In the garden - When Garden Planning does Not go as Planned

Like most gardeners, I take the time in the late winter and early spring to do garden planning for the upcoming season.  What grew well in the previous years, what I will plant, where I will plant and when I need to start my bedding plants for transplanting in the garden in the summer or late spring are all considered for the upcoming season's garden.  Garden planning takes time and effort.  And like most gardeners in my area, I try to put my garden plan into action in the garden after May 20 in hopes that it will not freeze and yet will be early enough to produce well.  But sometimes, despite the garden planning and effort, things don't go as planned in the garden.  So now what to do?

The 2022 garden

Pretty much every gardening year starts off the same for me.  I sit down with my seeds and decide what I need and what I want to plant.  Included in that list are the new plants or varieties I want to try. I like to experiment  and although it sometimes does not work out, there has also been varieties that I have added as a result of that experimentation. 

Once all the seeds are ordered, I sit down and plan out when I need to start all the plants for transplanting in the garden.  For me this usually starts in February with celery and then carries on from there as each week goes by. I have started keeping a gardening journal which I find helps so that I can keep it straight.  I used a calendar for years, but this just works better I find.  Garden planning - using a garden journal This year I added a number of new herbs to my starts as I want to increase the number of herbs I have growing to allow for my increased use of herbs.  I explore my journey with herbalism in Home Remedies using Natural Medicines - a glimpse into my Apothecary and use of herbal remedies.Garden Planning for herbal garden - herbs on May 29 2022

I also started the usual things like seed onions (3 varieties), tomatoes (6 varieties), peppers (3 varieties) and new this year some tomatillos (3 varieties), to mention a few.  With the elderberry cuttings I started to add to the apothecary I mention in Home Remedies using Natural Medicines - a glimpse into my Apothecary and use of herbal remedies and the greens I had been growing all winter, my living room and spare room was full to say the least.Garden planning - starts in April

When things don't go as planned

It was all going well and I was sticking to the garden plan that I had developed.  But then I started noticing some whiteflies on a couple plants.  I must have brought them in on some soil I had bought.  I started with trying to spray them off as suggested in this Almanac article, but soon resorted to mixing up a solution of water, soap and a little oil.  Nothing was working and the whiteflies were taking over.  I tried getting some Safer’s® Sticky Strips™ Insect Traps and although they would capture the flying insects, they were not getting the larvae stage that was doing the damage and so in addition to the homemade spray, I tried using Diatomaceous Earth (DE) I picked up from Co-op Agro. But they were taking over and were soon killing all my brassica's and doing a lot of damage to the peppers and other plants. 

I was very thankful when I could take them outside so that I could really spray them down to hopefully dislodge the whiteflies. Plus, I was hoping that natural predators such as lady bugs and spiders would help me to deal with them.Garden planning - starts on deck for whitefly control

But the damage had already been done, the brassica's were just sticks and although they recovered somewhat as I explored in DIY Floating Row Cover Tunnel for Cabbage Root Maggot and Cabbage Moth Control, I ended up buying bedding plants to replace some of the damaged brassica's.  The peppers were starting to generate new leaves as well.  And although the tomatoes and tomatillos were healthy looking and not affected by the whiteflies, they were extremely leggy.  Not a problem I thought, I always bury them deeper as discussed in this article How To Plant Tomatoes the Best Way (Tips for Success). But once again things did not go as planned.

I like to try to get my garden in around the last weeks of May and although I have planted much later than that, the last weeks of May usually work well.  As I also like to try to plant by the moon's phases as discussed in this Almanac article Gardening by the Moon, I had planned on when things would go in the ground.  I tried to get someone in to work the garden prior to the planting week but they would not return the calls and so about the beginning of June I was well involved in establishing my Back to Eden gardens as I explored in Achieving a Permaculture Design Principle with the Back to Eden Gardening method, and so the garden waited.  And in the meantime, I harvested what it was producing in the form of "weeds" as I explored in Wild food foraging of edible wild greens for supper.

