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Autumn Assessment – Failures and Hopes

Autumn assessment - deluges of rain

The most obvious autumn assessment was the amount of damage done by heavy summer rainfalls

This is the season when we begin the autumn assessment of our garden season – the weather, our schedules, our successes, the failures and the not-quite-what-I- expecteds. I went into spring chores with joy and high expectations, but there was a disaster – the weather.

Spring took a long time coming but by April 1 there were primroses budding. There were occasional snowfalls, but we did not have as wet a garden as we had had the past two years. We were full of anticipation as we planted some vegetables at the edge of the (usually) driest flower beds, and enjoyed pruning bushes that had grown so lushly. Remember, we were just going into our fourth year of gardening in Greenfield.

I had been sent a book to write about in this column titled Strawbale Solutions by Joel Karsten. I had tried to grow some vegetables in a couple of straw bales some years ago with no more knowledge than that it took a straw bale and a plant start. That experiment was not a success.

Strawbale Solutions gave very specific directions in preparing straw bales for planting so I thought I could not go wrong. I bought three beautiful straw bales from the Farmer’s Coop on High Street, and was assured that these bales were herbicide free. I also bought high nitrogen lawn fertilizer, as directed.

On May 9th I began conditioning the bales, which mean spreading the proper amount of fertilizer on top of the bales and watering it in. I followed the schedule in the book for 12 days, and then I was ready to spread some soil over the top of the bales and planted green bean seeds and kept them watered as directed.

The idea is that the conditioned straw bales will start decomposing on the inside, making compost that will provide the seeds and plant starts with nutrition to grow and flourish. The bales will need to be kept watered because they are porous and need to be kept damp.

Failed straw bales

Assessment? Failed strawbales

Long story short – the straw bales were a brilliant failure. I certainly cannot lay that failure on Joel Karsten. I have to confess that while I did keep the bales watered, I did not always do this with warm water which was a strong recommendation. Karsten explained that cold water right out of the hose did not encourage the growth of the bacteria that needed warmth to provide nourishment for the seeds or plants.

It is also possible that the bales simply did not get enough sun. I knew they would not get morning sun, but I thought the afternoon summer sun would be more than adequate. Maybe not.

The upshot was that I never harvested any beans, although there were a few sad looking specimens on the wire fence support. And it is just now that a little cherry tomato plant I put in has started producing ripe tomatoes.

I take full responsibility for the failure of the strawbales. I do not take responsibility for the death of the beautiful weeping cherry, the pagoda dogwood, and the suffering of the calycanthus and lindera benzoin shrubs.

Lindera benzoin

Lindera benzoin might have a chance at life in 2019

The trees drowned and the shrubs struggle to survive. Heavy rains in July and into August were the culprit. The cherry and the dogwood have already been removed. We’ll wait and see if there is any spark of life in the Lindera benzoin and calycanthus for next spring.

Not all of the plants that seemed happy have bloomed. No striking red crocosmia. Still no bloom on the Sheffield daisies which are usually such cheerful late bloomers. (Since I wrote this the Sheffies and happily blooming ignoring the frigid nights.)

winterberries

Winterberries are swamp plants and love the rain

Still, not everything was a failure. That is the joy of a richly diverse garden. The primroses loved the swampy summer as did the dappled willow, the elderberries, the winterberries, the button bush, the yellow twig dogwood and the river birches. Scaveola, a lovely low blue annual next to the yellow twig dogwood spent a blooming summer singing out, “Look at me! I’m swimming!”

All the rain which was such a problem in my garden which has serious known drainage problems, was just what other gardens needed. There are two public gardens in town which thrived during the rainy summer.

The renovation of the Energy Park gardens by a group of volunteers, Wisty Rorbacher, Judy Draper, Nancy Hazard, Linda Smith and Nancy Patteson continued this summer. The soil there is sandy, and there is no easy way to provide regular watering, so the many and heavy rains were a real benefit to the plantings there. This garden is designed to focus on native plants that will support pollinators in every season.

The second public garden located on Pleasant Street is a new garden, a part of the landscaping around the new John Zon Community Center. Again, it is a group of volunteers that created this garden under the direction of Nancee Bershof and Tom Sullivan who also promote the planting of pollinator gardens. That garden began with generous loads of soil and compost from Martin’s Farm.

A beautiful and productive garden depends on good soil, rain and sun. If only we could order up the proper amounts of each every year.  How did your garden grow this year?

Between The Rows  October 20, 2018

2 comments to Autumn Assessment – Failures and Hopes

  • Oh dear, I’ve never tried the straw bales, and now I’m thinking I never will. I guess if a person has sub-par soil it might make sense, but my soil is really good to start with. But my growing conditions were far from perfect this year. Way too much rain and weird temperature swings. But as you experienced, some things thrived and others struggled. There’s a sense in which I’m glad this growing season is done, and I’m hopeful next year will be better. Sorry about the loss of your trees.

  • Lisa at Greenbow

    I have never been tempted to try straw bales. Too much coddling to my mind. I have heard of more failures than successes with them too by people that are much more apt to do the right thing.
    I am sorry to hear about your wet wet summer. We had the opposite. I think I lost a Silverbell tree. The top half died the year before and this summer did it in. I am leaving it until next spring to see if it recovers from our dry summer. I watered but I didn’t water enough.
    I bet your Lindera benzoin will recover. I see them growing for years beside a pond the floods and then recedes time and again over the summer.
    I wish you good luck with everything.

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