Friday, August 21, 2009

It's just an experiment

When you want to do something and you are not certain it will be a success – call it an experiment. That's what we decided to do this year – let's take the stress off of having to SUCCEED, and try something for fun.

Growing food -- something you actually bring in the house, prepare and then eat -- is amazing. Our new sunny back yard was pretty empty back in May when we had a new wall built, so I decided to quickly put in a few vegetables to take advantage of the sunshine while figuring out what to do with the back yard. I really didn't know how much fun it would be. We spent a morning at the nursery and at Lowe's, came home and I started digging.
I started with tomatoes and a six-pack of assorted bell peppers...oh and a crookneck squash plant. Yep, all that in that small bed. I dug and amended and fertilized and laid out landscape cloth and planted and watered -- and collapsed. I hadn't decided yet how to support the tomatoes, so I stuck in some rebar pieces left over from my rose trellis project of a few years ago.

Meanwhile, Stuart tackled his first project....a pot of cactus. That didn't take too long, so he worked on his next experiment — the butterfly pot. He decided to get as many different butterfly-attracting plants that would fit in a 25-gallon pot (that's what took most of the time at the nursery and Lowe's). I was sceptical, but then I think he was sceptical of my veggie garden.

It turned out nicely, and we put it against the empty back wall, where we could watch the neighborhood butterflies stop by for a snack from the kitchen window.

Two weeks later, I added some newspaper mulch under the landscape
fabric to smother out a few tenacious weeds, and stuck some wal-mart tomato cages around the tomatoes. Everything was growing like crazy, and I was getting into this. By the three-week mark, it looked like a garden. I was so encouraged by my success, I bought some cucumber plants, a straightneck yellow squash plant and some bean and lettuce seeds. Why not make use of the empty space along the new wall? You can see where this is going...I kept going. And going. Some bush beans next to the squash. A "lettuce bed" next to the bush beans. A few bush beans in the side garden bed. An experiment.

And you know? from the first tiny green tomatoes to the enormous and delicious cucumbers? This has been so much fun! Even now, with the crazy, cool and foggy weather creating a perfect environment for mildew, I love coming home, walking around my little garden and picking a few things for dinner.

I've learned a few things too....indeterminate tomatoes need more space between them to be healthy, and those cheap tomato cages are barely adequate. Tomatoes take a really long time to ripen. The crookneck squash doesn't get enough sun, and sulks. Four bush bean plants produce approximately 8 green beans at a time, just enough to throw in a stir-fry. The most fun has been the Burpless Cucumbers -- very prolific, sweet and crunchy. Thankfully, I rigged up a trellis on a couple of rebar posts, which is holding up the vines for now. Straightneck squash is on the menu several times a week, and we really aren't tired of it yet. The pack of colored bell peppers has been a hoot -- purple, lilac, ivory, and some that haven't colored up yet. Lilac bell peppers are really beautiful!

So it is just an experiment. The mildew is pretty bad, so I'm cutting back affected tomato and squash leaves. We've only eaten one tomato, which was good but not fabulous. Am I tired of it yet? Well, I'm starting seedlings of swiss chard, and rooting a couple cuttings of Early Girl tomato. I've read that we can get another whole season in before the cold weather hits in January.

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