First Year Trials and Tribulations and Veggies Taste Bitter

sarahs_edenSeptember 1, 2008

Okay... so my pride (mostly) has prevented me from posting a lot about my first year struggles with gardening. My husband thinks I'm crazy for not asking every little question that pops into my head, but I'm just so confident I will figure it out on my own... eventually! I'm sure you married people can sympathize with the way these conversations go!

Anyway... it's kind of been one thing after another with my garden struggles. I know from reading a lot of posts and blogs that most people in their first year have these same experiences - with things being a trial and error. Unfortunately, I don't feel like I've figured out very much in the way of what went wrong. So, alas, I will ask for help. Undoubtedly you will all have great ideas and it will lead me to solve a few problems in my own backyard and then my husband will get to say "I told you so." Heheheehe...

My list of not-so-successful experiences in the last 6 months:

Pole beans never grew (Kentucky Wonder). I planted two plantings and the same happened with each - leaves were small and a little wrinkled, yellowed first and then turned brown and dry. I started to think the seeds were bad (they got a little wet in the package before I planted them).

Tomatoes in the SFG failed miserably - any new growth was so incredibly tightly curled up and yellowish. The color improved somewhat when I started adding fertilizer... and I sprayed thinking they were affected by mites, but that did not seem to help. After 2+ months, they'd hardly grown at all from transplant size. Is it possible the soil was contaminated and that's why spraying didn't solve the problem?

Later in the summer, the caterpillars and white flies took over. The caterpillars were tricky, but I think I figured out that spraying with Neem once week keeps them at bay. The white flies were minimal for a while, but seem to have quadrupled in population the last month. I think the Neem helps with them as well. I only lost one entire plant to SVB, but something incredibly mysterious is planting eggs inside the buds of my pumpkin plant. Puncture site is very evident, maybe an 1/8 in in diameter. Sometimes the bud just turns brown and falls off, sometimes the whole area around the bud (about 6") gets a little wilted and then I clip it off - is that SVB too? The wilted thing happens on the pumpkin and the cucumbers, but I can only see the puncture marks on the pumpkin, as their buds are much larger.

My cucumbers managed to survive all the caterpillar attacks and finally started growing some fruit - it was incredibly exciting! I managed to harvest the first cucumber without incident. All the ones that came after that have pucture marks on them and the tell tale signs of something tunneling it's way through my cukes! Every single one has had several of these holes in them. I can't for the life of me figure out how to protect them from whatever that is!

And... to add insult to injury the one and only cucumber I harvested tasted terrible. Absolutely horrible. Both my daughter and I had to spit it out. It was so bitter - like gasoline. The texture was right - crunchy, watery. It was about 6 or 7 inches long, still had a little "nipple" (sorry, but I know that's what they call that shape on a tomato, so I thought it might work in this case). My husband thought it maybe wasn't done growing. I don't know if I left it on the vine too long, or if it's the soil, or if it's just the dang hot and humid weather. But I have to tell you, it was the first time I felt truly discouraged in my SFG adventure - the few things I bring inside should at least taste delicious!!!

Lastly, just in the last three weeks or so my three pepper plants have really gone down hill - leaves turning brown and curling under - they look wilted, even when it's cloudy outside and it's rained all day. I found a tomato hornworm on one of them, but I haven't seen anything else. Sprayed them with Neem - is that what damaged them?

Gosh darn this gardening thing is hard! But I am determined and welcome any and all ideas you guys have. I am willing to give anything a shot to improve things.

I should probably tell you, I used Mel's mix but was lacking good, homemade compost. I got a few different kinds from Lowes/HD - Black Cow and the Whole Earth (I think it's called something like that). In July I added some really nice mushroom compost I got from an exotic fruit nursery. There was 6" of soil when I started... it had seemed to compact a little bit, which is part of why I spread the mushroom compost over the top - added a few inches. It has a good amount of mulch. I check the moisture of the soil every few days when it hasn't rained. My husband thinks I should water a little bit every day, but I don't if the soil is damp (which it often is - Mel's mix is great for that). The plants get full sun most of the day, which is a little brutal for summertime in FL, but the seeds I sowed directly seemed to tolerate it without much (visible) incident. I'm sure I'm forgetting some info.

Thanks for your thoughts!


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Oh, wow. Not sure I can be of much help, but first of all it sounds like you might have a nitrogen deficiency. Shhh..don't tell the organic gardeners, but I always add a slow release (coated) fertilizer, like a 10-10-10 or 12-12-12, to my soil and work it in pretty well before I plant. This feeds everything for 4-6 months, so I only have to do it once in the spring. Osmocote is one good brand, but I get a less expensive one at Wal*Mart that works well for me. A soil test would help you find what might be missing...I've never had one in 40 years of gardening, though.

