It was possible because of friends – throwing away old stuff. The equinox is past. Harvest time is passing, too. The garden that I apologized to has been producing produce and stories. It is time to ask the frugal question; “Was it worth it?”
I apologize to anything I plant. Life’s been busy enough that I typically pull some weeds, plant some seeds, and hope nature will grow something for me. I usually don’t get much. But, the deer, bunnies, and slugs seem to be happy. This year was different. Thanks to some of last year’s seed sales and friends who were throwing away some cracked pots, I was able to plant tomatoes, peppers, and gourds. Thanks to a bit of playing with old fencing, I was able to prop the pots on stands that kept them out of critters’ reach. Previous gifts of raspberry plants, an apple tree, onion and garlic starts, grew this year; especially, the perennials. Potatoes were planted after they sprouted in the pantry. My squash bed (which sounds like a mattress that wasn’t sturdy enough) came from last year’s seeds from the edible gardens of Langley. While all of these things were growing, my mushroom crop has patiently continued colonizing about a half dozen logs. Ginger, grown from pieces bought at the supermarket, sprouted, too.
That sounds like an incredible harvest. Yep. Parts of it were hard to believe.
Finally, a harvest that overwhelmed me. After years of caterpillars and deer, my trees finally produced a crop. The two small trees that I planted over five years ago have been trying to grow in terrible weather, despite pests, and while being nibbled to bark by deer that walked through a downed fence. Finally, with the fence fixed and record spring rain, they grew and produced an apple – combined. Incredible. Right beside them, however, is the transplanted tree from my neighbor. It and two others were uprooted during a six inch property line dispute. I was too late for the first two, but the last one was planted about five years ago. This year it produced so much fruit that my refrigerator bins are full, and I’ve had ingredients that went into oatmeal, onto pork chops, as part of roasted veggies, and eaten raw. I would’ve had more but the tree has grown too tall to harvest completely. It also turns out that the deer decided to help with the harvest. I thought the harvest was done because there were no more apples hitting the ground. After a bit of investigation I noticed that the lower leaves were being nibbled. The rabbits aren’t that tall. Evidently, the deer no longer fear jumping over the fence. At least they helped with the cleanup. If I want the smaller trees to survive, though, I’ll have to deploy more defenses next year.
The fig harvest almost overwhelmed me, but they’re much smaller. So far I’ve only used them as snacks, but I’m considering adding them and the apples into my typical fruitcake. I’ll probably have to dry them first. The figs were gratifying. Bite-sized, easy to harvest, easy to freeze, and not prone to blemishes or bugs. I’ve got about a gallon of them in the freezer.
Sticking with the perennials, the raspberries came back. A friend was thinning their garden and gave me about a dozen canes last year. Somehow they survived me and came back. I only picked about a dozen. When they were ripening, I wasn’t watering. They were dried on the vine. The birds appreciated them, though. More defenses.
Last year, a very successful gardener game me some extra garlic. Extra garlic is possible? They suggested I plant it this year, which I did. If it’s out there, it’s hiding. I suspect they ended in the bellies of the slugs.
This spring, a new neighbor was surprised to find free onion starts at one of the local garden centers. Buy something, get a handful of baby onions. They are new neighbors, which meant buying lots of things, and getting lots of onions. Thanks, folks. Mine grew to about the size of golf balls, not bad, but not tremendous.
Langley is a tourist town with a wide mix of ideas, one of which was to encourage business owners to plant edibles instead of ornamentals. The idea is so simple and so unexpected that most people hesitate to eat any of it. It’s a sad statement to realize that people think they need written permission before doing something as simple as eating a beans and peas from a sidewalk patch. I enjoy seeing plants I wouldn’t see otherwise. The tall artichokes look alien. Last year, one patch had squash. I harvested a few at the end of the season, ate some, and noticed that one was rotting before I got to it. I saved the seeds, planted them, and had the biggest bed of squash ever, for me. The mystery was that I couldn’t remember what kind it was. Evidently, they are big and yellow, so I’m guessing zucchini. I only have two, so will eat one and save the seeds from the other; but I’ll also celebrate a garden bed that was so covered with leaves that the weeds stayed low, and grew so many plants that the slugs couldn’t keep up.
