True North is:

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Michigan, United States

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Black Thumb

As I stated earlier the garden didn't quite turn out like we had hoped it would. Although it seemed like it was gonna grow out of control it faded rapidly and we lost a lot of crops. I'm mystified by most of it, but we were able to figure some things out.

The big loss was our tomatoes! At one point the plants were huge and we had lots of green tomatoes and that's when the tomato bugs moved in. They didn't seem like to much of a problem though. We would just pick them off (although they are well camouflaged and hard to spot) and smash them on a rock. However, just as the tomatoes began turning red I started to notice the leaves wilting and white speckles on the ground around the plants. I thought this white stuff was tomato bug droppings and so we increased our efforts to destroy the ugly little creatures. Yet, no matter how many we got rid of the plants still looked sickly. Before long the tomatoes started to develop nasty brown spots on them and became mushy. at this point we had lost the crop but didn't quite know why.

After some research and talking with other gardening folks we came to the conclusion that our tomatoes had been hit by Blight. Not positive about that or how they contracted it, but by next season I hope to know for sure. All and all, Melissa was able to harvest some cherry tomatoes for salads and such, but our big canning dreams had to be canned.

Our corn, having survived an early deer ambush, did produce fairly well. I'm not sure exactly how many ears we harvested, but the ears were small. They tasted good and we froze about a dozen of them but i was pretty disappointed in their overall size. I think I need to plant more corn next year.

Cucumbers did well and we canned a lot of pickles and we ate a ton in our salads. no real complaint here, although next year we want to plant more....we really loved those pickles!

The Squash plants grew like mad, but just like the corn, the squash were stunted and never matured into anything edible. I did learn that I planted too many and had they ripened we probable would have had more than we needed.

Onions were good for the most part, but we never got any large ones...they just wouldn't grow. I even bent all of the plants over as I heard this would promote the onions growth. it did a little but mostly we just had small bulbs.

Radishes did fine, at least the ones that grew which were only a handful. Again not sure what happened here. Can't figure out why most just seemed to die.

The potatoes were also a big disappointment, but I think I'm to blame. First of all I think I planted a few weeks to late, and second, I didn't buy seed potatoes. I just took ones we had that had sprouted eyes...cut them into smaller pieces and buried them. We did harvest some but not nearly enough; maybe 10 pounds but that is being generous.

The green peppers did well I thought, we just didn't plant enough. Again, we'll be putting more in the garden next year.

Pole beans...didn't do so well after the deer attack. We did manage to get a few handfuls but we had lost most of the plants to the deer.

The watermelon never matured, but I think that was partly due to planting them to late. The plants grew good, but the melons never matured....same as the squash.

So that's the short of it, but I do think I learned a little from the experience.

1: My soil isn't that great. I have heard that I can get it tested to see what it is lacking and I definitely need to get that done. However, i didn't want to have to buy a bunch of stuff to add to the soil, but I may not have a choice.

2: Protect against deer and other animals early on. The stuff I did do worked; I just need to do it right when I plant.

3. Plant at the right times. To be honest I was a little overwhelmed when it was time to get the garden started and wasn't as prepared as I should have been. That won't happen again.

4: Learn more about the plants I am growing. I had researched a lot about general gardening when we started, but I think I really need to advance my studies on the specifics. I had thought if you plant it it will grow...I was wrong. There is a lot of wisdom needed in gardening.

All and all, for our first garden, I think we did OK. if my soil is poor and it was indeed blight that smoked are tomatoes i won't feel so bad about the slim harvest. yet, since our goal is self sufficiency I need to get this gardening stuff down. It's hard to eliminate buying food when you don't harvest enough of the things you grow. If this were the old days and we didn't have a grocery store, it would be a very hard winter for us.

If anyone has any ideas after reading this and viewing the pics...Please share your thoughts!


  1. Hey Patrick. I've never seen blight here but I think I read somewhere to not plant the tomatoes in the same spot for the following year. Alos, tomatoes are heavy feeders, they like the area around the bottoms of the plants to be kind of dry(remove the bottom leaves and such). If you can find bunny poo, use it for your tomatoes. Also put ground up egg shells around them.