On June 13 I finally had a chance to work the garden up, but by this time the weeds and quack grass had taken a stronghold.  And although I was planning on using some homemade woven weed fabric as I explored in Woven Landscape Fabric - A Homemade Woven Weed Fabric DIY project, the bulk of the garden was planted by June 15 and the bedding plants were in by June 21,  Not at all what I had planned, and with not a good kill on the "weeds" I was concerned, but I had to try and see what I got.Garden planning - seeding the garden

For whatever reason, the potatoes did not come up well.  And to add insult to injury, I ended up having to reseed peas and a few other plants on June 30 and thought that I would be able to keep ahead of things.  Oh how wrong I was.

For a variety of reasons, I did not get back in the garden for weeks on end but despite the drought, heat and everything else, the weeds I worked under as a green mulch were doing very well.  I like the thought of the Permaculture Principle of covering the soil, but this was a little much.  I am very disappointed with myself, somewhat discouraged, and definitely overwhelmed.  Although this is definitely not what I had planned when I did my garden planning, sometimes a person has to cut themselves some slack and make the best out of a bad situation.Garden planning - weedy garden beginning of August

Although not what I had planned for my garden to look like, I conceded to the fact that it is what it is.  And so, my main focus now shifted to dealing with the plethora of weeds that have overtaken to hopefully prevent them from setting seed.  It is a slow process, but at the same time it has been an encouraging one.

The Learning Garden

My initial impression of the garden was that it was a write off.  But when I started to get the weeds pulled and look a little closer I was reminded that seeds and plants sole purpose in life is to grow.   I started with the tomatoes that when I planted them were almost trees because I was four weeks passed my original planned planting date.  I had buried them deep and although I could not see them for the weeds, to my surprise they were growing in amongst the weeds and were actually setting fruit. The south half of the rows looked decent considering all they had gone through. However, the north plants were stunted and for the most part dead.Garden planning - tomato patch

I can certainly blame the heat, the weeds and my lack of care on the north tomato plant's demise, but I also am reminded that two years ago I burnt all the cedar shingles from my house on this part of the garden.  I was first reminded of this last year when I experienced the same thing but thought it might be different this year after a year of being exposed to the weather and the soil bacteria.  Although I burned the cedar shingles during the winter and I would doubt that I "killed" the soil from doing this, I suppose the increased level of ash could factor in.  But rather, I am of the opinion that it was the fact that I burned cedar shingles. 

Cedar contains thujaplicin, which is a chemical that inhibits plant growth and as I explored in Achieving a Permaculture Design Principle with the Back to Eden Gardening method is similar to the Allelopathy chemicals contained within pine species and black walnut, to name a few.  As identified in the article Allelopathy In Plants: What Plants Suppress Other Plants members of the nightshade family are very susceptible to these chemicals.  However, as the University of Washington discredits this claim as they identified in the article The Myth of Allelopathic Wood Chips "It is unlikely that wood chip mulches containing cedar will have negative effects on established landscape plants" but they do clarify by adding that "Seeds and seedlings, whether weeds or desirable species, are more sensitive to mulch suppression as they do not have established root systems".  The common factor with all the articles is the words "shallow rooted plants".  Being that most garden plants would fall into this category and that tomatoes also have shallow roots and are sensitive to allelopathy chemicals, after consideration of these two articles and other articles and the fact that I have evidence to partially contradict the University of Washington study, I am confident the cedar is the culprit and will be working to repair the soil. 

Although time and the addition of compost will greatly help this location, I am paying close attention to Roots & Refuge where they received potting soil contaminated with Grazeon, a trade name of a chemical cocktail of  2,4-D and Picloram, which has been used in the making of Agent White and later Agent Orange.  As she is documenting in a video series, starting with My first ever rant video, she is trying to remediate the soil and work with what she has using sunflowers, mushroom's and compost tea, to name a few.  I will be giving some of her suggestions a whirl to see if it will help my specific case.

