advice.

This week’s blog post covers some common gardening mistakes that I often see people making in my own life that have resulted in them thinking they can’t garden. I have had people say they don’t grow their own food because they kill their plants—often it comes down to 1 or more of these 5 avoidable mistakes.

Check out the post and let’s dive into 1 of the more common mistakes I see.

Trying to Eliminate all Pests



One big mistake people make is trying to eliminate all their garden pests. I mean I do understand—we are used to spotless vegetables and fruit in the grocery store and I think a lot of people think that is what produce should look like.

But really a few holes in a lettuce leaf won’t hurt you and often pest damage is no reason to get worried.

The other reason you shouldn’t try to eliminate all pests is that what you’re calling a pest can also be thought of as prey—prey for a predator like a ladybug!

When you try to wipe out your pests you’re eliminating the food for predators. This means that you essentially have to do the work of the predators year after year.

This is too much work in my opinion!

So instead in my view a better option is to let the pests be and work towards a balance where the predators eat most of the pests and the overall damage to your vegetables and fruit is minimal.

But this doesn’t happen overnight and it also won’t happen if you don’t create the habitat the predators need to survive.

Rock and log piles, flowers, perennial plants, native plants, mulch and water features—all of these are great ways to create habitat for the predators that will eat those pests and keep your garden safe. I call these habitat features though they often provide multiple functions!

This is why I have flowers scattered throughout my garden and I’m adding more habitat features overtime spread out around my property. Next fall I’m planning on installing some small ponds where I can grow some water crops but also provide habitat for frogs and garter snakes. Both of which are great predators of many common garden pests!

More Mistakes to Avoid



The blog post covers 5 common gardening mistakes including one that goes along with that last picture which shows a mistake I made last year.

Do you know what it is (without looking at the blog post!)? Leave your answer below!

So make sure to swing over to the blog post to check out all 5 common gardening mistakes. And please leave a comment while you’re over there and let me know what other gardening mistakes you see people making or that you’ve made in the past!

While you are over on the blog most make sure to leave a comment! If you are the first to do so you will get a piece of pie! The pie will get you access to some special features on perimes, discounts at some vendors, and you can use it to purchase some products on the permies digital marketplace.

If you leave a comment on the blog post make sure to leave a post here on permies too so I can easily give you the slice of pie.
 
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(I commented on your post, too.) "Getting rid of all pests" isn't one I commonly see on other lists of garden mistakes, but it makes sense to list it as a mistake, especially from a permaculture perspective. I'm learning to work with the pests and predators, and it definitely makes things easier, or at least it changes my perspective to have less frustration. I'm still trying -- unsuccessfully -- to get rid of Japanese beetles. They have no predators in my area yet.
Staff note (Daron Williams) :

Thanks for the comment on the blog post--you were the first so pie for you!

 
Daron Williams
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Nikki Roche wrote:(I commented on your post, too.) "Getting rid of all pests" isn't one I commonly see on other lists of garden mistakes, but it makes sense to list it as a mistake, especially from a permaculture perspective. I'm learning to work with the pests and predators, and it definitely makes things easier, or at least it changes my perspective to have less frustration. I'm still trying -- unsuccessfully -- to get rid of Japanese beetles. They have no predators in my area yet.



Yeah, it's not common but I do think people spend a lot of time and energy fighting pests which is really a never ending battle. I would much rather strive for a balance and not have to spend so much time fighting the pests. In the end pests indicate a system that is out of balance and in my view the goal should be to get it back into balance. Though sometimes that may not be possible in highly degraded environments or where the predators are simply lacking. But often there are predators but it will take time for them to show up--waiting for the predators is a hard thing to do and takes a lot of patience but I still think it's the best long term approach.