    The squash and the melons are both heavy feeders and heavy water lovers. Try a manure tea a couple times a week on them when you do the tomatoes. They'll love you for it.

    I always carry a spray bottle of soapy water with me, it wards off some bugs and spiders ;)

  2. You should side dress the corn with a high nitrogen fertilizer that will not burn the plants. That should be done when the plants are about knee high. That should increase your yield.

  3. In the Pacific Northwest (and BC lower mainland where we lived) tomatoes grow best under cover. Excess moisture on the leaves (we had a cool wet summer here in the Northeast (or Ontario where we now live ~ I bet you did too??) causes this blight. So, unless you live in the PNW, I think it was just a result of a cold, wet summer. Also, do plant in a different location next summer.

  4. Definitely looks like your tomatoes got the Blight - happened to mine last year. I read quite a few "homesteading" blogs and it seems that a lot of gardens did poorly this year - in a lot of different locations. So glad to see you back. I found your blog a while back and got caught up in reading about your family's adventures. Stay warm!

  5. We did have a cool wet summer, that's for sure. Thanks for the insughts and advise as always!

  6. Although we live in the Deep South, my husband puts lime in the dirt before planting the tomotoes. Those grub worms can eat all of your tomatoes if you don't pick them off everyday! It creeps me out to pick them off so I use needle-nose pliers to pull them off the plants.

    And don't plant cucumbers anywhere near the watermelons. They will cross polinate and your melons may taste like cucs. (we learned the hard way)

    Good luck in the spring!

    Chrome Cowgirl

  7. Try to find someone nearby with a few animals. If you ask they might sell you some composted manure for way cheaper then any fertilizer you would buy in a store, plus it's way better for your garden.

    As for your blight issue, next year you could try growing a blight resistant variety or like others have suggested, keep the plants dry. Leave space between plants for air movement and if your plants grow an excess of leaves you can keep them pruned.
    Good luck!

  8. Hello True North,
    As is all new ventures we learn and improve via our sucess and failure. I believe you will have a much improved crop this coming season. We are all learning from you. Thank you for that.


  9. Congratulations, I have chosen you to receive The Best Blog award! Here is a link to the rules:
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    See Jan. 26 post for all my picks, and thank you for helping to enrich my life!

  10. Ahh the joys and not so joys of gardening.

    here are some hints from an Alaskan who has had some issues and worked them out.

    Raise your bed for the tomatoes. just a foot. This helps if the ground is more "soggy" as tomatoes like having a LOT of water but hate not draining properly. This will also help with blight as fungus and bacteria won't be able to cultivate as much.

    Do you know someone who "chews" or dips? This is GROSS, but it DOES work for tomatoes as they are in need of high nitrogen. When your seedlings are 3 or 4 inches tall, get somone who chews to spit in a bottle and give it to you. Pour it all in the raised garden.. it is going to stink so be prepared. After you do that let it "dry" out for about an hour and then water really well. 1. it keep sthe bugs and ants out and 2. if you don't water after you pour the chew on it your plants will have too much nitrogen and they may die. You can do this once or twice a month.

    Whatever the directings say.. make them spaced out 3 to 6 more inches as you will notice when you raise the bed for the tomatoes you will see more roots. Roots are what you want to make the tomatoes grow. The large the root ball the better your plant will be.

    Also.. if you are having a "cloudy" summer. Grab some black plastic garbage bags and cover the soil the day before a nice "cooling" low pressure comes in.

    To make a raised bed.. you can use old timber lieing around. Make sure to put lime on it for the ants so they don't eat your bed... and it will also help with your soil.

    You aren't the only one who had issues this year. I couldn't get my tom's to turn red (except for my cherries) due to the nice but cool summer. It happens and it isn't your fault. I have some other helpful hints on sqash and cukes and other stuff. It is always worth helping others. GOOD LUCK!

  11. hello I think the problem is the soil.Testn it.If you dont have good soil the plants will be week and get sick.

  12. Might want to visit your local Extension Office. Every State has them - not sure where you are located but there is usually one in each county. They have tons of really inexpensive brochures on gardening, fruit trees and preserving. (I personally have almost the whole preserving list!) Publications can also be ordered online but if you do it at the office you can save postage.

