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How Does Your Garden Grow?
(or, tales of a part-time gardener)

Daniel H. Weiskotten

August 8, 2002
 


"In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments -- there are only consequences."
Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899)



I wrote this little series of garden updates and posted them on Jim Jurista's Cazenovia forum as a way to share some of the fun I have been having in learning to be a gardener.  I'm presenting it here in a full format and spell checked for posterity.

My grand parents were avid gardeners, and my parents always had gardens, too.  Mom had the most incredible flower gardens in every nook and cranny and Dad seemed partial to the vegetable garden.  Some of the best memories I have of my ancestors is working in the garden; Deke with a hoe working around the asparagus, Dad in a white T shirt and a rototiller, Mom with the cigarette in one hand a trowel in the other and surrounded by piles of plucked weeds.

Being a homeowner myself, now, one of the first things I did was put in my own garden.  I had visions of plants growing lush and green, bursting with fruit and pods, just like I remember as a child in my native soil of New York, churned by glaciers, made rich by limestone and good weather.  But, as you will see, growing things in the clay soils and hot and humid climes of Virginia is not such a simple task.

In 2000 we bought a house with a small back yard.  I had never really attempted to grow my own vegetables, despite years of gardening and landscaping at Lorenzo and Mrs. Oakman's (The Meadows), so I now had my chance to do it all and answer to no one and step on no one's toes.  Jen and I were fortunate to buy a house that had been owned by a garden lover, but she loved flowers, which I tend to kill instantly.  A small patch along the eastern fence was set up for a vegetable garden and the first season I put in a few tomato plants and corn just to see what I could get.  I had a blast and a few tomatoes which I turned into sandwiches and salsa.  The corn sucked, but I figured there was always the next year.

The next year, 2001, was a lot better as I had done a lot of work to recondition the soil and had expanded the garden a bit (to make up for Jen stealing a chink of it for an herb garden).  I put up a nice little fence, mulched, and dreamed.  Tomatoes, corn again, peas, beans, and PUMPKINS!  My, did that garden grow!  Unfortunately I was working construction through the heat of the summer and I didn't always get to water it on time and one day missed at the peak of heat and dry essentially killed everything.  The corn was good, but the cobs were only three inches long.  The tomatoes were great but came one at a time.  The beans and peas were wonderful but most died on the vine.

Below is an occasional diary of my adventures in gardening in 2002.  The garden had an incredible beginning, but being one who firmly believes in checks and balances of nature, I knew that luck such luxurious growth would have some consequences later in the summer.  Keep reading to see what happened!

Here's a quick link to the entries of June 2, 2002, June 12, 2002, July 7, 2002 and August 8, 2002.
 
 

June 2, 2002

I figured that since where I am the weather is a month ahead of Cazenovia I'd brag about how green and promising my garden is.

We bought our house in Richmond a couple years ago and the first thing I did was put in a veggie garden. My wife, Jen, immediately took over half of it for her herb garden although I don't think we have used a single snippet of the stuff to this day. The next year I enlarged the garden by another 10 or so feet and had to go got a lot of work to recondition the soil. Right now it is about 10 by 25 feet and just wonderful.. I had to build a fence about it to keep one of our dogs, aptly named "Digby," out of it.

Here's Digby: (that's his SPCA picture - he's much handsomer now!) and yes, I still have princess Maggie! (sorry about the outdated web page)

The sweet corn is just now (6/2) at the proverbial "knee high" and growing as lush as can be. The raccoon in the old oak next door is drooling already.

The peas and beans are climbing fast and should have blooms in the next few days. Its time to sow the next crop so they last longer. I think I'll regret teaching Digby how to eat them on the vine.

Potatoes (or is it potatos), grown wild from last year's compost heap, are sprawling all over the place but not at all in flower. Perhaps soon.

Tomatoes (or is it Tomatos) are about three feet tall and loaded with flowers. If they are anything like last year I'll be eating luscious " 'mater samitches" and salsa for months.

I have pumpkins all over the place this year again. Two years ago when I was up home in Cazenovia I bought a couple pumpkins down at Critz Farm. I threw the guts into the compost and much to my wonder the danged things sprouted up all over the danged garden the next spring. I got a great crop of pumpkins, about 15 in all, large and small, which we carved and had around the place for quite some time before they went bad. I saved the seeds from those and planted a bunch this spring which are again taking over like something you'd see on Star Trek. I have planted a few of them in the back alley and had hoped to play Danny Pumpkin Seed and spread them around town for all to enjoy but never got around to it at the right time. There's always next year!

As a nifty experiment I am also trying a crop of cotton and peanuts just for the fun of it. I found that peanuts that don't sprout turn to something akin to snot, but when they grow - lookout! The cotton is just little things now, but I hope they survive enough to grow tufts. And no, I won't be giving them lessons in order to make them "wise cottons."

I also have some hops, one of my all time favorite crops, that were given me by a school gardening program in far away Lexington, VA. I have one good vine winding its way up a string. If they grow like the crops I had back in Cazenovia I expect them to take over the yard in about 2 years.

Jen's little artichoke looks pretty pitiful.

The lawn, on the other hand, is just about dead, but so what.
 

June 12, 2002

Update for all you jealous gardeners:

Every thing is as green as can be (Miracle Grow and just enough rain)

Corn is now 5 feet with no sign of tassels yet.

Beans and peas have all flowered but no pods (4 feet tall!)

