August is a good time to put on a straw hat, grab a tall glass of iced tea and spend a few minutes in the garden taking stock.
Ask yourself: What worked well this year? What didn't? Which plants withstand blistering temperatures? Which ones croak if you forget to water two days in a row?
It helps to jot down observations in a notebook to jog your memory next spring. I bought a handsome cloth-bound journal, but it was never around when I needed it so my notes are scattered across a yellow legal pad, a tiny spiral notebook and the back of an envelope.
Here are some important findings from those sweat-stained records:
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The annual sweet peas need more support. I have metal mesh that extends from below the soil level to the bottom rail of my picket fence. When the vines reach the top of the mesh, they aren't able to grasp onto the pickets. When they get tall, they flop back into the garden, getting tangled in the beans and strangling the baby sunflowers.
Only plant Cupani's Original annual sweet peas next year. I planted 12 heirloom varieties of the perfumey vines this year, but Cupani, which is an original Sicilian variety, outperformed the others by every measure. Find seeds at seedsavers.org.
Plant more zinnias. I can't get enough of the garishly colored, sturdy blooms. They last four or five days in a vase and can withstand dry weather.
Plant annual poppies earlier. I didn't get my seeds in the ground until mid-May. The varieties I tried, Angel Wings and Lady Bird, eventually bloomed, but the plants looked stunted and the blossoms were no larger than a quarter.
Revolution is an amazing lettuce for summer heat. It has deep garnet curly leaves and grows to mature size without bolting even in extreme heat, as long as you plant it in a spot that's shielded from direct afternoon sun. Get seeds at cooksgarden.com.
Romaine lettuce hates hot weather. Our growing season is too short to fool with romaine. Even if you put it out early it bolts before it reaches full size.
My garden doesn't get enough sun for tomatoes. My plot gets six hours of full sun a day, which appears to be plenty for beans, peppers, lettuce and herbs. But the tomatoes are still tiny and green. It's just as well. I've been looking for a reason to give up growing tomatoes now that farmers markets, and even some supermarkets, offer wonderful heirloom varieties.
Ozark Beauty strawberries are prettier but not as intoxicatingly perfumey as Honeoye. I've read you should renew a strawberry bed every three years anyway, so I'll start over in February with bare root Honeoye plants.
Those are the key findings so far, except for one scribbled note from a couple of weeks ago that is worth mentioning: "I miss Miracle-Gro!!!"
The penciled words are smeared, but I remember the circumstances of that particular lament. I was cutting zinnias, which do not get quite as big with my natural fish emulsion fertilizer as they did with Miracle-Gro.
But I'll keep trying to improve the soil with compost and experiment with other natural fertilizers before I reach for the magic blue powder again.
Reach Cindy Hoedel at 816-234-4304 or firstname.lastname@example.org.