2020 Summer Garden In Review – The Good and The Bad

It’s early September and the garden has been in full swing for a while here in WNY where I live in Zone 5b.  This post is an update on what’s growing and thriving, but also a record of what didn’t work or was attacked by pesky pests, in hopes that these problems can be mitigated next year and hopefully you might find some advice from my garden experience.

The Good

Due to the pandemic, I was home a lot more than a normal spring and was able to start my starter plants indoors from seeds earlier than I ever had before.  I also have a lot more space this year since we moved from our one bedroom apartment into our house, which meant I had more space and windows to grow my seedlings in.

I started a variety of seeds in mid-March including but not limited to: arugala, lettuces, beans, radish, beets, kale, chard, tomatoes, peppers, etc.  Many of the colder weather, hardier plants could have been planted directly into the soil, but I thought I’d start them all indoors, I also direct sowed plants later in the season.  Important to note, I didn’t have soil to sow seeds in until my husband and I designed and built our raised beds.  Our front yard was just that, yard, compacted soil with thick grass.  
After the raised beds were built we had to wait weeks for topsoil since there was a hold up with the landscapers and their supplier.  In May there was a weekend of SNOW, around May 20th, so we had to cover our little babes with a covering and luckily they survived that terrible weekend.  It was only our first raised bed that had any plants in since we still didn’t have topsoil and I only put hardy plants in the ground early around May 3rd including radish, beets, borage, peas, kales. 

The Bad

Here are some of the issues we’ve dealt with this summer and that I am now hopeful I will be more prepared for next season. 

Japanese Beetles

These suckers were extremely prevalent this summer.  Luckily they mostly attacked an inedible plant that was on our property when we bought it, a rose bush, but they also enjoyed our healthiest basil plants.  

Our Organic Solution

After researching how to handle these pests I found that hand collecting in diluted dish soap and water was the best option for us since I had time to walk the garden twice a day and collect.  The beetles appeared in July and were heaviest around mid-month.  It wasn’t just our garden that these guys harbored at to turn leaves into lace, we noticed them all over the neighborhood when walking our dog.  They even entirely decimated a vine growing around a road sign.  By mid-August they were far less prevalent.  I had read that milky spores was good to spread on the ground to kill the larvae, but it is very expensive, so I’ll just keep my eyes out next season and do the same again.  A note that I did not get the bags as I have heard that they attract the little buggers.

Squash Stem Borers

I designed and built a keyhole hugelkulture for my squash plants so that they had as much space as they needed.  It is a beautiful garden that makes a lot of sense because it borders an existing circular flower garden around our well.  All was going well, my zucchini and summer squash plants had large, green leaves that reached towards the sky, but sometime in late July my friend was visiting and noticed some troubling signs that proved fatal for my plants – squash stem borers had entered into the stem of literally every plant as well as mold on the leaves.

Our Organic Solution

The next morning I tried to kill the larvae by hand, I was successful with a few, but it seemed futile.  I pulled off leaves that were dead and burned them to stop contamination.  For the mold I sprayed a dish soap solution in the mornings to not burn the leaves in the hot sun.  I have read that mulching more thoroughly around the base of the plants and stem as it grows is a good way to protect against the moths laying their eggs on the plant, this will be my game plan next season as well as relocating my squash plants. 

There have been other lessons along the way this growing season, but for the most part it has been a very successful year.  I have processed and have in stock a few pounds of a variety of the beans that we grew, tomatoes are processed, kale and swiss chard frozen and a lot of pesto.  From this year’s experience I also have a lot of ideas of how to improve our gardens next year. I hope that your growing season was a success as well, as I know many people started gardening during Covid to pass the time, learn new skills, and be self-sufficient. 

Mother Earth News Fair, PA

After a short road trip to D.C. and a few stops at farms in Pennsylvania, my boyfriend and I made it to our weekend destination of Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Seven Springs, Pennyslvania for the Mother Earth News Fair. It was a weekend of speakers and vendors, all with the intention of spreading sustainability ideas and practices.

From Friday early afternoon through late afternoon on Sunday, it was speaker after speaker on topics ranging from managing worm farms to how to make DIY skin care and everything in between. Searching through the schedule and circling my top picks every morning felt like being back in college looking through the course catalog choosing my subject of study. Sitting in the hour long lectures taking notes was also reminiscent of being back in school, and I am such a book-wormy student, writing down page after page of notes. There certainly was a lot to learn throughout the weekend. I listened to talks on diet, gardening, business, natural building, mushrooms, permaculture, and livestock.

The fair was just what I needed and came at the right time. My return the U.S. has been a little difficult after five months of travel around the world visiting homesteads and learning how people live as sustainability as possible.I have had great opportunities learning about plants, animals, food, and wellness systems all in beautiful locations with equally beautiful people. Returning home has been great to see my friends and family, but I have been missing the alternative lifestyles that I witnessed while traveling, so finding out about the Mother Earth News Fair couldn’t have come at a better time.

Really good things are happening in this country as hard as it is to keep in mind during this outrageous election time. It’s not just the election, there are other things that have been hard for me to adjust to upon my return to this country. Any repatriation is probably difficult no matter which country you call home, but I think many would agree that now is an absolutely crazy time to come back to land of the “free.” Attending an event full of hope and innovation was just what I needed. I may be a long ways away from having my own yoga-rescue-dog-homestead paradise, but it’s never too early to start planning.

The only down falls of the fair were the food and a lack of yoga. I expected to find grass fed beef burgers and fresh produce, it would have only made sense, but instead the food was that of the ski resort. Overpriced and packaged in plastic. We opted to picnic the last two days and skip the unhealthy resort food. I know yoga isn’t a given at a sustainability fair, but I think it can be woven into anything. It’s so holistic and universal; maybe they need a yoga teacher for next year? Regardless, I hope to be returning year after year to the Mother Earth News Fair.