Back in August I decided to put my money where my mouth is. I went on and on about how easy it was to grow cowpeas before I realized some of my friends weren’t going to be planting them in fluffy, fortified, store-bought soil protectively cradled in pots. I did a little guerrilla gardening and jammed a few seeds along the back fence. It was not without its drawbacks, but I had some success.
“Si hortum in bibliotheca habes, nihil deerit
He who has a garden and a library wants for nothing”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero
As some of you may have surmised, I am taking an online course to improve my writing and blogging skills. In other words, I’m doing my best not to bore ya’ll to death. Not much work going on in the garden right now as I am resisting the urge to expand, but who knows what will happen come payday? I did get a chance to take a couple of photos of the garden’s goings-on and maybe I’ll get a chance to get my hands back in the dirt this weekend.
“All farmers are gamblers.”
This could have just as easily been the tagline for this blog, but it just wasn’t hopeless enough. To say that a farmer gambles is to say that the weather, or the market, or biblical-type pest infestations puts the farmer’s investment at risk. He knows how to grow vegetables. Much of what he knows won’t mean diddly in the face of severe drought, or monsoon, or the fact that the previous winter was too mild to kill off vast numbers of hungry garden pests. Therein lies the gamble.
My garden is not a gamble. It is an experiment; a classroom. It has been, in the past, an absolute failure. One might say, a complete waste of time and resources. That is, if the only benefit were vegetables.
What I’ve learned about gardening fills pages of a binder reserved just for that information: planning and preparation, recommended and tried and true vegetable varieties, companion plants, organic pest control, composting, storing options and recipes fill the pages. Yep, I’m kind of a nerd that way. And, yet, I know it is only a drop in the bucket of the knowledge, insight, and instinct I hope to possess in the years to come.
What I’ve learned in my garden is mostly about myself. Playing in the dirt, like riding on a bicycle, is as fun now as it was as a child. In the garden, I can accept not knowing everything and not be paralyzed with fear. I allow myself to fail over and over again and I’m totally okay with that.
To outsiders, it does not seem rational. My neighbors shake their head at the crazy garden lady out in the heat. My friends are just glad it’s a healthy occupation and have no hopes of ever being on the receiving end of a bounty of seasonal produce. My family celebrates by beautiful garden, but help me save face by never asking about the harvest.
Some day, I tell myself, some day…
So, maybe, I am a gambler.
- Always use a bigger container than you think you need.
- Thinning seedlings always feels a bit cruel, but it must be done.
- Plants in containers need to be consistently watered, and often!
- That being said, plants can drown.
- A healthy garden is its own little ecosystem.
- Plant flowers!
- Don’t kill all your bugs. You’re really going to need some of them.
- Never underestimate the tenacity and perseverance of an armadillo.
- Soil is a living thing!
- Start small.
“The best place to seek God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.”
-George Bernard Shaw
So the armadillo who was rumored to have made a buffet from the cowpeas planted in my guerrilla garden turned out to just be a rumor. I started to doubt it myself when I saw the perfectly round-shaped, little holes in the mulch, too. Whatever’s getting in there has got tiny little hands that dig, not scratch. This morning, I got my answer: a family of skunks. The dog went for them and I immediately flashed back to the skunk incident of ’08. (Where on earth did I leave that large bottle of peroxide?) The dog was lucky, but the cowpea control group, less so. Probably less than half survived. I’d even reseeded after the first raid, but then something started eating the tender little seedlings from the soil line up. Those few plants that did survive seem to be doing just fine. Now if I can just keep my dog from trampling them when she investigates the rustling leaves along the back fence, they might just produce.
Summer’s just a tough time for my garden. The intense heat causes leaves to wilt midday. The containers require, at the very least, once daily watering. In the case of tomatoes and peppers, sometimes twice daily to ward off the types of soil moisture fluctuations that cause blossom end rot. That brought up another issue I’m still investigating: when all the leaves on my peppers went from deep green to pale yellow. Too much water? Too little water? Too much crappy, chlorinated municipal water? Nitrogen deficiency? Micro nutrient deficiency? Probably a combination.
None of this is helped by the infestations that have begun. Things were really going well there for a while. I had birds and little anole lizards, and ladybugs, and paper wasps protecting my garden. We even have a few neighborhood cats patrolling the grounds. There seems to be a rodent problem on the opposite side of the property. Not here!
And then it happened… first the mosquitoes, then the aphids, then something lopped off the tops of my cabbage and broccoli seedlings. If I get my hands on the lousy vermin that ate the only two tomatoes that August produced, we are going to have a nice, short, and succinct come-to-Jesus meetin’!
Summer’s tough. Maybe I got a wee bit too confident because I was getting a lot better at spring planting. It’s not all bad, though. I’ve got some okra and a nice early tomato plant that I nursed all the way up from seed this summer. I am torn, though. A nice, typically mild winter will make it fun to grow all sorts of cool weather crops, but I can’t help but wish for a freakishly hard winter freeze. I can’t imagine I’ll be too heart-broken to let all them skeeters, fleas, flies and other nasty pests die in frozen soil. I know, chances are the skeeters and I will both be wearing shorts and a light sweater come Christmas Eve, but a girl can dream, can’t she?
Fall planting is underway! It’s not too late if you’re still looking to get some seeds in the ground. Okay, so it is late for some long-growing heat lovers like ‘maters and peppers, but don’t worry, there’s plenty other yummy things that we’re just in time for!
- Lima Beans: these come in both stubby bush types and vining pole types. For fall, use the bush types. These are low-maintenance like cowpeas. I’ve planted them in some bare, unworked soil just off the sidewalk to test just how low-maintenance they can be. These are Henderson bush limas. So far, so good!
- Snap Beans: also available in both bush types and pole types. Again, use the bush types for fall planting. I’ve tried a couple varieties. So far, Blue Lake is my favorite.
- Broccoli and Cabbage: I’m trying myhand at these this year. I’m struggling to understand how these cool-weather veggies will be able to survive an autumn hotter than most folk’s summers, but I’m trusting the process and am prepared to be either humbled or amazed, or both! I planted a variety named DeCicco, but there are other varieties that have been recommended by the local extension service.
- Cucumbers: my favorite! There are so many varieties to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start. Check out the above link for some great suggestions. There are short-vining types, like Spacemaster, that are great for containers, but even longer-vining types can be trained up a trellis to save space. If you don’t have bees around to do the pollinating for you, choose a parthenocarpic type like Sweet Success that self-pollinates, or be prepared to “help the process.”
- Summer squash: If you’re planting in containers look for a compact
variety with a bush-type habit. Those will work in something as small as a five-gallon bucket, but don’t be fooled, it will eventually pour out of the bucket anyway and keep on going!