    Also if you get another caterpillar next summer, take it to the Extension Office for identification. I am a little worried it might be some kind of butterfly larva. They can also identify plant diseases, so if you have trouble next summer, take some leaves in. They also do soil testing!

    Every gardener knows.... next summer's harvest will be better =)

  13. there is so much good info on here! Thanks everyone!!

  14. The very best thing you can do for your soil is to dig in a lot of old manure. You can usually get it free.

    If you had pollinate the squash, you will get a much bigger crop.

    Start the squash and melons indoors early on a windowsill.

    I like your blog!

  15. Bummer!
    You ought to purchase The Garden Doctor by Jakob Mittleider- great book! The Author founded a gardening method that many people use and love for fast and high yeilding crops- It's Called the mittleider Method- check out the gardening blog I did last year...
    It has fertilizer recipes and tips if you're interested for your spring garden!

    i've learned through many things but most recently gardening, that knowing a theory does you very little good in a pinch, it's having experienced it that matters. I always tell people that they ought to have seeds in their food storage and along with it, the knowledge & experience necessary to bring those seeds to fruition, otherwise it's a waste- you are doing a great thing- gardening is definately an art that grows over time. You learn something new every time you do it- and you just get smarter and smarter the more you "practice."

  16. I totally applaud what you are trying to accomplish here. Keep working toward it! yay You!!! One thing that struck me in your photos was that your soil looked like um mostly sand, which is good for drainage, but not good nutrient wise. I'm thinking your veggies used what was available and then stopped growing. Bolster your soil with manures and I think you would have better luck. Chickens are a must! Chicken droppings are amazing for your garden. Also better for you than a diet of pork (though we all love pork) Compost it and rake it in. Please tell us all more about your tomato blight issue, like you I find tons of articles on gardening that are basic...too basic. Good luck with everything!!!

  17. I wanted to tell you as well, that I agree with your new mode in life. I just spent the fall cutting and splitting wood for our duel fuel furnace. I have 7 cords of wood stacked now. Using a chainsaw was a little scary for me being 5ft.2in, but I handle it like a champ now. The wood splitter is a cheap (75$)bottle jack version that you pump by hand. I am cutting up the trees that were downed in the northeast because of our terrible ice storms, some of them standing and dead for two years or more. I think I have enough wood for winter now, not entirely sure, we'll see, but we can still burn a little oil if we need to. It has been a happy time though cutting splitting and stacking the wood, good exercise outside just really enjoying my time out there. Spring for me will be gardening 101 and I will be coming back here and reading about your successes (hopefully) or failures to help me with my own. I do keep chickens though and have 2 years of composted manure that long ago turned into a dark rich humus. I am hopefull, as I suppose we all are when we try to live a simpler life. Get chickens! They are great all the way around and I have never regretted having these pets (who give us eggs. I used to have goats and it was a failure in NH. I think it was just too cold for these past few years with the tremendous ice storms etc. My husband is talking about giving goats a second try, but I think to be successful we need some sort of heating source, perhaps just on the order of passive solar. Seriously considering planting wheat in the front yard to use for chicken bedding and perhaps grind a little flour for myself...could be interesting. WE'll see. Good luck in everything. I really hope you find your own place of peace in all that you are trying to accomplish! Keep going. Oh and a few people wrote that you have to move your tomato plants. For late blight, as opposed to early blight or regular blight you don't have to it won't overwinter the cold will kill it. For the regular blight it seems that it is still an issue though. It seems to be an issue of too much moisture as others have commented. I think the size of the fruits of your labors have to do with your soil conditions though. Get chickens!!! A dozen egg layers and some broilers for meat. Collect the droppings from the coop, compost in a shady place and likely you'll be in excellent shape for the next spring garden.(granted you composted that manure for a summer season so it has a chance to break down)

  18. Looks like your ground is rock hard, and very dry, How do you expect the tomatoes to grow in that soil? don't blame it on the tomatoes, blame yourself....

  19. Read your blog start to finish. Quite a journey. Any plans to ressurect it?

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