Dear James: An open letter to my next garden season’s self
Hey there buddy, glad to see you’re still looking suave as hell, even when sweaty and dirty. I wanted to drop you a line to remind you of all those little things you somehow manage to forget every single season and end up making more work for yourself as a result. I also have some new ideas and insights to share that occurred to me a little too late to implement this year.
Let’s begin at the beginning.
Seeds. Self, before you become enamored with the 2019 seed catalogs and devolve into a state of seed greed, how about you inventory what you already have first. Make a list of what you actually need. Guess what? You most likely already have enough seeds hoarded away to plant the entire block.
For what seeds you do need to buy, consider disease-resistant varieties, particularly in regard to early blight, which was particularly bad in 2018.
Plant selection. Okay boss man, how about we make 2019 the year we finally quit growing so many gigantic plants in the garden?! Let’s make 2019 the year of the dwarf.
Remember how in 2018 those diminutive Sweet Sue, Russian House, and Rosella Crimson dwarf tomatoes put out as many if not more fruit than the 10-ft.-tall monsters right next to them? They did this while also standing no more than 4 ft. high, and the Russian House variety topped out at 2 ft.! Remember how much time you spent trellising the monster tomatoes, while the dwarfs—dwarves?—got by with a few staves of bamboo. Let’s try all the dwarf varieties we can in 2019!
Let’s also see if we can make the harvest easier with good plant selection as well, yes? Yellow zucchini are much easier to spot than green ones, especially for aging eyeballs. Purple beans I can spot from across the yard, while the green beans are damn near invisible. Of course, along the parking strip, green tomato varieties are a wise bet. Fewer tomato fights….
Trellis early. After 19 years of gardening, you think you would have learned to install your trellis infrastructure before you actually plant! Every year, there you are, wading through cucumbers, beans and other plants trying to hammer in stakes and stretch trellis netting. This is followed by a series of attempts to impose your will on plants that already have minds of their own, awkwardly obligating them with ties and clips to the trellis that now stands as a stranger among them. You can do better. Let those plants and the trellis become fast friends early.
Drip Irrigation. Just like your trellising antics, why is it every year you hand water for weeks while you procrastinate re-installing the drip system? Before you knew it those plants had grown big, and once again you were contorting yourself to coerce drip tape and tubing between rows of plants that get needlessly battered in the process. Here’s a nugget of wisdom from your past self: Get your drip lines in immediately after the beds are prepared and planted. Save time watering and prevent plant abuse in one fell swoop.
One more thing while we’re on the topic: A little seasonal adjustment of watering schedules makes a big difference to plant health. Add additional time when the weather turns scorching hot. Those plants use a lot more water as they transpire to keep themselves cool. And of course, remember to back off on the time once temperatures go down.
Winning the grasshopper war. 2017 and 2018 were borderline apocalyptic when it came to grasshopper damage in the garden. 2019 has a good probability of being just as bad. The strategies you developed this past season kept the damage to a minimum; remember them!
Plant your beans and cucurbits early in coldframes. The zucchini and beans you planted on April 9 under cover suffered zero grasshopper damage, while the ones you planted in late May got mowed to the ground.
Start using NOLO bait early in the spring as soon as the grasshoppers hatch, and keep using it weekly until early summer. (These organic bait products are made up of wheat bran infected with a protozoan parasite that destroys the digestive system of any grasshopper who consumes it. Apparently, few things are as delicious and irresistible to a grasshopper as a dead grasshopper. They consume one another and spread the parasite to the greater population of grasshoppers in the area. This strategy is the most effective when done while the grasshoppers are young and small, and gives the parasite a longer window to infect other grasshoppers thru cannibalism)
Future self, I’m getting excited for you already. You just keep growing as a grower, and every year you have more to show for it.
I have one last reminder for you: Write it down. All of it. Make a map of your garden and note what you plant where. On a calendar, write down dates you fertilize and when you need to fertilize again. Make row markers and actually use them.
May you have the best year ever.
Now, put this letter in a place where you’ll see it, when the 2019 garden preparation gets underway. You’re welcome.
James Loomis is the Green Team farm manager for Wasatch Community Gardens.
As the 2018 season comes to a close, survey your garden. What worked? What didn’t? Did you notice something in someone else’s garden that you’d like to try? Write your own “letter to self” and share it with us! With your permission we may share it with other readers next season. Send to Greta@CatalystMagazine.net