Tomatoes and Peppers and Gourds
The cracked plastic pots and the wire stands were enough of an excuse to actually buy dirt. Money has been tight enough that I haven’t bought dirt until recently. Maybe when people ask me how things are I should tell them I can finally afford dirt. The good news was the the wire stands worked, as long as I made them wide enough (to keep from blowing over), but not too wide (which put the bottom of the pot within reach of a stretched slug). The plants grew! I even got fancy and bought some chicken manure mix to help them along – and helped them too much. The plants basically burned because the soil was too nutritious. I’ll probably get a half dozen tomatoes, about the size of a handball. The peppers are doing better, at least for the stems and branches, but the peppers are small and may not mature before the end of the season. The gourds weren’t for eating, but hey, why not try growing a mug? I might get a thimble.
Somewhere down there are potatoes. In the various places I planted them, the potato plants did fine – for a while. Then, everyone seemed to eat them. This has happened before. What’s also happened is that I found a small harvest under each. East some. Plant some.
Last year I grew ginger indoors, and it did better than I expected. When the summer got hot, I put them outside to soak up the warmth, and they seemed to wither. But, just like with potatoes, it is hard to know what’s going on underground. So, I brought them inside. From one shoot came two, and now there are three. They’re tiny, but I’ll encourage them.
Mushrooms grow when mushrooms want to. I planted, er, inoculated some logs over a year ago. The mottling makes it look like something good is happening; but the logs got so dry that the bark peeled. No reason to give up hope. I just watered one and set it in the ground to see if some contact with dirt will inspire some fruiting.
No, I am not planning to eat aloe vera (but pass along a recipe if such a thing exists.) From one donated plant, I’ve given away eight, and have at least fifteen more sitting in my living room window. The original is so happy that it sprouted a flower spike, something I didn’t expect. The flower stalk is over three feet long. I’m surprised some hummingbird hasn’t tried to break in to say hello.
Here is where the question comes around; “Was the garden worth my time and money?” I know plenty of gardeners whose gardens produce as much as 80% of their food. For them, it is definitely worth it. Growing things is not an obviously profitable venture, though. If it was, farmers wouldn’t have such a tough time. My garden mostly produced apples and figs, which are tasty. The rest of the crops were encouraging, but not very productive. The most produce came from the plants that required the least tending. The plants that used the dirt, pots, stands, and watering produced a few things; but it would’ve cost less to buy them from the grocery. On a strictly objective analysis, I should spend more time working and less time gardening.
And yet, I’ll continue to plant things. I want to grow things. Convenience, emergency supplies, knowing what goes into my food, an appreciation for farmers, a nice greening of the property, and an easy opportunity to learn are all reasons why I’ll continue. As I learn more, it is easier to produce more productively. I do best with perennials. Good. I like fruit. I’ve gone from not growing fruit, to growing fruit but not vegetables, to maybe growing both and more. That’s personal growth, and that’s valuable.
I like to plant things. Usually, I plant ideas. They don’t always grow, either. They take a lot of tending, and sometimes find fertile places to grow – like in a similarly minded person. Ideas are perennial. That’s my strength. The results aren’t as quick and obvious as bed of zucchini (picture that), but they can be sweeter and last longer. This harvest is mostly over, and yet, I know that there are an unknown number of potatoes in my yard, ginger that may appreciate its change in location, and mushrooms that may mushroom. Part of my litany of optimism comes from similar plantings, ideas that I tend, that are coming along, that may yet send up a impressive spire or mushroom unexpectedly. In the meantime, I think I’ll get some better fencing.