Greetings gorgeous growers; hopefully you have thus far experienced a season of bountiful fruits. As the active growing season begins to wind down, let’s discuss some of the lessons we’ve learned during the past six months. Consider this the highlight reel of the past six months of articles I’ve written, just in case you missed one or two (I’m sure you haven’t):
-Make Plans, Break Them
The best-laid plans often do go to waste, but no plan at all is guaranteed defeat. The more detail you put into your garden notebook (yes, you need a garden notebook), the more improvement you will see from season to season. As you move to planning for next year, your notes should look like a Beautiful Mind diagram (window scribbling optional) with ideas scribbled out, written over and a healthy amount of blood, sweat and tears dotting the pages. Information is power, and there is no greater fertilizer than a grower’s footsteps throughout the season recorded on paper.
Life is too short to grow boring plants. Better Boy is so blasé, why not try Aunt Ruby’s German Green, or Lucid Gem, or Hawaiian Pineapple? At the very least, you sound cooler naming them off. Impress your friends and neighbors by having a go at luffa, yard-long beans or New Zealand spinach. By breaking the mold and growing unusual varieties (and keeping notes), you are much more likely to find a winner that works best for your space and your table. Be adventurous, seek out the strange. Try growing at times when no one else is bothering. A winter garden in the south can be diverse and bountiful, provided you get your plants in and cover them occasionally. No need to worry about the pest and disease problems of the summer. Getting a cool weather garden planted is the best way to maximize your amount of effort to food harvested.
-Create with Cover Crops and Compost
You reap what you sow but more importantly, you must feed where you grow (catchy, right?). Taking care of your soil food web is not just a good idea, it’s a biological imperative. Sure, you can see quick victories by adding high salt fertilizers and herbicides, but that’s the horticultural equivalent of redlining your engine. It might look cool for a while, but ultimately you are left with a big pile of junk that won’t get you where you want to go. Introducing organic matter through compost and cover crops allows you to build the soil’s natural symbiosis of fungi, bacteria and invertebrate life. It’s not a quick fix, but over time you can build adaptable, resilient soils that can handle drought, disease and insect pressure far better than conventional methods.
-Make Mulch, Not Weeds
The weed is public enemy No. 1 in your garden. It wastes your time, it buries your harvest and it provides shelter to innumerable critters microscopic and otherwise which aim to do your plants harm. You should design your garden from day one to eliminate the most monotonous task you can do: the old twist and pull. You can use a hoe, a weed-eater or even a flamethrower but you won’t have near the success that you can see with a regular application of mulch. The best source is fall leaves from the previous year. If you didn’t save a pile last fall, inquire from your landscape company or county waste service. They often have piles that are years old that you can take for free. Layer on heavy and pull any weeds that emerge. A little work ahead will save you a bent back and a failed garden later.
-Share the Bounty
Once you have gone to all of the effort to plan, plant, enrich and protect your garden, the ultimate reward comes in — giving it all (or at least the best bits) away. There is a tendency for us to be focused on the prepper/zombie apocalypse garden where we grow first for our families and the squirrels get the rest. That overlooks the most powerful and overlooked aspect of growing food — creating community. Encourage a kid to pull a carrot, and you create a lifelong veggie lover. Share a basket of tomatoes with your five closest neighbors, and be amazed as a de-facto neighborhood watch arises. Send your teenager to the food bank with your extra squash, and watch her learn gratitude. Bring that old-timer in to critique your technique and he may share the bean seed that his family has grown for generations. It’s a proven fact, gifted food just tastes better. Try it and see.
As the nights grow longer, the air cools and you sow your last fall plantings of greens and garlic, think back on the season with gratitude and optimism. The next cycle awaits. How will you fill your space? Maybe some hops, or peanuts, or a record-size pumpkin. I am eternally floored by the sheer variety of edibles that are available for us to grow. There’s so much more to the world than corn, tomatoes, and turnip greens- the world is your onion, get planting!
Cory Mosser is the founder of Natural Born Tillers, a farm coaching company dedicated to creating lasting opportunities in sustainable agriculture for the next generation of farmers. He has more than 10 years of experience managing organic vegetable farms, including five years locally in Newton County as the manager of Burge Organic Farm.