I only added a few inches of compost to my soil last year, a mistake I lived to regret, compounded by the fact that I made a second classic gardening mistake—I settled for inferior seedlings from area big box stores, not wanting to take the time to start my plants from seed under grow lights for eventual hardening off and then transplanting outside. It was a mistake I lived to regret in mid- to late-summer when my plants refused to adequately flourish and fruit, sometimes even falling victim to nasty diseases like the dreaded Late Tomato Blight.
Situations like this are probably what prompted the famous American gardener, Thomas Jefferson, to say late in his life, “I am an old man, but a young gardener.” The truth is that you never stop learning when you are a gardener, which is one of the reasons I endure all kinds of disappointments and failures when I garden. In this case, I learned from a much younger gardener.
Last winter, my son stubbornly stuck to his plan of starting all his plants from seed, building a long wooden table in his basement and installing fluorescent glass lighting just a few inches above his seed pots. I sniffed a little as I purchased pots of three- to four-inch tomatoes, brussels sprouts, cucumbers, and zucchini. My plants were in the ground weeks before his and I couldn’t imagine that his spindly little seedlings would ever catch up to my mass-produced magnificence.
Of course, here’s where the moral of the story comes in—by mid-summer, my son’s peppers, eggplants, several kinds of tomatoes, squash, broccoli, and lots of interesting herbs were big and bushy-tailed, while my flash-in-the-pan plants began to languish.
My peppers never fruited, the broccoli bolted early, and my tomatoes—my carefully watered, fertilized, and trained “Big Girls” and “Better Boys”—developed Late Tomato Blight, an insidious fungal disease that kills all the leaves on your tomato plants, leaving sad clumps of ripening fruit naked on the vine.