young pea plants in garden

The Gardens in May {2014}

Kitchen Garden 5/7/14
Pantry Garden 5/7/14

Don’t let that pretty little photo of sunshiny, backlit peas fool you.

May was a depressing month to be in our gardens.

The first real month into the 2014 growing year and already we’ve had 5 crop failures.

Yep, I said FIVE!

1.) Spinach

2.) Lettuce

3.) Radishes

4.) Peas

5.) Potatoes

Is that everything? Yeah. Pretty much. And THIS is what I’ve been looking forward to all winter? Sorry for being so down, but the potato troubles were just fully realized today and we planted  a LOT of potatoes.

My general attitude is one of  liking the animal husbandry side of homesteading a whole lot better than gardening right now. Maybe because it feels like I have more control? There is less that could go wrong? Honestly, we’ve been throwing around the possibility of the only way we could make a go of a family economy off of such a small piece of land might be in market gardening and this is less than encouraging to say the least.

So how have our garden plans been such a bust? Let me tell you. And let’s start with the soil.

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 1.59.42 PM

{Like a Rock}

The beautiful soil we discovered upon moving in- so beautiful and full of air it sunk beneath your feet even in July, must have been being tilled, tilled, tilled to make it that way because it’s actually hard as a rock, heavy clay. We’re using an antique “Chore Master” cultivator because we sold the rototiller last  year in our zealous commitment to go no-till. It’s at least tearing up the top few inches of ground to make it somewhat workable.

You’d think this would have us searching ads for a used tiller to help things along, but no. We’re stubborn and now more determined than ever to see this no-till thing through since our main troubles are caused by tillage.


•We’ve invested in natural soil amendments (as outlined in this book)

•Hay mulching has shown a significant improvement in whether the soil gets hard on top, but isn’t helping warm things up and with the over-saturation. We’ll continue with it knowing it will help in the long run.

Gardens in May on Farmstead
Gardens in May on the Farmstead
Gardens in May on the Farmstead


An exceedingly soggy April delayed hardening off. Having unofficially renamed our homestead “Hurricane Hill” it was a double challenge to set them outside for any amount of time even on the not-so-windy days.  I put them out when I could, but in some cases it was too much. Lots of broken tomatoes. All the seedlings were drying out faster than I could water them.

The last possible week a hoop house was finally made, but by then the tomatoes were already too leggy and kept falling over and impossibly dried out.


•I’m going to really need to be on top of this next year and have better systems in place. I didn’t realize what a cushy situation the seedlings had at the last place for hardening with the covered front porch and all.

•We’re also going to need a lot more room for starting seedlings next year if we really want to do this well. Enough for breathing room for tomatoes because their leaves stick to one another like velcro if they touch and it’s such a hassle to continually be pulling them apart. And enough room for making plugs to start greens like lettuce and chard.

Gardens in May on the Farmstead

{Rain, Rain Go Away}

It has been one.wet.year. In April we had OVER 7 inches of rain!! Really, I’m thankful for living in such a climate where moisture is abundant, but it did make for some challenging gardening and contributed to most of the crop failures. It was just too wet and all that moisture also didn’t allow for the soil to warm up well. I know the peas probably rotted in the ground and the 10 or so that managed to somehow survive will produce a novelty meal or two this year, but not enough to put a dent into food production for a large family.

While I was finally able to grow spinach from seed in trays, after transplanting, another cluster of rainy days settled over us and all the leaves yellowed and have since been stunted.

For pities sake, even the radishes did poorly. And if there is one easy growing seed, it’s a radish!


Measure clay content in each garden. The Kitchen Garden visibly has heavy clay, but I’d like to measure both so we can gauge improvement over time.

•Install drainage since clay doesn’t allow for good drainage… Collect the water beneath the growing areas? That would be nice for the ducks to splash in and provide a convenient habitat for the toads I’d like to keep nearby to help with pest control.

•Amend soil with a high calcium lime in order to break up the clay (which is indicative of high magnesium contents).

