How Does My Garden Grow?

I just deleted a bunch of rambling crap. Take 2.

Much better!

So my little patio garden is headed towards summer looking pretty good, I think. The bigger part of the patio where Fella and Filly frolic is an exercise in chaos theory, but the walk up to the front door–where little harvesters can’t reach–is almost, dare I say it? pretty. Mismatched pots and ugly upside-down tomato planter and all.

Here’s the garden blow-by-blow. It’s easier to hit each plant than to compose an elegant narrative with a theme that encompasses all the pots and still manages to take a jab at organic seeds.

The Tomatoes

Last year I wanted to start a tomato garden, and was given for my birthday that upside-down planter that you’ve seen in Sky Mall. It’s not easy to find a picture of it online anymore (because I think maybe it’s just not very good), but it’s not the Topsy Turvy tube that is hanging from so many people’s balconies that I have nothing to say about. I bought four Better Bush tomato plants and four chili plants because the instructions said that it could hold up to eight plants. I grew basil from seed in the middle and it was all very exciting for a while, until the aphids. But the aphids were eaten by the ladybugs that I bought by the pint. Then it became pretty obvious that the container was overplanted. It broke my heart to do so, but I snapped off some stems. I got a pretty good showing of Anaheim chilis, but what few sad tomatoes managed to grow were picked prematurely by Little Fella, who was so excited by his pots and pans in the playhouse that he would cook tomatoes for me while my back was turned. He ate maybe a dozen, and that was all that grew. It was a pitiful crop. Lots of good basil, though!

This year I moved the tomatoes far out of reach, to the other side of the baby gate. This year I chose smaller varieties: Roma, yellow pear, red currant. This year I only put two plants in the container–a yellow pear and a red currant–and herbs on top. The herbs are not flourishing, and I’m not real excited by what I’ve seen from the organic oregano. They are not growing bigger than sprouts. Damn, they smell good, but aroma can’t be brought into the house. One got away to the basil side and is growing up a storm, and the few basil plants that sprouted (from last year’s seeds of all things!) are doing well on that side, so I am wondering if something is wrong with the dirt. The tomato plants are hanging beneath the bed; perhaps the roots are doing something awful. Whatever. I haven’t harvested any herbs yet for cooking.

The yellow pear tomato is an awesome plant. There’s one planted upside down and one in a six-gallon container (Stepfather did all the hard research for me and told me that this year each plant should have at least five gallons of personal space), and they are so tall! Like above two feet tall. They are sprouting beautiful yellow flowers (curiosity killed the bud, as it were), and I cannot wait to see some real fruit. The other hanging plant is the red currant, and I don’t think it’s loving hanging upside down. I knew absolutely nothing about the plant when I bought the seed except that it is a small fruit. I was not expecting the pot-planted one to turn into a crazy bush. It is out of control. There are yellow flowers everywhere and I have it staked in three different places trying to keep it in one place. This was the plant I saw my first tomato bud on, which I think was eaten by a caterpillar, which I decided to kill organically. There are a couple flowers that are sort of limp and turning brown that I think are hiding buds, but after my episode with the hanging yellow pear I am not touching them to check.

The coppery pots each hold one Roma tomato plant; that giant container with the side openings holds the red currant bush. You can see one yellow pear hanging from the black thing with rods. The red currant shares the pot with cilantro planted in the openings. Last year I had cilantro in the main part of the pot and it thrived. I think it hates the side openings, so I won’t be doing that again. I planted some cilantro for a friend in a pot he could take home but hasn’t yet, but it’s doing great so I know that the fact the cilantro is also from last year’s seeds has nothing to do with it. Last year I put green onions in those openings, before they started to freak out and I moved them. I really don’t know what they are good for. Maybe some kind of draping tiny flower to flow out. I dunno. It’s next year’s problem.

I’ve been conflicted about how to prune the tomato plants since I started them; I was doing the remove the suckers from the stem forks thing for a while, but then Stepfather said that you should let the tomato leaves develop shade for the fruit. Then BFF, who took home a yellow pear plant, did some research (everyone does all my research for me! It’s great!) and sent me this link to the Fine Gardening website. It has a fantastic sentence:

A tomato is a solar-powered sugar factory.

I’m pretty sure I read it last year because I remembered that sentence, but what with being an idiot and a novice and having four upside-down tomatoes, I didn’t think it applied to me. Well, yesterday, I decided that the first Roma and the red currant bush were making me claustrophobic, so I started pruning. And pruning and pruning. I think I ended up with enough leaves and stems to start another plant, and because everything has survived through the day and then night and then all of today, with six Roma buds visible, I think I didn’t do any damage. What doing all that pruning made shockingly visible was the aphid infestation. Those little fuckers aren’t getting another foothold in my garden again. We just tonight showered them with the yearly pint of ladybugs and I expect perfect results.

The Flowers

Last year I had these miniature sunflower kits from Target. They were a dollar each, so I bought one for Fella and for Filly, and we decorated them with their names in glittery puff paint that I–for reasons unbeknownst to me–had on hand. They were adorable. We planted the seeds and put the pots in the sun. Where Filly promptly broke one. I scooped up the dirt as best I could and tossed it into the ficus plant, where the seed unexpectedly sprouted in the shade. We even got a flower out of it, which Filly picked. Those baby hands! The flower kits came with tons of seeds, though–the teeniest, tiniest sunflower seeds you have ever seen. I planted a few this year (these are last year’s seeds!) in a box on the roof of the playhouse and sprouted six; I planted another one in an old flowerpot that never really ever worked as a flower pot because it was from the drug store and it was a pretty piece of junk. I have been among regular-sized sunflowers in Maryland and in Italy, and these are totally miniature, but I am amazed every time I walk out my front door how tall this plant is. I also wasn’t aware that you’d get more than one blossom per stalk. It’s a real treat to have. I wish I could have a whole field of these. Maybe next year–I still have the other packet of seeds!