As far as the Japanese Beetle--here is a site that has some advice on natural predators that could help you deal with that specific pest: https://extension.umd.edu/ipm/japanese-beetles-and-natural-enemies

Thanks for the comment and good luck!
 
gardener
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To the first part of your post, I totally agree.  I was complaining about it last week.  I was looking at the bare root trees at the Grange CoOp (a while ago).  They had Granny Smith and Gravensteine apple trees.  I live in N. California zone 9b and I'm relatively sure we don't get enough chill hours to grow these apples.  Also most of the nursery's have pansy's out.  They are predicting 100 degrees by the end of the weekend.  Those poor pansy's don't have a chance. If the merchants had any integrity they would not sell plants that have little to no chance of growing successfully in the area you are buying them.  
Most of the people working at these places don't have a clue.  If I see someone getting something I know has little chance, I will talk to them, and if it seems they are open to some help I may make a suggestion,  or comment about the plant they are thinking of buying.  Some people aren't receptive, and for them I figure failure is knowledge.  
It's a bummer, you should be able to buy what is available, and not have to worry it won't grow in your zone.
I enjoyed your blog post, it was very informative.  
 
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Nikki Roche wrote: I'm still trying -- unsuccessfully -- to get rid of Japanese beetles. They have no predators in my area yet.




Chickens are pretty good at eating them in the grub stage. Some will eat them in the adult stage too, but it seems to vary by flock.

A few years ago, my backyard had so many Japanese beetles that there were times you couldn't see the plants under them. Then I got chickens. After 2 years you'd be hard-pressed to find a JB in my yard at all. And my flock doesn't bother with the adult beetles, just the grubs.

I used to know someone whose flock would eat the adults. He used one of those yellow bag-traps, but rigged it with a tube at the bottom so the beetles would fall into a bowl of water inside the chicken run. His birds would sit there watching for the chance to grab a beetle before it could recover and fly off. He said he had almost no feed costs during the summer because of that.
 
Nikki Roche
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Ellendra Nauriel wrote:

Nikki Roche wrote: I'm still trying -- unsuccessfully -- to get rid of Japanese beetles. They have no predators in my area yet.




Chickens are pretty good at eating them in the grub stage. Some will eat them in the adult stage too, but it seems to vary by flock.

A few years ago, my backyard had so many Japanese beetles that there were times you couldn't see the plants under them. Then I got chickens. After 2 years you'd be hard-pressed to find a JB in my yard at all. And my flock doesn't bother with the adult beetles, just the grubs.

I used to know someone whose flock would eat the adults. He used one of those yellow bag-traps, but rigged it with a tube at the bottom so the beetles would fall into a bowl of water inside the chicken run. His birds would sit there watching for the chance to grab a beetle before it could recover and fly off. He said he had almost no feed costs during the summer because of that.



My husband doesn't think we're ready for chickens. He may be right, but this info could speed things along. A few grape vines didn't come back this year, and I wonder if having such extensive damage from beetles last year contributed to that. By the start of fall, nearly every leaf looked like brown netting.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Chickens are not very hard to care for.  They have  so much personality, I enjoy mine a lot.
 
Daron Williams
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Jen – Thank you! Yeah, it’s frustrating that plants are often sold during times when they won’t do well in a given area. I mostly frustrated because I do believe that some people get convinced they can’t garden or don’t have a green thumb because of this.

Ellendra – Thanks for the tip about chickens!

Nikki – If you do go for chickens I would just recommend starting small and building from there. Sometimes people get too many and get a bit overwhelmed or don’t setup their coop and other needed items before they get the chickens. But chickens can be very helpful!
 
pollinator
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Totally agree with your blog post.

I bought some of the big tomato plants my local shop got in, two weeks ago, but I knew enough to bring them indoors when below 50°F, and 99% of my tomatos I started from seed. I just wanted one slicing tomato and one cherry tomato that'd fruit earlier, as theirs were maybe two weeks further along than the largest of mine. They weren't all that root-bound, as far as I could tell.

If the merchants had any integrity they would not sell plants that have little to no chance of growing successfully in the area you are buying them.



I think it's not an issue of integrity, but corporate dysfunction when large companies' middle managers assume one-size-fits-all nationally, with no clear way for people lower down to communicate obvious issues. A common problem shared by large organizations, whether commercial, charitable, or governmental.

