The best estimate I’ve seen is that in 2009 alone, we had more than 2 million first time gardeners, and from 2007 on, we’ve added 8 million new vegetable gardens. This is one heck of a movement. Unfortunately, it also meant that millions of people started gardening in what was, in the Northeast, the crappiest garden year ever.
Well, maybe not ever. There was eighteen-hundred-and-froze-to-death when volcanic activity meant hard frost in July. But at least in 40 years, according to CR Lawn, head of Fedco Seeds. Here in the Northeast it rained – I don’t mean a little. We got 23 inches of rain in June. We got 17 inches of rain in July. In June, it rained 26 out of 30 days.
After some hot days in April and early May, it never warmed up. Here in the hilltowns, we had frost on June 1. Night temperatures were routinely in the 40s, with days barely breaking 70. This was awesome for sleeping, but tough on heat loving plants, which even under cover didn’t do well.
Then there was late blight, which killed most of the organically raised tomato and potato plants across the eastern half of the country. Unless you were growing rice, it was a really, really bad year. And the bad year has continued for many folks in the deep south who rely on warm winters to get their growing done – it is just too hot and dry in the summers. But hard freezes and consistently low temperatures have killed off their dreams too.
So if you are one of millions of people who are thinking “Wow, that was a lot of work for some rotted tomato plants, a lot of slugs and one lousy pepper that didn’t even turn red…” you need to know, it wasn’t your fault, and it won’t always be that way – I swear. If you watched an enthusiastic friend lovingly turn his lawn to garden, only to watch the weeds and slugs take over, and are thinking “Hmmm…garden…not so much.” Please, reconsider and give it another try. It wasn’t you.
Now I wish I could say that a year like this will never come ’round again, but I can’t. The reality is that we all know that climate change means increased climate instability. The odds are that there will be a lot of crappy years to come, in fact. But the odds are also good that the will be interspersed with years that make you bless your garden. And a bad year for one crop is a good one for others – even in this terrible year, there were some stars. Best beets ever. More broccoli and peas than you can imagine.
What about the blight? Well, now that it is around, there’s not much you can do about it. But there are organic controls – the problem is that you have to use them before the problem shows up in your plants. Seranade, Sonata and copper sprays seem to work fairly well. This is, of course, a pain in the ass. But it is also a reality, and those tomatoes are worth a bit of extra work.
And there are the years when you hit it, like the perfect music notes, and a symphony comes out – the tomatoes fill the jars and the berries fall into your hands, your table groans with squash and crisp leaves of greens and the you know that you did it. It is always best to start gardening in one of those years, so you become so addicted that even the worst days look good. But trust me, for those of you who stepped into the breach last year, there’s still good years to look forward to.