Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Growing Pains: Lessons from the Garden #1

I spent a lot of much needed time in the backyard last weekend; it's so fulfilling to get things done!  I'm very new to this growing-a-garden business and honestly, I've become quite the garden geek lately, it's weird.  But then again I would like to think that I am someone who actually enjoys learning about people and the world and gardening is teaching me so much about nature, science, and the biodynamism of life - by doing!

So I'm going to try to keep a journal of not only the roaring successes, but also of the colossal failures.  After all, it is both that make you learn, right?

1.  If something looks wrong, something IS wrong. 

I am ecstatic about growing a strawberry patch that I even gave them their own exclusive digs.  After being gone for a few days, I came home to a sickly looking patch.  I bought a two year-old plant that I had extremely high hopes for, but the leaves were drying out right before my eyes.  What to do, what to do?!

So here was my process of elimination:

I added drip hoses to the plant.  That wasn't it. 
I watered longer.  That wasn't it.
I mulched that wasn't it. 

I thought to peek under the leaves.  I know I should have done this sooner but this was the least appetizing option (it's funny how we, as humans, sometimes know the solutions to our problems, we are just too afraid to act on it).  So I looked under there and what I saw made me jump, shriek, freak out, and get goosies.  I have tenacity for difficulty, but yes, I'm squeamish when it comes to bugs and little animals.  There were white stuff stuck to the stems of the plant.  I checked the other strawberries and they were there, too!  I checked the lettuce in my Grow Box.  They were THERE, too!  No wonder one out of the six of the lettuce looked stunted compared to the others that were going gangbusters!

Thank goodness for Google and www.growingyourgreens.com, I learned that those things were aphids which are bugs that make like vampires and suck the life out of plants.  They really are easy to control and the easiest way to deal with them is by blasting a hose to dislodge them.  I did exactly that, a few times, actually, and it appeared to work!  Not without casualty, though - the sick lettuce had to be let go.  But the rest all survived their (and mine also) near-death experience.

This is one of the strawberries in recovery after another water blast this morning:

They seem eager to flower and produce.  I just hope they have that latent resiliency!  Nature, work with me!

2.  Accckkk!  Aphids!
The other way I'm organically going to deal with aphids is by using insect frass.  These are byproducts of herbivore insects that actually trigger the auto-immune of plants to activate, therefore, releasing plant antibodies to fight off fatal bugs.  It's pretty cool and I've read about people who swear by it, but what I think is cooler is that some botany geek actually studied it and figured it all out. 

Cedar bark used as mulch supposedly also turns off bugs (the smell of it drives them nuts), and although I have not read about it repelling aphids, I coincidentally mulched my raised bed with cedar bark and that bed was spared 100%.  I have now mulched my Grow Box with cedar and I will see if this does anything.  (I mulched my strawberries with pine bark because they are supposedly high in acidity which strawberries just love.  But that's a different post altogether.)

3.  Mulch Much
Mulching is simply topping your soil with (preferably) organic material like hay, cut grass, pine needles or tree bark to keep the moisture in the soil.  Think whipped cream on scones.  Or flambeed sugar on creme brulee.  With the arid climate in the high desert, I cannot believe this idea never struck me when I tried growing last year.  I mulched with cedar bark (bought at Home Depot for $3.33 for a big bag, which I only used half of for a 4'x4' raised bed) and I have seen a WORLD of a difference only after a week.  The soil is consistently moist, even at high noon, and the veggies look perkier.

4.  Timing is everything.
Cliche', I know.  I'm probably not going to harvest any peas this season because I planted them too late.  I hear that these don't flower when it gets in the upper 70's.  It's already hit 80 this weekend yet, they seem crazy about the weather.  I don't have it in me to yank them out just yet so I'll let them do what they do until they're done doing what they'll do and they will probably end up in my compost pile then.

5.  Patience is a b*tch sometimes.
I've planted lavender seeds a month and a half ago and still no signs of life.  I've planted these tomatoes about the same time and look at them now.

I mean, what the F is up with the lavender?

I stood in line tonight to get a book signed by David Sedaris after a book reading by David Sedaris.  I left after standing in line for ten minutes.  Sometimes, I just don't have that kind of tenacity.

6.  Inertia
And even I need reminding that we  should always see the bright and beautiful side of things and people.  The Dutch keeps me on my toes on that.  Here are THE things that have such an incredible desire to grow.  Can you believe the inertia on this cucumber seed?  It only took two days for this eager beaver to sprout. 

And here are the lettuce I'm growing with the strawberries.  They have sprouted everywhere!

And here are the peas and some parsley (which you probably cant's see) that I've sown in the Grow Box many weeks ago already.  

In the end, life is an amalgamation of good and bad. People are, too.  Perfection does not exist but in imperfection.  I am guilty of glossing over this, more and more lately, but I know if we just take both the good and the bad - aphids, non-sprouters and all - then perhaps, we are closer to happiness.

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