Introducing – The Gentleman Known As “New Gardener”

I have a new friend.

His name’s Tyler, but he likes to call himself NG (New Gardener).

I told him I’m opening up my online gardening course for enrolment this week and he got REALLY excited (apparently he’s been waiting for that).

And since he’s not only a handsome lumberjack-type fellow, but also quite entertaining when a camera is pointed at him, I asked him if he’d like to make a few videos this week sharing a little about his story.

Here’s what he came up with for video #1 (advance notice: Tyler is an endearingly goofy gentleman with unique facial expressions – part of what makes him so great):

The other purpose of today’s post: for many of us, it’s a good time of year to reflect on the 2017 gardening season.

So a question for you: What challenges did you face in your garden this year?

Let me know below and I’ll see if I have any ideas for you…


  1. Carolyn Fiorillo on October 24, 2017 at 5:13 pm

    I live in Oregon. We had a very rainy winter, an uncertain spring (which greatly confused my veggies), and no rain at all during the summer. As a result some veggies (such as my peas) just never came up, and my tomatoes produced poorly. What could or should I have done to offset the uncooperative weather?

    • Phil on October 25, 2017 at 9:10 am

      Hi Carolyn, irrigation would obviously be a big help here in the summer, but the longer term plan is to improve your soil’s ability to moderate extreme water conditions – both too much and too little. Good compost plays a big role there and so does a good mulch. But on top of that, testing your soil with a good organic soil lab and subsequently balancing out the nutrients will greatly contribute to building a soil that both holds water when needed and drains it when there’s too much.

  2. Anne on October 24, 2017 at 6:25 pm

    I had a pretty good garden this year – an abundance of self-seeded kale, mustard greens, borage, daikon and other radish, calendula, and nasturtiums; continuing harvest from chrysanthemum greens, carrots, nettles, scarlet runner beans (though a rare visit from deer put a serious dent in that), and perennial herbs, and my leeks and parsnips are coming along very well. One of the 5 artichoke seeds I planted germinated and is finally doing very well. For the first time, at least one of my brussels sprouts is developing decent sized sprouts (I cut all but the top leaves off at the end of July), though something killed two – I think it was a cat pooing or spraying it, because suddenly one morning all of their leaves just withered, and I saw some cat poo in that bed – but it could be a different culprit… However, my basil didn’t do well at all, and because we have so much dew every night, all of the 12 squash I planted got powdery mildew – way more than I could keep up with – and the female flowers of one kind (half of them) all came out in the beginning, with most of the male flowers popping out after it was too late. As a result, I only got 8 squash from those 6 plants (silver bells). I got a number of the other kind (honey nut), though most were smaller than those in the store, probably due to not getting enough time with the powdery mildew. And I direct seeded lots of erba stella and fennel in early August and kept the ground wet – zero germination from both. I don’t understand what went wrong with those at all.

    • Phil on October 25, 2017 at 9:19 am

      Hi Anne, did you try any baking soda or milk or one of the standard home recipes for the squash or did you just let it go? Presuming you already have them in a sunny spot with good air circulation, it seems a homemade spray is sometimes required.

      I had a similar non-germination problem in my garden this year with my some of my lettuces and my basil. The water is so important, but it sounds like you had that covered. In my garden, the clay is so heavy in places that sometimes I think it’s more of an oxygen/compaction issue.

  3. Jonathan Brown on October 24, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    We had successes an challenges. The biggest success was using winter rye as a cover crop to regenerate the soil ( in part), to supress diseases, and discourage weeds – in my organic tomato garden wher yield were greater than last year, but two weeks latter. The biggest challenge was ground hogs and chipmunks eating the lettuce, arugula, and tomatoes. We won in th3 end, but had to organize a neighborhood watch since they came over from the park.

    • Phil on October 25, 2017 at 9:20 am

      Thanks for sharing, Jonathan. Rodents can be such a big challenge.

  4. Wayne on October 24, 2017 at 6:48 pm

    The biggest issue I had this year was leaf footed stink bugs. It was a challenge to get my tomatoes before they did. I don’t use pesticides an none of the organic fixes I found seemed to work. I hand picked what I could catch but they’re pretty fast. I’m not able to be in the garden everyday because of my work schedule which was probably my second worst problem.
    Any ideas on how to get rid of or at least reduce the damage from these bugs would be greatly appreciated

    • Phil on October 25, 2017 at 9:33 am

      Hi Wayne, here are a couple of things you may try next year:
      -Calcium and phosphorus are often indicated in pest issues, so if you can get some liquid calcium and phosphorus to spray directly on the leaves, that may do the trick.
      -Hand picking eggs. In the spring you can remove their eggs from the underside of the leaves. But, and this part is a little tricky until you get some experience, if you notice that some of the eggs look different that others, often being darker, you should probably leave them because they’ve probably been parasitized, which is when certain species of wasps and flies lay their eggs right inside the eggs of the stink bugs and then eat their way out – we want to let those eggs hatch, do their thing, and then reproduce.
      -Trap crop. Rodale found that sunflower worked well as a trap crop. If you can surround your squash bed with sunflowers, I wonder if it would help divert the stink bugs on such a small scale. The sunflowers also attract ladybugs and other predators of the stink bug eggs and nymphs.

