Learning Lessons (the hard way)
September 2, 2014, 9:44 PM
Filed under: Growing Food, organic gardening | Tags: , , ,

I’ve been gardening for a long time now, but each season brings new lessons to my weedy classroom and this  summer of 2014 was no different. I thought I’d share them with you and then I’ll have a permanent record of them too, so that I can refer back to them in the coming years. (Sometimes I don’t ‘pass the test’ the first time and it takes me more than one lesson to ‘get it’). 

Lesson: Cleanliness in the garden is next to Godliness. I had planted two patches of basil-harvesting from one on Mondays and then the other on Thursdays-to donate to One Acre Cafe. The plants were beautiful and healthy…


when seemingly overnight they began to yellow and wither in one patch…


Then, sure enough, the problem spread to the other patch a few days later! Hmmm.. the basil plants in my own plot at the Community Garden were fine, other plots had healthy plants and my basil at home was beginning to resemble a small tree. What happened? I think I finally figured it out-I had  failed to sterilize my cutting shears with a bleach/water solution between uses! I began carrying a spray bottle of the mix in my basket to the garden each day and spraying it on the blades as I moved about the plot. I gave the almost dead basil a good dose of fish emulsion and stopped all cuttings for about three weeks or more. Eventually the plants recovered, but never to their original robust beauty.

Lesson: Shortcuts don’t always save time. I ran out of Epsom Salts to add to the final few tomato planting holes last spring and I was in too big of a hurry to stop and go buy some more, thinking it wouldn’t matter if I skipped it on those last two or three plants. It DID matter, a LOT! Those plants had blossom end rot on every single tiny tomato they produced; I’d eliminated that problem years ago when I’d learned about the egg shell/Epsom Salt combination.


Lesson: Identify bugs properly.  For a couple of months I killed every one of these I could find…


Finally I got smart and put 3 or 4 in a bottle to take to my nearest extension agent’s office. He promptly identified them as Pink Spotted Ladybugs, or 12 Spotted Ladybugs. Both adults and larvae are important aphid predators but also eat mites, insect eggs, and small larvae. Unlike most lady beetles, plant pollen may make up to 50% of the diet, WHICH MAKES THEM IMPORTANT POLLINATORS TOO!

Lesson: Comfrey doesn’t like full sun. I was given several perennial comfrey plants (thanks Barbara!) this spring and planted them on both sides of my house where nothing-NOTHING- was growing. I knew that they spread quickly and that’s what I was looking for because once established, they make really good additions to compost piles AND chickens love to eat them. I want to have chickens again next spring, after we return from a long trip in late winter, so I wanted to get the comfrey established this year. The plants on the shady north side have spread and flowered and done beautifully while the ones I put on the sunny south side have struggled, in spite of regular watering. Luckily, I plan to house my girls on the north side since they don’t like full sun either.


Final Lesson: You can teach an old dog new tricks!

  • dog



4 Comments so far
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My comfrey goes crazy even in full sun. It grows close to the garden since it attracts all kinds of pollinators. I save my egg shells and dry and grind them, to use in/on the ground for tomatoes, cabbage and collards, since they all like calcium. I never knew about the Epsom salts part or that the egg shells helped to prevent blossom end rot. So you learned your lessons well and passed them on and I’ll pass that along up here. Chickens for you, yay! We’ll want to hear all about that.

Comment by sarasinart

Well, this one was just full of info that I didn’t know! Epson salts and egg shells for blossom end rot(need a ratio), lady bugs for buggy predators and comfrey for chickens. I get a little smarter every time you post! AND, like sarasinart, can’t wait to hear about YOUR chickens.

Comment by Karen

Sam, I already save egg shells. Mike McGrath says a dozen for each tomato plant. But how much Epsom Salts?…mixed with the egg shells?

Comment by Deanna

Deanna, I don’t measure it precisely but a LARGE Tablespoon per planting hole seems to work well, If you’re transplanting to really big holes or especially deep ones, I’d add no more than 1/4 cup and then mix it well in the bottom with your shells and soil. Add a bit of water to dissolve the salts before planting. Something about the magnesium in the salts enhances the uptake through the roots of the calcium that’s in the egg shells (as well as what’s in the soil naturally) I’m no scientist but that’s how it was explained to me. I just find it pretty amazing that the 3 plants I didn’t use the salts on had the rot and all others were okay. Just sayin’ 🙂

Comment by simpleintn

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