Critz-bred pumpkins are growing all over the darn place, some vines 25 feet long and leaves the size of serving platters, with about 50 little pumpkins started. I now have much less lawn to mow.

Tomatoes 4 feet tall, too heavy for the stakes, no fruit yet but lots of flowers finally.

Jen's avocado or whatever it is (artichoke?) has become a dwelling for ants and got stomped on by Digby (i.e. no progress).

Peanuts transplanted into the garden and are still green but not growing anymore.

Cotton seems dormant.

Cukes and gourds trying to grow up and away from pumpkins.

Me, waiting for the 100 degree and waterless days when it all shrivels up and becomes compost.

Happy growing!
 

July 7, 2002

Well, my garden, or should I say JUNGLE, is still hanging on - although crop yields are down and the poor folks who bought futures have jumped off bridges.

The dry season is coming and I expect any time soon that my verdant green foliage will soon be no more. I have managed several hearty meals from the beans, a few peas straight from the vine (I never should have taught Digby how to pick them on his own) and I see scores of tomatoes just bulging on the vine, but as green as the hills of beloved Vermont. We've had a few cukes but so far they are a bit disappointing. The corn is a big surprise, nearly 10 feet tall and suddenly tasseled and with 2, 3 and probably even 4 cobs to a stalk! The cotton and peanuts are being crowded out by the corn, but they seem OK. The hops are now about ten feet high and going all over the place.

Here's a photo of the garden (now a week old), showing all the greenery, the nifty fence I built around it from scrap wood I found along a back road, and the new fence I put in so that Digby would not escape (he can jump all 6 feet of it anyway, but doesn't know it). That's Jen's little herb garden down at the bottom of the picture, helping to keep the veggie plants entirely bug free! After the success of this year I have a feeling I'll be expanding the garden in the fall (but don't tell Jen - no not the herbs!)

And here is a pic of the new walk I'm building, using old sidewalk pavers pulled up from downtown Richmond. The long walk has been in about 2 years now. I have a couple thousand pavers in place already, and hope to snag a few thousand more.  The only thing we have spent money on is the perimeter fence and the rest is recycled or found material (you'd be amazed at what one finds in dumpsters - my latest find is a 36 inch Craftsman Lathe!).

That's Digby on the deck. Maggie is cowering in the corner somewhere because she does not like cameras. My next big project is to rebuild the shed and I already have all the material for that - at no cost but nails from the foundation to the roof!
 

August 8, 2002

Have you seen the movie Terminator, with Arnold Schwartzenheimer or whatever his name is?  You know the scene where the giant machines have done a good job of wiping out life on earth?  Any living thing has shriveled up and gone underground where it fights just for the hope of staying alive?

Well, take away the machines, laser blasts, human skulls, etc. and you have what is left of my garden.  A wasteland.

Virginia is in the middle of the worst drought in a decade and my garden has succumbed to its intensity.  That wasn't the only insult to its vibrancy, though.

The tomatoes are deformed and rotting on the vine.  My only hope is that I can find one that looks like Richard M. Nixon and I can make money showing it around town.  I had some that were nearly ripe still on the vine but the sun made quick work of them and they essentially stewed right on the plant.  The skin peeled and slid off, leaving a thing that looked like something you'd see in an autopsy.  I got out my trust soil thermometer and poked it into one of the toms and it read 125 degrees.  I figure that my hopes of having a nice juicy tomato sandwich from that one are zero.

The corn was OK but pure starch and the texture of lima beans.  I had one deformed stalk that had at least 6 cobs on it.  One cob had three other cobs under its husks.

The pumpkins, on which I had grown so many dreams, are but a shadow on my dead lawn.  I have three or four good fruit on them but the neighbor picked the best ones and gave them to me because she thought they would die if I didn't pick them (yes, I know ...).  The cukes and were a flop, and the only good ones we had were eaten by the dogs.  I murdered the gourds as they were not the kind I though they were and I ripped them out and added them to the compost pile.  They looked like those cheesy plastic ones you could get at pottery barn.

The hops were doing wonderfully until a squirrel made a nest of the strings I used to hold them up.  Vengeance was mine when the squirrel's house fell off the neighbor's shed, probably from the weight of all my string.  The spilled fill told me who had stolen all the string!  I can just imagine the torment the dogs went through as the furry little guy sat just out of their reach nibbling away at my pride and joy crop.  The hops did survive and blossomed on schedule (a month and a half before they do in NY) so I was watching them grow and grow.  The final coffin nail came the other day when I found them fully wilted.  I found hundreds of little red ants happily munching on the very base of the stalk.  I saved the tuber, so I hope to succeed next year (hope for next year is the nicotine / caffeine / heroin of gardeners).

The potatoes, on the other hand have been pretty good, considering that I never really even tried to grow them.  We've had a couple meals from them and a good pile of little tots that will make a good crop next year.

The only bright thing to report is that the cotton crop is doing well.  Big, green leafy plants, with really interesting flowers, and there should be lots of little tufts of cotton poking out soon.  The peanuts look pretty worthless, but there are some little tendriles leading down into the dirt where I hope to find sat least some peanuts.  Maybe I should stick to growing southern crops and stop trying so hard to create a little pocket of northern flora.

Oh well, at least I now don't have to worry about watering and can abide by the water conservation rules.  I also have the nicest compost heap in the neighborhood.  And there is always next year :-)
 
 

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