September 4, 2021

The Status of My Other Experiments

One of the most valuable homesteading lessons Dan and I have learned is to think of new ideas and projects as experiments. Somehow, there is a difference between thinking "I'm going to do this," and "I'm going to experiment with this." The difference might seem subtle on the surface, but it's huge in terms of expectations. An experiment tests an idea, to see if it will or won't work and what aspects need to be tweaked or changed. With an experiment, we don't necessarily expect the outcome to be perfect the first time around; we expect to gain enough information either to make adjustments or decide that the idea wasn't as useful as we'd hoped. That's much less frustrating than seeing something as a failure. An added bonus to the trial-and-error mentality is that our imaginations have become freer to think outside the box. We no longer worry so much about failing because . . . it's an experiment!

I've recently shown you a couple of this year's experiments: using the hoop house as a trellis for a natural shade house, and my idea for trying sprawling cherry tomato plants as ground cover. Here's an update on some others.

Wicking pots

This is an example of something that hasn't worked out as I hoped.

Cherry tomato in wicking pot. Plenty
of sun and water, but still struggling.

I love that these are easy to water and with no evaporation of moisture, but I was disappointed that the tomato plants haven't grown well. I used good soil and plenty of compost, so what's the problem? I figured it out one recent sunny day when I put my hand on the pot. It was hot! Our summer shade temps are typically in the mid-90sF (mid-30sC), which puts them in the mid-100s (around 40°C) in the sun. I got out my soil thermometer and discovered that the soil temp in the pots was 100°F (38°C). So even though the plants had plenty of water, they were struggling with the heat.

Sunchokes for hopniss trellises

That link will take you to my first groundnut (hopniss) harvest post, and show you the smooth Jerusalem artichokes I planted in the bed. I read somewhere that sunchokes stalks make good supports for the hopniss vines.

Blooming sunchoke in the foreground,
hopniss on a trellis in the background.

Unfortunately, I didn't think this worked all that well. For starters, the hopniss started growing before the sunchokes, so I ended up using the trellises anyway. I have one or two hopniss vines growing up sunchokes, but mostly they've climbed the trellises. So, not exactly a fail, but not a success either.

Nitrogen fixers for the garden

In the past, I've sprinkled Dutch clover seed in my garden beds to supply nitrogen. This only works moderately well at best. Germination wasn't that great, plus clover tends to prefer cooler weather than our summers offer. So this year, I experimented with different nitrogen fixers - hopniss (ground nuts) and peanuts.

I can't remember if I mentioned planting my smallest hopniss tubers in the little garden bed on the side of the hoop house. I'm a big fan of diverse locations for perennials. I think it's a good idea to have a backup planting in case one location succumbs to something unintended. Anyway, they have happily used the hoop house as a trellis in companionable cooperation with the volunteer cherry tomatoes. They've helped my summer shade house be a success. 

Groundnut vines & cherry tomatoes have
completely taken over the hoop house.

In addition, the groundnuts have given the tomatoes a nitrogen boost, which they love. It hasn't protected them from late blight, but I'm getting tons of delicious cherry tomatoes.

The peanuts were planted in various garden beds, where they've done well.

Sweet potatoes with peanut plants (lower right corner),
with volunteer morning glories and cherry tomatoes.

Everything is thriving. The bonus will be harvesting a few peanuts, to boot! So this is definitely a success and will be standard gardening procedure for me in the future.

Landrace experiment

Before I give you my update, I'll refer you to two posts to explain what this is and why I'm doing it. 

I'll also preface it by clarifying that I just started this this year, so I won't have actual results at least until next year. I chose two species to start - winter squash and cucumbers.

Winter squash from landrace seeds.

Early this summer, I planted a landrace winter squash from seeds I received through It has struggled for most of the summer, but finally responded to lots of hurricane rain and is now looking pretty good. I'm guessing it struggled so much because it was bred in the Pacific Northwest, which has a very different climate than I have in the southeast. I'm also guessing that it survived because as a landrace, it had the genetic strength to not die. The squashes are small and pumpkin-like, but I will get quite a few.

Landrace winter squash.

I'm looking forward to tasting them and saving the seed. And their offspring will hopefully be interesting because in the bed next to them, I planted sweet potato squash. The vines have intermingled freely, so I'm pretty sure I got good cross-pollination.

