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Weekly Gardening Tips: Unintended consequences

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By Bob Beyfuss

For Capital Region Independent Media

Headshot of a man named Bob Beyfuss.

This is the time of the year when many gardeners look back on the previous growing season and make notes as to what worked and what did not work in our gardens.

Well, we should make notes, because despite how certain we think we are to remember details, they seem to disappear over the long winter. This week I will dwell on the failures and next week I will highlight the successes.

My 2022 vegetable garden was one of my worst ever, for several reasons. I could blame the unprecedented 12-week drought my area experienced between July and September, which nobody could have predicted, but this past season, I thought I was well prepared for such an event.

I set up a 250-gallon watering trough, complete with a garden hose attachment that would supplement the three 55-gallon drums I have had for many years. For the first time in 20-plus years, I was able to capture and store hundreds of gallons of water, from even a few inches of rain runoff from my shed. So I planted and watered my garden in May and into June, confident that even a few passing showers would replenish my water supply. Sadly, those showers never happened and by July, I found myself out of water.

My 50 bulbs of garlic, which looked beautiful in May, languished in June and July in the drought and when I harvested it on July 23, most of the bulbs were about half the size I had anticipated. The “Early Sunglow” sweet corn I planted on June 19, quit growing by July 19, and despite being only a 63-days-to-maturity variety, the stalks only grew to be about knee high and the few, tiny ears that formed were eaten by a raccoon sometime in August. I hardly even noticed, since it was obviously not worth the effort to make the garden raccoon-proof.

My annual “pride and joy” crops are tomatoes and cucumbers. I buy my “Big Beef” tomato transplants at Story’s Nursery in May and repot them into pint-size containers by early June. Sixteen ounce red “Solo” cups are not just used for disguising one’s beer at places that don’t allow alcohol! They make ideal step-up containers from the cell packs, if holes are poked in the bottom (not for beer, though).

My transplants thrived happily in these bigger pots as they sat on my picnic table for a month. I like to experiment with at least one new cherry-tomato variety each year and a reader was kind enough to send me five seeds of a red cherry variety that I was certain to recall the name of. Of course, I forget both the reader’s name and the variety’s name.

I save seed from all sorts of winter squash and a friend of mine starts my Brussels sprouts (Long Island Improved) as well as cucumbers (Marketmore and a pickling variety), which I also transplant into the Solo cups. By mid-June, my picnic table had dozens of beautiful transplants growing happily in their red cups and I was a happy and confident gardener!

About the same time it stopped raining, I was shopping at my local Dollar store, where I spotted a herbicide product I was unfamiliar with. It was called “Weed and Grass Killer.” The first listed active ingredient was Diquat. I am somewhat familiar with Diquat, as a systemic chemical, and I decided to try it out on some mugwort, a nasty weed that had just arrived on my property a few years ago and was rapidly spreading.

I was pleased to see that it killed the mugwort pretty quickly, so on a hot June afternoon, I sprayed it all over my driveway, not at all concerned that my transplants, sitting 3 feet above the driveway, on my picnic table, would be affected.

One week later, I noticed that something was wrong with everything. The tomato plants stopped growing new leaves or flowers. Instead, they grew thicker and thicker stems, with greener and greener leaves that curled downward. The cucumbers and squash just stopped growing, but did not die outright. The Brussels sprouts looked OK. They actually grew into monster-size plants, but failed to produce a single sprout by October when I finally pulled them out!

Oftentimes, vegetable transplants will outgrow herbicide drift, so I transplanted everything into my well-prepared garden beds and waited, and waited, and waited. Sadly, they never grew, but also did not die. For the first time ever, I experienced a total tomato, squash, Brussels sprouts and cucumber failure.

Thanks to my kind neighbors and friends, I was able to enjoy some of their harvest, but there will be no pickles or tomato sauce to enjoy this winter in Florida! 

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