It’s funny… planning. I mean, you have to plan. Fail to plan and you plan to fail. But it’s funny how often I plan – so carefully, carefully plan – only to have the situation turn out absolutely nothing like how I envisioned it. And that, my friends, is the current situation for my Fall garden.
If you’ve ever planned a vegetable garden, you know that it takes quite a bit of advanced planning. You have to prepare your beds, figure out what grows in your area, what you would like to grow, when to plant it all… it’s a long list. If you’ve ever tried to start all of your plants from seed, you get the added adventure of guess-timating when you need to start your seeds. On average, most garden vegetable plants need to be started from seed 6-8 weeks before they need to be planted. The date they need to be planted is derived from your average first and/or last frost dates. Those dates are weather averages from historical data for your specific location, and can vary slightly depending on the source.
So, for instance, if you have decided that you would like to plant summer tomatoes on May 1st, you would need to look at a calendar and count back 8-10 weeks in order to determine when to start those seeds. This means you would have to start your seeds somewhere between February 20th – March 6th. This means that you had better order your seeds and have all of your seed starting mix, lights, heating mats, etc. ordered or out and set up in mid February. It’s a process! It’s a process that’s also built to a large degree on averages, guesses, luck and fairy dust. Sometimes, unfortunately, it doesn’t work out quite how it’s “supposed” to.
That’s how it’s been for my Fall garden.
We typically plant our Fall garden on Labor Day weekend. This year Labor Day fell on September 2nd. Typically, our average highs here at that time of year are low to mid 80s, which is on the higher end of the ideal temperature range for Fall vegetable planting. Fall vegetables need a period of warmer temperatures to become established and start growing. In a perfect world, they would have a month or more of highs in the 70s, before the weather gradually cooled. That’s not how it works here. The South is kind of tricky for Fall gardens… or at least I think it is. It feels like Summer will never end, and then one day you get a strong cold front, the temperatures drop 20+ degrees, and *bam* it’s Fall. There’s no transition period at all.
But, back to the calendar.
Labor Day. Most of my fall vegetables need to be started 5-7 weeks before planting out. 7 weeks took me to mid-July, so that’s when I started all of those beautiful little plants. Then Labor Day weekend arrived, and it was almost 100 degrees. You know what that’s called? That’s called plant murder.
So, we decided to wait. Surely it would cool down soon.
2 weeks later – 9 weeks after starting the seeds – my plants were so large that I had no choice but to plant. I had swiss chard large enough to harvest in tiny 6-cell plant packs. So, we planted… and prayed. It stayed hot. And dry. So dry.
You can’t make plants happy in those conditions. We watered. I tried to shade them with a rigged up system of old sheets and tarps and t-posts… that was a disaster. So, my poor plants have just sat there. Waiting. It finally rained 2 days ago for the first time in more than a month. With that rain, thankfully, a bit of cooler weather moved in. We’re still higher than average for October – low to mid 80s – but it’s a far cry better than the mid to high 90s we had 5 days ago. Hopefully we’ll have some nice temperatures for a little while. I’ll have to re-seed beets, turnips, rutabaga and spinach. I’ll also have to start over on the lettuce. It was so hot that the plants bolted virtually immediately.
But we do our best, right?
On a more positive and interesting note, we’re trying something new this season: Mycorrhizal Fungi. Nothing says ‘Garden Nerd’ like getting all excited about fungus.
In short, mycorrhizal fungi form a symbiotic relationship with your plant, delivering specific nutrients to your plant in exchange for plant sugars. The fungus populates the roots of your plants, where it stimulates root growth, aids in breaking down nutrients in the soil, and helps to deliver those nutrients straight to the roots of your plants. This helps growth, helps your plants become more resistant to transplant shock, makes them better able to withstand stress from weather, water, disease, and bugs, decreases the need for both watering and fertilization, and improves the soil’s ability to retain nutrients and increase nutrient use efficiency. So it’s pretty awesome stuff.
We decided that we’d do the best we could to do a semi-scientific experiment with our new little friend. We came to the conclusion that we would treat every other plant with the powder as we planted. This way, as the season progressed and at the end of the season we would be able to see if there was any discernible difference in the treated vs. the untreated plants.
It’s easy enough to do. You dig your hole, dust some powder all over the root ball, and plant it. Water it in well. Done.
Now that temperatures are closer to where they should be, and it looks like we may start getting some rain on occasion, hopefully we’ll start seeing some progress. We didn’t lose the season. We only lost a couple of plants – 4 out of 144 – and I have to reseed 1 row. All in all, it could have been a lot worse. I credit that to the permaculture methods, which have more nutrients and a better capacity to retain moisture – something that is critical during periods of intense heat and drought. Fingers crossed, y’all. I’ll keep you posted.