Sweet potato squash (spotted leaves), tomatoes, and black turtle beans.
Can you see the 2 squashes? The spotless leaves are the landrace vines. 

The sweet potato squash has truly thrived for me. Early on, I found clusters of squash bug eggs on some of the leaves, but those were discarded and the plants now show no evidence of insect damage or disease. So to add that to my winter squash gene pool will be a real plus!

Of the cucumbers, I have mature fruits from a mix of about four varieties, mixed and planted in the same row.

Very mature cucumbers ready for seed extraction.

These will be the cuke seeds I'll plant next year. (For anyone interested, I have a cucumber seed saving tutorial here.)

I think that's it for my experiments this year. Anyone else do some experimenting? I'd be interested in what you did and how it's turning out.


daisy g said...

I love experimenting in the garden! I've never heard of the sweet potato squash, but it sounds very interesting!
Happy fall gardening!

Leigh said...

Daisy, thanks! The squash was a catalog find. How could I resist something with "sweet potato" in the name?!?

Rosalea said...

Very interesting update. Do you think a white pot would have kept the soil cool enough? Sweet potato squash sounds wonderful. How does it taste?

Leigh said...

Rosalea, I've wondered the same thing about a white pot. I would think so, but I suspect filtered shade would be the best solution.

We've not tried the sweet potato squash yet, but I'm really looking forward to it. They seem to produce well, so I hope they keep well too. :)

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Leigh, treating things as an experiment certainly removes the pressure for me for needing something to "work out" well. Experiments are just that - experiments to ascertain if a theory will work.

Shade where we are is a much bigger deal than I had anticipated (my non-garden pots did not work out well, I think for the same reason as yours) - so much so, I do not think there is any point in moving forward with them next year. The ollahs, on the other hand, seems to be doing well with some modifications (I will need to post on this soon).

Leigh said...

TB, I'll look forward to that post. Ollas have are certainly what I consider a successful experiment. I think the wicking pots will be too, once I make some adjustments. And like you, I'm finding that shade is an essential element to success in some environments.

Chris said...

Hello Leigh & Dan! I'm looking forward to catching up with what you two have been doing. Plenty, I'm sure. It was great to catch up with your garden experiments, and I agree - treat it like a learning experience, rather than being a master gardener.

I always had problems with my potted plants, but since installing my new shaded area, they're doing much better. Roots bake in pots, and unless living in a cooler climate, they just don't perform well. Maybe you can pull the tomatoes, to make it a successful kale garden during winter? If it gets the light that is.

Anyway, look forward to catching up with the rest of your post. It might take me a while, lol.

Leigh said...

Chris! I'm always glad to hear from you. I'm very interested in your shade gardening developments. I'm realizing I'm going to have to do more of it in the future, myself. Or else try to grow more in winter.

Currently working on fall garden planting; deciding what to pull and what to plant. This year, I'm going back to Siberian Dwarf Kale. It does so much better for me than the other varieties I've experimented with.

Ed said...

I too have never had much luck with potted tomatoes for what I have always assumed was the high soil temps. I usually can get them to grow and produce a few sparing tomatoes but they never thrive like those planted in the garden. Likewise, we have a raised planter bed on our deck and while it does alright with a few things like spices, it gets warm too fast for many crops to thrive.

Leigh said...

Ed, I have to agree with your observations on both counts. I figure I either need to find something that loves the heat, or else provide some shade. My only raised beds at the moment are in the hoop house -> shade house. There isn't much growing in them, but what is, is doing well.

Wendy said...

I planted sunchokes, and unfortunately, I think that is one of my most failed experiments. I want, so badly, to like them, but I just don't. I prefer potatoes, which, unfortunately, aren't as easy to grow.

The sunchokes have tried to take over my yard, and I am now working to eradicate them from all, but maybe some containers, because ... well, they're famine food, and as a prepper, I can't really turn my nose up to anything that might feed my family :).

Leigh said...

Wendy, they can tend to take over! I planted my original sunchokes at the foot of the garden, and for several years tried to dig them all up and transplant them. No luck with that! Mostly now, I feed them to my goats, cleaned and chopped. We can't eat them raw, but we like them roasted, and especially like them lacto-fermented. Better than sauerkraut.

You may not be set up to do this, but pigs will root them all out for you. They love them.

Quinn said...

Leigh, it's always an experiment at my place. All of it.

Leigh said...

Quinn, I think it's that way for most of us!