In the background you can see my petunias (from last year’s seeds). I’d put them in this shallow bowl late in the season last summer and hung it from a too-high place beneath the balcony. It got almost no water and floundered. This year I figured I’d try again and I pruned what I could when the plants were about six inches tall. They’ve just started flowering this week, and I love it. I always thought I liked pansies more, but when they are your live petunias, that trumps pansies in a seed envelope. Next year I think I’ll look for what I don’t think are California poppies. The parking lot at the good Target grew this beautiful flower with a tall stem and flame-colored blossoms during the spring, and I want them at my house. If I had my own house, I’d grow nothing but this flower. I hope they plant them again next year so I can take a picture and do some sleuthing. Maybe the store manager can put me in touch with the property manager and I can just ask.

Last Year’s Holdovers
I’ve got this giant pot of geraniums and this suddenly active grape vine keeping company on the other side of the door. I wanted geraniums last year and got them, and then almost lost the plant last year to caterpillars. One scary bottle of thurycide later, I solved that problem, but my leaves are still riddled with holes. I didn’t realize how long-lasting the geranium bush was, though, and spent the winter baffled by its continued greenness. This year, the new, whole leaves are crowding out the eaten ones, and I’ve got beautiful heads of red that brighten up the whole patio. I got the fancy urn for $25 at the local hardware store when it changed owners. That was a steal. It was a pain in the ass to scope out and buy, considering I had two mobile toddlers with poor judgment wandering away from me in the parking lot where all the old inventory was dumped, but no one was harmed and the thing fit in the trunk of my car. It adds a touch of class to my front door. All the old people who live in my neighborhood appreciate it.

The grape vine is a real cabernet, although I’ve never had fruit. I got it as a wedding shower favor from a party that was held at a winery in 2003, and it’s had some hard times. It’s always lived at my front door, but I haven’t always watered it. I actually killed the main part off, and I was going to toss the thing out last autumn, but we’d had a much moister summer than usual last year and in September a single shoot popped out of the base. What the hell, right? So I repotted it, pruned away a lot of the roots, and let it fester. The thing took off this spring at such a rate I was hard-pressed to keep up with it. I bought one of those flimsy triangular trellises a few weeks ago, which it has almost covered. I don’t know how big I should let this thing get. It would be cool to train it to cover the length of the wall, but if/when we move, I’d want to take it with me to plant in a yard. I just like having it. Grapes really are pretty leaves, and if I really get inspired maybe one day I’ll figure out dolmades. Olive trees grow along our sidewalk; if I really get brave I might pickle some. Then I could have a whole feast!

The Underdogs
Yay, mint!

I started mint last year to make mojitos. I made mojitos, alright, but not from my own plant. I don’t know what went wrong. I figured I might as well use (again with the) last year’s seeds and see what happened. Nothing happened. Then a tiny bit of green happened and we went away for the weekend and had a heat wave and I lost everything. And then I did nothing except water away because I was out there watering away anyway. Last week some sprouts showed up again–in each little pot (except the top one, which doesn’t connect to the lower three)! Now some are even getting tall enough to give me hope. I’m banking on the invasive quality of mint to populate the whole pot. That would be cool.

Yay, serrano chili!

I started a bunch of these weak organic seeds when I started my tomatoes from seed, and as far as I know only two plants of that batch are left alive–and they were crammed into one seed-starting pot. Stepfather and I carefully pulled the conjoined twins apart and took them to separate homes. Mine stayed the same size for a long time; his almost died, he said. Only in the past few weeks have I seen any real growth, but I ought to get at least one pepper off of it. One pepper is probably all I need–those puppies are hot! I doubt I’ll ever see the three-foot diameter the seed packet promised, but I’m not taking seriously anything a packet of organic seeds says again. I’m looking at you, too, oregano.

That is how my garden grows.

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  • Suzanne  On May 23, 2009 at 8:45 am

    I SWEAR, Karen! You really NEED to start PUBLISHING some of this stuff somewhere!. It’s so VERY entertaining!

  • The Step Guy  On May 23, 2009 at 10:37 am

    We’ll just have to see who gets the best tomatoes. My tomatoes better be damn good, even if I get a lot of them. Since Mother Dear and I are going away for a few weeks, I decided I needed a watering system to keep my two tomato plants alive till we get back. You know, my plants are squeezed onto a small balcony. So, between the pots, potting soil, fertilizer, stakes, and irrigation, I am afraid to add up the score. I don’t know how much I would have to pay for tomatoes at the farmers market, but I figure my tomatoes, even with a bumper crop of ten tomatoes for each plant, would cost at least five bucks a piece. I’m worried they aren’t getting enough sex too. The other day I saw a bee fly onto one of the plants. I thought, oh good, now they’ll get pollinated. Well, that little whore just sat on the underside of a leaf for shade while she spent a couple minutes preening herself. Then she flew away without providing sexual stimulation to even one flower. Now I’m thinking that bumper crop of ten per plant might be optimistic. I can only hope Karen will share her tomatoes.

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