Between the Rows: Assessing the gardening season

  • Pat Leuchtman spread soil in the paths between the beds in her Greenfield garden to fill low spots and keep the water from overtaking the plants in the raised beds that are not water-tolerant. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • There was often insufficient time between rain storms to allow the water to be absorbed in Pat Leuchtman’s Greenfield garden. In mid-August, there was several inches of water. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Pat Leuchtman’s scaveola bloomed all summer, despite the especially wet weather. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman


For the Recorder
Published: 10/19/2018 12:14:59 PM

Now is the time to begin the autumnal evaluation of our garden season — the weather, our schedules, our successes, the failures and the not-quite-what-I-expecteds. I went into spring chores with joy and high expectations, but there was a disaster — the weather.

Spring was a long time coming, but by April 1 there were primroses budding. There were occasional snowfalls, but we did not have as wet a garden as we had had the past two years. We were full of anticipation as we planted some vegetables at the edge of the (usually) driest flower beds, and enjoyed pruning bushes that had grown so lushly. Remember, we were just going into our fourth year of gardening in Greenfield after moving from Heath.

I had been sent a book to write about titled “Straw Bale Solutions” by Joel Karsten. I had tried to grow some vegetables in a couple of straw bales some years ago with no more knowledge than that it took a straw bale and a plant start. That experiment was not a success.

“Straw Bale Solutions” gave very specific directions in preparing straw bales for planting, so I thought I could not go wrong. I bought three beautiful straw bales from the Greenfield Farmers Cooperative Exchange, and was assured that these bales were herbicide free. I also bought high nitrogen lawn fertilizer, as directed.

On May 9, I began conditioning the bales, which meant spreading the proper amount of fertilizer on top and watering it in. I followed the schedule in the book for 12 days, and then I was ready to spread some soil over the top of the bales and planted green bean seeds. I kept them watered as directed.

The idea is that the conditioned straw bales will start decomposing on the inside, making compost that will provide the seeds and plant starts with nutrition to grow and flourish. The bales will need to be kept watered because they are porous.

Long story short, the straw bales were a brilliant failure. I certainly cannot lay that failure on Karsten. I have to confess that while I did keep the bales watered, I did not always do this with warm water, which was a strong recommendation. Karsten explained that cold water from the hose does not encourage the growth of bacteria that need warmth to then provide nourishment for the seeds or plants.

It is also possible that the bales simply did not get enough sun. I knew they would not get morning sun, but I thought the afternoon summer sun would be more than adequate. Maybe not.

The upshot was that I never harvested any beans, although there were a few sad looking specimens on the wire fence support. And it is just now that a little cherry tomato plant I put in has started producing ripe tomatoes.

I take full responsibility for the failure of the straw bales. I do not take responsibility for the death of the beautiful weeping cherry and the pagoda dogwood, and the suffering of the calycanthus and lindera benzoin shrubs.

The trees drowned and the shrubs struggle to survive. Heavy rains in July and August were the culprit. The cherry and the dogwood have already been removed. We’ll wait to see if there is any spark of life in the shrubs that will encourage new growth.

Not all of the plants that seemed happy have bloomed. No striking red crocosmia. Still no bloom on the Sheffield daisies, which are usually such cheerful late bloomers.

Still, not everything was a failure. That is the joy of a richly diverse garden. The primroses loved the swampy summer as did the dappled willow, the elderberries, the winterberries, the button bush, the yellow twig dogwood and the river birches. Scaveola, a lovely low blue annual next to the yellow twig dogwood spent a blooming summer singing out, “Look at me! I’m swimming!”

All the rain that was such a problem in my garden, which has serious drainage problems, was just what other gardens needed. There are two public gardens in town that thrived during the rainy summer.

The renovation of Energy Park gardens by a group of volunteers, Wisty Rorbacher, Judy Draper, Nancy Hazard, Linda Smith and Nancy Patteson continued this summer. The soil there is sandy, and there is no easy way to provide regular watering, so the many and heavy rains were a real benefit to the plants there. This garden is designed to focus on native plants that will support pollinators in every season.

The second public garden located on Pleasant Street is a new garden, a part of the landscaping around the new John Zon Community Center. Again, it was a group of volunteers that created this garden under the direction of Nancee Bershof and Tom Sullivan, who also promote the planting of pollinator gardens. That garden began with generous loads of soil and compost from Martin’s Farm.

A beautiful and productive garden depends on good soil, rain and sun. If only we could order up the proper amounts of each every year.

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website:


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