8 - 2008

Failures & growth in the garden


Last week we were away on vacation. Seven days is a long time to abandon one’s garden in mid-summer, especially in Colorado, where it’s nothing extraordinary for the days to reach into the 90s F, the nights to drop to 55, and rain to be as absent as a child at chore time. With humidity barely scraping 47 percent right after a thunderstorm, the hot, dry sun can kill a garden completely.

Therefore, before we left, we arranged backup. Mr. Cheap mulched everything heavily with straw. Our neighbor agreed to water the garden through Wednesday, before she left town. My mom, who was babysitting Schnauzer Cheap while we were away, came by on Friday to water. Beyond that, we crossed our fingers, but we couldn’t help worrying.

“Look at the tomatoes!” I exclaimed as we pulled into the driveway on Saturday night at 9:15. Even in the dark, we could see that the Romas in the front whiskey barrels had grown tremendously. We breathed a sigh of relief.

We went out back to take a moonlit preview of our garden. Weeds, yes. The grass looked terrible, glowing yellow even in the darkness. (We favor our plants, and told the neighbor to prioritize watering the gardens over watering the grass. Watering the beds and pots is a big job, with plants scattered in three locations in the front yard and four large beds in back.) But we could see the Brussels sprouts were huge, the tomatoes were good (with the Sweet Olives giving us perhaps the earliest ripe tomatoes ever), and everything was alive.

The next day we were out early to weed for an hour and evaluate the situation. Here are our failures this year:

  • Peas – The birds ate ’em, we replanted too late, and they didn’t do much. A few have grown now, and Mr. Cheap found one ripe sugar snap pea pod the other day.
  • Scarlet runner beans – Transplanted the first pair too late, and they fried. Mr. Cheap replanted seeds in the whiskey barrel, but they drowned while we were away.
  • Potatoes – Mr. Cheap refilled one pot with too much dirt, and now the vine is completely dead. Hopefully we’ll find some tiny new potatoes in the bottom.

What we thought were failures:

  • The bush beans germinated only moderately and some were eaten. I replanted, and when we returned on Saturday night, they were straining against their row cover, so I finally freed them.

  • Basil – Very low germination rate, but three plants are growing now.

What still might fail:

  • Bell pepper – Also a potential drowning victim. Time will tell.
  • Cantaloupe – The plants seem to have been sitting, remaining exactly the same size, for weeks and weeks.

What’s a raging success:

  • The butternut squash looks healthy and gorgeous.

  • The cherry tree has given us about 15 beautiful cherries. It’s not *supposed* to make fruit until next year, so this is a pleasant windfall.

  • The Juliet tomato is starting to crawl all over the bed it is in. I fear for our safety.
  • How much kale does one family need? Perhaps a few plants. NOT twenty plants. Note to self. Kale, anyone?

This year, we tried very hard to focus our garden on things we like, foods we enjoy and will eat. Not too many tomatoes. Enough to eat, good kinds to put up. Butternut squash, good in souffle, curry, our favorite pasta recipe (and we STILL have two of last year’s squash in our pantry … partly because we are over it till this fall). Berries and fruit. Brussels sprouts, so healthy, good to freeze, full of fiber and vitamins.

Green beans, good to freeze. Okra, because it also freezes well and works deliciously in Creole and Indian dishes (and note that the plant in the wall o’ water is at least twice the size of all the other okra plants … important for those growing semi-tropical plants in Colorado!).

I am focused this year, partly because I remember the work of putting things up last year. It’s not worth the effort unless it will be good. So I am ruthlessly thinning the beets, pulling out volunteer (hybrid) tomatoes, keeping things spare enough to do them good.

And still, things fail. So far, none of our failures can yet compare to the year we grew tomato plants from seed, starting in January … and a huge hailstorm destroyed every one of them in late August, so that the green tomatoes I picked up off the ground weighed 13 pounds.

It’s the cycle of life. Plant, and plant again. And if that bell pepper dies? Mr. Cheap has his eye on its barrel; perhaps we can round up a tomatillo plant somewhere.

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