How many of us have transplanted our cucumber and squash seedlings (both winter and summer squash) to the garden and had them sit there for what seems like an eternity (3 weeks) and not do anything but get worse looking than when we put them in the ground?
And how upsetting is it when we lovingly and with great anticipation plant our tomatoes and see one plant take off gang-busters and attain a height of 3 feet almost over night while other tomato plants sit there and stay about 7 inches?
Have you patiently waited until May to set out your peppers and eggplant, only to have them sit there at the same size for 3 more weeks?
If you’re a person who requires lots of scientific detailed information for your answers, you’re not going to find it in this post. But I am going to give you some possible reasons and some observations that I’ve made over 35 years of gardening that may ease your pain when experiencing the situations I’ve described above.
Major Culprit in My Opinion
I think the major culprit behind most gardeners obsessing about what is described above is how our society promotes “perfection” and “attaining everything quickly”. In our world today bigger is better and everything (men – women – and vegetables) are pictured as being without blemish. And everything has to be fast. To one degree or the other, we are all influenced by this. It’s almost impossible not to be. (Notice I said almost!)
One of the reasons Miracle Grow got to be a standard household product for so many people is because they promote “fast” and “perfect”. To heck with the harm it does — they don’t see the harm right away — but they do see that quick flourish of growth and green —- and then they can tout that their plants are bigger and more beautiful than others!
The Truth About Nature
What I’ve found to be true in my organic garden — (and by the way, I have always gardened organically — all 35 years worth) is that nature is not on that same schedule. Plants have there own schedule and do best in their own time. Just because your calendar says it’s time for them to grow — they sense the delicate variables and when those variable all line up just right — look out! We’ve all seen it in our gardens if we’ve gardened for a while. Something languishes and all of sudden it rains and conditions become just right and we see a foot or more of growth per day!
Laughing at Myself
A friend who use to live close by was always amazed at my garden. I always got a laugh — because there were times he was here and would see my pepper seedlings of years back or my languishing squash seedlings in the garden and you could see that he was thinking — “How in the world does she ever get all that bounty with these awful looking plants.” (For more on this story see my post, Peppers, It Ain’t Necessarily So.)
Happening Right Now with Squash and Tomatoes
- I have young squash plants that have been in the garden since May 24th. They’re maybe 4 inches high. The original leaves turned yellow right away and for a while they almost looked like they weren’t going to make it. I endured it and resisted the urge to pull them up, because I’ve seen this same thing with my squash for 35 years! But when they start growing they are one of the most beautiful plants in the garden. They just do it on their own time table.
And tomatoes—— I can’t believe that with all the success I’ve had with tomatoes over the years I still succumb to worrying about my young tomato plants. (Last year I had what I considered to be the worse years for tomatoes that I’ve ever had —- and yet, I still had plenty of tomatoes for roasting and eating fresh. I was only a bit short on the number of quarts of sauce I wanted to freeze.)
- This year I have 40 tomato seedlings planted so far. All raised from seed. All looking fine — but here I am worrying about the ones not looking as full and lush as others. Then standing over one that’s been deprived of it’s due space by a big broccoli plant and worrying that it will stay skinny and not give me a good return of tomatoes.
Different Varieties Perform Differently
If you’ve gardened for a while you know that “varieties” can be responsible for languishing growth especially with tomatoes. Some have deeper green, grow bushier, and get taller faster than other varieties.
The same with cucumbers. Both the varieties in my garden were planted at the same time. One looks deep green and great. The other variety looks pale green and not so great. I have backup waiting in the wings, but in all probability — both varieties will do fine.
Organic Garden vs. the chemical garden
If you have an organic garden and don’t use chemicals to “force” the soil or “force” your plants (like Miracle Gro) — you probably are going to experience what I call “languishing” with seedlings in the garden. If they’re transplants, they’ll sit for a while using their energy to taking hold of the soil and putting their roots down rather than using it for growth above ground. And all — whether direct seeded or transplants — will wait for the weather to be to their liking before showing lush growth.
One More Example
This is a little off target, but makes the point well. At one time in every gardener’s life they have felt the lure of the bargain table at a nursery or plant stand at the end of the season. All these awful looking plants for an irresistible low price.
There are millions of success stories telling of taking those plants home, putting them in good soil, and having them give some of the best crops ever! If this can happen with chemical grown seedlings from a bargain table in June —- don’t you think our organic homegrown seedlings have an even better chance!
If you’re pro-active like I am (and I know many of you are 🙂 ) you’ll always want to have back-up just in case. The only cost is a few seeds and some time in sowing. You still have time for hot weather crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, and eggplant. (At least here in Virginia.)
Final Thoughts — What You Really Need to Do
But mostly, all you need at this point in the game is patience and the realization that nature has things under control. Work with her by improving your soil; she’ll do the rest.
Organic Gardening is easy, effective, efficient —- and it’s a lot healthier.
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