06 November 2013

Learning Opportunities in the Garden

We have one stunning basil plant right now.  The others (minus one) are managing to stay alive.  The latest one we planted looked like it would be a beauty, but like several other plants in the garden, got chewed almost all the way through the stem within a couple of days.  Why this lovely specimen in the back of the row is thriving (and not being attacked by bugs) when the others seem to struggle is something we haven't figured out, but we're grateful for the one!

What Basil Plants Need to Grow

We read up on what particular things make basil plants especially happy.  Many gardeners simply said that basil is an easy-to-please garden plant, growing like crazy even in less-than-ideal conditions.  We don't have it all figured out yet, but here are some things we're learning.  (For more information, you can start by reading more about basil in this article:  Enjoy Basil Year-Round by Growing it Indoors & Outdoors.)
  • Basil plants like sunshine.  [Ours get primarily indirect light.  We opted for planting them where we did because the sun here is so intense that we were afraid they would be sunburned if we planted them elsewhere.  It would be interesting to try a different location with the next few starts we have growing inside right now.]
  • Basil likes well-drained soil.  [Because it does not appear to have been worked much lately, none of our soil is well-drained.  We're composting as fast as we can, as well as adding mulch to the top of the soil, both to act as compost and reduce the need for watering.]
  • Basil likes to have air flow around it.  [Note to self:  keep the mulch a little bit away from the main stem.  This will help the water evaporate out more consistently, since the soil doesn't drain quickly.]
  • As for soil nutrients for basil plants, we have added both Epsom Salt (for magnesium) and molasses (for potassium) when we have done the same for our tomato and pepper plants.  We expect the soil to be better supplied as our composting and mulching progress, but we may need to consider a well-balanced organic fertilizer in the meantime.


I've never seen a cutworm.  We've seen some signs in our tomato and tomatillo patch that seem to indicate their presence; however, when I've dug around in the soil to see if I can find one, there hasn't been any evidence.  I do frequently see ants in the garden, but from my reading, ants are usually helpful in the garden, not harmful, so I hesitate to blame them for hollowing out plant stems.  

This particular tomatillo plant has had its stem nearly eaten through a minimum of three times now.  The first two times, my husband lovingly buried it deeper in potting soil, since tomatillo plants and tomato plants will both sprout more roots from the hairy stems if the stems are planted further down in the dirt.  Both times, the plant revived quickly, and seemed to be on a good growing spurt.

Today I found it chewed on for the third time, in a third place on the stem.  As I dug around, I found that indeed the stem had begun to root well.  Again finding no particular culprit, I buried it deeper still, and we're watching to see what happens to it.

Although it's usually something I try to do right away, we haven't managed to plant marigolds yet.  They're a good companion for any plant in the garden, and where I've had marigolds, my garden hasn't suffered nearly so much from pests and insects.  Maybe that's the next thing on the garden list--although it seems incomprehensible, our local Home Depot may just have some even in November to get us by until we can grow some from seed.  (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has a delightful collection of colors and sizes, and I'm itching to try several of them.)

Any further advice would be welcome.

Tomato Plants' Nutrient Needs

I've pinned an infographic called "Signs of Nutrient Deficiency", and I consult it often.  We first determined that the tomato plants would need a magnesium boost, which we provided with an Epsom Salts solution (one tablespoon dissolved in a gallon of water).  Later, it looked like they needed potassium, and with a little searching found that molasses--as "black" as you can get it--is a good, quick provider of potassium (also one tablespoon dissolved in a gallon of water).

Being new to town and a little short on time that day, we weren't sure where to get good black strap molasses, and settled for a milder version.  The plants loved it nonetheless, and looked quite healthy again.

These days, I'm keeping an eye on them for a possible iron deficiency, and thinking about ways to add iron to the soil.  I haven't yet found as easy a solution as the Epsom Salts or the molasses; however, black strap molasses, or molasses from a feed store that is stronger than humans usually consume, is much higher in iron content that your average "Grandma's Molasses", so we may try that if necessary.

I've also noted that there is a line of shade coming from the house each morning.  It shades a few of the tomato plants, while the others enjoy two or three hours more sunlight every day.  The plants on the sunny side are more than twice as large as any on the shadier side.  Next time we plant tomatoes, I have it in mind to plant them where they'll all get even more sun.  They'll be happy for the rays, and crop rotation is also a good pest deterrent.

Compost Solves Everything

In just about all the reading I've done on maintaining healthy soil, one thing stands out in it all:  compost solves everything.  Poorly draining soil?  Compost loosens it up.  Poor nutrient balance?  Composted manures and kitchen scraps have everything it needs.  Tired of tilling and weeding?  Compost and mulch added to the soil vastly reduce the need for both.

It's quite a lesson in patience and perseverance for me, because compost isn't an overnight solution.

I have dreams of a huge garden, where everything I could possibly want or need grows in over-abundance.  Yet I face daily reminders that in so many ways, I am still a beginner gardener, with beginner soil and lots of lessons to learn and wisdom to gain.  Some days I feel frustrated that it's not easier; other days I remember that the blessing of research, learning, trial and error, hard-won success, and patience will give me a far better garden in the long run.

1 comment:

  1. Your observing eye will take you far with your garden. You are noticing things that others overlook. I'm so happy that you are coming up with more solutions.


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