Gardening with a ‘Black Thumb’

Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.
– Doug Larson

So two years ago, we lived in New Jersey (the GARDEN STATE), and I thought that a garden would be a great idea. Hah!  I planted 4 tomato plants, 2 brussels sprouts plants, a zucchini plant, a cucumber plant, 2 cauliflower plants.  From these plants I harvested: SIX grape tomatoes (maybe 5), ONE Zucchini, a handful of pea sized brussels sprouts, and my only strong crop was, maybe, SIX cucumbers.  So yeah, I would call that a success.  I spent more time watering and pulling weeds than I did enjoying my harvest. The following year, we took out the garden and replaced it with grass.

Then we moved (yay!) to a house with two already made raised garden beds and beautiful perennials all over the property.  It was October so I had some time to learn from my mistakes.  Fortunately, most of the issues with the previous garden didn’t apply.  The previous garden was in the shade 90% of the day and the soil was extremely sandy.  These new beds get full sun and there was some nice looking soil.  I waited until the overnight frosts seemed to be over, and then I filled up the beds with some nice Organic Mechanics soil and planted away (well husband helped!) I decided this year to buy small plants versus seeds, I wasn’t messing around.  I put in cauliflower, zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, and eggplant.  Then a week later, guess what?, below freezing temperature on the forecast for late May.  So I got out a few sheets and covered everything and hoped for the best.  Some didn’t survive, but fortunately I had kept some extra seedlings (because I didn’t need 4 eggplant plants) and replaced those that didn’t survive.

Garden was underway.  There were a few hiccups.  Our hose didn’t quite reach so I was using the ‘full stream’ setting to try getting water everywhere.  This was pretty inefficient.  Then the amazing husband set up sprinklers for me and I plugged them into an automatic timer, 10 minutes twice a day.  You know what that kind of watering is good for once the seedlings are established?  Weeds, and lots of them.  I did a little research and realized I needed to water longer and less often.  So I gradually switched to 20 minutes every three days.  We also seem to be getting a lot of rain spaced out nicely too. I may have to adjust with some impending heat waves.  The shallow watering was leading to some short plants but they seemed a little too small even with the watering issue.  So I asked my dad – “Did you fertilize?” he asked. Doh! Oops, forgotten step, maybe that’s what I needed the first time around (plus non-sandy soil and sun).  So I got some good ol’ organic composted manure and spread it around.  Then I got to harvest my first crop of broccoli!  It wasn’t much but I read that I had to pick it before it flowered no matter how small it was.  It was small but it was so yummy!

Early on deer ate my banana pepper plants.  That made me sad, but it was just those that were eaten so I ignored it.  Then about a month went by, I was getting some actual peppers, and what happened?  Deer, again.  This time she went after a few more pepper plants and some actual peppers.  Well fool me once, twice…yeah, you know the saying.  There wasn’t going to be a third time.  I went out and bought some poles and netting and covered blocked it all off from those deer.

The only other issue (although it’s sort of a big one) is that my zucchini and cucumber plants weren’t being pollinated.  My cucumber plant has about 50 female flowers (the one with the cucumber attached) and maybe two males.  It seems like a terrible college party.  I self pollinated a few with a paint brush to get them started and did the same with zucchini.  That got the ball rolling.  I also staked up the cucumber plant which also helped. We have tons of bees; they love my lawn (that is primarily clover at the moment) and the wildflowers. I’m thinking maybe there is so much else for them that maybe the garden wasn’t a priority.  Cleaning out the area around the garden helped some.

Now, everything is started to ripen, I’ve had so many zucchini my husband got sick of them and I had to get creative.  I made pickles with some cucumbers, and the tomatoes are just starting to turn red.  I will likely change some things around next year (maybe space the plants out a little more and fertilize earlier) but so far, I am calling this garden a success.  Munchkin loves eating the grape tomatoes right off the plant, she can’t even wait until we get back inside!

P.S. I got a composter for my birthday!  So that’s started and maybe I’ll have some ‘homemade’ fertilizer next year!