Getting in the Garden Groove with John Schroeder: Every Year is Different


One of the enduring lessons I’ve learned from years of plodding around a vegetable garden is that just when you think you have it all figured out you get totally surprised by the way one of your crops comes out that year. There’s always something new to learn and nothing seems to stay exactly the same from one year to the next. “Change is the only constant in life.” So said the Greek philosopher Heraclitus (or was it Mr. Spock who expressed that wisdom?!) Either way, those words would indicate that the person who uttered them would have had the right temperament to try gardening as a hobby!


Despite working the same tract of earth each year - despite being in the same temperate zone season after season – and despite much of the environment surrounding my garden being relatively unchanged over time I find that every year my results are different. Each season I have a bumper crop involving one or two of the things I grow, while in that same year a couple of different things will go south on me and end up not very good at all. And the amazing thing is that these results will vary from one year to the next.

Usually I have good luck with peppers. The jalapenos, poblanos, bananas and other varieties I grow normally produce very well. But then there are those exception years. I had one season perhaps three years ago where we had a consistently warm fall and a very late first frost. My plants just kept producing, giving me literally hundreds of peppers all the way through early November. But a year or two earlier we had experienced an extended stretch of cool, wet weather in early June right after I had put my bedding plants in the ground. Their growth initially stunted, they never fully recovered and I had almost no peppers to harvest three months later.

Most years I’m able to grow substantially large carrots. Each winter I add a fair amount of fireplace ash to my garden, believing it helps in the development of root crops. I think the carrots benefit from that in most years. But two autumns ago as I dug them out I was amazed at how small and inconsistent they were. Some environmental condition must have changed that year in a way that was a detriment to those carrots.

One year I’ll have great beans and tomatoes but my broccoli and cabbage will be mediocre. Another year I’ll harvest a 5-gallon bucket of cucumbers weekly for a period of 6 weeks to 2 months but I’ll shake my head at how disappointing the beets were that same year.

You can usually attribute differing results to seasonal tendencies in the weather. Tomatoes and peppers like consistently hot temperatures. I remember one especially steamy summer when I surprisingly ended up with a spotty crop of both. It didn’t seem to make sense. But then I read somewhere that if it’s TOO HOT at that critical time in late June /early July when those plants are setting flowers (which eventually become your fruit) those blooms can shrivel and die, hurting your eventual yield. I think that’s what happened that particular year.

What’ll be good this year? What will disappoint? The amount of sunlight we receive, the temperature averages, the precipitation that happens in this area…all of that and more will play a role in your results. Control what you can and just accept that ultimately Mother Nature will have more to do with your results than you will.

Bonus: I took this photo last weekend after some early harvest activity. Can you identify each of these plants?



Next week: Sequential planting


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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