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Gardening lessons of 2015

| Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015, 8:09 p.m.
Jessica Walliser
Columnist Jessica Walliser grew pole beans up an old, metal closet organizer this year.

At the end of every year, I always take some time to reflect on the greatest lessons I learned in the garden during the growing season. Because 2015 yielded yet another summer filled with unusual weather patterns and too much time spent away from the garden, it was chock-full of lessons learned — some good and some bad.

Let's start with the good.

• This year, I grew pole beans instead of bush beans, and I grew them up an old metal closet organizer. The structure took up 4 square feet of garden space and produced more than 13 pounds of beans! I'm definitely growing my beans on it next year — my garden real estate is just too precious not to. I might try growing my cucumbers up a similar structure to save more space.

• I decided to keep track of how many herbs I harvested from my garden this summer. All told, I snipped slightly more than 60 bunches of herbs, including basil, fennel, dill, sage, oregano, parsley, chives and rosemary. When I checked the cost of these herbs at the grocery store, I learned that I saved nearly $200! That's pretty great. Needless to say, I'll be growing more herbs next year. I plan to add French tarragon, lemongrass, turmeric root and stevia to my container gardens.

• My son might have inherited my green thumb. He took a great interest in helping me plant seeds, pick tomatoes, and dig potatoes this season. In fact, he spent more time in the garden than he ever has. I think he finally might be “getting it.” It's a good feeling — even if I still can't get him to eat peas.

Now for the not-so-good lessons of 2015.

• It is absolutely possible to have too much of a good thing. I had a few crops that went bonkers this year and were a bit too prolific. I ran out of ways to prepare and process all the cucamelons my vines produced. If you're not familiar with this vegetable, it's a close relative of cucumbers that looks like a tiny watermelon and is slightly sour. They're delicious fresh, and even pickled, but I had literally tens of thousands of them. I was giving them away as fast as I could pick them. It was overwhelming. I won't plant nearly as many seeds next year.

• The deer around here are getting a lot craftier. In late October, they figured out how to trample all my row covers into shreds to access the winter veggies I had growing underneath. They ate all my Swiss chard, beet tops, lettuce and kale. I think I'm going to have to put up a taller fence.

• Probably the most significant negative lesson my garden taught me in 2015 is that, during periods of drought, I probably shouldn't go on vacation. Instead, I should stay home and pay more attention to watering the tomatoes.

I mulch my vegetable garden very well, but if tomatoes don't receive enough steady moisture throughout the growing season, blossom end rot is the result.

Because of the lack of rain during July and August, I had my first bout of blossom end rot in years, and while it won't keep me from going on vacation next summer, it will definitely encourage me to hire a “garden babysitter” to take care of the watering chores while I'm away.

Here's hoping the New Year brings a gardening season full of more positive gardening lessons than negative.

Let's all keep our fingers crossed.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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