Don't overwater and don't underwater. That's easy, huh? Give it a good soaking and then wait until the top couple of inches are dry before you water again (exception, keep newly seeded areas moist until plants are established). You want the root system to be large and healthy and grow down, not at the surface, so water long and deep rather than frequent shallow watering.

I've found a few of my leaves have shown some browning and crinkling at the edges, especially the beans. I think it was from the really hot, drying winds we had this year, as the plants seem extremely healthy otherwise. I think your tomatoes are diseased, however. That might be beyond your control (I have the same problem in my garden unless I grow resistant varieties). When you buy your tomatoes, make sure they are resistant varieties. Some varieties have been bred or hybridized to be resistant to certain pests and diseases. I grow "Celebrity", as they have proved to be a variety I can depend on here. As much as I would love to grow heirlooms, they succumb to diseases for me. I sometimes think I get a lot of it from our irrigation water.

If you are a smoker, wash your hands thoroughly BEFORE going near your plants. Tobacco virus can be spread by smokers.

Cucumbers. Hmmm...bitterness happens, I don't know why. They need a lot of water and are probably stressed by temperature extremes. I have mine in pots this year, planted near a fence that shades them in the afternoon and protects them from the hot wind. They have done very well this year.

I haven't had any bug problems (other than some cutworm damage), so haven't used any sprays. I'm not into using a lot of bug killers, just hand pick and look for eggs to destroy. I think the bugs pretty much aim for sickly plants, so strive for healthy plants. For egetables that don't require bees/insects to pollenize, I'd use floating row covers to keep away those pesky leaf miners and cabbage loopers.

If you are planting seeds in hot weather (like beans) plant them a bit deeper than the package says. I planted my late beans a full 2" under the soil when it was 100F outside, and they grew beautifully. Tiny seeds might need to be sprinkled lightly with water and covered with a board until they emerge (check daily for moisture, and remove the board just as soon as you see green!)

When it gets terribly hot, I provide a bit of shade for veggies that can't tolerate it. I put a 4x4 sheet of white lattice over my greens, just put a big bucket at each corner of the bed, placed two boards over them to span the area and placed the lattice over that. It provided filtered shade, and the white surface deflected the heat.

That's about all I have :-) Next year will be better!


Here is a link that might be useful: HERE IS A GUIDE FOR DISEASE RESISTANT PLANTS:

    Bookmark   September 1, 2008 at 1:41PM
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well I started building my boxes after removing the rest of my roses. The weather here is warm and humid so taking it slow. I think I will be able to place (6) 4x4 beds along with a 2x24 bed along the fence that can be used for the vining veggies. The boxes are from 2x6 pine but are painted and stenciled(wife's job). I will upload the finished project hopefully by the weekend. Thanks for all your help

    Bookmark   September 1, 2008 at 2:18PM
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engineeredgarden(7, nw Alabama)

Sarah - I feel for you, and will give you my input - for what it's worth.
The bitter cucumbers is caused mainly by watering issues. This is my first year with this method, as well as new garden, and I mainly watched what the plants were doing, to tell me when watering was needed. I know Florida is consistently warmer than Northwest Alabama, but nonetheless - I still have some of the same heat issues that you are dealing with. I would think that watering every 1 to 2 days would be required for your conditions. I was watering every 3 days until July, but then had to water more frequently, going with every 2 days.

More than likely, the holes that are being drilled into your cucumbers is from the pickle worm, or possibly even the melon worm.

The Black Kow, and other composts that you bought at the big box stores is fine - don't let anyone tell you any different. That's what I used, because my current homemade batch wasn't ready in time.

As far as pests go - I spent hours each day, inspecting my plants - especially on the underside of leaves. That's where 90% of your bugs are located. As I would find a new bug that wasn't familiar to me, I would take it's picture, and research it to find out if it was beneficial or not. My first job each day when I got home from work was to destroy all bad bugs in the garden. To me, chemicals just aren't the answer - but I understand if someone's spare time is limited, as well as physical limitations.

Tomato Hornworms - I know alot about these little devils! I must have killed 50 worms, and also crushed 75 -100 eggs that were deposited on my plants. I was anticipating their arrival, and once they were there - I took it to them with a vengeance.

Every plant has it's special needs, and also harmful bug to deal with. Once you learn what to watch for, it'll be a snap! Hang in there, it'll be better next year.


    Bookmark   September 1, 2008 at 3:15PM
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angelady777 (was angelady on GW) - Zone 6(6)

I agree with the heat being brutal where you are and that it could have easily affected your growing plants. Have you considered a fall planting being that it would be much easier, not just because of less pests, but because more plants might thrive in the cooler temps?