An employee at Menards told me that for years HQ shipped snowblowers in winter to every store as a seasonal product for sale. *Every* store, including in states like Florida where it never snows...

I can easily imagine a similar manager saying, "April 10th, make sure every store has tomatoes", not realizing that some areas it should be weeks earlier or later, or selling unsuitable fruit trees in areas that can't quite support it.

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." - Hanlon's Razor
 
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I for one am glad of the off season plants. As an experienced gardener I know to set my maters next to the house to keep them in the thermal bubble to ride out the mild colds. I wish they would hire people of similar knowledge sets at the stores to tell people tricks like that.
 
pollinator
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My chickens jump for Japanese beetles.  Last year, when they were still confined, I would pull beetles off of all their favorite plants and drop them into the chicken run.  The competition was fierce! his year, they are free ranging.  I hope they'll find the JBs, but if they don't, I'll stash the bugs for them and offer as a treat for coming back to the coop in the evening.

If I shout, "Bug!" they all come running.
 
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In response to 'what's wrong with this picture': I see no mulch around the plant starts, which allows good soil to turn, quite rapidly, into dirt. Mulch, mulch, mulch ... yay mulch.

Thank you Darron, for your PNW (and general) input.
 
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Agree with the sentiment, chickens are really not that difficult to deal with.  When they are baby chicks, they require some attention, but with each passing day, they get stronger and more independent.  Once you put them out in the chicken tractor, they require virtually no care at all.  Fresh water, food, an armful of weeds or comfrey every second day or so . . . and let them do their thing.

Once you build your coop/tractor and you buy your basic equipment, they are a joy.  Ain't nothing so good as a fresh egg in the morning!
 
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Haha, I just have to add one... this is so stupid.

I harvested my cabbages (red express) with the intention of making sauerkraut, and layered them in a recycling bin with newspaper, leaving them until the weekend when I would have time.  I was stressed out and mentally exhausted from my job and the only thing I did for myself at that time was gardening.
One morning I got up for work, groggy and annoyed.  On the way out of the house to catch the bus, I remembered it was garbage day, and hurriedly got the items ready for garbage pickup.  I saw the blue box full of newspaper and wondered where the heck all of this newspaper came from, assuming my in-laws brought us all their garbage again (this happened from time to time).

I put the whole bin of cabbages out for recycling and didn't realize what I had done until it was time to make the sauerkraut and I couldn't find them

Between my lack of energy and time, powdery mildew (the garden plot is not ideally situated, but it's a rental property), and squirrels, it was a very discouraging gardening season.  But the mistake to avoid in this case is don't throw out your best produce in an exhausted, stressed out haze.
 
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Daron Williams wrote:If your plants are wilting and the soil is still moist, then there are likely 2 causes:

1) Something has damaged or eaten the roots.
2) Your plant was recently planted and hasn’t had time to grow enough roots to get the water it needs.



Thank you for your quality blog post.  Some good advise in there for new gardeners, and even some of us not-so-new gardeners as well.

I wanted to add a third option to your point quoted above.  I don't know what it is like in Olympia Washington, but where I live in the South one must always keep this possibility in mind:

If your plants are wilting, the soil is still moist, the roots are not damaged, and you plant is well established... it might just be too damned hot!

I've noticed this in my own garden.  I have a lot of a certain herbaceous perennial species beloved by permies (can you guess which? ; ) that are best suited for a climate just a tad cooler than my own.  Despite this, they indisputably thrive on my property: they've been there for many years now, are bountifully productive every the Spring and Fall, reliably bounce back from regularly being cut (or browsed - damned deer!) to the ground, and they have spread well beyond their original plantings.

Yet you wouldn't know it to look at the sorry state they're in on an August afternoon!

It took me a little while to clue into this, and at first I would over water them in attempt to compensate.  But then I realized that lack of water wasn't the issue, even during a dry summer spell.  When it gets above the high 80s - and our summer afternoons often reach the high 90s - these plants are going to wilt no matter what.  I've learned to accept this and not to fret, as I know very well by now they will perk up again overnight, and will start growing strong again as soon as the seasons turn.
 
