Harvest Your Mistakes

Reader Contribution by Charlyn Ellis
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“Harvest your mistakes” is one of the key principles of permaculture — the idea that we can at least learn from our choices, if not eat them in the garden and in life. I have been harvesting my mistakes this month, as the season winds down and the leaf mulch piles up. What have we learned this year?

1. Austrian Field Peas are an excellent summer mulch!

I planted the field peas right after bringing up the potato crop in mid August. They germinated quickly with light irrigation, put on considerable growth, and survived the rampages of one hungry bunny and four chickens before I fenced them off. For three months, they grew lushly — then we lost them to mini-slugs. However, three months of nitrogen-fixing cover crop, followed by a pile of leaf mulch, is nothing to sneeze at. I will do this again.


2. Mini-cloches work better on established seedlings than direct sown seeds.

I did a small experiment with my vining crops in the spring. I planted half of them in four inch pots and raised the seedlings on the potting bench, then planted them out, covered with a mini-cloche fashioned from a gallon vinegar or milk jug. The other half of the packet was direct seeded and placed under the mini-cloche.  The transplanted crops germinated more quickly, grew better, and were far stronger than the direct-seeded ones. I will stick with my old methods on this one.

3. Never say never.

After sneering at planters made from old bathroom fixtures for years, I was saddled with an old bathtub this summer. I had found it for free years ago and it was part of our outdoor shower—but, with the new greenhouse came a new old tub, bigger and better — so…after it sat in the ivy for a month, I gave in and hauled it to the back corner of the yard, behind the beehive, and filled it with soil. Next summer, it will hold bee-friendly bloomers, so that the honey bees have food close to home. Re-purposing.

4. Don’t brag in print!

Last spring, one of my MEN posts was about the beauty of my garlic bed. A month later, when I went to harvest the crop, it  had succumbed to a mildew that have invaded the Willamette Valley. The bulbs were tiny or non-existent. The tops all wilted and toppled over.  Although I do think it is still a good spot for the crop, I will never brag again before the harvest!

5. We’re almost there in timing for fall crops.

Having harvested broccoli and cauliflower from my fall bed, I can say that my new timing system, involving four inch pots before the Summer Solstice and using a early potato bed for fall crops does work. However, early cabbages are more likely to head up than later ones: in my Territorial cabbage seed mix, cabbages number one and two have done well, while number four has failed, not just in my garden, but in the gardens of three friends as well.

Now that the season is over, I will spend some time by the fire, thinking about next years experiments and goals. First on the list — one day projects only!

Charlyn Ellis has been growing vegetables since she was five years old, when her mother bought her her first rake and pitchfork. She and her family are urban homesteaders and have a large organic vegetable garden, fruit trees, a beehive, four chickens, one rabbit, and two cats on a small urban lot in the center of town, surrounded by college students. Charlyn considers permaculture principles when she makes changes in her designs, especially the idea that the problem is the solution. Find her online at21st Street Urban Homestead, and read all of Charlyn’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

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