Last year I tried my hand at growing a few things and I feel I had some decent success for a newbie…. I planted a variety of herbs, some pepper plants, and 4 blueberry bushes in the spring of 2010. My herbs turned out well despite the fact that I was cultivating them all wrong. Instead of harvesting in such a way that would promote plant thickness, I ended up pruning off the very sections of the plant that were needed to produce new growth. This mistake was inconsequential in the beginning so I did not realize my error immediately. However, it became quite clear later on when the plant had nothing left to grow on. Here is what I learned… The plant grows leaves off of the main stem. This is your harvest. However, by chopping off the top of the plant, each point where a leaf was protruding along the stem will be stimulated to grow a new branch. (I was just taking the new leaves along the main stem) When you chop off the top of the plant, the plant goes into survival mode and begins to produce new branches to the side, making it fuller with more leaves to harvest. You want to be sure to always keep at least 3 leaf nodes along the stem and you do not want to cut below this point. This gives you a total of 6 node sites or potential new branches. I had been pruning these secondary branches far to close to the root stem thus causing the herb to grow tall with little to no surface area to grow more leaves. Even with my learning curve I still was able to generate enough yield to supply us with herbs for cooking and I even had a little left over to last us through the winter.
My pepper plants, jalapenos, and sweet peppers were started from seed; mainly because I wanted to see how that worked. What I learned was that starting from seeds takes much longer than I would have thought and there seems to never be enough time. Once the plants got going and I thought that all of my work was going to pay off, the end of the season was already here. You add that to my biggest mistake, allowing too many plants to grow in the same pot all together and what you end up with is a tiny, overcrowded crop. So needless to say, this year I made a few adjustments. The first thing that I did differently was to start the seeds a little sooner and inside. It seems to be working. I should have enough baby plants ready to plant outside once we are past the threat of a frost. I am so tempted to put them out now, but I have been warned to not put them out until after Mother’s day, just to be safe. I have set them outside for a bit each day but even the wind has seemed to beat them down some. Another adjustment that I have made is to limit the number of plants per pot. I plan to weed out any weak plants and, in the end, have only one strong plant per pot. This should allow me to give more care to fewer plants, thus producing quality over quantity. I still managed to get enough peppers last year to use in cooking and chop up for salsa but I am hopeful with the tweaks that I have made to have so many more this year!
I also purchased and planted 3 Chippewa and 1 Blueray blueberry plants last year. I placed them at the rear of the back yard as the tags say they could become as large as 6ft tall! I wanted to make sure that they had adequate room to grow to their full size. For the most part, they seemed to handle the transplant okay with one doing exceptionally well and one not so well. One corner of my yard tends to be dry, while the other corner slopes down and tends to pool water around the plant. Because of this both of these plants ended up looking pretty bad by the time fall arrived. I decided to replace the plant that got too little water with a Duke blueberry plant and to keep the other one, in the pool of water, to see if it could make it through the winter. The pictures below show the plants as of today, April 5, 2011. The first picture shows the bush that looks the best, located where the ground holds water, (who would have guessed?). The next picture, the bush to it’s left, is the Blueray which does not show any signs of life yet. I’m hoping this bush made it through the winter. I drove all the way to Champaign to get this one. I read that Blueberry bushes cross pollinate so my hope is that the conglomeration of varieties that I have placed in the yard will result in the most luscious blueberries in all the land! So far, 3 of them have started to wake up. I am patiently holding my breathe for the 4th! I will post the results with pictures as soon as I know the outcome.