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Replying to that sad photo of baked earth and desiccating plants:  there's no ground cover and all the moisture in the soil is evaporating.  In this instance, I'd mulch like crazy  and only leave a breathing hole around the stalk of the plant.
 
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Re what's wrong with that last pic... looks like too much wood ash (or maybe lime) on the soil surface round those brassicas. Good for the calcium, but I prefer to apply it and let the rain wash it down into the soil before I plant. (I see people suggesting wood ash on the surface for slugs, but mine just laugh at it and keep sliming!).
 
Daron Williams
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Jamin – Thanks for the comment. Yeah I buy starts too for some of my vegetables. This of course can be fine. But I did notice that one of the stores lost most of their starts to frosts. I just hope if anyone had bought them that they knew to not put them outside overnight.

I know some of the box stores have all their starts delivered in mass. Cold and warm weather vegetables. They just all show up at once in one big truck—I watched them unload one time. As you said I think it’s this one size fits all approach that causes this problem.

Though I do wish they wouldn’t sell the massive starts that are likely to struggle ☹

Shawn – Yeah, if you know what to do it’s all good. But right now there are so many new gardeners trying to grow food for the first time. Those people could easily get frustrated and give up in some of these situations.

Anne – Thanks for sharing! 😊

Barbara – You’re right! 😊 I discuss it in the blog post but I was counting on my area staying wet last year while I was finishing some building projects. Then we got an early drought and my plants were really not happy. I did put mulch down but not before the plants were stressed by the early heat.

Marco – Thanks for sharing about chickens!

Norma – Not the cabbage! Lol yeah throwing out the produce is a good mistake to avoid! 😊

Matthew – Thank you! 😊 Yeah, good point. While it does get fairly warm here in the summer we tend to be cooler on average then you all. Our max summer temps are in the 90s, 80s are fairly common, but 70s are also fairly common. We also have a lot less humidity. Thanks again!

El – Yup! As I mentioned above I got hit by a surprise early drought before I got my mulch down in a brand new kitchen garden. I was counting on regular rains which are common here most years in the spring but last year we got hit by a drought. This year it happened again (even earlier in the year) but I had the mulch down so no issues.

Kevin – The natural soil actually looks like that here when it gets baked. I hadn’t put any wood ash or lime around it. That is just my property’s natural silty-clay soil ☹ But I have been adding a lot of organic material through mulching and plant roots which is turning the soil from grey to brown and hopefully eventually the dark chocolate cake look. But it will take time to get there—a bit each year!
 
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Nikki Roche wrote:

Ellendra Nauriel wrote:

Nikki Roche wrote: I'm still trying -- unsuccessfully -- to get rid of Japanese beetles. They have no predators in my area yet.




Chickens are pretty good at eating them in the grub stage. Some will eat them in the adult stage too, but it seems to vary by flock.

A few years ago, my backyard had so many Japanese beetles that there were times you couldn't see the plants under them. Then I got chickens. After 2 years you'd be hard-pressed to find a JB in my yard at all. And my flock doesn't bother with the adult beetles, just the grubs.

I used to know someone whose flock would eat the adults. He used one of those yellow bag-traps, but rigged it with a tube at the bottom so the beetles would fall into a bowl of water inside the chicken run. His birds would sit there watching for the chance to grab a beetle before it could recover and fly off. He said he had almost no feed costs during the summer because of that.



My husband doesn't think we're ready for chickens. He may be right, but this info could speed things along. A few grape vines didn't come back this year, and I wonder if having such extensive damage from beetles last year contributed to that. By the start of fall, nearly every leaf looked like brown netting.



