2022: Top Lessons Learned

Like every year, I learned a lot about gardening in 2022. Here are a few reflections on lessons learned and what I’d like to replicate–or expand on–this year. Here are my Top Five Reflections.

Not all seedling soil is good enough for my babies. Last year I thought I was clever by purchasing raised bed mix by the yard from San Pasqual Valley Soils. Buying in bulk made my life so much easier. This was a big mistake. Combined with some other seedling-related errors, I ended up composting about a hundred seedlings last year and starting over. Their raised bed mix is dense and seems to have a lot of sand in it, making it heavy. I used it in garden beds as well, and I have to say, I’m done with it. San Pasqual Valley Soils had been recommended to me by many trusted advisors. Their compost is very good, but moving forward, I’ll be more discriminating in all compost, mulch and soil purchases. I’ve gone back to SunGro mixes for transplanted seedling soil. It’s more expensive and I have to wrangle a bunch of bags, but it’s worth it.

It’s possible to start too soon. Sometime around Christmas 2021, I got the not-so-brilliant idea that I’d start tomato seeds. I mean, the heating mats and grow lights were just sitting there. I had new seed shipments from Johnny’s, so why not get a head start? After all, I further convinced myself, the last frost date for my area is the end of February. But it didn’t work. I probably could’ve managed if I had maybe five or six seedlings. But I had a LOT. And when those seedlings outgrew their little plug trays, they needed to go into 3.5-inch pots, which take up a lot of room. I ended up having to move some outside. Even though they were covered, we got some cold rains that made the plants unhappy. Combined with the mediocre seedling planting soil (see above), I ended up with a lot of items for composting.

Luckily, these tomatoes survived all of my blunders and became my new favorite variety, Apple Yellow Tomato.

Gophers are not picky eaters. As an aspirational permaculture experiment, last year, I created a lasagna bed. This is similar to building hugelkultur beds, but you don’t dig down. Instead, you start with layers of cardboard, which suppresses weeds, and then layer in nitrogen materials (like kitchen food waste or horse manure) and carbon materials (like more cardboard, leaves, twigs, etc.). I was kind of lazy and laid down a bunch of cardboard and then a bunch of horse manure. I covered the bed with a thin layer of raised bed mix (from San Pasqual Valley Soils–it worked okay here) and compost. Then I planted cut flowers like celosia, rudbeckia, sunflowers and zinnias. The flowers absolutely thrived. They loved the nitrogen-rich soil, and I thought I was some kind of permaculture genius. Until the gophers decided they liked the flowers too. There were so many flowers, I wouldn’t mind if they ate a few. But they ate the roots. Soon, I had a bed of flowers toppling over and dying. So I’m going to have to dig up the bed and put welded wire at the base of the bed and then re-layer everything. Permaculture genius.

It’s possible to start too late. I became a little huffy when Brijette Pena, owner of San Diego Seed Company, suggested I had started my sweet peas too late. I think I started them in January of 2022. She was right. She had started hers the previous Fall. In February/March, hers were blooming and huge. When she posted photos on Instagram, I called her a show-off in the comments, because I’m not at all competitive. Mine were like a foot tall. By the time they got larger, the days had gotten much warmer. Sweet peas don’t like the heat, so I had only a short period of semi-okay blooms. This year, I went ahead and planted sweet peas in October, as she suggested. It’s mid-February, and they’re growing strong. They’ve been spending the winter developing kick-ass root systems, and they’re ready to spring into bloom.

I got a few sweet pea blooms, but not as many as I wanted! This season, I started by planting in October.

Stop comparing; start learning. I beat myself up way too much if I see another grower’s garden or farm on Instagram or IRL. There are flower farmers near us who mostly grow sunflowers. I marvel at how well they do, always getting incredible blooms. Another local farm has gorgeous dahlias. Both growers, I have discovered, do not grow organically. It’s not easy to grow using organic methods. I don’t spray anything, even with organic-approved sprays. I try to strengthen plants through good nutrition and the right placement for their happiness and growth. But it can be time-consuming and a little messy. But that’s my garden, and I’ve committed to learning what I can to best support the ecosystems here on our property. And there’s still a lot I can learn from these growers. I’ve started asking questions and feel grateful to have experts nearby.

I’d say those were the top five mistakes of 2022. A lot of it had to do with timing. I have the San Diego Seed Company planting calendar and am getting a little better at following its guidance. This year, I didn’t start tomato seeds until the second week of January!

What did you learn from 2022?