Gardens in May on the Farmstead


Well darned if I can find the photo now, but I had one where you could see a beautiful carpet of green over the whole garden, except upon closer inspection there was nothing beautiful about it because it was all thistle.

I’m not sure where we got it from but we tried a trick where if you flame weed thistle 3 times after it emerges it will die. Well, that’s a lie.

So after poking around and learning that even Round Up (as though I’d ever use it!) is less than effective at eradicating the nasty weed, I found this study (defunct link). It was very interesting and based upon it, I formed an aggressive plan of attack whereby after a soaking rain shower (and there were many days for me to choose from) the thistle would be hand weeded and then the hole where the root was would be sprayed with a diluted solution of vinegar, clove essential oil, and orange essential oil. (Those links are some good prices for the oils- They make we want to puke a little bit thinking about how much I paid for a quarter of the amount after driving around for hours looking for somewhere that sells them all the while with little girls in the backseat telling me they were going to pee their pants.)

So did the plan work? Yes & No. And I’m not sure which part was effective.

If the plant was broken off at the top and the root was left in the ground and then sprayed into the core of the root, it DID end up growing back even though that top piece appeared to be dead and rotting. If you dug up that dead-ish piece a week later, you could see a green-yellow shoot forming.

If the root was removed from the soil as completely as possible and then sprayed down into the empty hole, those plants seem to have not come back yet, however I can’t be certain at this point if it was the spray or the pulling of the root that was effective. I have a small test plot I’m still watching.

So while the thistle isn’t eradicated yet, we’re showing slight improvements.


•As per the study, continue to hand-pull emerging thistle while the ground is wet for two years. Don’t let it go longer than two weeks between weeding during the growing season.

Gardens in May on the Farmstead
Gardens in May on the Farmstead
Gardens in May on the Farmstead
Gardens in May on the Farmstead
Gardens in May on the Farmstead

{You Say Potato}

This is what 40# of high quality seed potatoes look like. Chitted, healed for probably not long enough, planted later than when everyone else was planting them by about 10 days and then after waiting for a couple weeks for them to all come up.

Looks like someone called the whole thing off.

We went searching today only to find skins left where there were the seed potatoes. This is totally not the fault of the potato company or any indication of the quality of their stock. Something got into them and completely ate out the flesh and left the skin. My gut says maggots (corn seed maggots?) There was a little whitish worm on this one. I don’t think it was rot either. Why wouldn’t the skin rot too? I’ve seen potatoes sit in the ground for a shockingly long time without rotting. I can’t imagine they’s rot away to nothing in less than a month?? But what do I know? It could have been rot.


•Possibly run the chickens through the prospective potato patch in a tractor (whether they like it or not to clean up bugs prior to planting.

•Consider the feasibility of container system on such a large scale.

•Delay planting by another week or two (IGNORE WHAT EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING!)

•Heal the cuts longer.

Gardens in May on the Farmstead
Gardens in May on the Farmstead

Looking on the bright side, the asparagus is doing well and it turns out we like rhubarb when I wasn’t sure if we would. Tomatoes are finally planted and only a couple died so far, peppers and celery are in, so is eggplant although it’s being decimated by flea beetles. I planted the sweet potatoes today. I need to weed the onions and find if there are still any there. The cabbageworms haven’t found their host yet and the cucumber seeds are nestled into the soil waiting, waiting.

There are still a lot of seeds left to go in. I’m trying real hard to be patient. It’s still raining often and though we’ve had some hot days, I’d rather be safe than sorry, especially with my heirloom corn. If the rain stops and the ground dries it will all be said and done this week and we will start working on weeding and mulching.

Whatever happens, being the stubborn lot of folks we are, we just keep plugging away. So until next month…

May your your gardens be growing more promisingly than ours our!!


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  1. We’ve done something similar in the past and had just as high yields without the extra work. Not realizing the soil situation and thinking that we had the space to spare figured might as well go with in the ground. Regretting that! Well I was still able to get my hands on some early & mid-season seeds and hopefully things will go better this time around!