I could be wrong, but your grape leaves might have been hit  by a moth called the Grape Leaf Skeletonizer, see photo here:
https://bugguide.net/node/view/19056
 
Jamin Grey
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Matthew Nistico wrote:

Daron Williams wrote:If your plants are wilting and the soil is still moist, then there are likely 2 causes:

1) Something has damaged or eaten the roots.
2) Your plant was recently planted and hasn’t had time to grow enough roots to get the water it needs.



3) If your plants are wilting, the soil is still moist, the roots are not damaged, and you plant is well established... it might just be too damned hot!



True dat! My pumpkin/squash/melon vines have very broad leaves that wilt and recover during days with >95°F temperatures in direct sun - but they have plenty of water, being on irrigation timers (and I've checked the soil moisture when I see the wilting). I give them extra water on those 'so-hot-it-wilts' days, but sometimes it's almost a daily cycle of wilt-and-recover during the hottest days of summer (we reach up to 110°F).

I ought to plant them in partial shade... The broad-leafed vines just have too much surface area to be hit by such intense sun and heat. But they all grew fine and produced fine!
 
Matthew Nistico
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Jamin Grey wrote:True dat! My pumpkin/squash/melon vines have very broad leaves that wilt and recover during days with >95°F temperatures in direct sun - but they have plenty of water, being on irrigation timers (and I've checked the soil moisture when I see the wilting). I give them extra water on those 'so-hot-it-wilts' days, but sometimes it's almost a daily cycle of wilt-and-recover during the hottest days of summer (we reach up to 110°F).

I ought to plant them in partial shade... The broad-leafed vines just have too much surface area to be hit by such intense sun and heat. But they all grew fine and produced fine!



Oh, yes, I am very familiar with the daily wilt-and-recover cycle.  As you say, while surely not ideal, I've found that some plantings can come through this cycle unscathed and quite productive.  I think you have an advantage, though - your cucurbita originate in mesoamerica, and so they are much better adapted to the high heat than are my comfrey.  Still, since you garden in such an intensely sunny place (a desert I'm guessing?), a little partial shade might be a blessing.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I apologize this is not about this post.  There are a lot of concerns about Japanese beetles, and I read geranium repels Japanese beetles.  I don't know if this is true, but I look at it this way, it couldn't hurt to plant some, or put a potted geranium near the spot you are having trouble.  The worst that can happen is you still have trouble, but also a pretty flower, or it may help, seems like it is worth a try.  Then again I always plant lots of flowers in my veggie garden.  I hate to jinx myself, but I rarely have pest issues that don't resolve themselves.  To add insult to injury I often plant the same veggie in the same place each year.  
I just wanted to throw that out there.  Sorry it isn't really about this post.  You could add it's a mistake to only plant monoculture. Variety in the garden is beneficial.  Thanks
 
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Norma Guy wrote:Haha, I just have to add one... this is so stupid.

I harvested my cabbages (red express) with the intention of making sauerkraut, and layered them in a recycling bin with newspaper, leaving them until the weekend when I would have time.  I was stressed out and mentally exhausted from my job and the only thing I did for myself at that time was gardening.
One morning I got up for work, groggy and annoyed.  On the way out of the house to catch the bus, I remembered it was garbage day, and hurriedly got the items ready for garbage pickup.  I saw the blue box full of newspaper and wondered where the heck all of this newspaper came from, assuming my in-laws brought us all their garbage again (this happened from time to time).

I put the whole bin of cabbages out for recycling and didn't realize what I had done until it was time to make the sauerkraut and I couldn't find them

Between my lack of energy and time, powdery mildew (the garden plot is not ideally situated, but it's a rental property), and squirrels, it was a very discouraging gardening season.  But the mistake to avoid in this case is don't throw out your best produce in an exhausted, stressed out haze.




I'm just picturing some confused recycling guy looking at bin full of cabbages! I can't stop laughing!
 
Norma Guy
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I can finally laugh now several years later :P
 
You will always be treated with dignity. Now, strip naked, get on the probulator and hold this tiny ad:
Call for Instructors for the 2021 RMH Jamboree!
https://permies.com/wiki/149908/Call-Instructors-RMH-Jamboree
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