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Wild Ideas A column by Mary Keck

Harvest Lessons

October 31, 2012 - Like a trick-or-treater shedding her mask to reveal a fun-loving kid, fall has shed its cloak of gold, maroon, and orange to reveal the cold, brown truth: winter is on its way. Just as the beautiful leaves distracted us from the transition into a cooler season, reflecting on this year's harvest offers a welcome diversion from the rain and wind.

This year's garden was my most bountiful, and I think it's due to the sunny spot we picked, raised beds, and nutrient-rich soil. Plates of fresh cucumbers, cauliflower, green peppers, tomatoes, green beans, cilantro, and dill were frequent.

On the other hand, my potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic were pathetic, and so I'm thinking about improvements for next year.

In my defense, some troubles were unavoidable. Due to my late move from Indiana to Michigan, I couldn't start my own seeds or break ground as soon. I also didn't have a chance to accumulate a compost heap.

When the snow and ice melts next spring, however, I'll have seedlings started and lettuce, broccoli, and peas in the ground early. I'll have a nice pile of compost to add nourishment early and often too.

In addition, I'll make deeper raised beds, a likely reason for my measly carrot and sweet potato harvest. I'm also going to be more proactive with succession planting; my tendency to keep plants past their peak robbed me of produce this year. In the future, I'll toss old plants on the compost a little quicker to make way for new vegetation.

I need to study up on more natural methods for reducing pests and disease. My beer remedy for slugs worked like a charm, but I wonder if I could have saved a couple of droopy, spotty tomato plants that came down with an illness.

After a successful experiment with canning this fall, I want to read about other techniques for drying, freezing, and storing my harvest. Building raised beds was fun and beneficial, so I'm eager to increase my architectural acumen. Perhaps I'll still be growing this time next year because over the winter I learned how to construct a hoop house.

Whatever the case, the lessons I've learned while wrist-deep in dirt aren't enough. While the winter wind and snow whips outside, I'll be curled up by the fire with a cup of hot cocoa reading gardening books.

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