Good harvet, bad harvest

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Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1988
Good harvet, bad harvest

This person got 260 pounds of cherries off their tree this year. Yet in the comments on the photo (posted on Facebook) one person lamented that they got basically no cherries off their tree at all! Why is it that some harvests go well and others not so well? Here are the main reasons, and some solutions.

  1. Climate change. Notice I did not use the phrase "global warming" because the phrase "climate change--while it includes heat waves and drought--also covers severe storms and bad winters. In my region (the American Southeast) we worry about hailstorms, occasional drought, heat waves, and and too mild or too cold winters. It was TOO mild last winter and the peach trees below a certain latitude did not really bear fruit. The winter before that we had the worst snow and cold in decades: any southerrn trees on the edge of cold tolerance might have died. The solution to this is to plant redundant things that are slightly different. We now have two varieties of peaches--a Redhaven and a native whiteflesh peach. One may fruit when the other does not. We also have different choices than peaches: two varieties of apple, two varieties of grapes, cold hardy orange, fig, mulberries and raspberries. Three kinds of taters. Three kinds of lettuce. Diversification is the key.
  2. Insects and other pests. We used 1/4-inch hardware cloth under our raised beds to keep out a plague of moles, but I've seen urban rooftop gardeners use kiddle pools as containers and suppose that would have worked as well. Bird netting is an eco-friendly way of protecting fruit that really works, but so is providing a "distraction tree" full of berries the birds prefer to your crop (we use mulberries). Tin pie pans spinning in the breeze will keep off squirrels and birds for two weeks of a harvest, until the animals get habituated. Floating row covers work better than I would have thought to keep insects off of most things, and BT (bacillus thuringiensis) is a godsend, although those morons at Monsanto have  bred something that may make it less useful over the long term. Picking tomato hornworms off your kitchen garden crop by hand and then stomping them is very satisfying. Diatomaceous earth will kill a lot of insects - you can get it at pool supply stores. I'm still open to suggestions on how to deal with those bastard Squash bugs, though.
  3. Watering issues. One of the biggest learning-curve items for me was discovering how LITTLE water my garden needed, once seed was started. Judicious watering of certain things such as figs has increased my yeilds but certain crops could be harmed by too much water. Tomatoes will split if over-watered, and oranges will drop all developing fruit. So I make sure my lettuces, beets, cukes and green beans get water once every three days and am careful to avoid watering my tomatoes unless they droop a little. And now that it's established the orange tree is on its own, water-wise.
  4. Soil issues. I was also too gung-ho in adding organic material to my garden, to the point where the raised bed soils became a paste that kept out water and air - and plant roots need both. The local agricultureal extention service analyzed my soil for very little money and when I added sand, crop yeilds soared. Blueberrries need acidic soil, so newbie me ruined the natually acidic soil here and put wood ash on them. The fig tree loved the wood ash; the blueberry bushes died. Find out what the soil requiements for your particular crops are. You may need to supplement things with epsom salts, for example.
  5. Timing issues. We all know that fall panting is a good time to put in trees and bushes, and I have two blueberry bushes that I will be moving now that things have cooled a bit. But planting times for annuals are much, much trickier. One reason crops fail is that they are planted too early or too late. Early peas will not grow if planted too late; autumn crops will wither if planted too early in teh depths of summer. And when things should be planted my not be intuitive! In my climate, parsnips have to be planted in November, a fact which surprised me. Again, my local agricultural extension clued me in.

If you believe, as I do, that food will soon become much more expensive (and even scarce) a good or bad harvest could become a litteral matter of life and death. But that's only a worst-case scenario. I'm not saying we should all become subsistence farmers but our budgets will gain a lot of breathing room if we can all grow rather than buy as much as possible. And let's not forget how much healthier home-grown food can be. Finally, I get a lot of satisfaction that my chicken was grown in a nearby town, my bread was made from local winter white whole wheat, and my salad was from my kitchen garden: no 3,000-mile chicken salad for me!

herewego's picture
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 11 2010
Posts: 157
Harvest notes

Safewrite, thanks for all the tips.  I agree that it makes sense to understand how to get consistant good yields in our own areas. 

One more consideration for southern BC and probably northern Washington - long, cold springs.  The end of May has always been fine to put out heat-loving plants here, but that's been changing.  This year everything we put in the garden in June just sat there shivering, and lots of it didn't have long enough to mature after that before our (unseasonable) sudden, cold fall arrived.  I've learned from watching more experienced gardeners that planting early under large, sturdy row covers lets plants grow vigorously through May and June even if it's cold/raining.  May and June have long days and the heat builds up under the plastic.  Their plants were 3 to 5 times larger than mine by the end of June.  Then, when summer finally arrived, those plants started making food while mine tried to recover.

Row covers it is then - even though we never used them here when I was a child.

Happy harvesting!



blk924s's picture
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 11 2012
Posts: 8
Thanks! I have bee learning

Thanks! I have bee learning about gardening through trial and error. Your writeup is awesome! My tomatoes this summer got leaf curl virus, which I hear is transmitted by a little white fly. Someone told me about making a mild vinegar water solution and spraying it on leaves as an insecticide. Have you heard anything about this idea?

RNcarl's picture
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Joined: May 13 2008
Posts: 382
Alternative Gardens


When I read about Aquaponics here on this site I was extremely intrigued. 

See, I was able to keep the tomato caterpillar damage in check this year. (BTW - Marigold flowers do seem to keep lots of bad bugs away and the spiders don't seem to mind them.)

but some of my plants developed fungus and mold issues b/c of all the rain we had here this summer. It seems like we got almost everyone else's rain here at the coast. Even though the temps topped 100 several days, my tomatoes still split from over watering (the rain). That is in stark 

RNcarl's picture
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: May 13 2008
Posts: 382
Alternative Gardens - cont.

Sorry for the  abrupt cut off of my message. The iPhone had a hiccup and I posted before I finished the post. 

The point I was trying to make was, one year was too much water, the next year too dry. Bugs, poor soil and other challenges. 

What I have seen with Aquaponics is that you can have more control with the inputs and control the outcomes better. There is a little more attention that needs to be paid to the process and a little more initial expense, but, it appears that you are less at the mercy of the weather. 

Now, without a greenhouse, this system may not be viable in the northern latitudes but there are reports of many successful systems as far north as BC, Canada. 

But what does this mean for us? It is a way to compress growing needs into a smaller space, extend growing seasons and become more resilient. Yes, Aquaponics does bring with it a level of complexity and dependence on electricity (to run pumps) however, let's be realistic, how "food resilient" can you be with a small backyard garden?

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