A Review of Past Seasons in the Garden




The gardening season for 2012 is over.  Leaves have been tilled into the spots that have been cleared of the finished plants. The leaves will decompose over the winter and the ground will be ready to go for the early spring crops.  Garlic was planted in late September and a few have poked out of the ground.  A ground cover of leaves will help protect them until warm weather returns.

There are a few crops still going such as beets and carrots. Bags of leaves cover them to keep the ground from freezing until they are all harvested. Inside, onions, garlic and winter squash are in the cool basement providing ingredients and side dishes for meals for a few months.

It was a very challenging year in the garden.  The season started very early. We had temperatures in the 70’s and a few days reached 80 in March.   Hitting the low 60’s at that time of the year is normally a treat.  I took advantage of the early spring to plant some cool weather crops including peas, radishes, lettuce, spinach and broccoli. I knew that there was a good chance they could be frozen out, but the cost was low and the rewards were high.   I planted second crops of these in April at the normal time.

As usual, I started my peppers and tomatoes in mid-March. Instead of doing it inside on a cold rainy (or snow!) day as usual, I was outside in shorts and a T shirt listening to a Brewer pre-season game.  I felt like I should have been transplanting tomatoes and peppers into the ground rather than putting seeds in containers.

The very early crops survived a cold April, and the results were great. I got the best broccoli I ever had with large dense flower heads.  The lettuce produced a good. Unfortunately the weather got hot and dry in June and July. We had more days in the 90’s than I can recall. We had a number of days over 100. It might have been a decade since we saw 100 degrees and even longer since we had anywhere that many 100 degree days.  

To make matters worse, we had very little rain during this time.  June and July had less than 1” each.  Around mid-August we got a little rain, but not really enough. The farmers around here really had a tough time. I tried to water the vegetables but the garden is a long ways from the faucet and I carried 5 gallon buckets by hand. It might have been good exercise, but it was hard to keep up with the high heat.  Some crops like the onions and garlic didn’t get enough. They dried up a couple of weeks early and the bulbs were much smaller than usual.

September was very dry but had normal temperatures.   October was cooler than usual and we had our first bad frost a couple of weeks earlier than normal. It was dry the first half of October but then we had an extended stretch of days with good rains. It was far too late for anything in the garden, but will be a big help to trees and other stressed plants survive the winter.

The heat really did a number on the brassicas.  While the broccoli planted in March was spectacular, the broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage planted in April were major disappointments.   The broccoli never headed. They produced small groups of large flowers. The Brussels sprouts at best were the size of small marbles in early November. 

The corn was stunted and really never produced decent ears. At least I was not depending on it for income like the farmers in the area. The tomatoes were pretty good. I got my first small tomatoes by the 4th of July which was a real treat. The larger ones did not start producing until mid-August. I had a lot less disease problems with the tomatoes than usual. No doubt this was due to the leaves being dry from lack of rain.  Cucumbers were also early and plentiful. They got producing so early that the vines were spent while there was a still lot of warm weather remaining. I should have planted a second crop a month or so after the first.

It was a good year for squash except for major problems with the squash vine borer.  They got my winter squash. Normally I have not had problems with that when I grow them vertically on my squash supports, but this was the second year in a row they have been a problem.   I surgically removed the grubs from the stems when I could. That seemed to have set the pests back, but I got a second infestation. I think that is unusual.  The vines dried up early and a number of the squash were not ripe, but even so I got more squash than usual. This is especially surprising since I used some of the space reserved for winter squash to grow bird house gourds. Unfortunately the gourds this year were kind of small to make bird houses even though the vine borers did not attach their dense stems.

The vine borers also got the zucchini. I performed surgery on them but did not expect the vines to survive so I planted a second crop in the space cleared out by the early onion harvest.  Guess what? The first planting mostly survived and the second crop started also producing. We have a lot of frozen zucchini in the freezer for zucchini bread this winter.

