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  • Writer's pictureBrandi Bird

2023 Roundup - Part 2

And now, for defeats. The choices that, like a punch in the tit, left a lasting mark on both my body and psyche.

Mistake #1 - Making Raised Beds too Big

Creating new beds on my property with the typical double dig method has been the most labor intensive and futile task I have ever attempted. I was enlisted in the Army and also worked for the small "g" government before, so consider how those two workplaces are dedicated to generating futile tasks. I almost exclusively use raised beds and will continue to do so.

I could not get to the entire West coast of my 6x4 beds. My 6x6 bed was a bigger joke. The T-Rex arms feeling became increasingly annoying over the season. I will also have future beds arranged so that I can get to all sides of them. All the little jerk tomatoes tucked themselves against the fence away from me and I had to step into the raised beds and compact down all the dirt (not good).

So these too big beds that I made last spring, I amended them and put in some set it and forget it garlic and shallots. Since these crops take 210 days or longer, I won't need to fuss in those beds all the time. The ideal raised bed size for me is 24-30 inches tall, no further across than 3 feet, and approachable from all sides. Ideally, outfit the beds with some kind of watering set up or get ok with watering...a lot.

Mistake #2 - Weak Border Control

I have a complicated relationship with weed barrier and with weeds. The complication is I hate them both, but luckily they hate both each other. And the enemy of my enemy is my geotextile woven landscape fabric.

If you put down a weed barrier (whether woven fabric or plastic) and you put dirt or mulch on top of it, congratulations, you have just punched yourself in the face. You will get weeds. The wind and birds and even you will drop seeds, although I do find them much easier to pull than the ones that grow up from below. You are also going to get some weeds in the raised beds I was talking about earlier.

So don't go to all the trouble of rolling out the big guns just to put a bunch of mulch on top that will become a weed hotel where all the riffraff checks in for three days and steals all the towels.

Now listen, maybe you are like Season 2 me and you're feeling very democratic and cavalier about weeds. After all, what is a weed but a plant that wandered into the wrong neighborhood? Except it's not just a lil' lost plant, some weeds are hardened criminals here to steal all the nutrients, water, and sun and then, choke the life out of whatever other plants it encounters. I encourage you to embrace the energy of Season 4 me, who has more of a "Sweep the Leg" policy on weeds (whatever it takes short of chemical warfare).

Mistake #3 - Putting a Fat Man in a Little Coat

Dear Tomato Cages,

It's not me, it’s definitely you. I can't be trapped in this cruddy relationship anymore. I feel like you don't support me and you get all bent out of shape over the littlest thing. Also I don't want to be shallow, but you're too short and skinny for me.

Goodbye forever,

Indeterminate Tomato Plants

I'm using cattle panels or literally anything except tomato cages from henceforth. Tomato cages are like the training bra I grew out of in 5th grade. A whole lot of fuss for nothing and then it's too small in six days.

Mistake #4 - Underestimating the Sun

So May had you feeling all was right in the world and your plants are looking so stinking adorable that you can't wait to go outside and look at their cute little faces in the morning light. Then one day in June, the sun enters the scene as second Dumbledore who is really not f@cking around anymore. I found myself playing plant jenga in the limited shade of my porch or resuscitating the ladies with stiff drinks after they passed out dramatically in the heat of the day.

I don't think gardening books talk enough about noticing the sun. I'm ok with sounding dumb, but the sun is much more nuanced than "on" and "off". I live in a heat that kills people. That's how hot the sun is here, the kind where you just want to strip naked on a merciless July day and shake your fist at the sky sobbing, "Why? I surrender! I surrrreeennnndder."

I bought a shade cloth and hung it in the most haphazard redneck engineered way possible. Did you ever start a project so sure of the answer and then slowly step into a science you never really understood? To be so confident and then walk right into limitations of geometry or the realities of physics. It is humbling and usually closely linked to getting hurt (see more on that later!) The bottom line is that my July-September gardens need reliable afternoon shade that doesn't look like I'm hiding a meth lab.

Mistake #5 - Not Having a Bug Plan

I don't use pesticides or chemicals on my plants and the bugs finally got the memo. I have had the odd encounter with aphids and slugs, but I accept that a living garden has living creatures in it, including bugs. Most bugs are helpful or fall into the "chaotic neutral" category, but my fall crops were decimated by cabbage worms within 24 hours. I lost all my mizuna, cabbages, turnips, and kale. Only the broccoli survived of the brassicas. It put a huge dent in my anticipated sales and a bigger dent on my morale.

Next year, I plan on building in removeable screening to keep the baby plants safe from murder bugs.

This is Roosevelt posing with the first raised bed I built; I used old fence pickets. Notice how you can't reach it from all sides. Boo. Also notice how soil is not topped off enough so there is lots of fun bending and twisting to keep me busy. I have to cover new beds with chicken wire because the temptation to excavate all that good dirt is just too much for the Chief Digging Engineer.

It's been a good exercise for me to reflect on the wins and losses, to go back through my gardening journal and do the winter work of mental composting. To put to rest the season and all its many lessons and rest for a few months before the exhaustion I am sure to put myself through with future mistakes.


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