There’s Always Next Year

By Lorna Carlisle
A fungal disease, Cercospora where black, round spots on beet leaves make the leaves inedible, but the beets could still be eaten.

This has to be one of the worst gardening years ever for many people. July and August were non-stop rain and clouds. The vegetables really struggled to fight off foliar diseases. Without at least two or three days of sunshine in a row, the plants were slow to grow or they died from too much moisture. My Maxibel green beans are supposed to be bush type, but they grew tall and leggy. Yet, they still produced beans.  

The beets and chard leaves had a fungal disease, Cercospora. The black, round spots made the leaves inedible, but the beets could still be eaten. I recently learned that you should not throw those leaves in your compost as the fungus will remain in the soil and greet you next spring.  Year after year, I’ve been adding to my Cercospora bank. Also, the tomatoes had leaf mold (fulvia). UNH Cooperative Extension helped identify this problem. Again, do NOT throw these leaves on your compost pile. It will come back to haunt you. 

You can help avoid these problems by not using overhead watering (sorry, if it rains you can’t control that.) It also helps to remove the affected leaves. Be sure to sterilize your cutters between cuts – bleach/water mix should work. Increased air flow also helps – so be sure to space your plants with their mature size in mind. Raised beds will be drier, and in a drought year you will need to water more often. Rotate crops if possible so that you are not growing the same plant family in the same place year after year. This does become difficult if you have a small garden because so many plants are in the same family – eggplants, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes are all related (Solanaceae) – and can have similar pests and diseases. 

The beauty of gardening is there is no end to the learning. It’s exciting to find a new trick to thwart a pest. Discovering a parasitic wasp or other beneficial insect on plants makes my day.  Weeding, even a small patch, can be rewarding. At the end of the day, you can visibly see what you’ve accomplished. 

This isn’t always the case with many people’s jobs. You work 8 hours or more and the pile of paper on your desk looks the same as when you started. To change a common fishing phrase: A bad day gardening is still much better than a good day at work. If your row of carrots didn’t germinate, you can plant more. Bugs attacked your arugula, no big deal. Just keep planting and generally something will be great to offset the bad. For example, this year I didn’t have to hide zucchini in anyone’s car or garage. With so few cucumbers, I didn’t feel guilty about not making pickles.  

Most of us will not starve from our garden failures. We just hop in the car and go to the store or farmers’ market. Yes, we get a lot of satisfaction from growing our own food, but only a few of us farm for a livelihood. Gardening is a hopeful hobby. You plant a seed and hope it germinates.  You watch it grow and look forward to picking the “fruits of your labor.” Vegetables and flowers can give us so much joy.  

From the start of bare soil in spring to the harvest, we can enjoy the process. Sure, we grumble occasionally. Who doesn’t get annoyed at black flies? Weeds can be a nuisance. The weather provides a plethora of things to complain about – but that first tomato can make it all worthwhile.  The bouquet of freshly cut flowers adds fragrance and beauty to our lives. Many of us share our produce with friends and neighbors, which is heartwarming for both the giver and receiver. Even this year, as bad as it was, I can always remind myself: I can’t wait until next year.