  5. janis lee on October 24, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    I increased the size of my garden this year but had trouble keeping things planted as the raccoons ( 5 raccoon no less) kept digging up the garden for the worms. I had super rich soil with lots of worms from lasagna layering them .

    Not sure what to do to keep those rascals out

  6. Adam on October 24, 2017 at 9:57 pm

    Spider-mites took over my apple trees. I was too late in recognizing it to have a meaningful impact this year. I am being told to clean up all fallen leaves and spray trees with canola oil to suffocate any early mites in the spring. Thoughts?

    • Phil on October 25, 2017 at 9:40 am

      Personally, I rarely find the downside of removing organic matter to be worth the upside of getting rid of some of the spider mites. The mites are always around, and they will find your trees if the trees are good food for them. So I would leave the leaves. I’m not sure about canola oil, but it may help. Neem oil definitely can help. Either way, I’d mix it with some liquid organic fertilizer like seaweed, fish or ocean water in order to bring in nutrition at the same time as the neem oil. They work nicely together.

  7. Margie Wakefield on October 24, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    Pretty successful this year, though the squash bugs are still very much a threat to the zucchini and the squash. Sprays do not seem effective and they are very good at being elusive. Easier to eradicate when you water as they do not like to get wet. Hand squashing seems to be the only effective method.

    • Phil on October 25, 2017 at 11:00 am

      Hi Margie, here are some squash bug tips – perhaps there’s something in here for you:
      -Hand picking the insects. If you just go out every morning (or evening) and toss them into a bucket of soapy water, you’ll take care of a lot of them. This is unfeasible on a farm, but in a small garden, it can be a good solution.
      -Kaolin clay. Is a clay powder that, when applied to the leaves, will agitate the stink bugs. Can work very well.
      -Insecticidal soaps and neem oil. Can work when the bugs are young.
      -Crop rotation. This can help with squash bugs, and choosing resistant squash varieties can help.
      -Floating row covers. This helps during the beginning of the season. They need to be removed for pollination.
      -Switch varieties. Plant butternut and other C. moschata species instead. And in general, planting several varieties can help because the bugs may very well choose one over another.
      -Timing – early or late. Warm up the soil early with a hoop house or by other means and plant early so the plants are mature by the time the eggs are laid. Alternatively, plant late (like July) once the adults have already finishing laying eggs.
      -Cleanup. Removing all organic debris at the end of the growing season and tilling the garden will remove their homes. Unfortunately, in organic gardening, we mostly want to increase our organic debris (mulch) and decrease our tilling in order to improve the health of our garden, but sometimes pest control gets in the way of best practices, especially if the pests are causing a lot of problems.
      -Diatomaceous earth. Works against the nymphs (ie. when they’re young), but is also harmful to beneficials, so use it sparingly.

  8. Glenn Roberts on October 24, 2017 at 10:52 pm

    I had some issues with too much rain as well. The lettuces turned to mush on the tips of leaves, but the hearts were still eatable. I planted mini-Roma tomatoes in large containers, was a smashing success, and we had tomatoes everywhere. I decided to make some Chutney and home made tomato sauce! So I bottled up all the extras. Wow! it was also a success and just lovely. We have many jars or chutney and sauce for many months to come.

    • Phil on October 25, 2017 at 11:02 am

      Thanks for sharing, Glenn. There’s something so rewarding in the winter about pulling out any of the many forms of canned fruits and veggies.

  9. Jad on October 24, 2017 at 11:13 pm

    It was my first year with organic gardening, and it was a real challenge. Previous years, I used to use insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers, etc. to “solve” any problems my plants may have.
    This year, I was trying to learn ways to solve these problems, and they were many.
    1. My seedlings go too much rain and they got fungus when they were still in their starting cups, but it was too late to restart tomatoes and peppers.
    2. My spinach got infested by leafminers.
    3. During my vacation, it was a dry week, and my plants got really thirsty, and that caused blossom-end rots.
    4. I even got some mice coming to enjoy my garden, taking advantage of me not using any chemicals to kill them …
    I dealt with these problems in organic ways and solved many of them, but I still have a lot to learn … Maybe (time permitting) I will join NG in the academy !!

    • Phil on October 25, 2017 at 11:03 am

      Thanks for sharing, Jad. Definitely when we move away from pesticides we need to spend some time improving the health of our soil and plants so they can take care of themselves.

  10. AZ-George on October 25, 2017 at 2:05 am

    best success was swiss chard – even survived 118 degrees (AZ). Worst was the rats. Killed at least 25 with traps. Don’t how many the poison got. For Adam – my father had a dozen apple trees he had 5 sprays during the year. As I recall, one mid-winter, one as the trees were budding before the flowers open, one after the flowers drop, the other two – not sure. It was a soap and oil mixture, the soap helped to spread the oil and the oil suffocated the eggs and pests before they grew. A university extension can help with the correct treatment.

