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Mistakes Were Made

By Elaine Richards

Bee on fruit tree flower

Making mistakes is a great way to learn. At least that's what I tell myself.

Some years ago, I moved from a foggy microclimate into the "Banana Belt" of the East Bay. This gave me the chance to grow a varied vegetable garden, as well as put in a mini-orchard.

However. Mistakes Were Made.

The first was not understanding water use. There was a golf course-style lawn irrigation system that sprayed water into the air, where the slightest breeze would cast the precious resource to the winds. August was the Powdery Mildew Festival in my garden due to all the overhead watering.

Another mistake came from that deep-seated desire to find a bargain or freebie. If there are free seeds or plants, I grab them and put them in the garden. I wound up with some exciting things that I had no idea what to do with and did not like when I did figure them out.

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Enthusiasm with a little greed is another problem. I would start plants and have to plant them all. I wound up with 27 tomato plants. Why? I am not operating a cannery. That was just silly. It was also crowded and the plants did not do as well as they could have.

Soil exhaustion. Ugh. After planting a summer garden and winter garden, one after another, last year's crop involved plants that did not get bigger than the size of the 4-inch pots I started them in, due to crowding and soil exhaustion.

What's happening now, you ask?

I took an irrigation class, attended talks, loaded up on books and tools, and got to work. I learned how to troubleshoot and repair the setup, replacing less efficient water delivery systems with drippers. The strawberries are properly mulched and I finally have the setup programmed to give enough, but not too much, water. This took about a year, so we're not talking quick fix, but long-term planning and work.

If I pass a free seed box, my fingers twitch and I remind myself, "No." and stick to the plan. This is pretty hard. I love freebies, but I remind myself of how much effort it took to dig up fennel plants that started taking over my vegetable beds and how unbearably bland the Mystery Squashes were.

What will I grow this year?

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Things I have liked since I was a child and things that I know for sure will grow successfully in my yard. No more peppers and eggplant. They just don't do well and I can walk to several different markets and supermarkets from home. If I want something "exotic" (Dragonfruit, anyone?) or have super high water needs (corn, for example), I can buy it.

In case you are wondering, I can do well with strawberries, garlic, green beans, tomatoes, and peas.

The garden is not just plants. It is also soil. It's tempting to buy a box of plant food, but no matter how "earth-friendly" the marketing department of the “Box of Fertilizer Company” says it is, it's not a long-lasting solution and just leaches out of the soil. You have to really feed it and let it rest. I gave the soil a spa holiday this winter, putting in cover crops and then shoveling them under in late January.

I'm hoping this coming summer will give me a reliable supply of goodies or the table and no more, ok, fewer Mistakes will be made.

Find Help For Your Mistakes

Making mistakes is part of learning. If you are visiting our site to learn more about gardening in Alameda County, we have many resources to get you started.  Start by checking out the growing your own food articles, continue on to read more in the blog, watch some videos - you'll be fixing your own garden mistakes in no time flat!