I would start seeds indoors, perhaps using the baggie / paper towel method. It helped my germination considerably to at least presoak my seeds overnight in warm water.

That's all I have as I am also very new to gardening, but hopefully it was at least a little helpful to you.


    Bookmark   September 1, 2008 at 6:07PM
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Thanks for the encouraging words guys... I really appreciate it.
Granny - I think you are probably right that something is off in my nutrients and causing some problems. I don't smoke, so that's not an issue. My tomatoes actually WERE hybrid, disease resistant types, so I don't know what's up with that. I did some research, though, with ordering for my fall planting and hopefully found some tomatoes that will do well here in the south. *fingers crossed* I also think there might be something to having plants in part shade here - at least from the afternoon sun. It is just brutal here. For example, right now, at 7 pm, it's still 93 degrees, and with the heat index, it feels like 102!!!

EG- I've had pretty good success with hand picking caterpillars and what not. I have only seen 3 or 4 tomato hornworms, the rest are something else... I thought I would try leaving them be, but they decimated the plants - ate them almost to death. When they settled in, I can pick 30 off the plants one night and not get them all. It is difficult to keep up with... but I do enjoy it. I like being out there and knowing what's going on, so in that respect it doesn't feel like a huge chore. I should note, I have never been able to figure out what the eggs of these caterpillars look like. And the white flies - can't hand pick those. I'm sure I'm going to have to try some row covers when I start my greens later this fall. It sounds like a good defense is the best offense :)
Angela - I am all about the fall planting! The trial and error will continue as I discover how many of my problems were due primary to the weather. I hope for good news as the temps cool down.

Thanks again, guys :)

    Bookmark   September 1, 2008 at 6:58PM
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sarahs_eden, even the old pros have failures. There is so much that is completely out of our control, that all we can do is learn what grows best in our area, try to keep one step ahead of insect infestations and plant diseases, and try, try, try and try again. Some years it all clicks, some years it's a bust, but each year we learn something and grow a bit in our gardening skills. It's all good.


Here is a link that might be useful: Annie's Kitchen Garden

    Bookmark   September 1, 2008 at 7:58PM
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engineeredgarden(7, nw Alabama)

Sarah - I have tons of photos of the eggs of various pests that were found in my garden this year. I'll put links to my pics here, so it won't cause the page alot of problems loading. Here's the eggs of the black caterpillar, that was mostly found on my tomato plants.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   September 1, 2008 at 7:59PM
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engineeredgarden(7, nw Alabama)

The egg of the tomato hornworm

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   September 1, 2008 at 8:06PM
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angelady777 (was angelady on GW) - Zone 6(6)

Your pictures are amazing, EG. This is going to help all of us, so keep 'em coming. I just had to thank you once again. Knowing what to look for is half the battle.


    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 12:11AM
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Thanks for the pictures, EG! I have seen a few eggs that look like the tomato hornworm eggs, but none that look like the black eggs - nothing as obvious as a neat little arrangement of black dots on the undersides of leaves. I have seen some piles of orange gel looking stuff on the tops of leaves. I will take a picture the next time I see it - maybe those are the eggs of whatever kind of caterpillars eat the heck out of my pumpkin and cukes.
I think I could handle a battle with all the pests in the world - but for the few things I've harvested to taste so bad is really the big disappointment!

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 7:03AM
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engineeredgarden(7, nw Alabama)

Angela, Sarah - you're both welcome. I'll keep putting them on here for you.


    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 9:24AM
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engineeredgarden(7, nw Alabama)

I'm pretty sure these are the eggs of the green stinkbug.


Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 10:42AM
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angelady777 (was angelady on GW) - Zone 6(6)

So, do you clip these leaves off when you find eggs on them and burn them or what?

Sarah, I know how much disappointment I'd have on bad-tasting veggies and fruit after all your hard work, without much to show for it. I feel your pain.


    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 2:30PM
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Yes Sarah, I'm with everyone else here, I'd be so ticked if I did as much work as you have and the veggies weren't awesome!!
I'm really new with the gardening thing, but I tend to agree with EG. I read somewhere that if your tomatoes curl up, it's most likely a watering issue. If they curl down, it's disease. Did you know that you aren't supposed to get tomato leaves wet? I know that I didn't know that when I started. Apparently the goal is to water the soil only and not touch the leaves at all. That way you don't give bacterial/fungal things a chance to grow. Are you mulching? I think I can see that if your tomatoes were weakened by over or under watering and then you sprayed, they may have been weakened further. I don't use chemicals, either, but I am not opposed to them. I'd advise you to call your extension and ask about varieties for your area, like granny recommends. They could also tell you where to get your soil tested. It's pretty cheap and that will eliminate at least one potential cause. Most importantly, though, hang in there! Your fall crop may be spectacular because of your area. You have alot longer to grow than I do, so you could probably bring in tomatoes right through to November.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 3:15PM
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engineeredgarden(7, nw Alabama)

