Lessons learned (but not learnings) this Summer


Friends and I were discussing whether the latest corporate buzzword, “learnings,” is a word. I believe emphatically that it is not, and that like “space,” that other word beloved of keyword speakers and MCs at plenary sessions, it should be consigned to hell. One friend agrees with me, and would like to add the word “journey” to the rocketship to the sun. Our other friend thinks that, as it was used by Shakespeare and is accepted by Scrabble, it is a valid word. As she knows all the valid two-letter words by heart, I should probably take her word for it. I shall still refuse to use it. Therefore, today’s post is a short list of all the things I have learned, and none of my learnings, from the 2018 South Australian Summer gardening season.

  1. Planting anything near potatoes is a bad idea.

Apparently everyone knows this, except me. This was my first year growing potatoes, and they were brilliant. Unfortunately, I did not know that trying to grow other plants near them (for example, in between the potato rows) would lead to very poor growth for those plants. This is because potatoes release a compound that retards growth in nearby plants. This is great for weed suppression, but terrible for the two tomatoes that I planted next to the potatoes. Even the Giant Russian Sunflowers that I planted at the end of the potato rows were half the size of sunflowers I planted elsewhere.

On the plus side, we had a magnificent crop of potatoes and we will be planting them again next year.

2. Trying to start tomatoes from seed in December is a bad idea. 

Like all keen gardeners, I bought a batch of tomato seedlings in October, and had them in the ground so I could have fresh tomatoes by Christmas. Unfortunately, I did not buy enough plants, and by mid-January they were all but over. I also did not plant any sauce tomatoes, so my big plans to make pasta sauce for the rest of the year was an epic fail.

In mid-December I ordered some San Marzano tomato seeds from the Diggers Club, thinking that if I raised the seedlings in time for Christmas I could still have a crop of sauce tomatoes by the end of Summer.

This has turned out to be very poor planning on my part. After a good start in seedling trays and then in pots, they have not grown fast enough in the ground and are only just fruiting now (mid-March). These plants are unlikely to set enough fruit before the weather cools, and my tomato sauce plans will be dreams until next year.

San Marzano tomato – setting fruit but unlikely to set enough before the cooler weather hits

3. Plan more carefully next year.

Firstly, see above. If you have a big plan to make tomato sauce, it’s a good idea to plant sauce tomatoes. Fail.

This year was our first Summer gardening in the backyard of our new(ish) home (the home is not new, but it is to us). It has taken almost three years to clear the backyard from its overgrown and poorly kept state (the previous owner was not a gardener and traveled overseas frequently for work), and to repair the soil after inappropriate plantings. The potatoes were an experiment to see if something would grow. Once we saw the potatoes grow like crazy we knew the soil was ready for hungry plants like corn and tomatoes.

I went a little cray.

I bought zucchini, pumpkin, and bean seeds. Then I checked my seed stashes to find zucchini, pumpkin, and bean seeds. A LOT of them. I have so many varieties of bean seeds I can keep us in beans for the next ten Summers.

Then there’s the basil seeds I found after I bought basil plants, the lettuce seeds I found after I bought lettuce plants, the carrot seeds I found after I bought more carrot seeds, the tomato seeds I bought to grow late tomatoes, the eggplant seeds I bought at the same time, and the chillies I am growing with saved seed, even though I have a freezer full of chillies from last year.

From now on, I am going to check what I have at the start of every growing season, before I buy anything. This has already begun. Yesterday I went to Bunnings and I only spent $31.

True story.

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