Think you’ve had a hard year in the garden? You’re not alone. Vegetable gardeners are calling this season the worst in recent memory.

Squash blossom

A squash plant in our display garden, during better times.
A squash vine borer

A squash vine borer, one of the many challenges of summer 2009. More than 50 percent of the squash plants in our display garden were hit by this pest.
deer footprint

The unmistakable footprint of a deer.

Back in May, my friend was so enthusiastic about his vegetable garden. He and his family had filled a raised bed with fresh compost and soil and planted it with vegetables, using the Kitchen Garden Planner to help with spacing and plant choices.

And then came the summer of 2009.

The enthusiasm my friend had in May is gone now, overcome by soaking rain, pests, diseases, weeds and guilt. The carefully planted raised bed is a weedy patch and the vegetables have been eaten or mauled by neighborhood animals. Although he took the Grow What You Eat pledge, my friend won’t make the goal of growing 10 pounds of his own food. “We got a few ounces of peas, but that’s it.”

My friend is not alone. All month I’ve been hearing stories of discouraged gardeners — especially folks who are trying it for the first time. Here in the Northeast, there are longtime gardeners who say this is the worst gardening season they’ve ever seen. Even the most expert market gardeners couldn’t outsmart the fungus Phytophthora infestans (late blight) and had to pull out their tomato plants before bringing a single ripe tomato to market.

But please, don’t give up. Next year will be better. I promise. As you think about gardening in 2010, here are some things to consider:

Be realistic: How much time to you have for the garden? If you only have two or three hours a week, plant a small garden. My friend puts it this way: “Vegetable gardening is not so much about skill; it’s about time. We had the best of intentions, but then life happened.” With two kids in elementary school, time is limited. Next year, the garden may be simplified to a couple of Tomato Success Kits and a Salad Bag or two.

Plan ahead: Take what you’ve learned from this season and apply it to next year. If you know that deer are a problem in your neighborhood, come up with a plan. A word of advice from me on deer: fence. You may have to get creative. My friend Vicki outwitted the local woodchucks by growing her salad greens in hanging baskets. It isn’t the dream garden she envisioned, but she gets the lettuce.

Ask around: The best gardening information comes “over the fence.” Sure, you can learn a lot from online experts and read how-to articles, but the gardeners in your neighborhood know what works best in your area. Once you start asking around, you’ll find that people love to talk about their gardens. And the advice is always free.

If your vegetable garden is bountiful this year, good for you. Remember to share. But if your 2009 garden isn’t a success story, don’t be discouraged. Do a reality check, make a plan for next season and remember that your most useful tool is persistence. It’ll take your garden from bad to good … from good to great.

David Grist
Online Content Coordinator, Gardener’s Supply

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