  2. Sorry to hear about your gardening troubles Quinn. It’s so frustrating when things don’t go to plan ( as well as the waste of money & time etc.). Don’t be hard on yourself though ~ this first year of gardening in a new place is all about learning what is best to do there. It’s soil structure & the micro climate is likely to be very different from the last place. Next year ~ it’s all about learning for next year 🙂
    I hope you have wonderful successes with your other planting. How has your garlic gone?
    Oh & just send the rain our way ~ we’ll take any extra ( so I may be just coveting a teeny tiny bit your 7 inches in one month ~ that would certainly fill all of our dams)!
    Have a lovely day & quite obviously (since I commented on your more recent post yesterday) I’m slowly catching up here! Love your blog as usual!

    1. The garlic is doing really well so far! Makes the garden look like soothing when it’s not yet 🙂 The tips are starting to die back so maybe soon once we hit a dry spell? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could send the rain back & forth to one another as needed? 😉

  3. Wow! After reading all the gardening disasters, I don’t feel nearly so bad about my own. I was 2 or 3 weeks late setting out my early stuff, only to have a rabbit squeeze through the picket fence 5 nights in a row and have a midnight heirloom feast at my expense. I lost all my red cabbage and half of the white. Gone are 90% of the broccoli and all of the brussels sprouts; a beautiful red variety that I searched through a dozen catalogs to find. I guess he didn’t like collards, he left all them alone. Oh and also at least half of the lima bean sprouts are gone. I speak of him in the past tense because, alas, he has gone to that great cabbage patch in the sky, if you get my drift. Quinn, I know how you feel, but remember Winston Churchill, “Never give up, never give up.”

    1. My fall garden seeds arrived this morning in the mail! Yea! I am determined to make this work! I’m sorry to hear you’re having gardening troubles too Jan… I’ll at least be thankful that my beautiful & bountiful garden photos weren’t a discouragement to you… since there weren’t any after all 😉 May your next go around be blessedly bountiful!!

  4. I’ve found that putting a fan on seedlings before setting them outside to harden helps immensely with the process. Once they’re 5-6 weeks old, I use an automatic timer & a little fan on low and have it run for about an hour a day & progressively keep it on longer as they get bigger. It seemed to help with the leggy problem this year (but I had seedlings in a different place with a different light system, so I’m not sure which made the difference). Good luck! Gardening is always an adventure!

    1. YES! And I’ve done that in years past and forgot this year! I imagine it would have made a difference. Thank you for reminding me Melissa!

  5. Hopefully by next year the soil will have improved some. Are you planting anything in place of the thistle in order to supersede that niche?

  6. Oh Quinn.. I cannot tell you how much I understand. We too have hard as a rock, clay soil. Hang in there…

  7. 🙁 So sorry about your garden. I’ve lost a few plants (tomatoes and peppers) that I grew from heirloom seed this year, and I know it is so discouraging. Don’t give up though! I have extremely heavy clay soil just like yours (turns into rock!), but I’ve been able to soften it up through mulching, and you can too! Hang in there! Have you heard of the Mittleider Method of gardening? If all else fails, that’s a really good soil-less method that has extremely high production. It does require 16-16-16 fertilizer though– not sure how you feel about that.

    1. I find it to be particularly disheartening to lose heirloom seeds. I admit that when I learned my husband who planted my heirloom corn this year didn’t hold any back, well I was distraught. Especially being corn. You never know when the gmo corn will adulterate the stock and then you’re through with it for good. Thanks for the encouragement 🙂

  8. So sorry to hear about the crop troubles so far this year. I really think there are so many factors that go into growing food that there’s no way to make it perfect. I’ve had my fair share of issues this grow season so far, but am still hopeful things will turn around. It sounds like you have a great plan of attack ready and I hope thing smooth out for you soon!