But my learning from the learning garden was not done.  As I continued to weed and uncover various surprises, I noticed that my corn was starting to send out silk and the spaghetti squash was growing surprisingly well.  Being both were able to get above the weeds, I guess they did not find it a hinderance and although they were weakened due to the support the weeds gave, they continued as though nothing was wrong.Garden planning - corn patch

But equally surprising is that the carrots and beans, to some degree survived, reaffirming that every plant and seed wants to grow, something I am being constantly reminded of in the learning garden.   My estimation is that the weeds helped to shade the plants so that they were not as affected by the intense heat of the summer.  They will not be huge, but being this root crop is considered a good candidate for fall planting, they should continue to grow and produce something should we have a longer fall.Garden planning - carrots

Although things did not go as planned, the learning garden continued to show me just how resilient she was and that although there was some initial concern with the implementation of my garden planning and the using of the homemade woven weed fabric, as I explored in Back to Eden Gardening, Homemade Woven Weed Fabric and other projects - An Update the squash are taking over and blocking the sun from filtering through the white fabric, turning a possible learning opportunity into a win.  I am about ready to start harvesting zucchini.  The fall will dictate whether there is other winter squash to harvest but at the moment, it looks promising.Garden planning - squash and woven weed fabric

And the Floating Row Cover Tunnel I built in DIY Floating Row Cover Tunnel for Cabbage Root Maggot and Cabbage Moth Control surprised me more than it had in Back to Eden Gardening, Homemade Woven Weed Fabric and other projects - An Update.  Not only have I not had to dust, the fabric also prevented the weeds from getting so tall that it would have choked out the brassica's.  But instead, they are doing really well.  Even the ones that were almost dead from the whitefly attack in the spring were doing surprisingly well.  Just another message from the learning garden to show me that the stuff I planted really wants to produce and do well.  They have the resiliency I desire on the homestead.Garden planning - brassicas under floating row cover tunnel

But it is not what I planned

And it is  true, things did not happen the way that I planned when I was doing my garden planning.  But that's okay and besides, the snow isn't on the ground yet.

Because I have always preserved whatever the garden has to produce, I have a stockpile of  frozen and/or canned garden produce from years gone by.  And despite it's less than ideal production, I will add to that stockpile with whatever comes from the 2022 garden.  I have already made a fermented salsa from the small tomatoes that ripened early from the heat and weed stress.Garden planning - fermented salsa

I will continue to make greens powder as I explored in Fall planting of cool weather crops for fall gardening in Zone 3b and enjoy the few apples I have been able to pick from the apple trees I planted last spring. Garden planning - greens powder and apples

Although I may only get a few potatoes, zucchini, squash or other vegies from the 2022 main garden, the raised beds did well and besides the greens I enjoyed early on and throughout the summer, the fall garlic looks great. garden planning - garlic from raised beds

Diversification is important it would seem and although I will continue to garden using these various methods to ensure I get something, I will also continually be in awe of what Nature can provide for me when the garden does not,  the unexpected surprises that continue to grow around me despite my lack of attention.  Things like this crab apple tree which for the first time in about 20 years since her cross pollinator was taken by a plow wind, will produce a crop worth mentioning.Garden planning - crab apple tree

Or the abundance of wild edibles that nature provides for me to pick such as Pin Cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), Rosehips from Rosa Woodsii or Choke Cherry (Prunus Virginiana).Garden planning - choke cherry

Final Thoughts

When things don't go as planned, despite my best efforts or perhaps lack thereof, things can quickly get to a point of overwhelm, disappointment and discouragement.  But as the tasks at hand become overwhelming, I have to break it down into manageable pieces and also remind myself of a statement my Dad said to me years ago.  Namely,  "you can't see it from the highway".  A statement which has helped me to cut myself some slack over the years despite my desire for perfection.  The messaging of this statement was recently reinforced with a video called What I learned from Justin Rhodes and Joel Salitin from Josh Thomas of Homesteading family, in which he quoted Joel Salatin as saying "Close enough is perfect". Either way you put it, it is true and I guess why I am feeling the way I do about the 2022 garden.

I maybe won't get a huge harvest out of the 2022 garden, but I will get something.  Although the garden may be a mass of weeds and in total disarray, the containers are doing well and producing well.  Just another lesson from the learning garden that it is okay to stop and enjoy the view.

From the learning garden I can also , metaphorically speaking, learn some life lessons and find inspiration and motivation.  Despite life's unruly nature, things want to thrive and although it may be work to do so, with perseverance one can rise above it all and be enriched for better days ahead.Garden planning - sunflowerI hope you enjoyed this exploration into my garden planning and how things don't always, if ever, go as planned.  But that, with some outside the box thinking one can find inspiration and motivation.

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Additional Resources:

In the Garden - garden planning Pinterest link

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