Angela - most of the time, I pluck the entire leaf/leaves and crush all of the eggs against a flat surface with something. If a person was having a bad day, I guess they could get pretty creative, though. lol


    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 3:45PM
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LOL... Yeah... I hand picked caterpillars for a while and put them in a container with soapy water... now mostly I just smash them. I should try to find something more creative, just for the fun of it!
I'm really hoping that a lot of my problems were related to the heat and humidity. I think I might try a soil test just to make sure - has anyone tried the kits you buy in the store? Are they fairly accurate?
Carolyn - Honestly, I'm hoping to grow tomatoes all winter long! I don't think it froze here one time last year (which makes the bugs bad, but nice for growing hopefully!) Florida has to be good for something, right? Hehehehe... I say that especially during hurricane season!

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 5:42PM
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This was a good thread for me. I tend to get discouraged and give up before I even start, but getting to know you guys and reading about the varying experiences has been very encouraging. So Sarah, thank you for posting your trials and tribulations! You're not just getting help, you're actually providing it. :)

About squishing bugs...I'll probably just go the soapy water route. Guts freak me out. Even my most loathed nemesis, the Japanese Beetle (a.k.a. little f**kers and I try not to use that word much!) I can't bear to squish. By the way, does anyone know if Japanese Beetles affect food crops at all? They just LOVE LOVE LOVE my flowers, especially roses. But I just wait them out because they have a relatively short season here and the flowers rebound. Anyhoo.


    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 10:02PM
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engineeredgarden(7, nw Alabama)

Laura - the japanese beetles will attack some vegetable leaves. Particularly in my garden, they seemed to like okra leaves and turnip greens. Here's a photo of the damage they did to my turnip greens back in July. Next year, I will wait until they have went back into the ground before planting these.


Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 10:14PM
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About the most carried away I get is when I pick up the tomato hornworms with my scissors, and snip them in half as I drop them in a bucket of water. Or the glee I feel when I salt a slug and watch him melt away. I'm cruel, I tell ya. I haven't seen a hornworm or a slug at all this year, though. Lots of ants and earwigs.


Here is a link that might be useful: Granny's Blog

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 10:15PM
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EG - Yeah, that's pretty familiar-looking damage!

General question: in his book, Mel hinted that tomato hornworms emit a foul odor...or was he kidding? Y'all talk about squishing or chopping them...they don't leave any "parting shots?" And what about stinkbugs...true to their name? I don't want to sound prissy but it's not too terribly hard to nauseate me. I wonder if vomit is a good garden additive? I guess only if I've been eating vegetarian. (Ok, so I'm both prissy and crass. Go figure.)

    Bookmark   September 5, 2008 at 12:48PM
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engineeredgarden(7, nw Alabama)

Laura - I just take the hornworms and drop them in a fire ant mound. They do all of the work for me. :) The worst smell for me is squishing the squashbugs. The odor is unbelievable. If they wouldn't run away, i'd drop them in there too!


    Bookmark   September 5, 2008 at 1:26PM
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Aminopyralids...DESTROY ALL PLANT LIFE ESPECIALLY BROADLEAFS like Beans Peas broccoli family etc etc

i had trouble in washington state with the CERTIFIED ORGANIC COMPOST i was using...seems most commercial composters use municipal as well as public sources for their compost ingredients.
all it takes is a few contaminated yard clippings that have been sprayed with ROUNDUP!!!!!!!!!!!!!! yep ROUNDUP that poison pushed by Costco even...thousands of gardens wiped out!-it takes up to 4 years for it to COOK out of your soil even after that you might experience problems-MAKE YOUR OWN COMPOST and boycott MONSANTO! ALL THEIR PRODUCTS! for they are poisoning the world.
there are tests you can do -home control plots etc etc-but you need to start with pure virgin soil...good luck
p.s. i am Michigan Now and they are having the same problems as WA state had 10 years ago...they are finally waking up though as people pass around this information.Namaste T

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 3:23PM
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howelbama(7 NJ)


You do realize this thread is 4 years old right???? Lol

Monsanto does suck though.

What exactly is pure virgin soil? Lol

    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 2:23AM
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angela12345(7b NC Mixed-Humid)

I like it when somebody drags up an old thread. : )

    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 6:11PM
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beth_b_kodiak(zone 5a)

Me too Angela. Now I hope Sara comes back on and tells us what she has done recently.
Things generally get better if you can just hang on for a while. And some seasons just do better for some crops.
This is my best squash year in many seasons but not very good fir beans so far.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 10:14AM
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