Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Black Thumb

Just to be sure you aren't under the illusion that my thumb is greener than the next person, I’d like to confess the gardening disasters that have already befallen me (or it might be more appropriate to say the gardening disasters I have already created) this spring. This growing season is shaping up to be my worst ever, unless you include the year I had a sick newborn and planted only potatoes because they would require nothing of me.

The first disaster started back in the fall in our brand new terrace garden. We filled the hillside bed with dirt harvested from our paddock – rich with ten years worth of natural fertilizer.

And then I planted a cover crop of rye grass. The plan (as I understood it from skimming an Organic Gardening article), was that the grass would run its course and die out by spring and then we would knock it down to serve as a natural mulch for our tomatoes. Brilliant! No more purchased mulch, plastic or otherwise, since the last two seasons we’ve gotten the early blight and the late blight. This was to be the year of the tomatoes!

 The grass grew beautifully all winter. The problem is that the northeast has experienced the warmest winter on record (at least my records) and that grass is still growing and growing and is so thick and tall that the kids hide in it for Capture the Flag. Now what? So much for my grand plan.

There is a second part to the tomato disaster. This year I made my own growing medium. I blogged about the beautiful mix I concocted. I started eight different varieties of tomatoes, plus four sweet peppers and four hot peppers in the growing mix.

Wow! The germination rate was through the roof! My growing mix was amazing – every single seed I planted sprouted, plus some appeared to have duplicated themselves because some of the pots had 8 seedlings fighting for light. I patted myself on the back and thinned my seedlings.

A few days later, I noticed there were even more seeds sprouting. The problem was, every single seed that was sprouting was a tomato. Even the peppers. Tomato seedlings have hairy stems – you can’t mistake them for anything but a tomato. How was it all my seeds were tomatoes?

When I checked the buckets of growing mix, yet to be used, there were hundreds of tomatoes sprouting there too. Obviously my compost was full of tomato seeds, and God knows what kind of tomatoes at that. Were they seeds from the organic cherry tomatoes I buy for my oldest to snack on all winter? Were they seeds from the first tomatoes we harvested last year, before we knew we had the blight and happily threw discarded tomato pulp in the compost? Or were they seeds that I had just planted? No way to know.

So here I am with plenty of tomato seedlings, only I’m terrified to plant them for fear of the blight, plus I have no earthly idea what kind of tomatoes they are.

And the disasters just keep coming…..

Since we were having trouble containing the chickens, I decided to sprout my peas before planting them. That bought us a few extra days to secure the chicken fence and clip every wing. The peas were slow to sprout and the day they were ready, I was leaving town for my little brother’s retirement celebration (I’m not that old! He’s an air force pilot who retired after 22 years).

With no time to plant, I thought I would stall them; I put them in the fridge to wait until I got back three days later. I did wonder if this might kill them, but I figured they were peas and the temperature wasn’t freezing so they would survive.

Wrong. Those lovely sprouted peas I planted promptly when I returned produced only 3 viable plants (out of probably 100 seeds). So today I replanted my snap and snow peas and berated myself the entire time.

And the fun continues…
Meanwhile, the lettuce I planted several weeks ago was still not appearing, same for the carrots, spinach, and onions. I figured this was mostly due to my negligent watering habits, but could also be blamed on the fact that the only rain we had in the past two weeks was a huge downpour the day after I planted all those tiny fragile seeds. For a week, I watered diligently. No dice, just a couple onion tips.

Perhaps they washed away. Perhaps they did. When I dug around to add more seeds, I found only a handful of lettuce plants getting started. Ugh. Replanted the lettuce and spinach this morning. The carrots are on their own. I never have good luck with them anyway and I’m going to assume the onion bulbs will get going once the gardener gets her act together and starts watering on a regular basis.

This would all be very depressing, except the great thing about gardening is that seeds are cheap. You can always try again tomorrow. In digging up the OG article that led me to plant the grass, I discovered that you can just knock down or mow the rye grass. I tried tromping it down, but it just bounced right back. I’m thinking we might have to use a scythe, that’ll be fun, won’t it honey?

And the tomatoes. I pulled out everything from eight of the starter pots and put fresh seeds in them, figuring all the volunteers who were going to volunteer had already done so. I’ll use my eight new plants as templates to decipher what is growing in all the other pots.

This is the goal. Someday.
I hope your gardening season is off to a better start than mine. I’ll let you know how the story ends.


1 comment:

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