Learning from vegetable garden successes, failures

Marianne Ophardt, Washington State University Benton County Extension.October 17, 2013 

There was frost on my lawn Monday and Tuesday mornings, which tells me the gardening season is just about over. It is a wistful time of year for gardeners, but also a good time to reflect on this past season's successes and failures. I wish I could get into the habit of using a garden journal to record my end-of-season thoughts, but mostly I make mental notes. By the time next year rolls around, there are some ideas that I will remember and others forgotten.

Container vegetable gardening: My container vegetable garden did better than expected. I grew a variety of different vegetables in four wine barrels. I was most happy with my yellow summer squash, zucchini and cucumbers. The main problem here was that I had planted too many plants in each container, which led to crowding, even though I used compact varieties of zucchini and cucumbers recommended for container growing. One total failure was planting carrots and lettuce in the same container at the same time with the yellow squash. The squash plants became large quickly and shaded them out. Next year, I plan to plant the lettuce and carrots early enough to harvest these cool season crops before I plant the squash.

I planted four pepper plants and three eggplants in another barrel. Again, too many plants led to crowding. In my fourth barrel, I planted Beaverlodge, a cold tolerant early season tomato. The Beaverlodge fruit produced long before my garden tomatoes, but they weren't very tasty. I'll try another type of early patio tomato next year or maybe I'll plant herbs instead.

Tomatoes: I planted six other tomato plants in my garden. After warm weather finally arrived, they took off and produced fairly well. The plants ended up over five feet tall. That was a problem because the plants fell over during one of our wind storms. I had tried several different types of cages that were three feet tall and secured to a fence, but the plants were just too big and heavy. (It is very difficult to harvest tomatoes from plants that have flopped over.) There has to be a better way to support tomatoes. Any ideas? Share them with me and others on our Master Gardener Facebook page at www.facebook.com/wsumastergardeners. Be sure to include pictures.

For the past two years, a great many gardeners have bemoaned the lack of tomatoes on their plants. This was primarily because of extended cool spring weather followed by extremely hot weather, both conditions that are not conducive to good tomato fruit set. Next year, I want to plant at least one variety that sets well in cool weather and another variety that's heat tolerant to cover my bases.

Local gardeners can usually find transplants of early cold tolerant tomatoes like Oregon Spring or Siletz, both developed at Oregon State University for short-season climates. Heat tolerant varieties that will set fruit when the temperatures are above 85 or 90 degrees are harder to find. You may have to start your own transplants, but it could be worth it. Heat tolerant varieties include Heatwave II, Sun Master, Bella Rosa, and Solar Fire. You can find these and other heat tolerant varieties from a number of seed companies.

That pretty much covers my 2013 vegetable gardening endeavors.

-- Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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