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Between the Rows

Between the rows: Projects & experiments

Every spring, we begin the gardening season with new energy and new plans. After a winter of reading and thinking, we stride out into the spring sun to build and dig, to add and subtract with confidence and high hopes.

In the fall, while we are hoping we still have time to plant some bulbs (we do), it is time to review and see how our projects and experiments turned out.

Our big project this year was really big — an 8-foot high fence around the vegetable garden to keep out the deer. The fence protects the vegetables, peas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and lettuce that the deer really decimated last year, but it also encircles the red raspberry patch, and the row of black raspberries.

The fence is successful in that it does keep out the deer, and seemed to be keeping out the rabbits, so we were happy. The crop rotation put the Brussels sprouts in a new bed where they did not do well, so that bed got an extra helping of compost this fall. It is newly planted to garlic, which will be harvested in July.

The garlic crop, my second, was a big success, and I give a lot of the credit to seed garlic that I got from my neighbor Rol Hesselbart. Huge cloves!

My first experiment in the spring was using floating row covers in the Early Garden right in front of the house. This protected spot was created by the lasagna method in 2010, an experiment that was wonderfully successful. The soil is fertile, well-drained and gets sun all day long. It is a great place to plant greens early in the season. Last year, the rabbits thought so, too.

I thought that the floating row covers, which are designed to get crops off to an early start, would also protect them from the rabbits because the covers are pinned down. I was right and I was able to harvest lettuces and other greens for my own meals. The rabbits had to make do with nibbling the lawn.

Apparently, by August, the rabbits had found a way into the fenced vegetable garden so the late planting of greens was attacked. It took me a while to remember that floating row covers work as protection. Better late than never. The row covers were arranged and I was able to get a small harvest there.

Some may remember the great Tomatoes in a Straw Bale experiment that left my husband wounded and bloody. This experiment was not very successful. The hole in the straw bale, which held compost, was so difficult to create that we did not make it very big. I did not think this was too important. I thought the roots would grow into the wet and rotting straw and get sufficient nutrition. I was wrong.

The strawbale was placed at the end of the Herb Bed where it was regularly watered. The two cherry tomato plants I inserted into the compost and straw grew and produced fruit, but without the vigor they had in the vegetable garden. When I recently pulled the frosted plants out of the straw bale, I saw that the roots were stunted. They had not been able to grow strongly through the bale as I expected.

What could I have done differently? When I saw that the young plants were not really thriving, I could have begun a fertilization schedule as I do with my potted annuals.

If I want to try this next year, what can I do that will bring more success? I can make a larger planting hole.

If I want to change the experiment slightly, what can I do? Instead of using a straw bale, which has the advantage of being weed free but is very dense and not as I nutritious as I thought, I could use a hay bale. Daniel Botkin of Laughing Dog Farm in Gill told me that if I leave a hay bale out in the weather all winter, any weed seeds will rot and the hay can be used as a planting site or as mulch with no danger of importing seeds.

Because the point of an experiment is to learn, no experiment can ever be called a total failure. A hypothesis, such as tomatoes can grow well in a straw bale, is tested. The results of the hypothesis are evaluated and examined. The tomatoes did not grow well because the root system did not develop properly. Then a new hypothesis can be considered, and tested next year.

As a gardener, I sometimes feel I am perpetually in a high school science class. And that is a good thing. Therefore, I have already picked up four hay bales and stationed them in the garden for further experiments next spring.

What experiments did you try this year? Did you get the results you desired or expected? Did you learn enough to formulate a new hypothesis? Please let me hear from you by e-mailing commonweeder@gmail.com and we can compare notes in a future column.

Readers can leave comments at Pat Leuchtman’s Web site: www.commonweeder.com. Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980.

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