  9. Have you tried using a broadfork? They are wonderful. You can order them through various places, but they can easily be hand made. A couple of my crops failed, too. It’s disheartening, but I won’t give up!!!

  10. This year is actually one of our best years. Of course it would be since we are moving! haha But atleast the new owner will have plenty to eat when they move in. 🙂

    1. I’m glad things are going so well for you… but it’s a shame you’ll have to walk away from it all. Hopefully, it’s a welcome move and you’ll be able to walk away with the excitement and optimism for the future!

      1. Yes this is a very welcome move! We are moving from the size of a postage stamp yard to 2 acres in the country! 🙂 So we are very hopefully and excited about animals and a bigger garden 🙂

  11. Oh, Quinn! I am so sorry to hear this! I know just how excited you’ve been to get this garden started and how disappointing it must feel! But don’t lose heart~ the first year will always be the roughest because you are learning the ways of the place~ the good, the bad and the ugly. The great thing is that you are learning these things and next year you will be armed with knowledge and a plan!

    From one hill gardener to the next~ I understand your clay soil/ hard winds plight and we too have been practically drowned out. (Last week we got HAIL!) I have been behind this year getting the garden in but that hailstorm made me feel less bad about being behind.

    Personally, I always plant my potatoes along with the rest of the garden by first frost date. I know they can go in much sooner but I do so to avoid the impossibly wet spring weather. I just planted mine this week. (I told you I am behind this year!)

    Another great thing is that you can keep trying with the lettuce, spinach, radishes (and even potatoes if you have the heart to).

    1. You know I’m going to be watching these tatties real well… I’m curious to see if we’ll miss some of the heavier parts of the pest cycles by late planting. I know that doing cucumbers late and you can avoid bacterial wilt say for example. It’s hard looking at every one else’s big and beautiful gardens already while mine is just starting to peek up (barely) but I hope it pays off in the end. (Still that stubborn hope!) Hoping your garden produces abundantly for you this year Rebecca and we’ll all be blessed by seeing your most lovely photography of your work!

  12. We’ve had a horrible growing season this month too! Although ours is due to the complete opposite reason: little to no rain. Plus heavy winds. Seriously, it like the dust bowl here. Normally this time of year we get a lot of rain and the temps are cool. This year it has hardly rained and it’s been in the 80’s (we usually don’t get that until later in June!). We planted half our 7000 square foot garden so far and it is devastating to see the plants die even when I water them. Seeds aren’t germinating because the soil dries out so fast after being watered. We had a crazy wind storm that just wiped out half of my 25 cucumber plants that I lovingly grew from seeds in my greenhouse the last two months. I’m holding a bunch of my other seedlings in the greenhouse longer and not planting them out in the garden yet, I just can’t watch any more of them die! I hope things improve in your neck of the woods, maybe you could send some of your rain to MT and we’d both be happier 🙂

    1. Though it rained heavily last night, our rain situation has stabilized for the most part and I was glad the pastures got a drink after all the hot days we’ve had. I hope that you’ve seen some moderation in your circumstances as well. And that the rest of your seedlings made it in safe & sound!

  13. My beautiful heirloom tomato, eggplant, pepper and basil plants that I lovingly started in the basement are being decimated by the starlings. They are biting off all the branches and carrying them away, Now I only have little tiny pieces poking out of the ground and they will not grow. Great sadness. I also had a possum (?) get into my 11 wk old chicks and killed 20 of the 64 before I got them moved into a mobile coop. It has not been a good 2 weeks.

    1. Oh no! I’m so sorry to hear this! I genuinely can’t decide which is a harder hit- both are rough. If you can’t get rid of the starlings any other way first maybe set up a spot for easy access nesting materials for the starlings so they don’t go after all your hard work? I don’t know your situation, but if you’re home or have children at home, what I do in the early spring when starlings first start showing up, is I train the little ones what they look like and have them run outside and chase them down every time they see one. It’s worked really well in the past. After a couple weeks they get discouraged and we never see them till next year.