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Could it be?

There are signs of good things happening in the garden. And by good things, I mean: Stuff I Can Freakin’ Eat.

Okay, okay. These tomatoes are not my first produce of the season.    True, I got behind on planting (and picking!  I lost my first planting of corn by leaving it too long.  The chickens have been really enjoying it, though), so there’s been a bit of a dry spell.  However, I’ve had peas, lettuce, spinach — your basic winter crops.  I even grew some Hakurei turnips, which were a particular favorite of mine back when we had a membership to a CSA.

But still, I’m really excited about the tomatoes.   Not just for the “homegrown tomatoes are better than just about anything else on the planet” thing, but because I haven’t been able to successfully grow any quantity of them since…well, it was before my oldest daughter was born.  And she’s four now.  Now, that has been a long, discouraging dry spell.

Two years of gopher damage, one year of severe heat combined with being pregnant, and one year of the dread blossom end rot.  A rational person would have just given up by now, I think.

Good thing I’m not usually rational.

And to be honest, I don’t think most gardeners are.  Gardening, at its very heart, requires elevating irrationality to an art form, and mixing it with dirt.  What rational person would willingly spend their time fighting insects, wildlife, weather, soil deficiencies, drought — the list goes on and on — to produce what can be so cheaply bought?  How is continuing to plant tomatoes, year after year, defeat after defeat, not the epitome of irrational behavior?  There are a million reasons to not have a vegetable garden.   Sometimes I look out over my (normally) wreck of a garden, where I’m always behind, always struggling to catch up, and always getting my but whupped by something, and I ask myself why I keep trying.

There are all kinds of answers to that question.  There’s a desire to be as self sufficient as possible.  A desire to remove a link from the chemically-saturated, planet-destroying food chain.  There’s the desire for that rarest of jewels:  a homegrown tomato.    So maybe there are a million reasons to garden, as well.

My mother always says, “Little boys are nothing but noise wrapped in dirt.”   And maybe gardeners are optimism wrapped in dirt.  I think I’m okay with that.

In my garden, that is.

I’m growing pumpkins this year. I had absolutely no intention of doing so, but there they are.  And it just seems too silly to simply rip them out, especially considering they’ve taken over a place I hadn’t intended for anything else.

You guessed it, they’re growing out of the side of a compost bin, born of seeds from a pumpkin that was tossed into said bin.  A pumpkin that came from The Pumpkin Vine that Ate My Garden last year.   I have no idea if it’ll actually produce pumpkins, but the bees seem to like the bright yellow flowers, and bees are good.  So it stays.

In the other compost bin (because of course I have more than one!) I have a tomato plant out the side, and a spaghetti squash vine growing.  There are also tomato seedlings in the oddest places…

I may be onto something here.  Last year, The Pumpkin Vine that Ate My Garden was planted because there was a little leak in the drip irrigation line.   And in a brilliant (or not) flash, I thought that if I planted something viney, it would a) keep that water from being wasted, and b) prevent weeds from using that water, and (this is the important part) keep them from taking over the garden. Well, the weeds got a toehold before the pumpkin vines took off, and before I knew it, I couldn’t get anywhere in the garden because of the pumpkin vine.  (And why didn’t I just rip out that pumpkin vine? Because it was the only damn thing out there that was actually producing anything.)  And then the aphids came…and all was lost.

But leaving out the aphids, maybe the trick here is to garden unintentionally, to plant things with a “just to be living mulch” mentality, rather than a “this is something I want to eat” mentality.  Hmmm…it’s worth a shot, right?

Sometimes I can be unbearably smug.   I really hate it when I do that.  I mean, it’s one thing to feel a sense of accomplishment after a job well done, but quite another thing to be so smug that you want to punch yourself in the face.  At least I’m aware; right?  (The husband helps in this respect.  I know then whenever he calls me Mother Superior, I’ve gone too far.  All the same, that particular nickname makes me want to punch him in the face, too.)

Last night, I was in serious danger of being unbearably smug.  There was the sense of accomplishment for a job well done, the line between it and being unbearably smug, and me, walking the line like a tightrope.   All because of one night’s dinner.  After months of digging, planting, tending, etc, I’m starting to reap some benefits from my garden.  Last night’s dinner featured a green salad with homegrown lettuce and more of the freakin’ awesome homegrown broccoli.  (My “family room” — aka the dog/box/laundry room is in peril again.  I could grow a lot of broccoli if that room wasn’t there.)  Also featured on the menu was freshly made bread, baked by yours truly.

It wasn’t a completely homegrown meal, but it set off the chorus of Someday in my head.   Someday, I’ll have a greenhouse, and can have homegrown tomatoes all year.  That sort of thing.  And of course, it had me on that line between accomplished feeling and…unbearably smug.

Obviously, quick action was needed, before the dread Mother Superior was muttered by the husband and fists started flying, I thought back to last year’s garden.  It met a sad and premature end due to simultaneous attacks of whiteflies and aphids.  I know this, because I saw them.  And I did nothing to stop them, not even spraying with my oil/soap/water mixture, which is pretty darn eco-friendly.  And why didn’t I spray?  Because I also saw, among the evil armies of aphids, lady bug larvae.

Not all the aphids, mind you.  There were places I could’ve sprayed and not hurt the ladybugs.  But I didn’t, because I wanted to make sure there was plenty of food for the ladybugs.  Sounds fairly rational and not at all smug, doesn’t it?  Except it’s not.  Did I really think that I was going to kill that many aphids?  Really? 

Really?

On my limited time, with my limited little sprayer filled with water, oil, and soap, did I really think I posed any threat to the ladybug’s food supply?  That was I going to get under every leaf, up and down every stem?  Really? I still can’t believe I thought I was that effective.

So last year’s garden worked out great…for the aphids and whiteflies.  This year, I’ve upgraded my sprayer, and hopefully have downgraded my pride.   Aphids, your days are numbered.  Those of you that I can find, anyway.

I’ve spent the past several weekends out in the garden. Rain or shine, there I was. Raking up leaves (and sorting out dog poop — a long story) and building compost piles, and oh, yes, transplanting itty bitty lettuce seedlings (think microgreens) in the pouring down rain. So I guess I really am a gardener.

I work from home, in a corner of my living room, and on nights when it’s really chilly, I tend to quit early and go to bed. And by really chilly, I mean 68 degrees. But there I was, out in 40-degree weather, dripping wet, but I kept going. After a while, I had to actually look over my glasses because the lenses were too wet to see through, and my jacket was too wet to dry them off. And that was just fine by me.

Sure, I would’ve preferred to have not been soaked to the skin, but since that wasn’t an option (and the seedlings absolutely had to get out of the flat that day,) through the muck I slogged.  As I told my mother, “I’m not really a typist.  I’m a gardener who types to support her gardening habit.”

Anyway, I started off 2010 saying that this is going to be my garden year.  This year, there will be a harvest.  A harvest for us, not for the bugs/gophers/etc.  This year, I will grow a years worth of something, anything, and I will put my various canners, jars, etc to good use.  This will be my garden year. It almost became a mantra.

Until the three straight weekends of raking, de-pooping, compost pile building, etc.  Now the mantra is:  This had better be my garden year.  And I really hope it will.

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