The real winner this summer was the peppers.  The peppers were early and they were very hot. Even varieties that are not normally very hot were hot.  The Habanero plants were probably 3 times larger than usual. They were loaded with fruits at the end of the season. These did not seem extra hot. Maybe this was because they mature late and the really hot and dry weather was over. The only disappointment in the pepper patch was the bell peppers.  An ant colony moved in the middle of those plants. I don’t like using poisons, especially around food plants. They killed the bell pepper plants.  After that happened I dug up the soil around the ant hill and that seemed to convince them to move elsewhere.

From the standpoint of the flowers, 2012 was also a dismal season.  The warm March weather brought up a lot of the spring flowers early.  Many spring flowers bloomed 3 weeks earlier than usual.  Some came up early but didn’t bloom until their normal time. These probably timed their flowering by the length of day instead of the temperature. A lot of them got frozen out when normal temperatures returned in April. Many summer and fall flowering plants had frost damage on their leaves.

The hot and dry June and July really hurt the summer flowering plants. I tried to keep up with watering the vegetables, but the flowers had to fend for themselves.  Most of the state towns and cities had watering restrictions.  I live in the country and have my own well so legally I could water all I want. Some people had shallow wells go dry. I felt I could not ethically use water for ornamental plants under those conditions.  Much of the summer my lawn was brown and crunched when you walked on it.  Some of the grass never did come back and I will have a lot of spots to seed next spring.  Most of the area towns cancelled the 4th of July because of fear of starting grass fires.  A couple didn’t cancel and actually did start fires.

The plants that flowered had fewer and smaller blossoms than usual.  Many plants did not flower at all. Even though we got more moderate temperatures and some rain in August even the fall plants like asters were very poor. Hopefully 2013 will be better.

One thing about gardening is that you will always have failures and successes.  You just have to roll with the punches.  2012 certainly proved that.




2011 was kind of an odd year weather-wise.  While the winter was one of the warmest on record, we had a long and cold spring.  The leaves on the trees were a couple of weeks later than usual along with the flowers. That was great for the spring vegetable crops.  The peas were great and we had a long crop of lettuce and spinach.

Then summer came. It went from cold and rainy to very hot in late June.  The tomatoes and other warm weather crops didn’t do much in June and even though they like the hot weather were so far behind that tomatoes were several weeks behind usual.  My main garden is about 20 years old. Despite rotating crops I have a build-up of soil diseases that attack tomato plants. I decided to grow tomatoes in new areas outside the fenced in vegetable garden. Unfortunately the combination of weather and critters eating the tomatoes made the tomato crop the worst in many years.

One bright spot was that we had to repair some buried pipes in late winter. The contractor left an area of subsoil after they finished. When it started to warm up I worked some compost into the soil and seeded it.  The grass seed was left over from previous years and didn’t germinate very well. I did get a couple of volunteer tomatoes from seeds that must have been in the compost from the compost pile.  I think they must have been an accidental hybrid from a Roma variety and some other type.  I decided to just leave it for the tomatoes until next year and will plant grass there again. The fruits were like Roma but much larger. They were very meaty and had few seeds. The plants were very prolific. I wish I could buy seeds for tomatoes like that!

This year was probably my best year ever for corn and peppers.  The peppers were late like the tomatoes but prolific.  The corn was also late, but I normally plant it late.  The farmer’s market has early corn but not so much late in the season so I plant my corn to be ready late in the season.

Winter squash was a major disappointment.  The squash vine borers got them. I have lots of problems with vine borers I grow squash or pumpkins on the ground. I have not had problems ever when I grow squash vertically on my squash towers. This year I only managed a few small squash.  Onions and garlic were also a disappointment.   They do most of their growing during May and June. Once the summer solstice arrives in late June they start to form their bulbs. I think the cold May and June prevented a lot of root and leaf growth so they were only able to produce small bulbs.

2011 was a good example that you will normally have good luck with some crops and bad luck with others in a given year. The weather can’t be optimum for all crops, almost by definition.  Enjoy the ones you had success with and get over the failures. Next year is almost guaranteed to be different.



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