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Celebrating success, learning from failure in the garden

August is the time of year that can greatly determine your successes from your failures.

This past month, for example, the garden was basking in some holdover moisture from July. But the weather got progressively hotter and drier, ending with nine days that hovered around 90 degrees. So while the vegetable garden loved the moisture, it may have been hit by an associated hailstorm, creating all sorts of wounds where disease could enter.

That was one of my failures. We were on vacation when the hail hit, and while the tomatoes were still small and hard, the vegetable-destroying ice missiles did their damage. The hail opened all sorts of wounds on the stems and pockmarked the fruit.

Soon, I saw the spread of early blight, a fungal disease that typically comes on later in the season. If you see early blight in September, it probably will not affect the quality or quantity of fruit; however, in mid-August, the disease caused the slow decline of a number of plants, greatly reducing the yields on them.

Like most fungi, it spreads rapidly with high humidity levels, and can move through rain-splashed soil, wind, human contact or tools. While I still plan on leaving the plants in the ground until the freezes come, and just harvest whatever I can, I will remember to not throw those plants in the compost pile. The fungi can overwinter on discarded (or composting) plants, so I do not want it anywhere near my garden.

My successes? Thank goodness for snap peas, green beans and shishito peppers. I typically seed snap beans in early April and, if I have my act together, again in late July. That gives me two “seasons” of peas while hopefully avoiding the middle of summer. Late June through July tends to hammer the pea plants – leaving them dry and brittle or chock-full of powdery mildew (another fungi that really likes peas, squash and cucumbers).

This year? No powdery mildew, and subsequently, successive harvests of peas throughout the spring, summer and, fingers-crossed, fall.

Same with beans and shishitos, which seem to be an almost-guaranteed crop for us. Peppers can be a bit challenging for gardeners in high-elevation spaces. By no means are they impossible, but they like their nights to be warm. At 6,500 feet, that is not always feasible. So instead of growing larger-fruited peppers, like bells or Anaheim, I tend to stick to the smaller fruit, like jalapenos and shishitos.

As of Sept. 1, I am officially sick of shishitos (even though I just texted Beth that we have to eat them tonight). We just keep picking them, and they respond with more flowers and more fruit.

I have surmised that growing them above ground, in pots, aids in their growth. The warm soil that drains quickly can produce a relatively large plant in a short amount of time. Moreover, with all those leaves comes all sorts of energy, resulting in plants that can feed 30 or more fruit at one time, while at the same time, shading their relatively sensitive skin.

Learn from your failures – I can almost guarantee you will have at least one every season, and you tend to learn more from them. Maybe we should just start calling them “experiments” instead. But do not forget to pat yourself on the back with every one of your successes.

It may be something as simple as growing radishes (which I struggle at) or as challenging as growing a 2 pound heirloom tomato. Or maybe, it is just that you got outside, got your hands dirty and not only learned how to feed your body, but how to feed your soul.

Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at darrin.parmenter@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464.