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Master Gardeners: There are good reasons for keeping records

By Onen Markeson, Master Gardener intern

Every year gardening has many personal “experiments” in it. Some experiments we have control over, such as what we plant, what when we plant it, where we plant it, do we fertilize, do we mulch and do we use any type of frost protection.

We have limited or no control over when the first and last frosts hit, when the rains come, heat waves, the amount of shade in the area, what type of soil we start out with, what critters have arrived into the area, etc.

Because of these variations, I have learned that there are good reasons to either keep a diary, mark on a calendar, or at least keep a summary at the end of the year about what worked well, what went wrong (and possibly why) and what you would like to do when the next growing season arrives.

The last couple of years I have used black poly covering for beds of several types of plants. The benefit of using this is that it keeps the roots of heat loving plants very warm, and keeps a lot of moisture in the ground. Yes, I do grimace a little each time I use it because of environmental concerns, but it works very good for some plants. This year I tried using the black poly on a hill of an heirloom cantaloupe variety – Charentais from Seed Savers Exchange – that sounded promising. I was very happy with more than 40 very sweet cantaloupes which one hill produced.

Clear plastic bed coverings are also a good option, as the clear plastic warms the soil more. The black poly reportedly keeps the weeds down better (most seeds don’t germinate in the dark) and maintains a more even temperature. Poly bed coverings also are helpful in reducing fungal problems on some heavy fruits that might come in contact with soil by simply being a barrier between the fruit and the ground.

Some plants responded very well to the warm temperatures this year – as long as they were kept watered. The eggplant variety that I used this year (Millionaire Hybrid - Territorial Seeds) was very productive, and I will try it again next year.

I have been trying to get second or third crops of some vegetables in so that I can have some of the quick maturing crops at different times of the year. Planting carrots, beets and lettuce sometime in August produced mixed results; I should have written the date down so I will know when the latest dates to plant these items should be. I really liked the late crop of Cracoviensis lettuce (an heirloom variety from Seed Savers Exchange) which seems to be a good fall lettuce, being quick to mature and surviving weather into the lower twenties. The carrots and beets should have been planted a little earlier.

The University of Minnesota has information on many different areas of gardening such as intensive vegetable gardening in a five foot by twenty two foot garden, an heirloom gardens with diagram, salad gardens for small places and several others. If interested in these ideas, visit online at

Other reliable gardening information can be found at