Getting in the Garden Groove with John Schroeder: What DIDN’T Go Right this Year?


People often ask, “Has it been a good year in the garden?” And my answer is generally “yes.” Most years I find that a majority of the things I’ve attempted to grow have turned out well, yielding a substantial harvest of the crops I’ve grown. But each different year also seems to have its stories of failure – the pockmarks from a long gardening season. And 2020 has been no different for me.

Getting in the Garden Groove

I started this year with 21 tomato plants…a variety of hybrid and heirloom tomatoes that I use for slicing, San Marzanos and LaRomas for pico, canned salsa and sauces and three different types of cherry/grape midgets. One of those varieties that I have written about before is an heirloom cherry I discovered this year called Atomic Grape. This tomato produces very large and flavorful fruit as cherry tomatoes go. I had TWO plants at the start of this season. One of them was growing like gangbusters and racing out of the restrictions of its tomato cage, so I grabbed an old stake from the garage to use as an additional support for the cage. The plant was so big and bushy that I just sort of blindly directed the stake down through its branches to near the base of the plant and then began pounding it into the ground with my maul. When I came back a day or so later this entire plant was wilted and obviously dying. Only then did I realize that I had pounded the stake into the ground much too close to the main stem of the plant, probably severing one or more of its major roots in the process. It was too much for the plant to handle and one more reminder that in gardening as in carpentry it’s often a good idea to “measure twice and cut once” (translation – slow down and avoid mistakes!)

I had a similar situation with one of my pepper plants. I usually grow three or four poblano plants each year. I use them in various dishes, but I also love to smoke them and create the incredibly-flavored ancho chilies that compliment so many recipes. Poblano plants grow to be the largest of our pepper varieties and they produce multiple large peppers on each plant. Because of the weight of the fruit these plants can sometimes get bent over on windy days. I will usually go into the garden, bring the plant back to a point of being perpendicular to the ground and then firm the soil around the base to keep them upright. But after doing that one too many times this summer I got a little rough with one of the plants and it didn’t seem to appreciate my efforts. That plant, like that late, great Atomic Grape tomato, shriveled and perished. I grabbed all of the small fruits off the plant before discarding it and realized once again that I need to be more gentle at times.

Crops that were less than spectacular this year for me included broccoli and beets. I think the unusually hot June weather this year might have thrown my broccoli a bit off its game. I’ve been adding lots of egg shells to my garden the past few years, and I’m convinced that practice has had a positive effect on several crops but most notably my broccoli. I’ve had the largest heads that I’ve ever grown in recent years – that is until this season when my results just weren’t all that good.

Our beets have generally been undersized this season, as well (although some of the ones I decided to leave in until now are finally growing to a more acceptable size.) I have no real idea as to why it’s been a mediocre year for this particular root vegetable. There are so many variables that can affect the success (or lack thereof) with a certain crop. Maybe they also “baked” a bit too much during those critical early weeks in June.

Finally, I planted the wrong kind of peas this spring and didn’t realize it until we had our first stir fry with some of our just-picked pods. We usually grow sugar snap peas which have sweet edible pods that are great in various Asian dishes. I thought those were the seeds I had grabbed from the garden center this spring, but when I bit into those first few cooked pods I realized that what I was growing weren’t meant for eating but rather for producing large pea seeds. I later checked and found that I had purchased “Dwarf Gray Sugar” pods. Oh, well, I didn’t have my edible pods this year but for the first time in memory I DID get a considerable harvest of actual peas that we used in a couple of memorable rice dishes.

Every year your garden produces some things that just kick butt and other crops that fall flat. Part of the fun of gardening is figuring out what are each year’s winners and losers as the growing season progresses.



Next week: Putting the Garden -- and this Blog -- to Bed for the Year.


John Schroeder is a sales guy at Townsquare Media St. Cloud, but in his past life, he was an on-air personality specializing in sports. But what really turns his crank is getting out in his 28 x 15 foot vegetable garden several times a week nurturing, eventually harvesting (and sometimes sharing) homegrown food.


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