Cappers Farmer Blogs > Our Fair Field

Dudley Do-wrong in the Garden

 Renee headshot


Dear readers, It's been a while since I've posted. I've missed you! I can only say that putting up a brand new homestead from (nearly) scratch is a lot of work. Especially if you have a day job like I do. However, things have simmered down and now I hope to post on a regular basis. I have so many things I would like to share with you! Peace and love, Renee

We've finally been here more than a year so with the benefit of hindsight I can offer a what I've learned. What did I do right and what did I do wrong? As the growing season changes from summer to winter, I reflect on what mistakes I've made and what I've learned. Since this is a share and share alike endeavor, I'll give you some of my insights and hopefully you'll share some of yours and we'll all get brilliant!

Notice that this is an oasis of green in an otherwise brown landscape.

What I did wrong

Plant the wrong plant in the wrong place. I planted my Walla Walla onions where they did not get enough water. I had the mistaken idea that they would do just fine on one section of  drip line. Oh no. They wanted a lot more water than they got. What happened? My onions grew some but not very much. What I was expecting? Great big giant onions sweet-as-pie. What did I get? A bunch of medium to dinky onions not at all sweet-as -pie. Usable. Disappointing.

Plant too far apart. I could have maximized my yield by planting a lot more and closer together. I wound up with a lot of extra space between my zucchini, herbs and peppers. I thought the zucchini was going to sprawl all over the place and it didn't.

Improper planting. I did not plant my onions deep enough. The combination of this and not enough water and next thing you know the tops fell over, the bulbs were stunted, and the plants themselves struggled. Plant a little deeper next time.

Plant at the wrong time of year. This was something that occurred right after we arrived in March 2016. It was already too late to plant in May. Only three little carrots came up.  Oh, brave souls. The force is strong in those ones! It just got too hot too soon for the rest of them to make it. That sun! 93,000 million miles away and so hot!

Improper watering. You would think that here in the Central Valley you can't water too much. Guess what? You are right! Trick question! What you can do is not water enough! And don't let Bermuda grass have its way as it will steal water from the important plants. I got lazy and now I regret it. My lovely California pepper tree looks like it's had it. I'm taking steps and hoping that it will rebound once the weather gets cooler.

Improperly timed watering. When it's hot it's easy to get your timing off and next thing you know everything is wilted. Luckily, I did not get distracted to the point that my plants were not able to come back. (except for maybe the pepper tree). Everything else did come back but it was by the skin of my teeth. Plus, I had to do battle with white flies on stressed plants. I think a timer will be a good addition.

What I did right

Prepare the soil prior to planting. I have learned so much about this I could burst a blood vessel. Wherever I've lived in California I've found horrible soil. Yes, I know California is supposed to be the veggie capital of America, but let me tell you something: It's not the capital everywhere in California. Just in special places. Like the Salinas Valley for example. Wherever I've lived it's been cattle country or graded-over housing tracts where they've scraped off anything that might have even slightly been good soil. So I've learned that I really have to amend, amend, amend. Recently we made a trip into the Sierra and made off with some nicely decomposed granite. I'm really curious to see if this is a good addition to my soil with a lot of organic matter added to balance it out.

Install a sun screen. When the weather gets very hot, a simple sunshade really helps with water retention and sun protection. As soon as I had a forecast of triple digits we put it right up.

Mulch. I mulched like a son of a gun. There must have been 5 inches or more of old straw and cow hay that I piled over a layer of corrugate and then let it overwinter. Boy, did I get a great crop of earthworms and toads! Yahoo! When those little guys are there, you know something is right.

Fertilize. I added fish emulsion to my watering can and my little crape myrtles, dogwoods and red bud trees are doing great!

Do a soil test. This is how I knew that I needed calcium and organic matter. Last year I sent away samples to a place in Ohio and it was well worth it. I also did a simple 24-hour sedimentation test, so I found out how much sand and clay I had. Know your soil! It's the basis of everything. Without good soil you might as well forget the whole thing and go buy your veggies at the farmers' market. Otherwise you can be doing a lot of work for little return.

Pick the Right Vegetables. I picked vegetables that can handle our conditions. Know your conditions and then pick the plants that can handle those conditions. Otherwise you may be fighting a losing battle.

Here are my "must-haves" in the order of importance:

1. Good soil.

2. The right amount of water perfectly timed.

3. Plant the right things at the right time.

Growing is a life-long learning process. I've suffered my share of disappointment and I've learned from all of it. The journey is the goal.