    • Phil on October 25, 2017 at 11:04 am

      Thanks for sharing, George. Much appreciated.

  11. Leslee Wooton on October 25, 2017 at 8:11 am

    Western North Carolina in the Appalachian mountains. This area was heavily planted in Burley tobacco for many years and even though my garden beds are not situated where the tobacco was actually planted there are wireworms living in the soil. They decimate potatoes and legume seeds (likely other things too, just not my experience). Anybody know ways to manage them?

    • Phil on October 25, 2017 at 11:07 am

      Hi Leslee, Arden Andersen says bringing up your calcium and cobalt as well as adding some vitamin C (I’m not sure how much) can make the soil less hospitable to wireworms.

  12. Lynne on October 25, 2017 at 10:23 am

    It was a terribly rainy late June and July in Georgia this year so we lost almost all of the tomatoes and cukes to blight this year. It was so rainy we couldn’t apply anything to the leaves, it was washed off by the rain on the next day. Everything else seemed to do okay (one it stopped raining).

    • Phil on October 25, 2017 at 11:09 am

      Hi Lynne, would it be worth it to build a little something to block the rain? It’s one of those things that’s so nice to have once you have it, but does take effort to build. Or even floating row covers can help if you can put them on and off as needed.

  13. Julie dobson on October 25, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Tons of spider mites, aphids, thrips. Diseased Lawson cypress bushes died, dogwood tree has anthracnose. Arborvitae fighting some disease.

  14. Michael on October 25, 2017 at 11:08 am

    Squash bugs completely decimated my butternut squash plants. I started with about 40 plants, ended up with two squash.

    • Phil on October 26, 2017 at 8:25 am

      Wow, that’s a tough squash year, Michael. I put some squash tips in a comment up above.

  15. Paul on October 25, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    Hi. I applied Michael Philips holistic recipe for apple tree spraying. I applied it only to a few trees (without Neem because I was afraid to add that) and only to half of each tree. I applied it around early to mid June or so.A few weeks later all of my trees that I sprayed lost their leaves. At first it looked like only the half that I sprayed lost the leaves then a week or so later all of the leaves dropped. At first I thought it was due to the spray application but my neighbors who also have apple trees lost their leaves this year as well AND they did not spray anything on theirs. It was so early in the season that some of the trees sprouted new leaves in spots. My apples that did make it despite the loss of leaves were smaller than normal. The lone pear tree I have which didn’t get sprayed was unaffected and produced good pears this year. These trees are located in the Pocono mountains of eastern PA near Lehighton. Our summer was ok not too much drought and we did get good rain but not too much in my opinion. The temps were a little high but not bad like it sometimes can be.

    • Phil on October 26, 2017 at 8:36 am

      Did you have any disease on the trees? That’s probably the most common culprit when it comes to leaf drop, especially when you’ve ruled out extreme water (too much or little) and temperature (too high or low).

      • Paul on October 30, 2017 at 1:12 pm

        Hi Phil. Yes there were spots on most of the leaves but  it was nothing more than usual. I get that every year but not the loss of leaves like I had this year. Thanks.

        • Phil on November 1, 2017 at 12:39 pm

          I expect next year you’ll be in better shape. Some years, fruit trees that aren’t optimally healthy seem to just give up, whether that be dropping leaves or sometimes just not fruiting. But then next year they often come back okay. I’ve noticed some trees do this every other year.

  16. Paul Christensen on October 25, 2017 at 11:27 pm

    I had mixed success with plantings of Haskap,sour cherry,grape ,asian pear. Some took root and grew leaves thais first year,even a couple of bushes with berries too. That happened two years earlier than expected lol. But the vast majority did not make any leaves with a very few making some leaves late in the year. All were trimmed back to green wood to encourage root growth for a, hopefully ,strong start next spring. I had some small slug like pests on the leaves of a few of the young bushes but before I could identify what they were the lady bug army moved in and took care of the problem…..still need to figure out what they were though so I can use some beneficial nematodes if necessary in the years to come.

    • Phil on October 26, 2017 at 8:26 am

      Hopefully the leaves come this year, Paul. Sometimes that happens. Just note that trimming doesn’t usually promote root growth – often the opposite, although it seems to depend on the species.

  17. Kelly Jobe on October 30, 2017 at 10:34 am

    Japanese beetles drove me nuts this year. I started off picking them off plants until the day I came home and it looked like clusters of grapes hanging from my rose of sharon. I tried an organic spray which seemed to draw more in rather than killing them. I ended up spraying with soapy water a couple of times a day for the 6 weeks they are in the beetle stage. This fall I treated lawn and garden with nematodes. It seems to have cut down on the grubs as no more moles tearing up the lawn but always afraid I’m creating another problem every time I treat something.

    • Phil on November 1, 2017 at 12:36 pm

      Ya, Japanese beetles are pretty tough. Plants need to be especially healthy to ward them off.

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