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Take ‘Knotes’ on summer garden setbacks and successes

"No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden."

— Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Our third president certainly treated gardening as a full-time occupation after he retired from political life in 1809. Jefferson spent the last 17 years of life overseeing his 5,000-acre plantation, Monticello, which included a vast experimental vegetable garden. Wrote Andrea Wulf in "Founding Gardeners," “Jefferson’s approach to his garden was that of a man of the Enlightenment-observing, experimenting and recording.”

Indeed, during the spring of 1815, when the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty that ended the War of 1812, Jefferson’s mind was instead focused on horticultural events. He noted in his garden "Kalendar" that the frame peas in Borders I-V were planted March 3, sprouted March 11 and blossomed April 19; 27 pods had “come to table” May 15. On May 9, however, his “tomatas" and okra had been killed by frost.

Now that fall has officially arrived, we would do well to follow Jefferson’s example and make a few notes about which vegetables thrived in our gardens this summer and which ones — as Jefferson put it — “came to nothing.”

Of course, we don’t need to be as detailed as the man who penned the Declaration of Independence; however, it makes sense to keep records so we may gain at least some control over whether our garden history should repeat itself.

Here are a few of my garden ‘Knotes’ (the K in honor of Jefferson’s "Kalendar"):

  • Summer squash produced lavishly, but so did squash bugs. Tried pyrethrin and spinosad, even Shop-Vacing little stinkers off. Finally ripped out all plants in fit of frustration. Not too upset; squash made perfect decorations once insects sucked out all of the juice. Knote to self: To actually eat squash next year, remember — don’t plant any member of melon family in same bed. (Squash bugs can’t tell the difference between summer squash and cucumbers.)
  • 'Black Beauty’ eggplant and ‘California Wonder’ bell peppers loved the heat. Knote to self: Do more succession planting. (Jerry and I went on a 10-day vacation to Canada — exactly the time when 90 percent of the eggplant were ready to harvest.)
  • Spinach and lettuce bolted in heat (yeah — faster than Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt). Knote to self: Develop salad craving in winter.
  • Rats loved watermelon; left thank you knote. Knote to self: Rethink open compost pile or find better rat traps.
  • “Tomatas” got off to sluggish start (from heat, not the slimy kind); some early fruit had blossom-end rot. Set up shade cover and adjusted drip irrigation, so ended up with decent crop. Favorite — ‘White Currant’ heirlooms. (These light yellow morsels are ideal for picking fresh from the vine and popping into your mouth right in the garden.) Knote to self: Grow fewer tomatoes to offset need for more water. (Maybe I’ll only grow ‘White Currants’ next year, which will surely prevent me from having to carry any tomatoes into the house.)

Jefferson set for himself the task of trialing thousands of new plants in his experimental gardens in order to find the very best varieties for the young nation. He said the work was “worth more … than all the victories of the most splendid pages of history.” Whether on a "kalendar" or in a "knotebook," do spend some time reflecting on the summer’s setbacks and successes. Your jottings may not be splendid, but they will become valuable pages of your garden history.

Coming Up: The Jackson County Master Gardener Association will host “This Is Not the Pacific Northwest” from 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1, at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point. Cost is $10. For more information, see www.jacksoncountymga.org.

Rhonda Nowak is a Jackson County Master Gardener and teaches writing at Rogue Community College. Email her at rnowak39@gmail.com.