Nancy Brachey

Keep a record of your summer crops

Beautiful tomatoes like this deserve a record in your garden notebook
Beautiful tomatoes like this deserve a record in your garden notebook McClatchy file photo

Making the most of your vegetable garden extends beyond eating, though that was probably your goal back at the start in April. Much of the value of gardening comes from learning through success and failure. You find out this year’s level of fertilizer works better than last year’s. You finally got the watering right. And now you can tell a cutworm from a beetle.

Learning such things is part of the art of being a gardener. And this is the time of year when evaluation counts most. The summer crops are bearing. The results of spring crops are fresh in your mind. It is an important moment to write it down.

Keeping records becomes a habit of good gardeners. They evaluate results in several important ways that help them in years ahead to make the right choices when selecting varieties that produce well and without causing a lot of trouble.

Consider this spring’s lettuce, for example. How fast did you get nice leaves to harvest and how long did the good taste last? Some do better than others in this regard. Writing down the good performers and the naming the ones that were not so good will prove helpful next year when you are standing at the seed racks or looking over young plants to buy. That same thinking should be gives to tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squashes, melons, all of your crops.

Study them in several ways:

▪ The quality and quantity of the produce. Did it taste good? Did the family like it? How productive were the plants? How much better were they than what you find at the store?

▪ Was the plant worth the space it took? Squash and melons can be real space grabbers. Does this tell you to look for smaller, bush-form plants next year?

▪ Did they fail the pest test? Hopefully, your plants are reasonably free from pests. But others may have been so badly affected by insects or diseases that they don’t seem worth the trouble of controlling these pests.

Evaluate your methods. Did you reach for an insecticide before trying organic methods such as insecticidal soap, Bacillus thuringiensis, traps and hand-picking? These easy, cheap organic methods and others all deserve a try.

This evaluation is not something to be trusted to memory. Next spring is a long way off. Write it all down, but do it simply. Organize your notes by individual crop, naming the variety, planting time, first harvest, any problems you encountered and how you handled them. Herald your successes, too. This is pretty simple stuff that can go into a small notebook that is easy to handle.

It requires no great writing skill, just notes and simple jottings of key points that you will be glad to know when spring arrives next year.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. I have admired Japanese maples for some time and want to set out a new one this fall. What is the best place for it?

A. Japanese maples are wonderful small to medium trees. Pick a place that is away from the harsh, hot environment of summer afternoon sun. Filtered light in summer is good for these trees. You have plenty of time this summer to study your landscape and pick a spot that will be just right for this valuable tree.

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