Lessons Learned From a Summer Garden

Every season I discover how much I still don't know about gardening. Here are some of the lessons I learned in the garden this summer.

It’ll Only Take A Moment

As summer winds down, I’m anxiously looking forward to cooler and less humid weather, a little extra free time around the house to catch up on some “deferred maintenance,” and especially working in the fall garden. But before we head too far down that road, it’s good to take a little time to reflect on the outgoing peak gardening season; to relish the unexpected successes and make notes for adjustments in those areas of opportunity that maybe didn’t go as well as planned.

Every season I discover how much I still don't know about gardening. Here are some of the lessons I learned in the garden this summer.

The Highlights

This year we decided at the last minute to sell our extra vegetables at the Mableton Farmers Market. Overall, it was an overwhelming success for several reasons, chiefly: 1) we met loads of new friends – both farmers and customers – with whom we share common values, and from whom we learned a lot; 2) we raised seed money to support our donation garden; 3) we were providing something that our neighbors in the community want and appreciate.

  • That being said, we could have been far better prepared. Every week it seemed that we were scrambling to have enough veggies and herbs to fill our booth. It was not a matter of how much we could produce, so much as the timing of production. Next year our planting schedule will be prepared, at least in part, with the market in mind.

Another highlight of the summer was connecting with Sweetwater Mission, our local food bank. For a long time we struggled when excess vegetables came from the garden.  Going forward, we have an enthusiastic recipient who makes fantastic use of everything we bring them.

  • We can do a far better job of supporting this good cause with a little prior planning. We will have a conversation with the director to gain a better understanding of which items are most sought after by their clients; and so we can intentionally grow for donations, in greater quantities, what is of highest value to them.

From a gardening process standpoint, watering was again a challenge. Time commitments stretched us thin, to the point of relying on overhead watering which is inadequate and inefficient. Poor watering (both timing and technique) contributed to several crop problems.

  • We need to develop a better watering system. To this point, hand watering (garden hose with a water wand) has been the only real effective method, but it is rather time consuming. More specifically, it needs to be done precisely when the water is needed and not “as soon as I can.” A drip system with a rain shutoff is the most efficient option I’m aware of, but I don’t know if we can bite into that expense for 20 beds quite yet…

Also filed under time challenges (as well as spatial challenges), comes weeding. The summer began with fairly weed free beds and well mulched paths. As we prepare for the fall garden, the volume of weeds coming out of the beds is astonishing. So too is the massive amount of growth on the vine crops, which form an impenetrable labyrinth at lower end of the garden.

  • To keep the weeds under control, we have to weed four beds per day / five days per week (20 beds total). Beginning with clean beds, and sharing the load among two adults and an 8 year old, this should be doable.
  • The labyrinth of sweet potatoes, cowpeas, yardlong beans, and whatever else we decide to grow is a matter of training and placement. Perhaps it doesn’t make a lot of sense to group all of the vines in close proximity. Also, we need to have a trellising plan with every vine crop.

Every season I discover how much I still don't know about gardening. Here are some of the lessons I learned in the garden this summer.

Going Forward

Keeping these thoughts in mind as we plant in future seasons should help us avoid some of this year’s missteps. That’s another thing I like about gardening, there’s always something new to conquer.


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