I thought I would post some pictures of my latest way to procrastinate from writing: gardening!
Donald and I live in a rented apartment, so I couldn’t very well dig up the side yard and plant a vegetable garden without first asking the landlord’s permission. And by the time I got inspired (mid-May), it was really too late for that. So I went with containers. These are on my front porch. From left to right: chives, shiso, sorrel, and lettuce. You can’t see the shiso too well because the seed packet had both green and red shiso, and when I initially planted, only the red came up. Actually, I thought I had a red and a green for a while, but it soon became apparent that what I’d assumed was green shiso was actually clover (hmm, I wonder why the green and red seedlings look so different). I’m not sure where the clover came from, but I’m hoping it was the Organic Outdoor Container Mix, not the shiso packet. Unfortunately, I wanted green shiso more than red, so I had to do a second planting. This time two green shiso seedlings have come up. At least, I hope that’s what they are. They’re very tiny, so you can’t see them in the picture.
Shiso turns out to be a bit of a pain to start. The seeds require light in order to germinate, but you also have to keep them from drying out. Initially, I followed the packet instructions and pressed four seeds into the soil surface. But I think they got covered with dirt later while watering, and only one ever sprouted. I don’t know where the others went. For the re-seeding, I tried to be more careful, and this time I only lost three seeds under the dirt instead of all four. After that, I sprayed it with a gentle mist of water twice a day instead of trying to use a gentle spray from the watering can that turned out to be not so gentle whenever the surface looked a bit dry. Days went by and no sprouting. Finally, I put a sheet of Saran wrap over the one remaining visible seed, weighting it down with coins at each corner. I still sprayed it twice a day, lifting up the plastic wrap and then replacing it. This worked, and the seed sprouted. And one of the buried seeds came up, too.
Here’s the rest of my porch garden:
The one on the far right that’s partly cut off is the empty pot following my unsuccessful attempt to grow spinach. I think it was too hot. Apparently spinach is very sensitive to hot weather. I had some plants, but they were leggy and floppy, with tiny leaves, and it looked like they were on the verge of bolting. So I pulled them and tossed the leaves into a salad. I guess spinach needs to be planted in early April, not late May.
The next one over is English pennyroyal. You probably can’t see any plants. I can barely see them, and I know where to look. They’re very small. I started them inside and just transplanted them yesterday.
Finally, lovage. You might notice that the leaves look vaguely like celery leaves. Supposedly lovage grows to be six feet tall, but right now I’m skeptical.
I don’t think the patio actually gets enough light for gardening. The lettuce is doing okay, but everything else is growing very slowly. These pictures were probably taken at about the sunniest time of day for this location, and you can see there’s no really direct sunlight falling on them. Next year, I think I need to reserve the patio for shade-loving plants. Leaf lettuces and baby salad greens are probably fine, and I think the lovage pot is too heavy to move (fortunately it’s a perennial, so I can just leave it out there all winter). But herbs may need to go outside.
Fortunately, the outdoor containers along the edge of the side yard are doing much better.
The three on the left are tomatoes (Black Krim, Brandywine, and Sun Sugar (a yellow cherry tomato hybrid; the other two are standard-size heirloom tomatoes)). I don’t know if you can tell from the picture, but they’re taller than I am (at least if you start from the bottom of the container, which admittedly is at least a foot below the soil surface where you’d usually start measuring). The other two containers have green beans, first a bush variety, then a pole bean.
None of the big tomatoes are ripe yet. This is a close-up of the Brandywines. Don’t they look tomato-ey?
The third ripe cherry tomato. I’ve already eaten two. I hope at some point I get more than one every 2-3 days. There’s another that’s turned a bit yellowish, but the others are all still green.
I don’t think the beans are doing quite as well. The leaves are a bit yellowish, and I seem to be getting a lot of aphid damage with the pole beans especially. You can see how they’re climbing the poles. The bush plants have started to produce a few beans, but I’m very disappointed with the productivity. I have three plants in the middle and then one on either side, smaller ones that I planted later. So far I’ve gotten three beans from one plant, and one bean from another. They all have small baby beans on them, but not as many as I’d hoped. I’m not sure why. I was fertilizing them once a month like the fertilizer bag said, but I decided to increase it to twice a month, in case they’re not getting enough nutrients (though I worry about this more with the pole beans, since I have eight plants crammed into that container). Beans fix nitrogen from the air, though, and aren’t supposed to need a lot of fertilizer. I did see some insects on the bush bean flowers that looked like tarnished plant bugs. If you don’t feel like reading the Wikipedia article, the gist of it is that there’s no good way to get rid of them except multiple applications of insecticide, and I’m trying to keep everything organic. They feed on the flowers and inject their toxic saliva. I’ve definitely seen some flowers with brown, sticky bug residue on them, and those flowers later fell off without producing beans.
It’s also possible that it’s too hot for green beans right now. The package warns that they won’t set fruit if daytime temperatures are consistently above 90 degrees, and we’ve had a lot of really hot days right as the plants were at their peak of flowering. Also, soil in containers set on a concrete ledge heats up more than it does in a garden plot, since the heat can’t dissipate into the ground as effectively. Fortunately, tomatoes love the heat. My sister used to live in Tucson, and she says tomatoes do really well there. Not surprising, as it’s close to their ancestral habitat.
Finally, in another particularly sunny ledge spot along the yard, you can see the myrtle plant Donald and I have been coaxing along for a little over a year now, and a pot of rue. Myrtle can’t survive cold temperatures, so it over-winters in the house with us. I transplanted it into a larger pot this spring. We were hoping it might flower and produce berries this summer, but so far, no such luck. I might have stressed the plant by moving it outside all at once, though. Apparently you’re supposed to gradually ease plants into a new environment, which I only learned after it was too late. It’s hard to find information on the Internet about growing common myrtle. Most of the search results you get are for crepe myrtle, which is completely different.
If you’re wondering about some of the unusual herb choices, lovage, pennyroyal and rue were common in ancient Roman cooking, but you can’t really buy them anywhere, not easily. We were able to order seeds online, though. Actually, after we already had the seeds, I discovered that you can buy lovage seeds at Mahoney’s Garden Center in Winchester, where I purchased most of my garden supplies. Oh well. The Internet seeds worked, too.
My new gardening hobby has helped me to have just about my least productive two months of writing since going full-time! Yay! Actually, there are other factors, which I may write about at some point, or maybe not. The plants have helped to keep my spirits up, though. And, vegetables!
I’m definitely planning to expand the container garden next year. I want fresh okra, which I can occasionally get at farmers’ markets here, but otherwise is of poor quality. (The ideal vegetables to grow in your garden are the ones that are expensive at the store, or deteriorate rapidly after being picked, or both (unsurprisingly, the two issues are often related).) And maybe some fava beans or edamame, though the poor showing of my green beans has made me nervous about trying to grow legumes in containers. And some herbs. Also, if our landlord doesn’t mind, my downstairs neighbor and I might do a garden in the side yard, so that would be fun. Although the challenge is to not go overboard right away. I made up a list of things I’d like to plant, and had something like 50 different things.
Yeah, I might not get much writing done if I did that.