Here in Lower Hutt, New Zealand we enjoy good growing conditions for a wide range of vegetables and fruit. Summer temperatures get up into the late 20s celsius if you are lucky (early 80's fahrenheit) and it only snows about once every 10-20 years. Last winter was one of those rare times we had snow on the ground. I was so captivated by such an unusual spectacle that I just about lost my fingers to frostbite before taking cover inside.
The snowstorm didn't do my winter vegetables any favors and we were buying leeks, broccoli and cauliflower from the supermarket for a while after that. But the biggest disappointment this season has been the lack of what I would call a proper summer.
Our spring usually begins in September, which is when I start raising summer seedlings indoors. But the middle of spring came and went and night time temperatures were still regularly dipping below freezing. I was not going to risk planting out my tender tomato, capsicum, eggplant and pumpkin plants.
Temperatures finally started to warm up as the start of summer approached, and so everything went into the ground. I also began sowing seeds directly into the ground including carrots, potato tubers, parsnips and salad greens. These crops did alright and we have been enjoying potatoes, carrots, salad greens, and other more hardy vegetables over the last few weeks. But my summer seedlings struggled to get going because average temperatures were still well below normal. Every few days a cold wind would blow through and my tomatoes in particular just didn't want to grow.
From mid-summer the tomato plants finally began to take off, but they haven't come to much. I planted about 30 plants this year but I have only harvested a couple of bags of tomatoes and we are now heading into autumn. I remember one year I only planted four plants and we got several bags off them!
We try and grow organically, or as close to organic as we can manage. One thing with growing organically is that conditions need to be as close to perfect as possible. Sprays and chemical fertilizers can help boost plants which might otherwise have succumbed to pests, diseases, or poor growing conditions.
The appalling growing conditions this season have left my tomatoes open to any number of fungal diseases. It is not clear from the photo, but the bugs have got to many of the fruit that managed to form properly.
In a normal season I get so many fruit that I don't mind if the bugs get to some. Our chickens get to enjoy the fruit that we throw out. But this year I've been cutting bug holes out of fruit and trying to salvage anything edible.
We won't even mention my capsicums and eggplants, I'm still hoping to get at least one fruit before the frost kills them.
What can we learn from this experience?
Lessons from the summer of 2010:
- Growing your own can sometimes be a bit hit and miss, especially if you are trying to go organic. You have to accept the occasional failure and move on from it.
- If a plant is failing to produce, cut your losses and pull it out. It is better to try again with something appropriate to the season than have unproductive plants taking up space.
- The weather is the biggest variable in gardening. We take our modern food system for granted but people in ancient times lived and died by weather patterns.
If you have had a bad season, don't give up. Learn from it and try again next year.